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John Dunne March/April Update 2023



  • A big focus on improving the breeding performance of the herd
  • Working out a simple breeding plan for the farm
  • Replacement policy going forward
  • Is AI and  an option ?


  • The wet weather plays havoc!
  • Aim to close for silage at the start of April


Genetic improvement can be achieved through breeding high index replacement heifers, purchasing stock bulls that are five stars for the important beef traits and by using AI  where possible to avail of bulls that have high reliability attached to their breeding values. Gains made from improving the genetics of a breeding a herd are cumulative and once achieved are there for the lifetime of the herd. Like John, every suckler farmer needs to have a breeding plan to ensure that the next generation of stock is superior to the previous generation.

John current farming system is;

  • 70 Spring calving sucklers cows to beef
  • 120 purchased dairy calf to beef

The first step of the plan is to ascertain where the herd stands now in terms of performance and in the replacement value index. The ICBF 2022 reports highlights  both positives and negatives results. 

While the calving interval and 6 week calving rate are on the right track- there is a big issue with calves/cow/year and mortality at 28 days. Reviewing 2022 , there was an issue with the bull been sub – fertile and scanning revealed 12 empty cows. For 2023, John has fertility tested and carried out a bull  NCT to ensure that he will be in good working order this year . As part of a new herd health plan all calves are now vaccinated to reduce the incidences of pneumonia. 

Looking at the replacement index of the existing cows, the ICBF report highlights that they are well above the average of €87 . They are relatively balanced and  have very good figures for daughter milk and calving interval . The only concern, given the system is finishing beef , is that the carcase weight trait is low and close to the average of 10kg. This will need to increase and will   be addressed when choosing replacement heifers and sires as part of the breeding plan.

There are currently 2 bulls on the farm. The CH bull is used as a terminal sire so that will not a source for replacements. An easy calving Angus was purchased in 2022 and will be used on the maiden heifers . Both bulls are genotyped and will be eligible for the SCEP scheme.

Breeding Plan 2023

  • The current CH bull will be fertility tested in March to ensure that he will be fit for service. The Angus bull will cover the maiden heifers.
  • Breeding will start on April 15th instead of May 1st
  • As there were no suitable home bred heifers for breeding last year, 34 replacement cross –bred heifers were purchased in advance of the breeding season from one source . These were synchronised and fixed timed AI was used . This was the first time AI was used on the farm. 21 proved in calf to AI bulls , EBY,ZEP and LM2014. The angus bull mopped up the remainder. With cow numbers back up to 70 , the target is to breed more replacements on farm going forward.
  • John will now also use AI on the best 30 cows that calved early this year. To aid heat detection , a  FR bull weanling has been purchased , vaccinated and vasectomised in March. He will be fitted with a chin ball.  To get more replacements   AI bulls with a high value replacement indexes will be used eg Curaheen Gunshot(Simmental). This bull is suitable for mature cows only and will also add to carcase weight.


  • As this is John’s first year using AI on cows –the plan is to AI for 3 weeks only and then introduce the CH bull. The fields around the yard have been closed so the cows will be grazing near the yard. John debated the use of sexed semen but felt that he needs to get more experience with using conventional AI first. Using AI gives the herd a faster road to improving the overall genetics of the herd .
  • The target will be to calve all heifers at between 22-26 months of age. These heifers will be given priority treatment to ensure targets weights are met at the different stages of her growth cycle.
  • For 2023 , John will synchronise the maiden heifers again similar to last year. It will work out at €60/head but John feels that this is money well spent. As labour is an issue on such a large farm- it allows him to use fixed time AI on the heifers in a timed and controlled manner  without the need for much observation. The heifers only need to around the yard for 10 days and can then be moved to the  outfarm with the AA bull. The target is 70% conception rate this year. LM2014 is one of the bulls which will be used on the heifers.


  • Fail to Prepare- Prepare to Fail”. Breeding will start in mid April and John has been busy preparing the following;
  • Bulls selected and AI man contacted to ensure supply
  • Vasectomised bull is ready for action & chinball / paint purchased
  • Exact dates for starting and finishing the breeding period selected
  • CH and AA bull NCT’d
  • Ground closed up near the yard
  • Vet contacted and booked re; synchronised programme
  • Observation.. Observation..is key


The wet weather in March has played havoc. Even on a dry farm like John’s ground conditions have deteriorated rapidly. Cows and calves have been rehoused. Luckily , there is plenty of straw and feed on the farm. It is not ideal but there was no other option.

There is very little slurry out and as soon as ground conditions allow – the plan is to apply 3000 gals /acre to the silage ground. The silage ground was grazed off in Jan/Feb. As the P & K’s are at index 3 and/or 4 , this amount of slurry will provide enough P & K to grow the crop. The only form of chemical N will be 80 units of Protected Urea per acre which will be applied in the first week of April (weather permitting) . The planned cutting date is May 25th.