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Breeding Management

Excellence in breeding management underpins profitability on Irish dairy farms. Nationally only 65% of the dairy herd calves in the first six weeks of the calving season in a calving interval of 394 days: the Teagasc targets are 90% calved in the first six weeks and a calving interval of 365 days. Click on the links below to get more information on breeding management.

Six point plan to successful breeding

The breeding guidelines for spring 2021 include six simple steps which if followed will ensure the continued improvement of your dairy herd into the future. Download the guidelines here Breeding Guilelines for Spring 2021 (PDF)  Watch Andrew Cromie, ICBF go through the six points in the video below. 

Six point plan to successful breeding

The Breeding Plan - Webinar 

with Stephen Moore & George Ramsbottom, Teagasc

The Breeding Plan

Setting the targets for spring breeding

Breeding targets for the spring calving herd

Maximising three-week in-calf rate

Two factors reduce three-week in-calf rate.

  • Low submission rate –because cows are not cycling or because of poor heat detection;
  • Low conception rate – because of the presence of uterine infection.

Between three and five weeks before the start of breeding, body condition score the whole herd and identify cows with a score of 2.5 or less.  Such cows have a low submission rate and conception rate.  They should be kept on once a day milking until three weeks after they have been bred.

The second step is to record the heats of cows before breeding starts using tail paint to identify cows that are not cycling. They should be scanned and non-cycling cows synchronised to breed them on mating start date. Cows that are less than 30 days calved are not suitable for synchronisation and should be left until a group is put together and a second non-cycling group synchronized later on e.g. three weeks into the breeding season.

Record dates of insemination on ICBF’s HerdPlus either manually or via the AI technician handhelds. This will allow you to run Fertility Reports. Targets are 30% inseminated in week 1; 60% submitted by the end of week 2; and, 90% submitted by the end of week 3. 

In the accompanying three videos we will address methods of improving the three main causes of reduced three-week in-calf rate:

  • Non-cycling cows;
  • Poor heat detection;
  • Uterine infection.  
Maximising three-week in-calf rate

Treatment of non-cycling cows

Treatment of non-cycling cows

Heat detection

Cows come into heat at all times of the day. On average however they are only on heat for 8 hours with slightly more than half of them standing for 8 hours or less. This makes them really difficult to identify in heat. Our research has also found that late calving cows will be more difficult to spot in heat as they tend to have shorter duration of standing heat and because they come into heat later in the breeding season (when the bulling group will be smaller).

As a result Teagasc recommends two actions:

  • Three periods (or more) of heat detection daily (early morning, mid-day and late evening);
  • That a heat detection aid or aids are used (such as tail paint and a vasectomised bull).  
Heat detection during the breeding season

Getting more cows in calf during the first 3 weeks of the breeding season

Getting more cows in calf during the first 3 weeks of the breeding season

Managing late calving cows to shorten calving interval

The management of late calvers is something that needs to be given some thought in order to avoid them calving late again or not at all. The bulk of herds will commence breeding in late April/early May, there will be a number of herds that will commence breeding earlier

Cows need recovery time post calving. Ideally, this voluntary waiting period as it is known would be 42 days or six weeks. That means that a cow that calves just before the breeding season commences will not be bred until there are 6 weeks of the breeding season passed. This gives her potentially 2 chances of getting in calf again before the breeding season ends in the typical 12 week breeding season. Consider the May or June calving cow of which there are quite a few. 10-15% of the national herd calf 6 weeks into the breeding season. 

There are two ways to deal with late calvers to get them back in calf quicker than would otherwise happen;

1. Once a day milking

Milking late calvers once a day from calving until they are bred or until they are deemed to be in calf (3 weeks post 1st service) works on the principle of reducing the demands of milking twice a day. Cows continue to run with the main herd, are fed as normal with the main herd but are only milked once each day. The reduced energy demand of OAD allows these cows to begin their natural reproductive cycle quicker and will see them present for breeding in a shorter time period than if milking twice daily. OAD increases their chances of conception to 1st service also, again due to the reduced energy demand. While there is a loss of potential income in terms of reduced milk yield from these cows (€50-80 for the period of OAD), it is less than 5% of the cost of replacing them should they fail to go in calf.

 2. Hormonal intervention

Resumption of the cow’s cycle can be induced using the program shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Fixed time AI synchronization protocol for non-cycling and late-calving cows.

Cows still need to be calved a minimum 30 days before commencing this programme but it does give excellent control over the breeding of these late calvers. Submission rate will be 100% and the timed AI element eliminates the requirement to detect these cows in heat which can prove difficult as the breeding season progresses. The cost of this programme is approximately €40 so it is not cheap. It is vital that the programme is followed exactly as it is shown above otherwise it will not work as the timings of these injections are very important.

Whichever method you choose is up to you or you may decide to use both but it is important to give consideration to later calving cows if you want to retain them in your herd.



Managing late calving cows to shorten calving interval