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Teagasc/ICBF Breeding Week 2021

The breeding season on Irish dairy farms has become increasingly concentrated in the late April to June period. Teagasc in conjunction with the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) ran a dairy breeding week in March. The purpose of the week was to provide timely reminders to farmers on important genetic and technical issues underpinning a successful dairy breeding season. Video clips, webinars and podcasts were released throughout the week with presentations from dairy farmers, Teagasc Researchers and Specialists and ICBF Geneticists.


Thursday, 25 March

Breeding Webinar  |  8pm

Planning a successful breeding season
with Richie O'Brien, Teagasc, George Ramsbottom Teagasc & Joris Somers, Glanbia 
and guest Francis Nolan, Teagasc/Glanbia Future Farmer



Teagasc/Glanbia Breeding Webinar with Francis Nolan, Future Farm Participant

Step onto Francis Nolan's farm from the comfort of your own home at 8pm on Thursday, 25 March. Francis will be joined by Richie O'Brien and George Ramsbottom of Teagasc and Joris Somers of Glanbia to discuss how Francis is planning for a successful breeding season on his farm this year.

Setting the targets for spring breeding 2021

Nationally only 65% of cows and heifers calve during the first six weeks of the calving season, ideally this should be at 90%. As part of Breeding Week 2021 the major factors to achieving a high six-week calving rate are:

  • Maximising three-week in-calf rate
  • Treatment of non-cycling cows
  • Heat detection
  • Metrichecking cows

 Read more here 


Six point plan to successful breeding
with Andrew Cromie, ICBF 

Have you received the new dairy breeding guidelines for the spring 2021 breeding season? The guidelines include six simple steps which if followed will ensure the continued improvement of your dairy herd into the future.

Using teams of bulls equally 
with Margaret Kelleher, ICBF & David Hannon, Dairy Farmer, Co. Meath 

Teagasc and ICBF recommend that teams of bulls are used when breeding dairy cows as Margaret Kelleher, ICBF outlines in the video below. This is the advice regardless of whether the bulls are genomically or daughter proven. The key message: when planning what bull to use, also plan how to use each bull equally 


The Dairy Edge Podcast 

Teagasc specialist Joe Patton and ICBF geneticist Kevin Downing join Emma-Louise Coffey on this week’s Dairy Edge to explore the key traits in dairy replacements to maximise income on Irish dairy farms 


The Breeding Plan - Webinar 

with Stephen Moore & George Ramsbottom, Teagasc

The Breeding Plan

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

Dr. Stephen Moore, Teagasc Moorepark gives a short presentation on recent research on compact calving. Dr. Donal Patton, Teagasc Ballyhaise outlines the plans to compactly breed the Ballyhaise dairy herd. Webinar took place in April 2020

Feeding for fertility

The quality of feeding in the dry period and early lactation is important in achieving good herd fertility. The following need to be considered:

  • Body Condition Score (BCS) at breeding should be 2.75 plus to improve conception rates. What if some cows are still well below target at start of breeding? It will take a couple of months to fix very thin milking cows by feeding 2-3kg extra meal. Short-term improvements in conception rate will be minimal. If there are thin or non-cycling cows in the herd that are due for breeding, milking once-a-day for 6 weeks can boost fertility
  • High EBI cows have been proven to maintain better BCS across a range of diets, explaining in part why their fertility is better. Use high EBI bulls to make feeding simpler in the long term.
  • Energy intake drives milk performance, maintains BCS, and improves fertility. Ensure that the herd is grazing the best quality grass possible (1400kg covers, 3 leaf stage). Watch residuals (target 4cm) to make sure cows are cleaning paddocks but not being pinched on intake. Supplement deficits in grass in good time.
  • Protein in the diet- high quality pasture contains a high level of crude protein (Nitrogen) which milking cows use with feed energy to make milk protein. Surplus diet N may elevate blood and milk urea levels and this may give rise to concerns on fertility. Under good management, bulk milk urea does not explain much difference in fertility between herds. Apply fertilizer N small-and-often during the breeding season, do not overload fertilizer N under drought conditions, and feed high energy 14% crude protein rations at grass to control any risk.
  • Trace minerals (Copper, Cobalt, Iodine, Selenium, Manganese and Zinc) can affect fertility if lacking in the diet. However, feeding these minerals above requirements is expensive and will not boost fertility where no deficiency exists. The ‘silver bullet’ of extra minerals will not fix the problems of thin cows, poor heat detection or bad genetics.

Body condition score cows

Body condition is critical to a successful breeding season. Identifying thin cows early allows steps to be taken to improve their body condition in good time. The first step is to body condition score all animals in the herd. The next step is to provide extra care and attention to thinner animals

Normally on farms the percentage of cows falling below the target body condition score of 2.75 prior to mating is less than 5% of the herd.

The first 2 cows in the cattle race 2294 and 2286 are below the target body condition score of 2.75 at mating. Both of these animals are second lactation animals producing 2.20kg of milk solids currently. These cows require extra care and attention in order to increase the condition score.

Increasing cow body condition score

The steps that should be taken with this group of cows can be any of the following or a combination of them:

  • Once a day milking – cows come into the parlour twice a day for feeding but are only milked once. In larger herds these animals may be grouped together for preferential treatment, grazed closer to the milking parlour for less walking etc.
  • Feed the cows fully with 24-36 hour allocations of grass with covers of 1,400 -1,500 kg dry matter per hectare of high DMD perennial ryegrass swards and supplement with concentrates where necessary to cover minerals etc. Do not use strip wires unless weather dictates otherwise. 
  • Top up the level of concentrates fed to the thinner cows. This in combination with once –a-day milking would result in an increase in cow body condition 

Thursday, 18 March


Genomics & EBI Panel Discussion
Facilitated by Jack Kennedy, Irish Farmers Journal

  • Daughter Proven vs Genomic Sires
    with Andrew Cromie, ICBF, Don Crowley, Teagasc & Mark Cassidy, dairy farmer, Co. Meath
  • Sexed Semen
    with Stephen Butler, Teagasc, Don Crowley, Teagasc & guest farmer speaker

Using both dairy and beef AI

Siobhan Ring ICBF gives advice about using both dairy and beef AI at the start of the breeding season which can lead to a more profitable system. In such a system, farmers can select the best cows eg. high EBI cows to mate to high EBI dairy bulls and use beef bulls with the high dairy beef index on their problem cows or on cows with a poorer genetic merit. This approach will increase the rate of genetic gain in the milking herd. It will also increase the no of high genetic merit beef calves born. This results in a more valuable beef calf produced. No extra physical work is required by the farmer to produce a better beef calf.


Using dairy and beef AI from farmers perspective

Hugh Egan is a dairy farmer from Co. Offaly he is milking 90 Spring-calving cross-bred cows, and has 20 followers, on a fragmented farm. He is focused on grass and producing milk from a low cost system. Breeding is very important to Hugh. He uses beef AI bulls from the start of the breeding system, choosing either Angus or Hereford bulls and crosses these with selected cows and the low performing dairy cows in the herd. It increases the calf sales and Hugh finds there is always a demand for the beef calf. See what else Hugh has to say in the following video clip.

Wednesday, 17 March

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

Update on the Dairy Beef Index

The Dairy Beef Index is a breeding goal for Irish dairy and beef farmers to promote high quality beef cattle bred from the dairy herd that are more saleable as calves and profitable at slaughter yet, they have minimal consequences on the calving difficulty or gestation length of the dairy cow.

Delivering easy calving for the dairy farmer and high carcass merit for the beef farmer and going forwards in the future it will have a greater impact as it is still early days for being implemented on farm.

The DBI is a great development as it will allow for the identification of bulls with the balance of traits needed to bring better integration of the needs of both dairy and beef farmers, and it will allow for individuals to be identified across a range of breeds, which will become important in flattening the supply curve of dairy beef animals born from a seasonal system.

A higher proportion of beef calves will bring greater system efficiency in terms of feed, carcass and probably younger ages at slaughter compared to pure dairy males.

It is especially important for the various bonus and QA pricing system which are in place, which generally require animals to be of a conformation score of greater than O-. Conformation is the number one to increase the value of every kg of beef, similar to our protein and fat in a milk pricing scenario.

Beef farmers need to insist that all beef calves are by high genetic merit beef sires to secure their investment and level of risk, so rather than premium prices, it should be a basic requirement.

Tuesday, 16 March


Breeding maiden heifers on the out farm - with Stephen Moore & Laura Hannon, dairy farmer, Co. Meath 

Teagasc recommends that maiden heifers are bred with dairy AI as these are the most fertile animals in the herd and have the highest EBI. Make sure to target your heifers with sexed or conventional dairy AI to maximise the rate of genetic gain in your herd. Stephen Moore, Teagasc Researcher explains

In this short clip, Stephen Moore of Teagasc explains how by using dairy sires for at least one round of inseminations the number of beef stock bulls needed to breed the repeating heifers can be reduced typically by two thirds for each round of AI used. Laura Hannon, dairy farmer from Co. Meath also speaks about her plan to AI the heifers.  

Top results with sexed semen
with George Ramsbottom & Jim White, Dairy Farmer, Co. Tipperary


Breeding maiden heifers on out farm

It is recommended that maiden heifers are bred with dairy AI as they are the most fertile animals in the herd and have the highest EBI. Target your heifers with sexed or conventional dairy AI to maximise the rate of genetic gain in your herd. Stephen Moore of Teagasc explains that by using dairy sires for at least one round of inseminations the number of beef stock bulls needed to breed the repeating heifers can be reduced typically by two thirds for each round of AI used. Laura Hannon, dairy farmer from Co. Meath also speaks about her plan to AI the heifers.

Breeding maiden heifers on out farm

Top results with sexed semen

Sexed semen can be successfully used to increase numbers of dairy female replacements born and to reduce the number of dairy bull calves born. Teagasc recommends that early calving younger cows or maiden heifers are most successfully bred to sexed semen. 

In addition sexed semen can be used to compact the birth of replacement heifers closer to the start of the calving season than when conventional semen is used. The challenge is the sperm is more fragile after the sorting process and sexed semen straws contain fewer sperm than conventional semen.

It is important to pay particular careful attention to straw handling and AI procedures. In the video below Jim White, Dairy Farmer outlines the reasons why he chose to use sexed semen. He has good fertility in his herd to begin with and as he has also sells surplus stock it gave him greater choice for his own herd and for growing his own herd. The video outlines the benefits and challenges of using sexed semen. 


Top results with sexed semen

How to improve likelihood of success with sexed semen

Sexed semen provides many potential advantages to dairy farmers. The most obvious and compelling reason to use sexed semen is because of the sex bias induced in the calf crop. Stephen Butler, Teagasc, Moorepark has some advice as part of Teagasc / ICBF Breeding Week.

Why use sexed semen?

Sexed semen provides many potential advantages to dairy farmers. The most obvious and compelling reason to use sexed semen is because of the sex bias induced in the calf crop, with 90% of the pregnancies resulting in a heifer birth, and only 10% male dairy calves. This in turn means that more beef semen can be used, using bulls with high Dairy Beef Index. This will provide long term sustainability for the Irish Dairy Industry.

Some of the key factors that affect the likelihood of pregnancy establishment when using sexed semen have been identified. These are summarized in the text below and discussed in the following clip.

Using sexed semen

Guidelines for sexed semen usage 

Bull team

  • Pick highest EBI bulls available
  • Use a team of ≥5 bulls

Suitable dams


  • Target live-weight and BCS ≥3.25
  • Cycling regularly


  • Parity 1 to 4
  • >50 days in milk on day of AI
  • BCS ≥3.00
  • Cycling regularly
  • Free of postpartum disorders and uterine disease

When to use?

  • During the first 3 weeks of the breeding season, and within first 10 days if possible.

Timing of AI

  • 14 to 20 h after heat onset (first standing mount). Practice AM/PM rule if possible. If using once a day AI, use conventional semen if time of AI is <14 h after heat onset.

Fixed time AI

  • Costly, but mitigates risk
  • Facilitates targeted usage of sexed semen on mating start date

Straw handling on day of AI

  • Organise sexed straws into one goblet
  • Thaw 2 sexed semen straws at a time MAX
  • Thaw straws at 35 to 37 °C for 45 seconds
  • Load straws into pre-warmed AI guns, keep warm.
  • Deposit semen in uterine body
  • Complete inseminations within 5 mins

How many sexed semen straws do I need to use?

For farmers interested in using sexed semen, the first question often asked is how many straws do I need to use? First, identify the target number of replacement females that you want to have born on the farm. Second, decide if sexed semen will be used on heifers, on cows or on both. In the worked example below, a farmer with a 100 cow herd will use sexed semen on all the maiden heifers and on a targeted subset of high fertility lactating cows. Beef AI or beef stock bulls will be used on all repeats (heifers and cows) and any lactating cows not suitable for sexed semen. It is essential that all the guidelines in Box 1 above are implemented to maximise the chances of success with sexed semen. 

How many sexed semen straws do I need to use?


The Beef Edge Podcast
Presented by Catherine Egan, Teagasc on the topic of:

Performance of DBI beef cattle at Grange
with Nicky Byrne, Teagasc Grange