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Breeding Week 2024: Developing a breeding plan for your farm

Breeding Week 2024: Developing a breeding plan for your farm

The advent of sexed semen has created an opportunity for dairy farmers to become very selective about the cows that they breed to dairy AI to generate the next generation of replacements for their herd, writes Stuart Childs, Teagasc Dairy Specialist.

This is hugely beneficial as, in the past, all cows were bred to dairy AI until the total number of dairy straws required for the number of heifers needed on the farm were used. This meant that while on average, the replacements were good, the variation amongst the group was large with significant differences between the top and the bottom of the group.

Now targeted breeding of the best cows with a 90%+ chance of getting a heifer calf from the cows that go in calf to sexed semen means that the variation in the heifer calf crop will be reduced significantly, resulting in a vastly superior group of replacements for breeding in the future.

Greater usage of beef

The use of sexed semen also facilitates greater usage of beef semen in the dairy herd. With nearly 60% of the beef kill now of dairy origin, there is a far greater emphasis on generating high quality beef from the dairy herd. Dairy farmers can do this by using high Dairy Beef Index (DBI) bulls on the cows that are not deemed suitable to breed a replacement from. DBI puts a value on both the beef merit and the calving characteristics of the bull. This information allows farmers to choose bulls that are strong on beef traits (to enhance the profitability of dairy calf to beef operations) but safe from a calving point of view, which is of paramount importance to dairy farmers.

Developing a breeding plan

Consequently, there are two elements to the development of a breeding plan for a farm:

  1. Identify the best dairy (cows and AI bulls) and beef genetics to use in the herd to meet the farm’s needs
  2. Identify how you are going to manage your breeding season to deliver on the genetics chosen

Best practice in the absence of accurate heat detection information (automated systems) is that all animals for sexed semen should be synchronised. This facilitates 100% submission rate and controls the timing of AI which is important in maximising conception rate with sexed semen. All other cows can be bred as normal with suitable beef AI straws as they show heat.

From a labour management point of view, synchronisation of heifers is recommended as well as control over timing of the service for sexed. It is important to remember that repeats following synchronisation will happen in a concentrated period (4-6 days) which can potentially overwhelm bulls so it should be part of your plan to AI either with the bull or to remove the bull and AI the repeats for that window until you have numbers at a realistic level for the bull. This is true of both heifers and cows but is a significant issue with heifers in particular which can result in late calving heifers (not part of the plan!).

It is important that all cows eligible for breeding early in the breeding season are bred. To this end, it is important to ensure that all cows are cycling in advance of the breeding season. Pre-breeding heat detection to identify non-cycling cows is an important element of farm’s breeding plan to ensure that cows are submitted early. Delayed intervention reduces the number of opportunities to conceive and stay in the herd. Introducing a replacement to replace a poor performing cow rather than a cow that ended up empty that shouldn’t have is a costly business.

In the video below, Michael Gordon, a Teagasc/Aurivo Joint Programme Participant, details his breeding season plan for his dairy herd in Crossmolina, Co. Mayo:

Also read: Cow numbers for dairy AI