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Kildalton Discussion Group

Kildalton Discussion Group

The Kildalton Discussion Group, in operation for over 20 years has 18 dairy farmer members. They’re mostly from Kilkenny, Tipperary, Waterford and Wexford. Philip Donohoe, Chairman, discusses the group performance and areas for future improvement as part of the Virtual Dairy Conference today

Group members have almost 5,000 dairy cows and run spring-calving, relatively low input systems of grass based milk production at a farm stocking rate of 2.5 livestock units per hectare.

Genetic trends

The current EBI of the dairy stock on the ‘average’ member’s farm is presented in Figure 1

Figure 1. Average EBI of the dairy cows, first calved heifers, breeding heifers and heifer calves on Kildalton discussion group members’ farms

Our herd EBI includes a milk sub index of €51 and a fertility sub index of €86, and is €47 higher than the national average. With higher EBI young stock we’re going to keep increasing the genetic merit of our herds in the years ahead. To get an idea of the genetic progress being made in Figure 2, we compare the EBI of heifers entering the herd over the past decade.


Figure 2. Average EBI of the first calved heifers entering the Kildalton Discussion Group herds since 2009

The graph in Figure 2 shows that the EBI of every generation of heifers entering the herd since 2009 is on average €10 greater than the previous one and indicates that group members have been using high EBI bulls for more than a decade. Such improvement in EBI over the years is great, but the trends in milk production and fertility are the real payback for the years of genetic improvement. 

Milk production and fertility trends

The data in Table 1 shows the change we have seen over the past decade in terms of milk production, milk composition and herd fertility performance. 

Table 1. Change in average milk solids production, milk composition and fertility performance of the Kildalton group members’ farms between 2010 and 2020 and its economic value

[1] Fertility metrics based on the 2012-2021 period.

The data in Table 1 shows that using a value of €4 per kg milk solids (the equivalent of approximately 30 c/litre), the increase in milk solids yield per cow of 115 kg is valued at €460 per cow in 2020. Certainly part of the increase in milk solids yield per cow can be attributed to milk quota removal, but some of it is due to improvements in genetics for milk production, milk composition and fertility. Milk fat and protein content has increased by a total of 0.75% 

over the decade which represents an increase in the value of every litre of milk sold of at least 3.6 c/litre at a base price of 30 c/litre. We have also seen substantial improvements in herd fertility. The 16% improvement in 6-week calving rate and the 11-day reduction in calving interval are valued at €132 and €42 per cow, respectively. This fertility improvement is an important contributor to the increase in milk yield. When we reviewed the trends in meal feeding by group members (see Table 2), there has not been an increase in the quantity of meal fed per cow. Instead, we have seen a substantial increase in grass utilisation as we have focused a lot on increasing soil fertility, grazing management and reseeding over the past decade. Grassland management improvements and genetics are responsible for the increase in milk solids yield per cow.

Table 2. Trends in milk yield, purchased feeds and forage, farm stocking rate (LU/ha) and grass used (t DM/ha) for various years between 2010 and 2020 for the Kildalton group members’ farms

Looking to the future

The group identifies three areas for improvement in the years ahead. Firstly with the environment issue facing us all, breeding for greater milk production and fertility have taken on a new relevance. We need to breed cows that are both productive and retain the ability to quickly and easily go back in calf to minimise replacement rate and the number of replacement heifers we have to rear.

Secondly, with greater awareness of and a need to reduce antibiotic use, genetic improvement of cow health has become increasingly important. So we all need to step up and record incidences of lameness and mastitis as they occur within our own herds.

Thirdly, a big challenge for specialised spring calving herds is the ability to sell calves quickly and easily after they are born. Reducing the use of dairy AI by using more sexed semen is an approach that an increasing number of the group members will adopt next breeding season. We particularly welcome the opening of the lab in Moorepark for 2022. Finally, we all need to adopt the DBI to breed quality beef breed calves from the dairy herd.

Pictured in Moorepark, Fermoy, Co Cork at the Teagasc Virtual Dairy Conference 2021 - ‘Meeting Challenges with Technology’ are speakers Dr Donagh Berry, Director VistaMilk, Dr Nicky Byrne, Teagasc Research Officer, Dr Emma-Louise Coffey, Teagasc Co-ordinator - Professional Diploma in Dairy Farm Management, dairy farmer Jim White, Mullinahone, Co Tipperary, Dr Stephen Butler, Teagasc Reproductive Physiologist & Liam Herlihy, Teagasc Chairman.   Photo O'Gorman Photography.

Due to updated Government guidelines the Teagasc National Dairy Conference has changed from an ‘in person’ event to being an online ‘virtual event’ only.

The Dairy Conference 2021 is on Zoom over two days. Registration link below

The complete Dairy Conference Proceedings will be published on www.teagasc.ie And the individual articles will be published on Teagasc Daily throughput the week. For more information see Dairy Conference