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Setting a clear breeding strategy in Co. Kilkenny

Setting a clear breeding strategy in Co. Kilkenny

As part of Dairy Breeding Week, Teagasc hosted a farm walk on the farm of Philip Donohoe, Goresbridge, Co. Kilkenny. In this article, Teagasc Dairy Advisor, Kevin Brennan, Oak Park, Carlow, outlines the main topics discussed.

Philip has focused on breeding since the Economic Breeding Index (EBI) was introduced. This has returned significant rewards in terms of calving interval, fertility and milk production. Philip produced over 500kg of milk solids / cow in 2022, has a calving interval of 365 days and a six-week calving rate of 85%. At the event, Philip outlined how EBI has revolutionised his herd. Philip’s herd EBI is €228, with a milk and fertility sub-index of €65 and €102, respectively.

What was clear above all else at the event was that Philip has a clear breeding strategy in place and puts considerable time into picking out his dairy bulls for each breeding season. Through the use of the ICBF Sire Advice programme, Philip already knows what EBI figures his heifer replacement calves are likely to be in spring 2024. Sire Advice is a brilliant tool to enable farmers to match the correct cow to the correct bull in order to maximise genetic gain.

Strengths and weaknesses

It is clear that every farm needs to identify the strengths and weakness of their respective herds. In Philip’s case, one of his core strengths is fertility within the herd. Philip picked bulls with a good fertility as a result of this, but concentrated primarily on fat and protein percentages. Philip’s team of bulls for the 2023 season has a PTA for fat of .37 and a PTA for protein of .23. Philip is also picking bulls which are positive for health and carbon. The aim here is to produce a cow in the near future with 5% fat and 4% protein.

Bull team

When selecting bulls this year, farmers need to ensure that they pick a big enough bull team. The size of the bull team will vary depending on the size of the herd. For example, a farmer with 100 cows would need to be using a minimum of seven bulls, with equal straw allocation. This will reduce variability and increase reliability, leading to a more uniform group of stock. For more information on this, click here.

Farmers need to identify their breeding strategy in order to maximise the genetic potential of their herd. The table below highlights some of the targets when selecting your team of bulls for the 2023 breeding season.

Table 1: Selection criteria for bull selection

Sub indexThreshold for individual bullsTeam average
EBI ≥€220 €300
Fertility ≥€90 €130
Milk ≥€60 €90
Health ≥€0 €5
Carbon Positive Positive
Maintenance Positive €10-20

For more information regarding breeding, click here.

Also read: Identifying your herd's strengths and weaknesses ahead of breeding