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Watch: Identifying your herd’s strengths and weaknesses ahead of breeding

Watch: Identifying your herd’s strengths and weaknesses ahead of breeding

With the calving season entering its final phase on many dairy farms, the next task on the horizon is breeding.

Kevin Downing, ICBF HerdPlus Manager, joined Stuart Childs, Teagasc Dairy Specialist, as part of a Breeding Week webinar to explain how to use the various reports that are available to identify breeding goals for your farm in advance of the breeding season.

Outlining where the national herd is in terms of EBI (Economic Breeding Index), Kevin explained: “The bottom 20% of farmers have an average EBI of €98, right up to the top 20% of farmers in Ireland coming in at €196 and the average EBI of that grouping is €153.”

Using co-op, farmer and Bord Bia supplied data, Kevin showed how varying levels of EBI at farm level impact upon profitability. Comparing the top 20% and the average, he said: “There’s a big difference in terms of overall kilograms of milk solids, the fat and protein percentage, and the milk price.” With these differences, he noted: “It equates to around €350/cow and that’s the equivalent of around €35,000 in a typical 100-cow herd, so you can see there’s quite substantial gains to be made from increasing your EBI.”

Table 1: National Key Performance Indicators (KPI) broken down by herd EBI

KPI Metrics (2022)Bottom 20%20-40%40-60%60-80%Top 20%Average
Average EBI €98 €139 €158 €174 €196 €153
Average milk litres per cow 5,237 5,116 5,302 5,476 5,663 5,321
Average kg solids per cow 404 403 423 444 472 425
Butterfat (%) 4.08 4.17 4.23 4.31 4.44 4.23
Protein (%) 3.42 3.48 3.52 3.58 3.66 3.53
Milk price (C/L) 57.8 58.8 59.6 60.6 62.3 59.7
AI bred replacements (%) 38 45 60 74 89 58
Average calving interval (days) 401 391 385 379 367 385
Average six-week calving rate 58 62 66 72 79 67
kg Co2 / kg FPCM 0.94 0.92 0.91 0.90 0.86 0.91

Breeding objectives

Kevin also touched on the breeding objectives of dairy farmers this spring, adding: “The primary breeding objective of every dairy farm is to improve milk performance or milk output, as well as improving the fertility of the herd; but also looking at the health and disease resistance aspect of it, because we want animals that are healthy and are going to last longer in the herd.

"Health is a really important trait that farmers need to be building into their breeding objectives," and he urged farmers to focus on these traits when selecting bulls to breed animals that are more resistant to mastits, lameness and TB, which - when combined production and fertiltiy traits - will enable future performance to be achieved.

Continuing, Kevin said: “Fertility is a really key trait that farmers need to focus on. While the top 20% of farmers are hitting the 365 days, a lot of the national herd still has a long ways to go in terms of overall fertility.” He added: "We want cows that will last longer, go in calf quicker after calving. They will go back in calf, which would then reduce the number of replacements that farmers will need to be bringing in.”

 The sustainability piece also needs consideration and farmers should understand and utilise the carbon sub-index this breeding season.

Key points

  • EBI is delivering more profit per cow while reducing carbon footprint;
  • Know your herd’s genetic strengths and weaknesses;
  • Use the various ICBF reports to help set breeding objectives;
  • Genotype to identify your best replacements;
  • Use high EBI AI bulls instead of stock bulls;
  • Consider using sexed semen on your best genetic merit animals;
  • Use high DBI AI from the start of breeding on animals <€150;
  • Use the ICBF HerdPlus sire advice tool.

Tools available

Kevin advised farmers to know their figures when it comes to setting breeding objectives for the coming season, focusing specifically on the EBI report and the EBI scorecard, with the latter providing information to identify areas for greatest improvement from a genetic perspective. This scorecard presents information on your herd’s key metrics, national average figures, the top 10% and your herd’s rank nationally. Along with this, it also provides a star rating, making it easier to identify areas of both strength and weakness.

Another useful tool Kevin presented was the Co-op Performance Report, which helps benchmark your herd’s performance within your co-op and amongst similar producer types on the basis of milk production, fertility and genetics. Again, a star-rating system is also used, with herds also ranked out of 100 to give you a target to aim for. In addition to this, Kevin touched on the use of the HerdPlus Dairy Calving Report, which allows actual performance to be assessed at farm level to identify strengths and weaknesses in breeding management, calf management and heifer management.


The full recording of the webinar is available to watch below, where Kevin shows how farmers can interpret and make use of the reports mentioned above.

Also read: Future-proofing through breeding