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EBI works but Room for Improvement in Heifer Rearing

The importance of rearing adequate numbers of high quality dairy replacements is the main focus in the Teagasc initiative “Breeding Heifers for Profit”. As part of this initiative, four dairy farm walks in Mayo, Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal are taking place and attracting large attendances.


One of the key messages to emerge at these farm walks is that EBI is working for dairy farmers in the northern region.  Higher EBI cows are producing more milk solids (kg fat and protein), have shorter calving intervals and are lasting longer in the herd.


Pat Clarke, Teagasc Dairy Specialist reminded dairy farmers “to maximise their use of dairy AI this spring, to ensure high EBI replacements for the 2014 calving season, the year before quota removal.  When choosing AI sires, particular attention must be paid to the fertility sub-index part of the overall EBI figure – improvements here will lead to more compact calving and higher survival rates in the herd.  High EBI, AI bred, well reared replacement stock will always be in demand.”


“A single missed heat has been estimated to cost €250.  You cannot be with your cows 24/7, so you need to use the available tools to ensure that all cows in heat are identified for service,” according to Padraig Walshe, Teagasc Dairy Adviser.  He displayed the various alternative aids to heat detection including: tail paint, paint sticks, scratch cards, ‘kamars’ and a chinball for a ‘teaser’ bull.  He reminded farmers that “farmers using AI are not relying totally on observation to identify cows; heat detection aids are being used.  The money spent on these products will be small compared to the cost of a missed heat.”


The key target weight for caving at two years is the weight of the animal at mating. The target is to achieve 60% of mature bodyweight, or 330kg for Holstein Friesian animals.  Peter Comer, Teagasc Dairy Adviser, highlighted the difficulty of achieving this target and reminded farmers that “there is no space for a store period for heifers; the calf rearing period and the first summer at grass are critical to the achievement of the mating weight target.  It is also important that each farmer implements an appropriate herd health programme for their farm, including parasite control and vaccination; the first step in this process is to establish the current herd health status of your herd.” 


The Breeding Heifers for Profit initiative is supported by the four milk processors in the region: Connacht Gold Co-op, Donegal Creameries, Lakeland Dairies and Town of Monaghan Co-op.  The first three farm walks were held in Mayo, Cavan and Monaghan this week, with the final event taking place in Donegal on 14 April.