How did Ireland become the world leader in breeding dairy cows for grazing systems?

The quality of the AI bulls available to Irish dairy farmers is increasing at an exponential rate, according to Progressive Genetics’ Laurence Feeney.

“This is in total contrast to the situation that prevailed a decade ago,” he said.

“Back then there was a critical infertility crisis impacting across the industry as a whole with Irish farmers reliant, for the most part, on semen imported from countries such as US, France and the Netherlands.

“During the ensuing period the establishment of the EBI system and the setting up of a comprehensive national breeding data base by ICBF has served to revolutionise the dairy breeding programmes implemented in this country. As a consequence, 80% plus of the dairy bulls used as AI sires in Ireland are now homebred.”

Feeney also points out that the use of genomics has helped to bring about a step change in the rate of genetic improvement secured within the national dairy herd.

“The ICBF data base tells us where the young bulls can potentially be found: it’s then a case of going out and testing them as young animals. At the present time, 4,000 potential sires are genomically assessed as calves on an annual basis.

“Ireland is unique in producing milk from grazed grass. It was important that the breeding trends within the dairy sector reflected these needs. And the good news for Irish dairy farmers is the fact that they can now access a range of home bred AI bulls that are totally fit for purpose on their farms.”

Last year Progressive and Munster AI’s top 10 AI sires had an average EBI of €301. In 2015, the equivalent figure is €331.

“This is firm evidence of the improvements made by Irish dairy farmers in breeding higher quality bulls,” said Feeney.

“But the even better news for the industry as a whole is the fact that we are now seeing a dramatic improvement in the EBI values within the national dairy cow population.”

It’s great to see an Irish success story based on great industry cooperation and a large scale, farmer-owned breeding programme delivering real improvements that everyone can benefit from, Laurence said.

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