‘Pedigree dairy breeders must make better use of grass’

Irish pedigree dairy farmers must learn to make better use of grazed grass in their production systems, according to Irish Holstein Friesian Breeders Association (IHFA) member Mervyn Eager.

“Grass is the cheapest feed that we can offer dairy cows,” he said.

“I don’t think this crucially-important dimension to dairy cow management is reflected strongly enough in the practises followed by quite a number of our top pedigree breeders.”

The Co. Dublin man judged the dairy championship at last weekend’s Newry Show. He characterised the most appropriate dairy cow for Irish conditions as one that can produce 8,000L of milk per annum from grazed grass, silage and approximately one tonne of concentrate feed.

“It is quite feasible to achieve this level of performance from spring-calving herds,” he said.

“The breeding animals are already on the ground to make this happen. Fundamentally, farmers want to produce cows with the dairy strength required to produce large volumes of milk from forage and concentrate feeding, when required. It’s all about getting the balance right.”

Eager also pointed out that Irish milk producers do not put enough emphasis on breeding replacements from their best cow families.

“Dairy farmers north and south are guilty of thinking that they can breed their way out of problems by using the latest high profile AI bull,” he said.

“Not enough importance is placed on the merit of the cow families that already exist within a herd. So, before buying one straw of semen farmers should actively select their best cows and use them as the focus of their future breeding plans.”

“I judge herd competitions every year, which gives me the opportunity to view hundreds of cows on a wide range of farms.

“The reality is that the host farmers will always show me their top cows first. So it shouldn’t be that difficult a challenge to ensure that these top animals are fully utilised within breeding programmes the length and breadth of the country.”

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