As the breeding season begins, it is time to sit up and take notice of the cows currently milking in your herd or maybe even those which still have yet to calve.

Teagasc recommends “taking a closer look at your herd’s figures on a per cow basis” to see which cows are making a farmer money and those which are not.

Identifying these underperforming cows – which every farmer is guilty of holding onto – will help you “to make better breeding decisions” when matching the most suitable bull to the most suitable cow.

These underperforming cows can be identified using milk recording results or the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation’s (ICBF) Cow’s Own Worth (COW) online tool. Although, a lot of these cows may already be known by the farmer for one reason or another.

Teagasc suggests categorising the herd into three groups before mating start date (MSD).

These groups should include those:
  • Suitable for breeding with dairy artificial insemination (AI);
  • Suitable for breeding with high dairy-beef index bulls;
  • Suitable for culling.

Breeding season targets

Firstly, decide on the number of replacement heifers you will require for your herd. The target is 20% for a stable herd. Then work out how many cows you will need to breed to dairy AI to reach this target.

According to Teagasc: “5.5 straws per replacement heifer are needed” can be used as a guideline, but this could be reduced to 4.5 straws – depending on the fertility status of the herd. However, using “at least one round of AI on replacement heifers” should largely contribute to the amount needed.

Then decide which cows are suitable for culling and are not being bred off. These may include cows which are lame, have a high somatic cell count (SCC) or are late calvers.

Lastly, select the lower-performing cows which should be bred with beef AI or bulls from the dairy-beef index.

These may include cows which are producing a lower than average amount of milk solids (MS), have a later-calving date, have a higher than average SCC or cows with any other issue affecting their milk production capabilities.