At yesterday’s Irish Grassland Association dairy conference in Kilkenny, Dr Frank Buckley, principal research officer in Teagasc, outlined some of his thoughts on breeding strategy for farmers post the removal of milk quotas in 2015.

He said Irish dairy farmers must focus to continue the genetic progress that has been made to remove the greatest constraint to maximising profitability from a seasonal grass-based system, poor fertility.

According to Dr Buckley: “There is a lot of anecdotal evidence or talk that we should be now moving towards a more productive element, that we have the fertility side half sussed. At the end of the day fertility has to be the Number 1. He cited that not meeting fertility targets is costing the average farmer €200 per cow.”

He advised farmers to “get the fertility right first and utilise your grass with productive animals”.

Dr Buckley stressed: “Cow fertility remains the key challenge at farm level and the greatest constraint to optimising profit on Irish dairy farms now and post-quota. He noted that although national trends are encouraging.

“As far as improving fertility and longevity is concerned, at national level we still have a very long way to go,” he cited.

With this in mind, Dr Buckley asked farmers particularly ones not reaching the high levels of fertility to strongly consider crossbreeding. He said Teagasc research studies have demonstrated that crossbred cows will generate more profit (+€100 per cow per lactation) when compared to their straight bred contemporaries of similar EBI. This is achieved through a combination of breed complementarity and hybrid vigour.

He said: “My own experience and research would tell me that everybody in this room would benefit from crossbreeding.”

Dr Buckley commented: “Our advice to farmers is simple. Think profit and actively strive to breed cows that will deliver that profit consistently.”

“Target the most suitable genetics and maximise its use in the herd. As far as sire selection is concerned use a team of the very highest EBI sires. By suitable genetics I am taking about EBI. Maximising quality genetics whether it’s cross breeding or straight breeding. EBI identifies the most profitable animal,” he added.

Dr Buckley also stressed: “We can use all the right genetics, but we need attention to detail when it comes to management.” Actively striving to improve requires attention to detail in areas such as heifer rearing, cow condition and heat detection among more.

“These are basics that are all too often overlooked but are under farmer control,” he added.