Two successive years of falling AI usage within the national dairy herd has created a dearth in the number of replacement heifers now available to Irish milk producers, according to Progressive Genetics’ Laurence Feeney.

“The ICBF national figures for 2014 confirm a year-on-year drop in the number of 4% dairy replacements born and  a drop in cows bred to dairy AI sires of 6%.

“The trend for this year is that cows are calving a little earlier, but the word coming back from farmers on the ground is that they put sweeper bulls in a week or two earlier than would normal,” he said.

Feeney is attributing the fall-off in AI sires births last year to the fodder and weather crisis in spring 2013 and the fact that milk producers put bulls out early as a direct consequence of the other pressures on them at that time.

“Quota pressures seem to have been the reason for the drop in AI usage last year,” he said.

“But the combined impact of all this is a distinct shortage in the number of replacement heifers now available to the milk industry. And this is being mirrored on the ground in terms of the strong prices now being paid for dairy breeding stock.”

Feeney believes this trend may well prevent Ireland from reaching its 50% dairy expansion target before 2020. He is also expecting a rebound in the use of dairy AI this year.

Farmers expecting to buy in dairy heifers for expansion may have to rethink and breed more replacements from their own herds. Certainly, farmers with milking stock to sell can expect a good market for them.

“And in this regard they have two options: use conventional straws and/or use sexed semen. Approximately, 6% of calves born on Irish farms are conceived using sexed semen. The technology does work, but a word of caution is required.

“It works best on maiden heifers; every management requirement of these animals must be addressed and, invariably, the best results are achieved when a technician undertakes the insemination procedures.”