EBI proving its worth in the Next Generation Herd

The Teagasc Next Generation Herd, assembled in 2012 and situated in Kilworth, Co.Cork, offers a forward view of the performance of high Economic Breeding Index (EBI) animals in Ireland, according to Teagasc’s Morgan O’Sullivan.

Speaking at Moorepark ’17, O’Sullivan discussed the establishment of the Next Generation Herd and the effectiveness of using EBI to deliver greater productivity and profitability for Irish dairy farmers going forward.

There are two distinct EBI groups of exclusively Holstein Friesian cows: 90 elite cows with an extremely high EBI of €154 and 45 national average representative cows with an EBI of €51.

Animals were identified by screening the national database and were sourced from the national herd and from within Teagasc herds, O’Sullivan explained.

The elite group are firmly within the top 1% of the breed in the country based on EBI.

Teagasc estimates that the elite animals are about two generations ahead of the current national herd, according to O’Sullivan.

Elite versus national average – results

O’Sullivan described the results of the four-year study as very positive. Performance differences are in line with expectations based on EBI, according to Teagasc.

In terms of milk volume, the Walsh Fellow said: “You’re looking at about 200kg less milk from the elite cows, but significantly higher fat and protein levels.

“And that lends itself to an increased milk solids (MS) production of 9kg/cow in the elite group.

Over the full lactation, the elite cows had a significantly greater body condition score (BCS); the elite group had a mean BCS of 2.92, versus 2.74 for cows in the national average group.

“The elite cows display the propensity to hold condition better which has knock-on benefits for fertility,” O’Sullivan commented.

Fertility performance

Large differences in fertility were observed between the two EBI groups and the elite cows are ticking all the boxes in terms of fertility performance.

“We have 92% of the elites submitted in the first three weeks of the breeding season versus 86% in the national average group,” O’Sullivan stated.

The elite group is targeting a conception rate to first service of 60%, O’Sullivan said, while it lags at 46% in the national average group.

Six week in-calf rate is at 73% in the elites versus 58% in the national average. Referring to the Teagasc target value of 75%, O’Sullivan highlighted the Next Generation Herd is very much in line with that target.

“In terms of the pregnancy rate at the end of the of the 12-week breeding season, we have, on average, 92% of the elite animals pregnant versus 81% in the national average group.

It’s textbook fertility performance.

Because of these fertility differences the elite group had a replacement rate of 17%, while the national average required a 27% replacement rate, the PhD student explained.

And, as a result, a much more mature herd profile would be expected with higher EBI cows.

At farm level, about €200/cow or €600/ha additional profit could be generated from high EBI animals, O’Sullivan said, adding: “Fertility is driving it.”

“We’re seeing a 15% higher six week in-calf rate and an 11% higher 12-week in-calf rate.

“There is about €100 of a difference in EBI, €154 versus €51, but the fertility sub-index (FSI) is the biggest thing.

“The elite animals have a mean FSI of €80 versus €13 in the national average group. That’s what farmers should be striving for to achieve this standard of fertility performance,” O’Sullivan concluded.