Yesterday (Tuesday November 23) marked the first day of the Teagasc National Dairy Conference, which is being held virtually.

The first day of the conference focused on meeting climate obligations and the future direction of dairy breeding.

Sexed semen

As highlighted at the Moorepark open day, the use of sexed semen is set to increase on Irish farms, which will change the calf crop produced by the national dairy herd.

Based off 2020 figures, 27% of calves born each year are female dairy calves, 27% are male dairy calves and 46% are beef calves.

By using sexed straws to generate replacements, these figures would change to 27% for female dairy calves, 3% for male dairy calves and 70% for beef calves.

Speaking at the National Dairy Conference, Stephen Butler highlighted that: “The recent opening of the sexed semen lab in Moorepark will mean that the best bull will now be available as sexed straw.

“Previously, the artificial insemination (AI) companies had to send bulls out of the country to obtain a sexed straw, which meant that collection from these bulls was not possible for conventional straws.

“This meant that the AI companies were reluctant to send their top bulls to be sexed.

“With the lab now in Moorepark these bulls can remain on their collection schedule, with the semen being sent to the lab in Moorepark for sexing.”

When used on the correct cows and heifers, sexed semen had a conception rate just as good as conventional semen. Farmers should follow the guidelines for sexed semen when using it.

calf registrations

Dairy beef

The use of sexed semen will have an impact on the calf crop coming from the national dairy herd, with more higher value beef calves being born on farm.

Dr. Nicky Byrne from Teagasc, speaking at the National Dairy Conference, highlighted how using high merit beef animals on the dairy herd can help reach the emission targets.

Dr. Byrne outlined that the national dairy herd has a calf crop of 1.15 million beef calves.

He stated that 35% of these calves remain on the farm they were born, 35% are sold to other farms for dairy beef systems and the remaining 30% go for export, or are mortalities (die on farms).

The final 30% are the calves we must focus on to improve their genetic merit and make them more attractive for domestic demand.

Dr. Byrne outlined that improving the genetic merit of beef calves born on farms will not just be beneficial for dairy farmers, but also beef farms and climate targets.

Dr. Byrne stated that: “10,076 farms purchase dairy beef calves in Ireland, with the average number of calves purchased/year being 37.

“There is scope to improve the number of calves being purchased by these farmers, but profitability is a massive challenge.

“Looking at the attrition rates, for the number of farmers that remain in dairy beef systems over a five year period, only 39% continue to purchase calves.

“Profitability is the biggest challenge facing beef farmers rearing dairy calves, which can be attributed to reduce carcass performance meaning the animal is finished later.”

Dr. Byrne added that if you are using a beef bull on your cows you might as well use a good one and that ongoing trials have highlighted that in-spec carcasses can be achieved from beef-bred dairy calves in 20 months.

The trail has also determine that this was not possible with Friesian bulls from the top four economic breeding index (EBI) bulls.