Teagasc winter milk events are taking place this week and are giving liquid milk producers the latest updates and outlook for the season ahead.

The events are focusing on cost of production, feeding efficiency and breeding targets for liquid milk herds.

Liquid milk

During the first event held in Co. Meath earlier this week James Dunne, winter milk specialist with Teagasc, discused the importance of calving patterns.

“Calving pattern dictates milk profile and when we look nationally, there is not enough cows calved in autumn on liquid milk farms,” he said.

“People think that is strange because a lot of the noise is that we should be switching to spring.

“But the vast majority of farms should be calving more cows in the autumn.”

James Dunne winter milk specialist with Teagasc

Commenting further he said: “What we want is to efficiently fill contract volumes and the October/November freshly calved cow is the most efficient cow to do this in the December-January period.

“What we don’t want is a load of stales or late calvers from the spring herd being used to fill contract volume.

“These cows just aren’t as efficient in terms of converting feed into milk.”

James also outlined how calving pattern has a number of other impacts on farms and thus impacts on farm profitability.

They included the amount of concentrate feeding, forage supplies/budget, amount of youngstock required and the labour input required/cow.


James outlined a number of targets that winter milk or split-calving herds should be aiming for during the breeding and calving season.

He said that the target calving interval for autumn-calving herds is <370 days. The longer the calving interval the longer a cow spends in a stale period, which means that farmers are losing out on potential production from these cows.

For a spilt-calving herd, the target is to have 80%+ of the herd calving in the first six-weeks of the calving season.

James then outlined the target replacement rate and recycling rate of cows in split calving herds.

“We need to continue to work hard, to get a replacement rate of 20%,” he said.

“We all have favourite cows, but out of every 100 cows your only allowed five favourites.

“One of the biggest inefficiencies on split calving herds is the recycling of cows in the herd.”

The table below outlines the targets for spilt calving herds:

Measuring herd fertility Target
Calving interval<370 days
Spring six-week calving rate 80%+
Autumn six-week calving rate 80%+
Replacement rate 20%
Recyling rate5%
Table source: Teagasc

Commenting further, James said: “When we look at a lot of herds, we see replacement rates of 20% or 22%, but then there is also 16% to 18% of cows recycled.

“If they move from the autumn to the spring, it is not as big of a deal compared to moving from spring to autumn.

“Because you are going from a high cost to a low-cost period, but we want to limit the number of cows recycling within the herd and as we improve fertility this number will reduce.”

James highlight that going forward lactation/cow is going be an important measure on farms.

He said that it is important that cows are not just kept in the herd in order to reach this figure however, but that it needs to be driven by the number of fourth and fifth-lactation cows in the herd.