‘Nutrition is key’: Top tips to successful breeding on dairy farms

Breeding is a crucial time in the farm calendar. The success of your breeding season is dependent on a number of factors within your control, namely nutrition.

Glanbia spoke to two dairy farmers, Aidan O’Donovan and Colm Fitzpatrick, about their breeding strategies and the importance of a robust nutrition plan to ensure a successful breeding season.

Aidan O’Donovan, Co. Kilkenny

Aidan O’Donovan from Kilmoganny, Co. Kilkenny, operates a dairy cow herd in partnership with his parents Eddie and Mary.

“We are a 100% spring-calving herd. The cows are stocked at four cows per hectares, although we do have access to land at the shoulders of the year. The cows are milking 6,000L of milk. 490kg of milk solids is what was sold to the creamery, but some of the calves receive whole milk in addition.

“The herd EBI is 119. Milk ureas are at 20mg,” said Aidan.

Performance nutrition

Aidan prioritises nutrition on his farm. “Nutrition is key. If I can give the cows what they need, they in turn will produce quality milk and healthy calves.

“During the winter we fed cows with silage and straw along with GAIN Pre-Calver Gold. We purchased maize this spring because the cows aren’t out.

“For early spring the cows were receiving 8kg of maize, silage and 6kg of GAIN Spring Starter Dairy, an 18% protein nut. Today the cows are at grass full time and getting 6kg of Spring Starter, a 16% protein nut,” said Aidan.


Aidan implements a robust breeding plan on his farm.

“Last year, we AI’d for five weeks. In 2019, our empty rate was at 7%. The best cows were kept to Friesian while the poorer ones were bred to Belgian Blue. We then release an Angus stock bull to clean up and cover any repeats.

“Since we started using GAIN Spring Breeder the cows are hitting their targets,” Aidan admitted.

Increased breeding efficiency

Last year, Aidan started using GAIN Spring Breeder and has seen many benefits as a result, especially when it comes to getting the herd back in calf.

“Before giving the herd GAIN Spring Breeder, calving and breeding were dragged out. We would have had a much lower percentage of the herd calved within six weeks and some of the cows would repeat during breeding.

“GAIN Spring Breeder and GAIN Spring Starter Dairy have addressed this issue for me. This year, 78% of the herd have calved within six weeks, compared to 61% during the same period last year.

“Calving is much more compact; the calves are healthier and breeding is efficient,” according to Aidan.

Feeding regime

Currently, the cows are receiving 6kg of GAIN Spring Starter Dairy. Aidan switches to GAIN Spring Breeder once the cow calves.

“We continue to feed 2.5–3kg of GAIN Spring Breeder throughout the breeding season as it means that the cows are in the right condition and ready for breeding. Once the cows are let out to grass they will be getting about 3kg of GAIN Spring Breeder,” said Aidan.

GAIN technical support

John Dalton is Aidan’s GAIN business manager. Aidan believes that having access to this service from GAIN is very important and helpful.

“John has been with us for many years now. We’ve built up a very strong relationship where I can call on him day or night, anything from advice on feed to advice in general,” said Aidan.

We decide on a nutritional plan for the herd at the start of the year so we know exactly what the cows need to get and when they need to get it. It’s one less thing that I don’t have to worry about. The support that’s available from GAIN is really top class.

Colm Fitzpatrick, Co. Westmeath

Colm Fitzpatrick operates a dairy cow herd in Addinstown, Delvin, Co. Westmeath.

“I milk 50 British Friesian cows and run a dairy-to-beef system on the farm. It is a 40% autumn; 60% spring-calving system. My herd EBI is 102. The cows are averaging 7,500L over the lactation with 4.35% butterfat and 3.51% protein.”

Performance nutrition

Colm places a major focus on the nutrition of his herd. Once the cows are out to grass full time, Colm will start using GAIN Spring Breeder.

“Once the cows are let out, I will switch to GAIN Spring Breeder, giving 4kg/head/day. In the past, I have found that it has worked well in achieving a high-submission rate and as a result a higher conception rate. GAIN Spring Breeder has also resulted in a much more compact-calving period,” according to Colm.

Colm feels that by using a range of products from GAIN that he is giving his herd all that it needs.

“I’ve been using the GAIN product range for many years now and have found it to be what works best for me and my herd. By using GAIN Premium Dairy 16, GAIN Spring Breeder and GAIN Pre-Calver Gold, it plays a key role in the year-round mineral programme that I implement on the farm.

“I find that by using the range of GAIN products on the farm, it optimises efficiencies for me and ensures that I’m getting the most from my herd,” said Colm.

GAIN technical support

Edward Colgan is Colm’s GAIN business manager on the farm. Colm believes that the service that GAIN offers its clients is excellent.

“I’ve been working with Edward for many years now. He calls to the farm regularly to make sure that the herd is performing. If changes are needed, they are made straight away which means that my herd is performing at its best all the time.

“We sit down and decide on a nutrition programme that meets the needs of the cows and will deliver on what I am looking to achieve. He also tests the silage quality on a regular basis and has introduced me to the Twenty20 Beef Club, which means that I’m now getting a premium price for my beef.

“With Edward on board, it means I can concentrate on the work that needs to be done. We are a very good team.”

The importance of minerals

Colm implements a full mineral programme across the board and uses the GAIN feed range.

“Colm is running a very efficient system here on the farm and has a focus on improving year on year. He maintains a low milk urea as we see this as wasted protein, but also has a negative impact on herd conception rates.

“The protected minerals in the GAIN feeds that Colm uses, the cows will receive Bioplex copper and manganese which supports fertility; Bioplex zinc which supports udder and hoof health; Sell-Plex selenium which supports immunity, fertility and somatic sell count (SCC).

“Colm’s herd has a low cell count and high fertility as a result,” said Edward.

The cost of poor breeding

Commenting on Aidan’s and Colm’s breeding system, Maeve Regan, feed technical specialist with Glanbia Ireland, tells us that a missed heat can result in a significant financial loss to the farm.

A missed heat can cost the farmer €250/cow. Nationally, only 65% of the dairy herd calves in the first six weeks of the calving season.

“Teagasc targets are 80% calved in the first six weeks so Aidan’s and Colm’s numbers are in a very strong position. For a 100-cow herd, increasing the six-week calving rate from 70% to 90% is worth €16,500/annum.

“Increasing your six-week calving rate from 60% to 90% is worth over €12,000 on a 50-cow herd, and over €24,000 on a 100-cow herd due to increased days in milk, increased longevity within the herd and reduced repeat costs.”

GAIN spring breeding tips

Glanbia has included some useful tips and advice below to help optimise breeding on your farm.

To order GAIN Spring Breeder, log into your account on: Glanbiaconnect.com or talk to your local GAIN business manager.