As the spring calving season begins to wind down on farms across the country, many farmers will now begin planning for the breeding season.

The Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) has released its breeding guidelines for spring 2021, which outlines six steps for farmers to follow for a more successful breeding season.

1. Strengths and Weaknesses

Knowing your herd’s strengths and weaknesses, will allow you make better breeding decisions.

Possible strengths and weaknesses to consider include: milk production; fertility; calving performance; beef; cow maintenance; cow management; health.

Using the economic breeding index (EBI) scorecard will allow you identify your strengths and weaknesses, using the scorecard, five-star indicates a herd is in the top 20%, while one-star indicates being in the bottom 20%.

Image source: ICBF

2. Use a team of bulls

Select a team of high EBI artificial insemination (AI) bulls when breeding your dairy replacements.

Nationally, farmers tend to use a sufficiently large team of bulls. The common mistake made by many is that individual bulls in the team can be overused.

Typically, 34% of calves in dairy herds are sired by one bull and this is too high. The risk is that if the bull should subsequently fall in EBI then the genetic merit of the progeny will also be affected.

The key message is when planning what bull to use the farmer should also plan how to use each bull equally across the herd

For a typical 100-cow herd, a minimum of eight bulls should be used on your herd, with no more than 15% of matings to any one bull. This is the advice regardless of whether the bulls are genomic or daughter proven.

Image source: ICBF

3. Target high EBI females

Target high EBI females (typically maiden heifers, first and second calvers) to breed your next generation of dairy replacements. Lower EBI cows should be bred to beef AI from the start of the breeding season.

4. Dairy beef index

Use the dairy beef index (DBI) to select suitable beef AI sires for your dairy herd. A team of bulls should be selected that suits the various dams in your herd (maiden heifers, young cows and mature cows) and the number of these that are selected for beef AI.

Bulls with higher beef merit figures should be selected for older animals. Consider the use of vasectomised bulls in conjunction with beef AI as an alternative to beef stock bulls. Avoid using dairy sweeper bulls.

5. Herdplus app

Use the ICBF HerdPlus sire advice tool to help manage your breeding programme and simplify the process of sire selection. It will allocate your bulls to cows based on their strengths and weaknesses, as well as manage inbreeding.

Cows designated for beef AI should be flagged to ensure that only the best animals are used to breed dairy herd replacements.

6. Sexed semen

If using sexed semen, only use high EBI sires and ensure that all sexed semen inseminations occur early in the breeding season. Any inseminations with Jersey or cross-bred bulls should be conducted using sexed semen only.

Pay careful attention to straw handling procedures, as sexed semen contains fewer sperm, and these sperm are more fragile after the sorting process.