Opinion

The Kingdom’s awash with Friesian bull calves

It seems that milk producers in Kerry have been totally taken aback by what they regard as the abnormally high number of Friesian bull calves born on their farms this spring.

I got a small taste of the debate that is now raging within dairying circles, during a recent visit to the county. Of the four farmers that I called in with, three were more than keen to invite me into their calf sheds to see the outcome of last year’s breeding programme.

One claimed to have had a 75% bull-to-heifer ratio on the ground at that stage. On the other farms the percentage of bull calves was in the high 60s. From what I could gather, all of the farms I called to were using AI last year.

It’s amazing how speculation can run amok when faced with something ‘out of the ordinary’.

The farmer with the exceptionally high number of bull calves is wondering if some AI companies are taking the unwanted male sperm, extracted by way of the semen sexing process, and then mixing them back in with new batches of the semen taken directly from the bulls.

He called it the ‘waste not; want not’ approach to cattle breeding. And, for the record, he kept a straight face when telling me this.

In truth, a lot of what was said to me was uttered in jest. However, I think it might be appropriate for the AI companies to come out with some form of statement, clarifying what are the limits when it comes to the ratio of heifers to bulls that can be born – within the context of a typical Irish breeding programme.

The farmers that I visited were milking relatively manageable numbers of cows – 60 or less. And this brings me on to the next point. I saw a semen flask on each of the farms. This led me to believe that the farmers in question were doing all of the insemination work themselves.

Given the limited number of cows they are breeding, the benefits of using a technician service would surely outweigh the savings these guys hope to make in buying the straws they need directly from an AI company.

Work carried out in Northern Ireland has repeatedly confirmed the significantly greater conception rates that technicians will secure, compared with DIY operators. And to expect small-scale dairy farmers with exclusively spring calving cows to match the industry standards, where insemination rates are concerned, is ludicrous. So here again, the AI companies might wish to go public and educate their customers accordingly!

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