As the calving season begins to quieten down on many farms across the country, focus now turns to getting prepared for dairy breeding season.

Management of the herd in the upcoming weeks prior to breeding, ultimately has a detrimental effect on the success of the breeding season. This according to John Greaney, a Teagasc dairy advisor.

The objective on every farm should be to retain 80-82% of the cows currently in the herd to milk again in 2022. In turn, the ideal replacement rate is 18-20% allowing the herd to achieve its full potential in terms of milk solids production.

Higher replacement rates prompt questions, as the age profile of the herd will not support maximum output and the performance of the herd will be reduced.

The optimum replacement rate of 18-20% equates to 5.5 lactations/cow. Ideally, half of the in-calf heifers coming into the herd should be replacing involuntary culls or females that fail to go back in-calf and the other 9-10% voluntary such as late calvers.

Rearing a dairy heifer replacement comes at a cost of close to €1,500. Once a cow, which has been reared on farm, calves for the first time it takes approximately 1.6 lactations before she has covered the cost of taking her through to calving at 24 months.

Simple tasks over the next few weeks will ensure she stays a lot longer.

Heat detection, body condition scoring and tending to problem cows are management protocols all dairy farmers should be currently practising.

1. Heat detection ahead of dairy breeding season

Pre-breeding heat detection is very useful to identify cows that aren’t cycling in advance of the mating start date (MSD). One month before MSD, tail paint all milking cows red.

Note the cows that have paint removed if you see them in heat, but you should be more concerned about the cows that still have the paint. Ideally, over 70% of the herd should be cycling by MSD.

2. Body condition score

Monitoring the condition score of cows prior to breeding is paramount. Cows are inevitably going to be in a negative energy balance as they reach peak lactation before hitting peak dry matter intakes. Consider putting thin cows (<2.75) on once-a-day milking.

3. Problem cows

There will be setbacks in most calving seasons even with the best of management; milk fever; retained placenta; hard calvings; and mastitis.

All of the named issues compromise reproductive efficiency, and if they go unchecked a proportion of these cows will end up on the cull list.

Carry out a scan to check if cows have an infection and ensure they are cycling even if they exhibited signs of heat. The earlier the intervention, the higher the chance of retaining these cows in the herd.