How to breed the ideal dairy cow is the a question that many dairy farmers ask themselves and a topic that was addressed at the Teagasc Dairy Conference.

However, the colour of the dairy cow should not be the key driver when planning your future herd, Donagh Berry told the conference.

Over the past few decades, the fat composition of Irish bulk tanks is increasing as are protein levels and this, he said, is happening through breeding.

In the past 10 years it has been worth over €100m/year to the Irish dairy industry.

However, he said that calving intervals have not kept pace and, in fact, the ‘gains’ in reproductive performance – up to 2000 when the EBI was introduced – have not been good.

Since 2000, when the EBI was introduced, he said that Teagasc can project that by 2020 the reproductive levels of heifers will be the same as they were in 1986 while we have got the yields we currently have.

Berry also said that animal health issues such as tuberculosis can be addressed when looking at breeding. He pointed out that one bull had conceived daughters – 90% of which developed tuberculosis during their lifetime, across a number of herds, while other bulls had very low incidences of tuberculosis.

The genetic data on tuberculosis will be available in the coming years he said, while Johne’s Disease and BVD, he said, could also be addressed through better breeding.

The Ideal Cow

But when it comes to breeding the ideal cow, breed is irrelevant if there is a roadmap of what is required.

Other speakers on the topic also said that issues such as fertility, greater milk solids and ease of management should be the key drivers when it comes to breeding, not the colour of the cow

Brian Hilliard also said that crossbred cows are becoming more popular as they are easier to manage and as the herd expands there is more ground to cover for the cow.

“Farmers find the crossbred cow gives some of these answers.”