Boosting cow numbers will pay off
By the end of the current milk quota regime, our quota size will have increased by just over 10pc. To enable us to fill all that milk quota, we need an additional 70,000 cows.
In the milk quota year just gone, we were under quota to the tune of 10pc. So, it will take a very big turnaround for us to not only fill our existing milk quota, but also the additional quota we are now receiving each April.
What's the key to increasing cow numbers on your farm? The answer is fairly straightforward: breed the replacement heifers to dairy AI sires. Currently, for every 100 dairy cows, we are breeding 26 replacement heifers. This is an improvement on the situation three to four years ago, when we were only breeding 21 heifers for every 100 cows.
Will 26 replacement heifers/100 cows allow us to find the extra 70,000 cows that the industry needs? No it will not. Approximately 10pc of the replacement heifers fail to make it to the milking parlour, so straight away one is working with a lower figure. Current replacement rates on farms are of the order of 25pc. This is not only due to high empty rates on farms, but also health issues such as a high somatic cell count.
So, if we accept that current numbers of heifers being reared on dairy farms are not sufficient to grow the national dairy herd, how many heifers should we be rearing per 100 cows to increase the size of the dairy herd to required levels?
The target for your farm should be to rear 40 replacement heifers/100 cows. So, how do we go from 26 heifers to 40 heifers? Well, the answer is fairy straightforward. Use enough dairy AI straws and begin with the replacement heifers.
In the EBI Discussion Group competition, the overall number of AI straws used on dairy heifers was 72 straws for every 100 cows. This is well below one straw/replacement heifer. So, if we are breeding Friesian AI on our dairy heifers, we are currently not using enough straws.
Current data suggests that to get 40 heifers from 100 cows, we need to use at least five straws per heifer. That's a total of 200 straws/100 cows, or two straws/cow. We can reduce that figure substantially if we use 1.3 straws on each of our maiden heifers.