Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Wednesday 29 March 2017

Pushing for improvement

Better target focus is boosting UCD Lyons' herd

Karina Pierce

At Lyons, there is a focus on using high EBI bulls with a fertility sub-index of at least €70. Factors such as inbreeding, calving ease and price are also taken into account
At Lyons, there is a focus on using high EBI bulls with a fertility sub-index of at least €70. Factors such as inbreeding, calving ease and price are also taken into account

The UCD Lyons Farm has had a dairy enterprise for more than 40 years and it currently stands at 100 cows. Genetics on the farm are Holstein-Friesian and the herd average is 7,000 litres/cow, with milk solids production of around 550kg/cow.

The herd is in liquid milk production and calving is split 75:25 between spring and autumn. The current EBI is €89 but the young stock is significantly higher at €138. Declining reproductive performance was the biggest challenge in the herd and, as a result of this, there is now an equal focus on milk solids and fertility in the EBI of selected sires.

Conception rate to first service in the herd is very respectable at 61pc, but the aim is to continue improving this by using top-ranking EBI bulls with a high fertility sub-index.

One of the main areas of concern in the herd has been the 21-day submission rate, which has been falling far short of the target of 90pc. Increased focus on heat detection and the use of heat detection technologies saw a major improvement in the 21-day submission rate last year, which now stands at 70pc.

Improving submission rates during the period of AI use has increased the six-week in-calf rate, along with the numbers of replacement heifers from high EBI sires, which in turn will help improve the rate of genetic gain in the herd.

Reproductive failure is a multifaceted problem affected in part by feed intake, energy balance, periparturient disorders, correct AI procedure and semen quality. Improvements in genetics and heat detection are key to improving performance of the herd.

At Lyons, there is a focus on the use of high EBI bulls with a fertility sub-index of at least €70. A team of bulls is selected and then the list is refined to take other factors into account, such as inbreeding, calving ease, availability and price. With increasing use of AI resulting in an increase in AI-bred replacement heifers, a stricter culling policy on late calvers or problem cows can be employed. In addition, retaining replacement heifers from problematic cows is avoided as much as possible.

In terms of heat detection, increased visual observation, alongside the use of heat detection aids, is resulting in improved fertility performance of the herd. Cows are checked for heat four times a day for around 30 minutes in the morning and evening and shorter periods of 20 minutes during the day.


It is recommended that one person on the farm is responsible for heat detection and, at Lyons, this responsibility lies with the dairy manager. It is important that heat checking occurs when the cows are not disturbed, so therefore first thing in the morning and again late in the evening are critical times for heat checking.

Moo monitors were bought two years ago and operate on the principle that cows increase physical activity during oestrus. Kamars are also used as an aid to heat detection. They are glued to the tail head, and contain a pressure sensitive dye-filled chamber, which bursts and changes from white to red after a cow is mounted.

Dr Karina Pierce is a lecturer at School of Agriculture Food Science and Veterinary Medicine at UCD

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