Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Friday 19 April 2019

8 key things farmers should know when selecting bulls this breeding season

Claire Fox

Claire Fox

With breeding season fast approaching, the ICBF's Kevin Downing told the Teagasc Dairy Edge podcast his top tips for top sire selection.

1. Know your own needs first

Before examining the ICBF’s active bull list Kevin recommends that farmers examine their own herd to find out what genetic traits they are lacking and what they would like to improve upon.

“The first step to take before farmers even look at bulls is to know where they are at themselves and what their own herd is producing from a genetic point of view in order to give an overview of the breakdown of milk and fertility traits as they are the key traits in the EBI,” he said.

“Once you establish where you’re at and what areas are weak and what you can improve on, then you can go about selecting a team of bulls. There is a sire advice programme available which will allow you to choose which females you want to breed.”

2. No extremes

Kevin advised that farmers should take a balanced approach when picking their team of bulls and not just ones that either only have good fertility traits or good milk traits.

“You can shortlist your bulls down to which ones address whatever issues you have in your herd. You can pick bulls that are strong in fertility, if your herd protein percentage is very poor you can zone in on bulls that have a high protein percentage,” he said.

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"But you want a balanced animal that has both milk and fertility, you don’t want extremes.”

3. High EBI

Kevin pointed out that the higher the EBI the more profitable the progeny are likely to be, but added that calving dates are also a key consideration.

“There are two key things- the EBI is the number one. The higher EBI bulls are the best ones. That being said if you have a high EBI cow that’s calving in April she is not going to be as profitable as a cow that is calving in February so again you have to look at the calving date of your cow,” adds Kevin.

“Whether you breed dairy AI to that animal or not, the EBI is what you look at. The higher the EBI the more profitable your progeny will be.

“If you’re looking at culling animals from the herd the key tool that we have is the Cow's Own Worth Index that looks at a number of factors. It looks at the age of the animal, its own performance and it looks at its future performance, as well as its replacement value.”

4. Daughter proven bulls versus genomically selected bulls

Focusing on just daughter proven bulls would result in significant losses in profits and genetic gains, according to Kevin.

“If you take the top 20 bulls and compare their EBI to the top 20 bulls that are genomically selected, you are looking at a €70 difference between the daughter proven and the genomically selected bulls.

“Three to four years of genetic gains would be lost if you just focus on daughter proven. That’s not to say you can’t use a daughter proven bull or two in your team, by all means that’s not to be discounted, but by just focusing in on daughter proven you could lose genetic gain,” added Kevin.

5. Use a team of bulls

In order to minimise risk of genetic and profitability losses, Kevin recommended that farmers use a team of eight bulls.

“In the past we would’ve been recommending five bulls but that recommendation has moved to eight bulls now. The reason being that a lot of the bulls on the active bull list might have had the same sire.

"If that sire falls it might affect a couple of bulls on the actual list. We have moved that recommendation up to 8 bulls for your typical 100/150 cow herd.”

6. Number of Straws

“Looking at a replacement rate of 18-20pc which is the average that we have in Ireland, you’re looking at the best herds maybe having two straws to get a cow in calf calving , you’re looking at 80 cows for a 100 cow herd, so that’s 4 straws per cow because half of them will be male and half of them will be female,” stated Kevin.

7. Stock bulls

Kevin explained that if farmers are going to use a stock bull they should really focus in on the EBI of the bull they are buying in order to ensure increased performance and profitability.

“The average EBI of the stock bull in Ireland is €100 euro behind the AI bull. It’s €110 euro vs €210.”

8. Heifers have the best genetics

Kevin said that heifers should be calved down at 22-26 months because evidence shows that these animals last longer in the herd and produce more solids.

“Currently we are only at about 70pc of animals calving in that window nationally. If you focus in on your early calving cows you’re making sure they are getting a good start from the word go and this will help you achieve 26 months calving targets”

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