Farm Ireland

Sunday 18 March 2018

Choosing the ideal cow for your farm

Dairy farmers are reviewing their breeding strategies.
Dairy farmers are reviewing their breeding strategies.

Breeding the right type of cow for the future of dairy farming is the topic to be discussed at one of the breakout workshops at this year's Teagasc National Dairy Conference in Kilkenny which take place on two days on 8 and 9 of December.

With the removal of milk quotas, dairy farmers are reviewing their breeding strategies. Farmers are asking a lot of questions at the moment:

Can we ignore hybrid vigour? It's worth €200 profit per lactation. How much profit does hybrid vigour add if herd fertility is already good? If you want to raise a row at discussion group just mention crossbreeding -

What is the best option for farmers limited by land area? Should they drive on yield - breeding a cow that responds to more concentrates? If this means adopting higher costs systems of milk production, it will leave them more exposed in an era of milk price volatility.

The general consensus is that the fertility issue has been solved. Does this means that as an industry we can place less emphasis on it and focus instead on other traits?

The speakers throwing in the ball for this particular workshop at the conference are Teagasc dairy adviser Brian Hilliard who is based in Dungarvan, Dr Andrew Cromie from ICBF in Bandon and Dr Donagh Berry, Teagasc Moorepark.

Emerging trends

Analysis of the national milk production, fertility and herd genetic data for 2010 and estimates for 2015 is presented in the table.

Also Read

Clearly genetic and fertility progress has been substantial. Milk production was constrained by access to quota. Now this restriction has been removed.

While for example, national herd size increased by an estimated 36pc between 2010 and 2015, there is considerable variation in both the scale of the increase and current average herd size.

Average herd size is now estimated to be 75 cows and the size of the average dairy herd is expected to grow further still to 85 cows per dairy farm by 2020 (Teagasc Road Map for Dairying).

The figures presented uses data from the Teagasc eProfit Monitor from 2010.

Herd size categories

There are effectively three herd size categories evident:

- Less than 100 cow category. These will make up approximately 75pc of all dairy farms by 2020. On such farms labour is typically provided by the farmer with family and seasonal help for silage making and calving.

- The 100-200 cow category. These will make up approximately 20pc of all dairy farms by 2020.

Labour is typically provided by the farmer and one full-time hired worker.

- The greater than 200 cow category. These will make up approximately 5pc of all dairy farms in the database.

Typically the owner operates more in a managerial capacity; two or more full-time hired workers on the farms.

Questions that must be asked as a result of this analysis

What steps should Irish dairy farmers take next to breed the right cow for their farms?

Are the breeding objectives of the three different categories identified above the same or different?

Will breeding emphasis change in future - if so what areas are likely to become more important in the years ahead?

George Ramsbottom is a Teagasc dairy specialist based in Oak Park, Co Carlow email

Maximising the benefits of new dairy technologies

Technologies which dairy farmers can use to improve their farm business performance are the focus of the Teagasc National Dairy Conference on Tuesday, December 8 and Wednesday, December 9 in the Lyrath Hotel in Co Kilkenny. 'Managing in a new era' is the theme of the event.

This year's conference takes a new format to previous years. It will be held over two days, with farmers having the option of attending either or both days.

The most innovative aspect is the inclusion of break out sessions on both afternoons.

Farmers have the choice of seven different workshops on each day, from which they can select three.

The workshop highlighted on this page - How to breed the right cow for your farm - takes place on Tuesday.

To see the full programme and to book your place, visit or contact 01 2968688, or email teagascndc2015@conference

On Tuesday the key note speakers are Mark Voorbergen, Voorbergen consultancy, who will give his outlook for dairying. Sean Gallagher, entrepreneur, will talk about 'Measuring the financial well-being of a growing business'.

On Wednesday, Declan Coyle from Andec consulting will speak about 'Managing yourself' while Mark Payne from Dairy NZ will address the topic of 'Managing others successfully'.

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