Farm Ireland

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Credibility of EBI ratings gets boost on Hyland farm walk

Damer Discussion Group members Tony Roe and David Kerr speak
at the ACC Bank EBI Open Day on Padraig Hyland's farm, Ballacolla, Co Laois
Damer Discussion Group members Tony Roe and David Kerr speak at the ACC Bank EBI Open Day on Padraig Hyland's farm, Ballacolla, Co Laois

John Shirley

Two farm walks with a difference took place last week. These were the ACCBank EBI €100 open days in Laois and Cork. I rambled across to the Laois event at Padraig Hyland's in Ballacolla.

The difference was that the farm-walk content was about dairy discussion group performance and dynamics. The farmers themselves fronted the information stands, presented the arguments and results on breeding, on grassland management, etc.

In contrast to the normal Teagasc farm walk, where speakers can take time to build up to the point, the farmers presented short, sharp messages. If the message needed back-up figures, these were also available on charts and display boards. If things got really sticky, there was a Teagasc expert hovering in the background.

Padraig Hyland is a member of the 22-strong Damer dairy discussion group. This group had jointly won the ACCBank EBI €100 competition last year, along with the Crookstown group in Cork.

EBI stands for Economic Breeding Index, which predicts the genetic merit of dairy cattle in euro. The index has evolved during the past decade and initially created controversy in the high weighing attributed to cow fertility rather than milk yield.

The core message from the Damer group open day was that EBI is working. Farmers can be confident that EBI is an accurate predictor of the profit potential of dairy bulls and dairy cows.

The Damer group looked at EBI versus actual performance in the group's own cows, which calved for the first time between 2004 and 2007. The results, shown in table one (bottom left), returned a very high correlation between high EBI and good performance. Most significant was that, after three lactations, 91pc of the high EBI cows survived in the herd compared to only 52pc of the low EBI cows.


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On the walk, Damer member Tony Roe said: "As a pedigree breeder, I had reservations on EBI, but after seeing these results from the large numbers of cows in our own herds, I am fully convinced EBI is the route to go. We can confidently select bulls on their EBI rating."

The credibility of EBI got a further boost from a Damer group comparison between Holstein-Friesian and Jersey-cross cows. See table two (bottom right). This showed that it was EBI, rather than breed, that delivered results. With similar EBI, the black and white cows actually had higher survival rates in the herd.

"Two years on, how is the new science of genomics as a predictor of EBI faring?" Dr Andrew Cromie of ICBF was asked at the farm walk.

"The early daughter proofs on the genomically tested AI bulls suggest an average slippage of about €5 in EBI," replied Dr Cromie.

He acknowledged that some genomically tested bulls fell €80 when daughter proofs came in, but that others went up €60.

The conclusion: genomics has come to stay and will speed up genetic improvement in the Irish dairy herd.

Again and again on the Laois farm walk, the issues of efficiency, profitability and expansion cropped up. The Damer farmers, all from Tipperary and Laois, expanded from an average of 62 to 186 cows during the past two decades.

Group members must:

  • Keep profit monitors;
  • Make milk records;
  • Do a grass budget;
  • Be in herd plus.

They plan to continue expansion by driving down costs and making more use of grass. EBI will increase cow efficiency and survival rates in the herd.

Their milk-production cost ranges from about 11.5 to 18c/litre, excluding labour. Padraig Hyland (an excellent operator on free-draining land) has the lowest costs in the group and this has helped deliver a gross margin of €3,435/ha.

Across 64 hectares, farming 182 cows, plus sale of surplus heifers, this is a farm gross margin in excess of €200,000.

  • Dairy farmers wanting to gear up numbers for post milk quota in 2015 could lease out cows in the interim, should they be threatened with a superlevy, leading dairy adviser Matt Ryan told farmers in Ballacolla.

Mr Ryan said farmers should immediately start to gear up for post quota, but they must be prepared to manage the risk of a superlevy. One safety net could be to lease out surplus cows and take them back when the superlevy threat is removed, the Teagasc man suggested.

"Leasing cows is rarely done in Ireland, but is widely practiced in New Zealand and I also saw it recently operating in South Africa."

Another safety valve for farmers temporarily under a superlevy threat is to put the cows on once-a-day milking, he added.

Meanwhile, the IFA has warned Farm Minister Brendan Smith that if he wants Irish farmers to deliver a 50pc growth in milk output, as per Food Harvest 2020, the Minister must modify the superlevy threat leading up to 2015.

Irish Independent