Farm Ireland

Saturday 16 December 2017

Dairy: Breeding options for maiden heifers

David Mulrooney from Dunbell, Co Kilkenny with his 72-strong herd. He is introducin 9 Jerseys to the herd next year. Photo: Roger Jones.
David Mulrooney from Dunbell, Co Kilkenny with his 72-strong herd. He is introducin 9 Jerseys to the herd next year. Photo: Roger Jones.
Dan Ryan

Dan Ryan

No sooner than the calves have landed on the ground than plans are underway for spring breeding programmes that will begin on dairy farms over the next four weeks.

With milk price under pressure, many farmers are considering either reducing the use of Friesian AI, greater use of beef AI, use of stock bulls or using no AI this year.

Yet dairy markets will recover. This is the breeding season to use Friesian AI to have replacement stock in your herd.

I am always emphasising the importance of biosecurity, but I make no apologies for that. The use of AI gives you the opportunity to optimise your herd health status and it also affords you a greater opportunity to sell stock with a 'known' health status.

Your breeding programme has to focus on two distinct groups of cattle - maiden heifers and dairy cows. In this article we will focus on the maiden heifers.

You need to get them bred early in the season to enhance their future survival in the herd. The majority of farmers considering the use of AI in maiden heifers want to get them bred quickly and use a stock bull to mop up the repeats.

The progeny from your maiden heifers should be the best future genetics on your farm.

Synchronised programmes work well if your heifers are fit for breeding. This involves not just size and body condition score, but also housing environment over the winter months.

Also Read

We encounter a significant percentage of maiden heifers in a prepubertal state when presented for a pre-breed scan. These heifers are not fit for breeding.

We recommend identifying this group of animals to get them out to grass with supplementation of 3kg of heifer growing ration. This approach results in normal fertile heat cycles within three weeks.

Some farmers use the pre-breed scan to group heifers that can be synchronised with a prostaglandin injection either immediately or six days later. The pre-breed scan will also identify those heifers for breeding over the following three days without the need for injection.


Alternative synchronisation approaches include 'watch and inject', 'double inject' and 'Rolls Royce', listed here in order of increasing cost.

However, the time required for heat detection decreases, there is less risk of missed heats, and some of the prepubertal animals will establish pregnancy with the 'Rolls Royce' treatment.

In the 'watch and inject' regimen, heat detection and AI continue for six days from the onset of the breeding programme. On the sixth day, heifers not bred are injected with prostaglandin. All heifers should be bred by the tenth day of your breeding programme.

This approach works well when heifers are managed close to home. Remember that prepubertal heifers will not respond to this treatment.

The 'double inject' approach entails injecting all heifers both 14 days before and two days prior to the start of the breeding season. All cycling heifers should be detected in heat over a three day period.

Prepubertal heifers will not respond to this treatment either. The cost of this approach will range from €10 to €15 per animal, excluding veterinary fees.

The 'Rolls Royce' entails the injection of a Progesterone-releasing Intravaginal Device (PRID) or Controlled Internal Drug Release (CIDR) device per vaginum for eight days with a prostaglandin injection on the day prior to removing the PRID or CIDR.

Please note that the new PRID devices are easier to insert in maiden heifers and do not have the high device loss rates experienced with the old PRID device. All heifers should present in heat over a one day period. This facilitates AI and indeed a fixed time AI on outside farms.

Some farmers might also consider inserting the PRID or CIDR devices 15 days after breeding for a five day period. This results in tight synchrony of repeats and reduces the risk of missing heats.

This should be given consideration if heifers are managed on outside farms where you want to use AI to breed future replacements and reduce the risks of using stock bulls.

Stock bulls are an option for breeding maiden heifers. Genomic testing has increased the probability of breeding replacements with desired production potential traits.

Please ensure that your stock bull is fertility tested as over 10pc of stock bulls are either infertile or sub fertile. Any injury to a bull will impair spermatogenesis, which will reduce his fertility six weeks later, even if he might appear fit for purpose.

Dr Dan Ryan is a bovine reproductive physiologist and can be contacted at

Indo Farming