Dairy: Condensing the calving season can generate healthy profits

Dr Emer Kennedy from Teagasc Moorepark taking the temperature of the soil during the recent Teagasc spring grazing walk on PJ O'Keeffe's farm at Callan, Co Kilkenny. Photo: Pat Moore.
Dr Emer Kennedy from Teagasc Moorepark taking the temperature of the soil during the recent Teagasc spring grazing walk on PJ O'Keeffe's farm at Callan, Co Kilkenny. Photo: Pat Moore.
Joe Kelleher

Joe Kelleher

Increasing the percentage of cows calved in the first six weeks of the calving season from 65pc to 90pc is worth €14,300 to a farmer with 70 cows was the take home message at a recent farm walk.

Advisor Ger Courtney was addressing farmers at a Teagasc/Kerry Agribusiness farm walk on the farm of John Finucane in Askeaton, Co Limerick, which was focussing on improving milk solids and herd fertility.

Bull selection

The host farmer, John Finucane has been selecting bulls for protein over the past 10 years. He has seen his protein percentage rise from 3.4pc in 2011 to 3.6pc in 2015.

John received 30.8c/l on average for his milk in 2015 which was 1.3c higher than the average Kerry Agribusiness supplier. This was worth €8,000 extra for John.

Tom O'Connor, Teagasc, Newcastle West outlined the key parameters to look out for when selecting bulls to use in the upcoming breeding season.

"Use a team of at least seven sires with an EBI greater than €300, a milk sub index of €90, fertility sub-index of €160, total milk solids of at least 33kg, with a protein percentage of over 0.2pc" was the key message from Tom. "Only use easy calving bulls with high reliability (>90pc) on heifers, and also keep an eye on health and maintenance sub-indices, which ideally should be positive".

Body Condition Score

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Vet Doreen Corridan explained the importance of body condition of cows heading into the breeding season and emphasised ensuring the intake of grass was adequate.

"Many farmers are feeding 3kg of ration in the parlour and are assuming that the cows are receiving another 13kg of dry matter at grass. But the reality is that cows are not being allocated enough ground and are only getting in 10kg of grass dry-matter, which is peeling condition off cows. Any thin cows should be put on once-a-day milking straight away. Run them through the parlour twice in the day, but only milk them once," she said.

Replacement Heifers

John's heifers weighed 303kg on March 10 and are well on target to hit the 330kg by April 25 when he intends to start breeding these heifers.

Doreen explained that traditionally farmers left a yearling stock bull off with the 15 heifers they had and there was never a problem. But now this same farmer now has 25-30 heifers and he is still only leaving one bull off with them. A yearling bull should only be expected to mate with 15 cows or heifers.

She urged the audience to inseminate the heifers where possible and let the stock bull mop up.

"Put the maiden heifers in a paddock near the yard, and give them a kilo of meal in the yard for 10 days. Inseminate any heifer that comes bulling in the first six days and on day seven give any heifer yet to be serviced a shot of prostaglandin and all these heifers should come bulling 48-72 hours later. With good conception rates, you could have 80pc of your heifers inseminated in 10 days," she said.

"If you hired in a man from the Farm Relief Service for those 10 days to assist you, then it would be a fantastic investment".


Farmers wonder if calving 90pc of the herd in six weeks would lead to an increased pressure on labour. Teagasc advisor Ger Courtney highlighted studies from Moorepark which showed that a more compact calving "actually decreases work load as you are dealing with larger and more even groups of animals for tasks such as dehorning, dosing and so on."

If farmers are employing labour for the springtime, then they may not need the labour for as long, as the bulk of the calving is finished over a shorter term. However, Ger emphasised the importance of adequate calving facilities and calf housing when moving to a compact calving system. The host farmer John has set up temporary calf hutches on the silage slab to cater for the extra calf numbers.

Stock Bulls

Around 26pc of replacement heifers born in Co Limerick in 2015 were out of a stock bull and their EBIs were €63 lower than their AI bred sisters.

While we would like to see more heifers being bred out of AI, the fact remains that there will always be a certain number of heifers born annually from stock bulls for various different reasons.

The key here is to buy a bull with good background figures and don't just buy him based on his looks. Lisa Ring of ICBF explained how farmers can enter the tag number of the stock bull on the search function on the front page of the ICBF website (www.icbf.com) to find out the fertility, protein, fat, calving difficulty. This facility is available to all farmers.

There is no doubt that €14,000 is a lot of money and is worth chasing. Select the bulls you are going to use well in advance of the breeding season, monitor the body condition of cows carefully and where at all possible, inseminate the maiden heifers.

Joe Kelleher is a Teagasc business and technology advisor based in Newcastle West, Co Limerick

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