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Dairy herd profitability rises €130m in a decade

The profitability of the national dairy herd has increased by more than €130m in the past 10 years, according to the latest data from Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF).

ICBF genetic evaluations of heifer calves born over the past 34 years map the changing fortunes of the key economic traits of Ireland's dairy herd. Following some bumpy years, when the overall EBI of the herd rose and fell again, it has begun to sky-rocket over the past decade.

The main reason for the climb in average EBI is due to the mirror image rise in the fertility index, after a downward trend for the previous 20 years.


While it has yet to reach levels last seen in the 1970s, the average fertility index for dairy calves born last year has climbed sharply from its all-time low of €40 in 2002. The average for dairy herd replacements is now closer to €75, similar to levels in the mid-1980s.

Genetic evaluations by the ICBF show that all key economic traits, with the exception of the beef sub-index, have risen significantly in the past 10 years.

While average EBIs are estimated to have actually fallen slightly during the 1970s and 1980s, to a low-point of €40 at the beginning of the 1990s, it rose by around €25 during the next 10 years before dipping again up to 2004. Since then, it has doubled to more than €120.

ICBF CEO Brian Wickham said that he was not particularly surprised by the results.

"That's what we'd expect from a properly run genetic improvement programme," he said.

He expects the advent of genomic testing to allow EBI's to improve at an average rate of €20-25 per year from now on.

"We don't need to go any faster than this," he added.

"The real question now is how long we can keep this rate of improvement going."


Dr Wickham attributed the slight decline in the beef sub-index to a move towards slightly smaller cows, but emphasised how remarkable it was that every single other trait showed such marked improvement.

The genetic evaluations incorporated the latest international information supplied from Interbull and Mr Wickham said that even the figures calculated for cows born in 1968 were reliable.

"Obviously, we don't have as much data available to us for cows back then compared to now, but I am still very confident in the reliability of this data," he said.

Mr Wickham said that the profitability of a cow rose by around €2 for every €1 rise in EBI. On the basis that the average EBI for Ireland's one million cows has risen by €65 since 2002, this should be worth €130m to Irish dairy farmers.

Indo Farming