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Thursday 18 October 2018

Why the Newford Farm herd has got rid of its two stock bulls

Picture: Teagasc
Picture: Teagasc
Catherine Hurley

Catherine Hurley

The Newford Farm in Galway sold its two stock bulls in 2017 and moved to 100pc AI, because it had a very successful experience with AI, a recent document from Teagasc states.

Mathew Murphy, Farm Manager at Newford, said that it was difficult to justify the cost of keeping two stock bulls, when they mated only about a dozen cows in the 100-cow herd in the period following six weeks of AI to the end of the breeding season to 10 or 11 weeks.

Some 91 of the 100 cows put forward for breeding scanned in calf. Scanning showed that 60 cows held to first service, with 90pc of the herd submitted for AI in the first three weeks of the breeding season. Second service carried 20 cows over the line, while 11 cows held to third service.

After a seven-week breeding season, 20 of the 25 heifers scanned in-calf. Setting the farm up for another compact calving season, with over 80 cows due to calve in the first three to four weeks of calving in 2019.

In the most recent update from the farm, Matthew lists six key criteria as contributing to the success on Newford Farm to date.

He says that artificial insemination allows access to a wider pool of genetics, but it also removes an element of risk with regards to stock bull subfertility or infertility.

Cow Type

According to Mathew, the first-cross Angus and Hereford cows bred from a dairy herd suit AI in a one-man unit. Cows are quiet and easily handled, with Matthew able to separate over 95pc of the cows from the herd and bring them to the yard on their own, the remaining brought into the yard in groups of three.

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Vasectomised Bull

A vasectomised bull, according to Matthew, is essential in helping to identify cows in heat. Mathew uses a bull fitted with a chin ball that will readily identify cows with paint when dismounting. Bulls are purchased well in advance of the breeding season and undergo a full health check and quarantine programme, he says.

Tail Painting

Mathew recommends using tail paint, even where a vasectomised bull is used. At the start of the breeding season when high numbers of cows are in heat, a vasectomised bull may concentrate on select cows, while having tail paint applied will still allow heats to be picked up. Changing colour as cows are inseminated will also allow performance to be quickly monitored, the farm manager said.

Heat Detection

According to the farm manager, regular heat detection is still a must, especially at the beginning of the season. He says that cows are generally checked first thing in the morning, mid-morning, again when bringing in cows for AI, at 3pm to 4pm and late in the evening.

Timing

Matthew said cows are generally checked first thing in the morning, mid-morning, again when bringing in cows for AI, at 3pm to 4pm and late in the evening. The times of highest activity are early morning and last thing at night.

Insemination Process

Once-a-day AI is used on the Newford farm. Any cow in heat in the evening or morning is inseminated at midday, and re-inseminated at midday the following day if still showing signs of heat.

Costings

The costs associated for AI on the Athenry farm has worked out at about €30 to €35 a cow. The setup costs for storing and handling the AI straws were about €600 in 2016. Straws used are averaging out about €10/straw.

The chin ball cost €160, with a bottle of paint costing €90 and generally lasting for a full season. Tail paint and maintenance of the AI flask are also included in total costs. The cost of the vasectomised bull has broken even in the last two seasons, with this year’s bulls weighing 500kg and sold for €850 post-breeding.

However, Mathew admits it is not for every farm, with factors such as land fragmentation and facilities present and labour availability the main reasons for farmers selecting to use stock bulls over AI. 

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