The majority of dairy farmers are still in the middle of the calving season, but their thoughts will soon turn to the next breeding cycle. Martin Ryan spoke to four dairy men about their plans for this year.
"It would not be an extreme Holstein herd now, about 80pc Holstein-Friesian and I have been going for the high fertility, high solids bulls," says Co Monaghan dairy farmer, Gerard Sherlock, when explaining the breeding policy for his 75-cow herd.
"I will be sticking with the black and whites and aiming for a high as I can get in milk solids. I like what I am getting in type and production and the calf is worth that bit more and there is also a better cull cow at the end of the day," he explained.
Gerard (above) pointed out that trying to improve protein is a slow process. "All I can do is breed from the best bulls that I can get picking the high solid bulls with good fertility."
Last year he used Kilkeskin Ace (FR2050), Kildarra Maestro (FR2053), Radway Levi5 (YRY), Longview Reliable (LWR) and FR2275.
His objective for 2017 is to go "for the bulls that can give me 40kg solids, with as high a fertility sub index as I can get."
Among preferences for the year are Coolnasoon Art (FR2249) with sub index for milk of €157 and €213 for fertility. Another is Waterwheel Dasher (FR4022) with an EBI of €236; production, €104; fertility, €104; milk, 284kgs; fat, 21.6kgs +0.17pc; protein, 16.1kgs.
Other possible choices are: Stamullen Andy 2516 (FR4024) with an EBI of €279; Connumber Prince (PCZ) with an EBI of €245.
"My farming goal is to produce more milk solids per hectare utilising more grazed grass from the milking platform," says Galway dairy farmer, Henry Walsh, who milk almost 300 cows near Oranmore. To achieve his objective, Henry focuses on three goals: to grow and utilise more grass per hectare through better soil fertility;
More days in milk through more compact calving and improved cow fertility;
Improved genetics giving higher production per cow mainly achieved through higher constituents of fat and protein.
"I think an annual average of 4pc protein is now a realistic target considering the progress made over the last 15 years when 3.3pc protein was the norm," Henry Walsh maintained.
"Our herd produced 3.73pc protein in 2016, down from 3.88pc in 2015. I believe feeding silage during the cold spell in April impacted and we had a very wet autumn which affected the normal increase in protein late in the year," he added. For 2017 he is selecting bulls with a modest milk increase but the aim is to increase overall milk solids by 25kg.
"We have a crossbred herd and fertility is solid. This spring we have calved 50pc of the herd in 15 days and 64pc in the first three weeks of calving," said Henry (left).
"This year we will purchase 60pc of our AI straws as high fertility Holstein Friesian; 30pc Kiwi cross, and 10pc Jersey," he explained.
Springhaven Otto will be one of his choices. The sire has a fertility sub-index of €210; fat +0.22pc; protein + 0.16pc; and milk solids of + 27kg. Kilcornan Lookalike will be included for superb 0.35pc fat and 0.24pc protein.
Meanwhile, Lynbrook Viking is another identified by Walsh. The Jersey sire has a massive 35kg for milk solids and +0.39pc for fat and + 0.25pc for protein.
After sweeping the boards in 2016 with Hallow Advent Twizzle 3, at Emerald Expo, Baileys and IHFA championships, Philip Jones does not envisage making big changes in the breeding lines for his Wexford herd. Admitting that he is not an advocate of the trend towards crossing with Norwegian or Jersey, his priorities will remain "type, milk and protein" and he would continue in 2017 to breed from some of the top Holsteins available from Canada and the US.
"I will always look for the positives in good udders, legs and feet, and I am paying more attention now to the health traits as well," he said.
Philip (above) added that Maple-Downs-I G W Atwood "has done very well" for the herd and that it is a line that he still likes.
For 2017 the choices of sires will include Solomen, and Mountross and there is also a son of Solomen that has become available and he believes is certainly worth considering.
It will continue to be steady as she goes in the selection of sires that should deliver progeny of "good substance and milk" for Paul Hannan's high-yielding and award winning Holstein-Friesian herd in Co Limerick.
"I definitely won't be going the way of cross breeding with the Norwegian and Jersey breeds, but I will be looking for good solids in the bulls that I will be using and will continue to be very much along the HF [Holstein-Friesian] line, and expect to get good results," said Paul (above). "I know that more breeders appear to be going that way [into cross-breeding] but it is not for me at this stage."
He pointed out that there were some very good bulls available this year. One certainty is that the UK-based sire Seagull-bay Silver will be at the top of his listing with very strong positive ratings under all rankings.
Mountfield Ssi Dcy Mogul-ET, a son of Silver, is another certainty for use this year. He will also use Stanton's Applicable, also coming from the Seagull-bay breeding lines and carrying very good figures for production and type. Oconnor's Classic is another UK-based sire he has considered.