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'Fundamental shift' needed on dairy breeding - ICSA

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A fundamental shift in dairy breeding policy away from Jerseys to dual-purpose breeds such as British Friesian, Fleckvieh or Montbéliarde is required to create a sustainable outlet for excess calves from the herd.

Reacting to the new breeding strategy for the dairy herd, ICSA said a greater use of beef bulls by milk producers was of little use when dairy cows were becoming progressively smaller and lighter year-on-year because of the increased prevalence of Jersey and Kiwi-cross genetics.

ICSA suckler chair Ger O'Brien said that using sexed semen to solely produce breeding stock for the dairy herd would not provide "a silver bullet" by improving the poor beef merit in many dairy calves.

"Sexed semen may actually worsen the situation in the longer run if it is seen as a green light to breed even more extreme Jersey-cross genetics into the dairy herd," Mr O'Brien said.

"The problem is that it may be seen as a means of avoiding the need to breed a more balanced cow by using more British Friesian, Fleckvieh or Montbéliarde genetics or even by selecting for better strength in Holstein genetics.

Eliminate

"In the short-term, sexed semen can eliminate a lot of pure dairy bull calves.

"However, the next cross will then result in more extreme dairy cows, and breeding these back to easy-calving beef breeds will not resolve the problem from a beef point of view."

The new dairy breeding guidelines were compiled by a Department of Agriculture-led dairy calf working group consisting of ICBF, Teagasc and other key industry stakeholders. The strategy focuses on improving the quality of calves coming from the dairy herd.

Areas covered in the guidelines include:

* The generation of high-EBI replacement females for the dairy herd;

* The use of the new dairy-beef index for generating higher-value beef animals from the dairy herd;

* The use of breeding tools such as the ICBF Herd EBI score card, the ICBF Sire Advice Tool, and the ICBF Active Bull Lists for dairy and dairy beef breeding.

IFA dairy chairman Tom Phelan said the guidelines gave milk producers the option of retaining strong dairy traits such as milk solids, easy calving and fertility, while improving the beef quality of their bull calves.

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