What is the perfect cow for winter milk? Ignore colour, size and shape

It's all about having a profitable cow
It's all about having a profitable cow
Ciaran Moran

Ciaran Moran

The often-criticised EBI is delivering more milk solids and greater profitability at farm level, a breeding expert has said.

"Never mind the colour, size and shape of the cow, it's about having a profitable cow," Teagasc's Richard O'Brien told the Johnstown Castle winter milk event, identifying what the perfect cow for winter milk production should be.

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Mr O'Brien said the most important aspect for a profitable winter milk herd is to follow the EBI. He said the financial benefits are clear for all farmers.

"We're always asked 'what is the EBI delivering?'. Well in clear terms, the EBI is delivering solids and profitability on farms," he said. The average EBI of the cows in the Johnstown Castle herd is €153 and the heifers have an average EBI of €196.

The breeding policy on the farm demands an EBI sub-index of greater than €80 for milk and greater than €100 for the fertility sub-index. What has this achieved to the Johnstown Castle herd? "We use fertility to drive milk productivity," said Mr O'Brien.

"The herd did 551kg of milk solids. The Glanbia average was 416kg.

"The herd here is producing €600 more milk per cow delivered (to the co-op). That's not free money, it's earned, but that's what the EBI is delivering."

In terms of the breeding strategy, Mr O'Brien said a team of seven or eight genomic and daughter-proven bulls are used on the cows using the ICBF sire-advice service to get the best bulls for what they want, as well as eliminating the risk of inbreeding.

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He added that the autumn herd in Johnstown Castle has 7pc infertility, with an infertility of 11pc in the spring, which works out being ahead of the average. High-EBI herds €19,000 better off' In terms of tangible results, the EBI is making significant financial benefits for farmers.

Referencing research on EBI and cow performance across 900 cows and eight herds in the south east, Mr O'Brien said the EBI is delivering close to €19,000 to the top herds when compared to the bottom herds - annual milk solids of 586kg versus 536kg.

"That's 50kg (of milk solids) per year less for the bottom-performing herds," he said. "The milk yields are similar in the top versus the bottom (20.8kg versus 20.7kg) but the big difference is more milk solids.

"In terms of the milk price, there's a 3 cent per litre improvement on a daily basis a result of a higher EBI. On a 100-cow herd, that all works out at being nearly €19,000 more profitable between the top and bottom EBI herds.

"So what is the perfect cow? It doesn't matter whether she's pink or yellow or whatever, she just needs to deliver money," Mr O'Brien concluded.

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