Farm Ireland

Wednesday 21 March 2018

Fertility woes costing liquid milk farmers €20k per year

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Fertility problems in liquid milk herds are costing farmers more than €20,000 each year, new research from Teagasc has revealed.

Long calving intervals on Irish farms result in reduced milk yield, higher feed costs and lower replacement heifer numbers, farmers at the national liquid milk conference in Wexford last Thursday were told.

Liquid milk expert Joe Patton warned that farms with a calving interval of 443 days were losing €20,700 per year, compared to farms with a calving interval of 375 days.

His figures were based on a 100-cow herd producing 7,000 litres/cow at a milk price of 30c/l.


Mr Patton estimated that up to 40pc of cows on farms were being recycled, or rolled over from one calving period to the other on liquid milk farms due to fertility problems. This was adding to the costs of production, he said. The average calving interval on liquid milk farms in Ireland is 436 days.

Higher recycling levels lead to lower milk volume sales, higher feed costs and a reduction in the number of replacement heifers produced from the herd.

Mr Patton warned liquid milk producers that they needed to focus their breeding strategies on fertility when choosing AI and stock bulls and cull poor-performing cows.

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Farmers should be choosing bulls with an EBI fertility sub-index of €120 or higher, he maintained.

"The worst performing 10pc of dairy cows in the herd, in terms of fertility performance, should be culled with no sentimentality," he told more than 200 farmers at the conference.

Mr Patton said solving the national herd fertility problem could take up to 15 years.

Meanwhile, nutrition expert Maggie Gould from Volac warned farmers to focus on replacement dairy heifer rearing to save money.

Ms Gould said the replacement heifer calf was often treated like the 'Cinderella' of the dairy farm and ignored until she entered the herd.


"Rearing heifers represents up to 20pc of the dairy farm expenses but this is often underestimated by farmers," she told conference delegates. Ms Gould urged farmers to focus on their replacement heifers to ensure they calved down at two years of age and not older.

"Calving at 23-25 months results in improved fertility, higher milk yield per day of life and improved longevity," she explained.

Surveys have shown that heifers calved down at 23-25 months had a 402-day calving interval, compared to heifers calved down at more than 30 months of age, who had a calving interval of 451 days.

The younger heifers also had better longevity, with 70pc of them reaching a third lactation, compared to just half of the older heifers. Younger heifers also produced more milk, at 11.8kg per day of life, while older heifers only achieved 9kg per day of life.

There is a high level of heifer wastage on farms. ICBF figures on 53 liquid milk herds showed that of the 2,700 heifers born in 2009, almost 20pc of them did not calve or enter the milking herd and 7pc of first lactation heifers did not reappear for a second lactation.

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