Farm Ireland

Wednesday 17 January 2018

'I'm going radical this year by using dairy bulls for AI'

"I'm a glutton for punishment," jokes Ger Dineen, before adding earnestly, "but if it was difficult to work, I wouldn't be doing it."

"I used to have a bull, but when the herd is calving as compactly as this, the bull just isn't able to handle the workload. I could have 20 cows in heat each week. The last bull I had hurt himself because he just got knackered. I have the yearling heifers running with the cows, because the bulls are in fattening in the shed. It means that I only have one group out grazing. About two weeks before the start of breeding on April 10, I bring in the cows into the shed, and shut out all the calves back into the field so they can't see each other.

"Each evening and each morning for the next four days I let in the calves for a drink before shutting them back out again. By the fourth day, the cows have calmed down and got used to the calves being separated, so I can let them back out to graze again. But it's important for the first two or three weeks to keep the calves out of sight of the cows while they are grazing.

"Every evening and every morning when I go out to bring the cows in for AI, I can separate the calves easily by using a creep gate that leads to the field."


"You may wonder why am I going to all this trouble? Because, separating the calves actually helps bring on the heats in the cows, and that all feeds into my early and compact calving.

"That ensures that I produce 0.98 calves per cow per year (the national average is 0.83) and a calving interval of 370 days (compared to the average 412 days). Teagasc estimate that it's worth an extra €10,000 a year to me.

"The most services that I will put into an animal is three. If she's not in calf after that she's gone. And the same with any animal that doesn't stay calving in February or March," explains Dineen.

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Could he cut the twice daily AI routine to once-a-day?

"You could, but it would put more stress on the calves. The only day I don't do it twice is on Sundays because everything in this house revolves around sport and matches," he says.

Through his use of AI, Dineen now has one of the highest rated suckler herds in the country, according to ICBF.

But Dineen is not entirely satisfied that the pedigree beef sector has kept up with farmer requirements.

"I'm going to take a pretty radical approach this year because I'm going to use a dual-purpose Fleckvieh. I'm convinced that I need to keep an emphasis on milk yield, and to be honest I just don't think there is any suckler bull out there capable of doing that.

"I've been focused on using maternal-type sires from the Simmental breed for over 10 years, but I don't think the sector really got tuned into what was required until recently and I still think that there isn't enough of milky maternal sires out there.

"There's a real sea-change happening, and a lot of fellas are going back to the dairy herd this year for the milk, because they realise now that plenty of milk is a great driving force for the calf. The farmers in Scotland are having the same problem.

"Some beef farmers still don't realise how important milk is. But consider that every extra 0.1kg in daily liveweight gain that the calf is achieving is worth an extra €100 to the farmer.

"Even though I've been using beef AI on my herd for over a decade, I was actually getting better replacements off the dairy herd 10 years ago. They were Simmental or Limousin crosses and had oceans of milk.

"I've been using a Simmental (TSO), an Angus (ZLL) and a Saler (S1544). But I'm switching to the Fleckvieh on the low-milk cows because the Fleckvieh are a huge breed internationally, and there's loads of data behind them in terms of the beefing and milking ability. Even though they only have an EBI at the moment, I think ICBF should be able to convert their figures into Eurostar ratings. I've used only five star maternal bulls up to now.

"It wouldn't work for the farmer looking for the fancy weanling bull because they don't throw great looking calves, but off a good suckler cow it will be fine animal and, more importantly, a profitable one. We don't need huge animals anymore with the weight limits coming down all the time. All my bulls have to be under 16 months, and stock has to be under 420kg for Dawn now."

Indo Farming