Farm Ireland

Saturday 25 November 2017

'The bigger herds are driving the move towards crossbreeding'

Tim Fitzmaurice
Tim Fitzmaurice

The rapid increase in herd size is now driving the agenda at farm level.

The abolition of quotas has spurred a big jump in cow numbers nationally, and farmers are focused on simplifying the job in every way possible, according to Dovea's Kerry sales representative, Tim Fitzmaurice.

"Ease of calving has probably replaced fertility as the number one objective for farmers. They're looking for bulls with less than 2pc calving difficulty, but with high reliabilities of over 90pc, especially for their heifers.

"There's only so many hours in the day, and labour is expensive. While genomic bulls now account for 85pc of sales, farmers can only use them safely on their cows.

"The bigger herds are also driving a gradual move towards crossbreeding. The message from Teagasc is that the crossbred cow lasts an extra lactation in the herd, so that ease of management is an attraction.

"We're also seeing more demand for the Norwegian Red, with lads looking for the three-way cross. I've also seen a bigger interest in beef bulls this year, and again farmers are looking to AI to ensure that they can guarantee easy calving if they are using them on their heifers.

"There's a real concern that there is too much dairy stock, and that with increasing fertility levels that there just isn't the same demand any more for freshly calved heifers.

"The beef calf brings in cash-flow earlier, which is important in a year like this. And it can simplify the operation further by allowing the farmer to offload beef calves and concentrate on devoting land to his dairy cows."

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Despite the tighter cash-flows this year, he believes that farmers will not be inclined to buy lower quality bulls to save on semen expense. "They know that the genetics they buy this year will still be affecting the performance in the herd 10 years from now, so I think we'll still sell the same amount of the top bulls at the €18-20/straw.

"They are delaying purchasing semen until the last minute to delay the payment for the semen as late into the season as possible."

Farmers are also drilling deeper into the figures.

"There was a time when they would just look at the EBI of the bull, but many are looking at the sub-indexes now, especially the kilogrammes of milk solids. The removal of quotas is again a driver behind this with more attention switching from fertility to productivity again."

He also noted the massive success of the genomics programme for the Irish dairy industry. "As recently as 2009 we imported 76pc of the semen that was sold here. Now it's just 15pc, with Irish bull semen instead being exported abroad in increasing volumes," he said.

Last year Dovea bought 31 young bulls from Irish farmers, and 20 of these are due to enter semen production this year. The Tipperary-based stud has already purchased some of this year's highest EBI bull calves.

"EBI's of €400 wouldn't be unusual now. We pay out anywhere from €10,000-16,000 for these bulls if the farmer enters the programme."

Indo Farming