Farm Ireland

Tuesday 16 January 2018

What kind of a cow will you be milking in 2015?

John Donworth

Critical decisions about breeding are being made on dairy farms as I write.

The majority of you are going to stay with black and white breeds and see no good reason why you should not continue to do what you have been doing for the last 10 or 15 years.

But the dairy industry is changing. You will milk more cows this year than you did in 2005. The chances are you will be milking more cows again in 2015 than you do this year.

The question now is what kind of a cow will you be milking in 2015? That's only five years away. Any dairy AI straw used this year won't impact on the herd until 2013. That's the year she will milk as a first lactation animal.

Questions to consider: What colour will she be and what will her genetic potential be like? The first part of this question should be easy for you. She will be black and white. None of your mousy-coloured calves please. I am being cynical here, because my efforts so far in getting dairy farmers to use Jersey bulls have fallen on deaf ears.

Never mind that the research work in Ballydague has shown that the first cross heifer will leave you €180 more profit per lactation. So 10 of these animals will leave you €1,800 more profit per lactation. Can you afford to leave this extra profit behind? When dealing with this subject, calf prices always come up. Black and white bull calves have been making €80-100/calf this spring. This figure is paid by exporters. The calves have to be strong and in good order. It's anyone's guess as to what the market will be like for March.

In the same conversation, I am told that it will actually cost you money to sell Jersey bulls.

I don't get involved with the debates as I feel dairy farmers are not looking at the big picture here, which is the type of cow they will have in their herd in 2015.

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For good measure, I am told that Jersey-cross cows have temperament issues.

But on further examination, some of these animals have been bred by stock bulls. Again, a useless conversation.

Look at any of the AI catalogues this spring and you will find Jersey bulls with EBIs.

There are Jersey bulls on the Active Bull List. The majority of them have more than 30kg of fat and protein combined, with a fat level of 0.5pc and protein of 0.3pc. Although they have daughters milking internationally, their reliability is low, so a team approach would be the option.

Normally, one would expect a 0.04pc increase in fat and o.03pc lift in protein each year. So, in a five-year time frame, fat and protein levels should lift by 0.2pc and 0.15pc respectively. So farms that today are at 4pc fat and 3.4pc protein should be at 4.2pc fat and 3.65pc protein by 2015. This will happen, but it will happen only if we select the right bulls.

Grassland management and weather will play a part, but if the genetics aren't there, the figures for 2015 won't be achieved. Bull selection for the black and white breed should present no difficulty for you.

You have a choice of Irish-daughter proven sires, New Zealand-daughter proven and genomic sires. Genomic sires would need to be €40 ahead of daughter proven sires to allow for the reliability issue with genomic bulls.

With black and white sires, my preference would be for a bull with a maximum of more than 200kg of milk and at least 20kg of fat and protein combined.

Obviously, such bulls must have on average a calving interval of at least minus four days.

Don't leave bull selection until the last day. Some of the bulls you want may already be sold out.

Irish Independent