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Breeding goals for winter milk herds and key plan steps – Teagasc

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Winter milk producers constitute a vital sub-sector within a highly seasonal Irish dairy industry. Year-on-year these farms meet demand for a consistent daily supply of quality fresh milk to the domestic market, as well as providing winter volumes for the manufacture of specific products.

As part of Teagasc Winter Milk Week we are holding a farm walk on Tuesday, November 22 at 11.30 a.m. on the farm of Donal Murphy near Ferns, Co Wexford. Eircode: Y21 F856. The topics we’re discussing on the day include:

• The impact of cost inflation on winter milk farms;

• Calving pattern & fertility effects on herd performance;

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• Adding value to the milk cheque through improved herd genetics;

• Efficiently feeding the herd this winter.

Breeding goals for winter milk herds should be centred on improving milk solids output while improving fertility traits such as calving interval and six-week calving rate; feed efficiency, health and longevity are also important goals.

The key breeding plan steps are:

• Identify a start and end date for the coming breeding season. For the majority of winter milk herds (< 50% liquid contract) starting to calve in October will suffice to meet contract targets. Also work out the number of cows required to calve in the autumn to efficiently supply contracts.

• Using your herd records, identify the lower performing cows in the herd. Either mark them for culling or breed them to high DBI beef bulls. Do not breed your replacements from the following cows - low milk solids, poor temperament, poor fertility, high SCC, lame, etc.

• Select a panel of high EBI (>€280) bulls from the Active bull list (>7 bulls for a herd of up to 100 cows). Your bull team should be balanced for both the milk (>€100) and fertility (>€100) sub-index.

• Target a high combined kg of milk solids (>30kg) figure in the team of bulls. Aim to hold the milk volume proof at 80-180kg with high fat (>0.20) and protein (>0.15) potential.

• The bull team should vary around these average figures to complement the variation in the cow herd.

• Avoid extremes with regard type / conformation in order to breed a medium sized, functional cow that will last in the herd. Remember a cow with a maintenance sub-index of €8 will have a mature live weight of approximately 600 kg.

• Target to breed all replacement heifers in the first 10 days of the breeding season. A simple synchronisation programme will help achieve this.

• Use the ‘Sire Advice’ tool on HerdPlus to develop your team of bulls, create a mating plan and avoid any inbreeding.

Martin Doyle – Teagasc Dairy Advisor, Enniscorthy.


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