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Successfully achieving a 90% 6-week in-calf rate

The following article is published in Lakeland Dairies / Teagasc Joint Development Programme’s innovative and informative 28-page booklet.

The booklet contains recommendations, tips and case studies, aimed at making farm life easier for Lakeland Dairies’ milk suppliers. 

Breeding season is the most important season of the year to ensure herd performance is maintained next year. The targets are to get a 90% six-week in-calf rate with a low empty rate below 10%. 

Gerry and Mairead Fallon in Co. Westmeath are achieving these targets with a number of simple ideas.

We have expanded rapidly over the last number of years milking 300 cows presently on two farms. Heat observation is kept simple. Tail paint is applied (9th April) three weeks before breeding start date (1st May). 

That tail paint is checked on 30th April. Any cows with the tail paint remaining have not come in heat. These cows are put on once-a-day morning milking to help cows build condition, thus, increasing chances of cow cycling.

These cows are given the same concentrate intake as the main herd and are checked for metritis.

On 30th April, new tail paint is applied. Every milking, the tail paint is checked and any cows with any small amount of tail paint removed are presented for AI. This is necessary to achieve a high submission rate, achieving a high six-week in-calf rate.

Once-a-day AI

I take a note of cows to present for AI in the evening and morning. I only draft cows for AI at the morning milking which means only one milking is disturbed with drafting.

Having an easy way to draft cows is essential when there are 3 to 4 cows to AI in one row of cows.

Moving back to an AI technician

In the past, I would have done all the AI myself. As the herd expanded and at peak, inseminating 15 cows/day. I could easily spend 1.5 hours a day inseminating for the first round of AI. 

I decided this year to move back to an AI technician. I suppose it’s another way of outsourcing labour. I have the cows drafted and left in the collecting yard ready for service. The AI technician comes at 9am to 11am. I can save one hour a day for 60 days.

Funny enough, this is the first year back with the technician and I have got the lowest empty rate yet, at 8%.

Use the Dairy Beef Index (DBI) to select beef AI bulls

The DBI is a breeding tool to promote high-quality beef cattle bred from the dairy herd with minimal consequences on the calving difficulty or gestation for dairy cow.

The DBI ranks beef bulls, for use in the dairy herd, according to their genetic merit for calving and carcass performance traits. Expressed in euros, each €1 increase in DBI can be interpreted as a €1 expected increase in profit for that bull’s progeny.

When selecting beef AI sires using the DBI, it is important to consider what components are contributing to an individual sire’s DBI value when selecting suitable bulls for dairy heifers and dairy cows.

Picking the correct bulls for your heifers

Getting your heifers calved trouble-free and in the parlour with no problems, has a big impact on those animal reaching their genetic potential and staying in the herd for many years.

The key to this is easy calving bulls on heifers with a calving difficulty under 1.8%.

Gerry’s breeding plan

  • 9th April – Tail paint applied to all cows.
  • 30th April – Tail paint checked. Cows with tail paint remaining are put on once-a-day milk and checked for metritis.
  • 1st May – Breeding start date. High-EBI bulls;
  • 22nd May – Target 90% submission Rate.
  • 1st June – Switch to high-DBI Beef AI
  • 13th July – Breeding stop date.

Image source: Lakeland Dairies / Teagasc Joint Development Programme

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