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HomeDairyWhat can I do to make my farm more profitable?
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What can I do to make my farm more profitable?

As the majority of cows are now calved, we now turn our attention to planning the calving season for spring 2021.

It is important to stay focused and set realistic and achievable targets for your farm. April can be a crucial month for farm profitability for the remainder of the year and it is essential to plan ahead for the upcoming weeks.

Breeding plan

At this time, we consider breeding season targets, the practice of careful consideration of breeding for cows and heifers. Irrespective of different production systems, every farm should have a breeding plan in place.

According to Teagasc guidelines, a breeding plan for a profitable herd should include:

  • An average calving interval of <365 days;
  • 0.95 calves born per cow to the bull;
  • 60% of cows calved in the first month of the calving season;
  • All cows calved within 12 weeks;
  • Calf mortality <2.5% at birth and < 5% at 28days;
  • A 70% plus conception rate to first insemination.

However, there are a number of factors that a farmer must consider that are individual to their own farm and set up – including start date, culling, body condition and heat detection.

For getting cows or heifers in-calf, farmers can use their own farm bull and we recommend they adhere to farm safety guidelines when moving, herding, or tending to the bull. Make sure to select a suitable bull with the correct ICBF stars and figures EBI’s to suit your herd.

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Also popular among farmers is artificial insemination. Farmers can engage with AI services for straws from many different companies throughout Ireland. The ICBF database is a handy platform for farmers to match their cows with bulls to produce strong, healthy calves.

Start date

Taking into consideration grass supply, farmers must aim for the calving start date to coincide with the time they want to let cows out to graze post-calving. Reflect over the grass growth rate and adjust as necessary. 

The type of land can also affect the start date. Based on industry research, those with dry land are advised to aim for February 14th and wet land to aim for 24th February, assuming normal weather patterns.

Also, having a high 6-week calving rate (over 80%) and a strict breeding end date are crucial. Farmers must try to avoid May and June calvings, as these cows are less profitable. Compact calving can be more convenient from a labour and time management point of view.

Farmers should plan ahead for their labour needs during calving, but also all year round. Should farmers need extra assistance, they should contact their local FRS Farm Relief office.

Many farmers aim to synchronise heifers for numerous reasons, including compact calving on an out farm for practical reasons. Or some farmers prefer to calve heifers a week in advance to allow them time to adjust to the milking parlour. Although having some cows with them can be beneficial to ‘help train them in’.

Careful selection and culling

Before breeding starts, it is important for the farmer to cull from the herd. Identifying cows who have calved late, have poor milk supply, produced weak calves, have poor fertility or health problems that would impact their ability to produce a healthy calf.

At this point, the farmer should have selected suitable heifers for breeding or start to source replacement animals. Replacement heifers should be put in calf in advance of the main herd.

The farm health and vaccination programme should be done at this point. This is done to protect the health of cows and a stock bull if one is being used. Additional mineral intake can also be considered if needed.

Body condition scoring (BCS)

It is important to consider the condition of cows in advance of putting them in-calf. The body condition scoring (BCS) is measured on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being extremely thin and 5 being extremely fat.

The target is to breed at 2.75-3.25 on the BCS scale. Underfed cows will have much lower submission rates and are less likely to go back in calf. It is common to have a variation of cows within herds.

Consider reducing or building up feed to help build condition before the start of breeding. The online app, Herdwatch, provides a platform where the farmer can score cattle easily and record it.

Heat detection

There are a variety of heat detection methods available for farmers. These include aerosol sprays, a vasectomised bull or observation, which is very demanding and time-consuming.

Most commonly used is tail paint, a simple but effective heat detection method. If 90%-100% of the paint is removed, then there is a 95% chance the cow is bulling. If 50% of the paint is gone, there is a 70% chance she is bulling.

Herdwatch also provides a setting where the farmer can record possible heats of cows and can set reminders to watch for going forward.

Management issues

Excellence in breeding management underpins the profitability of Irish farms. For April, we would recommend farmers to take stock of the farm essentials that they may need including fertiliser, diesel, meal and veterinary materials as they may not be readily available.

Records and compliance

Farmers need to stay on top of statutory paperwork requirements, you can’t afford penalty or financial loss due to not doing the paperwork. Remember the deadline for the Basic Farm Payment (BPS) is May 15th.

We would recommend farmers to set aside time weekly to go through essential paperwork and consider using an online herd management platform like Herdwatch.

Herdwatch has specific features to help breeding management, including recording serves as they happen even without the internet, quick input of scan results, notify the farmer of non-cycling cows, and it is synchronised with ICBF.

Useful resources

  • For more information on breeding, click here.;
  • To find out more about Herdwatch, go to www.herdwatch.ie;
  • Remember to always put farm safety first, visit www.hsa.ie;
  • For more information, find your local FRS Farm Relief Services office here.

This article has been written by FRS.

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