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23rd February, 2019


Spring calving programmes are now on average at week six where 70pc of the herd have calved.  In contrast winter breeding programmes will in general finish this week as subsequent services will result in calvings over the Christmas period.

MilkWinter breeding programmes have been significantly curtailed this year.  The primary reasons centre on liquid milk price and the risk of a superlevy in the final year of the quota regimen.  Dairy stock numbers have increased significantly whereby the demand for maiden heifers for spring calving in 2015 has resulted in prices ranging from €800 to €1200 for maidens versus €900 to €1300 for freshly calved first calvers.  We have noted that some dairy farmers have only bred their carryover cows for autumn calving and have left the autumn calves slip into a spring breeding programme.

Reverting back to the current scenario at farm level, many farmers acknowledge that their calving pattern has slipped whereby first calvers account for in excess of 50pc of the milking herd.  The protracted calving pattern and delayed turnout to grass this spring has significantly reduced the impending superlevy bill.  Indeed, some regions will not face a superlevy.


Facing business reality, breeding programmes in 2014 will begin in approximately eight weeks time.  Your primary focus has to be set on having cows “fit” for breeding by the start of the AI season.  The term “fit” describes a cow that is cycling, will express signs of heat, ovulate a fertile egg for fertilization by fertile semen, establish pregnancy with minimal risk of embryonic death associated with a hostile uterine environment.  As you now digest this equation you can see that there are many links in the chain.


This is the challenge faced by the good stockman.  No robot or technology will replace the good stockman.  Technology is an aid to optimization of stockmanship skills in the creation of “fit” cows.


Cows calved to date, which have failed to achieve a “fit” status have time on their side.  This will enable normal ovarian activity and a comfortable uterine environment to be created by good nutritional management and comfort zones for feeding, walking and resting.  These features will in turn optimize the immune status of the cow whereby the risk of IBR, BVD, Leptospirosis, Liver and Stomach fluke infections are minimized.


Many farmers state that they have plenty of replacements and will sell late calvers. The opportunity for profit optimizations in your business currently rests around management of your late calvers and maiden heifers.


Are you confident that your maiden heifers are on target to achieve desired weights for breeding?

An electronic weighing scales is an essential investment on the dairy farm.  Some dairy farms in the North of Ireland use daily weighing of cows as a routine part of preventative health management.  Group lighter heifers now and feed to achieve the desired growth rates.  Ensure these heifers are not housed on slats with high stocking density.  This housing environment will delay the onset of puberty in heifers achieving the target weights forage.  Do not forget the importance of social order and housing environment to enable heifers reach puberty.


Cattle-pastureAs your fresh calvers are allowed access to grazed grass, the late calvers can easily be forgotten.  You have an opportunity with these late calvers, which will predominantly be the older cows with a higher genetic potential for milk production, to make a significant financial windfall in your dairy business.


For your late calving group ensure they get fresh forage on a daily basis.  As temperatures increase and less forage is fed from the pit face on a daily basis, there is an increased risk of forage temperatures increasing with an associated increase in mycotoxin poisoning.  This will severely stress cows in the transition period with a consequent negative impact on health and reproductive performance of the late calver.


It is nice to get cows out to grass, but the real profit optimization lies with your late calvers.  Focus on the nutrition and comfort zone for these cows to create “fit” cows early post calving.  We have shown from scanning the reproductive tract of cows that you can have cows “fit” for breeding by the time they are 25 days calved. These cows will go back in calf faster.  You also have the opportunity from the scan to identify those cows giving you an average 50pc pregnancy rate using sexed semen.

Dr. Dan Ryan is a cow fertility expert and can be contacted at


Article written by Dr. Dan Ryan in The Farming Independent March 12th 2014.