Peter Hynes – Breeding Season: “select bulls that suit your herd”

It is hard to believe we are into May already. Life seems to be moving even faster whilst we are in lockdown. One can only hope that we are on the home straight now. Too wet, too cold, too dry pretty much sums up what grazing conditions have been like for the last two months but thankfully normality has returned and while the country was on yellow weather alert, it was a cause for celebration for all farmers.

Calving 2021 went smoothly for us. The majority of our Gene Ireland bred Hereford calves went to the Thrive trial program. Overall, calf prices were good, and we were extremely happy with the prices our Simmental calves made achieving up to €400 per head. Many told us in 2020 that we would regret using a Simmental bull. We relied on the genomic data for the bull we purchased whilst also using his full brother Leeherd Jake through the Dairy Beef Gene Ireland Programme. I have to say we were happy with the decision and found the Simmentals straight forward calving, yet we had a quality dairy bred beef calf. We decided to purchase another Simmental stock bull this spring from the Leeherd again and Louisianna has settled in well on farm now in anticipation for his debut later in the breeding season.

All our heifer calves are genotyped. We are waiting for the data to return but looking at how the bull calves genotyped this year we are fairly excited to see the results. Surplus heifer calves will be sold once we have looked at their genomic data. We will also get the annual TB test out of the way this week.

Breeding has kicked off here and we are using a team of eight genomic bulls with a team average of €325 EBI along with four Gene Ireland Hereford bulls. All Jerseys will receive Jersey sexed semen for the first round. All heifers were synchronised and were served at the start of the breeding season. They will receive tail paint and scratch cards on day 10 as we look for repeats who will receive a second serve before the bull is let out to mop up. The submission rate on day 7 is 35% so we are bang on target.

Our herd EBI now stands at €144, a steady gain for us every year. As we continue to eke out genetic gain it is a figure that will continue to climb. EBI has been proven to work and with 9 out of 10 in our top ten EBI being first lactations, it is a gentle reminder for us that it does what it says on the tin. They are by far our best genetics in the herd but also looking at how they are milking is a further reminder, with some predicted to surpass 500kgs/MS this year. With that in mind, I have been looking at the discussion on bull selection going on throughout the Spring, about Genotyped vs Daughter Proven and whether we should be using G1 bulls, a discussion which evolved into whether bulls now have too much milk behind them.

Firstly, I would stress that it is imperative one selects bulls that suits their own requirements, keep “Genes for Profit” in mind. We have used the Alberts & Pivotals as we needed volume bred into the herd and we would be extremely happy with the Alberts milking and looking at this year’s G1 panel I feel it is a superb panel of balanced bulls. Looking at our team of bulls, they are plus 128kgs for milk with 31.5kgs solids at 0.22% fat and 0.16% protein yet their fertility sub-index is still higher than their milk sub-index. The key thing here is using a TEAM of bulls. I feel strongly that fertility should not be ignored as it has taken the national herd 20 years to breed fertility back in.

I would at farm level echo what Bernard Eivers said recently that it is an error to compare 2018 EBI with 2021 EBI as there were changes to EBI which should be welcomed. As mentioned, our first lactation cows are our best genetics. We chose those sires in 2018. Indeed, their EBI’s have changed but they were still the right choices. I also agree with Andrew Cromie’s discussion that the breeding program is not breeding tall milky cows, as we would be happy with the size of our first lactation cows, but also size of our maiden heifers. Yes, there are a lot of bulls on the panel are from just a few sires but given that we also have a lot of daughters by those few sires we were still able to pick a top-class team of out cross bulls to further advance our genetic gain.

The NCBC along with ICBF have been a key part of our breeding program here, proof that is in the milk tank along with the calving pattern of our herd. It goes back to my earlier comment, select bulls that suit your herd, if you are unsure of your herd’s requirements there are plenty of knowledgeable breeding advisors who can lend a hand.