With the breeding season just about to start, ICBF HerdPlus have just undertaken an analysis of births from the dairy herd for the year to date, broken down by breed (Table 1).

The latest trends are very informative as they highlight subtle shifts in farmer breeding decisions in Spring 2019, as a result of changes to the ICBF breeding indexes (EBI and Dairy Beef Index), and also prevailing market circumstances regarding breed preferences. There are several important trends to be taken from Table 1.

1. Ongoing growth of the dairy herd.

The number of dairy cows calved for the year to date (up to 16th April for each year), has continued to increase, with a total increase of 3.3% for the current year and a 14.5% increase for the 5-year period 2016-2020.

2. Increase in beef from the dairy herd.

The use of beef breeds on the dairy herd has continued to increase with all the main breeds, showing a positive trend (7% increase for the year to date). Indeed, this figure (beef from the dairy herd) has increased by 36.1% for the 5-year period. Whilst the Angus and Hereford continue to be two largest breeds used on dairy cows (78% of the total), other beef breeds that are performing well on the new Dairy Beef Index, have also seen considerable increases, e.g., Aubrac and Belgian Blue, albeit from a much lower base.

3. Decline is usage of Jersey breed.

After several years of steady growth in the use of Jersey within the National dairy herd, there was a significant decline in 2019, resulting in a 17.3% reduction in the number of Jersey bred calves born for the year to-date. This clearly reflects the challenges associated with finding markets for lower value Jersey male calves, which has become a significant issue for the industry over the last 12-18 months. Latest trends from ICBF Sire Advice indicate that this trend away from Jersey is likely to continue for the 2020 breeding season (and hence the 2021 calf birth season), with a further 21% contraction in the usage of the breed expected during the coming breeding season.

The trends presented in Table are for calf births for the year to date (up to 16 April). At this stage, it is important to appreciate that these are heavily skewed towards the dairy breeds as the majority of beef bred calves are born from the month of March onwards and generally continue into May. ICBF HerdPlus will repeat the analysis in a number of weeks’ time to give a complete picture for the Spring calving season, at which stage we expect to have over 1.4 million dairy cows calved with almost half of these to beef bulls.