With the 2020 breeding season on the horizon, ICBF has just written to some 15k dairy farmers.

The breeding update highlights how important it is to utilise all the best possible breeding tools for decisions for your herd. Figure 1 below outlines a 3-step process to helps farmers get the most from the upcoming breeding season.

EBI Scorecard

We have included a new ‘Herd EBI Scorecard’, which details each herd’s EBI and the sub-index breakdown. The scorecard also gives the top 10% and national average figures and ranks each herd on a national basis using a percentage and star rating system. Five-star indicates a herd is in the top 20%, while one-star indicates being in the bottom 20%. Knowing your herd’s strengths and weaknesses will help farmers to select the best possible team of bulls to make improvements in the required areas.

On the back of the Herd EBI Scorecard are 6 breeding advice tips we would encourage you to follow for the 2020 breeding season. These have been developed by the new DAFM-led Dairy Calf Working group; a government and industry initiative established to increase the quality of calves (both beef and dairy) coming from the dairy herd.

Use Sire Advice

Once you have identified your herd strengths and weaknesses, the ICBF HerdPlus Sire Advice is the best online breeding tool to help select your bull team. It avoids inbreeding and produces mating’s that will result in calves that are more evenly balanced on milk and fertility, by ensuring that the most suitable bull is allocated to each cow. The most balanced mating’s can then be transferred to your AI technician handheld or breeding chart if you are a DIY farmer.

A herd needs to be signed up to the HerdPlus service, to avail of this breeding tool. The ICBF HerdPlus team are currently available to assist you in joining this service and we can also offer you a free tutorial on how to run Sire Advice online for HerdPlus members.  Please call 023-8820452 or email [email protected] to arrange a suitable time.

Active Bulls EBI Milk Fertility Calving Beef Maintenance Management Health
Top 10% €302 €116 €173 €58 -€2 €22 €10 €15

Table 1: The top 10% in ranking on EBI of top 200 bulls in Active Bull list (March 2020 evaluation). This may be used as a reference guide when selecting your 2020 breeding bull team.

Ensure equal usage of your Bull Team

Analysis of AI sire usage in Irish dairy herds shows an over reliance on certain sires. Overusing a small number of sires will leave your herd overly exposed to potential EBI changes in individual bulls. Any bull team should consist of at least 7 bulls. For herds greater than 150 cows, this number needs to increase. In addition, it is important that you use your team of bulls, equally across your herd this breeding season.  The breeding table below on the letter outlines clearly to each herd how they have measured in 2018 & 2019 (see below example).


Year Dairy AI Bull Team Size Number of dairy female calves born from most used AI bull % of dairy female calves born from the most used AI bull
2018 11 14 21%
2019 19 8 12%
Guidelines: Minimum of 7 AI bulls Maximum 15%


Using teams of young Genomic Sires (GS) continues as the best way to maximise genetic gain in all dairy herds. Young GS bulls are higher in terms of EBI (in theory they are 3-4 years ahead of the daughter proven bulls – which is reflected in the difference in EBI between the groups of herds) and as a result should continue to form the core of our National (and individual herd) breeding programmes in the future.

Dairy farmers should aim to breed replacements from the highest EBI females in their herds. These are invariably maiden heifers, first and second calvers. Only use bulls that are classified as “LOW Risk of Dairy Heifer Calving Difficulty” when choosing bulls for heifers.  Also, lower EBI cows should be bred to beef AI from the start of the breeding season.

Focus on beef merit

Finally, we would encourage all dairy farmers to consider beef merit, when selecting beef and potentially dairy bulls for use on your herd this Spring. This is critical to help establish greater integration between our beef and dairy industries in the future.  To breed higher quality beef sired animals, select beef AI sires from the DBI (Dairy Beef Index) Active Bull List (www.icbf.com), that are positive for beef carcass traits. Bulls with higher beef merit figures should be considered for more mature cows. In terms of dairy AI bulls, the herd EBI score card will highlight to dairy farmers their current herd status regarding beef merit. If your dairy herd is low for these traits, then using dairy bulls that will improve these traits into the future should be considered.

To assist our HerdPlus members to focus on identifying females that are both good & poor on carcase merit, we have launched a new Carcass Merit Profile recently. This new profile display’s carcase merit of all animals in your herd.

We wish you well for the upcoming 2020 breeding season.