With the 2023 breeding season on the horizon, now is a good time to start planning.

To help support this, ICBF and Teagasc have developed a set of breeding guidelines to improve the sustainability and resource efficiency of your dairy herd in the future.

These guidelines have been endorsed by the DAFM-led Calf Stakeholder Forum, consisting of key industry stakeholders, including DAFM, farmers, ICBF, Teagasc, the National AI companies, the milk and meat processing industries, Bord Bia and Animal Health Ireland. The guidelines include a simple 7-point plan, which if followed, will ensure the continued sustainable improvement of your dairy herd into the future.

In addition, this group has agreed the following overarching principles for our future dairy herd, and these principles are supported by the breeding guidelines.

The goals are to breed a dairy cow that:

  • is healthy and resource efficient (requiring fewer interventions, less labour, and less N & P use),
  • is sustainable (profitable and carbon efficient), and
  • will produce calves that can integrate into our beef industry.

We encourage you to reflect on these goals in the context of your own dairy herd. You can do this by looking at your ICBF Herd EBI Scorecard which is the first point on the 7-point plan. This report identifies the strengths and weaknesses in your herd from a genetic perspective and will help you in setting your breeding objectives.

Please note, following recent industry announcements that slaughtering of young calves will be no longer acceptable from 2024, your breeding decisions this season will be crucial to ensure you produce a saleable calf next year.

Finally, we would remind you that the best way to achieve these goals is to maximise the use of AI in your herd this breeding season. You can do this by using a team of high EBI dairy AI bulls on females with an EBI of at least €150 to generate dairy replacements, as well as using high Dairy Beef Index beef AI bulls on lower EBI females to generate saleable cattle for finishing. (EBI less than €150) Check out the Dairy and Dairy/Beef Active Bull Lists for more information. These guidelines will help secure the future profitability, sustainability and carbon efficiency of your farm and the broader industry into the future.

Breeding Guidelines for Spring 2023

  1. Know your herd’s strengths and weaknesses. Refer to your ICBF Herd EBI Scorecard to help establish what these are (see overleaf).
  2. Farmers should strongly consider using sexed semen to generate some or all of their dairy heifer calves for 2024. Plan to use at least two sexed semen straws to generate each dairy female required.
  3. Ideally only consider females with an EBI of at least €150 for mating to high EBI dairy bulls (either sexed or conventional). All remaining females should be considered for mating to beef bulls with a high Dairy Beef Index (DBI) value from the start of the breeding season. If you will not achieve sufficient dairy replacements with this strategy, consider purchasing dairy female replacements. If purchasing replacements, identify genotyped females from high health status herds with an EBI of at least €200.
  4. Select a team of high EBI AI bulls from the ICBF dairy active bull list to breed your dairy herd replacements. Use the team of bulls equally with no more than 15% of mating’s to any individual bull to minimise genetic and fertility risks. For a typical 100 cow dairy herd, at least 8 bulls should be used, with no more than 15 straws (i.e., 15% mating’s) to any individual bull.
  5. Ensure that inseminations with sexed semen are completed in the first 3-weeks of the breeding season and prioritise usage on maiden heifers, younger cows, earlier calving cows, and cows without health issues. Use a large team of high EBI bulls to minimise genetic and fertility risks. Contact your AI technician in advance of using sexed semen, pay careful attention to AI procedures, and the optimum timing of AI for sexed semen is 14 to 20 h after the onset of standing heat.
  6. To ensure saleable, profitable, and sustainable dairy-beef cattle are generated, use beef AI bulls from the ICBF Dairy-Beef Active bull list. It’s recommended to firstly select bulls with a calving difficulty percentage range suitable for the females being mated (i.e., first calvers, second calvers, mature cows), and then select bulls with the highest Beef sub-index value.
  7. Use the ICBF HerdPlus Sire Advice Tool. It will simplify the process of bull selection and identify the optimum mating for both dairy and beef bulls. The tool will allocate dairy bulls to cows based on their strengths & weaknesses, as well as manage inbreeding. The tool also identifies the optimum beef AI bull mating to minimise calving issues and maximise beef merit.

* These breeding guidelines have been endorsed by a DAFM-led dairy calf welfare working group, consisting of key industry stakeholders. Members of the working group include the following: DAFM, ICBF, Teagasc, National AI companies, IFA, ICMSA, ICOS, Dairy Industry Ireland, Meat Industry Ireland, Bord Bia and Animal Health Ireland.