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'Breeding in its simplest form involves selecting the most suitable animals to breed the next generation'
Our aim is that the next generation will be better than their parents in order to develop the herd for the future. We believe if you're dairy farming the key to prosperity lies in choice of the right genetics, they're your building blocks producing cows that are fit for the job.
Dairy cows need strong frames so they can walk long distances, calve easily and last in the herd. They need good feet which aren't prone to lameness and well-supported udders. Our cows need to convert feed to milk efficiently producing high milk components as heifers and continue this through their productive life. Their calves need to be strong and hit the ground running.
We like working with Holstein cows because they tick all these boxes for us.
As we continued to increase production over the years, we did so without big increases in herd size. Rather than having more cows, the Holstein breed allowed us to increase milk production and solids per cow by selecting the right sires.
With dairying increasingly under the environmental spotlight regarding methane emissions, slurry storage and welfare issues, we feel that less cows producing more milk may be the way of the future.
All matings are carried out using artificial insemination. We buy frozen semen at the start of the autumn and spring breeding seasons. Agatha carries out all inseminations on the farm. We run approximately 40% of the herd as autumn calvers, so they produce the winter milk. This helps spread the calving workload and we get a bonus price to cover the added costs of winter production.
Artificial Insemination is carried out for eight weeks during spring and autumn. Our vet carries out regular pregnancy testing which helps to minimise the empty rate. If a cow is proving difficult to get in calf but is continuing to milk well, we'll often carry her over until the spring mating. We usually don't need to use any hormone treatments to get cows to cycle since the introduction of Herd Insights, a reproductive and health monitoring smart collar system that has a heat detection rate over 95%.
Selecting animals to breed is made easier if the records of their performance are kept and if we have knowledge of their relations. The Irish Holstein Friesian Association records all pedigree animals on a computerised database as they are registered.
When we register a calf we receive a pedigree certificate with all the information available on the calves parents, grandparents and great grandparents. As well as showing the animal’s pedigree, the certificate shows the performance details of the relations such as milk volume, milk fat content and milk protein content. Information on type traits (body structure) e.g. teat length and foot angle is also important when selecting animals for breeding as it can affect their health and length of life in the herd.
aAa® Animal Analysis
For a number of years we've been using aAa® analysis to improve the structural balance of our cows. Founded in 1950 by Bill Weeks, a prominent Holstein cattle breeder and classification inspector, aAa analysis is a breeding tool that analyses the structural make-up of cows and aims to breed healthier, balanced cows with improved longevity. The analysis defines a cow’s structure under six categories and it relies purely on the physical attributes of the animal; no genetic merit is taken into consideration. The aim is to strike a balance between enough 'roundness' to live and enough 'sharpness' to produce milk.
We believe that this system of animal analysis embodies the true principles of bovine structure and functionality. We're using aAa® analysis results in common-sense matings that are aimed at matching a cow’s weak points with a bull’s strong points. We avoid excessive selection on yield and components in favour of improved structure. Our breeding plan is simple: all cows are analysed by an aAa® analyser!
At the end of the day, If a cow is balanced enough with optimal form, she can easily produce a lot of milk, reproduce effectively, be lower-maintenance, healthier and longer-living than an individual with structural inadequacies. Our cows are now reaching seven or eight lactations and that's very good for the bank balance!
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