With all the emphasis on bull selection, sexed semen, dairy beef, etc. it’s easy to forget that the most important part of the breeding season is actually getting cows in calf. Most farmers are well able to list off the signs of heat but that doesn’t mean everyone working on the farm is. Spend a bit of time over the next few days going through the signs with anyone working on or helping out on the farm.

The minimum number of times for heat detection is three per day, so that’s at both milkings and late in the evening. Correctly applied tail paint is critical, and an area many farmers fall down in.

Common mistakes are to apply too much across too big an area, meaning the cow that is bulling but only mounted two or three times isn’t identified, as only a small percentage of paint is removed.

If paint is applied in the correct 2in by 9in strip, a higher percentage of the paint would be removed and the cow is more easily identified. Tail paint needs to be topped up every four to five days. Devices that allow cows to be painted whilst standing in the pit, e.g. a roller brush or “Tailpainter” are a huge labour saver.

Semen quality is another factor. There are two issues here. Firstly, how the semen is handled will affect how much live sperm is present. Some farmers and AI technicians are far too casual with how they handle AI straws.

Secondly, not all bulls have the same semen quality, with some bulls throwing up a lot more repeats than others. Using a lot of very young bulls and using sexed semen from young bulls is very questionable. AI companies have withdrawn warranties on semen, so there is no comeback for the farmer if cows don’t go in calf.


The present weather is close to ideal for getting clover established. There is a lot of interest in over-sowing, but it’s very much the poor relation of clover establishment compared to full reseeding.

Method is less important than management. Mixing clover seed one bag at a time with fertiliser such as 0:7:30 or granulated lime whilst in the field has been shown to work well, but it’s slow and labourious to do it right.

Teagasc tend to use the tine harrow and air seeder when sowing clover which is more straightforward. The key thing is to only do one or two paddocks at a time and graze these at low covers over the next two or three months with little or no chemical nitrogen.

Seed availability is a big issue this year. Medium leafed white clover is best on dairy and cattle farms. Only use varieties of red and white clover that are on the recommended lists either in Ireland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales or Scotland, as these are proven in temperate climates.

Some merchants are selling clover seed from central Europe and these should be avoided because they are not proven under Irish conditions. Cross reference varieties against the recommended lists before purchasing.

If seed isn’t available, farmers would be better off waiting for the right type of seed to become available rather than sowing something that is unlikely to survive.