One of the big positives on Newford Farm since the demonstration herd was formed in 2015 has been its strong breeding performance.

The herd has consistently achieved average performance of upwards of 95% of cows submitted for AI in the first three weeks of the breeding season.

This laid the foundation for conception to first service typically being recorded above 65% and reaching a high of 74% conception to first service in 2022. It has also underpinned a six-week calving rate in the region of 85%.

While it is early days to judge, the 2023 breeding season has got off to a similar rapid start as in recent years.

Farm manager Stephen Frend reports that there were 27 cows inseminated in the first five days of the breeding season (started Monday 24 April).

Going on the level of heat activity in the run-up to the start of the breeding season, this positive start is expected to continue and hopefully replicate the performance of recent years.

Heat detection aids

The farm is using a number of heat detection aids. Vasectomised bulls have been central to heat detection since making the switch to 100% AI.

These bulls have been fitted with a chin ball and Moo Call heat collars are also being used. Tail paint is applied to cows and the colour is changed following each insemination.

Some farmers reading about the range of heat detection aids used in Newford Farm comment that the number of aids used is overkill.

However, the process has delivered excellent results in recent years and there is also a demonstration element in trialing what works best.

At this stage, the farm would be slow to move away from the heat detection aids used, with heat activity easy to identify.

Once-a-day AI

Another practice which has delivered positive results in recent years is once-a-day AI. Cows are inseminated once daily, typically around noon.

Any cow that is still showing strong signs of standing heat on the evening on which it has been inseminated will be inseminated again the following day.

Analysis from recent years shows that there is about 10% to 15% of cows that receive a second insemination on the following day.

The cost of this insemination is seen as more than justified, taking account of the breeding performance achieved and the significant reduction in labour from not having to bring cows to the yard morning and evening.

Sire choice

There has been a slight change to the criteria used to select sires in 2023.

The criterion of greater than three days less predicted transmitting ability for age to slaughter has been added to tie in with the farm’s aim of finishing heifers off grass at 16 to 18 months of age and also in increasing the number of bullocks finished off grass.

The remaining selection criteria are broadly similar and laid out as follows:

  • Five-star terminal index on a within- and across-breed basis.
  • Less than 8% calving difficulty for mature cows at a minimum of 70% calving reliability figure.
  • Greater than 35kg predicted carcase weight for mature cows.
  • Less than 5.8% calving difficulty for young cows at a minimum of 70% calving reliability figure.
  • Greater than 25kg predicted carcase weight for young cows.
  • Minimum conformation score of 1.86.
  • Less than 6% calving difficulty at a minimum of 80% calving difficulty reliability for first calvers.
  • Greater than 25kg predicted carcase weight for first calves.
  • At least -3 days for predicted transmitting ability for age of slaughter.
  • AI straw cost of less than €20.
  • When this criteria was used, Ewendale Ivor was the continued sire choice for heifers.

    Gstaad, Lapon and Whitecliffe Orwell remained on the bull team from 2022 and were joined by Garnedd Nelson, Grangewood Royal Oak and Birchpark Rufus.

    Grassland management

    As is the case across the country, grass growth rates are struggling to build. Stephen reports that growth rates are running in the region of 40kg DM/ha.

    Grass reserves are holding just ahead of demand, but with growth expected to increase significantly in the coming week, there is not expected to be any pinch points in the system.

    The only concern at present is that there are a number of paddocks that, in an ideal world, would be skipped in the coming week to 10 days, as they have gone slightly above the pre-grazing target of 1,200kg DM/ha.

    This is not seen as a big issue, considering how challenging weather has been, and if growth does improve as expected, then consideration can be given to skipping these paddocks.

    Stephen says that sward graze-outs have been relatively good and that sward damage has been kept to a minimum, with the exception of a few paddocks grazed during torrential rainfall.

    This damage is not serious and swards are already recovering well.