It seems strange to be writing about spring AI when there are 20% to 30% of calves yet to be born this year, but the seasons are moving on and the breeding season is now just around the corner. As outlined on pages 50 and 51, the number of dairy straws being used on Irish farms is reducing considerably. This is largely in response to the rollout of sexed semen, where fewer dairy straws are needed to generate a dairy heifer calf.

Even though the amount of straws needed are less, the number of bulls required on a farm shouldn’t fall and the advice from ICBF is clear that at least eight bulls are required for a 100-cow herd. This is so in case one or more bull’s EBI drops, that the impact will be limited to just their heifer calves. By not using enough bulls, or by not using the bulls equally across the herd, the farm is more exposed to changes in EBI.

Sexed semen and increased beef AI use does come at a cost, as Declan Collins outlines on pages 48 and 49. While the sexed straw costs are higher than conventional, the real cost is reduced conception rate and potentially longer gestation length and harder calvings with beef bulls.

Farmers need to be wary of this and follow the correct protocols to avoid disappointments. Sexed semen won’t be suitable for all cows, or indeed not suitable for all herds, so that should be kept in mind too.

On pages 52 and 53, I go through some of the things dairy farmers should be looking out for as they select what bulls to use for this season.

In terms of the Holstein Friesian breed, I think it’s fair to say there are some very good, well-balanced bulls available this year.

However, it’s concerning to see that there is no real validation of genetics happening in research at present.