Early indications from AI technicians point towards a generally successful breeding season for dairy herds.
Higher cow numbers have increased demand for straws across the board, with farmer demand for fresh semen pushing AI stations to increase the number of bulls in their fresh semen programmes.
Initial reports show a continued demand for bulls which have a good balance across fertility and production sub-indexes.
More farmers have been requesting sexed semen, particularly from black and white bulls on their earlier calved cows.
As many herds have only started to use beef straws over the past week, not much is known about the breed composition of dairy-bred beef calves.
It appears that Angus and Hereford bulls will continue to dominate beef sire lists, with the use of Limousin straws down in these early stages of beef use on dairy.
Some technicians are reporting an increased usage of Aubrac and lower calving difficulty Belgian Blue bulls on late-calvers.
Whether this movement away from Limousin will be repeated at a national level remains to be seen.
Speaking to the Irish Farmers Journal, Seamus Hughes of Progressive Genetics outlined the key trends emerging from the 2021 breeding season.
“Trends in AI usage are similar enough to those seen last year. High-EBI bulls with good balance across the indexes are being used extensively on farms,” he said.
“The use of Jersey is down. Some crossbred herds have moved completely to bull teams of black and white bulls to breed replacement heifers. The move away from Jersey was almost entirely down to the bull calf issue.
“Conception rates are coming back good, with few repeats so far. Cows are exhibiting long, easily-identifiable heats with stronger signs compared to previous years.
“The fertility we have seen recently, over the past three years in particular, has come from both better cows in the national herd and better herd management on the end of the farmer,” Hughes said.
Technical manager at Munster AI, Doreen Corridan, gave her thoughts on the progress of the breeding season in the south-west.
“It has been a superb year so far, insemination records have been broken in April and May,” commented Corridan.
“Submission rates have been phenomenal this year. Farmers have had less distractions off-farm interfering with heat detection.
“The delays in cutting silage have also allowed breeding to remain the main focus on farms for longer.
“A trend emerging from this breeding season has been the increased use of synchronisation for both heifers and cows. Sexed semen usage is also up for both Friesian and Jersey sires.
“The demand for dairy straws has slowed, however many farmers will still breed replacements off cows for another few weeks. We have ramped up the supply of short gestation ‘curve-bending’ bulls to these farmers.
“There is a selection of high-EBI, high solids bulls which can shave an average of 10 days off calving intervals. These will be the most popular dairy sires for the remainder of the breeding season,” she said.
Ger Ryan of Dovea Genetics echoed remarks of increased cow numbers generating a higher demand for straws.
“Numbers are definitely up and producers are starting to look for sexed semen a lot more. The sexed component of this year’s breeding would be the stand out observation for many of our technicians,” Ryan said.
“The farmer demand for sexed high-EBI Friesian semen should reduce the quantity of dairy bred bulls born on many farms.
“We have also seen an earlier start to the breeding season this year. This may have been down to the good weather of the pre-breeding and cows coming out of the winter in good condition.
“The recent turn in ground conditions after the wet weather has not significantly impacted breeding on most farms,” noted Ryan.
Tom Baker of Eurogene gave his thoughts on the progression of what he has evaluated as a generally “very good” breeding season.
“Submission rates started off exceptional but took a knock with the bad weather. There were serious difficulties for farmers trying to pick up cows in heat. Sexed semen usage is up on cows and heifers. We would have seen it used far more on heifers than cows in previous years.
“Farmers are implementing fixed-time AI programmes in conjunction with sexed semen. With accurate heat detection and good fertility, there can be little difference between sexed and conventional.
“Farmers had also been using beef straws from the start of the breeding season this year.
“Poorer cows had been identified for beef insemination right from the beginning,” Baker said.