Genetic progress has increased the income generated by the average dairy cow in NI by approximately £500 during the past 20 years, farmers attending an AI Services event on Tuesday were told.

Offering breeding advice, Dr Debbie McConnell from AI Services outlined the advantages from improving herd genetics.

“Genetics can account for as much as 50% of a cow’s lifetime performance, influencing yield, milk solids and fertility. However, less than 2% of the input costs spent on cows during their productive life is on their genetic make-up, proving that good genetics give an excellent return on the investment,” said McConnell.


Highlighting the results from on-farm trials, McConnell compared the output from cows with a profitable lifetime index (PLI) value in the top 25%, to animals in the bottom quartile.

Cows in the top 25% produced 12,059kg of milk per lactation, 1,260kg more than the bottom quartile. Fat and protein were also higher, with a 50% reduction in SCC.

Taking everything together, cows in the top quartile generated £3,545 in annual milk sales, £479 more than those in the bottom 25% for PLI.

Sexed semen

In 2023, sexed semen now accounts for 76% of all semen sales to dairy herds in NI and ultimately it leads to higher returns from calf sales.

Where an average NI dairy farm uses conventional dairy semen across 90% of replacement heifers and 40% of mature cows, calf sales amount to just over £13,000.

Using sexed semen on the same percentage of heifers, but just 10% of cows, increases calf output to over £19,000 as more beef-bred calves can be sold.

“There are also huge gains in terms of carbon footprint by selecting for fertility, lifespan and feed efficiency. Every 5% reduction in replacement rate lowers the number of heifers retained for breeding by six animals in the average herd. That’s fewer animals producing emissions,” McConnell added.

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