Henry Walsh: How to Weigh Big Breeding Decisions

Dairy farming in Ireland faces a huge number of unknowns. How we as individual farmers and as an industry manage these unknowns will have a huge impact on how we emerge from this period of chaos.

We are bombarded with a wall of negatives in terms of the cost and availability of critical inputs.

While it’s hard to see past the immediate issues, earlier issues like global warming, water quality, and biodiversity loss haven’t gone away.

None of these challenges can be ignored and we must work together to address them and find solutions.

Prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a number of areas were identified that needed to be addressed quickly for the survival of mankind.

We know that the world must be treated as one atmosphere, so the most efficient and best location must be supported for all products, whether it is dairy in Ireland or citrus in the Mediterranean .

This will of course conflict with food security and self-sufficiency, but will improve the carbon footprint.

It could also create consternation if people can’t get a coffee or an avocado or even a sugar cube because with thousands of everyday items they are not produced in Ireland.

Although there are many unknowns, on the farm there are many areas over which we have control, and one of them is animal husbandry.

The decisions we make now will directly impact our dairy farm for 2023 and beyond.

First we decided how many cows we want to milk next year or perhaps more importantly feed next year if the availability of fertilizer or concentrate is limited.

The nitrogen limit had already been introduced by European “farm to fork” legislation.

We were hoping that more clovers and multi-species grasses would gradually help us offset the reduction, but now that we have supply shortages, so we have to factor in even greater food and fertilizer reductions. , at least in the short term.

We are striving to be more efficient, more environmentally friendly and doing everything possible to ensure that everything we produce is salable, whether it is milk protein, butterfat or a Aberdeen Angus crossbred calf.

Our breeding decisions are based on the EBI and the number of replacement heifers we need. This plan should result in a more efficient cow with a lower carbon footprint.

And given that some of the milk buyers are going to impose price penalties on peak milk, should we breed a cow that can produce more constituents rather than volume? Because most milk throttling peaks revolve around storage, drying, and transportation.

Bonuses are offered for calving cows earlier, and while it makes sense to spread out the processing, at the farm level it requires very good silage and more concentrates to produce that early milk, resulting in a lot more expenses.

I believe we can still improve the fertility aspect of our cows, which will result in better early submission rates, better conception rates and earlier calvings, leading to more days in lactation.

We have further increased the amount of sexed dairy semen this year, which will be used entirely on first, second and third lactation cows in good BCS, who have had no health problems this spring.

We will be using dairy AI for the first three weeks on cows with an EBI of 150 or higher. This will ensure that all of our dairy alternatives are born in the first three weeks of next February, and less than 33pc will be male.

All cows below 150 and all repeats will get an AA from the Dairy Beef Index, for which we are receiving strong demand from local farmers.

In addition, we are organizing an open house on Wednesday April 27 as part of a joint initiative between IFAC/Aurivo and Teagasc. This is an open event and all are welcome.

Henry and Patricia Walsh farm in Oranmore, Co Galway with their son Enda and neighbor and farm owner John Moran