After a long, hard spring, it’s hard to believe that we are once again at the breeding stage on Tullamore Farm.

Over the last three years, there has been a concerted effort made to try and pull back the average calving date on the farm.

A new shed completed in 2022 has meant that the farm is now well set up for earlier calving. It’s no easy feat pulling cows back and there are still a proportion of cows calving in late April that we don’t really need.

A decision has been taken on the farm to cull hard in 2024 and if some of these April calvers fall out of the system, extra heifers will be brought in to replace them. These heifers will be calving in January 2025 so should help to speed up pulling the average calving date back to late February.

Ideally calving would commence in mid-January and finish up by the end of March. This year was the exception in terms of turnout date being delayed.

In general, we are able to get cows and calves out to grass in March leaving lots of time before breeding commences in April. The earlier calving date will mean a heavier weanling coming into the shed at the back end of the year and make the cows on the farm work a little harder in terms of weaning heavier calves. This should also help to reduce feed costs in the finishing system.

Breeding details

Sexed semen will also play a larger role in the breeding programme. Heifers were synchronised in 2023 and sexed semen was used. The conception rate ended up at 50% which was what was expected. Sexed semen will now be used in the mature cows on the farm.

As timing of AI is critical to high conception rates when using sexed semen, the farm has taken the decision to invest in heat detection collars.

The collars have been fitted to the cows in the last two weeks and all heat detection is currently being carried out via the collars on the cows.

The collars will cost €129/cow net of VAT and TAMS grant aid with an expected lifetime of about five to seven years.

That means it will cost between €18/cow/year and €25/cow/year depending on how long they last.

In the past, we have shown that our heifers are leaving over €200/head compared to the bulls on the farm so if we can increase the number of heifers through the use of sexed semen, the system will pay for itself.

The collars also monitor for any health issues.

Farm manager Shaun Diver said: “We’re very happy with how the collars are working. I don’t think we would be able to use sexed semen if we didn’t have the collars. It’s surprising how long you have to leave the cows for sexed semen with some cows having to wait until 16 hours after heat onset.

“Our AI technician is living local to the farm so that means there are three options during the day for AI times, 9am, 2pm or 7pm.

Bull selection

The farm is aiming to breed more heifers so the replacement index is still central to breeding decisions.

However, we are also trying to balance for terminal traits and working off the very top of the replacement index isn’t an option anymore for the farm without moving completely to Aberdeen Angus breeding. Some of these bulls don’t have high enough terminal traits for the Tullamore system so other balanced bulls have been chosen.

Table 1 outlines the 2024 bull team being used on the farm.

Breeding 2024

At the moment, there are 20 cows bred out of a total of 78 cows available for breeding in 2024. This is on top of the 37 heifers which have already been synchronised.

There are currently 78 cows and calves turned outdoors grazing in two groups of 40 and 38.

If cows are detected in heat in the morning, but don’t have to be inseminated until the evening, that cow is brought into the yard and let out into a small paddock adjacent to the yard so she can be easily got back into the yard in the evening time.

  • Breeding commenced on 18 April with 37 synchronised heifers inseminated on that day.
  • High replacement index bulls have been chosen with balanced terminal traits.
  • Heat detection collars have been purchased at a cost of €129/cow.
  • Sexed semen is being used on the farm at the beginning of the breeding season to maximise earlier born heifers.
  • New unproven AI bulls will be used on high-index mature cows.