The Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) have recently published the top 50 sires of dairy calves born in 2023. The bull with the most number of calves registered to him is Knockenright Chessman (FR6853) with 13,199 calves born. The dams of these calves would have been put in calf during the breeding season of 2022.

The data is interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, at just over 13,000 births Chessman would have found himself in sixth place in 2022 in terms of the number of calves registered to sires. The most popular sire that year was Doonmanagh Seville (FR4547) with a staggering 25,543 calves registered to him.

Seville also features high up the ranks in 2023 calvings. So in the space of a year, the number of calves born to the top sire almost halved.

This is a trend that follows through to the top five sires in both years. In 2023, the top five sires had 57,596 calves born between them. Whereas in 2022, this number was 101,003 calves. This means there was a 43% reduction in 2023 in the number of calves born to the top five most used sires compared to 2022.

Looking at the top 10 most popular sires in each year, there was 97,068 calves registered to the top 10 most used bulls in 2023 but this was 152,517 in 2022. However, this reduction in numbers did not carry through to the rest of the most popular calf sires with similar numbers of calves registered to the 20th, 30th, 40th and 50th most popular sire in both 2022 and 2023.

Essentially, there was 55,000 or so fewer calves born out of the top 50 most popular sires in 2023 compared to 2022. There are a number of things we can infer from these figures.

Firstly dairy inseminations have tailed off dramatically from their peak in 2020 and 2021 seasons.

This is due to the more widespread use of sexed semen meaning dairy farmers need to use less dairy AI to get the same number of dairy heifers.

So a big part of the reduction in calf registrations to dairy sires in 2023 will be due to fewer male dairy calves on the ground.

It should be said that there are over 550,000 dairy inseminations annually with a relatively small proportion of these are to the top 10 most used bulls. This shows there is a very wide spread of bulls being used annually, many of whom have low EBIs.

Corresponding to a reduction in dairy inseminations, there are more and more beef inseminations and beef matings in the dairy herd.

For the first six months of the 2023 breeding season, the ICBF reported a 22% increase in beef AI usage through AI technicians and inseminations recorded on handhelds compared to 2022. There was also a 9% reduction in dairy inseminations during this period.

Another factor in the decline in dairy inseminations could be that herd expansion has tailed off and farmers who are satisfied that they have reached their desired number of cows don’t need to breed additional replacements.

It’s important to note that the most popular sires of calves born in any given year are not necessarily the most widely used AI bulls in the season previous, but they are closely matched.

What is not in doubt is that the dairy AI market in terms of the number of straws being sold is shrinking and the growth area for AI companies is now in dairy beef AI and dairy sexed semen, with a 53% increase in sexed semen use in 2023.


Ireland’s third sexed semen lab is set to open shortly when the new Sexing Technology lab at Dovea near Thurles in Co Tipperary opens. This first Irish lab in the current phase of sexed semen was opened in Moorepark in winter 2021.

There was a temporary lab operating at Moorepark in 2013 for a trial on fresh sexed semen but this closed after the trial was over. In 2022, NCBC opened its lab at Naas where it processes sexed semen on behalf of parent companies Munster Bovine and Progressive Genetics.

The opening of Dovea’s new lab is likely to coincide with the planned closure of the Moorepark lab. This was opened in November 2021 with the financial support of FBD who donated €200,000 to help get a lab established in Ireland.

Prior to this, the bulls had to be moved to the UK in order for their semen to be sex sorted and this meant that AI companies were reluctant to send their best bulls for sexing.

This is because having them abroad would prevent them from producing conventional semen from these top bulls. The travel was also a health risk to these valuable animals both in terms of clinical disease and getting caught up in a quarantine situation while in the UK.

The result was that the choice of sexed semen available was poor relative to the quality of conventional semen for sale.

Given the costs in establishing and setting up a sexed semen sorting lab, it’s likely that the Dovea lab will be available for other AI companies to use if they so wish. To be fair to NCBC and Dovea, the substantial investment in sexed semen labs will cost their business in terms of lower turnover.

Yes they charge more per sexed straw but overall turnover is likely to be down as a result of selling fewer straws, even including dairy beef straws.

Having said that, the opportunity now for AI companies is really in dairy beef. The appetite is there among farmers for easy calving and short gestation bulls that will produce calves with a high commercial beef value (CBV). These superstar beef bulls will be widely used as unlike with dairy matings, the importance of using a team of bulls is minimised provided the beef bulls have a good calving reliability.

The increased use of automated heat detection aids is a further boost to beef AI sales as dairy farmers with the technology tend to do all AI for the full season.

While bad news for pedigree bull breeders who sell bulls to dairy farmers, this is ultimately good news for the beef sector as it means the quality of beef calves from the dairy herd will be better.

  • The number of dairy calves born to the top used bulls in 2023 is about half that born to the top bulls in 2022.
  • There was about 55,000 fewer calves born to the top 10 most used bulls in 2023 compared to the top 10 most used bulls in 2022.
  • There was also a 9% reduction in dairy inseminations during the first six months of 2023 and a 22% increase in dairy beef AI.
  • There is likely to be two permanent sexed semen labs operating in Ireland in the near future with the NCBC lab in Naas and the Dovea lab in Thurles.