Our first set of twins of the year has arrived. This particular dairy cow was served to an AI Friesian bull last Spring but was still standing in heat the next morning. We usually operate a near 100% pedigree breeding strategy but we decided to make use of a young pedigree Hereford bull, unsold at the time, to save us a second visit from the AI man. The bull was only barely 13 months old and although he rose on the cow several times, we didn’t think he was strong enough to actually serve such a mature cow. The cow subsequently scanned in-calf, but we always expected (maybe more out of hope than anything else) two pedigree calves from the AI straw. Two black white-head calves (a bull and a heifer) appeared in the end so it looks like we should have given the young Hereford bull a bit more credit! The calves were a little on the small side but nothing out of the ordinary for a twin birth. Both calves took their first fed well but unfortunately, the bull calf died a few hours later. Incredibly, he was the stronger and bigger calf of the two but it’s the little heifer that seems to be the hardy one. She took her feed well again this morning and we’re hopeful that with a little TLC, she should make it out of the danger zone. The calving took a little bit out of the cow so we’ll leave her on a straw bed for a couple of days to recover.
We’re also starting to get our teeth into the autumn breeding season with 82% of the Autumn calving dairy cows served in six weeks since mid December last. Heat detection often takes a back seat to calving but we’re happy enough with our AI submission rates so far. It’s a big help to have some of the freshly calved young heifers at grass as it makes it easier to monitor the autumn calvers who are still in the cubicle shed. One or two of the heavy milking dairy cows haven’t been seen in heat yet so we’ll have to keep a closer eye on them going forward and get them checked out if needed later in the Spring. Fertility is really important on any working farm but as we’re in milk all year round anyway, a little slippage past the ideal 365 day calving interval isn’t the end of the world. We can milk these cows on an extended lactation and switch them from Spring to Winter or vice versa. These instances are few and far between on a British Friesian system but it’s a nice luxury to have if you need it. The beef herd in particular is coming into to heat well with all the Autumn calved cows now served again.
At Kilsunny, we run two stock bulls with the beef herd but we do try to use as much AI as possible on the dairy cows. The AI catalogues have started to arrive in the post over the last few days and we’re starting to pick out some bulls to use later in the Spring. I’m not a massive fan of the EBI system at the best of times; I prefer to select bulls that have good figures across a wide range of traits including milk, protein kgs, type, fertility as well as their overall EBI figure. Although the EBI base has changed recently, it’s still very much oriented towards a Spring calving low input system. Since the abolition of the milk quota, volume of milk production has never been more important. Historically, we like to breed cows with a little more milk than the average British Friesian cow anyway, so EBI is of minimal importance when making breeding decisions here. That said, the EBI can be a fantastic tool when used appropriately, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle. I feel that a balanced breeding approach pays off much better in the long run. This year we’re hoping to use FCM, RIP and ZSC from Dovea Genetics, our own homebred AI bull, Kilsunny Nautical 7 (YSK) from Genus ABS as well as some older bulls that we still have in the AI flask like LNR, ANY and S704.
The main Spring bull sale season is about to get underway on the farm too. 80% of our stock are sold privately off farm each season but we do hope to exhibit Friesian bulls at the big multi-breed sale in Kilkenny and some of the Herefords at the various Society sales next month as well. To help generate interest in this year’s crop of bulls, our new YouTube video featuring the entire Kilsunny Friesian bull crop (watch it at youtube.com/kilsunnyherd) made its debut online last week. YouTube may seem a novel way to market breeding bulls but with a bit of work and some decent shots of the cattle, I find social media can really work well. It’s incredibly cheap when compared to the traditional forms of advertising (newspapers adverts etc) and I’ve found a massive increase in engagement across all of our social media platforms in the last twelve months. It’s not all about likes, comments or views, as currently about 20% of all our private cattle sales come directly from online customers. Social media is particularly effective with new breeders and young farmers and it’s an area of our farming enterprise that I hope to devote even more time to over the coming year.