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Matt Ryan

Management Hints

December 2023


  • This is the month to review your ICBF and PastureBase reports for 2023.
  • Review your ICBF EBI report for 2023, make a plan, and act.
  • Review your ICBF calving report for 2023, make a plan, and act.
  • Review your ICBF fertility report for 2023, make a plan, and act.
  • Review your PastureBase grass reports for 2023, make a plan, and act.
  • Make sure to have adequate staff cover for next spring – plan now!
  • Animal health preventive care now reduces cost and labour requirements.
  • Brief reminders of important December tasks.


  • Look up your own EBI on the ICBF site and insert the figures in the table – see Table 1. There is no point in aiming to be average; compare yourself with the targets.
    • Every €20 you are off the target results in:
      •  You contributing 3% more carbon emissions;
      •  You making €40 per cow less profit in the year.
    • There is only one way to ‘catch up’ with the best and that is by mating the best bulls, using sire advice, to the very best cows you have:
      • Spend some time now, during the quiet period, identifying your best cows, and in March/April you can choose your AI bulls.
      • If you will have surplus R1s or R2s to sell in the new year, identify the best of them now so that when the time comes you will be selling the worst of them.

Table 1: Dairy herd genetics summary for 2023. Source: ICBF EBI report.   


National average 


Your figure 

EBI: cows




EBI: heifers (R1s)




EBI: heifers (R2s)




EBI: herd gain/year




Herd’s milk




Herd’s fertility 


Jersey X






























PD: % fat




PD: % protein




PD: kg milk solids




  • Fertility genetics is a major driver of profit – this must be one of your main objectives for the future.
  • Carbon, beef, maintenance, and health are very important traits going forward and one must endeavour to compromise so as to increase all – a challenging task!
    • The carbon will take care of itself if your bull/cow choice takes care of fertility and maintenance targets.
  • The annual EBI increase should be €10. 
  • I am a big believer of managing your own milk price and leaving your farm organisation the job of putting pressure on your co-op. How?
    • Maximise your % fat and protein through genetics; the targets in Table 1 will deliver 9% solids.
    • Feeding, particularly quality grass and silage, delivers genetic potential.
    • Good management of the resources available.
  • You must use sire advice next March-April to deliver the targets set out in Table 1. I am amazed how many ‘good farmers’ don’t use it.
  • Now, make a resolution to be proactive in driving all the targets set out in Table 1. Of all the money you will make in the years ahead, this is the easiest by far.
  •  The benefits from a genomic-tested herd are enormous!


  • Let’s examine the ICBF data available to you. See Table 2.
    • If you achieve these technical efficiency targets and others in grassland you will be farming at optimum levels. 

Table 2: Calving technical efficiencies and targets for 2023. Source: ICBF calving report.

Technical efficiency

National average


Your figure

Start of calving







Feb 1

7 days earlier


Median calving date

March 6

Feb 15-25*


Calving period

12-14 wks

10 wks


Avg age calving




5yr 6mth



6yr 6mth

1yr 11mth


Avg lactation age culled




Avg lactation – cow in herd




Calving interval (days)




6-week calving rate %




Calves per cow per year




Cows culled in a year




Recycled cows %




% heifers calved 22-26 mths




Replacements bred to dairy AI sires




  • You must make use of this efficiency data to avoid doing what you always do and, consequently, make lower profits:
    •  Know where you are and the targets and how it affects profit. 
  • Calving date:
    •  Heifers should calve five to seven days earlier than cows; so as to settle them in and, more importantly, because calving dates slip from four to five days from one year to the next.
  • Median calving date: This is the date when the middle cow (cow number 50 in a 100-cow herd) calves. For dry land in the south this should be around February 15 and seven to 10 days later for northern or wetland farmers or farmers on very high stocking rates.
    • Start of calving to median calving date should be less than 15 days and 10 days, respectively, for the cows and heifers.
  • Calving period – the shorter this is the better and the target should be 10 weeks.
    • Late calvers will produce 50-100kg less MS.
  • Average age of herd in lactations – poor fertility genetics, high cow culling rates, poor cow fertility management, etc. results in the national herd’s age being 3.7 lactations whereas the top 10% of herds are 4.6 lactations.
  • Lactations milked before culling – the Moorepark target is 5.5+ lactations. 
    • It takes a cow 1.6 lactations to pay the cost of rearing a replacement heifer.
  • Heifer calving age – on average, the heifers will have to calve down at one year and 11 months’ old. Because we need most of the heifers to calve down in the first three weeks – that is early February – March calves must be well reared to meet all weight targets. Fixed-time AI (FTAI) helps a lot.
  • Calving interval – for every day longer than 365 the loss is 0.12c/L or €156 per cow for our national average farmer with a milk yield of 5,200L.
  • Six-week calving rate for the national herd is pathetically low at 65% (target is 90%). This represents a loss of €20,550 for the average 100cow farm. Why are you not achieving it?
    • A genetically infertile herd?
    • Poor submission rate during the first three weeks of breeding?
    • Having a scattered calving pattern at present?
    • Not synchronising heifers?
    • Poor feed management before and/or after calving?
    • And, there may be many more!
  • Calvings per cow will be one, if your cows calve every 365 days. 
  • Recycled cows – there is no financial gain, unless you have a very infertile herd, to recycling cows. Also, because it increases stocking rate there is a loss of nitrate opportunities.
  • Replacements bred to dairy AI – must be 100% if you are serious about surviving in future. Nationally, 60% of all replacements entering the dairy herd are bred to dairy AI; the remainder, 40%, are by stock bulls. A shocking indictment on Irish dairy farmers and change agents!


  • The 2023 fertility season determines the six-week calving rate for 2024.
    • Therefore, it is important to review 2023, so that you learn lessons for 2024. See Table 3.    

Table 3: Fertility report and targets for 2023. Source: ICBF fertility report.

Technical efficiency

National  average



Mating start date





May 1

One week earlier


Length of breeding




14+ wks

13+ wks


10 wks

7 wks


21-day submission rate










42-day submission rate







First service pregnancy rate




Short repeat intervals




Long repeat intervals




Not in calf




Services/conception by lactation




% in calf by individual AI bull




  • Know the targets, decide on the solutions and then put them into action next year.
  • Mating start date (MSD):
    • Heifers’ mating date should be five to seven days earlier than cows. 
    • Synchronisation of heifers is absolutely essential to achieve the six-week calving target next year.
  • Length of breeding season – this drives compact calving and weeds out infertility and poor heat detection – it must be 10-11 weeks.
  • 21-day submission rate – it is the big driver of the six-week calving rate.
    • Submission rates are a function of previous calving date, good BCS management; good calving care, care from calving to mating and, more than anything, very good heat detection rate,
  • First service pregnancy rate – this is really non-return rate (NRR) unless pregnancy is confirmed by scanning and it needs to be over 70%.
    • It is amazing that this has disimproved by 3% over the last five years – might be due to sexed semen!
  • Short repeat interval – some experts say that this indicates an over-anxious AI technician. But it suggests poor heat detection and presentation for service cows that are not in heat. Also, a lot of farmers reserve a cow if she is on heat the day after service – a very bad practice as it may cause a loss of pregnancy.
  • Long repeat interval – indicates over cautious heat detection and a failure to inseminate cows that are actually on heat but are missed. A high % of long repeat intervals can occur due to infection etc. or with anoestrous after one or more heats.
    • This figure is a good indicator of your heat detection efforts.
  • Percentage not in calf. It should be less than 10% based on scanning. It and six-week calving figure are the real KPIs for fertility assessment on a farm.
  • Services per conception per lactation – the target is 1.7 services per cow in calf.
  • Percentage in calf by bull name – this is very useful info in that it can tell you, if one bull is low, that his semen is suspect.
    • If all bulls are low, it begs you to ask the question, why?. It may be due to:
    • Poor management of straws on day of service or poor storage of AI straws.
      • Poor management of cows in day of service, resulting in stress
      • Problems before, at, or after calving.
      • Poor BCS at calving or loss of BCS from calving to mating.
      • Lack of energy with high % protein feeds from calving to mating.
      • Lack of key minerals, eg. copper, iodine, selenium, cobalt, etc. 


  • The second of the two key KPIs for dairy farming is ‘tonnes of grass utilised per hectare’. You must grow large quantities of grass to use it. PastureBase’s annual report, tells you the tonnes you grew on your farm in 2023.
    • This report tells you the yield of grass on each field you measured.
    • With this information you must decide why one field was better than others – there can be a difference of up to 50% between the best and worst.
    • Ask yourself if it is a reseeding issue, a soil fertility issue, a soil structure issue? Then, decide on the actions to take in 2024.
    • Also recorded on that report are the amounts on N, P and K applied to each field.
    • The target is to grow 13-16t DM/ha.
    • Table 4: Some Key Grass Report and Targets for 2023. Source: Teagasc PastureBase Reports.                    

Technical efficiency



No. grass measurements



Total t grass grown per ha



No. grazings + silage cuts



Overwintered growth (Dec 1-Feb 1)             



Avg pre-grazing yield (spring)



Avg pre-grazing yield (summer)



Avg pre-grazing yield (autumn)



Avg growth rate (spring) kg DM/ha/da



Avg growth rate (summer) kg DM/ha/da



Avg growth rate (autumn) kg DM/ha/da



Opening farm cover (Feb 1)



Closing farm cover (Dec 1)



Total meal fed (kg/cow)



Area reseeded (%)



Avg kg N/ha (artificial) used                              



Start grazing on

Feb 1


Finish grazing on 

Nov 20-25


Start of second rotation

April 1-10


  • Grass measurement; if you don’t measure grass, or have too few measurements, you are managing grass in the dark because you will have no data for your farm in Table 4.
  • OK, you haven’t grown 13-16t grass DM/ha, you must now ask yourself ‘why’ based on Table 4.
  • It could be due to:
    • The number of grazings per paddock has a big influence on yield per ha.
      •  Every grazing below the target of 10, results in an overall reduction in yield of 1.3t grass/ha.
  • Having an opening AFC that was too low or too high, because of your closing cover the previous year or poor winter growth.
  • Grazing covers that are too high or too low in spring, summer or autumn?
  • If your grazing stocking rate (SR) is too high for the growth rates achieved, then you are likely to graze too tightly.
  • The amount of N used, without clover, will also influence grass growth as will the soil levels of P & K.
  • Poor-performing paddocks may need reseeding – best to do 10% per year.
  • Starting the second rotation to late or too early has a big effect on grass growth.


  • Make absolutely certain that you have more than adequate staff cover to get you through a busy, stressful spring.
  • Staff, generally, never fall into your lap, therefore, you must be very proactive in sourcing staff.
    • Students – transition year or third-level – may be the first port of call – contact schools.
    • Advertise for staff on all media platforms.
    • The Farm Relief Service is a great source but it may be too late to book now.
    • Think outside the box – some neighbours may be only too delighted to get a few hours’ work each day.
    • Ask contractors if they might be available – give them regular work such as spreading slurry, spreading fertiliser, feeding out silage, fencing, dehorning calves, maintenance work, etc.
  • Make sure you are fully aware of workers’ rights. The consequences of ignorance here could be very serious.
    •  The Workplace Relations Commission webpage is very helpful (
    •  It would be important to develop protocols for staff on your farm, making everyone aware of their duties/responsibilities.
  • If you are employing young staff, the WRC gives the following advice:
    • For a regular job, the minimum age is 16. But employers can take on 14-15-year-olds to do light work:
    • Part-time during school term is allowed, but they must be over 15.
    • As part of an approved work experience or educational programme.
    • During school holidays, provided there is a minimum of a three-week break from work in summer.

Maximum hours of work per week.







Holiday work



Work experience



    • The WRC has a poster relating to employing young people on farm and this should be displayed on all farms.
  • Work that students enjoy:
    • A varied job. Not always milking or feeding calves – they like a mixture!
    • Working with other people, especially people around their own age.
    • Learning new skills.
    • Being trusted to do a job.
    • Having jobs on the farm that only they are responsible for.
    • Getting paid and good dinners.
    • Going to discussion groups or seeing another farm.
    • Having some fun along the way,
    • Someone who gives them time.
    • In the future, to make your farm more attractive to ‘transient staff’ it is advisable to provide good on-farm accommodation. 


  • Use your vet to make a winter animal health preventative plan.
    • Also, you should, with their advice, shift some vaccinations from Feb and March to December to reduce spring workload.
  • Cows should be examined now for health-related problems, such as fluke, worms, lice, mastitis, lameness, etc. to make their lives more comfortable and fruitful for calving; as well as being more profitable next year.
    • Confirm the presence of health problems with a blood or milk test.
  • If cows have not already been treated for fluke they should be done now.
    • The regional labs say both liver and rumen fluke are common this year.
  • Young cows, if they are scouring, may need a worm dose.
    • Happens when immune system is low due to over-use of dosing at calf stage.
  • All stock must be done for lice at least once if not twice during winter.
    • Some farmers see a benefit of clipping a strip of hair along the backbone, as is done on weanlings and beef cattle.
  • To prevent mastitis arising during the dry period keep the cows’ bedding very clean during the first 28 days after drying off.
    • Clean off cubicle ends and put lime or sawdust on them every day.
    • Keep an eye out for cows developing mastitis during the dry period.
    • At the end of December, you must start feeding pre-calving minerals (start 40 days before calving) to cows that will be calving in January-February.
    • Throw 100g cow per day on the silage, half in the morning, and half in the evening.
      • Pre-calving minerals are essential to prevent, retained placenta, calving difficulty, poor thrive, depraved appetite, calf death, etc.
      • Will cost €2.50 - €3 and is very good value.
      • To save money there is no need for minerals for March or April calvers for another month or so.


  • Get your dairy profit monitor done in December – talk to your adviser.
    • This was a difficult year but you must learn to manage your finances for the bad years.
  • You must get your milking machine tested NOW.
  • Make sure all machinery is in good working order – don’t wait until it breaks down.
  • Calf sheds must be made operational. January is too late as pressure is on to do short-term jobs/tasks. Have you adequate calving area and calf housing?
  • Farm infrastructures must be reviewed so that they are adequate and fit for purpose.
    • Walk your roadways/paddocks with a notebook and biro noting broken stakes; poorly tensioned wires; leaking/overflowing water troughs (they should be emptied in winter to avoid frost damage); dirty and water-laden paddock entrance; sections of roadways that are poor and holding water. 
    • Get in some help to do these tasks so that you can concentrate on the planning aspects of your farm – mostly office work.
  • Mix in-calf heifers with second calvers and thin cows so that they get used to being with cows as it helps to reduce stress and weight loss post calving.
  • Feeding silage care: manage the pit so that it or the silage in the feeding passage doesn’t go off.
  • Heifer target weights on December 1 and quality of silage drive the decisions:
    • Weanlings should be 43% of the cows’ mature weight; 235-245kg.
    • In-calf heifers should be 83% of the mature weight; 455-470kg.
    • Feed meal to underweight stock – none to animals over target.
  • Condition score all cows now and act on the results.
  • Lameness – walk cows through ordinary footbath (4L Formalin or 4-5kg bluestone or zinc sulphate in 200L of water) on three consecutive days, morning and evening, every month is useful where lameness is a developing problem.
    • You must remove the cause of the problem before any treatment becomes effective. 


  • Further increases in productivity will be greatly influenced by:
    • Continued increase in the genetic potential of your dairy herd.
    • Increase grass utilisation through improved grassland management.
  • Increase in sustainability will be greatly influenced by:
    • Adoption of technologies in relation to LESS and greater use of protected urea.
    • Increase nitrogen use efficiency and use of white clover to replace chemical nitrogen.

Happy Christmas to my readers!
A resilient person is one who learns from the  adverse  situations they have experienced and is able to see the positive side of things. Here is to a positive 2024.
This is a great time of the year. Enjoy it with your family by relaxing with plenty of time off. You deserve it!