7 August 2020

Herdwatch:Farm Smart: Expert Guide to Breeding Management

Farm Smart: Expert Guide to Breeding Management

In this edition of Herdwatch’s Farm Smart series, Dr. Ger Ryan from Dovea Genetics provides expert advice to Herdwatch members on the keys to success for this year’s breeding season, to help you manage your herd more efficiently & effectively.

The success of your suckler or dairy business in 2021 very much depends on the success of the 2020 breeding season. With breeding started or just around the corner for others, there are some key considerations to be taken to ensure optimal results are achieved.


Ensure cows are in the appropriate BCS (body condition score). A herd average of 2.9 (ranging from 2.75 to 3.5) is essential. If cows are struggling to maintain BCS, once a day milking of thin dairy cows right through until they are served and for 2 to 3 weeks post service has delivered results in many herds. For sucklers, you can look at increasing their feed and providing supplements to achieve the same.

Heat detection is key

A pre-breeding heat detection and recording programme (using your Herdwatch app) will allow you to identify the proportion of the herd cycling and assist in identifying a potential mating start date. Pre-breeding scanning of non-cyclers should be carried out on cows not seen in heat by day 40 post calving to allow for intervention via a veterinary protocol to get cows back cycling.

Using AI

If you’re using AI or thinking about it, sexed semen is receiving huge attention at present. Best-practice advice would be to scan all cows prior to mating start date to ascertain the suitability of cows for sexed semen AI. Ensuring cows are cycling over 60 days calved and in good BCS will help optimise conception. Conception rates will be typically 10% lower than conventional on average.

Bull selection

In relation to bull selection, identify what you are after first depending on whether you are a suckler or dairy farmer, consider the current quality in your herd and where improvements can be made. We advise people to assess their annual EBI report and identify the areas for improvement and use short gestation semen toward the end of breeding to shorten the calving season if you are trying to tighten up your calving window.

Sexed semem

Sexed semen is also a great option for maiden heifers, with typically lower incidences of dystocia with 90% female calves. Ensure maiden heifers receive at least one round of easy calving AI to maximise genetic gain and minimise calving difficulty. For dairy farmers, there is now a new stand-alone ‘Dairy Heifer Calving Index’ where we recommend use of bulls under 5.5% Calving Difficulty with a Reliability figure over 90%.

Simplifying your Breeding Management

Ger goes on to expand how easy it is to manage you breeding in Herdwatch, from heat detection to scanning. A lot of the Herdwatch Members record their heat detections in Herdwatch for a month before the cows are due to be served.

This way, the app will notify you of what cows are due in heat and so you can keep an eye out for them. It is particularly helpful because sometimes it can be hard to see if the tail paint has been rubbed off a cow’s back, it will also show what cows haven’t come back into heat yet.

Recording AI serves on the spot

The ‘Watchboard’ sends alerts directly to Herdwatch on your phone when a cow is due to be served. You can then record the serve into Herdwatch as it happens and you will then get a reminder for any repeats.

Conor Vaughan HerdWatch