• Associations between herd size, rate of expansion and production, breeding policy and reproduction in spring-calving dairy herds

      Jago, J. G.; Berry, Donagh (Cambridge University Press, 2011-04)
      Dairy herd size is expected to increase in many European countries, given the recent policy changes within the European Union. Managing more cows may have implications for herd performance in the post-quota era. The objective of this study was to characterise spring-calving herds according to size and rate of expansion, and to determine trends in breeding policy, reproduction and production performance, which will inform industry of the likely implications of herd expansion. Performance data from milk recording herds comprising 775 795 lactations from 2555 herds for the years 2004 to 2008 inclusive were available from the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation. Herds were classified into Small (average of 37 cows), Medium (average of 54 cows) and Large (average of 87 cows) and separately into herds that were not expanding (Nil expansion), herds expanding on average by three cows per year (Slow expansion) and herds expanding on average by eight cows per year (Rapid expansion). There was no association between rate of expansion and 305-day fat and protein yield. However, 305-day milk yield decreased and milk protein and fat percentage increased with increasing rate of expansion. There were no associations between herd size and milk production except for protein and fat percentage, which increased with increasing herd size. Average parity number of the cows decreased as rate of expansion increased and tended to decrease as herd size increased. In rapidly expanding herds, cow numbers were increased by purchasing more cattle. The proportion of dairy sires relative to beef sires used in the breeding programme of expanding herds increased and there was more dairy crossbreeding, albeit at a low rate. Similarly, large herds were using more dairy sires and fewer beef sires. Expanding herds and large herds had superior reproductive performance relative to non-expanding and small herds. Animals in expanding herds calved for the first time at a younger age, had a shorter calving interval and were submitted for breeding by artificial insemination at a higher rate. The results give confidence to dairy producers likely to undergo significant expansion post-quota such that, despite managing more cows, production and reproductive performance need not decline. The management skills required to achieve these performance levels need investigation.