All roads lead to Co. Meath for the IHFA National Open Day

Ancient Irish ancestry and folklore regales a storied historical bond between our ancestors and cattle.

The greater north-eastern region and surrounding counties have a particular connection, such as the legend of the ‘Táin Bo Cúailnge’ – an early indicator of our inherent connection with the land and the pride in having good stock.

All roads will lead to Co. Meath and the North Eastern Club area for the Irish Holstein Friesian Association (IHFA) National Open Day, hosted by the Collins family, Ardcath, Co. Meath, on July 4.

The herd was established by Leo Snr and Patricia in 1976. Today, the management is shared by Leo Snr and Leo Jnr, alongside Patricia and Aisling.

Helen McEntee, Minister for European Affairs and TD for Meath East, who launched the open day on the Collins’ farm, will be official guest speaker on the day

They operate a 200-cow, pedigree-registered herd, which averages 9,540kg/cow of milk and 772kg/cow of milk solids.

Dairying has been the main enterprise on the farm – supplying liquid milk to Drogheda Milk Producers and Glanbia.

Cow families are the backbone of herd breeding through generation after generation. Friesian breeding dominated during the early era; Leo Snr was careful to select and use the top bulls in AI in order to improve the quality and production of the herd.

The switch to Holstein breeding was a decision taken quickly, as Leo recognised that this new source of genetics would drive production further forward.

Bulls such as Ullswater Royal Sovereign, Barold Rock Seal, Bellwood, Roylane Jordan, Bolton and Shottle were used to great effect.

Patricia, Leo Snr, Leo Jnr and Aisling Collins, Oldrose Herd, Co. Meath, hosts of the IHFA National Open Day; pictured with Charles Gallagher, IHFA, Peter Ging, IHFA chairperson and Peter Kennelly, IHFA president

Leo Jnr returned home to farm in 2003 and works side-by-side with his father. They are a formidable team, focusing on producing high volumes of milk and milk solids with cow comfort, health and welfare a top priority.

A new milking parlour was built with increased cubicle accommodation, slurry storage and the yard was streamlined to aid management of a larger herd.

In 2013, Leo Jnr married Aisling and they built their home on the farm. They have two daughters – Saoirse and Eilish.

The total area farmed is 352ac, with a milking platform of 162ac. Cows are generally turned out to grass by mid-March – weather permitting.

The winter diet for the milking cows is a mix of grass silage, fodder beet and a dairy blend. Cows are topped up with a dairy nut in the parlour through a feed-to-yield system. All the meal fed is sourced from local supplier McAuley Animal Feeds.

Leo Collins Snr and Jnr with Louis and David McAuley of McAuley Feeds, main open day sponsor and supplier to the Oldrose Herd, pictured with Charles Gallagher IHFA and Peter Kennelly, IHFA president

Calving pattern is 50% autumn and 50% spring. Heifers calve at 26 months on average. All replacement stock are reared on the farm.

IHFA classification

IHFA classification is a critical management tool in helping to realise performance through developing cow type to best suit the farming system.

“We try to breed functional, high-producing cows with conformation for longevity,” Leo Jnr said.

Without sound feet and legs, quality in the udder, dairy strength and capacity, the cows will not perform. Nothing beats the sight of a good heifer, with a quality udder full of milk walking into the parlour to be milked.

“Cows are culled, if necessary, on fertility and feet in that order.”

An appetite for knowledge and continual improvement is shared by the father-and-son team; both are members of discussion groups.

Leo Snr is a member of the Royal Meath discussion group and Leo Jnr is involved in the Evergreen discussion group. The herd hosted the Teagasc National Winter/Liquid Milk Conference last year.

Leo Collins Jnr and Snr pictured with Kevin Graham and Mike Frawley from Greenvale Animal Feeds – sponsors of the IHFA National Herds Competition. Also pictured are Charles Gallagher, IHFA and Peter Kennelly, IHFA president

The family has been a mainstay of the North Eastern Club since it was founded in the late 1970s.

Celebration sale featuring top cow families

A celebratory sale of 36 lots from the top cow families in the herd will be held on the day, including: 12 spring heifers; 12 served heifers and; 12 maiden heifers and heifer calves.

Also offered for sale is the champion at the recent Flavours of Fingal show.

The pick of the young stock from the following families will also be offered:

  • Susan;
  • Nora;
  • Joan;
  • Hazel;
  • Babs (home bred);
  • Lulu (Dalevalley);
  • Torch;
  • Fawn (Monamore),
  • Polly (Windy-Knoll, Leagh)
  • Beatrice (Galwaybay).

National Herds’ Competition results

The eagerly awaited results of the IHFA National Herds Competition will be announced as part of the programme of events at the open day.

Herds from across the country were visited in the space of a week by judge Mark Logan, Clandeboye, Northern Ireland.

Production and conformation at herd level were assessed, bringing excellence in herd efficiency and management to the fore.

In completing the onerous judging task, Mark covered huge distances and long hours in visiting herds across the IHFA clubs’ areas.

IHFA are grateful to Mark and to Greenvale Animal Feeds are sponsors of the IHFA National Herds Competition. Much anticipation awaits the announcement of the results at the National Open Day.

When and where?

The IHFA wishes to thank the Collins family for hosting the Holstein Friesian National Open Day on July 4. It’s set to be a great day out for dairy farmers and their families. Admission is free and all are welcome.

To get there, take the N2 Ashbourne/Derry Road; take the Drogheda/Duleek Road (R152) at Kilmoon Cross and follow the directional signs (Eircode: A42 HD27).