North American genetics take centre stage in Wicklow

Victor Jackson milks a herd of 140 pedigree registered Holstein Friesian cows, alongside his nephew Richard, in Crossnacole, Kiltegan, Co. Wicklow.

The Jackson family welcomed hundreds of visitors to their Crossnacole Holsteins operation on Thursday, July 6, for the 25th Irish Holstein Friesian Association (IHFA) national open day.

“We registered our first pedigree Holsteins in 1983. Over the years we decided to import embryos from the top cow families in North America,” Victor said.

“Those embryos form the backbone of the herd today – some 20 years later.

“The herd has progressed in terms of production and type and has grown to 140 Holstein Friesian cows.

“That’s about where we intend to stay. Our farm is fully developed now. We have 127ac and we don’t intend on leasing any more. We’re happy with how the herd is performing at the moment,” Victor added.

The Crossnacole herd produces 1.4m litres annually, with an average yield of 10,000L at 3.91% butterfat and 3.35% protein.

90% of the herd is classified to ‘Very Good’ and ‘Excellent’ conformation – the top two grades of the IHFA classification scoring system.

Holstein Friesian

Why Holstein Friesian?

The Jacksons have always produced winter milk and attribute this, as well as a limited land base, as to why they chose the Holstein Friesian cow.

“We needed a high-producing cow to produce large volumes of milk off forage indoors; it’s for that reason we’ve stuck with the Holstein.”

Jackson houses in mid-October and provides a diet of high-quality silage and a total mixed ration (TMR) consisting of grass silage, maize silage, whole beet and brewers grains. Concentrate is fed to yield in the parlour.

In the spring, grazed grass is maximised in the cows’ diet. Jackson usually turns the cows out around March 17, with cows out night and day by April 10.

Breeding Policy

The Crossnacole herd contains some of the very best Holstein cow families. These include some of the top North American cow families, such as the renowned Paradise family.

Jackson selects stock to deliver in terms of functionality, quality and efficiency of yields.

“My breeding policy is for medium-sized, balanced, capacious cows with the ability to consume large volumes of roughage,” Jackson stated.

Regarding sire selection, Jackson said: “We’re looking for high-type bulls, whose daughters will develop slowly into really good cows; bulls that are breeding good feet and legs, good udders and positive for kilograms of fat and protein.”

Jackson aims to calve heifers at two-years-old. However, there is some leeway with being a liquid milk herd.

“Being a liquid milk herd, we have the luxury of letting some heifers or cows slip a little. We don’t have to cull entirely on fertility. One thing about the Holstein cow is that she will milk on.

“The Holstein has an unbelievable ability to milk on through a long lactation. We produce almost 2,000L outside the 305-day period,” Jackson said.