For this week’s Dairy Focus, Agriland made the trip down to the Kingdom to Leagh Holsteins and the Fitzmaurice family.
The Fitzmaurice family are behind the Leagh Holsteins herd, based in Cloghane, Ballyduff, Tralee, Co. Kerry.
Pedigree breeding has been a feature of this farm for a long number of years, with the first pedigree Holstein registered by Tim’s father in 1963.
The Fitzmaurices exited milk production in 2007, but the passion for pedigree Holstein breeding remained.
Tim continued to breed pedigree Holstein heifers, but focused on introducing and developing new cow families not seen in Ireland or often, in Europe.
The focus on this farm is now purchasing embryos from North America that can introduced to Ireland to develop new cow families.
Although not milking themselves, the Fitzmaurices have a number of cows milking in other herds that are also used for flushing.
The system would be described by many as unusual, especially as suckler cows are being used as recipients for embryos.
Tim said: “When we have Bord Bia inspections, they struggle to get their heads around it, they come to see a suckler herd and find Holstein heifers.”
The selection of which cow families to introduce is important with Ireland being a milk-solids based market.
Giving some insight into what they look for in a cow family, Lauren said: “The first thing we look for is protein; Ireland is a solids-based market.
“We do sell in the UK; we recently got 8,500gns for a calf in the Black and White sale.
“But our main market is Ireland. With pedigree breeders, fat and protein is very important.”
Continuing, Lauren said: “We are also looking for type; we want cows with deep pedigree that will last. Cows that are coming from a number of generations of EX and will stay on farms for as long as possible.
“We also are looking for something that no one else has; we always do our research to see if there is anything from that pedigree in Ireland or Europe.
“Farmers are always looking for that new family, the family that no one else has but has done well in North America.
“We would also go to the World Dairy Expo to see what is doing well over there. Getting a daughter from a champion cow is exciting for people,” Lauren added.
“In the last number of years it has been like a race trying to get the best genetics; everyone is looking for new cow families.
“Polled has taken off and red, everyone wants a red heifer.
“A few year ago we didn’t have a red heifer, now we are always looking for a new red family.”
The system operated by the Fitzmaurices requires a lot of work, first to source embryos and then to put them into cows and actually get a calf on the ground.
Tim said: “People don’t see the work and cost that goes into getting a heifer calf on the ground.
“The embryos have a 60% success rate, but it takes a lot of work for it to happen.
“People always see the high price you get for a calf, but they don’t know about the cow family that never make it.”
Continuing, Tim said: “You’re also very limited with the embryos you can bring in, they don’t want to flush cows to certain bulls and you can’t bring in clones.
“The most popular red bulls in the world at the minute are by clone sires. In Ireland we can’t register calves from clones so we are restricted.
“It is an expensive system, but when it works out well, it is very rewarding.”
Leagh Holsteins also shows a number of heifers each year, with the herd having recent success at the Kingdom county fair.
The herd took home prizes for first November calf and Junior champion with Leagh Sidekick Arangatang and first January calf with Leagh Denver Mudpile.
“My interest in showing started from being involved in YMA [young members associaiton] and then dad would take me to workshops all over the country,” Lauren said.
“Then because we had a sale every year, Liam O’Neill showed me how to clip calves – then I was able to do a lot of the work myself.
“I then decided I would go to America to Siemers Holstein. They had really good junior stock, which is what I was interested in.
“While I was there I learned how to feed, prepare and then show calves. After my time over there was when it really took off.
“After that, we started to breed some more calves for showing and a number of the calves we have sold have gone on to win shows for the farmers that purchased them.
“Seeing other people with calves we have bred is great, it’s sparking other children’s interest in showing and keeping the pedigree alive.”
Between 20 and 25 calves are born on the farm each year, with calving taking place from September to January.
Leagh Holsteins holds an annual sale where it offers the calves for sale.
The Promise of Protein sale takes place on June 22, at Carnaross Mart with Taaffe Auctions.
The sale offers youngstock from Leagh Holsteins, John Cunnane’s Lynbrook herd and Brian and John O’Connor’s herd.
This year a number of cow families that will be sold in Ireland for the first time are on offer, including two Chief daughters from Leagh Doorman Katrysha VG 2YR, a direct daughter of WDE Champion of Lovhill Goldwyn Katrysha EX96.
There is also a heifer from the Jasmine cow family. Another heifer from the Jasmine cow family sold by Leagh Holsteins making 8,500gns at the Black and White sale.
Social media plays a key role for Leagh Holsteins in the marketing and sale of its animals.
Lauren works full-time off-farm, but promotes the herd using social media, particularly Facebook and Instagram.
“The marketing and sale of animals has really moved online; you can generate so much interest in your animals online through social media.
“Nearly everyone has social media now and we have sold a number of animals through it.
“Covid-19 had a big role to play, but it is also a younger generation who use social media.”
Both Tim and Lauren work off-farm and currently have no plans to alter their system.
“Dad and myself are able to work alongside this system and it is going really well for us,” said Lauren.
“My brother Bryan is also interested, he is currently studying a masters in Animal Science in Wageningen University– he is going to Triple T Holsteins in America for the summer.
“Hopefully, the two of us will be able to keep the system going.”
Continuing, Lauren said: “We could never fully rule out going back milking; I am still in the early stages of my career.
“I would consider possibly looking at a robot in the future, but nothing is really set in stone yet.”
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