Dairy focus: Friesians deliver the goods 900ft above sea level

Located in Kilmoganny, Co. Kilkenny, Bryan and Gail Daniels milk a herd of 300 Friesian cows under a grass-based production system.

Their pedigree-registered Raheenarran Herd is a top-performing, spring-calving operation, that grazes a 120ha milking platform which extends to 920ft above sea level.

In terms of key performance indicators, the herd is right up there with some of the top-performing herds in the country. Last year, 422kg of milk solids were delivered from each cow and an average milk price of 38.9c/L was generated.

Fertility is also exceptional and a 365-day calving interval was achieved last year, while 90% of the herd calved in a six-week window.

Farm background

Bryan, a former winner of the FBD Young Farmer of the Year, touched on the farm’s progress. He said: “When I came home first, there were about 90 cows milking; we were running a calf-to-beef system and there was a full contracting business where we did pit silage, bales and slurry.

“The Celtic Tiger changed that and we dropped everything bar the baling; we ran about 90 cows up to 2007 with the beef enterprise as well.

“In 2007, we had a look at the business. We knew we had to pull two incomes out of it, so we looked at organics and large-scale, grass-based dairying.

“Organics wouldn’t have worked with the volume that we would have pushed out and I’m happier on this system.

“We built a 22-unit herringbone parlour at the time and we started pushing on numbers. We had grown to over 200 cows and then quota snapped back in.

“We had bought enough quota that we could settle at 160 cows in 2013. We ran that for two years and then started expanding again once quota removal came in.

“Mid-season in 2016, we moved the herringbone out and we started building the rotary. This year, we’ve gone to 300 cows milking and two full-time staff.

“We’re just running enough heifers to maintain a 22% replacement rate on a 300-cow herd. That allows us some room for expansion and we will see where the next year or two brings us.

Touching on cow type, Bryan added: “It was a full British Friesian herd up to five years ago. We then started to bring in high-EBI, Friesian animals, while concentrating on health and maintenance figures.

“At the moment, it’s a 75% Friesian 25% Holstein ratio and we think that’s where we will probably settle. We need a slightly smaller animal because we’re 920ft above sea level in the yard. We need a small, suitable cow to graze and walk.”

Concentrate input and grass

On grass growth, Bryan said: “We have been measuring grass with a plate meter for the past 10 years. Last year, we grew 16.8t/ha on the dairy platform and we’re hoping that we will at least grow 15.5t/ha this year, despite the spring that’s just gone.

“We’ve lost about 1.0-1.5t/ha of grass already, but we’re starting to get back into peak growth now and are taking out surplus paddocks.

“We try to keep meal feeding to somewhere around the 300-400kg/cow mark. We got caught on a short rotation in June last year and, as a result, we fed a little over 500kg/cow.

“We are not sure what way the meal feeding will go this year, but the plan is to have the cows off meal within the next fortnight. We are on 2kg/cow/day at the moment, but we did feed heavy this spring.

“This year, it looks like we are going to produce about 465kg of milk solids per cow and hopefully we will sell about 440kg/cow,” Bryan added.

Fertility and calving

Calving commenced on the farm on January 25 and 74% of the herd had calved within the first four weeks of the season. Breeding has commenced and a 93.3% submission rate was achieved.

“We’ll see how they hold, but they are in fairly good body condition and we hope it’s a fairly normal year in terms of empty rates,” Bryan noted.

The ability to last and inherent good fertility of the Friesian is such that the herd’s empty rate is typically between 7% and 11% each year. This provides for a positive culling policy with a voluntary culling rate of up to 10%each year.

When it comes to identifying bulling cows, Bryan explained: “We use all-weather paint sticks for tail paint. I milk in the morning and draft the cows as I’m milking.

“I’ve a mirror over where I stand in the parlour, so I am watching tail paint as I’m milking and I can auto draft them then with EID tags. That’s the only heat detection.

“We are going to breed for nine weeks. We are going to do four-to-five weeks of AI and then the stock bulls are going out.

“About 50% of the herd is going to be bred to Friesian – to breed replacement stock – and Angus and Hereford will be used on the lower production cows.

“We want all of our heifers in the first three-to-four weeks and there’s big demand for the beef calves we sell.”

Notable graduates

There has been considerable interest from AI companies in the herd’s genetics. Raheenarran MEB Sochar (RHS) was the first bull to enter AI.

Sired by Morbeker Bas, his evaluation now includes 1,029 Irish milking daughters in 372 herds. His dam Raheenarran Hylke Breda (VG87) proved to be a popular attraction as a bull mother.

She scored EX92 for legs and feet and this functionality score captured her longevity, lasting in the herd for 14 lactations. In total, she produced over 6,000kg of milk solids with protein to 3.98%.

Her Blackisle Glenalby son – BCG Sochar (RVJ) – currently has over 4,000 Irish milking daughters and also has milking daughters recorded in Australia.

Another son – Raheenarran Bod – was retained as a service sire for the herd and he has bred some very nice and consistent daughters.

Recognition of the breeding prowess of Hylke Breda continues apace, with two of her most recent bulls selected for AI. Mr Jingles (ZJJ) is a great grandson and Mr Potter (FR4133) – born in 2013 – is a further generation on.