Dairy focus: Keeping the British-Friesian breed alive in Co. Kilkenny

The Firoda Herd in Co. Kilkenny has been bred to a high level of excellence through pure dedication to the British-Friesian breed.

On Thursday, July 11, farmers flooded from far and wide for the Irish Holstein Friesian Associations (IHFAs) annual Pure Friesian Open Day.

The Healy family were the hosts of this year’s event, who farm just outside Castlecomer in Co. Kilkenny. This is the families second time to host the event; they first hosted the event 10 years ago back in 2009.

Some impressive stock from the Firoda Herd were up for grabs on the day with 26 lots on offer, comprising of 20 heifers and six bulls.

The formation of the Firoda Herd first began 60 years ago and is now run by Peadar Healy along with his wife Maureen and their son Eamon.

Speaking at the launch of the event, Peader said: “I am really looking forward to the event. I would like to promote the British-Friesian breed, as I feel it is a breed which has been forgotten about over the years.”

The beginning of the Firoda Herd

Peadar’s father, Ned, began forming the herd 60 years ago. Since then, Peadar has continued to breed quality Friesian stock; today, he is milking 120-pedigree British-Friesian cows.

Touching on the beginning of the Firoda Herd, Peadar said: “My father started here 60 years ago and there were just 12 cows here at the time.

“I bought three Holstein heifers back in 1992. They were good heifers; there was nothing wrong with them – they just didn’t fit into our system. I felt they needed more meal and that bit more looking after.

Source: Maria Kelly

“Alternatively, the British-Friesian needed less meal and that bit less looking after; they suited our system better. So I sold all the Holstein families; I have none of them now.”

The herd is now comprised of the cow families: Twink; Pollie; Sandy; Twain; Judy; Karina; and Snow.

Discussing a further reason for going down the pedigree route, he said: “Also, when quotas came in we were only getting going, so we felt when we didn’t have a seriously big quota to fill we would have liked more stock to sell.”

Performance of the herd

The Firoda Herd is known for consistently yielding over 6,500kg of milk each year and last year they achieved 553kg of MS/cow at 3.74% fat and 3.63% protein.

Peadar’s father, Ned, was one of the very first farmers to adopt milk recording. This allowed them to consistently focus on their herds’ best milk producers from the very beginning.

Image source: Maria Kelly

“We have been milk recording from the very beginning which gave us a serious advantage, because you don’t really know where you’re going unless you are milk recording.

“We have always put a big effort into milk because with the British-Friesian some of them can be a bit lower in milk; so we always focused on those that were heavier in milk,” explained Peadar.

Last year, 37 cows in the herd were fourth lactation and older, highlighting the natural longevity and maturity of the British-Friesian breed.

Excluding the other cows in the herd, these cows averaged 7,904kg of milk, 3.73% fat, 3.65% protein and 584kg of milk solids – last year.

Sale of surplus stock

Any surplus stock generated by the herd is sold off. The herd name and the quality of the stock is well-known in the marketplace; so selling surplus stock has never been an issue.

“Stock sales bank up more than half of our income. Every year, we have about 50 pedigree bulls to sell and we sell heifers also. This year, we have 51 bulls sold,” explained Peadar.

Mentioning some of the bulls they have in AI, he said: “FAE and FZZ were some of our first bulls to go daughter proven. FR2030 has also gone daughter proven and we have a lot of young bulls in now waiting to be tested.”

Image source: Maria Kelly

Over the years, Peadar has built up a good reputation for selling stock and now some of his customers don’t even look at the heifers before they buy them.

“We have great clients and even have some up the North. Some of them don’t even come to look at the heifers. You have to look after everyone; if you cod someone you’re only coding yourself.

“I had 33 bulls calves this year that I didn’t register as pedigree because I felt the cows weren’t 100%. I wouldn’t sell her calf to anyone I wasn’t happy with; I would just sell him as beef,” said Peadar.

The celebration sale

A total of 26 animals were up for auction at the event. This included 20 heifer calves and six bull calves – all born this past spring.

There was a 62% clearance on the day. The top price given was €2,300 for lot number 10.

Lot 10 (Firoda Lfk Snow) was a heifer calf with an EBI of €139 and born on January 27. Sired by Lakemead Randolf (LFK) and daughter of Firoda Gtw Snow 3.

Image source: Maria Kelly

Lot 3 and 21 both sold for €2,000. Lot 3 (Firoda Jrb Twink 2) was a heifer calf with an EBI of €170 and born on January 10. Sired by Dovea Jubilaris (JRB) and daughter of Firoda Lfk Twink 5.

Lot 21 (Firoda Jubilaris 16) was a bull calf with an EBI of €159 and born on January 1. Sired by Dovea Jubilaris (JRB) and daughter of Firoda Twink 4.

Other top prices went for lot 12, 15 and 1 – receiving €1,900, €1,850 and €1,800 respectively.

Other awards on the day

Along with the celebration sale, British-Friesian breed, a Pure Friesian Herds Competition and a Stock Judging Competition for both over 18 and under-18 took place on the day.

In the Herd Competition, top prize went to Micheal Spillane, owner of Mountain Herd from Fethard, Co. Tipperary. Second place went to Bill O’Keeffe, owner of Churchclara Herd, from Churchclara, Co. Kilkenny.

Finally, third place went to Michael and Oliver Dempsey, owners of Barrowvale Herd, from Ballybrittas, Co. Laois.

Patrick Gaynor, president of IHFA; Tim Fitzmaurice, from Dovea Genetics; Pat Cleary, winner of the over-18 Stock Judging Competition; Charles Gallagher, CE IHFA; and Martin Crowe, chairperson of Pure Friesian Club. Image source: Maria Kelly

The Highest Inspection Award went to Micheal Spillane and the Highest-EBI Award went to Michael and Oliver Dempsey.

In the Stock Judging Competition – for the under-18 category – first place went to Sam Dudley from Templemore, Co. Tipperary.

Second place was given to Jack McGrath from Kilworth, Co. Cork; with third place going to Christopher Walsh from Carrick-On-Suir, Co. Tipperary.

In the over-18 category, first place went to Pat Cleary from Hugginstown, Co. Kilkenny; second went to Chris Walsh from Carrick-On-Suir, Co. Tipperary; and third place went to Liam O’Brien from Birr, Co. Offaly.

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