Early adoption of EBI delivering the goods for a pedigree herd

Brendan Meade’s farm on the Meath-Dublin border is a model spring-calving system built on good breeding, high grass utilisation and a labour-conscious system.

Dairying at Whiteleas since 1981, the farm now consists of 85ha (54.6ha owned, 16.2ha leased and 14.2ha rented annually) with 55ha of that being a milking platform.

Brendan is married to Mary, and they have three daughters Fiona, Grainne and Doireann.

Meadee

Meade’s pedigree herd of 172 Holstein Friesian cows delivered 505kg of milk solids from a concentrate input of 1.65t in 2016.

This was achieved on the back of an impressive 302-day lactation and a 364-day calving interval from a recently expanded herd, with 41% of the cows being in their first or second lactation.

EBI a key driver of production

This outstanding performance is delivered from a herd with an EBI of €165 (milk €50 and fertility €65), now ranked eighth on the latest top EBI herd list.

Cows are normally at grass from February 20 until December 1, with the 60 cows calved to date being out at grass by day.

This year, Brendan will calve 139 cows and 50 replacement heifers. The heifers coming into the system have an average EBI of €205.

Given the high EBI nature of the herd, milking cows and replacement heifers are regularly sold to provide an extra source of income to the farm.

Brendan was an early adopter of EBI as he saw that “it was the first time science was applied to breeding.”

Cows grazing on Meade's farm
Cows grazing on Meades’ farm

This policy has paid dividends as the herd’s calving interval has improved from 389 days to 364 days over the last five years.

By the end of the 90s we were handling 50% of cows (to get them cycling). Last year we handled just two!”

Of the 154 cows selected for breeding in 2016, just 14 were empty and the herd had a three-week submission rate of 82%.

Milk solids, size and Irish genetics

Brendan’s goal is a medium-sized cow producing over 500kg milk solids.

Having largely fixed fertility issues the aim now is “to improve efficiency with which cows work, through genetics, so they are capable of producing more milk solids from the same inputs while maintaining fertility”.

Brendan uses all AI and the herd is virtually 100% Holstein Friesian.

The quality of the genetics available within the Holstein Friesian breed and the results Brendan has achieved justify this policy.

Irish Genetics have been to the fore with SOK, HMY and UPH popular sires in the milking herd. There are still a couple of RUU cows milking and, at one point, Brendan had 60 passing through the parlour.

One such cow is Stamullen Grainne B1197 – a cow heading for her ninth lactation with a genomic EBI of €144.

In her eight lactations to date, Stamullen Grainne B1197 has produced an average of 546kg of milk solids per lactation and a 365-day calving interval.

On February 23, she calved again to FR2385 Candy.

Amongst the young stock, sires such as LWR and YAB are popular.

Replacement heifers on Meade's farm
Replacement heifers on Meades’ farm

Working blind without milk recording

In 2016, the herd averaged 6,700kg of milk at 4.31% fat and 3.60% protein, according to milk recording figures.

The heifer group averaged 3.64% protein, showing the herd is still making progress with milk solids.

Brendan is unequivocal in his views on milk recording.

We record nine months of the year, right up to December.

For Brendan milk recording is a hugely useful tool which, for him, “you’re working blind” without.

Brendan uses the data to identify problem cows, having SCC issues, but also cows that are not performing in terms milk solids, which is key data for Brendan in terms of selection of cows or heifers to keep.

Use of AI

Although Brendan has himself and two full-time staff on the farm, he uses the Progressive Genetics AI Service with the AI technician serving cows once a day.

When asked why, his response is pretty straightforward: “All the figures indicate that the technician is better than DIY. Some farmers will get better, but when figures from the majority of DIY farmers are added they’re worse.

“Technicians have to know what they are doing…if I got it wrong, it could be catastrophic…plus I have to do it myself, do I need another job? No, I don’t.”

Stamullen bulls a success in AI

The Meade team is making its contribution to the national herd with the high-production YAD son (IG) Stamullen Andy (FR4024) – now a popular bull from Progressive Genetics/Munster.

Bred from an SOK cow, this bull is making waves thanks to his over 40kg of milk solids.

Last year’s star bull is (IG) Stamullen E Paddy Andrew with an EBI of €324 and is one of the breed leaders for the Health Index.

“When I decide the cows I am keeping, I come in here (his office), I look at the EBI and milk recording figures and I make a decision,” Brendan said.

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