Efficiency at breeding is key for compact calving and high solids

Down Slaneyside, Patrick Fortune milks 150 spring-calving cows on his family’s farm just outside Adamstown, Co. Wexford. His Holstein Friesian herd has an average EBI (Economic Breeding Index) of €116 – €30 ahead of the national average.

Last year, 518kg of milk solids (4.31% fat and 3.54% protein) were supplied from each cow, which put the herd firmly in the top 3% of Glanbia suppliers.

This level of production was achieved from a meal input of 750kg/cow. In addition, when it comes to volume, Patrick’s cows produced 4L/day more milk than the national average.

Efficient heat detection

Patrick has been using scratch cards and a vasectomised bull to identify cows on heat. However, as he put it: “I live in the field during the breeding season.”

Having recently invested in heat detection technology, the Wexford-based farmer hopes to reduce his workload, increase the number of cows submitted to AI and extend the AI season.

In 2017, the herd had a 78% six-week calving rate (126 cows out of 161 calved) and a 361-day calving interval. The breeding season starts on April 15 and ends on July 15. It consists of five-to-six weeks of AI and then stock bulls are used to clean up.

For AI, Patrick primarily uses high-EBI genomic sires supplemented with Gene Ireland bulls. When asked about his preference for genomic sires over daughter-proven bulls, Patrick said: “Genomics are proving themselves.”

The bull team

A selection of sires are used each year, including: FR4164 Nextgen Action; FR2239 Diamond Anton, who is currently number two on the active bull list; and FR2297 Castleblagh Ronnie, an easy-calving high-EBI sire. All replacements are AI bred.

Serves are carried out by local Progressive Genetics AI technician Ger Murphy. Although Patrick has completed an AI course, he feels “the AI man has a lot more experience and it is important thing to get right”.

Sire Advice is a tool used on-farm by Patrick. It allows him to avoid inbreeding and to maximise EBI gains by easily matching a team of chosen bulls to the cows in his herd. Plus, Patrick can save the Sire Advice to Ger’s handheld.

Heifers on the farm are artificially inseminated for only two weeks due to land restraints around the yard. After this period, they are moved to an out farm with an Angus stock bull. This coming season, Patrick plans to synchronise the heifers not mated in the first two weeks and to use more AI.

Sires used in recent years:
  • FR2007;
  • FR2232;
  • FR4021;
  • FR4174;
  • LWR;
  • YAD.

A number of cows in the herd have been sired by top-performing AI bulls, including: VMG; KOZ; CHQ; RUU; GTW; AYD; HMY; and JKF.

Beef genetics

Belgian Blue AI sires are used on larger-framed cows; particularly those with issues like somatic cell count, lameness, temperament or any under-performing cows.

Last year about 30 Belgian Blue serves were carried out. A number of these were with test sires such as Ideal BB4286 and Phenomene BB4300.

Up until recently, Patrick had used Angus and Hereford stock bulls. However, he will use Hereford AI this year and will only run the Angus stock bull at the very end to clean up. By reducing the number of bulls on the farm, Patrick’s system will be simplified.


All dairy bull calves and beef calves are finished on the farm as under 24 month bullocks and heifers or under 24 month bulls.

The Belgian Blue bred cattle are performing very well for Patrick, he said: “They may take more feeding, but they are definitely leaving more money.”

Home of Harold

Cacanode Harold (CHQ) – with an EBI of €223 – hails from Patrick’s herd. Harold has well over 2,000 daughters on the ground, which are outperforming their herd mates around the country.

His daughters have: two day shorter calving intervals (377 days); better survival (93 versus 89); produce 430kg of milk solids as heifers, over 500kg as second calves and over 530kg as third calvers; good somatic cell counts.

Keeping cell count under control

Patrick milk records his herd four times per year using Progressive Genetics’ DIY recording service. This task allows for improved management decisions to be made in relation to cows for culling or beef AI; generally allowing for a higher level of control in the battle with somatic cell count going forward.

The herd had an average SCC of 144,000 cells/ml in 2017, which was reduced from 162,000 cells/ml in 2016.

Future plans

There are no immediate plans for expansion on the farm, as Patrick is very happy with the herd’s performance.

He will continue to use high-EBI genomic sires, as the herd is improving year-on-year, while also maintaining the focus on milk solids production.

Patrick’s farm is a great example of what can be achieved with high-EBI stock on a simple, spring-calving system. The high-EBI cow, producing a high volume of milk solids, has the fertility to allow Patrick to keep the system uncomplicated and maximise the value of his stock with quality beef bulls.

More information

For more information on the services provided by Progressive Genetics, visit the company’s website. Click here for more information