How this Co. Limerick farmer is reaping rewards with Dovea Genetics breeding

Pat Twomey runs a 170-cow pedigree Holstein-Friesian dairy herd in a compact spring-calving system stocked at 4LU/ha in Feenagh, Co. Limerick.

Herd EBI is currently €134, placing Pat’s herd in the top 10% of herds nationally on EBI. The herd milk sub-index is €41 with a fertility sub-index at €52.

The average herd performance in 2018 was high, with 6,500kg of milk delivered to Kerry Co-Op at 4.25% fat and 3.53% protein, equating to 528kg of milk solids/cow.

The SCC (somatic cell count) of the herd is excellent at 127,000 cells/ml. Pat feeds approximately 1t of concentrate/cow over the lactation.

When it comes to cow type, Pat likes a cow with good type, combining good feet and legs, strength, and a good depth of rib. Pat has a very distinct selection criteria when selecting bulls; he wishes to maintain the pedigree status of the herd.

Sires that bring 100-150kg of milk, 25-30g of milk solids, with fat and protein percentages in excess of +0.10% are targeted. Both the maintenance and health sub-indexes are also focused on, with preference towards bulls with positive maintenance and health figures.

The maintenance sub-index of the herd currently stands at €6, with health sub-index at €4. A closed herd is operated.

Pat Twomey

For 2019, Pat will use the following sires: FR2249; FR2314; FR4707; FR4720; FR4724; and FR4717 from Dovea Genetics. The breeding season begins on April 20 of each year and DIY AI is used.

Pat runs a 12-week breeding season, with 100% AI used on the cows. The maiden heifers are served to natural heats with AI for the first three-to-four weeks of breeding. Three vasectomised bulls fitted with chinball harnesses run with the heifers during this period.

Heifers generally are not synchronised. A team of approximately eight high-EBI genomic AI bulls are chosen each year.

While calving ease is important when considering sires for use on heifers, Pat has no problems using bulls with calving difficulties of up to 2.4%, as “the heifers are generally well grown at the time they calve down, and they are fit and not over-fat”.

Pat has a keen eye for breeding a good cow, which is clearly evident from the quality of the herd. He will match bulls to certain cows based on areas he feels the cow needs improvement in.

Introducing new bloodlines is also an area Pat likes to focus on when choosing bulls. The herd is a fertile herd with typical final in-calf rates of 85% to 90%, Pat explains. In 2018, the average calving interval of the herd was 381 days with a six-week calving rate at 80%.

Almost 100% dairy sires are used, Pat explains, which generates surplus breeding stock every year. Surplus stock is generally sold as maiden heifers or as calved heifers. Approximately 70% of the herd is genotyped and Pat uses this genomic information in addition to milk recording data to select which heifers are retained.

Pat lists Dovea Genetics bulls AGH, GZY, and DGC as influential bulls used in recent years stating that “the daughters brought it all – strength, milk, protein and fertility, and they seem to be cows that will stay around for a long time”.

Pat has experimented with Jersey and while he is happy with the performance of the handful of crossbred cows in the herd, he will not be going down the crossbreeding route, particularly as all male calves are finished on the farm at 16 months.

Pat feels sexed semen offers the potential to be a big game changer, and having participated in the sexed semen field trial in 2018, he believes it is a technology that warrants continued research to deliver its full potential for farmers.

Pat’s dedication to the management and genetic improvement of his herd was rewarded in 2018 with the sale of an outstanding young bull to Dovea Genetics.

Corcomohide Dart (FR4711), a Coolnasoon Art (FR2249) son with an EBI of €335 – now standing at Dovea Genetics AI stud in Thurles – is bred from an exceptional supersonic cow who has recently calved in for the fourth time.

Interestingly, the family line is productive with two full sisters to Dart milking in the herd with several ancestors also showing strong performance.

Pats thoughts on breeding going forward are that: “If we can maintain volume at the level we are at, while improving our constituents and fertility, then we are in a good position. Overall, I would be happy with the direction the herd is going in and breeding general.”

It is safe to say that the performance of Pat Twomey’s herd is a testament to excellent management combined with the correct genetics for his system.