How this Co. Waterford dairy farmer has increased milk solids through breeding

Breeding an efficient and profitable dairy cow – one that lasts a long time in the herd and stays healthy – that’s the aim for Dungarvan dairy producer Jamie Costin.

Jamie has been using LIC genetics since 2014 in his plan to focus on grazing cows that can perform on his Cosfeirm Teoranta unit near Ring, Co Waterford.

“Our system isn’t based around a high litre yielding cow,” he said. “We don’t chase that. We’re out to increase milk solids based on a cow’s weight. That will give us the best profit.”

And, increasing milk solids is exactly what he’s done, selecting from LIC’s Jersey and KiwiCross bulls.

“The herd average is going up every year, and I’m still not where I want to be,” he said. “We weigh the cows every year and, in July 2018, their average weight was 508kg with individual animals varying from 450kg to some older cows over 700kg.

“As we breed down to a smaller framed, more aggressive grazer, we’ll aim to bring the average weight down to 480kg.”

When Jamie started using LIC straws his average milk solids were 330kg. In 2015 this increased to 368kg; the following year to 375kg. In 2017 it was 386kg and last year reached 411kg.

“This is a good increase, but I’m still not in the top 10%,” he said. “I want to get to between 450kg and 500kg, but to get this solids performance from grass, not concentrates.”

His aim is the NZ maxim – return the same weight in solids as the weight of the cow.

Keeping the pace with growth

His herd numbers have increased dramatically over a similar time period – from 150 in 2012 to 360 today. And, at the same time, he’s been working hard on developing the farm’s infrastructure to keep pace with the growth.

When I decided to make a change from the larger-framed Holsteins five years ago, I went out to look for a crossbred animal and put health at the top of my agenda.

“The 130ha farm is spread out over quite a distance, and at times the cows have to walk 1.6km to graze, so lameness was an issue.

“We put in more than 3km of roadways in 2014 and 2016, and we’ve seen a big drop in lameness that’s also indicative of the type of cow we’re now breeding.”

His herd improvement plan involves using a Jersey bull, positive for solids, on the larger Holstein-type cow, and a KiwiCross on all second-crosses.

Lasting a long time

Milk is sold to Glanbia, and his returns are consistently higher than his buyer’s average payment by as much as 13%. Volume is lower, but Jamie has a young herd, as he is breeding all his own replacements. He is not pushing for yield, as he explained.

“I want to breed a cow that lasts a long time in the herd. I’m aiming for 5.5 lactations a cow, against the national average of 3.4. At the moment I’m a long way away at around 2.7, but that’s because of the age of my herd.

“Last year, 56% were first or second lactation cows. I aim to get down to an 18% replacement rate; at the moment I’m between 33 and 35%.”

Somatic cell counts are low, consistently between 18,000 and 37,000 cells per ml below the Glanbia average. His herd EBI of €153 is in the 98 percentile for the company, and is €57 ahead of the company average of €96, and €20 ahead of the top 10% of suppliers (€133).

“Our decision to go for a crossbred cow has worked well for me so far,” said Jamie, who farms in partnership with his father Jimmy. Jamie is full of praise for the team working alongside him, led by his herdsman of 41 years, Edward Hickey.

He’s also had plenty of support through the process from members of his local discussion group, Deise 1250, who has helped to mentor him through part of the transitional process.

Jamie has kept to his herd improvement plan, growing his profitability and dropping the bottom 10% from his herd every year.

We’ll be following him, looking at different aspects of his farm over the next two months, including examining his choice of bulls and grazing management plans.

Further information

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