Breeding a functional cow in Kildare

The fourth focus farm in the Progressive Farm Program visits Larry Hannon’s spring-calving dairy herd in Co. Kildare.

Larry milks 220 dairy cows in a grass-based system, with the help of his wife Karen and their three children, Lucy, Sally and Amy. The average production from the herd is 530kg of milk solids with a fat content of 4.30%, a protein content of 3.50% and a cell count of less than 130,000 cells/ml. Larry explained how the farm is about 10 years into the drive of high economic breeding index (EBI), fertility and solids. He has been trying to breed a smaller, squarer type of animal and he has been delighted with the results. “It is a very functional cow – she milks well if she’s fed well, she’s able to calf quickly and a very robust type of animal. We came from a point on this farm, where every cow that calved was almost a celebration – I don’t want to jinx myself, but we haven’t had to use the ropes yet this spring.”

Artificial insemination (AI) has been used on the farm for over 50 years, with Larry’s father starting to use AI from the very start. Larry said that their focus has always been to try to breed a robust, functional cow, using the best genetics available to them.

Breeding advice

Trevor Hanly from Progressive Genetics has been Larry’s breeding advisor for over a decade. Larry is quick to highlight the important relationship that the pair have forged over the years and that the two work very well together, and that Trevor understands that type of cows that Larry is trying to breed. “I am really happy with the advice that I am getting, and the straws that I am using. The proof in the pudding is the animal that I have now,” he said.

Bull selection

Trevor explains that the focus when picking bulls on this farm is that they are plus 100kg in milk, have high fat and protein percentages and have good fertility. The herd has an average EBI of €200, with a focus placed on the continued improvement of this. In 2022, the average EBI of the calves was €220, and in 2023 this increased to €253. In total, five bulls are selected for the herd, with three of them used on the cows and three for the heifers.

Sexed semen is used on the heifers, with bulls such as Aghernbridge MiltonTankardsrock Teak and Knocksouna Swoop.

For the cows, bulls such as:

Hereford and Angus are the predominant breeds used for beef, with bulls selected for being short gestation, easy calving and have a dairy beef index (DBI) value of above €125. The beef sires that have been used on this farm include the Angus bulls Intelagri Matteo E.T. and Gabriel Pat 1949, along with the Hereford sires Intelagri 1 Gold Rush Pp ET and Fisher 1 Profile P456 PP.

Larry outlined how the aim on the farm is to calve as many cows as quickly as possible, and to have the next generation of the herd born in a short space of time, while also having a beef calf that is easy-calved and also saleable. “It is so important to breed a calf that the beef farmer wants. I think we all have a responsibility to bare that in mind, because it is about him making a living too. If he can make a profit, that’s good for us and good for him,” he said.

Larry said it is about breeding an animal that will achieve a reasonable price within a reasonable time frame, that is healthy and fit to move onto the next farm enterprise. He noted how important colostrum management is to ensuring that this is achievable.

AgriNet HerdApp

Larry said that the AgriNet HerdApp is excellent, as he can look up cows on the app and get the information he needs. AgriNet HerdApp allows Larry to register calves, apply for movement permits, record inseminations and drug usage and to have complete oversight on his entire herd. It is fully Bord Bia compliant, and eliminates the need for unnecessary paperwork as all the herd’s information is stored on the app. Commenting on the use of AgriNet HerdApp, Larry said: “When you can look up the cell counts, you can see when a cow has calved or when she was AI’d. The fact that all these different things are linked to Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) takes a lot of monotony out of the work, and increases the accuracy of the information you have.”

AgriNet HerdApp is Ireland’s leading farm management tool, that allows farmers to manage all the key day-to-day functions on a typical Irish dairy or beef farm, empowering farmers to make the right management decisions for more profitable dairy farming. Larry noted that it is very easy to use, but also that having a back-up service in terms of help when you do have a problem, is fantastic.

Milk recording

Larry said that milk recording has been taking place on the farm for 50 plus years and is an essential tool. Larry said: “It is an essential tool, for breeding from the best cows, understanding cell counts and understanding the best policies that we can achieve to breed that better cow and more profitable animal.”


Larry wants to breed a more efficient cow, that is stronger and more robust. He said that this will mean that less replacement heifers are needed on the farm. Low emission slurry spreading (LESS) is used on the farm and clover has been incorporated into the swards on the farm. He also said that they have become more strategic with the use of chemical fertiliser on the farm, to get the best results from it. “As farmers we are doing everything, we are asked off to try and play our part and I think there is no one better than a farmer to evolve the way he does his business.”

Progressive Farm Program

For more information on AgriNet HerdApp, just click here.

Additionally, for more information on Progressive Genetics, click here.

Part one of the Progressive Farm Program: Breeding a robust cow for Meath autumn-calving herd;

Part two of the Progressive Farm Program: Achieving 605kg of milk solids in Louth dairy herd;

Part three of the Progressive Farm Program: Combining pedigree breeding and EBI.