Combining pedigree breeding and EBI in Meath

The third focus farm in the Progressive Farm Program takes a look at the dairy herd of Joe Healy in Athboy, Co. Meath.

Joe farms alongside his parents John and Rose, along with his wife Lisa and their children. Having exited milk production in 2007, a return to milk in 2020 has been extremely successful for this farm. A total of 150ac is farmed, with just under 100 pedigree Holstein Friesian cows now being milked on the farm.

The herd has an average economic breeding index (EBI) of €177, with 638kg of milk solids sold off farm, from 1.9t of concentrates and a calving interval of 362 days. Average production is 7,500L with fat of 4.2% and protein of 3.5%. The aim of this farm is to breed a cow with good feet and legs – with a key focus also placed on EBI.

Fertility performance within the herd is also very good, with between 75-80% calved in the first six weeks. Joe uses around 50 sexed dairy straws on the best cows in the herd, and uses high beef sub-index sires on the remaining cows. In 2024, all of the cows bred to Friesian calved within 17 days, with all of these cows holding to first service.

Improved genetics

When selecting bulls for his herd, Joe likes to use sires that are between 200 to 300kilos of milk solids, and that are in double figures for fat and protein percentages – while also having a plus on type. “What I see is, the high genetic merit bulls you use do get more milk, you get more fat and protein percentages – fertility here is also good and that has to go back to the breeding behind the animal.  We got back into cows in 2020, so a lot of the herd are bought in and I think every one of them is out of Progressive Genetics bulls. Some of the best ones we have here would be Goldenfield Raphael and Knockdoe Jack, there are some outstanding cows out of them, carrying their fifth calf and some of them look like they are second or third calvers.”

Joe said that a lot of the heifers that calved into the herd last year were from Ballygown Albert and Kilfeacle Pivotal. He noted that four Pivotal daughters calved into the herd last year, and two of them were the highest producing heifers in the herd, producing over 600kg of milk solids. Some of the heifers that calved down this year were bred to Westcoast Yamaska and Westcoast Perseus. Some of the heifer calves born on the farm this year are also from Ballycarney Denman; Joe said that due to the success with Pivotal, it was only right to use one of his sons.


Michael Quinn is Joe’s breeding advisor. He has been working with Joe since the farm returned to milk production in 2020. Joe says that he finds Michael great to work with and provides really solid information when it comes to making breeding decisions on the farm: “He knows what way you are trying to breed your cows. “He’s not coming in here trying to push a crossbred bull or an SRM bull – he knows that we are a pedigree herd and that we want to use pedigree bulls. He’ll always suggest the best team of bulls to use. He’ll put a different tilt, I’d tell him what I am thinking of using and he’d throw another suggestion in there, which is great.”

When it comes to the selection of beef sires, Joe’s say that he gives Michael ‘cartblance’ on their selection. Michael says that each year he looks at Joe’s figures and identifies areas that can be improved. The bulls that Joe is going to use this year include:

Michael said that it is important to note what EBI has contributed to the Irish dairy industry over the years. He added that the benefits of using the best genetics in Joe’s herd is clear to see, with good production along with fertility, which shows the science is working.

Beef sires

Around 60 beef sired calves are born on the farm every year, with the majority of these calves sold off farm directly to other farmers. A mix of Belgian Blue and Aberdeen Angus sires where used in 2023, including the Belgian Blue sire BBG ELK 236 DE Boulogne – Joe said he has found him to be extremely easy calving and the calves are “good and lively”.

Commenting, Joe said: “One of these calves was nine days early the other was 11 days early, which means that there is extra milk in the tank.” The Angus sires selected include: Intelagri Matteo E.T.Tower Tommie and HW Lord Horatio. These bull were selected for being high dairy beef index (DBI) sires and also easy calving.

Milk recording

Milk recording is routinely completed on the farm, and Joe said he cannot remember a time when they were not milk recording on the farm. “We exited milk production in 2007, so when we got back into milk, in 2020 milk recording was the first thing we did.” Continuing, Joe said: “You’re working blind with your cows if you don’t milk record, you know the average of the herd regarding fat, protein and cell count. But you can’t identify, be it a problem cow, regarding cell counts or your best cow to breed from if you’re not. Information is king.”

Joe uses AgriNet HerdApp to record births and register calves, it has been used on the farm since returning to milk production in 2020. AgriNet HerdApp allows Joe 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 of the herd’s information is stored on the app.

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. He notes how it is a great tool on the farm, and has made the Bord Bia audit a “breeze”.


All slurry is spread on the farm using low emission slurry spreading (LESS), which is done by a contractor. High DBI bulls are used to ensure a high quality beef calf is being produced. Cows are fed 1.9t of concentrates, and Joe said reducing this would be ‘penny wise and pound foolish’. Joe plans to spread foliar fertiliser this year, which he believes should halve the farms fertiliser bill, which is good for the pocket – but also good for the environment.

Progressive Farm Program

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

For more information on AgriNet HerdApp, just click here.

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