Keeping things simple on Laois dairy farm

The fifth focus farm in the Progressive Farm Program visits the dairy herd of Martin Davin in Rathdowney, Co. Laois.

Martin operates a spring calving dairy herd. He likes to keep the system on the farm simple – with the herd having excellent fertility performance, with a 363-day calving interval and 93% of the herd calved in six weeks. All the replacement heifers are retained, while the non-replacement animals are sold off farm between three and four-weeks-of-age. Martin said that the focus for him now is on improving milk solids within the herd and ensuring that a high quality beef calf is being produced.

Technical manager at Progressive Genetics, Shane Leane, has been working with Martin for a number of years now. He described Martin’s farm as a simple system, a profitable system and above all, a sustainable system. He said that one of the key drivers of this, is genetics within the herd and the level of management, including herd health and grassland management. The herd is averaging 550kg of milk solids, which ranges from 530kg to 580kg depending on the year.

Bull selection

Shane said the key focus of the breeding strategy is fertility, as it is the ‘backbone’ of the system on Martin’s farm. Martin has a high economic breeding index (EBI) herd, with the EBI being used when selecting bulls for the herd. A balanced approach is used for production and fertility. Within the production comes a balance of kilos of milk solids, along with fat and protein percentages.

The team of bulls selected have an average EBI of €349, a production sub-index of €117 and a fertility sub-index of €153. The team that has been selected for use in 2024 on Martin’s farm is driven by percentages and kilos of milk solids – with 33kg of milk solids, 0.34% fat and 0.21% protein. Shane explained that the selection of this team of bulls is done for a reason and to achieve a goal within the herd. Commenting, Shane said: “Myself and Martin would be conversating about delivering a higher milk price within the farm gate and taking control of that through breeding. We have put a particular focus on fat and protein percentages. If we take Martin’s current position, the herd is averaging 4.38% fat and 3.58% protein. If we were to increase that to 4.5% fat and 3.75% protein, we can add an additional 3c/L, that equates to between €15,000 and €17,000. That is a substantial amount of money that can be generated within the farm gate, for no additional work, just by simply selecting the correct sires – with the right breeding traits to breed better fat and protein for the herd.”

Cow selection

The importance of selecting the correct sires is vital, but the best genetic gains can be made by using them on the right cows. Shane explained that each cow within the herd is looked at using the data available to determine which are best for generating replacement heifers. “We look at the information that is available through milk recording and also the genetic evaluations that are available through HerdPlus. We combine those two pieces of information to select our animals for breeding. When we have that done, the remainder of the herd is bred to superior beef sires,” he explained.

Premium Plus Beef Sires

The Progressive Genetics’ Premium Plus Beef Sires Program puts a quality mark on bulls that are proven easy calving, short gestation, produce high CBV calves, have high carcass quality and provide profitability for both the producer and finisher. Shane said that the objective of the programme is to breed high commercial beef value (CBV) non-replacement calves for dairy farmers to sell and for finishers to have a more profitable animal.

One of the technologies that Martin is using on his farm is genotyping. Shane explained that this has many benefits in terms of genetic gain and also makes his job a lot easier to identify cows to bred from. He also said that Martin sells surplus replacement heifers each year, and using the information available from genotyping makes it easier to identify the best genetics to keep within the herd. It is equally as easy to identify the heifers that are of a lower genetic merit, that are then sold off farm.

A health monitoring and heat detection system is in place on the farm, which makes serving cows to artificial insemination (AI) easier. A second system is also in place on the out-farm where the heifers are located. This makes the AI-ing of heifers much more straight forward, as the heifers that are in heat can be seen on Martin’s app. Martin also notes how important it is having access to good advice from Shane Leane.

AgriNet HerdApp

Martin uses AgriNet HerdApp to record births and register calves. It has been used on the farm for the past 10 years. AgriNet HerdApp allows Martin 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. “If you have a Bord Bia inspection coming up, once you record the information it is there,” he added.

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.

Milk recording has been taking place on the farm since 2010, with the controlling of somatic cell counts (SCC) having been a major benefit according to Martin. He said: “Over the last five or six years, selective dry cow therapy has become a big thing. We’re up to between 70% and 80% of the herd, depending on the year for sealer alone. That can only be done with between six and eight milk recordings / year – you have to know the cow’s history.”

Cost control

Martin noted that he tries to keep cost under-control as much as possible, with a profit monitor completed each year. “The more efficient cow you have, the most cost effective you will be. It has taken a few years to get the herd to where I want it. I have it where I want it and from now on it is about focusing on the grass, focusing on the cow and rest will look after itself.”

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

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

Part four of the Progressive Farm Program: Breeding a functional cow in Kildare

For more information on AgriNet HerdApp, just click here.

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