'It was very difficult to get rid of the Jersey bull calves'
No: Patrick Kelly, Killygordon, Co Donegal - 283 cows
Published 03/02/2016 | 02:30
"I'm never going back," says well-known Donegal farmer, Patrick Kelly, of his three-year experiment with crossbreeding on his 283 cow herd.
The farm is located near Killygordon in the heart of the Finn valley in east Donegal, where rainfall levels are double those on the east coast, forcing Mr Kelly to aim for a cow that can efficiently turn both grass and meal into milk.
Last year the herd averaged 5,800 litres at 4.4pc fat and 3.7pc protein. The farm produced 13t/ha of grass drymatter, at a stocking rate of 3LU/ha, and the cows received 900kg of meal.
With an average EBI in the cows of €190, Mr Kelly's herd is in the top 200 in the country, and he has already sold three bull calves into AI, with options out-standing on another two.
He tried crossbreeding for three consecutive years on his mainly Holstein herd at the end of the 1990s.
"In 1995 I spent six months working on dairy farms in New Zealand, where I was exposed to a lot of new ideas - crossbreeding, 100pc spring calving, and 100pc grass systems.
"I came home to a situation where we were producing liquid milk, which was very profitable in the 1980s, but with the deregulation of the milk market, that all changed.
"So when I got home, a lot of changes started. We switched to a spring calving set-up, and we started to look at ways to improve the fertility of our Holstein cows.
"We had started using Dutch Holsteins in the late 1980s, and we got fantastic stock from that first cross that, in hindsight, I suspect was partially due to the out-cross effect of using Holsteins on what was a largely Friesian herd up to that point.
"But we started encountering the same problems as everybody else in late 1990s, and tried a little bit of pure Friesian, but felt that they just didn't have enough milk.
"I also tried some Jersey - never more than about 20pc of the herd. The resultant cows were massively fertile, but the udders and feet didn't stand up for me. Maybe it was just the particular bulls we were using, but I decided to move to Kiwi black and white sires instead. I'm not really that interested in the breed - I'm more interested in the genes, so we still have two to three black (crossbred) heifers coming into the herd every year.
"Apart from the make-up of the crossbreds' feet and udders, I was also finding it harder and harder to get rid of the Jersey bull calves.
"I don't ever want to be in a position where I have to put down calves. Even though there'd be a few black calves in the bunch, they're not noticeably smaller anymore, and I averaged a flat price of €80 for my bull calves last year.
"Now we're using more and more of the Irish sires, because they are really hard to beat on EBI. I'm a big believer in the EBI system. I fill in the gaps with Kiwi black and white bulls. I see the milk solids rising all the time with the black and white.
"Nearly everybody in my discussion group has tried an element of cross-breeding, with almost every breed you can think of. Very few, if any, are still using cross-breeding today."