Committed to the pure Friesian
Paddy Crowe's herd of Dunum Friesian cows is one of the most successful in the country
Among the core of dairy farmers who remain committed to the 'pure' Friesian breed is the well-known Crowe family in East Limerick.
Martin Crowe and his father, Paddy, are behind the Dunum herd which is among the most successful in the country.
The dual purpose predecessor to the Holstein-Friesians, which dominated Irish dairy farms for many years after the first importations of the black-and-whites more than half a century ago, retain many committed supporters.
The pure Dunum Friesian dairy herd on the upland farm at Carrigmore, near Doon, Co Limerick was founded by Paddy Crowe with the purchase of three pedigree Friesian cows three decades ago.
Paddy, a recipient of the coveted 'Hall of Fame' Award for his lifetime achievements as a Friesian breeder, and his commitment to the 'pure' Friesian breed, has passed on the baton of management to his son, Martin, but maintains a huge interest in the continued success of the herd.
"When I took over from my father in 1998 he had stuck with the pure Friesian because he liked the robust dual purpose cows and he had a good market built up for breeding bulls," says Martin, who is chairman of the pure Friesian section of the IHFA for almost a decade.
"There is a membership of nearly 50 herds.
There are many farmers who want to stick with the more traditional Friesian - there is still a hard core of the older herds who like the breed," he says.
The 102-cow herd is producing an average of 1,500 gallons at butterfat of 4.39pc, and protein at 3.51pc for supply to Kerry Agribusiness.
"The cows were going back in calf every year and I had cows doing up to 11 lactations. We have a lot of regular customers for in-calf heifers and bulls for breeding every year so I have kept on breeding the best from the best and very happy to keep it that way," says Martin.
"I was in dairy discussion groups and found that the production that I was getting from the cows was as good as a lot of the other farmers and I did not see any reason to move from it," he added on his continued commitment to the pure Friesian breeding line.
"I have regular customers to buy about 30 breeding bulls every year off the farm and a lot of repeat business which is very good. The Holstein is a completely different cow for a different farmer," he says.
After completing a degree in agriculture, Martin also does a considerable amount of agricultural consultancy work which necessitates being away from the farm.
"Having a herd that is as trouble free as possible is an advantage. Although I had 26 cows calving today, I was able to be away on the consultancy business from 9am to 4pm and had the work done before I left. I keep a watch on them (cows) on the phone during the day just in case there is any problem," he explains.
Most notable in the development of the herd has been Dunum Sneacta 32, the first Pure Friesian awarded the IHFA Diamond Lifetime Production Award in 2007, and championship winner at both Emerald Expo Show in Kilkenny and National Livestock Show in Tullamore.
Her daughter Sneacta 86, also a winner at both Expo and the National Livestock Show, is due to deliver her 10th calf at the end of this month.
Born on December 7, 2004, she had her first calf at 26 months and is on her tenth calf at 11 years and three months.
"The herd is full of the Sneacta cows - she has four daughters in the herd now," says Martin.
Over the years bulls from the herd have been purchased for breeding by the leading AI stations, including Bova Genetics, South Eastern Cattle Breeding, Dovea and Gene Ireland, Enfield, Co Meath.
During his time at the helm, Paddy built up a large network of customers from Louth to Kerry and everywhere in between, who bought replacement heifers and breeding bulls.
Many of these loyal customers still return to the Dunum herd for breeding stock today. He also was a founding member of the Limerick and Clare Friesian Breeders club serving as Chairman of the club in the 1980's.
The fame of the herd has continued to spread both at home and abroad.
"I have interest from an AI centre in the UK for a bull calf and some Germans who visited the farm were interested in embryos off the same cow but I don't like doing them so they have asked for the cow to be put in-calf to a specific bull and they'd be interested in either a bull or a heifer," said Martin.
However the survival of the herd was threatened in 2006, when a heartbreaking outbreak of bovine TB ravaged the herd, with the eventual loss of 80 cows within a two year period. Thankfully, there were sufficient replacement heifers from the top cow families to ensure the survival and rebuilding of the herd.
Today the animals in the herd are rated among the top in the country with 11 cows classified EX, the top rating accorded in classification and a further 38 classified VG, which is also exceptionally positive for any herd.
Management within the farm is mirrored on the best technological information available from research and attention to herd health status is meticulous.
On herd expansion in the post milk quota era, Martin explained that he had invested in excess of €100,000 in buying milk quota over the years to in excess of 600,000 litres.
While he intends to continue to drive yields, current stocking is matched to the land area available with the milking platform stocked at 4 cows/ha.
"Unless I get access to more land I have no scope for further expansion of the herd. If I was to push it further I would have to get more land for silage," he says.
Despite the current poor milk price he is finding "a lot of interest in in-calf heifers at the moment and a good few enquiries for maiden heifers and I am looking at the options.
We were lucky last year to have started at a higher level (milk price) but it is beginning at a much lower level this year and we may be producing milk for less than the cost of production this year".
While Martin gets on with the day to day management, Paddy continues to take a lot of interest in the progress of the herd and is an excellent judge of a good animal. He maintains his lifelong interest in music as a member of the Slieve Feilm Choral Group and the Voices of Limerick and has been known to entertain many a group of Friesian breeders with his wonderful voice.
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