Farm Ireland

Thursday 18 January 2018

Friesian pioneers scoop top award

The Ballydehob dairy herd has been named as the IHFA/RDS 'Champion of Champions' for 2017

Robert Shannon (centre) receives the IHFA/RDS Champion of Champions award for the Ballydehob herd from (left) Tom Kirley, Chair of the RDS Agriculture Committee and Minister Andrew Doyle
Robert Shannon (centre) receives the IHFA/RDS Champion of Champions award for the Ballydehob herd from (left) Tom Kirley, Chair of the RDS Agriculture Committee and Minister Andrew Doyle

Martin Ryan

When the Ballydehob 'black and white' dairy herd was started more than 60 years ago by William Shannon, few could have envisaged the impact the new breed would have on Irish dairy production.

Back then there was a lot of scepticism among Irish dairy farmers about the Friesian breed and many questioned the merits of the new genes at a time when the traditional Irish dairy shorthorn dominated on the farms in this country.

Robert Shannon's 80-strong herd of Holstein-Friesians on a 26ha platform produces an average of 8,214kgs (1,809gls)of milk at 4.70pc fat and 3.67pc protein.

This would be well beyond the wildest dream of his father William who introduced the breed to his Cork homestead farm to found the Ballydehob pedigree Friesian herd.

"In those days there were about 25 cows kept in the herd and of course it was all Friesian at that time - the Holstein had not been introduced - and the breed was only starting to take off in this country," recalls Robert who took over the management of the herd 25 years ago.

"We were originally farming at Ballydehob and when we moved to Ballinascarthy we kept the name for the herd and merged with the herd of my wife Shirley's farm here," he says.

One of the top 20 EBI Holstein Friesian herds in the country, with herd average conformation score of VG 85, the Ballydehob dairy herd is the IHFA/RDS 'Champion of Champions' herd for 2017, a prestigious honour that recognises the achievements of over two generations of careful breeding.

The RDS Champion of Champions awards, presented annually by The Royal Dublin Society, are described as linking the current generation of cattle breeding with the RDS Spring Show of a bygone era which was the main agricultural focal point for farmers and the shop window for breed development up to a few decades ago.

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"My father always bought a few good cows when he got the opportunity and there are about five cow families which make up most of the herd now and most of them are Cork bred," says Robert.

"Both the Patsy and Mary bloodlines came from John O'Sullivan's herd in Courtmacsherry and they have performed very well for us," he adds.

Ballydehob OMan Patsy 2 EX92 2E, with an EBI of €226, is in her seventh lactation having produced 60,700kgs milk to date.

Ballydehob OMan Mary EX92 2E, with an EBI of €214, is now in her fifth lactation with a projected lactation yield of 10,499kgs milk, 564kgs fat, 353kgs protein, 5.37pc fat, 3.37pc protein.

Ask Robert which cow family has contributed most to the development of his herd and he reckons "it is probably Trixie which has been very good" and still going strong within the herd.

Ballydehob OJ Trixie EX92 2E, has an EBI of €238.

She is now in her seventh lactation with a lifetime milk solids yield to date of 5,388 kgs fat and protein and 3.58pc protein.

The RDS award evaluation cited how the Ballydehob Holstein Friesians herd "demonstrates the balance of herd conformation and genetic merit" with all cows in the herd genomically tested and linear scored/classified.

The herd quality and desirable genetics has been recognised by AI companies over the years with many bulls selected to enter AI.

These include: Ballydehob Mag. Extasy (BHX), Ballydehob Justice (BYJ), Ballydehob Tucano 871 (BZM), Ballydehob Glen 681 (GZL), Ballydehob Pat 1356 (HZB), Ballydehob Albyn 687 (NYB), Ballydehob Tucano 975 (TUJ), Ballydehob Dan (YBD), Ballydehob Roy 765 (YOA).

On future plans for the herd, Robert says expansion beyond 80 cows on 26ha "may not be economic" and the emphasis is on getting the maximum production from grass.

The successful herd is managed by Robert and his wife, Shirley, with the helping hands of their three daughters, Diane, Claire and Sarah and son, Stephen.

Diane has just graduated in nursing, while Stephen is doing his Leaving Cert but "they are all interested in farming".

Robert and Shirley have no shortage of possible candidates for succession in dairy farming, and are adopting a "wait and see who is the most interested" policy in the knowledge that, as Robert adds, "the girls can milk cows with the best."

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