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Sunday 21 October 2018

The North Cork dairy farm producing 'super cows' for the country's leading AI centres

Three of the top cows in the herd, Radney DUT Odetta, Radney MIW Odetta, Radney QUR Odetta
Three of the top cows in the herd, Radney DUT Odetta, Radney MIW Odetta, Radney QUR Odetta

Martin Ryan

A 'super' cow family is breaking records for longevity and consistent transmission of exceptional breeding genes for Henry O'Keeffe's spring calving herd on his North Cork dairy farm.

The 'Odetta' breeding line succession has produced sires for some of the leading AI centres in the country, and bulls and heifers have been sold to scores of Irish breeders over the past three decades.

Bulls from the herd offered at IHFA shows and sales over the years have consistently sold for prices in the top five.

Earlier this year the Radney herd, which calved down 115 cows and heifers in 2017, was named Spring Calving Herd of the Year in the Cork Holstein Friesian Club.

The club recently hosted a field evening for club members at the farm at Knockilla, Freemount.

The herd, which had a yield average of 8,124kg at 3.94bf and 3.78pr in 2016, is largely made up of four 'families' of cows - Odetta, Gerrard, Deborah, and Ostrictch - of which the former is a rare leader across the Holstein breed in Ireland and abroad for performance and gene transmission.

"The herd was depopulated in 1987 and when I was restocking I decided to start the pedigree herd," says Henry on the decision which laid the foundation of "a very lucky" breeding policy on the farm.

"I bought the first Odetta cow from Mary Burns (Kanturk) at that time, and her successors have turned out to be super cows.

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"She wasn't a big cow, but she has bred great cows that make up nearly a quarter of the herd today."

A daughter of the cow by Barold Rock Seal had 16 calves, and became the first cow in the herd to yield over 4pc protein. Radney Merci Odetta 4, in her 15th lactation, is predicted to yield 7,451kg at 3.70 bf and 3.75pr, having maintained a record of regular calvings and passing on the exceptional Odetta genes.

Some of the cows now milking in the herd are third- and fourth-generation followers of the founders, and the original quality traits have continued down the line.

The "queen" of the herd is Radney QUR Odetta, an 11-year-old cow, with five daughters now milking in the herd, explained Henry.

She hit yields of almost 11,600kg at 3.88bf and 3.75pr in 2013 and 11,000kg at 4.71bf and 3.88pr in 2015.

Each of her daughters is high in yields and good solids, and no wonder she has earned the title of the "Queen" in the herd with followers like Radney MIW Odetta 2 (10,328kg, 3.96bf, 3.63 pr), Radney DUT Odetta (10,409kg, 4.70bf, 3.80 pr), Radney DUT Odetta 6 (9,435kg, 3.67bf, 4.05pr), Radney RXO Odetta (9,549kg, 3.83bf, 3.72pr) and first lactation Radney MWL Odetta 3 (7,721kg, 4.05bf, 3.78pr).

The "queen" also has a son and grandson currently in AI to further spread the breeding line.

"The Deborah and Gerrard families are all really good cows, but the Odettas are super," says Henry.

Flushed

The top cows in the herd are flushed each year, with calves being born from up to three-quarter of the embryos.

The focus on high protein production and consistency of generations of maternal breeding has been recognised by breeders across the country when purchasing bulls, as shown in the prices achieved for Radney Breeding Bulls at the annual sales.

At the 2017 IHFA Premier Bull Sale, three bulls from the herd sold for a combined total of €8,250, while a previous sale recorded €5,500 for a Radney-bred bull.

"Most of the bulls are sold at home - I usually only take a few to the sales each year - and I have a lot of repeat customers who have been coming back for years. One man has bought 18 bulls over the years" says Henry.

Bulls from the herd are currently available from both Dovea AI and Eurogene AI centres. The herd is also a regular target for dairymen searching for quality in-calf heifers which are largely off the farm sales each season.

"It is great to get customers coming into the yard to buy bulls and heifers and especially when previous buyers come back, because that shows that they are happy with the value they are getting," adds Henry.

His son, Liam, is studying agricultural science in college and looking forward to becoming the next generation running the farm to continue the herd record into the future.

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