The Quealy brothers have spent 20 years building up their pure Friesian herd, and the milk production and beef quality results speak for themselves, reports Martin Ryan
Quality over quantity has always been the Quealy brothers’ policy over the two decades they have spent building up their Grenan pure Friesian herd in east Waterford.
Michael and Patrick Quealy have rowed against the national trend of herd expansion. Their attitude is to focus on exceptional rather than average yielders. The merits of the pure Friesian are “definitely under-rated”, they say.
The Quealy farm is situated between Kilmeaden and Kilmacthomas, and their 160-cow herd is currently producing almost 450,000 litres of milk per day. The male offspring are returning an average 350kg carcase kill-out as steers under 30 months .
The farm was scheduled to be showcased at the IHFA 2020 national pure Friesian open day this week, but the event has had to be cancelled due to the Covid-19 restrictions.
Friesians are traditional to the farm and the herd went pedigree almost two decades ago. Since then they have used the IHFA classification service to achieve desired herd production and quality benchmarks.
“If you do the homework and breed the right type of pure Friesian using the right bulls, you will have heaps of milk and heaps of quality in the cattle,” says Patrick of his decision to resist the trend for Holstein genes in the herd.
“The prices are not great this year for the beef, but in a low-cost production system, they are leaving a margin and come to a good lump of money in June-July each year.”
Michael rears the calves and manages the beef unit on an outside block. The impressive productivity of the dairy herd in combination with the beef enterprise amounts to a very efficient farming system overall.
This, says Patrick, is testament to the unique attributes of the pure Friesian.
“They are an easy-care breed and basically the dual-purpose aspect of the pure Friesian is important. With the calf quality and the flexibility of the breed, there should be a lot more done on promoting the pure Friesian,” he says.
“We have a modern pure Friesian, a milk-type cow and the figures speak for themselves,” he says. “I don’t agree with the EBI. It isn’t that I am anti-EBI, but I feel that it does not reflect the animal that we have in the pure Friesian.
“I have discussed it with ICBF and feel that they are not entertaining the type of animal that we are breeding.
“Trials have been done on Montbéliarde, Norwegian Red and Holstein, but somebody has to ask the question as to why no trials are being done on pure Friesians, especially in this day and age with sustainability and welfare issues.
“Breed a pure Friesian to a Hereford or an Angus and the calves are highly sought-after and commanding top prices. Even in a depressed trade they are still the top sellers, and that is being ignored.
“Our herd is not the exception. The age is high, there is longevity in the pure Friesian. We are not doing anything special. We run a commercial herd and we’re not pushing meal into cows as 850kg of meal is all that the herd is getting.
“We have the land base here to push big numbers of cows, but I want to push the production out of the cows before I push the numbers.
“Why would any farmer want to be milking 200 average cows if you could have 150 exceptional cows?”
Milk recording performance for the herd last year averaged 6,241kg milk, 4.01pc fat, 3.53pc protein, 471kg milk solids.
The maturity and longevity traits of the Friesians are borne out with fourth-lactation cows or older making up 50pc of the herd. Cows in this bracket averaged 6,689kg milk and 503kg milk solids.
Today there are 26 cows in the herd with six or more lactations, including three cows in their 10th lactation and two cows in their 11th.
The Quealys place an emphasis on building up excellent cow families. The herd includes a number of strong cow families consistently performing to a high standard.
Grenan IDS Avril 1902 EX has two EX maternal sisters still in the herd with a combined 12 lactations between them to date, and a daughter Grenan Avril 2352 VG89 in her fourth lactation.
“To me it costs the same to have a good cow as a bad one, and it’s better to breed good cows than increasing the numbers,” adds Patrick
n their rush to scale up, young farmers may be missing out on the traditional love of the land and sense of fulfilment experienced by previous generations, according to Patrick Quealy.
“One of the things that I am into is to enjoying farming,” he says.
“I see young farmers today and they are being told to run it as a business and treat it as a business, a 9 to 5 job.
“But when it comes to the pride in your job and enjoying handling your stock, I think the younger generation don’t have the same connection and affinity with the stock and it is only a numbers game.
“A cow is a number to them, like a machine to make a profit out of and I think that they are losing out.
“Our fathers managed to keep their farms together and go through their farming career very successfully not only as a business, but as something they could enjoy.
“It is not work at all to me getting up in the morning to milk cows. Going out and looking at good cows and enjoying them, sure you’d never get tired of that.”
On the beef side of the enterprise, the Quealys could get up to €150 for good bull calves, but finishing those to beef, they are making €1,200-€1,300 with kill-out of 350kg O+ and O= grade steers under 30 months.
“They get 1-1.5kg meal over the first winter and no meal during the second winter if the silage is good, before going to grass in March and finishing off grass in June-July,” says Patrick.
“They come into a good bit of money, which supplements the dairy side when the milk price is back, and there is a margin because we have the land, but you couldn’t do it on rented land.”
The Quealys’ farming system is designed with biodiversity in mind. They aim for a balance between stocking rate, productivity and nitrates use as they are mindful of possible EU policy constraints that may yet impact all dairy farmers.
The farm includes 12 acres of bog. They had considered draining this to increase the grazing platform, but have instead left it, to increase the farm’s overall biodiversity.