Jersey cream... how Meath hosted the world congress

Farmers and breeders from 19 countries travelled to Co Meath for this year's World Jersey Congress

Richard and Ben Tyrell from the Woodtown herd.
Richard and Ben Tyrell from the Woodtown herd.
Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

There are only a handful of purebred Jersey herds in Ireland, but internationally the breed is under-going somewhat of a boom.

"There are predictions that Jerseys are going to double in number in the US over the coming years to the point where they will make up 20pc of the national dairy herd," claimed Ben Tyrell, a third generation pedigree Jersey farmer in Kildalkey in Co Meath.

His was one of several Irish farms hosting the World Jersey Congress last week.

Jersey enthusiasts from 19 countries around the world visited several Irish Jersey breeders, along with the nascent Jersey herd being established at Teagasc's research centre in Moorepark.

The Tyrells' agricultural advisor, Mike Brady, said that the Tyrell farm was proof that Jerseys could be just as profitable as any black and white dairy animal.

"I didn't know anything about Jerseys before I started working with the Tyrells nearly 10 years ago," admitted Mr Brady.

"This farm is in the top 10pc of dairy farms nationally, and it's still a work in progress.

"Obviously, the weakness of the breed is the low cull value (€300-400) of the cows, and the complete absence of any value in the bull calf.

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"But people get hung up on these things. The reality is that if you cut out the vested interests in Irish agriculture, most of the black and white calves coming off the dairy herd would be just as worthless as the Jersey bull calf. And the extra value of the cow's milk more than makes up for her lower cull value," he said.

Mr Brady presented figures showing the impressive milk price that the Tyrell's Woodtown herd has been achieving for the last five years.

It averaged 47c/l, peaking at 55c/l in 2013. These averages include a bonus for winter milk, which Mr Brady calculates as being worth 2c/l, but even with this excluded, the Tyrells are averaging a full 10c/l higher than the national average.

The fantastic milk price comes from average proteins of 4.1pc and fats at 5.7pc. It means that the herd average for milk solids was 561kg in 2015, despite the fact that first calvers made up nearly 40pc of the rapidly expanding herd.

"This herd has grown from 170 cows in 2012 to 240 today. It is on track to milk 300 next year, and 400 by 2020," said Mr Brady.

Despite the stellar milk solids, the Woodtown herd sub index for production EBI is just €30, with the overall index at €177.

"EBI doesn't work for my herd because it isn't able to cope with information from other breeds. It's a real pity because it's putting the Jersey breed at a real disadvantage in Ireland," said Ben Tyrell.

It is this issue, along with a lack of genetic variation within the breed compared to the Irish pool of Friesian genetics, that has prompted Teagasc to invest heavily in a new Jersey herd research programme in Cork. However, the trial is still too young to have generated any results.

While the Tyrell's net profit per cow and per litre is lower than the top 10pc of milk producers nationally, Mr Brady estimated that their profitability per hectare is higher at €2,225 in 2015.

"The profit per litre and per cow is reduced by the fact that over 1.7t of meal was fed per cow last year.

"However, this is improving all the time, and combined with the smaller size of the Jersey cow and her better feed-to-milk conversion ratio, there is scope for this farm to be even more profitable in the future," he said.

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