FBD Best Dairy Herd Finalist – Maximising genetic gain in the Fortfergus herd through genomics and the Dairy Gene Ireland programme

Tom Garry runs a pedigree HO/FR cow herd under the Fortfergus prefix in Ballynacally, Ennis, Co. Clare. Tom is actively involved in high levels of data recording as seen through his participation in milk recording, AI usage, involvement in Greenbreed and the DNA Calf Registration programme. Tom has been a member of HerdPlus since 2006 and finds the reports and profiles essential for making informed decisions and monitoring the herd’s progress.

The Fortfergus herd EBI currently ranks in the top 1% nationally and has been steadily increasing from €153 in 2016 to €187 in 2021. Tom pays particular attention to the sub-indexes especially Fertility, Maintenance and Health. The aim is to produce a fertile herd with an average liveweight of around 550kg.

Key Performance Indicators

EBI: Cows €186, Heifers €200, Calves €212

Kg milk solids/cow: 462

Fat %: 4.44

Protein %: 3.82

6-week calving rate: 84%

Calving interval: 371

% Heifers calved 22-26 months: 100%

When selecting bulls, Tom has been using high EBI sires for several years which can be seen from his herd’s impressive EBI figures. He has been participating in the Dairy Gene Ireland programme since 2013. Tom is an advocate of the programme as it provides him with access to the latest high EBI young bulls each year. Based on the success of the Dairy Gene Ireland programme over the years, Tom opted to use a proportion of Dairy-Beef Gene Ireland straws in 2020 and is looking forward to seeing the calves on the ground this Spring. According to Tom, “you can’t go wrong with Sire Advice” and is an avid user of the application to maximise genetic gain and prevent inbreeding. This allows Tom to use a team of 10 bulls with confidence.

AI is carried out for 6 weeks followed by a stock bull to “mop up” any females not bred. The higher EBI cows with good milking speed and temperament are generally bred to dairy AI, with the remainder being bred to easy calving beef sires.

Tom’s involvement in the DNA Calf Registration programme ensures that all calves are genotyped and parentage verified at birth. Not only is this information excellent for traceability it is also vital when deciding what heifers to keep as replacements. Generally, Tom keeps around 20 replacement heifers.

The Fortfergus herd ranks is in the top 3% of Kerry Agri herds for SCC. Tom has been practicing Selective Dry Cow theory (SDCT) for the past 4 years. In 2020 any cow with a SCC of over 100K at any stage in the year received antibiotics at dry off. As a result, only 21 cows received dry cow tubes. SDCT would not be possible without regular milk recording with Tom stating that milk recording is “essential for any dairy farm.”

In terms of environmental awareness, Tom has been practicing Low Emissions Slurry Spreading (LESS) by means of a dribble bar and umbilical cord system for some time now. The farm is also home to an area of forestry.
Tom is involved in a discussion group and feels that attending these meetings is essential for making progress commenting that “you never go to a meeting without learning something.”

Excellent herd management in conjunction with using genomics and participating in the Dairy Gene Ireland programme have largely contributed to the success of the Fortfergus herd to date. Overall, Tom is very happy with the herd’s progress and wants to continue heading in the right direction.