FBD Best Dairy Herd Finalist – Genomics Improving Selection Intensity in West Cork Herd

Don & Michelle Crowley with herdsperson Pat Coakley and Don’s parent’s Denis & Helen farm a 140 cow HO/FR herd in Ballineen, Co. Cork. The Crowley’s are actively engaged in high levels of data recording which can be seen through their participation in milk recording, AI usage, involvement in Greenbreed and the DNA Calf Registration programme.

The Crowley’s herd EBI is excellent and ranks in the top 5% nationally. The herd’s Co-op performance is exceptional with MS/cow at 496kg. The herd ranks in the top 30% of Lisavaird suppliers across 5/6 of the milk performance KPI’s.

Key Performance Indicators

EBI: Cows €167, Heifers €188, Calves €188

Kg milk solids/cow: 496

Fat %: 4.19%

Protein %: 3.69%

6-week calving rate: 85%

Calving interval: 365 days

When looking to improve the herd, the Crowley’s mainly look at three aspects – Milk, fertility and health. Health wise, with antibiotic resistance becoming a major concern, they are striving to breed a healthier herd. The herd has made a lot of progress in the last 5 years, especially in terms of milk and fertility, particularly the “first and second lactation cows have seen good fertility improvements.” Don also commented that “genomics is improving selection through selection intensity”.

When reviewing the reproductive performance of the herd, the first thing the Crowley’s do is generate an up to date EBI report. They then continue to run the Weekly Fertility report regularly to monitor their progress over the breeding season. They cross reference farm activities with the HerdPlus reports.

100% AI is used on farm. Approximately 50% of the herd is bred to dairy AI, however, this can vary depending on selection intensity. To improve the cow standard in the herd, the Crowley’s have been gradually removing the lower EBI cows. When deciding which animals are bred to dairy AI, the Crowley’s focus on their milk and fertility figures. They are regular users of the HerdPlus Dairy Sire Advice application, tending to opt for a team of 12 to 16 bulls with an average EBI of €300. Their team always includes bulls from the Dairy Gene Ireland Programme. The Crowley’s have been involved in the breeding programme since 2007.

The remaining 50% are bred to beef AI. They use short gestation beef bulls to tighten up the calving season. They find a greater flexibility with short gestation bulls on late cows which “increases efficiency”. It is important to the Crowley’s that “every animal to pays their way both for themselves and for the next owner.”

Approximately 20 heifer calves were sold last year. The remaining heifers on the farm were then genotyped, however they admitted that fluctuations of figures did occur and feel that they should have genotyped them all prior to selling the surplus heifers as some of the sold heifers’ EBIs may have increased had they been genotyped. All replacement heifers are contract reared.

The Crowley’s have been using Low Emission Slurry Spreading (LESS) for years and their contractor uses the trailing shoe. The Crowley’s are also using protected urea and incorporate clover when carrying out reseeding. They carry out soil sampling every two years and feel that this is important for keeping on top of P and K indexes and for identifying where lime application may be required. There has been 14 acres of forestry planted in recent years and they have a good bit of whitethorn around the farm. When it comes to the environment, they “generally keep an eye on it and aim to leave things better for the next generation”.

Milk Recording lets the Crowley’s see what each cow is producing with regards to kg milk solids etc. They like to make use of the milk recording live profiles to benchmark their cows. They use milk recording as a selection tool for breeding and for identifying animals suitable for Selective Dry Cow Therapy (SDCT).

SDCT was first introduced in the herd 2-3 years ago and it has been working well to date. They wanted to trial it before it becomes mandatory. In 2020, SDCT was used on 10% of the herd. A culture and sensitivity test were carried out before making any decisions and the Milk Recording profiles on ICBF were used to benchmark the cows. Cows with an SCC of under 50K in both their current and previous lactation with no case of clinical mastitis received sealer only. “Hygiene is a very important factor. Appropriate selection is also very important. The health of a herd is crucial”.

Breeding is monitored by heat detection systems and the Crowley’s use an automatic calf feeder. They feel that this “makes life easier and allows calves to thrive and be monitored remotely”. All machinery work on the farm is contracted out. They make the best use out of the various technology available including the use of a refractometer to measure colostrum quality. Both Don and Michelle work off farm and have 3 young children. They receive great help on farm from herdsperson Pat Coakley and other family members.

When it comes to genetic gain, the Crowley’s use the herd’s 5-Year Trend report to monitor the herd’s genetic gain. It is important to them to keep the gap between the best and worst cows minimal. Over the last few years, they have culled vigorously to improve the cow standard in the herd, now they are looking to increase the age profile of the herd. They plan to do this by “bringing in good cows when required and reducing the culling intensity”.

The Crowley’s are targeting 550kg milk solids over the next five years and plan to push forward from there. They feel that genomics will help with achieving this and help with moving even further forward in the future.