FBD Best Dairy Herd Finalist – Data recording, genomics and bull selection are large contributors to the success of the high EBI Coolentallagh herd

Pierce and Mary Delaney from Kilmallock, Co. Limerick operate a herd of 70 pedigree HO/FR cows under the prefix of Coolentallagh. Their overall herd EBI is outstanding at €189 and ranks in the top 1% of herds nationally. The herd’s Fertility sub-index also lies in the top 1% nationally at €91. Pierce and Mary have been working on the herd’s fertility over the past number of years and feels that his efforts are now paying off.

Pierce and Mary are actively engaged in high levels of data recording which can be seen through their participation in milk recording, AI usage as well as their involvement in Greenbreed and the DNA Calf Registration programme. The herd has been signed up to the HerdPlus service since 2007 and Pierce finds the reports and profiles “a massive help” and believes that the use of the service has been a contributing factor to the herd’s success to date.

Key Performance Indicators

EBI: Cows €189, Heifers €199, Calves €226

Kg Milk Solids/Cow: 504Kg/Cow

Fat %: 4.27%

Protein %: 3.46%

6-Week Calving Rate: 96%

Calving Interval: 367 Days

When selecting sires for the herd, Pierce and Mary primarily focus on the bull’s sub-indexes rather than just the overall EBI value. Their goal is to achieve 600Kg/MS per cow over the next few years. In order to achieve this, they will pay particular attention to the bull’s fat and protein figures.

100% AI is used in the Coolentallagh herd. The breeding season begins around the 25th of April and finishes around the 1st of July. Dairy AI is used on all the early calving cows with beef AI (generally Angus or Hereford) being used on the later calving cows, typically from 17th March onwards. When selecting beef AI sires, calving ease is the most important trait. Their main priority is to breed a healthy calf.

Two vasectomised bulls are used to aid with heat detection during the breeding season, one runs with the cows and the other with the heifers. A pre-breeding routing is initiated at the start of April, with all cows being tail painted to help with identifying the cows who are cycling and those who may need to be checked by a vet prior to breeding.

Milk recording has been standard practice in the Coolentallagh herd for many years and has proven to be extremely beneficial. Pierce compares not milk recording to “driving a car without a steering wheel”. The information that it provides allows them to see exactly what each cow is producing which in turn is used to help with breeding decisions.

Selective Dry Cow Therapy (SDCT) has been working well in the Coolentallagh herd to date. Pierce completed a consultation with his vet to agree a strict criteria cows must meet to be considered for SDCT. The herd does not have a mastitis or SCC problem and Pierce credits this to good management practices and a well maintained and regularly serviced milking machine.

Environmental awareness is paramount when carrying out farm practices. Low Emission Slurry Spreading (LESS) by means of a trailing shoe has been in operation on the farm for some time. A few years ago, Pierce purchased a Mosha Swivel spout for his slurry spreader which at the time was eligible for low emission slurry spreading. In 2020, almost all protected urea was used. Also, last year Pierce opted to reduce the level of protein in his ration. He saw no decrease in production from this and advised that he is likely to do it again this year.

Over the last number of years, the Delaney’s have improved the infrastructure around their farm including;

  • Installing large water feeders.
  • Placing white boards around the farm to help with recording events as they happen.
  • Adding mats to the parlor pit.

Overall, these improvements have had a positive impact on the day-to-day management of the farm.

The Delaney’s started genotyping their calves two years ago, and since then the whole herd has been genotyped. They hope the see the results of genotyping the whole herd over the coming years. They are interested to see if the genomic and production figures correlate. Pierce feels that the use of genomics has certainly helped with the herd’s solids.

The Delaney’s are also involved in this year’s DNA Calf Registration pilot programme, which will see all their 2021 born calves being genomic tested and parentage verified. According to Pierce “Genomics is the way forward; science cannot be ignored”.

Going forward Mary and Pierce Delaney will keep engaging in high levels of data recording to ensure that they can make the most informed decisions. Combined with this, they will continue to increase the genetic merit of the herd and work towards their target of achieving 600Kg/MS per cow by using genomics and consistently selecting high EBI bulls.