Using C.O.W for culling in the Croke herd

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John Joe Croke is a dairy farmer from Balloughboy, Ballingarry near Thurles, Co. Tipperary.  John Joe farms in partnership with his wife Anne and son Kevin (pictured), who are very much involved in this busy farm.

They supply their milk to Glanbia and milk record with Munster Cattle Breeding Group. They are planning on using C.O.W, as a tool to cull cows in the weeks ahead. C.O.W. is available to all HerdPlus members that are milk recording.

They have grown their dairy herd from 100 cows in 2011 to just under 200 today. They are currently a Spring calving herd having moved from 30% Autumn calving in 2016.  The herd is predominantly black and white with some crossbred Jerseys also on the farm. They use the top EBI bulls from the ICBF Active Bull List and breed all their own replacements.

Kevin Croke first heard about the C.O.W. profile at the Moorepark Open day in July 2017.  Kevin likes C.O.W because “it combines both the genetic potential (EBI) and the actual milk recording performance of each cow.  It also factors in the cow’s fertility performance as well as cases of lameness and mastitis.  It then predicts the future production values for individual cows within my herd”.  Kevin believes the EBI is the best barometer for breeding cows but believes C.O.W. is the best barometer for culling individual cows.

Kevin takes the view that “if you want to have accurate data on your cows, then recording data such as AI serves, scanning, mastitis & lameness, is essential.  I generally record these in the HerdPlus pocket notebook and then input this information on ICBF web site using my laptop. Information has to be fed in for me to have accurate reliable data generated on my cows”.  Kevin intends to use the free HerdPlus App to record all his animal event data going forward. “This will speed up the process if I record my events while out on the farm”.

Kevin says “2018 has been a nightmare so far and it’s far from over yet.  We will be doing some involuntary culling of cows in herd this year and I intend using C.O.W. to identify cows to cull outside of the ‘usual suspects’.  The first cows to go will be the empties and then the high cell count ones.  Lame cows are next but then you have to look at your C.O.W. profile to see what cows aren’t delivering the goods. It’s important to take all factors into account such as EBI, age, expected calving date, to investigate why that animal has a poor C.O.W. rank”.

The Crokes agree that cows ranked at the bottom of the C.O.W. profile are the ‘passengers’ in the herd.  “Any farmer should look up their C.O.W. profile even if not wanting to cull them this year”.  This year the Crokes bred the lowest EBI genetic merit cows to easy calving Limousin, Angus and Hereford beef AI sires.  Kevin then evaluated their overall EBI and solids produced last year before making the final decision to beef breed them. These cows in Kevin’s view were “fine cows but were not doing what I wanted them to do” when he looked at their C.O.W. ranking.

The Crokes are members of two discussion groups; Greenshoots, where Matt Ryan, Borrisokane, is the adviser and the local GMP group where Gordon Peppard, Teagasc Killkenny, is the group advisor.  The general view of both groups according to Kevin, is that C.O.W. is another valuable HerdPlus tool to evaluate cow performance.  Both groups can see C.O.W. been used more widely in the future, as herds consolidate and concentrate on improving cows within their own herds through improved genetics and efficiency’s.

The Crokes have no plans to expand the herd but instead want to focus their attention on improving total milk solids sold, through improved genetics for fertility, fat and protein, while continuing to focus on good grassland management.

The Crokes are also pedigree Hereford breeders, who are members of the Whole Herd Performance Recording (WHPR) programme.  John Joe has bred a few pedigree Herefords all his life as a hobby and sells them mostly to repeat customers. Animal data recording proves king in both the dairy and beef world in Balloughboy, Tipperary.