In this week’s dairy segment, That’s Farming, speaks to Sean Gibbons of Monabrogue Holsteins about his expansion plans, his focus on high-EBI cows and the herd’s performance.
Following the abolishment of milk quotas, Sean Gibbons gradually expanded from 180 cows to his current 400.
The Kilkenny native milks his Monabrogue Holstein herd using a 30-unit DeLaval parlour that he has upgraded gradually over several years.
“I was in winter milk up until the quotas were abolished. To note, I would have calved in the autumn and the spring. I put everything in-calf to Friesian and sold all the surplus.” Sean of Monabrogue Holsteins told That’s Farming.
“When quotas went then, I started to concentrate on milk more, and the sale of stock became less important. I still sell a certain amount of surplus stock but not as much as before.”
“On average, it takes five hours maximum to milk each day in total; that would be the full cycle of getting cows in and out. It all depends on where the cows are. Some days it could take half-an-hour to get them into the parlour.”
Breeding programme and performance
Sean operates a spring-calving system, calving the herd in February, March, April and mid-May with an average calving interval of approximately 375 days. The dairy farmer keeps up to 100 replacement heifers every year.
“I do two months of AI with high-EBI Holstein Frisian bulls, then about six-weeks of Aberdeen Angus stock bulls cleaning up.”
“They are doing about 498 kgs of milk solids, 3.59% protein and 4.21% butterfat, and the SCC is 81 annually [co-op data]. They are roughly producing 7,000 litres of milk annually. I am feeding about 1 tonne of concentrates annually per cow to achieve those figures.”
“I follow the Teagasc blueprint in regards to measuring grass, maximising grass growth and getting cows out as early as possible, weather permitting. Furthermore, I try to keep them out as long and get as much milk from the grass as I can. There are about 145 hectares of a grazing block.”
There are 460 cubicles in total on the Monabrogue farm, with standard calving boxes and an automatic drafting system.
The dairy farmer regularly uses apps such as Kingswood herd app, Saber drafting app, the ICBF app, and That’s Farming app for the latest updates in agriculture.
“I find dairy farming interesting; there is a lot of variation throughout the season. You are not doing the same thing every day. Like any job, if you have an interest in what you are doing.”
The IHFA Carlow Kilkenny Breeder Club member started grading up his herd over several generations, 35 years ago, until he achieved a full pedigree herd. Sean’s herd is classified for type by IHFA annually.
The high-EBI breeding farmer has bulls standing in AI stations, Monabrogue Ebony (FR4481) standing in Progressive Genetics, with an EBI of €221, and Monabrogue Ivory (FR6526) standing in Eurogene, with an EBI of €236.
“It is the best breed for milk. The reason I went pedigree was I had an interest in breeding and managing the herd. The herd you have are worth more, and if you are selling surplus stock, they are worth more.”
“I feel there are four different strands of pedigree cattle, those who breed cows for shows; it is a very specific and niche market. Then you have farmers breeding for high-yielding winter milk.”
“Then there are high-EBI spring-calving herds, which is the category I fall into. Also, there are a certain number of farmers who have pure British Friesian herds. Sometimes it does overlap.”
“My EBI at the moment is roughly €147; maiden heifers are averaging about €200, and the calves born on the ground this year will be averaging around €220. The big thing is to be breeding fertile cows that are more durable with higher solids.”
“My percentage of protein in 2012 was 3.4%; it is 3.6% now, and I have achieved this mainly through breeding. If you breed for EBI, you are getting more milk solids; you are not concentrating as much on the number of litres being produced.” the owner of Monabrogue Holsteins said.
Sean aspires to keep improving his herd’s fertility and milk solids.
“There are a lot of unforeseen things that can happen when dairying farming. Not everything always goes to plan; you have to deal with those things and go with the flow.”
“There is something over 10% of cows in Ireland that are pedigree. There was always a danger that with genomics, as the total populations pedigree could be pushed to one side.”
“Backing up what I have always thought that breeding pedigree stock does produce better cows. 7 out of the top 10 bulls on the active bull list on ICBF’s website are pedigree at the moment.”
“Dairy farmers will have to adapt to all the environmental factors and sustainability and have good animal welfare standards. It is very important calves are properly looked after and are not being mistreated,” Sean concluded.