The Hanbidge family’s journey with the Montbéliarde breed began in 2002 with the purchase of a bull from a family member, an investment which shaped the future direction of their thriving dairy enterprise.
The Kiltegan, Co Wicklow-based family executed a crossbreeding programme incorporating a Montbéliarde bull on British Friesian-Holstein cows before undertaking an expansion programme from 50 cows in 2014.
The expansion phase came following Kyle’s return to the family farm after a stint overseas and the formation of a partnership with both his parents eight years ago.
Featuring as a guest speaker during Dovea Genetics’ recent Montbéliarde information webinar, he commented: “Quotas went, and land became available, so we decided to up numbers. In the last few years, we have been in pure expansion mode.”
“We are very fond of Montbéliarde breeding, and ever since we started crossbreeding in 2002, we never looked back.”
“When we tried to expand when I returned home to the family farm, it was very difficult to get Montbéliardes, so we had to go to the black-and-white route.”
“When I came back first, I purchased a batch of Montbeliard and Friesian heifers. The Montys are still in the herd, and the Friesians are gone.”
“Montbeliards are fertile, docile, low maintenance, compact, and long-lasting. They are the sort of cow that you do not see in the herd; she just keeps working away and leaves you with money at the end of the day, which you want.”
The family’s herd size has reached 170 cows, with 50 autumn-calving females, predominately Montbéliardes and 120 spring calvers, with a focus on high lifetime yield.
Milk production figures for 2022 stood at 6,500kgs of milk, 485kgs of milk solids at 3.6% and 3.9% protein from a “relatively” young herd, given its continuous expansion programme.
Currently, the farm’s breeding programme takes the form of 6 weeks AI, in line with technical support and advice from Coopex’s export manager, Ferreol Roche, as follows:
- MO X MO -> Correct and functional MO;
- HO FR x HO FR -> Correct Holstein Friesian;
- MO X HO FR -> Narrow HO gets MO;
- MO X NR -> Big MO gets NR.
Kyle explained: “The Monty cows get Monty bulls, the black and whites stay black and white, and sometimes, I mix black and white on top of the red and whites.”
“Something I have tried the last couple of years is to get a more compact cow. I have gone to a three-way cross, and I find that very good.”
The low productive cows, in the first six weeks, are AI’d to Limousin or Belgian Blue, and in the last six weeks, the herd mops up with Aubracs to produce “a good square suitable calf for finishing”.
Kyle continued: “With our bull calves, we are very fortunate that we have not had to go to the mart.”
“The last few years, we have customers coming the whole time, and calves are nearly, but not completely, forward sold.”
“We have buyers that will take particularly Monty bulls and then Aubrac-cross-Monty bulls and heifers. We have suckler farmers then looking for Aubrac-cross-Monty heifers.”
“My customers are selling bulls under 24 months and are getting them into 380kgs-400kgs, O+s and Rs,” he told attendees of the virtual information meeting.
He commented that at present, there is a “huge” demand for calves, but in years to come, “there may not be any [live] exports, which is going to impact different breeds”.
“We feel the Monty breed has a market, and there is going to be a big demand for calves, so the future does look bright for them.”
Along with a viable calf market, he said Montbeliards also make for valuable cull cows at mart and factory level, a strength which he capitalised on with the following remark:
“We killed cows here recently, which were straight out of the parlour and made between €1,200-€1,500. We did not lose time fattening them and silage and meal and everything else.”
A future with red and whites
In Kyle’s belief, sustainability is “going to be a huge thing of the future”, and in line with this, he is “keen to stay with the red and whites”.
One of the herd’s main goals is to improve milk solids and components year on year, along with placing emphasis on long lifetime yields and easy-care high-health status cows, a goal which he believes, can be achieved with the Montbéliarde breed.
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