The Northern Irish Inch farm has been recognised as the home of a top-performing British Friesian herd, after scooping the highly acclaimed British Friesian Herd of the Year Award, based on a combination of classification and production, writes farming journalist, Cathernia Cunnane.
The herd, based at Downpatrick in the scenic area of Co. Down, Northern Ireland, is owned and cared for by a partnership of the Cleland and Morrison families.
James and Sarah Cleland are at the helm of the milking herd at the home farm, while Jim and Jeannie Morrison manage young bulls and heifers at their base five miles away.
Milking production began at Inch in 1949 when Tom and Marion Morrison purchased Dairy Shorthorns before introducing three British Friesian heifers to the holding three years later.
Although these heifers averaged £200/head, when land prices were £100/acre, they proved to be what they regarded as an “exceptional” investment and have bred over 3,000 animals registered to the Inch prefix.
The Morrisons were one of the first families to embrace Holstein genetics in the 1970s, and under the management of Tom’s two sons, Jim and Frank, numerous quality cattle were produced.
These include Inch Star Nina EX, who was the first Irish national Holstein show champion before selling for the record price of 6,500gns, and she later went on to become winter fair champion for her new owners.
More recently, James Cleland has taken the helm at Inch, and the Inch Holsteins are the current Northern Irish premier Holstein small herd.
The Holstein herd are also two-time winners of both the national premier herd competition and the master breeder award.
After almost 50 years of breeding Holsteins, the Morrisons revisited the British Friesian bloodlines with the aim of “producing greater strength and longevity from a medium-size and easily managed cow”.
“The result was an impressive hybrid which created a strong demand for bulls with this breeding,” they explained.
“One particular cow, Inch Jed Daphne EX93 (4) 40 star, started the Friesian line and bred the only cow in the herd book to classify excellent 12 times.”
“She had exceptional butterfat and protein, having bred 13 sons, which are UK daughter-proven with an average of 0.31 % BF and 0.1 % P, further strengthening the traits of this exceptional line.”
“Another daughter, Inch Storm Daphne EX95, claimed the Irish National Holstein Champion title, and she was the Northern Ireland Cow of the Year on two occasions.”
Today, there are 30 elite milkers in the herd, which predominantly consists of British Friesians, with some Swedish Reds, milked too, and Inch has been ranked as the top herd in the UK for PLI for the past three years.
The British Friesian portion of the herd is currently averaging 8,343kg at 4.87% butterfat and 3.62% protein.
61% of British Friesian milkers are in their fifth lactation or more.
Calving interval over a six-year average is 368 days, and 60% of the milking herd is classified excellent, with the rest achieving VG, and one exception of GP83.
A simple grass-based system suits the herd well with buffer feeding of silage and concentrates fed in the parlour.
The partnership currently has 15 bulls at leading AI Studs, plus many more bred to Holstein herds providing hybrid vigour.
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