Shane Fitzgerald takes a progressive approach to dairying on his 450-cow farm in Ballynoe, east Cork.
His father established the enterprise on a greenfield site in 1974, navigating through high-interest rates and milk quotas and growing numbers to circa 100 cows.
Shane returned home to farm in 1996, following the completion of his Leaving Cert, and this marked the beginning of a raft of changes on the farm enterprise.
They operated a Holstein Friesian autumn and spring-calving herd until 2000 and eventually converted to a conventional spring-calving system, which was driven by desires for improvements in fertility and grass targets and a work-life balance.
During this time, the family were involved with a dairy discussion group in Moorepark, from which a Norwegian Red trial evolved and began in 2004.
Featuring as part of Dovea Genetics’ Norwegian Red information night, Shane explained: “We were using a good bit of New Zealand genetics at the time and looking at ways where we could cross our herd.”
“At that time, the trial started, the bulls came in, so we participated and have been doing that ever since.”
He took over the reins of the farm from his parents in 2008 and, at this point, milked 120 cows.
From then to 2015, he implemented a programme in line with the abolition of milk quotas, which saw the herd increase to 170 cows.
During this period, he continued to utilise Norwegian Red genetics and began incorporating a three-way cross – Friesian, Jersey Kiwi cross and Norwegian Red-cross – from circa 2010 onwards.
Shane added: “From quotas to today, we are milking 450 cows. We are a little bit unique in what we do here as we have a 20-unit parlour and milk two herds through it with a full-time milker.”
“We are walking a distance of up to 2.2km to the furthest field, so it is a little bit different to the normal situation.”
The second-generation farmer told attendees that the farm has executed a “sustainable” herd expansion programme since quotas abolition, which has not come at the expense of production.
“But even with that rapid expansion, we have maintained our KGs of milk solids, and the first thing I will say about breeding is Norwegian Red has been part of our programme here.”
“It is not the total reason as to why we are doing what we are doing, but it has been a very important part of it, I believe, in terms of holding our milk solids.”
“We are producing 540kgs of milk solids, probably slightly less now, 525kgs now at the moment, off a 540kg cow. We have maintained that in rapid expansion, and that has been a key goal here.”
“This year, again, we are at 530kgs of milk solids, from 900kgs of concentrates per cow, with an average protein of 3.82% and 4.84% butterfat and an average milk price of just short of 66c/L for the year.”
“They are producing about 6,000L of milk a year, and that contributes to the 530/540kgs of milk solids that we have. Norwegian Reds are first into the parlour and the first out to the field.
In recent years, the herd – which has an average EBI of €200 – has increased in size, but has never purchased animals, and has, therefore, relied solely on retaining replacements.
He added: We have been very fortunate that we have had good fertility.”
“There is no point saying otherwise that with the rate of rapid expansion, there has been some tidying up done the last two years.”
Benefits of using Norwegian Red:
He told the virtual information session that he selects Norwegian Red because of:
- Health traits: Better feet, reduced mastitis and lower SCC;
- Depth capacity and strength – Keeping the herd uniform;
- Bring robustness to a system;
- Management – suits the system in place;
- Hybrid vigour – Offers a different animal on the outcross;
- “Exceptionally” good calves while being easy calved.