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HomeDairy‘The pure Friesian is probably the most underrated breed in the country’...
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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‘The pure Friesian is probably the most underrated breed in the country’ – 80-cow dairy farmer

Graduating with an honours degree in agricultural science, Gearoid Maher had always planned to return home to the family farm near Cappamore in east Limerick and re-commence dairy farming.

An opportunity arose for the fourth-generation dairy farmer, Gearoid, to take the reins of the family farm in 2011, aged 26.

In the years prior, the enterprise had been leased out due to his father’s ill-health.

The task ahead was challenging as the infrastructure on-farm was outdated and not fit for purpose, and the quality of the grassland swards was poor.

Heavy investment was required to modernise the farm; however, through determination, grit and a positive mindset, Gearoid progressed forward.

A herd of cows was assembled, which led to the establishment of the Killuragh prefix with IHFA and thus embarked on a new chapter for the herd, building for a better and progressive future.

Dairy farming

Gearoid comments:

“The land here is a very heavy, clay-type soil. Our average grazing season would range from 200 to 240 days.”

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“I knew I could not change the land, so I focused on the cow. The cow was going to be the engine of the farm.”

“I considered all the different breeds, but I felt that due to the type of land and the length of farm road I had, that a pure Friesian cow would suit the farm.”

“My stocking was always going to be limited, so I felt that my cull cow has a huge value to me, as do my bull calves.”

There was also an element of tradition in his decision as his father and his father before him all bred pedigree Friesian cows.

So, he purchased 40 pedigree pure Friesian cows, the majority from the Dunum herd and some from the Gortfadda herd.

This was the foundation of his farm, and these cows were the establishment of his pedigree herd.

Some of these cows are the mainstay of the herd to this day – which now stands at 107 cows.

Starting out as a new entrant

“Being a new entrant, the advice out there was to focus on EBI and only breed a cow from a number on a page.”

“I thought this was mad. A suckler farmer would never buy a bull from just looking at a book!”

He decided to look at what the dams and gran-dams were producing, and from there, he focused on breeding for milk and protein because every other trait is “a given”.

He joined the Irish Pure Friesian Club and was “nervous enough” joining the club because here you had experts breeding cows for generations, and he was very new to the scene, as he says himself.

“However, the club members and officers were very welcoming. Whether you are milking 20 cows or 500 cows or you had good land or bad land, everybody in the club is just passionate about breeding excellent cows.”

80-cow herd

Today, his herd has grown to 80 cows producing 6,600kgs at 4.08 % fat and 3.56% protein.

This has been achieved from marginal land and all from cows that are minus for milk, he says.

Moreover, he also has heifers bred from the club’s bulls producing an average of 5,600kgs.

His herd’s calving interval is close to 365 days, and the empty rate is generally 4 to 5%, with a submission rate to first service consistently over 90% and a 70 % conception rate to first service.

Currently, there are three EX cows and 23 VG cows. There are eight cows of 8th lactation and older in the herd, demonstrating fertility, health and longevity attributes, he says.

“My farm has turned full circle from an almost derelict holding to a profitable enterprise in just one decade,” he remarks.

“My cows and cow type are the pillars of my success. The pure Friesian is probably the most underrated breed in the country, but to me, the pure Friesian cow is a high producing, highly fertile, low maintenance cow.”

A farming ambassador

The quality of the herd is such that Gearoid was a national finalist in the Kerrygold and National Dairy Council Quality Milk Awards 2022.

Gearoid is active and involved as a farming ambassador across many public platforms.

He is an ambassador for the Farming with Nature organisation and hosted an open day on the farm last year.

The public could see how Gearoid farms in harmony with nature with management strategies adopted to positively impact on nature and the environment.

Read a previous article on Dairy farmer who doesn’t ‘chase’ targets and advocates ‘a cow to the acre’ policy

He is also a farming ambassador for the National Dairy Council, having recently featured as a discussion panellist on the NDC stand at the Bloom festival.

Forthcoming open day

Gearoid & Sarah Maher & family of the KILLURAGH herd will again open the gates of their farm to the public to host the Irish Pure Friesian Club Open Day 2023 on Thursday, June 29th, in association with the Irish Holstein Friesian Association.

The open day is sponsored by Dairygold, FBD and the NDC.

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