For this week’s Dairy Focus, Agriland makes the trip to the Kingdom with Leagh Holsteins and the Fitzmaurice family.
The Fitzmaurice family are behind the Leagh Holsteins herd, based in Cloghane, Ballyduff, Tralee, Co. Kerry.
Pedigree breeding has been a feature of this farm for many years, with the first Holstein pedigree registered by Tim’s father in 1963.
The Fitzmaurices left dairy farming in 2007, but the passion for pedigree Holstein breeding remained.
Tim continued to breed purebred Holstein heifers but focused on introducing and developing new cow families unfamiliar to Ireland or often Europe.
The focus of this farm is now to purchase embryos from North America which can be brought into Ireland to develop new cow families.
Although they do not milk themselves, the Fitzmaurices have a number of milking cows in other herds that are also used for flushing.
The system would be described by many as unusual, especially since suckler cows are used as embryo recipients.
Tim said: “When we have Bord Bia inspections, they have a hard time understanding, they come to see a nursing herd and find Holstein heifers.”
The selection of cow families to introduce is important as Ireland is a milk solids based market.
Outlining what they look for in a cow family, Lauren said, “The first thing we look for is protein; Ireland is a solids-based market.
“We sell to the UK; we recently got 8,500 gns for a calf at the black and white sale.
“But our main market is Ireland. With purebred breeders, fat and protein are very important.
Continuing, Lauren said, “We are also looking for the guy; we want cows with a deep pedigree that will last. Cows from several EX generations who will stay on the farm as long as possible.
“We’re also looking for something no one else has; we are still doing our research to see if there is something of that pedigree in Ireland or Europe.
“Farmers are always looking for that new family, the family that no one else has but has done well in North America.
“We would also go to the World Dairy Expo to see what is going on there. Getting a daughter from a champion cow is exciting for people,” Lauren added.
“Over the past few years it’s been like a race trying to get the best genetics; everyone is looking for new cow families.
“Polled took off and red? Everyone wants a red heifer.
“A few years ago we didn’t have a red heifer, now we’re still looking for a new red family.”
The system operated by the Fitzmaurices requires a lot of work, first to find embryos, then to put them into cows and get a calf on the ground.
Tim said: “People don’t see the work and cost involved in putting down a heifer.
“Embryos have a 60% success rate, but it takes a lot of work to make that happen.
“People always see the high price you get for a calf, but they don’t know the cow family that never does.”
Continuing, Tim said: “You are also very limited with the embryos you can bring in, they don’t want to send cows to certain bulls and you can’t bring in clones.
“The most popular red bulls in the world at the moment are bred from clone bulls. In Ireland we cannot register calves bred from clones, so we are limited.
“It’s an expensive system, but when it works well, it’s very rewarding.”
Leagh Holsteins also show a number of heifers each year, with the herd having recently had success at the Kingdom County Fair.
The herd won awards for First Calf of November and Junior Champion with Leagh Sidekick Arangatang and first calf of January with Leagh Denver Mud Pile.
“My interest in exhibitions grew out of my involvement in YMA [young members associaiton] then dad would take me to workshops all over the country,” Lauren said.
“Then, because we had a sale every year, Liam O’Neill showed me how to trim the calves – so I could do a lot of the work myself.
“I then decided to go to America to Siemers Holstein. They had very good junior stocks, which I was interested in.
“While I was there I learned how to feed, groom and show the calves. After my time there, it really took off.
“After that we started raising other calves for shows and a number of the calves we sold won shows for the farmers who bought them.
“Seeing other people with calves that we have bred is great, it gets other kids interested in showing off and keeping the pedigree alive.”
Between 20 and 25 calves are born each year on the farm, with calving taking place from September to January.
Leagh Holsteins holds an annual sale where they offer calves for sale.
The Promise of Protein sale takes place June 22 at Carnaross Mart with Taaffe Auctions.
The sale offers young animals from Leagh Holsteins, John Cunnane’s Lynbrook herd and Brian and John O’Connor’s herd.
This year a number of cow families that will be sold in Ireland for the first time are on offer, including two daughters of Chief de Leagh Doorman Katrysha VG 2yr, a direct daughter of WDE Lovhill Champion Goldwyn Katrysha EX96.
There is also a heifer from the Jasmine cow family. Another heifer from the Jasmine cow family sold by Leagh Holsteins making 8,500gns at the Black and White sale.
Social media plays a key role for Leagh Holsteins in marketing and selling its animals.
Lauren works full time off the farm, but promotes the herd using social media, especially Facebook and instagram.
“The marketing and sale of animals has really evolved online; you can generate so much interest in your pets online through social media.
“Almost everyone now has social media and we’ve sold a number of animals through them.
“Covid-19 had a big role to play, but it’s also a younger generation using social media.”
Tim and Lauren both work off the farm and currently have no plans to modify their system.
“Dad and I are able to work with this system and it’s going really well for us,” Lauren said.
“My brother Bryan is also interested, he is currently studying a Masters in Animal Science at Wageningen University – he is going to Triple T Holsteins in America for the summer.
“Hopefully we can both make the system work.”
Continuing, Lauren said: “We could never totally rule out resumption of trafficking; I am still at the start of my career.
“I might consider looking at a robot in the future, but nothing is really set in stone yet.”
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