Dovea Genetics and Lely Center Mullingar held a breeding-centred farm walk on the farm of the Callan family just outside Philipstown in Co. Louth on Thursday (August 31).
The wet weather didn’t deter people from attending, with a large crowd present to hear how the Callan’s breeding plan has worked and to also see five Lely Astronauts in operation.
The Callans milk cows on two farms. The out-farm has 330 cows and was converted to dairy in 2011.
The farm was purchased in 2005 and was originally set up for dairy, tillage and beef, but poor margins made the family start looking at setting up a second dairy unit.
The home farm has been in the dairy business since the late 1960s.
Originally a 16-unit milking parlor was on the farm. This has since been increased to a 30-unit parlor – but labor issues saw the Callans move towards robotic milking.
The four Lely robots started milking cows in the spring of 2017, with a fifth installed in spring of 2021.
340 cows were calved down on farm this year, with 325 currently being milked on the farm.
Last year the herd sold 596kg of milk solids, which is up 100kg of solids since the robots were installed in 2017.
Improving the genetics of the herd is major focus on the farm, with Sean Callan saying that lot of this has been achieved by consistently culling the bottom 10% of the herd each year.
There has also been an increased focus on the cows that are being used to generate replacements.
A scan of the herd was completed the day before the walk took place which revealed that between the two farms there was a 12% empty rate in eight weeks of breeding.
All sexed semen was used in the first round on cows selected to generate replacements, with a 63% conception achieved.
Last year, 196 heifer calves were born on the farm with 17 bull calves were sold off-farm, which shows that great results have been achieved from sexed semen.
The remaining calves were beef-sired calves and were a mix of Angus and Aubrac breeds.
A synchronization program is used on both the cows and heifers on the farm, with the Callans having great results.
This has helped to tighten up the calving season and also means that a large majority of the cows calve in the first four weeks of calving.
A notable achievement on the farm was that they went 200 calves without losing a calf, which is helped by the compact calving and having sufficient labor on farm.
The herd ranks in the top 10% of dairy herds nationally with an economic breeding index (EBI) of €187.
The predicted EBI for 2024 calves is €252, which has been achieved by selecting a balanced team of high-EBI bulls – this figure does not include the in-calf heifers which should see this figure increase.
A focus has been placed on improving solids within the herd without increasing overall volume.
Some of the bulls used by the Callans include Browney Barna SRM (FR6481);
Glenaboy Tumee SRM (FR7839); Ballintosig Mister Man (FR7749); and Calhame Barney SRM (FR7677).
Speaking at the event, Niall Duffy from Dovea said that one of the most important things that the Callans are doing is picking a bull team with diversity.
“The aim here is to breed a balanced herd, to breed a balanced herd you need diversity to correct traits within different cows,” he said.
“There is no target for milk kgs, they will use a bull with a minus figure if needed or a bull with more milk – on the right cows to correct traits. “
Genomic bulls are used on the farm, but these genomic bulls are from proven bulls and attention is paid to ensure that they are not too closely related.
Around half the herd was bred to dairy sires this year with a focus placed on number of areas when selecting suitable cows.
Production, calving date and health were some of the key areas looked at when selecting cows for breeding replacement heifers.
Duffy said that once the cows that are suitable for breeding replacements have been selected they need to be matched to the right bull.
This is an area he believes that more time could be spent on at other farms.
Duffy suggested that farmers use sire advice, but also to look at data available from the cows such as milk recording and the conformation of the cow.
Use this information to identify that cows’ weak points from a production or conformation point of view.
You should then use the sire that is going to improve these points and give you a better, more balanced heifer.