Rathgibbon Holstein Friesian Herd
Rathgibbon Holstein Friesian Herd – Gareth O’Brien and parents Francis and Ann
2019 herd average – 551kgs milk solids per cow sold to the co-op
An IHFA Laois Offaly Club feature
The ingredient mix for the successful Rathgibbon herd includes a passion for Holstein breeding, deep cow families with generations of top performance, a sprinkling of Red & White lines, a dusting of selective high index females imported from Europe, attention to detail on grassland management and the use of robotic milking on the farm.
Productivity for the herd in 2019 was 551kgs milk solids per cow sold to the co-op. This metric ranks the herd in the top 4% of all co-op suppliers. Milk volume per cow per day delivered to the co-op averaged 20.95 litres per day, ranking the herd in the top 3% of suppliers.
Currently, the herd consists of 110 cows with plans to further grow herd size to 120 cows. Producing milk all year round the herd calving pattern is 80% spring, 20% autumn. From a starting base of 60 acres, Gareth’s parents, Francis and Ann, continually re-invested in the farm over the years, incrementally developing and progressing the farm business while also rearing their family.
Today the farm size totals 200 acres between owned and rented. Pedigree registered Holstein Friesian breeding has helped to sustain farm development and expansion over the years. Gareth returned home to farm full-time in 2008 and has continued the trajectory of development ever since.
First lactation heifers accounted for 36% of the herd last year with a recorded performance average of 7,553kgs milk, 535kgs milk solids. The mature cows of fourth lactation and older, representing 20% of the herd, averaged 9,129kgs milk, 659kgs milk solids, 3.81% fat, 3.41% protein.
Currently there are fourteen cows of 5th lactation or older with twelve classified VG/EX on conformation and two cows scored Good Plus.
“I always liked good cows.” comments Gareth. While the herd had been graded up to pedigree in the 1980s, a herd depopulation ended the bloodlines of the original Friesians at Rathgibbon. The subsequent quest to put together a new herd opened up the opportunity to move in a different breeding direction.
“Through the Laois Offaly Club we became aware of Holstein bloodlines. Club officers such as Marie Lyons, Tommy Finlay, Peter Ging, Bill Flynn (RIP) and Charles Gallagher were tremendous sources of knowledge. We all learnt a great deal from them. In particular, herd visits to view the Baldonnel herd of Cyril Dowling and Mervyn Eager’s Evergrange herd were real eye-openers at the time. Having switched to Holstein breeding we noticed a yield increase straight away”.
Families in the herd today who are very prominent tracing back to those early purchases include the Sarah family from Evergrange herd and the Hazel family sourced from local club member Tony Roe.
A sample of the mature cows in the herd
Rathgibbon Bronwyn 1150 EX90 2E
- In her 8th lactation, she is the oldest cow in the herd.
- Calved in as a heifer aged 22 months.
- 7th lactation recorded yield; 10,989kgs milk, 793kgs milk solids
- Bred from a VG86 dam, her IHG Montana daughter in her 2nd lactation is projected to 7,626kgs milk, 585kgs milk solids, 4.26% fat, 3.41% protein.
Rathgibbon Mogul Lilac ET EX91 2E
- 4th lactation yield 11,517kgs, 813kgs milk solids, 3.65% fat, 3.41% protein
Rathgibbon Boulder Misty 1645 EX91 2E
- 3rd lactation yield 9,703kgs, 729kgs milk solids, 3.93% fat, 3.58% protein
Rathgibbon Atwood Darkie VG85
- 12,154kgs milk, 932kgs milk solids in her previous lactation.
- From the Barbican Darkie family.
Rathgibbon Lavaman Suzy 1675 GP83
- 3rd lactation recorded yield 12,441kgs milk, 874kgs milk solids, 3.50% fat, 3.51% protein in a lactation of 308 days.
- One of the top fertility cows in the herd with a calving interval rating of 352 days based on five lactations to date.
Rathgibbon IMO Fiona GP
- 4th lactation yield 10,699kgs milk, 800kgs milk solids, 3.87% fat, 3.61% protein
Rathgibbon Dober McDon VG85
- 4th lactation yield 10,370kgs, 721kgs milk solids, 3.50% fat, 3.45% protein
Hull-Stein Dasher VG88
- 3rd lactation recorded yield 8,992kgs milk, 724kgs milk solids, 4.46% fat, 3.59% protein
- Bred from Markwell Durham Daisy EX92 – international cow family
Rathgibbon Pesky Hazel VG86
- 2nd lactation recorded yield 9,307kgs milk, 712kgs milk solids, 3.96% fat, 3.69% protein
- 5th generation VG dam
- Originating from the Richardstown herd of Donal Ring, Co. Cork, the Hazel family is now numerically one of the strongest at Rathgibbon.
Rathgibbon Ludoplex Carmel VG87
- 3rd lactation yield 8,629kgs, 684kgs milk solids, 4.31% fat, 3.61% protein
Rathgibbon McDonald Inters VG86
- Fresh in her 3rd lactation, as a heifer she recorded 8,686kgs, 638kgs milk solids, 3.82% fat, 3.52% protein
Rathgibbon Boast Wanda 1952 GP84
- 1st lactation yield 9,051kgs milk, 697kgs milk solids, 4.37% fat, 3.32% protein
- One of the top heifers in the herd when ranked on milk value per lactation
Rathgibbon Perfect Drako VG86
- 1st lactation milk yield 9,947kgs milk, 686kgs milk solids, 3.54% fat, 3.36% protein
- Milk value for her 1st lactation is over €3,100
Rathgibbon Boast Wanda 1952 GP84
- 1st lactation yield 9,051kgs, 697kgs milk solids, 4.37% fat, 3.32% protein
Rathgibbon Boast Misty 1953 GP82
- 1st lactation yield 7,542kgs, 577kgs milk solids, 3.53% fat, 4.13% protein
The use of IHFA classification service has helped to develop the cow families over the years.
“Cows who classify well in attaining the top category grades do tend to last in the herd.” comments Gareth. “It makes sense in that classification rewards functionality, having such an influential weighting on udders, feet and legs, rump and strength overall. The fact that so many of the more mature cows having superior lifetime yields are classified VG/EX backs this up. Not only does classification help chart herd progress it can also be a significant lifter or morale. For example, I can remember vividly our first home-bred Excellent. She was a Besne Buck daughter from the Jenny family of Sean O’Meara. Classification also adds value by providing helpful data towards breeding policy emphasis and sire selection”.
The herd is entirely AI bred – a management strategy adopted many years ago. Current sire selection policy is to use all genomic sires, individually selected using a combination of predicted PTA’s, cow family, red and red factor lines, with polled genetics also a consideration. Recently used bulls include; Maplewood Boulder, Popeye, Magic Touch, Hotspot P, Batman and Wimbledon.
Active members of the Laois Offaly Club since the early days, Gareth says that “The club has been a fantastic forum for education and support. It helps you to keep an open mind, stimulates a quest for knowledge and further information”. They attend most of the club events throughout the year and participates in all the club competitions. The herd currently competes in the Senior Section of the club Herds Competition. Gareth has also actively served as a Club officer having fulfilled the roles of Chairman and also Treasurer in the past. Gareth has §dedicated his time to YMA, formerly serving as Chairman of National YMA for a term.
In dealing with the intricacies of robotic milking and a farm layout of three separate grazing blocks, with one such block located 5 miles from home, Gareth is all too aware of the need to up the game in grassland management accordingly. Reseeding and the replenishment of swards is a big part of farm management. Three quarters of the entire farm has been reseeded in recent years. Clover is included in every reseed mix, as a result of very favourable performance responses so far. The correct timing of all fertiliser applications is crucial as is the accurate moving of wires in accordance with balancing the moving variables of grass cover availability, growth rates, and herd demand.