Billy and Anne McMahon from Breaghy, Ramelton in Co Donegal tell their story....
Up until 1992 Billy and his Dad were milking 25 Friesian cows, with a calving pattern from November until June. Earlier calving cows were bred to Friesian and then later ones to a beef breed. It was extremely difficult to increase cow numbers as there always a scarcity of replacement heifers born in the herd. There was also increasing difficulty in sourcing British Friesian genetics at that time as Holstein genetics were dominant, so the scene was set for an alternative.
In 1992 Billy saw an article about MRIs in the Farmers Journal, and later saw an ad for MRI semen, and 5 straws each of Mark 9 and Willie were bought. From these straws 6 heifers and 2 bulls were born in 1993. Those 6 heifers were the foundation of the MRI genetics in the herd.
Billy and Anne were married in 1993 and while on honeymoon went to see 2 herds of pedigree MRI cows. Following that visit we bought 2 pedigree in-calf heifers and a 9 month old bull - Wouter 20 - who was a Dutch import. We registered the herd as "Ramon" - the beginning and end of Ramelton, and decided that the entire herd would be bred to MRI, and that we would attempt to grade up to a full pedigree herd, with as few purchases as possible. Since then the only female stock we have bought have been 4 heifer calves.
Wouter 20 was here for 4 years, when we sold him on to another dairy herd. They kept him for a further 4 years, where he served up to 100 cows and 35 heifers annually - replacing 3 stock bulls needed previously. He then went to a further herd for breeding.
We started using more AI, and in 2000 Billy did the DIY course, since then the focus has been on AI breeding with a bull only used as a sweeper.
Currently we milk around 75 cows in a totally spring calving herd, 70% are pedigree and the rest are grade registered. Most of the cow paddocks are near vertical as the more horizontal fields are kept for silage so turnout is late, and housing is often early. Cows are usually on silage from the beginning of October to mid April, and are housed full-time for at least 5 months, so the silage pits need to be well-stocked! Therefore calving is held back until March to match turnout (80% of the cows will calve in a 4 week period), and will be finished by early May. We have milk recorded for 10 years and our 2007 figures were:- 305 day lactation, 1438 gall/ 6731Kg milk, 3.68%/ 248kg fat, 3.48%/ 234kg protein. All the cows are dried off the week before Christmas and Billy has a 2 month break from milking.
The cows are bred by AI for 6 weeks and then a bull is used for 3 weeks. The heifers are bred by AI for 3 weeks and a bull is used for 6 weeks, to calve down at 2 years old. The first 3 weeks of breeding is the most focussed period of the year as the next year's calving depends on it. Anything not in calf at the end of the 9 weeks breeding (very few) will be culled and beefed the next winter - Billy often says that "if you don't pay the fare, you don't get on the bus".
Until a couple of years ago we reared all bull calves to bull beef at 18 months old and averaged grade R3. We also sold surplus heifers at a year old. However, as the number of cows has increased, we now rear only our replacement heifers and a limited number of pedigree bulls. Calving is generally straight-forward - the calves are lively and easy to teach to teat feed. They are reared on whole milk, with surplus calves, both heifers and bulls, being sold at 2-3 weeks old.
We are very happy with the breed - they suit our spring calving system well as they are calve easily and so are easy to get in calf again, they are happy to have a calf a year, and are a pleasure to work with (and look at!).
For more information contact Billy on 087 249 2362.