Innovation and technology are the fore of Gerard and Angela Brickley’s farm based in Coolrain, near Mountrath in Co. Laois.
The husband and wife duo swapped a part-time suckler herd for a full-time dairy operation, which they both own and manage.
“We did the sums very quickly after selling the sucklers and decided that we needed to go dairying. We sold the suckler herd and bought dairy weanlings – and started milking those when the quotas went four years ago.” Gerard Brickley told Catherina Cunnane of That’s Farming.
The then new entrants commenced dairy farming with a herd which comprised predominately of Holstein-Friesians, along with some Jersey and Jersey-crosses.
At that time, the herd was only in its infancy which allowed the family to commence intensive research in other dairy breeds and alternative systems in a bid to push their farm to greater heights. That is when they stumbled upon the Fleckvieh breed which claims to be Central European’s number one dairy and dual-purpose breed.
Gerard was immediately impressed with the performance of the breed which is known to have a higher fat and protein content in their milk in comparison to Holstein Friesian, although they produce slightly less milk.
Reaping the rewards
He travelled to the native home-soil of the breed in Austria and Germany and thoroughly examined cross-breeding programmes which have been rolled-out in the Netherlands and Northern Ireland for close to fifteen years. He imported the foundational animals of the herd from Austria and has continued to import stock from across the waters both for himself along with top-end breeding bulls for farmers which arrive in the country in November/December.
The first calves born on the farm were Holstein Friesian; however, the couple the ventured down the Fleckvieh route and have never regretted the decision.
“In terms of their milk volume delivery, they are somewhere between a British Friesian and Holstein and have all the beef characteristics of a continental beef animal.”
“You have a high-value calf; a high-value cull cow and probably one of the most important things of all is that you have a strong, robust, animal.”
“I reckon that on the beef value of the Fleckvieh returns €300-400 more extra profit in comparison to a Jersey and that figure is about half the milk cheque. This is paramount when milk prices are poor, as that beef element of your income is stable.” Gerard revealed.
Today, approximately 60% of the Laois-based herd is either pedigree Fleckvieh or a Fleckvieh-cross. A total of sixty high-yielding cows pass through the parlour, while surplus in-calf heifers go under the hammer along with bulls for breeding purposes.
The Brickleys are two of the most progressive dairy farmers in the country due to the utilisation of Fleckvieh genetics; the installation of a robotic milking and a zero-grazing system.
“We decided to engage in zero-grazing as we have 80-acres and wanted to maximise our profit for our acreage, so that meant that we had to get as much as we could out of the cows and out of the land,” Gerard said.
“With the zero-grazing, we probably get about 30% more grass utilised in the year. There is no waste; quicker re-growth and we are getting more output, but unfortunately, there are no official figures available or research conducted into this.”
Gerard and Angela are very interested in promoting and showcasing the Fleckvieh breed in Ireland and believe that the breed has experienced increased popularity in recent years. They own and manage, Celtic Sires, an Austrian Fleckvieh semen supplier.
“We have seen huge growth year-on-year – last year and again this year, admittedly from a very small base. We run a study tour and we are seeing pockets of people interested in the breed.”
“One farmer tries the breed and then two/three neighbours follow in hot pursuit - it all snowballs from here!”
Looking forward to the future, Gerard and Angela are satisfied with their current farming system and will strive to maintain their current stock numbers and will continue to prioritise the breeding programme going forward.
On the breeding front, the herd is gradually transforming into 100% Fleckvieh - cattle that either carry some influence or 100% Fleckvieh blood. They have set ambitious targets to improve the animals and the overall output as a long-term goal.
“There is a place for Fleckvieh in Ireland, particularly because so many farms are a one man/woman operation and they do not want to go into a separate labour unit; they may have fragmented land – an out-farm where they traditionally rear beef cattle.”
“It just makes sense that they would have continental cattle direct from their dairy herd rather than working with more inferior pure dairy genetics when it comes to the beef end.”
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