Edward Dudley returns with the first instalment in a new series chronicling all the action from calving time at his pedigree dairy herd.
My name is Edward Dudley and I’m the third generation of my family to farm at Kilsunny near the rural village of Dovea, six miles from Thurles, in the centre of County Tipperary. Alongside my parents Trevor & Louise, we operate a 100% pedigree dairy and beef herd on 103 acres of grassland with another 48 acres of rented ground nearby. We breed Hereford, Aberdeen-Angus, Shorthorn and British Friesian cattle that are registered under the Kilsunny prefix and we have been breeding pedigree cattle here for over fifty years.
In addition to my farming endeavours, I’m a freelance cattle photographer and journalist and I’ve been lucky enough to work for some of the biggest and best-known farming news outlets and cattle societies in the country.
At Kilsunny, both the dairy and beef herds are split between autumn and spring calving. The dairy herd runs at 30:70 in favour of spring calving whilst the beef herd is almost at 50:50. Although there is a lot more labour involved in all year round calving, we find there are a lot of advantages from a split calving system too.
The workload is more evenly spread throughout the year, calf accommodation never comes under too much pressure, cash flow is more regular with a milk cheque for each of the twelve months and we always have a share of stronger calves and bulls ready to sell regardless of the time of year.
Kilsunny Judy 161 and her calf Kilsunny Hylke 18
The bulk of the dairy herd still calves down between January and April. We started our 2017 calving season with a bang with two calves born in the early hours of January 1st. Another two followed the next day and we have six dairy cows calved since the beginning of the year so far. All six cows and calves are doing very well and we ended up with five bulls and a heifer. Our herd is exclusively pedigree, even on the male side, so we are one of the few dairy herds that have no preference over a bull or a heifer calf. In fact, we sell all of the bulls for further breeding at 12-15 months so they actually realise their full monetary value far quicker than their female counterparts who only enter milk production at 24 months.
Kilsunny Ruby 112 and her baby heifer calf
Our first calf of 2017 was a lovely pedigree Friesian bull calf, Kilsunny Hylke 18 sired by the renowned protein improver Tittenser Hylke (TIH). He is out of a VG third calved cow from our Judy family who did 3.62% protein as a heifer. His grand-dam is due her 9th calf in March so he’s from a really great cow family here. He looks to us to have the makings of a super bull so hopefully he’ll be one to watch next spring as a potential entry for one of the big Society bull sales. The other bull calves were sired by CNZ, YSK with another two coming from a homebred grandson of BFU and they are all showing decent promise too.
A newborn baby calf at Kilsunny
On the heifer side of things, we got a new addition to our Ruby family. We were pretty pleased with that as the Rubys are riding high at the moment having just won three big prizes at the 2016 Irish Pure Friesian Club awards. The Ruby family performs exceptionally well for us each season so it’s never a bad thing to have some new blood coming along from that particular cow line.
It’s impossible to tell at this early stage how a young female will ultimately perform in the milking parlour but to get well-bred youngstock from your best cow family on the ground is a decent starting point. The newborn heifer calf is out of a Dovea Capan 76 (CPA) daughter, Kilsunny Ruby 112. CPA is another giant of the pedigree British Friesian world and has had a very positive influence on our herd over the last decade or so.
Each of the baby calves are reared in individual calf pens and are bucket fed with fresh milk twice daily. Bucket feeding is a little bit time consuming but we find it a more effective way of monitoring daily intake, particularly with slow drinking or timid calves. The oldest of the 2017 crop have just turned one week old and they’ll be moved into larger loose straw pens in the coming week. The calves will also be grouped together in batches of three or four depending on age and size from next week too. The autumn born calves are in a separate calf shed and they will be weaned off milk shortly so we can properly focus on rearing the new arrivals instead.
This week, we’ve another four or five dairy cows coming close to calving so stay tuned for all the news from that next Monday.