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Matt O'Kee e
reports from the Pure Friesian
Open Day on the Healy farm in north Kilkenny.
The Healy family farms on heavy land, 600 feet above sea
level on the Castlecomer Plateau in north Kilkenny. While
there are a few fields with free-draining shale underneath,
most of the farm at Firoda is almost impermeable with
intensive drainage systems installed over generations and
renewed regularly as Peadar Healy explains: "We put in
new drains almost as often as farmers on dry land would
reseed their paddocks. Our advantage in the occasional
dry summer is that these soils will still pump out grass
when other places are burning up. But you can't afford to
damage the sod. If it's really wet then the stock have to
be kept off. If we don't mind it the rushes and thistles will
move in quickly. The few dry paddocks are our saviour in a
wet time. The really wet years of 2008, 2009 and 2012 will
never be forgotten in Firoda."
Planned breeding strategy
Calving on the Healy farm starts in early January:
"We always calved early, since we were in Winter milk
production. Getting out of that was one of our best moves.
This year we calved down one hundred and ninety cows
and then sold off a lot of them as milkers so we now have
one hundred and eleven milking in mid-July. We have
great customers for the surplus stock with people dealing
with us for over thirty years. At this stage our stock is
being milked all over the country."
Now known in this country as the Irish Pure Friesian,
the Firoda herd has been built up over generations from
British Friesian bloodlines sourced originally from Dovea
AI: "There is a little bit of Holstein here and there, if the
need arises to improve size or if a cow gets too heavy.
The main aim is to keep them `milky' to avoid any cow
looking after herself too well. The milk index is the
most important figure we look at when choosing British
Friesian sires."
Prompted as to whether breeding accounts for the high
milk solids in the Firoda herd, Peadar Healy had this
to say: "Grass management is probably as important as
breeding. They go hand in hand. As regards breeding, we
are milk recording for a lot of years and that has given us
a big advantage. We know the bloodlines to follow and
breed from when you have the production figures in front
of you. My father started milk recording when he first
started farming here 60 years ago."
A heavy work schedule
The day begins early in Firoda: "It's busy, especially in the
calving season. I do the night calving and Eamon, (Peadar
and Maureen's son), is out of the bed before five in the
morning during that time. There are just the two of us,
Eamon and myself. Maureen does most of the paperwork,
High solids on
heavy land
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