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November 2013: Milking 25,000 cows … and breeding dairy bulls in NI

Dairy herds across the UK are gradually getting larger, and herds of 1,000 head are no longer a rarity. But operating a herd of 25,000 is beyond the imagination of most dairymen, yet is precisely how one former Northern Ireland dairy farmer has spent the last six years.

Dennis Torrens will speak at Holstein Northern Ireland’s open meeting next week and will recount the experiences of his role as assistant manager in a herd of 25,000 milking cows in Saudi Arabia. This role follows time spent on his home farm in the north west of the Province, before becoming herdsman at County Antrim’s Greenmount College.

Dennis has recently returned to the fold as a genetic consultant for Cogent, and is working throughout the Province to help farmers breed better cows. Using the world’s most popular mating program, the World Wide Mating Service (WMS), he is helping producers tailor their breeding policies specifically to their own needs.

Some of the bulls he recommends will come from the Cogent stud which now includes bulls from the company’s international partner, World Wide Sires, as well as many that are bred in the UK.

Owain Harries who is Cogent’s dairy sire analyst will attend the same meeting, and will provide detail on how sires are selected for Cogent, with the potential to enter AI.

This doesn’t always have to mean scouring farms across the world for the most elusive bloodlines, but can mean sourcing genes from much closer to home.

“We have plenty of cow families in the UK which have formed the basis of much of our breeding and they will continue to do so for years to come,” says Owain. “This includes cow families here in the Province which are on a par with the best in the world.”

No bull has demonstrated this better than the world-renowned Ballycairn Tiergan who was bred in Coleraine. But others are following hard on his heels, and include some of the latest genomic names.

“Relough Dolmio from the Danna cow family is one that stands out for his daughters’ health, fertility and their milk components, and is part of Cogent’s latest genomic catalogue,” he says. “And then there’s Laurelhill Regent, an outcross sire from the well-known Fay family, which has continued to impress with its production and fertility and again bring the high components demanded in the Province.”Holstein NI has opened this meeting, which visitors as well as members are welcome to attend. It takes place at 8pm on Wednesday 27 November at the Ballinderry Inn, Moira. For more information, please contact Julie Wallace on 07845 919597

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