Browney Holstein Friesian herd – Thomas, Kathy and John Kearney & family

Ballybrowney, Rathcormac, Co. Cork.

An IHFA Cork Club herd profile 

 Farming as a partnership, Thomas and Kathy and their son John currently milk 202 pedigree registered Holstein Friesian cows on the family farm in north Cork. With five children, the other family members are Catherine, Michael, Ann Marie and Margaret, all of whom are qualified professionals, employed locally. With Catherine working as an intensive care nurse, on the nation’s team of heroic frontline workers, the Covid-19 pandemic is very close to home for the Kearney family. A former co-op monitor farm for seven years, the Kearney family farm is a highly efficient spring calving system, focusing on quality grazed grass to drive production of milk solids. Milk recording data from last year records 6,421kgs milk/cow, 490kgs milk solids, 4.10% fat, 3.53% protein with S.C.C. of 91. 

From a starting base of 26 cows over forty-four years ago, the trajectory in performance and output of the Browney herd has been on a constant upward curve. At the time of milk quota imposition in the early 1980’s the farm had a quota to produce 60,000 gallons annually (612,000kgs). Herd productivity last year recorded an output of 1.3 million kilos of milk – a doubling of output, with total milk solids volume output of over 102,000kgs. Stocking rate for the farm is 2.3 L.U./hectare. Meal feeding last year averaged 700kgs/cow.  

 Thomas describes the herd as a “commercial, home-bred herd which was graded up to pedigree status fourteen years ago.” Having been milk recorded every year since the 1980s and with a good level of breeding data built up, Thomas says that the IHFA Grade Up process was “very straight forward, with the majority of cows attaining PED status straight away due to the existing generations of records.” The longevity of the home-bred cow families ensured that the growth in cow numbers over the years was achieved organically from within and on a phased basis. Thomas comments “Pedigree status can be a bonus when we occasionally offer surplus stock for sale. It gives an independent assurance of the herd’s unique ancestry and performance.”                                                  

Browney Barna, with an EBI of €463, is the highest bull on EBI registered with IHFA in the past twelve months. He has been purchased for AI by Dovea Genetics. The quality of the Browney herd has been recognised as a valuable source for AI over many years now. The list of bulls in AI to date, includes Browney PSZ Station (FR2273) Browney PSZ Rathcormac (FR2384), Browney GIO RUU (YGR), Browney Tobereen, Browney Lisna. “A cow that is easily managed, does her job well with a high level of milk solids production and having a low overall level of maintenance annually” is how Thomas describes his ideal cow type to suit his farming system. Cows have to walk long distances with the furthest away paddock located 1.5 miles from the milking parlour. Robust cows with functionality and good feet and legs is of pillar importance to the efficiency and durability of the herd. Mature cows of 4th lactation or older make up 54% of the herd.

 Sire selection policy is to take a balanced approach, guided by EBI, with a strong focus on kilos of milk solids PTA to help lift overall volume higher. Having attained a very high fertility rating within the herd, Thomas states that he is satisfied with this level, and that emphasis on other traits is now a current assessment of overall herd priorities. 100% AI breeding is used across the herd, including on replacement heifers. Since 2011 all heifer calves born annually are genomically tested. 

 88% of the herd calved within a six-week period this year – a high achievement that is in keeping with a consistent trend of attaining key benchmarks identified for block-calving herds. Herd EBI is currently €194 with the crop of heifer calves born this year having an EBI rating of €279, on average. Prominent families include Daisy, Iris, Margaret, Annette, Eva, Zoe, Lily, Diane, Bride, Gemma, Hilda.

 A selection of cow family members includes;

Browney SJI Zoe 1013 VG85

  • Now in her 7th lactation demonstrating longevity and efficiency of performance.
  • 5th lactation yield of 8,531kgs milk, 597kgs milk solids, 3.47% fat, 3.53% protein.

Browney SOK Gemma 1028 VG86

  • Lifetime milk production average in five lactations of 6,500kgs milk, 670kgs milk solids 4.79% fat, 3.92% protein per lactation.

Browney OCP Gemma 1209 VG85

  • 3rd lactation yield of 7,862kgs milk, 578kgs milk solids, 3.84% fat, 3.51% protein.

Browney CZO Jodie 742 VG85

  • Tremendous fertility and longevity with a lifetime of ten lactations and regular calving intervals. 
  • 5th lactation yield 8,358kgs milk, 650kgs milk solids, 4.10% fat, 3.67% protein.

Her Daughter Browney SOK Jodie 874 VG85

  • 3rd lactation yield 7,259kgs milk, 545kgs milk solids, 3.85% fat, 3.67% protein

Browney UPH Jodie 893

  • 5th lactation yield 5,709kgs milk, 463kgs milk solids, 4.08% fat, 4.03% protein.

Browney ZPB Denise 1234 VG85

  • 3rd lactation yield 7,139kgs milk, 576kgs milk solids, 4.32% fat, 3.75% protein

Browney IRP Iris 1046

  • 5th lactation yield 7,206kgs milk, 578kgs milk solids, 4.24% fat, 3.78% protein

Browney UPH Daisy 868

  • 5th lactation yield 8,394kgs milk, 657kgs milk solids, 4.05% fat, 3.78% protein

Browney GYK Daisy 815

  • 4th lactation yield 9,208kgs milk, 729kgs milk solids, 4.50% fat, 3.4% protein.

Browney KXV Kylie 1037 (Daisy family)

  • 4th lactation yield 8,628kgs milk, 646kgs milk solids, 3.90% fat, 3.60% protein

Browney LWR Alice 1529

  • 2nd lactation yield 6,820kgs milk, 546kgs milk solids, 4.31% fat, 3.6% protein
  • EBI €340

Browney LWR Alice 1539

  • 2nd lactation yield 6,572kgs milk, 524kgs milk solids, 4.32% fat, 3.65% protein 

Browney ZPB Alannah 1230 VG85

  • Currently in her 5th lactation projected to 4.33% fat, 4.16% protein

Browney LHZ Kathy 1084

  • 4th lactation yield 8,159kgs milk, 626kgs milk solids, 3.90% fat, 3.78% protein

 Grassland management and performance is excellent. Grazed grass is recognised as the sacred cow ingredient of success for the milk-production system adopted. The quest to grow and utilise large volumes of grass is so successful that meal feeding per cow most years typically ranges between 650kgs to 750kgs. Members of PastureBase, the national web-based initiative to help stimulate improved grass yields countrywide, Thomas and John regularly conduct farm walks to measure and tabulate grass covers and growth rates. The net result is informed grassland and overall farm management decisions. Grass silage is the primary winter feed when cows are housed indoors. Being a member of the local Positive Horizon Discussion (PHD) group since its inception in the early 1990s has proven to be a valuable outlet for Thomas. He comments that the majority of members today were in fact involved from the very start which is a healthy reflection of the openness and togetherness of everyone involved.

 A farm profit monitor is conducted annually with the results generated used as an insightful analysis of the farm accounts with actions implemented to pursue further improvements. Thomas jokingly says that there is a logical reason why Ballybrowney Mountain is the name of his local townland! Named Sliabh Bhaile an Bhrúnaigh in Irish, the mountain extends to 239 acres in total and the Kearney farm lies within its midst. Thomas describes the farm and soil type as reclaimed heather land, with a lot of hard work invested in its transformation during the late 70s and early 80s. “It needs a bit of minding but it definitely has the ability to consistently grow large tonnages of grass. Like every farm there is a limit as to how far you can go in pushing the land, yielding to the constraints of nature’s balance. At the moment, our current number of circa 210 cows is our max in terms of overall numbers”. 

 Membership of the Cork Friesian Breeders Club has brought much enjoyment over the years. Competing in the Club’s Herds Competition in the Spring B category, the Browney herd has won various awards. In the past Thomas regularly sold bulls through the club’s Annual Pedigree Bull Sale in Bandon Mart. Thomas praises the social aspect of the club, stating that it is important to balance both educational and camaraderie aspects of meeting like-minded breeders. The family were delighted and thankful to the club for having been selected as a club field evening host this year.

(First published in 2020)

Thomas, John and Kathy Kearney of of Browney Herd
Browney BHZ Kathy, bull mother from the Browney Herd