Cornskye Herd of Pedigree Registered Holstein Friesians forges ahead with the father and daughter partnership of Tom & Haesel Dickson.

Within the Holstein Friesian community Haesel and Tom are recognised as a double-act with both keen onlookers and participants at various club activities and open days and attending various Breeders sales. Haesel is ever-committed to the quality of breeding at Cornskye and is heavily involved on a daily basis so much so that when I made the initial phone call about compiling a profile, the conversation took place while completing a milk recording and her managing to combine three tasks with ease; milking the cows and calling out the various ID numbers to the recorder!

Haesel says herself that she “loved working with cows, always”, as a small child she used to sit on the steps of the milking parlour and watch her Dad and uncle John milking the cows. As soon as she had grown tall enough to reach the cows she learnt how to milk and always helped out at weekends and during holidays from school. Ballinakill Farm, Moate, Co. Westmeath is home to the Cornskye Pedigree herd of 140 Holstein Friesian cows, breeding stock and youngstock. The farm extends to 260 acres in total. Soil type is heavy clay that retains water easily and decreases in quality where it meets the creeping bogland on the periphery of Moate, not far from the border with County Offaly. The Dickson family of Tom and Flo and children Haesel, Caroline, Thomas, Janine, Laura & Fiona are the current generation to continue the family homestead in the local area with the family history going back to at least pre-Famine times.

This is a tremendous herd of Holstein Friesians with top-class management and attention to detail, all on the strength of family labour. The dedication to the on-going task and standards achieved is most admirable. The herd was established as Pedigree in 1984, one of the first steps to continuously make improvements and progress. From a mixed farming background, the dairy herd has evolved to take centre stage over the years. A “milkier” type of cow was the overriding goal having started milking Shorthorns initially before switching to Friesians. The modern dairying climate now dictates a more expanded approach to breeding however the commitment to surpass boundaries continues. The herd has grown from 70 cows in the late 1990’s to a herd of 140 Pedigree Registered Holstein Friesian cows today, with all expansion having been achieved through breeding from within.

Haesel describes the desirable type of cow for the Cornskye herd as; “Having plenty of dairy character and strength, a good deep body with correct legs and feet and a well-attached udder, defined ligament and good teat placement. Rump angle is a very important consideration in breeding policy.  These functional traits are so important to allow for longevity to be expressed and for cows to reach maturity in terms of both production and age. Cows should have the ability to produce 1,600 gallons per lactation, high fat and protein kgs. We like to maintain a good volume of production in the herd because a cow has to pay for herself.”

All heifer calves are reared as replacements with a number of calved heifers offered for sale every year. A select number of bulls for breeding are reared every year owing to strong demand from a steady customer base. Haesel says that the breeding policy and trait emphasis is strongly defined by the demands of customers. Herd health status seems to be of increased consideration in the current times. “Experience has shown that good uddered heifers with correct functional traits will always be in demand regardless of the buyer’s farming system”.

IHFA Classification is an important tool used towards herds management with two inspections carried out per year. Haesel says that she looks forward to the inspection each time as “It is an unbiased assessment of the animals, with respect to the National standard. I can clearly recall our first cow to attain Excellent (EX), she was a Mapelwood Ideal daughter from a Barold Rock Seal. There are currently 80 VG/EX animals in the herd including Cornskye Patricia EX94, by Juror Ford. We are happy for our heifers to score GP and look forward to them developing into VG standard down the line in the hope that cows will go on to attain Excellent (EX) as mature cows capturing health longevity.”

The herd contains a mix of home-bred families who were graded up when the herd was established and have gone on to distinguish themselves along with select purchases along the way from some of the most recognisable families. Depth of breeding and overall quality are a given, the list includes Vera, Eirene, (Clonswords), Duchess, (Lisduff), Floss (Elmgrove), Sugar, Patricia, (Bunacloy) Mary (Creva), Docrac (Troycastle). Lemrac Jabot Princelle, purchased from Noel Moore’s herd proved to be a lucky addition in establishing a solid line of breeding in the Cornskye herd. The Egremont family, also developed in the Lemrac herd has also bred very well.

The Beauty, Samantha, Amy and Bountiful families are among the most stand-out home-bred families, some having up to twelve generations of Cornskye breeding. However it was the purchase of two ET full sisters from the Beatrice family at a Galwaybay sale that have proven to be a most potent addition to Cornskye. Both heifers were by To-Mar Blackstar, from an EX92 Deslacs Midnight tracing back to the founding family established by the Erie herd in Wales. Tom comments that one heifer was a year older than the other, “Both were eye-catching when I inspected them prior to the sale and the fact that they were by Blackstar was a benefit as he was building a reputation within the breed around this time. Both were very lucky for us, they went on to classify Excellent (EX) and bred very well over the years, always producing quality daughters almost irrespective of the sire.” Numerically the Beatrice family is the largest in the herd with over 280 family members registered  so far. Some ET work was carried out in the early days though the success of the family is really down to natural breeding, and transmitting so consistantly.   The use of E.T. back then was an avenue to expand in cow numbers without buying-in, which would have brought with it the inherent risk of brucellosis outbreak.  Luke proved a magic cross on the Blackstar daughters, and these daughters were then crossed to Fatal which proved a tremendous success. For many years the family enjoyed success in the West Midlands Club herds competition and Brother Gerard Cahill was among the many admirers, keen to capture the quality of these cows by taking good photographs.

Haesel recounts how all the family were involved in the West Midlands YMA when they would each get a calf at the start of the year and have great fun in taking part at shows locally. “Many a Summer’s evening was spent walking calves and preparation to ensure calves looked their best on show day. We regularly exhibited at Athlone, Mullingar and  Tullamore to name a few and it was very sociable, meeting other families and friends taking part for a bit of fun and entertainment. Many members of the club played a big part in encouraging us as youngsters at that time including Brother Gerard, John Gately and Bobby Franks, IHFA field officer.”

Milk is produced all-year-round as manufacturing milk except for four months of the year when liquid contract comes into effect. In 2014 the herd averaged 7,316kgs of Milk, 4.94% Fat, 3.30% Protein equating to 604 kgs Milk Solids per cow. A large proportion of the herd is made up of cows on 4th parity or older, highlighting longevity, fertility and efficiency of production as hallmarks.Lord Lily, Ford, Shottle, Lancelot,  Oman and a stock bull called Lumville Tornado (Talent x EX Lord Lily) bred very well in the herd in the past. These bulls bred very consistantly, siring females who developed into great mature cows.  Among the younger cows to stand out currently are daughters of Jardin, Frontrunner and Jerudo. We have some nice heifer calves by Wyman, Twist and Radney Levi.

Animal comfort and welfare are a priority at Cornskye where the cows are provided with the best possible surroundings in which to express the inherent good genetics. As part of her agriculture education, Haesel spent some time on a high-output dairy herd in Wisconsin USA. On this family-run farm she milked cows producing over 2,000 gallons per lactation, the efficiency of these cows leaving a lasting impression. After returning home to farm full-time, major development for the sheds was planned, with a steady amount of construction work undertaken every year since. Now there is optimal facilities for both man and beast to help streamline farm management. The foresight in this continual development over the years is that all day-to-day work can  be carried out by family labour with casual help brought in at busy times.  The system in place could be described as simplified, with no diet feeding at all. “The focus is on making excellent quality grass silage which is the staple part of the Winter diet. Coarse ration is fed instead of nuts and in our experience this has brought many positive benefits over the years. Cows are fed individually in the parlour depending on yield and on grass availability/grazing conditions. 1.5 tonne of meal per cow was fed in 2015. The harvesting of round bale silage in times of excess grass availability plays a key part in herd management. These bales will then be fed to the cows when grass is in tight supply.”

Haesel and Tom combine to be a forceful team in letting the cream of Cornskye breeding rise to the top.

(First published 2016)