Slieverue Registered herd, Sean and Emer Begley & family, Gurrane, Dingle, Co. Kerry

Having achieved maximum herd size, the emphasis is now quality and efficiency

Improved efficiencies driving herd output while conscious of the environment

An IHFA Kerry Club herd profile

The historical west Kerry port town and bustling tourist hotspot of Dingle is the local landmark setting for the Slieverue herd of Sean Begley and family, selected as hosts by the Kerry Friesian Breeders Club for its annual stock judging and field evening. With the help of his parents, Sean farms with his wife, Emer, and their three children – Aoife, Donncha and Grace. Their 100-cow pedigree registered herd plus followers is managed entirely by family labour.  

 Total output for the herd last year was 1.06 million kilos milk and 73,280kgs milk solids. The milk production system is an all spring calving herd, making maximum use of grazed grass and top-quality grass silage over the winter. Overall stocking rate is 1 cow/acre with concentrate feeding of 2 tonne/cow.  To give a sense of perspective regards location, the farm is three miles west of Dingle, edging close to Ireland’s most westerly periphery. This area rich in natural beauty and unspoilt countryside basks in the welcoming sunny. However, open exposure to prevailing weather conditions, inshore from the Atlantic, can frequently create a volatile and harsh backdrop. The performance and continued prosperity of the Slieverue pedigree registered herd is therefore all the more impressive.

The co-op performance report for last year records average production per cow of 8,240 litres, 637kgs milk solids, 3.98% fat, 3.53% protein. The yield and performance of the mature cows in the herd with good longevity is a strong point. The 34 cows of 4th lactation and older represent 38% of the overall herd. As a group, their mature yield recorded a production performance per cow of 9,694kgs milk, 695kgs milk solids, 3.76% fat, 3.40% protein. This equates to a computed milk value rating of €3,134 per cow in the annual milk recording report.

 Over the past fifteen years or so, the direction for the herd in terms of milk production system and breeding emphasis has travelled from a figurative crossroads. Previously, the system employed on the family farm was a lot different, mirroring a limited input / limited output system. Sean explains, “Initially, I suppose it could be described as a low-risk approach. Meal feeding was close to 0.5 tonne a cow annually and overall output was pro-rata. Quite honestly, there was little thought given to our cow type. The herd was non-registered and even though we always used AI breeding, pre-planned mating decisions was often hit-and-miss. Yes, it was low cost production overall, but my experience was that there was very little leftover for farm re-investment. 

 “There are many farmers out there who feel this system is the best approach for them. I fully respect this and take my hat off to every dairy farmer out there working hard. In my circumstances, my individual thought process was motivated by the fact that Emer and I were soon to be married. How best can I provide for our family into the future? How do I generate the capital to leverage and repay potential borrowings to fund overall farm development, growing herd size and improving on-farm facilities? At the very least I owed it to myself to have an open mind and delve into alternative possibilities. 

 “In this sense the local Kerry club was an invaluable outlet for information and as a reservoir steeped in experienced perspectives. Local AI breeding advisor and active participant in the club, William Horgan, helped broaden my outlook. One year, Paul Hannan, Lisnalty herd, was the judge of the club Herds Competition. Spending time listening to Paul and asking him questions while he was here on the farm really helped me and I have to say he provided a positive injection of both encouragement and reassurance.  

 In line with this changed direction of herd policy the emphasis on cow type was re-imagined. The herd was graded up with IHFA, attaining pedigree status from within the accumulated depth of breeding records. Numerous families have excelled in the herd and the top performing cows in the herd can be traced back to original cow families who have been developed over time. IHFA herd classification scoring has been an integral help in developing these cow families, giving recognition to longevity, durability, efficient production and informing tailored herd breeding emphasis in order to capitalise on the herd’s innate richness as a valuable breeding resource. In total there are now 40 cows scored to VG/EX standard of IHFA Classification in the herd including seven cows scored EX (Excellent).

 Currently the herd consists of 19 cows who are 6th lactation or older, 16 of whom are scored to VG/EX standard of conformation with a further two cows scored to GP (Good Plus) standard. This strong linkage bolsters the close association between functional cow conformation and overall lifetime productive longevity. Slieverue Grainne Maryloo VG88 now in her tenth lactation and going strong, is the oldest cow in the herd. Her functionality and durability to last is captured with conformation composite scores of VG89 Mammary, VG86 Feet & Legs, VG86 Rump structure. In her previous two lactations she has produced over 8,500kgs milk, with 743 kgs and 720kgs milk solids respectively and is projected to produce over 9,200kgs milk, 729 kgs milk solids in this her 10th lactation.

 Slieverue Grainne Aoife VG88 currently in her 9th lactation is another exemplary cow in the herd for functionality and durability with composite scores of VG86 Mammary, VG88 Feet & Legs, VG85 Rump. Of note, she is bred from an EX91 3E dam with lifetime longevity of ten lactations and VG85 grand dam with a lifetime of seven lactations.  

 One such cow family with tremendous success in the herd is undoubtedly the Olivia family. The lineage of this family traces back to two sisters bred from Slieverue Olivia Ann (BSR), a seven-lactation cow of very high deviations who in her 3rd lactation in 2001 recorded 4.60% fat and 4.53% protein. The unbridled success of her daughter Slieverue Olivia Ann EX is such that she rightly deserves special mention.

 Slieverue Olivia Ann 2 EX90 2E DMD

  •       An outstanding member of the herd, a true breeding matriarch in every sense with superlative production performance.
  •       Total lifetime production in a lifetime of nine lactations 93,048kgs milk, 7,356kgs milk solids, 3.92% fat, 3.99% protein.
  •       Her sole maternal sister Slieverue Olivia Eden EX91 3E with a lifetime longevity of seven lactations recorded 8,633kgs milk, 682kgs milk solids, 4.05% fat, 3.86% protein per lactation.
  •       Received IHFA Diamond Award status for attaining landmark achievement of 3,000kgs protein lifetime and classified EX (Excellent) on conformation standard.
  •       She has bred four daughters (sired by four different sires) and has consistently transmitted her qualities to her progeny;

 Slieverue Olivia 10 EX91 2E – lifetime longevity of seven lactations

  •       Lifetime production performance of 10,359kgs milk, 563kgs milk solids, 3.84% fat, 3.68% protein per lactation

Slieverue Olivia Duplex EX90 2E – currently in her sixth lactation

  •       4th lactation yield 9,303kgs milk, 715kgs milk solids, 3.97% fat, 3.71% protein

Slieverue Olivia PM EX90 2E – currently in her fifth lactation

  •       Three consecutive lactations over 9,000kgs milk with a projected 5th lactation yield of 9,500kgs milk, 732kgs milk solids.

Slieverue Olivia Ann 3 VG88 GMD – lifetime longevity of ten lactations

  •       IHFA Gold award recipient with a total lifetime milk production of 90,597kgs milk, 6,378kgs milk solids, 3.53% fat, 3.51% protein.
  •       Second generation 3,000kgs protein production cow – a remarkable feat!

Her grand-daughters include

  • Slieverue Olivia Ann 9 EX92 3E (6 lactations)

Lifetime production 62,300kgs milk, 4,822kgs milk solids, 4.10% fat, 3.64% protein

  • Slieverue Olivia Sam EX91 3E (8 lactations)

Completed two lactations over 10,000kgs milk with seven of her eight lactations over 8,000kgs milk

  • Slieverue Olivia 14 EX 90 2E 

In nine lactations she has averaged 8,720kgs milk, 657kgs milk solids, 3.78% fat, 3.76% protein

  • Slieverue Olivia Spock EX92 5E 

In eight lactations she has averaged 9,055kgs milk, 632kgs milk solids, 3.47% fat, 3.50% protein

  • Slieverue Olivia Ann 11 EX90

Seven completed lactations with a 4th lactation yield of 9,239kgs milk, 699kgs milk solids, 3.92% fat, 3.65% protein

  • Slieverue Olivia Ann 5 VG88

Nine completed lactations with consistently good fertility. Calved in as a heifer February 15th 2005 and calved in on her 9thFebruary 24th 2013

  • Slieverue Olivia Sarah VG88

Five completed lactations with 5th lactation yield of 9,083kgs milk, 623kgs milk solids, 3.46% fat, 3.48% protein 

In total there are currently 63 members of this highly prolific family in the herd, a salutary achievement in the context of all-natural breeding, without the use of flushing and embryo transfer. This is testament to the strength of Holstein Friesian breeding which exists within so many herds nationwide. 

An overview of high-performance cows from the prolific Slieverue families includes;

Slieverue Gayel Sam VG88

  •       4th lactation recorded production 7,978kgs milk, 612kgs milk solids, 3.92% fat, 3.74% protein.
  •       Good fertility, five calves in five years, with a calving interval average of – 8 days per year.
  •       Bred from an EX91 dam with longevity of eight lactations and VG88 grand dam with longevity of eight lactations.

Slieverue Olivia Twist VG87

  •       Four consecutive lactations in excess of 8,500kgs milk produced.
  •       Now in her 6th lactation with lifetime performance of 9,035kgs milk, 682kgs milk solids, 4.03% fat, 3.52% protein production per lactation.
  •       Bred from an EX90 dam with longevity of nine lactations and EX91 grand dam with longevity of seven lactations.

Slieverue Olivia Twist 2 VG88

  •       4th lactation yield 10,201kgs milk, 729kgs milk solids, 3.71% fat, 3.44% protein.
  •       She completes four generations of VG/EX dams

Slieverue Olivia Ann 8 EX90 2E

  •       5th lactation yield 9,465kgs milk, 744kgs milk solids, 4.31% fat, 3.55% protein.
  •       Lifetime longevity of seven lactations
  •       Her VG85 daughter completes five generations of VG/EX dams

Slieverue GZG Ann VG86

  •       3rd lactation yield 8,075kgs milk, 616kgs milk solids, 3.83% fat, 3.80% protein

Slieverue Olivia Emer 4 VG86

  •       3rd lactation yield 8,624kgs milk, 686kgs milk solids, 4.15% fat, 3.81% protein
  •       Now in her 6th lactation

Slieverue Olivia ZTG VG86

  •       3rd lactation yield 8,411kgs milk, 660kgs milk solids, 4.10% fat, 3.74% protein

Slieverue Olivia Eimear VG85

  •       Now in her 5th lactation with a 4th lactation yield of 8,925kgs milk, 664kgs milk solids, 3.94% fat, 3.50% protein.

Slieverue Olivia Eimear 4 VG87

  •       2nd lactation yield 6,670kgs milk, 526kgs milk solids, 4.09% fat, 3.79% protein

Slieverue Marie Ann 4 VG85

  •       Lifetime longevity of eight lactations, she has recorded production performance of 5,908kgs milk, 468kgs milk solids, 4.23% fat, 3.70% protein per lactation.

Slieverue Orla Jane VG85

  •       6th lactation yield 6,554kgs milk, 508kgs milk solids, 4.02% fat, 3.73% protein

Slieverue Marie Ann 6 VG86

  •       8th lactation yield 9,156kgs milk, 706kgs milk solids, 3.99% fat, 3.72% protein

Her daughter Slieverue Marie Ann 7 VG89

  •       5th lactation yield 9,177kgs milk, 713kgs milk solids, 4.27% fat, 3.50% protein
  •       3rd generation VG/EX

Slieverue Orla June 7 VG87

  •       6th lactation yield 10,169kgs milk, 709kgs milk solids, 3.56% fat, 3.41% protein

Slieverue Olivia Ann AGH GP82

  •       1st lactation yield 7,682kgs milk, 545kgs milk solids, 3.38% fat, 3.80% protein

Slieverue Grainne ZMO GP82

  •       1st lactation yield 7,784kgs milk, 608kgs milk solids, 4.12% fat, 3.68% protein
  •       Impressive performance yielding over 600kgs milk solids as a heifer

Slieverue St Louis Grainne G79

  •       1st lactation yield 8,742kgs milk, 627kgs milk solids, 3.65% fat, 3.52% protein
  •       Impressive performance yielding over 600kgs milk solids as a heifer

Slieverue Marie Ann Twist G76

  •       2nd lactation yield 8,943kgs milk. 663kgs milk solids, 3.90% fat, 3.51% protein
  •       Her daughter sired by Future calved-in this year and is projected to yield 6,454kgs milk, 522kgs milk solids, 4.32% fat, 3.77% protein

Slieverue Justice Orla 4 VG88

  •       Three consecutive lactations yielding over 720kgs milk solids
  •       Now in her 8th lactation with six consecutive lactations in excess of 8,500kgs milk production/lactation and consistently regular annual calving intervals.

Slieverue Grainne Maryloo VG88

  •       8th lactation production 9,727kgs milk, 743kgs milk solids, 4.22% fat, 3.41% protein.
  •       In nine completed lactations to date she has averaged 7,956kgs milk, 628kgs milk solids, 4.30% fat, 3.58% protein per lactation.

Slieverue Grainne Oman VG87

  •       She has produced over 710kgs milk solids per lactation, in six consecutive lactations.
  •       Currently in her 8th lactation with a 7th lactation yield of 10,877kgs milk, 825kgs milk solids, 3.94% fat, 3.65% protein

Slieverue Grainne 19 VG86 GLD

  •       IHFA Gold award recipient for attaining 3,000kgs protein. Total lifetime longevity of thirteen lactations within fourteen years with total production of 90,800kgs milk, 6,240kgs milk solids.

Dingle, or Daingean Uí Chúis in the An Ghaeltacht vernacular, is one of Ireland’s premier tourist destinations. Its status as a vibrant commerce hub is long established though the nature of this commerce has certainly evolved over time. In previous centuries, such was the import/export flow of trade in popular items such as wine and cattle hides, among others, that Dingle port was a busier port than the city port of Limerick. Nowadays, of course, tourism almost singularly underpins the local economy. The town’s popularity for attracting visitors near and far, year-in and year-out is almost legendary. A consequence of this is a heightened consciousness of environmental sensitivity something which the local farming community and the Begley family is all too aware of. Sean recently took the initiative to adapt the farm layout such that walking the herd of cows on the Council roads has now become a thing of the past.  

 “For the past couple of years, I have been using the World Wide Sires mating programme”, explains Sean. “The results so far are very positive. The concept is appealing and the principals involved are well-matched with my objectives for the herd. The inbreeding guard gives reassurance and I have to say that the heifers on the ground are certainly very uniform”. 

With total herd size close to 100 cows Sean feels that the farm overall has reached its zenith. He explains “Further expansion or scaling-up is not on the radar whatsoever. From where I’m at I don’t see a benefit. Access to affordable and suitable grazing blocks in this surrounding area close to Dingle is rare. Secondly, any additional cow numbers would inevitably require additional labour to be brought in, something which I’m not comfortable with. Thirdly, why expand just for expansion sake? My outlook is to manage what I have and maybe do it a little better year after year, lifting overall yield of milk solids across the board while maintaining good herd fertility and health and of course progressing in grassland management. With this approach maybe a herd of 100 cows done well can generate as much income as say a herd of 150 cows.”

Sean Begley of the Slieverue herd with children Aoife, Donncha and Grace
The Begley children watching the Slieverue herd at grass