Gerard and Nuala Finneran are farming in partnership with their son Micheal on a milking platform of 28 hectares in the village of Carrignavar on the north side of Cork city. They have as much land in out blocks that they use for silage, youngstock and for zero grazed grass.

The Finnerans are milking 100 cows and when the Irish Farmers Journal visited last week there were two left to calve, but Gerard is confident that they will have calved by the time he starts breeding earlier this week.

The farm grew 13 tonnes of grass last year and Gerard has incorporated clover into 30% of his farm with plans to increase this further this year.

All Gerard’s paddocks are nearly of equal size allowing for ease of management particularly at the moment where he is on a 21 day rotation offering the cows a different paddock a day.

After a difficult autumn/spring, Gerard is getting ready for another intense few weeks. Gerard said that breeding is a major part of dairy farming and takes a lot of effort and energy.

As intense as calving is, breeding is probably more intense.

A cow will calf whether you’re there or not but she won’t go in calf if you’re not there, he says.

The EBI of the herd is €245 with €75 for milk sub-index and €117 for fertility sub-index. This year’s maiden heifers have an EBI of €284 and Gerard is hoping that they will be at 350kg to 370kg at breeding, but he says he will be bulling them all then anyway, whether they are at target weight or not.

The herd has produced an average of 500kg to 520kg MS/cow over the last four to five years from just over a tonne of meal per cow.

The six-week calving rate is 80% and the calving interval is 371 days. The conception rate to first service is 61% for the cows and 92% for the heifers and the empty rate after 12 weeks of breeding is 11%.

These are solid figures and Gerard said that the key to his success is by doing the basics to the best of his ability year after year.


For the last number of years Gerard has been monitoring cow heats up to a month before the start of breeding. He inputs the data into his Herdwatch app on his phone and Gerard says that this is very helpful when he starts breeding as it will prompt him when a cow is due to come on heat again.

A week before he starts breeding all the cows that he hasn’t seen bulling are scanned by the local vet. This year, he only had to scan 13 cows. Six cows needed a CIDR while the remaining seven all got a shot of prostaglandin.

“There is three weeks lost by waiting to scan these cows, three weeks after I start breeding,” he says.

Gerard gives his cows a high spec fertility nut while the bulling heifers get a mineral bolus a few weeks before breeding.

When breeding does start crayons are the heat detection aid that Gerald finds the best for his cows. They all get the same colour at the start of breeding and once bred the colour is changed.

The cows are inseminated by AI technician Donal McCarthy, who has been doing the job on the Finneran farm for over 20 years.

Selection criteria

“In the past our selection criteria when picking bulls was predominantly on fertility and kilos of milk solids but in the last few years we’ve put more emphasis on picking bulls that are high for health and maintenance.

Any bull that is negative for health wouldn’t even be considered

“We want to use bulls with at least €100 for fertility, we want bulls with at least 35kg for solids and plus 0.2% for fat and plus 0.15% for protein.

“Any bull that is negative for health wouldn’t even be considered and we are using bulls with a maintenance figure of €12. My ideal cow would be a 580 kilo cow producing 580 kilos of milk solids calving every year in February,” he says.

As well as picking the bulls to use Gerard puts a lot of emphasis on picking the right cows to breed from.

With help from his Teagasc adviser Orlaith Quigley, Gerard looks through his annual dairy cow report on his ICBF profile and identifies his top performing cows over the last few years.

These cows will be getting a sexed semen straw while the bottom 30% to 40% of the herd will get a high Dairy Beef Index beef bull from the beginning.

Sire advice has been used to match up the appropriate bulls for each cow.

This process has served Gerard well having bred bulls such as Bruno and Buster which are in AI. Gerard plans to AI his cows for the first six weeks before leaving an Angus stock bull off to mop up the repeats.

Gerard has also signed up for the ICBF heterospermatic bull semen trial which he hopes will lead to even higher conception rate with his cows.

The two remaining cows that are to calve will be put on a strict fixed time AI programme once 50 days calved and Gerard says he is confident he will be able to pull these cows calving interval back at least three weeks for next year.

Sexed semen

Gerard plans to use a total of 50 sexed straws this year. All of his 20 maiden heifers will be getting a sexed straw with 30 of his highest EBI cows getting the remaining sexed straws. That’s providing they meet Gerard’s strict criteria.

“In order for one of my cows to be deemed fit for a sexed straw, they must have had no previous issue with calving or retained placenta, calved over 50 days, have been cycling regularly, and be superior in terms of their genetic potential. I also dig into the latest milk recording report and any cow that has a cell count issue or a cow that is well below the herd average is not chosen for a sexed straw,” Gerard says.

Maiden heifers

The maiden heifers have been out grazing for the last month on an outside block but Gerard plans on bringing them back to the home block for the start of breeding.

Once a heifer is bred, Gerard takes it back to an outside block where an Angus bull is waiting for them if they repeat.

As Gerard is already stocked very high on the milking platform and with grass not yet exploding out of the ground Gerard said that he might breed the heifers for one week and give a shot of prostaglandin to the remaining heifers to bring them into heat.

Keep it as simple as possible

The key message on breeding from this high performing farm is to keep it as simple as possible as Gerard says there’s enough things to be done without having to make things harder for yourself.

Cows are currently producing 2.04 kg MS per cow from 3.42% protein and 4.35% butterfat and are being fed 4.5kg of meal per day and Gerard says they will stay on this until grass growth improves before going to 3kg/day.

  • Milking 100 cows on a milking platform of 28ha.
  • Cows producing 500 to 520kg MS/cow/year.
  • Pre breeding scan on problem cows or cows not seen in heat saves you time and money.
  • Picking the right cows to breed from is as important as picking the right sires.
  • Doing the basics right around breeding is fundamental to good fertility results.