The current state of Irish dairy farming owes much to the leaders of the Irish Holstein Friesian Association, who have been rightly commended at the IHFA’s 50th anniversary celebrations this year.
Leaders like Michael Buckley of Ballinahina, Cork, who was described at last week’s anniversary gala ball as having adopted the Yes We Can motto at least 30 years before Barack Obama — so determined was he to overcome the barriers holding back Irish dairy farming.
Buckley was one of the earliest movers in bottling milk for direct sale, importing the best breeding stock, helping to set up the Irish Friesian Breeders Association, expanding the dairy artificial insemination industry, computerising pedigree records — and perhaps most important, leading the establishment of the milk recording services which now underpin management of our best dairy farms.
He worked closely with Department of Agriculture Chief Livestock Inspector Dr Austin Mescall, another major influence on Irish livestock breeding, due in part to his overseeing of imports of the best breeding animals.
The 3,700 members who own the IHFA have been celebrating their founders and leaders in a way that reveals what is best about Irish dairy farming, recalling their passion for milk production and the great skills, judgement and ambition which can be found in all of the country’s top dairy farmers.
And these attributes become potent forces for progress when gathered in organisations such as the IHFA, ever since 1927, when the first Irish Holstein Friesian Club was formed under the auspices of the British Friesian Cattle Society.
The Irish Friesian Breeders Association followed in 1965, and the IHFA in 1991.
All took seriously their responsibility for the validity and upkeep of the herdbook of pedigree Holstein Friesian cattle, and for giving direction to the development and promotion of the most popular and most successful cattle breed in Ireland.
Friendship as well as industry have been the bases of their activities.
Members have enjoyed coming together in the 15 clubs which make up the IHFA, an important social outlet for them, which thrived thanks to their shared interests in cattle breeding and milk production.
In other words, it has been a forerunner of the discussion groups which are now seen as the best way of bringing new ideas and experiences onto Irish farms in order to improve their efficiency.
The IHFA members have also vied with each other to produce the best looking cows at the shows.
Or more recently, to have the highest herd Economic Breeding Index, since they adopted the modern advances in genetic science.
And the winners from all the progress achieved by pedigree breeders have been all the 17,000 Irish milk producers, to whom the genetic progress has filtered down.
And in turn, everyone involved in the growing success and expansion of our dairy industry has gained along the way.
IHFA leaders have successfully come through major changes, such as their break away from the Holstein UK organisation.
There was also the establishment of the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation which now houses the decades of pedigree Holstein Friesian ancestry and performance data — not to mention the constant ups and down of farming and the volatile business of producing and selling milk.
No wonder they are viewed from overseas as one of the Irish success stories, with World Holstein Friesian Federation Secretary General David Hewitt last week acknowledging the high regard worldwide for IHFA’s development of integrated services for the continued progress of their breed.
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