Lyons Dairy Herd

The UCD Lyons Farm has a herd of 200 dairy cows that is split into two main herds. The herd-1 is a split calving herd of 140 cows, that comprises of 80 spring calving cows and 60 autumn calving cows. This herd supports new and existing research programmes in dairy production including genetics, nutrition and herd health management.

The herd-2 is a Production Systems Research herd comprising of 60 spring calving cows that aims to investigate the feasibility of a high input/output spring calving milk production system for farmers on a fixed land bank.

Dairy Research Projects

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The abolition of the European milk quota system in 2015 paves the way to increase cow numbers and milk output. However, in many cases in Ireland, a limiting factor to expansion on these dairy farms is the availability of land around the milking platform (MP). Indeed, profit monitor data for spring milk producers (Ramsbottom 2016, per comms) indicates that the average MP is 43ha and stocking rate on the MP is 2.54 cows/ha (2.2 cows/ha whole farm).

In other parts of the country, farm fragmentation is the main issue. A recent Nuffield report (O’Donnell, 2014) highlighted that the average farm in Ireland consists of 3.5 land parcels and a survey conducted with Tipperary Co-op suppliers in 2016 indicated that for every hectare farmers have on the MP, they have another 0.6/0.7 ha away from the MP (Mullane 2016, per comms).

Given the significant costs associated with expansion and the fact that many farmers are operating on a land-bank that is limiting the expansion of their business, a higher input – higher output spring calving grazing system may prove to be attractive. Such a system might facilitate the successful expansion of the farm business without the need to buy or rent extra land, to buy stock, to acquire extra labour or to provide extra cow facilities.

The main aim of the Systems Herd research at UCD Lyons Farm is to evaluate the feasibility (including profitability) of a higher input/output grazing system within such a limited land holding scenario. The focus in such a system is on maximising milk/milk solids output from the existing land holding which involves high output from individual cows and high stocking rates on the MP. This will occur most efficiently through maximising the use of grazed grass/home grown forage in the system and the strategic use of supplementation thereafter.

Targets for the Systems Research Herd

The Systems Research Herd at Lyons comprises of 60 high EBI spring calving cows. The current EBI of €154, would rank this herd as high as number 11 in the country. The targets in this system are listed in the table below and involves high milk outputs of 7,500-8,000 litres and over 600 kg of fat and protein per cow per lactation using higher than conventional levels of concentrate feed inputs (1.5 tonnes of concentrate per cow per lactation). Grass is very much a focus of this system with 75% of feed coming from grass and grass silage. The stocking rate on the MP in this system is 3.4 cows/ha.

Like any other ‘grass based system’, the principles of grassland management, appropriate breeding strategies, fertility and financial management are key to success.

Targets for the Systems Research Herd
Stocking rate on milking platform 3.4 LU per ha
Stocking rate on whole farm 2.4 LU per ha
Milk yield per cow 7500-8000 kgs
Milk solids per cow 625 kgs
6 week in calf rate 90%
Concentrate (kg/cow/year) 1500 kgs
% diet as grazed grass 51
% diet as grazed grass and grass silage 75

Genetics of the herd

Within the herd, a genetic comparison will be made with thirty cows having high PTA (249.7) for milk and thirty with a low PTA for milk (43.9).

Genetic comparison 2017 (Feb 2017)
High milk 154 64 53 37 -7.9 4.1 1.1 2.4
Low milk 154 51 67 37 -8.7 4.5 2.0 0.8
Average 154 58 60 37 -8.3 4.3 1.6 1.6
  Milk Kg Fat Kg Prot Kg Fat% Prot% Calv Int Surv%  
High milk 249.7 14.3 10.9 0.1 0.0 -2.4 1.9  
Low milk 43.9 10.9 6.6 0.2 0.1 -3.4 2.0  
Average 146.8 12.6 8.8 0.1 0.1 -2.9 2.0  

Feed Budget 2017

A feed budget has been drawn up that prescribes the amount of concentrate, grass allocation and silage allowance for all cows at different stages of their lactation. All sixty cows are allocated the same feed budget and are kept together in the one herd. There is some flexibility in the feed budget depending on grass grown and weather conditions etc.

Feed Budget
Days in milk0-2020-6060-120120-180180-240240-270270-305306-365 (dry)*

Total annual DMI

(t DM)

Milk yield 31 24 32 27 22 19 15 -  
Silage DM 12 0 0 0 0 6 10 11 1.7
Grass DM 0 14 16 15 13 6 0 - 3.1
Concentrate (as fed) 8 8 6 305 3.0 3.0 6 - 1.3

Grassland management throughout the grazing season

Grass is measured in every paddock on each Monday morning with a platemeter and covers are entered into Agrinet computer software. Grass is also measured using a quadrat and shears before and after each grazing in order to determine grass utilisation.

Three tools are used throughout the grazing season to manage grass demand and supply:

Spring Rotation Planner
60:40 Autumn Planner
Grass Wedge

Systems Research Herd map

2016 Review

2016 Performance

2016 was the first full year of this study and therefore it is very early days for results. Systems research requires several years for concrete conclusions as this overcomes a specific ‘year’ effect on the results.

Cows are milk recorded twice monthly and these results are compared with the daily yields from the milking parlour. The table below shows the milk recording for 2016. Due to the small numbers of cows in the high and low PTA groups, overall results for the group are shown.

Milk recording results (2016)
No. of animals 58
Average lactation days 301
Yield/cow (305 days predicted) 7441
Milk solids/cow (305 days predicted) 592
Yield/cow (MR) 7407
Milk solids/cow (MR) 588
Protein % (MR) 3.5
Fat % (MR) 4.5
SCC (MR) 101
Milk yield/cow to date 7407
Protein yield/cow to date 254
Fat tield/cow to date 334

Note: MR and actual parlour results are regularly compared and differences are less than 3%

Grassland performance (2016)
Grass summary2016
Turnout by day Mid Feb
Turnout full time 1st March
Days housed during grazing season 6 days in April
Start date of closing 7th Oct
Full time housing date October 28th
Closing cover (24/10/16) 485 kg DM/ ha
Grass growth (t/ha) 13.06
Silage on MP (t/ha) 1.7

Fertility Performance (2016)

Breeding started on the 25 April and continued for 12 weeks. All breeding was by A.I and the list of bulls used is shown in the table below. 

Bulls used in 2016
Low Milk (low PTA group)High Milk (high PTA group)

The 2016 reproductive performance is shown in the table below. Submission rate was high at 91% and empty rate was respectable at 9%, however, conception rates were low. Replacement rate is 23%.

Reproductive performance (2016)
Number of cows 58
Submission rate 91%
First serve conception date 43%
Average conception rate 50%
6 week pregnancy rate 59%
Empty rate 9%

View Lyons Systems Research Herd Notes here.

This project is funded by Enterprise Ireland and the Enterprise Ireland Innovation Partnership Programme which is co-funded by the European Union through the European Regional Development Fund 2014-2020. Funding for a Postdoctoral Research Fellow (Dr Jenny Davis) was received from Teagasc. Industry stakeholders connected with this significant project include: Dairymaster, Devenish Nutrition, FBD, Glanbia, Irish Friesian Holstein Association, Munster Cattle Breeding Group and Progressive Genetics.‌

Productions Systems Research Herd acknowledgments

Contact us
Prof. Finbar Mulligan
UCD School of Veterinary Medicine

Dr. Karina Pierce
UCD School of Agriculture & Food Science

Dr. Jenny Davis
Post Doctoral Research Fellow
UCD Lyons Research Farm, Celbridge,
Co. Kildare (W23ENY2), Ireland


The main aim of this DairyTech research project at UCD Lyons Farm is to undertake novel research into sustainable, innovative milk production models, which will address significant challenges faced by the Irish dairy industry. The proposed research will investigate significant issues for the dairy sector such as: breeding and genetics, grazing systems and forage utilisation, milk processability and bioeconomic factors of new dairy production systems.

Work Plan

DairyTech is conducting novel research in 5 interrelated work packages (WP) to address some of the most significant challenges to growth faced by Irish dairy industry including:

Key Technical Challenge 1 (WP1)

PI: Prof. Alan Fahey

Genetic and Bioeconomic Modelling of Dairy Production Systems

Key Technical Challenge 2 (WP2)

PI: Prof. Finbar Mulligan

Investigation of causative factors and evaluation of control strategies for low milk fat percentage in Irish dairy herds 

Key Technical Challenge 3 (WP3)

PI: Dr Joris Somers

Monitoring lameness in dairy cows using remote sensor technology

Key Technical Challenge 4 (WP4)

PI: Dr Karina Pierce

Nutritional manipulation to improve the microbiological and processability characteristics of late lactation spring milk

Key Technical Challenge 5 (WP5)

PI: Dr Bridget Lynch

Development of a grassland management protocol for higher input/output dairy systems


DairyTech is funded by Enterprise Ireland Innovation Partnership Programme which is co-funded by the European Union through the European Regional Development Fund 2014-2020. Industry stakeholders Dairymaster, Devenish Nutrition, FBD, Glanbia, Irish Friesian Holstein Association, Munster Cattle Breeding Group and Progressive Genetics also contributed significantly to the project.

This research project is very much a team effort with significant input from Prof Finbar Mulligan, Dr Karina Pierce, Dr Bridget Lynch, Luke O’Grady BVMS, Prof Alan Fahey, Dr Michael Wallace, Dr Joris Somers, Dr Jenny Davis, Ciaran Hearn and the farm staff at Lyons, especially the Dairy Manager Michael Clarke and the Farm Manager, Dr Eddie Jordan, Project Manager Dr Faisal Zahoor and post graduate students Zoe McKay, Donal Walsh and Orla Neville.

Dairytech acknowledgements

Contact Us

Dr. Faisal ZAHOOR | Project Manager 
School of Agriculture and Food Science
UCD Lyons Research Farm,
Celbridge, Co. Kildare, (W23ENY2)
+353 (01) 6012157

Principal Investigator: Dr Bridget Lynch

The objective of this recently awarded Dept. Agriculture funded research project is to deepen knowledge on the interaction between genotype and nutrition with particular reference to adequate nutrition of the high yielding dairy cows at the shoulders of the milk production cycle to optimise feed efficiency and energy balance. The new knowledge will strengthen capacity in the research community with immediate application to farm advisors, farmers and relevant policy (more details to follow soon).