“We were experiencing fertility challenges and improved fertility was `the carrot´”

Tom and Bev Phelan, in partnership with their son Leo, run Dalmore Dairy in Tasmania. This is Bev’s story of their breeding journey searching for the most profitable cow, the one they founded by crossing their Friesian with VikingRed and VikingJersey. 
“Tom, Leo and I began our “Viking” journey in 2006 when we were inspired by Steve Snowdon to consider Three-way cross breeding and using red genetics. Why?
We were experiencing fertility challenges in our mainly Friesian seasonal calving herd. So, improved fertility was the carrot. Hybrid vigor, feed conversion efficiency with similar kg production also appealed.

The breeding strategy has evolved over time. Red / Friesian Cross, Monty Cross and pure Reds have sidetracked me. Now I am settled on the three-way cross using Friesian, Reds and Jersey. 

However, given my passion for Reds, I do put some of my best Red Crosses back to Reds. The Three-way cross gives me a cow that suits our system and drives profit – medium frame and benefits of hybrid vigor, particularly in the early years. With cross breeding, the kg/milk solids (ms) per cow may have dropped slightly compared to our straight Friesians, but they do not need as much feed and the “Not in Calf” (NIC) rates are significantly better. A few years ago, I broke down our 14% NIC rate and found the Friesians contributed 28% and the Red Cross contributed only with 5%.

Why VikingGenetics? 

In 2006, I was impressed by the quality of the bulls and by Viking’s rigorous and reliable testing and recording regimes. 12 years later, I am still impressed by the quality of their bulls and the reliability of their Nordic Total Merit (NTM) scale. As a loyal Aussie, I have also used GA bulls and supported their Red progeny test program over the years. I have also dabbled in LIC, Alta and even Montbeliardes. However, when I compare stats on paper the Viking cows are consistently at the top of the class. 
Bev Phelan
This season the milking herd is 30% by Viking sires. The breed breakdown is 40% Red, 36% Jersey, 22% Friesian and 2% Monties. Our Three-way cross now make up a third of our herd.  With the focus on this cross in recent years, I have found Viking bulls from each breed to suit my needs.  Backed by their health traits, they are the ideal choice. A healthy cow = a fertile cow = longevity = a cow producing optimal kg/milk solids and profit.

Until 2 years ago, I individually matched each cow with a particular bull. The aim was to correct faults in the cows e.g. frame, high pins, udder, components, etc. Although time-consuming, it has been worthwhile as we now have a more even herd with sound health status and great production. We have also corrected high pins, tall narrow cows, and similar related traits.

Now with over 1000 cows, and for staff well-being at joining, I choose less bulls and have a “Bull of the Day” in each breed, but still match around 60 of my “best Reds” to individual bulls. I also individually match around 20 other cows if a fault needs to be corrected. Involving staff in the process, whether it be bull selection or their feedback on the herd, adds value to the breeding process. Leo and staff have identified the need to prioritize udders in bull selection of late. Interestingly, a couple of bulls that have thrown cows with poor udders weren’t Viking bulls.

Cross breeding continues to be a challenge. Some of our cows and heifers are larger than I would like in our herd, but they are performing. Since the majority of crossbreed is based on using the correct bull on the right heifer or cow, there are still some “fine tuning” to do in this area to get the optimal cow size for our herd. 
Up to date with the “900’s by Viking”

In this family, we are all interested in fertility, health, longevity and production and therefore, I want to share with you where the Viking calves, born in 2009, are today. This is a group of cows we still talk about because they were healthy, robust calves, and good “doers” that grew into heifers that came into the milking herd in excellent condition. They were bred by Peterslund, O Brolin, B Jurist, Krejstad and Torp.

I have followed this group through the seasons, comparing them to non-Viking sired cows also born in 2009. Their percentages each year, relating to deaths, culls, treatments, fertility and production, has always been significantly better than “the rest”.

Looking at these “900’s by Viking” in the herd today: 27% are milking i.e. 20 out of the 75 that calved down in 2011. 15 of these are in calf for spring this year, beginning their 7th lactation. They are in-calf to A.I. as for the past 2 seasons we have not used herd bulls. Herd Testing stats from February 2018: 26L Milk, 3.7% Protein, 5.5% Fat, 158 ICCC. Their fertility and health traits = longevity, with very good kg/ms to validate their place in the herd.
 
Lessons that we have learnt over the years: 

Be generous in your budget for bulls. The majority of bulls I have used over the years have been the top proven bulls. It may seem like a lot of money at the time, but it represents true value for money when you get the results you want. Focus on your farm system, and develop a herd to optimize the system

Consider your cows (on paper and in the paddock) and which bulls they need to improve their progeny and create or maintain a cow and herd for your system.  

Learn from others, including your own staff and the A.I. reseller. As a breeding novice, I have found the willingness to share information and knowledge amongst the “Red” and “Cross breed” fraternity an incredible support.  

Do your homework. Study your herd/cow records and statistics. It can be boring, and averages can be deceiving, but is an important part of the planning process.   
In conclusion, I have no hesitation in recommending Viking bulls to any dairy breeder committed to improving their cows and herd. I have every confidence in their NTM breeding values system. Their staff, particularly Erik Thompson, have been great to deal with and, although Viking is a business, I have found Erik to be honest and willing to share his knowledge, while always working alongside me to achieve our breeding goals. 

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