The benefits of versatile genetic selection 

By Faba

The highway leading from Iisalmi to Oulu in Finland divides the fields of Perkkiö farm. The two robot barns, completed seven years ago, house a 130-head herd. Last year, Satu and Tuomo Pulkka's fine herd produced 12,146 kg of milk (ECM).
Satu, 45, and Tuomo Pulkka, 49, started their farm in 1998 with a 30-head Ayrshire herd. Faba’s customer manager Anita Hyvönen has been involved in breeding work with the Perkkiö herd since the beginning. “We already knew Anita from my home farm, so we’ve been working together for a long time,” Satu Pulkka says.

Pipe stretching

The herd was increased to 50 cows in 2001 and from then on, the herd has steadily increased. “The milk pipes were always being stretched,” Pulkka says. Hyvönen and her colleagues were able to get the best quality genetics in the herd, and at one point there were three barns housing the heifers. It was then that the first Holstein joined the herd.

“We saw the milking robot for the first time at the Farmari Show in 2001. Ten years later we got our own,” Pulkka explains. It was again time to buy more animals. They had already plenty of success with previous animal purchases from Faba and this time they also used embryo flushings and sexed semen.

Drawings in the kitchen drawer

They started with 70 cows in the new barn and the following year, increased the number to 100. Now, there are some 130 cows in production and the average yield is over 12,000 kg (ECM). Further expansion is due at some point. “The drawings are in the kitchen drawer, but will it be a new shed for heifers or both heifers and dry cows? This will be determined by the price of milk and the opinions of our boys,” Tuomo Pulkka says.

Health is a priority when purchasing and managing livestock. “We have learned from bitter experience  the importance of health. Two years ago, we lost 20 cows to staphylococcus aureus. That was a big number relative to our small size,” Satu Pulkka says.

When Satu talks, she emphasises health, but the cows and their results show the benefits of versatile breeding. The cows are productive, healthy and easy to manage. “With Anita, we look at the families and I choose the ones we keep. Anita, on the other hand, knows the goals, so she places the right bulls in our tank. All heifers are genomically tested and Anita classifies each one of them,” says Satu.

Proud of origins

“We use the bulls very differently. Of course, it was nice to use our own bulls VH Latu and VH Rane. However, our greatest pleasure is the success of VR Hashtag and VR Biisi, both are bulls from old neighbouring farms. You get such great animals from this part of the country,” Satu says. Breeding is not restricted to bulls. They have done several VikingGenetics contract flushes of embryos plus have a pregnancy from an X-embryo from Hollola heifer station. 

The herd has a definite Ayrshire majority and is likely to remain so. Satu is a strong advocate of the breed and has clear facts to support her case. “The playful Ayrshire vs. Holstein breed is a constant debate. I compare the breed's ECM yield. Currently, Ayrshires lead up to a hundred kilos. However, these results are based on last summer’s silage. Holsteins are more sensitive to low-quality feed and with top quality feed the odds would swing slightly in favour of Holsteins” says Satu.

Always developing

There must always be some development points in a herd, but not too many at the same time. The Pulkka’s  goal is to lower the heifer calving age by two months to 24 months. To achieve this, all heifers were fitted with Heatime collars. “Satu is a fine reader of livestock, but we men need tools. Sometimes the boys and I walk around with our eyes shut when it comes to observing heats and minor changes in nutrition,” Tuomo says.

The work on the farm is done by the family plus one employed herdsman. Twins Ville and Juho, 19, are enthusiastic engineers and have purchased equipment for small-scale contracting. Their youngest boy Herkko, 13, also manages a lot of work on the ATV.

Sports and representation

To even the work life balance, the whole family loves running and skiing. The men also go hunting in the forest. Although Tuomo has resigned positions of trust with the municipality and bank, the family is still involved in this work. Today, Satu represents dairy farmers in the area on the board of the local dairy company and the Valio Board of Directors. “I listen, put out feelers and communicate messages,” is how she describes her role.

Being a spokesperson on behalf of milk production is also reflected in the number of visitors to the Perkkiö farm. The most recent event on the farm was in July 2018, which attracted over 400 visitors


Farm facts

Farm name and location: Perkkiö, Vieremä
Owners Tuomo and Satu Pulkka
Boys, Ville, Juho and Herkko
Two milking robots since 2011
65% Ayrshire, 35% Holstein
Average production with 130 cows: 12,146 kg ECM
The farm area is 163 ha, of which they own 110 ha. Forest 150 ha.

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