VADSBO MJÖLK - BREEDING FOR THE INVISIBLE COW

Milking 1300 cows in organic milk production makes it important that your cows are working well. All cows that take extra time, are cows that you should not have in the herd.

Henrik Larsson, Herd Manager, and Marie Gustafsson, responsible for breeding and insemination in the herd, explains all about the challenges and successes in the largest herd in Sweden. Breeding goal at Vadsbo Mjölk; an average sized cow, cows that take care of themselves and get pregnant easily.

Five years to get on track

In 2009, 700 heifer calves where bought and milking started in 2009. Two years later, they were milking 1000 cows. One whole herd with 250 milking cows were bought in the start. 

“It takes about five years from full barn to a production in balance. We are there now! Today we can focus on the details,” Henrik says.

Genomic tests on all females

Vadsbo Mjölk joined the LD-project* in the summer of 2015 to be able to identify heifers. There is room for not selecting 150 heifers per year, and knowing which heifers not to select is important. “We save a lot of money not keeping them since we send all our heifers to a heifer hotel”, says Henrik. Recruiting 33% every year is a goal, and that is achievable. We use about 10% X-Vik on best heifers and 20% beef on the cows with the lowest NTM. Beef crosses and heifers with low NTM are sold for slaughter and today meat price is good and a big and important part of the total income. 

60% VikingRed, 40% Holstein

The herd consists of 60% VikingRed and 40% Holstein. 
That is how it ended up when they bought the 
700 heifer calves and the 250-cow herd. The share 
seems to stay the same and each cow has to prove 
she should stay in the herd, and that has nothing to
do with the breed. “Even though the Holsteins milk a 
bit more than 1000 kg per year compared to the reds, 
the red cows have the advantage of
 being healthier and not so weak,” Marie says.

Breeding strategies

In a large herd, cows are treated as a group, not as individuals. ”Our main focus when selecting bulls is daughter fertility. A cow can be as good as anything, but if she does not get pregnant, then other things don’t matter.” Marie says. Calving interval is 12.0 months and it is no problem using more than one straw per heat if that is necessary. “The cost of an extra dose is a minor cost compared to more days open,” says Henrik. Therefore, we do not look at the number of straws/pregnancy; the important figure for us is calving interval. We start with the cows as early as possible after calving and want all cows pregnant as fast as possible. 

It is very important that cows are not too big. “Big cows seem to not last very long”, Henrik says. “We want the herd to be even, so when choosing bulls we look for taller VikingRed, and smaller Holstein. Breeding advisor, Eva Hultman, from VäxaSverige has just introduced the new mating program in the computer and Marie is very happy with the new version. 

Since the production is organic, cows need to be on full pasture for three months and another two months outdoor. This means high quality of pasture and routes to and from pasture and good feet & legs are extremely important.
“We are right now expanding to 1400 cows, but after that it is hard to increase without making a lot of rebuilding – like more calving pens, new calf barn etc. The work now is to tune in every corner”, Henrik says. “In breeding, it is important to stick to your goals, even if you have some problems in the herd from time to time,” Marie says.

Facts

Vadsbo mjölk is a subsidiary to Vadsbo växtodling, owned by eight farmers

Employees: 22 employees including administration and maintenance 
Cows: 60% VikingRed, 40% Holstein
Production: 9,100 kg ECM
Rotational milking parlor, 60 cows. Two times milking

Other

2500 ha, 300 ha grazing
Organic farming
8% clinical mastitis
Age at calving: 25 months
Calving interval: 12.0 months

*LD-project = VikingGenetics is subsidizing genomic tests on heifers to get a larger reference population and higher reliability on genomic breeding values.