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"We’re getting a lot more milk"

Toolamba dairy farmer Andrew Ferguson just has to look into his dry cow paddock to know he’s made the right choice with VikingGenetics’ GoldenCross. He milks about 250 cows on 350 hectares and also runs a small sheep and beef operation.

Toolamba dairy farmer Andrew Ferguson just has to look into his dry cow paddock to know he’s made the right choice with VikingGenetics’ GoldenCross. He milks about 250 cows on 350 hectares and also runs a small sheep and beef operation.

The paddock is dominated by crossbred cows, ready to continue the farm’s successful transformation. “The last couple of years when we started drying our cows off, the first lots we dry off are nearly all the crossbred cows,” Andrew said. “They are the cows that hold first service. It really sticks out that it’s always the crossbred cows that are first in.”

GoldenCross is a three-breed rotational crossbreeding system combining VikingHolstein, VikingRed and VikingJersey, and the crossbreds are now Andrew’s star performers. In fact, he calls them his quiet achievers.

 

“They are definitely a good investment because they are our most profitable cows,”

 “They calve regularly every 12 months, not 18 months like a lot of others are now, and you don’t have much mastitis or vet bills with them.

“I often say the cows that make you the most money are the cows you don’t know you’ve got. They go through the dairy every day and cause no hassles.”

Andrew and his wife Fleur have been farming for more than 35 years and spurred by access to irrigation, shifted from Avenel to Toolamba in the Goulburn Valley in 1987.

They now milk about 250 cows on 350 hectares and also run small sheep and beef operations. “We’re ticking along nicely at the moment,” Andrew said. “We’ve got a good water right off the Goulburn system and we’ve carried over water from last year. Our catchments have plenty of water in them.”

Their farm is near the Goulburn River and is bit more undulating with loamier soil than other farms in the region, but Andrew says it’s still a good spot for a dairy operation.

The searching for a better herd

Traditionally they were Jersey farmers but that changed about nine years ago when Andrew and some mates inspected the Beaulands Aussie Red herd at Nowra. “I admired the Red cows and I’d become a bit disenchanted with Jerseys, so I wanted to try something different,” he said. “The Reds took my fancy, so we started using some.”

They also introduced some stud Holsteins while keeping about 25 stud Jerseys owned by their daughter Erin, who continues to show her cows and others in her role as a professional fitter.

Andrew admits he was previously stuck in his ways but he’s now glad he was open to suggestions. “I’ve probably altered my way of thinking more than anyone in the last 15 years,” he said. “All we did was stud Jersey and couldn’t see anything else.”

They were having problems with the longevity of Jerseys. “Their udders weren’t lasting,” Andrew said. “We were getting a lot of milk out of our Jerseys, but we weren’t getting them past second or third lactation. They were falling to bits on us.”

They introduced some Holsteins, but they had fertility problems and their size became an issue. “Even though we like the straight Holsteins and have about 50 of them, they’re just too big…some of them are exceptionally big cows”.

High production

In recent years they have averaged about 7500 litres per cow with about 340 fat and 270 protein for a total of about 610 kg/Ms. “We’re getting a lot more milk, we’re down a bit in butter fat but we’ve held our protein percentage. Overall, we’re about 1000 litres up in our milk from where we used to be.”

The three-way cross combines the best of all-worlds. Buoyed by the success of the change, Andrew plans to continue the three-way rotation. “Some of the original cows from when we first starting using VikingGenetics are still in the herd. They’re eight-year-olds now and still going tremendously well.

“I like the Aussie Red cows, but I don’t mind the mixture. It’s different from what we used to be, but the three-way cross seems to be a nice size with cows about 500-540 kilos in milking condition. They have good temperament, no health problems. They’re hardy, with good udders, and they’re good cows to work with and their fertility and cell count are really good. The farm runs at a cell count of about 100 or a bit below “which is where you want to be.”

A working mix of favourite traits

When selecting traits, Andrew always keeps an eye on cell count, fertility, and milking speed. He’s pleased with the working mix. “We found with the Reds that you don’t have to worry too much about rump angle. It’s something you have to watch with Holsteins and Jerseys but that helps with fertility.”

Andrew would like to see other farmers at least consider the GoldenCross option. “Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have recommended it, but now we’ve been doing it that long there’s no doubt about it; they’re our most profitable cows and our easiest to manage.”

He eventually wants about 70 per cent of his herd under the GoldenCross system. “We still like going to the shows so we’ll keep our stud Holsteins and stud Jerseys, but they will end up the minority, not the majority.”

Andrew is full of praise about the support he receives from VikingGenetics. In addition to the personal touch, Andrew appreciates the information in catalogues, through the website and in personal farmer stories.

As he starts calving in August, Andrew is looking forward to seeing the next generation of cows. “We have a lot that will calve this year by newer Viking bulls so it will be interesting to see how they turn out,” he said and based on past experiences, he’s confident it will be a good result.