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The courage to switch to ProCROSS

A Shropshire family is reaping the rewards and improved gross margins by £70,000 after switching to the ProCROSS crossbreeding system.

Will Nixon, his father, Ian, and uncle, Dave, used to milk 350 Holsteins at Upper Farm, near Market Drayton. Originally producing 9,500 litres, a gradual decline in cow fertility and milk yield impacted cash flow.

After benchmarking with their farm consultant, Adrian Caine, from P&L Consulting, it became clear that the farm’s replacement rate was too high at 32%. “There weren’t enough fresh cows, so the temptation was to feed more to produce those marginal litres, but it wasn’t delivering enough of a margin,” explains Adrian.

A deeper dive into cow pedigrees revealed that inbreeding was an issue at 7%. “If we kept loading the model we had, we were going to run faster and get nowhere,” he adds.

Having invested in new facilities, the Nixons knew something had to change to ensure they could match their business plan’s cash flow projections. They needed to maintain good milk production levels to pay back the capital they had invested in new infrastructure.

After visiting dairy farms in America milking ProCROSS cows, they decided to buy 80 ProCROSS heifers from Denmark in 2016.

These calved alongside 80 Holstein replacements in the autumn, and the results at the end of their first lactation gave the Nixons the confidence to make the transition the following year.

Transitioning to ProCROSS

ProCROSS is a crossbreeding programme that uses the Viking Holstein, VikingRed and Coopex Montbéliarde in a three-way rotation to optimise hybrid vigour at 86%. Each breed offers traits that complement each other.

The VikingHolstein brings a lot of milk and excellent type traits. The VikingRed consists of Swedish Red, Finish, Ayrshire, and Danish Red and brings increased longevity, health traits and calving ease. And the Montbéliarde has more body condition, excellent fertility and is very functional.

The family used VikingRed semen on the heifers and Coopex Montbeliarde on the cows. Their first three-way crosses started milking last autumn.

“The improvements have been dramatic,” says Will.

Lifting fertility has lowered the herd’s replacement rate to 23%, which has reduced production costs by 1 pence per litre (ppl).

Since 2016, conception rates have climbed from 33% to 53%, and semen use has dropped from more than 2 straws/conception to 1.6 straws. The calving block has also been condensed from nine months to 12 weeks, with 80% of cows calving in the first six weeks.

Grazing gets better

Fertility gains have allowed better grass utilisation, with 44% of milk now produced from forage – 2,600 litres of which is produced from grazed grass.

Integral to this has been investing £50,000 in 3km of concrete sleepers, electric fencing, and water troughs.

The grazing platform totals 207 acres and is divided into 21 paddocks, each measuring 4ha. Cows enter covers at 3,000kg and graze down to residuals of 1,500kg. Currently, the platform is stocked at 4 livestock units/ha, but cows can walk to a further 93 acres if required.

Grassland has not been reseeded for eight years, with the perennial ryegrass and clover leys growing 18t/DM/ha, on average, last year, despite the drought.

The benefits are evident

Milk production has risen by 143,000 litres for the same number of milking cows. “Milk yield was 7,500 litres in 2016 and is now standing at 8,150 litres and still going up,” says Will.

This has been primarily driven by improved cow longevity, with the herd’s older age profile contributing to more litres in the tank. Of the 80 crossbred cows bought seven years ago, 28 remain, whereas only five Holsteins are left.

Gross margin lifted nearly £70,000 in 2021 compared to 2018 when standardising the milk price at 30pp and the feed cost at £230/t. “This demonstrates improvement due to strategic change, not price benefit, explains Adrian.

The biggest difference has been cow health, says Ian. Veterinary costs fell from £90/cow in 2016 to £27/cow in 2021. “If you have sick cows, you end up spending much more time looking after them. We have only had one DA in the last five years, and the cows calve easily,” adds Will.

These advances have helped lower the farm’s carbon footprint from 1,303g to 929g of CO2 equivalent per litre of Energy Corrected Milk (ECM).

Change takes courage

“The only reason to change is not fashion; it is cash,” says Adrian. “Most people stick to what they know whether it is working or not; change takes courage,” he adds.

“Crossbreeding has given us more free time, and we spend more time farming rather than dealing with sick cows, which isn’t rewarding,” says Will, ending with another of the great benefits of the switch.

Improvements at Nixon Farms:





Milk from forage (litres)



Replacement rate



Conception rate




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Farm facts

  • Milking 350 cows
  • Farming 600 acres, half owned and half rented
  • Supplying Muller/Tesco
  • Block calving from August to September over 12 weeks
  • Twice-a-day-milking
  • Yielding 8,150 litres at 4.15% butterfat and 3.47% protein
  • Feeding 1.9t of concentrate a cow a year
  • Heavy clay farm.

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