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Switch to VikingGoldenCross system transforms farm profits

Before they changed their farming system, the Henderson family admits it was hard to make a margin. Now they’ve made the switch and used the better finances to set up another farm.

 

The Henderson family had run a traditional farm in the north of England for many years, originally combining winter housing with seasonal grazing, but gradually finding themselves pushed towards housing their cows all year.

However, despite achieving outstanding physical performance, by their own admission, Richard Henderson, his brother Michael and their parents, Chris and Mandy, struggled to make a margin. Farming 100 hectares (250 acres) and milking 180 Holsteins at The Gill Farm, near Carlisle, by the time the family agreed upon the need for change, they were putting 10 ingredients in the mixer wagon and feeding three tonnes of concentrates per cow per year.

“There were also large contracting costs for making silage, vet checks and scanning every two weeks, and a lot of money going into feed and just keeping the wheels on the wagon,” says Richard.

Taking advice from their consultant, they finally opted to make more use of grazed grass, splitting larger fields into paddocks, and moving the herd towards spring block calving.

VikingGoldenCross cows

Needing a structured breeding plan

The whole herd was initially bred to the New Zealand Jersey which proved to be confident grazers, but Richard had no idea of where to take the breeding next. “Taking the first step in crossbreeding is easy but it becomes harder down the line,” he says. “The advice at the time was to use a Holstein x Jersey bull but with the benefit of hindsight, that probably wasn’t the right decision.”

“Some were great, but generally I was quite disappointed,” he says. “The biggest issue was low production and the sting in the tail was somatic cell count, which started creeping up.” Temporarily reverting to the security of the Holstein, for fear of losing the breed’s many desirable traits, he notes that a downside was a wide inconsistency in the size of the animals.

However, a neighbour milking VikingJerseys enlightened him of the breed’s capabilities, which led to a trip to Denmark, where he learnt that Jerseys are not particularly small and are capable of high production – many herds averaging 7,500 litres. “The trip also highlighted the depth of health and management information collected across the VikingGenetics countries which is light years ahead of what we’re doing in the UK,” he says.

Opting to use the VikingJersey, he chose top bulls at the time, and describes their daughters as ‘bullet proof’, citing excellent health and performance from 900-1,100kg concentrates/cow/year.

Henderson family VikingGoldenCross

Three-way cross

However, the idea of three-breed crossing appealed to the Hendersons, as they felt they could achieve greater hybrid vigour and more consistency with three compatible breeds. “When I heard about the VikingGenetics (VikingGoldenCross), it sounded just right for the job,” says Richard.

Describing VikingGoldenCross, a cross of VikingJersey, VikingHolstein and VikingRed, he says he’d seen the Reds on a neighbour’s farm where they looked milky, robust and moderate-­sized, and he felt they’d fit his own system well.

Today he says he has settled on a three-way cross alternating Jersey, VikingRed and black-and-whites, choosing bloodlines which will maintain strength, health and fertility without adding too much stature.

 

Improved financial results

 The all-important margins have made substantial gains, with a 12-month rolling average of 24p/litre, for margin over all purchased feed. Yield has leveled over the same period at 5,100 litres at 5% fat and 3.7% protein from the expanded herd of 230 heads, of which 3,800 litres comes from forage.

The success of the business has been such that the family has also been able to take on a second farm, which has been financed on the success of the home farm. Praising his parents for giving him the freedom to ‘make mistakes along the way’, he says they will be share milkers on the new farm and will block-calve again with the same three breeds.

Once the second herd is established, one will calve in autumn, the other in spring, to spread the workload and drive greater efficiencies.

VikingGoldenCross cows

FACTS

  • Formerly 180 high input 9,000 litre ­Holsteins housed 24 hrs
  • Switched to crossbreeding and 230-head spring block calving
  • Introduced Jersey genetics but switched to three-way cross
  • Now using Jersey, ­VikingRed and Holstein-­Friesian rotation
  • 5,100 litres at 5% fat, 3.7% ptn and 3,800 litres from forage
  • Lifted profits from the home farm and now starting a new herd
  • Carlisle, United Kingdom
Read more about VikingGoldenCross
VikingGoldenCross cows