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Reaping the benefits of VikingJersey

Thomas Søgaard focuses on breeding healthy Jersey cows that produce more solids and last longer.

When Thomas Søgaard took over Tastum Jersey from his parents in the spring of 2021, he knew he had to define where the farm would go and how it would get there. The 34-year-old Danish farmer was not alone in coming up with the ideas; his wife Kristina, a graduate engineer specialising in technology and business development, supported him in creating the strategy and plan for the farm.

“We made the development and business plan together, not just for the property, but for us personally and what we would like to do together. We defined our goals for our life on the farm, the property, and how it can enable us to have the life we want to live,” says Thomas. The couple took a thorough approach that considered strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats for them and the business.

“Our strategy serves as the foundation for our day-to-day decisions. We aim to create a sustainable business, which also gives us enough room for the financial and personal freedom we want,” he adds.

Thomas Søgaard Jersey

A lower replacement rate

According to Thomas, the biggest difference between being an employee at a farm and being its owner is having to make a lot of decisions. “There are many more bills to pay, many more decisions to make and many different things to deal with all the time," he explains.

One of the questions Thomas has had to answer is how to maximize the profitability of the 517-cow VikingJersey herd within the farm’s current framework. “You get a better bottom line if you have older cows that produce more milk. A lower replacement rate goes a long way," he says.

Asides from increasing profits, this approach has proven fruitful in other ways: Thomas Søgaard was named Denmark’s Young Farmer of the Year in 2022 by the Danish Agriculture & Food Council.

Thomas Søgaard Jersey

Helping others switch breeds

Although the replacement rate on the farm is low, a lot of heifers are still bred on-site.

“Our system gives us the opportunity to breed additional heifers; about 120 a year. We have a fixed agreement with Danish farmers who are in the process of switching from Holstein to Jersey. We will supply the heifers for the next year and a half,” says Thomas.

“I’m hoping to see more of these agreements, so we can spread the risk,“ he adds, explaining how he is expecting an increase in demand for Jerseys as more farmers switch from large to smaller breeds.

“In collaboration with my breeding advisor, we decided to adjust X-Vik so that we might sell seven or eight animals a month instead of ten. We inseminate to get fewer heifers and more beef cattle. It's all about space, risk, and cash flow."

“I've decided to get a few more cows, which take up some of the heifers' space. Right now, it's about producing milk rather than making heifers. If we are heading toward a recession, I don't want to have my cash tied up by livestock for sale," explains the young farmer. He has used SimHerd to calculate the need for young animals in the herd, describing it as “a superb decision-making tool.”

Thomas Søgaard Jersey

Optimising, not expanding

Despite the favourable milk prices, Thomas Søgaard only got a few more cows on the farm. He emphasises that he is not further increasing the number of cows at the expense of the heifers.

“We don't have enough pasture areas for that. Instead of bringing in 10% more cows, I would rather optimise the 517 cows we have so that they perform 10% better," he says, explaining that it's also about another important element in the farm's strategy: the employees.

“More cows will probably mean more work for the same number of hands. We want solid, motivated employees who think it's great to be here. That's why our employees also have a say in where we go from here. They are an important resource, which is why we trust them with many responsibilities,” he adds.

Thomas Søgaard Jersey

Higher temples, but not alone

In the end, Thomas himself must make the decisions and is responsible for the farm's bottom line. “It's very exciting. That's the right phrase to use. I had high temples when I managed the feed, and now they've gotten even higher," he says laughing.

And how does he feel about putting his hand into the fire? He feels good about it, explaining that things can go both ways. “It's not just about the consequences of making the wrong decisions. Sometimes things work out really well, and I think that's great,” he says.

Thomas is not alone in his success, ensuring that the strategy is being followed and goals are achieved. As part of the strategy, the couple formed an advisory board to get support and advice and keep ideas fresh. The board includes Thomas’s wife, their financial advisor, a former employer of Thomas, and a former senior advisor from the cattle industry. The Tastum Jersey advisory board meets three times a year.


Farm facts:

517 VikingJersey cows

Production system: Organic. Grazing from April to November

Kg milk: 7.556 Kg

Fat %: 5.61

Protein %: 4.17

ECM Kg: 9,571

The insemination plan uses 60% beef cattle, and the rest gets X-Vik. In practice, a lot less is used.

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Thomas Søgaard Jersey

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