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VikingJersey sexed semen builds spring-calving herd

Since returning home from university to farm, George Morgan has been impatient to switch his family’s spring block-calving herd to the VikingJersey breed and has used every tool in the box to reach his goals. This includes using sexed semen, X-Vik,  from VikingJersey for all dairy inseminations, introducing state-of-the-art activity monitors to keep fertility on target, and making a one-off purchase of heifers from Denmark.

As a result, he says all dairy calves born this spring ‘look much more like Jerseys’ than the farm’s previous breeds.

Farming around 400 acres with his father, Henry, at Fardre Farm in Abergele, North Wales, the move to Jersey follows years of breeding with the North American Holstein, followed by a period of crossbreeding in the early 2000s.

He says: “Dad was using North American Holstein genetics 30 or 40 years ago but, like a lot of producers, started to find they were losing longevity and becoming more problematic.

“He also liked the idea of making better use of grazed grass, so he started cross-breeding with the Jersey and moved to spring block calving in the early 2000s.”

Trials that led to the right formula

However, by the time George came home to the farm in 2015, both he and his father felt the Kiwi-cross bulls they were using on the black and white cross Jersey cows were not delivering as they hoped.

“By that time, Dad was on a Kiwi-type grazing system but neither he nor I were totally convinced by New Zealand genetics,” he says.

After a brief period of crossbreeding with a third breed, VikingJerseys were brought into the mix in 2016 and George’s liking for the breed ‘just grew and grew’.

“I just fell in love with the breed more than anything,” he admits. “They’re easy to manage and were just up and running – they had so much life and vigour.

“Genetics from the VikingGenetics countries [Denmark, Sweden and Finland] seem very health focused, and we find if ever we have a case of mastitis or lameness, it’s rarely in the Jerseys.”

Sexed semen from VikingJersey was introduced across the whole heifer crop in 2016, followed by a sweeper Hereford bull.

“Conception rate to sexed was about 50% to first service in the first year, but it’s gone up and up since then, and last year averaged 60%,” he says.

"We put all cows to sexed semen"

“We’ve been so pleased with the results that three years ago, we decided to use sexed VikingJersey semen on the cows too and were really pleased to get conception to first service of 50%,” he says. “These results are good enough to keep our empty rate at 10%, which is so important in our block-calving system. It means we now feel confident enough to put all cows to sexed semen, so long as they are cycling naturally at the post-calving check and have had no health or calving issues.”

The outcome is that over 250 of the 280-head herd are now bred to sexed Jersey, which is speeding the transition to the pure breed.

In 2018, 40 Jersey heifers were bought in from Denmark, further stepping up the switch of breeds.

Results lead to a favored position 

With the herd now yielding around 5,400 litres at 4.9% fat and 3.9% protein, the presence of the Jerseys is being felt, as quality is up from 4.5% fat and 3.5% protein the previous year. This is produced from less than a tonne of concentrates (980kg/cow/year) plus grass and maize silage.

Fine-tuning the management is now a high priority and a recent addition to the farm has been the smaXtec monitoring system. This has improved heat detection, given a more precise window of when to serve and picked up early issues around health.

Today, George says he will use the route back to pedigree as a means of increasing genetic improvement and hopes to eventually have heifers to sell.

 

Fardre Farm facts

  • 400-acre (162ha) family farm
  • 280 milking cows of mixed breeds
  • Converting to pure VikingJersey
  • 5,400 litres at 4.9% fat and 3.9% protein
  • All dairy semen used is sexed Jersey
  • Imported 40 heifers in-calf to sexed Jersey
  • Sweeper Hereford bull helps improve carcases
  • Member of SRUC Premium Cattle Health Scheme