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Good times never seemed so good

Warren Gallagher has farmed at Clunes in the Byron hinterland of northern New South Wales for more than 30 years and he’s never seen things so good. From the production and health improvements in his herd since switching to VikingRed genetics to favourable weather conditions and good milk price, farming life is hard to beat at the moment.

“It’s comfortably the best year I’ve had in my 31 years on the farm,” Warren says. The family farm dates back to 1917 but while the region was once a dairy stronghold, Warren is now at least 10 kilometres from the nearest dairy farm.

However, Warren says dairy has a strong future in the region with its reliable rainfall and good land, boosted by a good price from processor Norco. “It’s always good here for dairy farming but you make your own luck,” Warren says, and a significant part of his luck comes from changing to VikingGenetics about five years ago. He’s now seeing more reliable fertility, improved health, better production and a better-looking herd.

“Because our breeding program with VikingGenetics has been so successful, these days we’re not relying on cull cows to make money – milk is actually making money. Everyone should be milking cows up here – it’s a licence to print money at the moment.”

Milking about 200 cows on 115 hectares along with a leased neighbouring property, the herd was traditionally Illawarras through to the mid-1990s when Warren started to introduce Red Holstein, looking for genetic diversification and more milk.

“We used Illawarra bulls by Holstein sires and that worked well and developed into about seven years of straight Red Holstein sires,” Warren said.

The changes led to the large jump in the production traits Warren was seeking as he reached his 8000-litre average lactation goal. Although milk production sky-rocketed, health problems intervened.

Lessons from a Viking success story

Up to 30 per cent of the herd was having calving issues, which hadn’t been a problem with the Illawarras, but visits to neighbouring Terry Blasche’s farm at Casino gave Warren a pathway for production and health success.

“Terry was starting to get some good uniform type and longevity into his cows from using mostly VikingRed sires,” Warren said.

“I saw good evolutionary progress of a herd that just kept going ahead with the type of cow I was looking for.”

To address the fertility and mastitis issues, Warren started using VikingRed and other genetics and his first Aussie Reds were born in May 2015. “I learnt that VikingRed was working best for my farm,” Warren said. “They over-performed compared to any other genetics I’ve ever used; they easily exceeded my expectations.”

Warren attributes the successful turnaround to appropriate bull choices. “The bulls selected at the time already had 5000-6000 daughters on the ground so that says they will be of reasonable benefit. I like proven bulls; if people go back for a second or third round, they’re something worth looking at.”

VR Cigar is his number one bull, followed by VR Foske, and together they laid the groundwork for his successful and profitable herd. Now milking 200 with 33 heifers due to calve in May – 50 cows in the herd are by Foske and 35 by Cigar. “They are a significant feature and have absolutely improved the herd,” Warren said.

Production hits new peaks

Warren is now enjoying his best season. “We’re up six litres per cow for about an 8700 average.  The farm total is 1.6 million litres, slightly below the record of 1.7 but with 40 less cows.” While production per cow is up along with components, cell count has dropped and heard health has improved significantly.

“I’ve treated two cows for mastitis in the past 12 months, that’s significantly less than where we were five years ago,” Warren said.

The reliability of the herd’s calving and the longevity of the cows has allowed Warren to reduce his heifer breeding program.  “I join a set number of cows to VikingGenetics with the aim of breeding 40 heifers a year, which is just over half of what I used to breed,” he said. “That’s purely based on their reliability; I know they are going to stay in the herd and their longevity is a huge bonus. Being able to almost half the number of heifers being reared has given us more milking space.”

The reduction in replacements has allowed Warren to use just enough semen for herd replacements and finish with beef semen to achieve higher value for on-sell calves for beef production. In earlier production peaks, health problems had taken a shine off the success.

“About five years ago I had four cows do over 50 litres within a few months, but each of them was gone within six months,” Warren said. “They were culled because they broke down and couldn’t cope with the production. This time around we’ll have 30 cows do over 50 litres over five months, including one over 60, and I’ve still got every one of them. “That has to be genetic based.”

The success isn’t limited to improved production and health…there’s an improved look as well. “In the past three years it was been solid, once I had enough VikingGenetics in the herd to make a true influence. It’s nice to look at them here rather than on the truck.

Warren is particularly impressed by the udders. “For me, udders are paramount; if you don’t have a good udder, you’re not going to have anything at the end of the day.

“Based on what I saw at Terry’s it wasn’t an unexpected outcome; I could see that pattern coming here and holding. Everyone likes to look at a good rear udder when they’re putting the cups on.” Warren has no hesitation in recommending VikingRed. “The main bulls selected for the base of the herd have all been tremendous, and I toss in a few on the side to see how they go,” he said.

“I started getting second crosses this year – that will be another steppingstone to confirm I’m on the right direction.” His main reasons for recommending VikingReds are reliability, superior health traits and improved production.

“I’m absolutely happy. If you can get reliability into your bulls and know they’re going to stay in the herd, it equals more milking ground where you make your money. “That’s the VikingGenetics´ philosophy and that’s what they deliver.”

 

FARM FACTS:

Farm size: 115ha plus 60ha leased

Herd: 220

Average milk 8,961 kg

Fat: 3.65%, 317 kgs

Protein: 3.26%, 283 kgs

 

“They over-performed compared to any other genetics I’ve ever used; they easily exceeded my expectations.”

 

By Rick Byrne

Learn more about VikingRed