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They handle the weather extremes better than any other breed I have milked

The Davies were after a no-fuss cow and VikingRed have been giving that to them. Dairy farming is often about maintaining traditions, but Brett and Bronwyn Davies don’t mind bucking the trend to find the right farming-lifestyle formula. 

Fifth-generation farmer Brett moved from Swan Hill in northern Victoria to Simpson, near the Great Ocean Road in the south of the state.  And what´s more, he also used VikingRed to transition from Holsteins to Aussie Reds.

The shift to VikingRed was inspired by lifestyle choices, especially to avoid emergency night calving support. “We were a Holstein herd in Swan Hill, but it was getting harder and harder to get cows in calf.

A friend had a few Aussie Reds and invited me to a field day. I looked at them and met VikingGenetics and decided to dabble in Aussie Reds for a while. Once we started getting the daughters, we realised it was the way to go”, he said.

“We got an instant kick in that first cross for fertility and the health continued to improve which meant we weren’t spending as much on mastitis and lame cows,” Brett said.

The moves have been a huge success from both farming and family perspectives, creating the ideal work-life balance. They moved from the north to get away from water issues, and they moved to VikingRed to improve female fertility.

 

Working with a no-fuss cow

They milked 600 cows at Swan Hill and now can employ a relief worker for their 280-cow herd on 165 hectares. The herd is now 95% Reds. “We predominantly use VikingRed and don’t cross with anything else”.

“Now we’re using VikingHolstein higher fertility bulls to improve fertility so they can hold their position in the herd.” Brett also said they were after a no-fuss cow “and the Reds have been providing that for us”.

“When we had Holsteins, we used to do midnight checks during calving, but we don’t have to do that now; we trust them to calve. You don’t want a breeding cow that needs you there every night.”

Seasonal calving working best

They have also changed their calving pattern to better fit their lifestyle. “Four years ago, we decided split calving wasn’t working for us, so we went back to seasonal calving,” Brett said.

For the first joining period, they only kept all cows that were in-calf within seven weeks and topped up the herd with about 30 new Aussie Red cows. The calving period is now condensed to about seven weeks, usually starting around March 20 to avoid the winter cold.

Six years ago, they made the move south, and it’s nine years since the switch to using predominately VikingRed in their herd of Aussie Reds.

Daughter fertility was the top priority when making the change, and Brett has noticed a genetic gain in each generation.

High production and reliability

“What I like the most about VikingGenetics is their reliability,” Brett said. “Their proof is what they say it is. We wanted economical, no-fuss cows and that’s what we’ve got.”

The Reds also “hit the ground running” when moved from Swan Hill, while the black and whites took 12 months to settle in. Boosted by a “ripper season”, production has been increasing and hit a new high in July.

The cows produced about 580 kg/Ms last year at 3.95 fat and 3.6 protein and they are on track to match that this year.

A change that is bearing fruit

Brett has embraced the Aussie Reds, becoming a board member for the national body and hosting the International Red Dairy Breeds Federation tour in early 2019.

“People get caught up in black and whites, and that’s the breed to have; my advice is don’t be afraid of the colour,” he said.

“I like the Reds because they are very productive, have a good temperament, are robust and much healthier than cows I milked in the past. They also handle the weather extremes we experience of heat and cold better than any other breed I have milked.”

Their success has even been recognised by the industry. This year one of Brett and Bronwyn’s cows won the inaugural Aussie Red Cross Bred cow of the year with a daughter from VikingGenetics.

Brett has just finished a five-year extensive pasture renovation program and is well advanced on a laneway and fencing upgrade.

Now he can concentrate on growing grass and watching his healthy cows. “We see ourselves as grass growers with the cows being the tools that harvest it. You’ve got to have the right tools and VikingGenetics provides that for us.”

 

 

Satisfied with the right choices

Although a bit further removed from opportunities for their young children, Levi, 3, and Kaiah, 2, and missing the water sports that Swan Hill offers in northern Victoria. The south-west Victorian farming land and the switch to VikingGenetics has been an ideal fit for their farming goals.

As Brett looks over his lush green paddocks and relaxes knowing he can sleep easy at night during calving, he knows they have made the right choices.

Their changes have been designed to improve work-lifestyle balance. Everything they do on the farm is about lifestyle, including the breeding plan.

Text by Rick Bayne, Freelance journalist, Australia.