VikingGenetics Herd of the Year 2019 - Strong trust in VikingGenetics is paying off

Hannu Paananen’s and Mia Ikäheimo's Kaunisto Farm from Keitele was selected as the 2019 VikingGenetics Herd of the Year in Finland.
VikingGenetics chose the VikingGenetics herd of the year for the first time in Finland. Criteria for the title included good genetics and focus on the future. Led by Hannu Paananen and Mia Ikäheimo, the Kaunisto Farm is an expanding, evolving farm with HI females, embryo transfers and flushes, and they sell animals for the VikingGenetics breeding programme. Our VikingHolstein bull VH Lol is from the Kaunisto farm. 
Mia and Hannu say they are living the busy years of their lives. On the day of the interview, an excavator is at work behind the barn. The previous day, the second sileage cut was harvested. Their 9-year-old son, Onni, spent his last day of summer vacation before school starts again and Hannu picked up their 3-year-old son, Sisu, from the day care. Mia’s Whatsapp beeps messages from dog enthusiasts’ group and from their eldest son who lives on his own already. "Milk production is our thing, and we want to invest in it, of course, but without forgetting the time we have with the children,” says Mia.

Division of labor

Kaunisto farm was transferred to Hannu from his parents 23 years ago. Mia previously worked as a seminologist and transferred embryos. Mia has been fully employed by their family farm since 2009. The farm has one hired employee who takes care of the barn work on the Kaunisto farm every other week. The employee is a top worker and the arrangement allows Mia to concentrate every other week on non-routine barn tasks.
The couple's principle of division of labor is that they are both able to do everything, but they play to their fortes. Due to her background in AI, Mia is more in charge of heat monitoring, fertility issues and breeding. Mia inseminates the heifers and cows herself and they have their own semen tank in use at the farm. Hannu takes care of the forest work and most of the heavy machinery work and feeding.

Three cornerstones of business

Mia and Hannu see three things as important cornerstones in their dairy business. Investments need to be carefully considered. The low price of milk motivates keeping the costs down. For example, machinery purchases are carefully considered. If the machine would be idle most of the time, the couple will rather purchase the service. They also use contractors to do most of the field and harvest work.
Secondly, they consider how to use their time efficiently. They focus on things that are in their area of ​​expertise. The couple likes to rely on experts in accounting, grant applications and budgeting. Hannu states that the partners have been carefully thought through. The farm’s success is dependent on good partners so good cooperation is very much appreciated.
Third, the money comes from milk, so they want to invest in great animal genetics. It means, to a great extent, preventive work on animal welfare and health. Breeding and feeding are the key to success here. They take their time to implement the best solutions on these.

Mia’s expertise in use

Breeding is near Mia's heart. Mia knows her cows well, and she remembers all their names, pedigrees and their special characteristics.  
When they decided to grow the herd, they used a lot of X-Vik semen to breed new heifers to the herd. Some animals were purchased from three familiar farms. "We are now in a position to actually start choosing animals with a tighter criteria, and due to this, we can expect the herd to develop even faster towards our goals," Mia estimates. “We can also increase the use of beef bulls in the future,” Hannu continues.
Most of the herd is VikingHolstein and VikingRed is the minority. Hannu prefers Holstein as a breed due to their milder temperament and Mia's favourite are the Reds because of their durability. The Holsteins have higher yield, but ultimately, when the breeds are viewed including fertility and health, the breeds are quite equal in economic terms.

Indices you can trust

Mia and Hannu are very happy about the enormous amount of work and data behind the Nordic index calculations. Even when working as a seminologist Mia was part of the data collection by sending health information of the animals to the Nordic big data. Finland, Denmark and Sweden have the longest history in the world in collecting fertility and health information. The couple has a strong trust in the system. “Using indices is not just about refining numbers. I have seen it, how the indices work in practice. I have a very strong trust in VikingGenetic’s breeding programme,” says Mia and continues: “There is certainly a good bull selection available too.”
Mia makes the breeding plan for the herd and uses all available information to select the best bulls for them. “When there is plenty of reliable data available, why not use it then?” says Mia. Mia prefers using VikingGenetics bulls, whose indices are based on information from the whole Nordic cow population.
Genomic testing opened up a whole new world. “The genomic indices are very reliable,” Mia and Hannu tell of their experiences. They test all their calves, and this allows them to select the best individuals as their replacements. The information is also used when making the breeding plan and choosing the best mates for their heifers. The best heifers are used in embryo flushing too.

Choosing the best bulls

The cows of the Kaunisto farm have a very nice conformation, and in the udder and feet & legs conformation they have progressed very fast. When it comes to breeding goals, they focus on udder health, fertility, functional conformation, temperament, milkability, udder conformation… in other words, the whole thing matters. When selecting bulls, they see uniformity desirable. However, milking speed, health and functional conformation are particularly important. The mating plan is used to correct minor weaknesses in cows. They feel that the Holstein cows should no longer grow in size, and milkability is very important for the robot farm. "Cows should be medium-speed in milking, not too slow or fast. If the cow milks too slow, we lose on the milking robot capacity and cows that are milking too fast are more prone to udder diseases," Hannu says.
Mia has been excited about the Hoof Health index when it was released a few years ago. The hoof trimmer takes care of the whole herd’s hooves three to four times a year. The couple notes that the hoof health of their cows has been so good that there are long periods of time when they don’t need to call the vet at all to the farm. Cows with healthy hooves are very active in going in for the milking and are eating well.

Top genetic material

VikingGenetics is very interested in the genetic material of the Kaunisto herd. The herd contains many high NTM cows that are used to breed the next generation of VikingGenetics’ sires. These top females are inseminated with the newest sires that are not yet in semen production and are not available for purchase. It is a privilege to get to use the newest bulls. 
Embryo flushing and transfers are also performed at Kaunisto Farm. They are doing contract embryo flushing with VikingGenetics. Most of the embryos they have used on their farm come from these flushes, but some embryos are bought from the VikingEmbryo programme.
Hannu says that when it comes to embryo flushing, you must be prepared for mixed results, and it is not always clear why something goes wrong. Sometimes everything goes well in the preparations, but still the embryo yield is slim. On the other hand, great successes are a massive joy, and in the long run the results of the flushes are great. There are many calves and heifers born out of successful embryo transfers in the herd.

Farm facts

• 140 animals, 20 VikingRed and 120 VikingHolstein
• 305 days milk yield average 12,230 kg, 4.1% fat, 3.5% protein
• ECM 13,007 kg (Energy Corrected Milk)
• Average calving interval 378 days
• 100 ha of fields
• 100 ha of forest

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