Large dairy celebrates herd health success

With 2,000 cows on his Tatura, Australia dairy farm, Markus Lang knows the importance of maintaining good herd health. And with barely a handful of sick cows at any given time, the farm’s record is outstanding.

“One of the most pleasing things about the herd we’ve been able to breed is their health and ease of function,” Markus says and continues: “It’s uncommon for herds this size not to have more sick cows and the fact that we don’t have a sick herd for the number of cows we run is something we’re very proud of.” 
The health of the mostly Holstein herd has been transformed over the past decade since Lang Dairies switched to VikingGenetics. “The health traits are coming to the fore so we’re not hassled by sick cows,” Markus says and states “A big thing for us is simplifying the system, and that includes never having a sick herd and part of that comes from having the right genetics.”

“I’m milking 720 at the moment and we’ve only got five in the bucket because they’re on antibiotics. We can control and prevent a lot of problems which means we don’t need a sick herd,” he adds. In addition to the focus on health, easy calving, high fertility, improved production and longevity are top priorities. With such a big operation, efficiencies are essential.

Lang Dairies is a far cry from when Markus’ parents Werner and Josie arrived in Australia from Switzerland in 1982, settling at Tatura in northern Victoria with 50 hectares and 90 cows. Markus and his brother Phil took over management of the business in 2015, while Werner and Josie continue as active farmers. They now operate as one business spread across three farms and 1500 hectares, sharing resources and machinery and employing five full-time staff and three part-timers.

Irrigated perennial pastures are the feed base with cows grazing year-round, backed by a partial home-grown mixed ration on a feed pad towards the end of summer, allowing the farm to maintain a stocking rate close to 4.5 cows per hectare on the dairy platform.
Each farm has its own dairy while the feed infrastructure and silage are kept on the home farm and transported as needed. Titles aren’t formalised but Markus is effectively operations manager and Phil handles the financial side of things. While there is some negativity in the industry, Markus says Northern Victoria is a great place to farm: “It can get hot over summer but having access to irrigation water means we can grow most crops and productive, quality pastures.”

Tougher weather conditions mean the Langs must be efficient and they say that using VikingGenetics as their semen provider has been the key to success. “Dad started using VikingGenetics about 10 years ago, with Easy Calving Viking bulls on our maiden heifers,” Markus says. “The results were fantastic, and it was one of the easiest calvings we’ve had.” 

“Through growing the herd as fast as we have, we were trying to join maiden heifers back to Holsteins to get the animal we want. They assured us we’d get an easy calving bull and we were blown away with the results. Calving is much easier now. We used to check cows most nights. We’ve got to a stage now where we check the calving paddock at 9 in the evening and there could be 100 cows in there and I’ll know they’ll be okay, which means a better quality of life for the family,” Markus tells.

The Langs built on that experience. “We’d get what we asked for, so we’ve come to the point where we’re using VikingGenetics exclusively,” Markus says. Along with health improvements, the farm is achieving better production, with nearly 7000 litres herd average, 3.3 % protein and 4.2 % fat for just under 500 kg/Ms. “The component percentages have been increasing. We put that down to genetics and partly that we’re getting better at nutrition,” Markus explains.
The farm’s females aren’t tested for NTM (Nordic Total Merit) but Markus tends to use bulls around +30 NTM. Fertility has been improving. “Each pregnancy test improves a couple of percentage points. Fertility isn’t something we put a lot of effort into but through genetics we can passively improve, which is what we’re seeing.”
The Langs look for easy to handle cows that produce good components with minimal fuss, are easy to get in calf, have good udder and hoof health, are able to walk long distances and will have longevity.

“What’s really pleasing is that we get what we’ve been breeding for; a short stature cow that’s robust, looks balanced, has less health problems and they’re a pleasure to milk. The VikingGenetics cow for us is the complete package. The balanced approach to how they do the breeding is really showing through in the herd,” Markus is proud to say Lang Dairies is a profitable business and states: “Driving the bottom line is what we’re trying to achieve. We work too hard not to make a dollar. The system we’ve been able to build around the VikingGenetics cows does it year in year out.”

He admits there is negativity around dairy farming in northern Victoria: “But we can do it well here; even in dry times we can perform quite well and we expect to continuing growing. Had you told mum and dad when they arrived in 1982 that we’d be milking 2,000 cows on three farms, I’m not sure if they would have laughed or cried. Now we’re very happy and anything is possible for our future.”

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