19 June 1998

Change to smaller cows fits bill neatly

Increased cow size and

production potential has led

to considerable investment

in housing and high cost

production systems for some

milk producers, but one has

resisted this trend and

altered his breeding policy

instead. Jessica Buss reports

SMALLER cows and crossbreds are being bred to suit high production from forage and existing cubicle housing on one Wiltshire farm, saving investment that would be needed to accommodate larger Holsteins.

Doug Hendry, Lower House Farm, Everleigh, decided that the breeding policy for the farms 420 cows, managed in three herds, was increasing cow size, despite only choosing the smaller Holstein bulls. Cubicles measure 2.1m (7ft) by 1.2m (4ft) in size.

"We were going to end up with 420 cows too big for the cubicles, which were not going to sleep in them and that was the wrong way to go."

All three herds are managed on the same basis, on a similar system to that used in New Zealand, maximising yield from forage with little concentrate. Yields average 5200-5700 litres from 600kg of concentrate fed in the parlour, so about 75% of milk comes from forage, he explains.

Concentrate use is kept low, with a maximum of 4kg a cow fed because the home-mix has to be carried up into the cake loft, he says. This home-mix is made using the same straights used in rations for the farms 3500 sows and progeny. No concentrate is fed outside because the cows are self-fed grass silage.

In summer two herds graze mainly on the Salisbury Plain, fenced into an area for three days grazing with temporary grazing. Army exercises force cows to stay in the farms permanent paddocks on some days, and night exercises mean cows are sent out to graze in the evening and are brought back to closed paddocks at about 8.30pm every day. Silage can also be made on the Plain, and the large acreage available to the farm means forage shortages are rare and grazing is cheap.

"Holsteins milked well on this system but shut down on reproduction and the calving pattern stretched. They were making management complicated," says Mr Hendry.

He was concerned about the slipping calving pattern and also wanted to improve cow longevity.

Currently heifers start calving on Aug 20 and cows Sept 1, but calving continues until mid-March. He hopes to tighten calving to finish at the end of December over the next few years, simplifying management.

Three years ago Mr Hendry decided to try New Zealand Friesian sires, picking bulls that he thought would fit his production system, and increasing the Friesian genetics in the herd. He only selects three bulls a year for use across the three herds, changing them after two years use to prevent inbreeding.

"Bulls feet are as important as milk yield when selecting bulls. We want a smaller, compact animal that will last longer and produce as much as a Holstein Friesian cross." He selects for feet, conformation and protein yield.

He decided to try 30 straws of a Jersey bull two years ago to produce some crossbreds – known as "Jersians" in New Zealand, he says. He has five six-month-old crossbred heifers and has served cows with another 50 straws of Jersey semen to calve this autumn. Another 100 straws of Jersey semen will be used next winter.

The Jersian heifers will be served with Friesian semen to calve at two years old, maintaining some hybrid vigour. Mr Hendry hopes Jersians will reach 270kg before service compared with the Friesians that are about 300kg when served.

His aim is to have all three herds three-quarters Friesian and a quarter Jersian crossbreds.

Jersians will be managed in the same way as Friesians in the herd, which will allow their performance to be compared and their profitability proven, says Mr Hendry.

He expects Jersians to produce higher milk fat and protein %s and is not concerned that he will lose litres of production, providing their total output is profitable. These will not be pure Jerseys, he points out, so yields should not be too low. Milk is sold on a constituent-based contract to Milk Marque.

"We want cows to stay longer in the herd. We believe that we will have to pay to get rid of culls so want to reduce our replacement rate."

In theory, the crossbred animals should have hybrid vigour, so should suffer less lameness and mastitis and be more fertile.

"It is total profit that matters, and all costs must be examined closely. Cows need to milk, get back in calf and be profitable -their colour does not matter," says Mr Hendry. &#42

Doug Hendrys answer to limited cubicle space is to breed smaller cows, crossing his Holstein Friesians with a Jersey to produce Jersians.

Jersians will be managed in the same way as Friesians at Lower House Farm and their performance and profitability compared with Friesians.