A fresh look at Friesian
breeding might help improve
profits on many dairy units,
says one enthusiast.
Jeremy Hunt reports
HOLSTEIN cows have led the UK dairy sector into a high input system that can no longer be justified with a long-term prospect of a 15p/litre milk price.
That is the opinion of Cumbria producer Rodger Lindsay of Blackford, Carlisle, who in recent years has also been running an AI business, alongside his farming interests.
He now has over 500 clients throughout Cumbria and the north east and they all have one thing in common – a commitment to breed functional, productive, hard-wearing cows. Unfortunately, Mr Lindsays own herd was hit by foot-and-mouth in mid-March.
"To create a stable UK dairy sector we have to be able to produce milk at the lowest possible price. No matter how much we protest, our milk price will be governed by a world market. To remain profitable we have to face that fact and adapt.
"Those that do not will suffer the consequences. Low-cost production must be the starting point, based on a cow that will milk for seven or eight lactations, calve every year and produce up to 8000 litres. That is the cow that will leave some profit."
Mr Linsdsay says that even in the days of milk at 26p/litre there has been a consistent demand in this part of the UK for a British Friesian type of cow.
"There is no doubt that the dairy industry has paid a major disservice to this cow. She has been shunted almost into oblivion by the Holstein and yet she may now be the hottest property we have.
"This is the cow with the constitution and production to make dairy farming profitable again, even within the inevitable price constraint of a world market and a 15p/litre milk price," says Mr Lindsay.
There has been a widespread Holstein-driven trend to pursue high yields from high inputs in an effort to remain profitable. But, he says, there are still many milk producers who have not followed fashion and have put profit as a priority, instead of blindly chasing high yields.
"These producers have stayed true to a cow that would last seven to 10 lactations, does not suffer from fertility problems and thrives on a straightforward system of management. That is what we must get back to."
Although conscious that the term dual purpose does not inspire the new generation of milk producers, he believes it defines a cow that is the most profitable tool for making money from milk.
The 6000-7000-litre cow that can produce milk efficiently, has mobility, good traction, a well-attached udder and a strong constitution is the type of cow that is needed, explains Mr Lindsay.
"But she needs to be able to carry flesh and maintain body condition. The Holstein has always milked off her back, but there are British Friesian cows giving 9000 litres that would be described as fat by todays standards.
"Yet, these cows have much higher conception rates and are regular breeders because they are not struggling to cope with a negative energy balance."
He believes the Holstein had much to offer UK dairy farmers 20 years ago, but the purebred, extreme type that has now become commonplace has delivered nothing except high cost production.
New bull stud
Mr Lindsay has just opened a new bull stud on premises several miles from Blackford and had recently acquired an exciting young British Friesian bull, Cauldcoats Thore. Unfortunately, the bull was on the home farm at the time of the F&M outbreak and was slaughtered.
"We had only taken a small amount of semen from him. He is the type that could have done a tremendous job as a sire. His dam is a 96 point cow with an eight-lactation average of 9225kg at 3.97% fat and 3.58% protein."
He is concerned that the whole culture that came with the Holstein – "white trousers, Andy Pandy suits and fitters" – has focused attention on show-ring success and high indexes. This has masked the primary role of dairy cows, which is to make money from milk.
"The British Friesian has had a raw deal from the breed society. It has almost become a stranger in its own house, even its name was struck from the title."
He believes many commercial UK dairy farmers are ready to reassess the type of cow they milk. As well as switching to a cow more suited to low-cost milk production, he feels they would welcome a reduction in herd replacement rates and the prospect of earning an income from bull calves, instead of them being worthless.
• Can produce 9000 litres.
• Have good longevity.
• Bull calf valuable.