Fleckvieh cattle provide dairy profitability

Dairy and beef integration may be the phrase of the moment, but for a Somerset dairy farmer, producing a “dual purpose” animal has driven farm profitability for some time.

In the 1980s the Voizey family, Marsh Farm, Hardington Marsh, recognised the potential for producing a durable animal and began crossing their herd of British Friesian/Holsteins to Meuse Rhine Issel (MRI), explains Tom Voizey.

“The beef side of our business has always complemented the dairy side with our 250 beef enterprise made up entirely of stock from the dairy unit.

“The beef is like a ‘mini milk cheque’. Creating a balanced system that uses ‘the whole cow’ is definitely the key to success,” he says.

But, although pleased with the durable and long lived cow produced by the MRI, as time progressed, it became more and more difficult to source MRI cattle from a relatively small genetic base.

Tom-Voizey-003However, during a trip to Austria Mr Voizey (pictured) was attracted to the traits of the Fleckvieh breed. “The Fleckvieh fulfilled my criteria for a durable animal that would fit well into our system and not require excessive inputs to be profitable. The breed also had the added advantage of having a good genetic base.”

As a result, Mr Voizey began crossing the MRI herd to Fleckvieh and imported 20 pedigree Fleckvieh in-calf heifers in April last year.

Fleckvieh are essentially Simmentals that have been selected for milk, explains Wes Bluhm, Target Breeding. “The Simmental is known as a dual purpose breed in virtually every non-English speaking country. In fact the breed is the second largest dairy breed in the world and because of their large numbers, they have a substantial genetic base.”

The breed is also involved in a fully fledged dairy programme, assessing milk performance, he explains.

Consequently, Fleckvieh have the potential to produce significantly high yields, says Mr Voizey.


“During my trip to Austria, I visited a farmer who was milking Fleckvieh alongside Holsteins and averaging more than 9000kg on a TMR. However, the Fleckvieh were able to produce this while maintaining good condition, while the Holsteins had milked themselves down.”

fleckvieh-cowsIn the right system, Fleckvieh cattle can produce 9000-10,000kg a cow a year, says Mr Bluhm.

“It depends on what individual farms are looking for. For intensive systems it is possible for Fleckveihs to achieve these volumes, but on a low input system where the emphasis may be on producing a good beef calf, high yields may not be a priority.”

For Mr Bluhm, seeing this type of cow milking well was a real eye opener. “Like most farmers, I viewed the sharp, angular Holstein as how a milking cow should look. However, after a trip to Europe, it became apparent it was possible to have big, ‘chunky’ cows that could use energy for flesh and milk.”

With the help of the Fleckviehs, Marsh Farm aims to push yields up from 7000 litres a cow a year to about 7500-8000 litres, while maintaining good solids, says Mr Voizey.

“All dams of the bought in Fleckvieh heifers are giving 9000 litres, so our hope is they will achieve this level of production by their third lactation.”

The Fleckvieh also fits well in the farm’s low input system that emphasises maximising milk from forage. “The Fleckvieh are excellent forage converters. The pure bred animals are like a ‘hoover’ in the field – their head is straight down grazing.”

And alongside milk assessment, the Fleckvieh also undergoes thorough testing for beef qualities, explains Mr Bluhm.


“Fleckvieh bull testing involves testing for weight gain and feed conversion with the best of these bulls going on to dairy testing,” he says.

And because good growth is bred into the Fleckvieh through generations, Mr Voizey expects growth rates to be superior to that of the MRIs -something which is essential to the success of the beef side of the business.

“So far we are extremely pleased with the Fleckvieh calves – they are full of vigour and get up and going straight away.”

With Fleckvieh genetics producing a robust animal, cull cow value should also improve. “We are already getting a good cull value for our MRI cows, but because the Fleckvieh is a larger framed animal, we also expect to gain a higher price for them.”

Mr Voizey aims to double the pure bred Fleckvieh portion of the herd over time and maintain the MRI cross portion of his herd at current levels.

“It is early days, but initial signs are good. I would like to maintain the Fleckvieh cross in the herd, but depending on how things go, I may consider a three way cross to Norwegian Red.”


An added advantage to Fleckvieh cattle is their high health status, says Mr Voizey.

“We wanted to mitigate any risk of disease spread to our herd and the fact Austria is BVD, Leptospirosis and Johne’s free is a huge advantage.”

And by introducing Fleckvieh genetics, the Voizeys hope to maintain current high health and fertility levels.

“Crossing to MRI has bred a herd of robust, low maintenance cows with low mastitis and somatic cell counts, a calving interval of 380 days and a 70% conception rate to first service. And we expect health and fertility to remain as good with the Fleckvieh,” he says.

In fact, Fleckvieh have been shown to have significantly lower somatic cell counts than Holsteins, says Mr Bluhm. “Fleckvieh are promoted for their milky traits, better udders and low somatic cell counts.

“Data from Austrian and German farms, under similar conditions to the UK, found Fleckvieh cattle had somatic cell counts one third lower than Holsteins.”

And Fleckvieh cattle required, on average, 25-30% less total straws of semen across all pregnancies compared to Holsteins.


Cross breeding is the future for dairy production in the UK, says Wes Bluhm.

“The type of cross that a farmer selects will vary depending on what they are looking to achieve, but the future could involve crossing Holstein to Fleckvieh, followed by a third cross.”

And in intensive systems, a three way cross with a Scandinavian Red could be a good option for improving yields and health.

However, in other cases, Fleckvieh may not be the right option. “In the south west, on more extensive systems where poaching may be a problem, breeding a heavier cow may not be appropriate.”

But, the Holstein is still the foundation for all these three way crosses, says Mr Bluhm.

“The key is to select other breeds to compliment the traits provided by the Holstein. For example, by selecting Fleckvieh and Scandanavian Red, you can improve fertility and cell counts while gaining the benefits associated with improved hybrid vigour.

“With the combination of health and production, you can create a more profitable system.”