8 December 2000


Profiting from milk should be about maximising farm output/litre of quota, and Montbeliarde

cows are the right breed to achieve that aim, according to one producer. Jessica Buss reports

Montbeliardes produce maximum farm output/litre of quota, have a high bull calf value and are heavier culls – all adding up to better profits.


&#8226 High bull calf value.

&#8226 Heavier culls.

&#8226 Cheese yield up 15%/litre.

MILK yields are less relevant when each purebred dairy bull calf is worth £200 and a cull cow attracts £400 more than a Holstein. Thats not to say Montbeliarde cows are low yielding.

According to Malcolm Pearce, chairman of Lordswood Farms, Frome, Somerset, who now has 700 Montbeliarde cows milking and 900 youngstock in the pipeline, these cows can produce 10,000 litres.

Its a point he plans to prove by setting up a small herd of 30 cows, with no quota restriction, even though it may not be profitable. "We will prove that they can do it here in the UK." But, for economic reasons, he will not aim to average 10,000 litres with all 700 milkers.

Cow longevity will also mean higher profits than for Holstein cows, he believes. But it is difficult to say how many lactations cows will last, as many of the first 30 Montbeliarde cows bought in 1993 and their progeny are still milking, explains Mr Pearce. He imported the cows from France as soon as foot-and-mouth vaccination stop-ped, having seen them on previous visits.

His belief in the breeds ability to improve profitability has been confirmed by a Teagasc, Moorepark, study in Ireland which has been running for three years. The study showed that cull and calf values, together with a high milk price and low replacement rate, meant Montbeliardes outperformed Dutch Holsteins, Irish Holstein Friesians and Normande cows in terms of profit.

When culls were sold on the Irish market they were worth £400 more than a Holstein. OTMS restrictions here mean that price difference hasnt been realised by Lordswood Farms in the last few years, but now weight restrictions have been lifted the 650-700kg culls are worth £200 more than black-and-whites, he adds.

In the Irish study, pure Montbeliarde bull calves were valued at £200 each. Currently, Lordswood Farms keeps bull calves to about six-months-old then sells all except 90 a year for finishing. He believes they finish and sell better than a beef x Holstein, with buyers keen to return for more calves.

The farms barley beef system sells calves at 550kg at 14 months old, killing out at 60-61%. One supermarket supplied with their bulls has become keen to source more beef from the breed and Mr Pearce finds this demand encouraging.

Mr Pearce is frustrated that BSE regulations have stopped him maximising the potential in terms of calf and cull values. But what makes Montbeliarde milk likely to produce higher profits in the UK is Mr Pearces recent discovery that the breeds high protein milk makes 12-15% more hard cheese a litre than Holstein milk.

Milk protein is about 10% higher than a Holstein herd, and the properties in it have added value, including being anti-carcinogenic, adds Mr Pearce.

"We havent enjoyed the benefit of improved milk quality because milk is going for liquid. But we have decided not to sell the white stuff and plan to start marketing Montbeliarde cheese instead." Additional savings will come through having less milk to transport for making each tonne of cheese, which should increase milk income by 12-15% a litre.

Producing cheese will see a benefit in terms of profit a litre of quota held. He believes this is a crucial measure of dairy farm performance and one on which the Montbeliarde scores well. Thats why he plans to continue replacing Lordswood Farms black-and-white cows which currently number about 2100.

Herds of cows are not mixed because the Montbeliardes require different management and feeding. Two herds, one of 500 cows and one of 200, are currently Montbeliarde, others will follow suit as large numbers of youngstock calve to replace whole herds.

"We will replace all black-and-white cows with Montbeliardes, we are 110% committed. If we could afford to buy in enough replacements we would do it tomorrow." Unfortunately, these replacements would have to come from the breeds homeland in France where demand is also high and prices are £1000-£1200 a heifer.

Cross-breeding has also been experimented with, but the second cross failed to perform well, so Mr Pearce plans to stick with producing purebred replacements. Cows in the herd are all served to AI bulls progeny tested through the UMOTEST scheme in France.

Malcolm Pearce believes Montbeliardes have much greater ability than UK dairymen believe.

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