Developing a herd of equal stature has meant some careful breeding decisions for the Hill family.
The dairy farmers from South Riana in Tasmania inherited a cross-bred herd when they purchased their farm five years.
For the business - which includes Brodie, his brother James, their parents Craig and Heather and worker Kwai - size does matter when it comes to limiting cow competition within the herd.
They use Holstein, Jersey and Swedish Red genetics selectively, to build a uniform herd, targeting 500 kilograms liveweight, and make breeding decisions based on individual cows.
"We are essentially a three-way-cross but with each breed we are chasing certain characteristics," Brodie said.
He uses DataGene's Good Bulls App to search for bulls with the traits he is looking for in each breed.
"For example, strength for Jerseys, stature and milk components," he said. "With Holsteins we quite frequently go for fertility, udders, feet and calving ease. With the Swedish Reds, at the moment, we are only using a bull called V.Foske, we are into the fourth year of using him."
It was through the DataGene Good Bulls Guide that the Hills discovered V.Foske. They initially selected it for production but found the sire put more strength and vigour into the cows.
The Good Bulls App enables the Hills to make all their own breeding decisions. They set filters within the app based on certain traits and the app provides a list of bulls which fit their criteria.
Operating a three-way-cross breeding program means every decision must be calculated. For example, calving ease is a huge factor in the selection of Holstein sires.
"We never select Holsteins with a potentially hard calving because they go over the Jerseys or the smaller animals," Brodie said. "Fertility is also a big one with Holsteins, we discount anything that is worse than average -- straight away -- when it comes to fertility."
You get an unbiased opinion of what we want, especially with stature and components.
Brodie said the app allowed them to compare sires against each other on the same measure.
"Because we do it all ourselves, the main benefit of the actual app is that it pretty much puts all the bulls on the one platform," he said. "You get an unbiased opinion of what we want, especially with stature and components."
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Impartial information helps the Hill family make more informed decisions, a lot easier.
"If we have the catalogues in front of us, they might say (a sire) has big stature but that doesn't matter because it might not be comparable (if there is no Australian information)," Brodie said. "For example, is it a big stature in New Zealand or Australia?
"The app gives us more confidence knowing we are making the right selection. Also, when a bull company representative comes around, we can have a more informed conversation. For example, you can say 'I've noticed a bull compares like this,' it improves the conversation."
Bull selection is done on the day of joining via the app. "Every large Holstein gets a Jersey, it's just what type of Jersey they get," Brodie said. "All larger framed Jerseys and smaller framed Holstein typically get a red. The smaller framed Jerseys, cross-breeds or Reds will get a Holstein to ensure size is put back into the progeny."
Apart from developing an even-sized herd, the Hills remain focused on building cow numbers. They currently milk 450 across a 180-hectare milking platform. Their business aim is to get to 550-600 cows through increased irrigation development and using run-off areas for the milking herd. Every year they have increased their herd by 50-60 cows. This means they have kept as many heifers as replacements as possible and been mindful of breeding for longevity.
In-house milk monitors provide an insight into daily production and traditionally the family usually herd tested two-to-three times a year. Currently the herd produces 480-500kg of milk solids a lactation from a pasture-based diet with 1.2-1.5 tonnes a year tonne of grain/cow/lactation.
The Hills previously milked pedigree Holsteins, before Craig and Heather initially retired. It was only when they purchased this current farm, five years ago, that they started crossbreeding. The herd came with the farm and had everything from "tiny little Jerseys to, huge big Holsteins", Brodie said. They have since embraced cross-breeding for its fertility but also the cows' ability to handle the harsh north-west Tasmanian weather.
"Because of our higher altitude, it can snow quite frequently in August," Brodie said. Friends suggested they use Swedish Reds because "if the weather was nasty, they were still out grazing". "Overtime, the crossbreds have been heartier and aggressive to feed, and they hold condition a bit better," Brodie said.
Calving is seasonal (spring) with joining to artificial insemination for six weeks followed by bulls for three weeks. Heifers entered the herd 10 days earlier this year, traditionally it's one-to-two weeks earlier.
Into the future, they want to artificially inseminate all the heifers and then the main herd for only three to four weeks. The remaining animals will then be joined to beef. This has driven the focus on breeding for fertility. This year the herd recorded a conception rate of about 82 per cent to artificial insemination.
This story first appeared on Australian Dairyfarmer