Declan Patten is a dairy farmer who owns cows in eight countries, soon to be nine. But he doesn't own a dairy platform and he doesn't milk a cow.
Mr Patten, of Sale, Vic, has a unique business model focused on genetics and breeding. As well as his own company, Lightning Ridge Genetics, he works globally for Cutting Edge Genetics, which sees him regularly in North America and travelling in Europe.
"I absolutely loved Italy when I travelled there as a young man, so I said, let's buy a cow there. It gives me the opportunity to travel the world," Mr Patten said.
He registered the Lightning Ridge suffix in October 2001 and runs his business in partnership with wife, Ellie Patten. The couple have two children, Eva, 4, and newborn Hendrix.
Mr Patten grew up on a dairy farm at Maffra, Vic, that included his parents' registered stud, Ryanna. His father Shane's passion and expertise for breeding Holstein cattle rubbed off.
"I was born into the genetics side of dairy and got my passion from dad, who was a really great breeder of stud Holstein cattle," Mr Patten said.
As a young adult, about eight years ago, he began working in America, at Butlerview Farms in Illinois; his first role was milking and general animal husbandry; 12 months later he was working in the genetics and breeding side of the business.
"At that time, Butlerview Farms was the number one genetics business in the world. Working there changed my path," Mr Patten said.
"I had incredible access to the best cows in the world and I thought I wouldn't be doing my country justice and taking advantage of the situation, if I didn't access these genetics.
I was born into the genetics side of dairy and got my passion from dad, who was a really great breeder of stud Holstein cattle.
"I started flushing cows and sending embryos back to Australia. I really started accelerating that side of our business -- importing embryos to Australia."
Declan and Ellie own 150 dairy cows scattered across eight countries. Some of those cows are owned in partnership with other people. They also have a herd of Angus-recipient cows grazing on a farm at Warragul, Vic.
Embryos and ova are imported from seven countries where Lightning Ridge Genetics owns dairy cows actively producing in milking herds - the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Italy, Germany, Netherlands and Denmark. Portugal will be added to that list after embryos exported from Australia are soon to be on the ground as calves.
"I import embryos and eggs from the dairy cows from across the globe and embryo-transfer them into recipient beef cows," Mr Patten said.
The Warragul farm is where they raise the dairy heifers that they have offered at auction every year since 2015.
This year, Lightning Ridge Genetics is behind the resurgence of the Jersey cow auction at International Dairy Week.
"Promoting a particular breed actually benefits the breed, raises additional funds because of that focus for anyone who's selling cattle; but it also brings more focus on the breed," Mr Patten said.
He will put Jersey and Holstein heifers up for auction at IDW this year.
"For us, there's always been a Holstein sale," he said.
"Jersey is a very popular breed right now and I imported some important Jersey embryos into Australia with the idea of holding a Jersey auction at IDW.
"IDW is really one of the most important events for my business and for a lot of farmers. On the business side, IDW adds value to genetics.
"If you have a successful IDW from the show side, that's obviously important for your business."
He will take to IDW direct daughters of the current grand champion and last year's grand champion from the World Dairy Expo.
In the Jersey sale will be cattle bred from the Spritz and Feliz Navidad families.
For the Holstein sale, he will bring Princess cow family heifers.
"We're very excited and privileged to sell daughters of those cows in this country," Mr Patten said.
After flushing, heifers are sold in milk into dairy herds globally, including several in Australia. He currently owns two ET Holstein heifer calves in Denmark, bred from the Koba cow family and aims to import some of their embryos and eggs to Australia.
"In the current climate in the dairy industry, I think it's important genetics stay relevant," he said. "We're able to invest in new cow families and new genetics and bring those into Australia, sometimes for the first time; and that's of benefit to Australian breeders.
"Globally a lot more people are conscious about progress, environment and resource efficiency. Farmers are trying to be a lot more efficient.
"My role is to identify and purchase the right females to breed from, to produce embryos that will save farmers money, through water and land use efficiency, through feed efficiency.
"Technology, volume and commercial competition means embryos from high-value cows are now a cost-effective investment option for all farmers."
While there are comparative values globally -- sire calving ease, health, fertility and production -- there is also a need for variable breeding traits.
"Traits that are favoured in any one country depend on the production system you're in and the payment systems a country favours -- yield or fat and protein," Mr Patten said.
"In Australia, our herds mostly graze in the paddock and stay outside all year round.
"Feed efficiency is a lot more important as a trait in European countries and the US, where cow herds are housed, either for a significant part of the year or year-round."
Breeding is a mathematical game of matching traits from cow families and sires. While Lightning Ridge Genetics owns a sire, Mr Patten's main focus has been on cow family genetics.
"We own the number one type bull in the world. And obviously that gives us revenue through semen royalties," he said.
"But it's only a small part of the business. It's an area I'd be looking to grow in the future."
Lightning Ridge-CMD Jedi Gigi-Imp-ET, known as Gigi, is an example of his focus on cow family genetics. Gigi sold as a two-month-old calf for the top
Australasian price of $250,000 at IDW's World Wide Sires Evolution sale two years ago.
He owned the heifer calf in partnership with Warragul's Callum Moscript. Gigi's cow was Halogen Gold, renowned for her health and fertility
traits. Its sire was Jedi, with a track record of production in its progeny.
"This is where Gigi excelled" Mr Patten said. "She was so special because she had great health and fertility traits. Health and fertility and the ability to pass on those traits to daughters are typical of the cow family, which originated in Canada.
"I was the one who raised Gold as a heifer, from the flushed embryos that made her. I decided to use a bull called Jedi because of his production traits.
"When we imported those embryos, we obviously hoped we would get a superior genetics female. But we didn't know until she was tested.
"It's very much a mathematical approach to applying genetic markers."
Gigi was exported live to America, where its has been flushed and has progeny on the ground.
This story first appeared on Australian Dairyfarmer