Story sponsored by Viking Genetics.
The use of three-way cross breeding in dairy operations is a popular topic at present. With more farmers using the system, and herd conversions are obtaining critical mass due to decisions made in previous years, the results of taking such a strategy are now starting to show.
Josh and Lilli Philp run more than 700 head at Riverbank, a 420-hectare dairy farm they lease from Josh's parents Barry and Vicky at Garvoc in Victoria. Barry and Vicky came to the farm from New Zealand in 1996 and started milking NZ Friesians.
After struggling with herd health issues and trying to breed a smaller cow, they introduced a two-way Jersey cross.
Better health and fertility
In 2008, looking for a more systematic way of breeding to create the cow they were looking for, the Philps chose to use the VikingGenetics GoldenCross program.
When Josh and Lilli took over the herd in 2017 they continued the transformation, with around 95 per cent of their cows now with the three-way cross genetics.
"When we made the decision to go for the three-way cross, Dad was looking for better health and fertility across the herd," Josh said.
"We also wanted to lift the average size of the cows, but not too much. A medium cow suits us best."
Efficient and profitable crossbreeding solution
GoldenCross is a three-breed program that uses VikingHolstein, VikingRed and VikingJersey genetics. In the top positions for health and production traits worldwide, they have been bred in Nordic countries, where testing and record keeping is arguably the most detailed in the world.
The Philps work closely with VikingGenetics Australia to select the right sires for breeding. With the sires, Josh says they look for good health, fertility and the right size parameters, as well as milk production and positive fat and protein scores. Using AI only for around nine weeks, the couple are achieving 90 percent in-calf rates.
Across the herd, the Philps are achieving an average of 6,200 litres per cow per annum, with 4.7pc milkfat and 3.6pc protein. Somatic cell count is averaging 100,000.
"The animals have got to last and get in calf well. They need to walk. We now have no mastitis and no hoof issues, no lameness," Josh said.
"We are happy with the results. It is working well and proving successful for us."
Backed up by research
Independent dairy consultant Dr Jo Coombe has researched the benefits of using three-way cross genetics in dairy operations. Completed for Dairy Australia through the University of Melbourne, her project looked at the implications of applying three-way breeding for dairy farming operations.
The project looked at Holstein, Jersey, Australian Red crosses, as there was enough ADHIS data for that combination to give statistical reliability.
The research found there are measurable farm management benefits from choosing to use three-way cross genetics, although Dr Coombe says it is not necessarily for every operation.
"It costs money to raise a dairy cow, so when looking at the effectiveness of breeding programs, we consider profitability not simply productivity. They are not the same thing," she explained.
Sustainable herd management
"It is a combination of factors that make a difference - fertility, production, and of course feed and running costs. We tend to find the greatest benefits from cross breeding are in operations that are predominantly pasture-based, those that don't require as much supplementary feeding," she continued.
"The major benefit for three-way crosses is the fertility and sustainability of cow turnover. If you are turning over your animals less often, the herd is more sustainable and stable."
Dr Coombe says that VikingGenetics' approach to the three-way cross is different to many of the other dairy genetic providers.
"Probably the most noticeable difference is that they don't consider the use of a three-way cross as diluting any 'purity' of the parent breed genetics. Rather, they see it is as a benefit when looking for a flexible and sustainable herd management strategy," she said.
"It is important that farmers have a breeding plan to suit their operation, that they can adapt to their circumstances to achieve improved herd sustainability and animal health."
Continuing the three-way approach
Josh agrees and is continuing the transformation to GoldenCross, saying they have seen an overall lift in the herd's performance. He says it is probably one of the easiest breeding systems to understand once you get started.
"You don't have to worry about inbreeding and keeping track of pedigrees. The key is to choose the right sires to make sure we are keeping things on track to get the type of cow we want," he said.
"Our focus is on making sure we are producing high quality, high value milk. High production is not the be all and end all. We have to be delivering on the quality and profitability factors."
After more than ten years using the GoldenCross System, the Philps are well aware of the strengths that each breed contributes.
Medium size and efficiency
"They all add something different to the mix - the VikingHolstein for high milk production, VikingJersey increases components such as fat and protein, and VikingRed contributes to general animal health," Josh said.
The result is a cow of medium size and various colours.
"I don't care what colour the cow is. It is not important. What is important is that they get in calf, produce high quality milk and are healthy," he said.
"We had a lot of problems with mastitis and hooves, so it was critical to improve these factors as well as the overall herd's health across the board," he continued.
"If we want to build a sustainable business that guarantees the success of the farm, we need to have a sustainable herd. Once that can support our family and the team.
"We are pleased with the herd we have created. The goal now is to maintain what we are doing and consistently improve as we keep breeding for the things that matter."
Story sponsored by Viking Genetics.
The story A decade in the making for three-way breeding results first appeared on Stock Journal.