Lifetime achievement for Illawarra cow

Lifetime achievement for Illawarra from Blackwood Park

Herd Management
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A South Australian Illawarra trumped both its Holstein and Illawarra herd mates when its recently achieved a lifetime production of close to 150,000 litres within a 500-cow herd.

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A South Australian Illawarra trumped both its Holstein and Illawarra herd mates when its recently achieved a lifetime production of close to 150,000 litres within a 500-cow herd.

Blackwood Park Buttercup 221 VG88 STP is one of 100 registered Illawarras in the Murray Bridge herd of David and Karen Altmann and family.

Buttercup 221 produced 146,448 litres in 10 lactations, milking three times a day on a six-kilogram daily grain ration.

Its lifetime work boils down to 3936 lactating days - with a lifetime production average of 37.2 litres a day.

It is a record lifetime production for an Australian Illawarra.

It also remains No.1 among 60 cows (both Illawarra and Holstein) in Blackwood Park's herd - with a rolling herd average of more than 12,500-litres - to break through the 100,000-litre lifetime production threshold.

Three generations of national production records

Buttercup 221 is also a STP Diamond Award winner, and it heads up a maternal line that includes three generations of national production record holders (for age) within their breed.

Importantly - for the rest of the industry - it is also the great granddam of Semex sire Blackwood Park Beemer, which is sired by Wallumlands Blush's Savard.

The bull blends paternal bloodlines from five powerhouse Illawarra herds throughout the country, including Wallumlands, Glenhaven, Panorama, Llandovery and Blackwood Park.

Beemer is the No.3 in the Illawarra breed for Balanced Profit Index (BPI) in the August Australian Breeding Values (ABVs)] based on parent average, because its oldest calves have only just started hitting the ground this year.

David Altmann describes Buttercup 221 as "remarkable cow", saying it proved without a shadow of a doubt that longevity, reproductivity and production don't need to be mutually exclusive within a commercial operation.}

Buttercup 221 died this year in its sleep, aged 14.1 years, a month shortly after completing its 10th lactation.

"She was a once in a lifetime cow for us," David Altmann said.

"I haven't had any cows in our herd beat her for lifetime production. She was just so incredibly milky."

While Buttercup 221 was undoubtedly a headliner at Blackwood Park, it isn't its sole bell ringer. Blackwood Park holds a whopping 13 of 18 (72 per cent) of the national 305-day record productions available in the Australian Illawarra Society.

It's an incredible legacy and a tribute to the commercial success which Illawarras can achieve within a mixed herd.

Milk-producing legacy

Blackwood Park 221 passed its ability to breed and to milk to her daughters.

While its held the former junior three-year-old national record (12,209 litres) and the former junior four-year-old national record (13,905 litres), it would be its daughter, Blackwood Park Buttercup 225 VG86, that would ultimately relieve her of them.

Buttercup 225, sired by Panorama Royal Treble, claimed the national junior three-year-old production record (14,108 litres) and the junior four-year-old with 15,288 litres.

Buttercup 225 also broke the junior four-year-old record for butterfat (567kg) and the mature record for protein (502kg) and butterfat (649kg).

It had a lifetime production (in six lactations) of 92,357 litres.

It did it in 2188 lactating days (giving her a lactation average of 42.2 litres a day).

Buttercup 225's daughter, Blackwood Park Buttercup 232 (sired by Llandovery Verbs Viscount) then set its own cracking pace, breaking the national production record for a senior milking yearling with 11,571 litres, 371kg protein and 452kg butterfat.

In five lactations it produced 77,365 litres in 1698 lactating days (an average of 45.6 litres a day).

It was also the Intermediate Illawarra Champion at the 2014 Adelaide Royal show.

Its maternal brother, Blackwood Park Butternut was marketed through Agri Gene.

Sadly, Buttercup 232's career was cut short this season by a stifle injury.

"All three of those cows behind Beemer were super dairy cows, and absolute milk machines," Mr Altmann said.

"To have that consistent production in his pedigree, in addition to the VG classifications, the STP Diamond and Silver awards, while getting in calf every year is important for commercial operations.

"All of those cows peaked at 15,000 litres multiple times. The Buttercups are definitely one of our strongest families."

Families for performance

Without performance, there is no room at Blackwood Park.

Its Illawarra average is 10,400 litres, and six of them have breached 100,000-lifetime production achievements.

Today, the 850.5ha farm is farmed in three blocks at Murray Bridge, the Adelaide Hills, and at Cooks Plains.

The milking herd has access to 20.25ha in total, on a home farm, which gets 279-millimetres (11-inch) annual rainfall.

They milk in a 44-stand rotary, and the cows are housed undercover on deep, dried compost (up to 1m deep) in a 168m (long) x 25m (wide) x 11m (high) shed.

It has no internal spans, and its concrete wall surround is 1.2m high.

The dried compost shed sits adjacent to the undercover feed pad, which includes some 42 tonnes of Sure-Foot rubber matting, that took 13,500 drill holes to bolt down.

Blackwood Park was one of the first Australian herds to invest heavily in the SCR Heatime HR System (Semex's reproduction and health-monitoring software including a rumination recorder).

Because of the technology, they are joining cows that come on heat from 50 days fresh.

The herd is currently averaging 2.1 AI inseminations per pregnancy.

Production directly linked to cow comfort

Blackwood Park's six-million-litre annual production goes to speciality cheese producer La Vera, and it is one of just two suppliers to Adelaide's celebrated speciality yoghurt producer YoghurtShop.

The 30pc balance of its milk is absorbed by Victorian processor Lactalis.

Mr Altmann said switching to a total mixed ration system, milking three times a day in 2006 wasn't without its pressure points or its detractors.

But, the minimum 15pc more milk for the extra 3pc input made the additional work worth it.

And, together with the premium-priced speciality milk contracts have made it possible for son Jake to be the sixth generation to join Blackwood Park.

"When we went into this sort of system, everyone said the cows wouldn't last and we'd wear them out. But these cows are enduring, and they are going back in-calf. We do still have cows in the herd that are 12-years plus, with eight or nine lactations behind them, and the herd's average number of lactations is five," David said.

"I think it's about getting the balance right of quality and quantity of the hay, silage, grain and by-products we feed. I guess, after 15 years, we've got a little bit of experience now."

He also believes strongly that cow comfort drives performance and fertility.

"I do think that cow comfort has an enormous bearing on high producing cows. Without question, the more milk they give, the more comfort they need," he said.

"Through this process, I've come to realise the absolute importance of it. When we first went into the barn, it was winter, and it was wet and cold. Production went up 1.5 litres/cow/day within 36 hours.

"But, we are most challenged by summer, and during those months the shed is worth an extra two litres per cow per day to us.

"And, we have changed nothing else outside of opening the gate into that shed to get those results."

David said their Illawarra families continue to compete well with Holsteins.

"If people want to run a mixed herd, Illawarras definitely do compete in the paddock and in the TMR system. They don't get bossed around, and they are easy-care cows."

Article supplied by Illawarra Australia.

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