JOHN Sykes knows how to pick a good birthday present for his wife Katrina.
About 10 years ago, John and daughter Jane surprised Katrina with six Ayrshire cows as a birthday present. From there the Hartwood Ayrshire stud was formed and has now become an integral part of the herd.
Although Jerseys make up the bulk of the herd, the 60 Ayrshires also make a major contribution.
John and Katrina farm with their sons Jason and Mark and daughter Jane at Ringarooma, Tas, with the 175-hectare home farm and similar-sized run-off block home to about 600 cows.
Traditionally it has been a Jersey herd and the Minstonette stud has been a ribbon winner at International Dairy Week.
"Jane was at a dispersal sale and bought half a dozen for Katrina and it went from there," John said. "We were quite happy with them. Being stud breeders, we're interested in good cows and a couple of them have done really well.
"They are a bit different to the Jersey. They are a bigger cow and bring a bit of variety and add to our production."
Today, the herd is about 90 per cent stud Jerseys and 10 per cent Ayrshires.
"The best of the Ayrshires have done really well," he said. "There's one cow we bought from Max Hyland that last year had a production index of 130, that's a really good cow."
One of their early Ayrshire purchases was Easternview Modem Neenie and in 2016 she won Reserve Champion Ayrshire Cow at International Dairy Week.
During mating and after AI has been completed, the Ayrshires are segregated from the Jerseys and serviced by their own clean-up bull.
However, a few crossbreds have snuck through and John is particularly impressed.
"We do get an odd Ayrshire-Jersey cross and they have done exceptionally well," he said. "To be honest, they're better than the purebred Ayrshires.
"Anyone interested in a three-way cross should look at it. The Ayrshire cross with a Jersey is a very good animal."
At other times of the year, the Ayrshires are part of the herd and mix well with the smaller Jerseys.
"In the first half a dozen cows coming into the rotary dairy you will have three or four Ayrshires, but they tend to wait for one another and then come on."
The milking area includes 120 hectares of irrigation and the family uses a 30-day rotation based on a fairly heavy stocking rate.
John said he would introduce more Ayrshires crosses if he wasn't a stud breeder.
"We like to keep them pure but a couple for one reason or another got mated and the crossbred is a far better animal than its mother," he said.
The crossbred also seems to improve on fertility, being easy to detect when in season and easy to get in calf early, and the calving process was also easier.
John said the Ayrshires were "basically low-maintenance, low-fuss cows" that added balance to the operation.
"Any cow that has a production index over 130 is a really good animal and we have others that are almost as good," he said.
"They're bigger than our normal Jersey but we feed them the same and they're treated the same. We're happy with the standard of Ayrshire we're breeding."
The Ayrshires also show great longevity.
"One of the originals we bought is 12 or 13 years old and she's still here and doing well," John said.
Their cell count performance is similar to Jerseys and their production is also impressive.
"We run them all together," John said. "We've got some very good Ayrshires and they are good producers. Some of them are high in fat, some a bit lower but overall, they are very good.
John aims for Jersey cows about 420 kilograms and producing about 430-440kg of milksolids. "Because we've got Jerseys, I like a smaller Ayrshire in the herd rather than the bigger Holsteins," he said.
John said other farmers should look at introducing Ayrshires, either purebred or crossbred.
"The better cows certainly hold their own with any cows and crossing with a Jersey and another breed would be a very good cross," he said.
"We bought some good cows from two major dispersals, but we've also bred some very good animals from them and they are very competitive.
"We're happy with the Ayrshires we've got."
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