Tom and Karen Halton from Halton Farms became trend setters among the local farming community. 12 years ago, they changed to crossbreeding at their Cheshire Farm because of troubles with the fertility and poor overall health of their pure Holstein. With 530 cows yielding over 11,500 liters per cow/year with high components, excellent health and fertility performance Halton Farms is something the farming community is looking up to.
ProCROSS cows are doing what the Haltons were looking for. “We have now ended up with a cow that is looking after us like I wanted it to. We don’t have to spend the time with them with treatments. Our antibiotic use and overall drug use have dramatically dropped”, Tom describes.
“We don’t have anything like a sick cow pen. You walk on to the yard at half past four in the morning and it’s an absolute delight because they’re all just so happy and healthy. It’s amazing, we love it.”, Karen adds.
They say that the cows do not need the same kind of medical attention as before they made the switch to crossbreeding. “That’s been a massive saving in vets bills for the family household”, Karen says.
The couple´s journey towards ProCROSS started with a technological wink when Karen taught her husband, Tom how to use an iPad. Back then, he could see how the three-way cross system, ProCROSS worked in the United States and this online window changed their lives.
“Watching that one video of farmers telling their experiences and seeing these herds of cows that were all the same size was just fantastic. I thought this is for me.” Tom, says. “He found ProCROSS on the internet, and kept shouting ‘come and look at this, come and watch this video, oh my God this is amazing it’s in America. This is what I want to do.’ He sold it to me straight away”, Karen adds.
Tom’s family have been farming on the Rode Hall Estate in Astbury near Congleton, Cheshire, since 1968, milking 200 cows across three sites. In 2012 Tom and Karen set up Halton farms LTD on the same site in Astbury, near Congleton in Cheshire. They brought all the herd onto one site in a new cow shed and built a new rapid exit milk parlour.
Before they tried crossbreeding, they were producing 7,000 litres, but were experiencing a lot of health problems. “I felt we were looking after the cow rather than the cow looking after us”, he complains.
“I felt we’d gone too far down the Holstein route. We’d got these cows and they were trying to produce more milk from forage and grass, and it wasn’t the right animal for us”.
Karen also noticed the cows were not as healthy as they wished they were. They had skinny legs which with her background in horses made her skeptical about the breed.
As many farmers, Tom had used pure Holsteins more as a tradition. His father had done but Tom changed direction driven by the need to have a stronger cow.
To make the switch from pure Holsteins cows to crossbreeding was not an easy decision, but time have proof it was the correct one. When Tom was researching about the crossbreeding the farm discussion group that he was part placed doubts into his mind.
“It was ‘oh no you’ll lose the value of your cows, you’ll lose your milk, these beef breeds you’ll never get any milk out of them.’ But because I’d done quite a bit of research, I knew it was for me.”, he says satisfied of the decision he took despite the comments.
Tom and Karen´s courage to stand firm and take an unconventional path has paid off. “Now, looking at what we’ve done and what we’ve achieved it’s great. You go onto the yard in the morning and it’s an absolute pleasure because you’re not dealing with sick animals”, Karen says.
They are also investing less money on corn and artificial Insemination, this last one thanks to a better insemination rate. “We’ve got a fantastic pregnancy rate of 28 plus all the time. We’ve been in the 30s sometimes and that’s a massive driver for dairy farm income.” Karen says.
When they compare their productivity, especially with fertility it’s made a huge difference. “We are a million miles ahead now to what we used to be. I think we measure it a lot on fertility, we look back and we had a 24 pregnancy rate.
We did a calculation that compared to a 31 now that was worth £50,000. It’s not cash that we see, but its money that’s there in the business that we’ve not been spending on poor fertility”, she explains.
With these results, they’re far more profitable with cows that are nicer to work with the Haltons says, and numbers back up the reason why. Halton Farms now has 530 cows and 300 followers yielding over 11,500 liters per cow per year. They achieve a minimum of 3.8% fat and 3.3% protein
“I should have done this 20 years ago. I can’t explain enough that with the right back up of VikingGenetics and Coopex, you can get a cow that’s going to look after you rather than you are spending all your time and energy looking after them.
“Don´t listen to stories that you’re going to lose the value of your herd because they’re far more sort after than you think. They’ve got the milk behind them, they’ve got the milk quality and they’ve got all the health traits, so don’t think about it any longer just get on with it”, he sums up.
They’re thrilled with the hybrid vigor they get when combining VikingRed, VikingHolstein and Coopex Montbeliarde. “People can’t understand it until they’ve tried it. There’s no way I’d go back now.”
The couple are also impressed at the quality of the calves. “The crossed calves have just got that much more viability, strength and vigor. I think that was the first sign of the improvement really. Then going forwards the heifers were growing faster and quicker getting to bulling weight earlier”, Tom says, while Karen who is the one taking care of the newborn calves adds that they are easy to manage from day one.
“We get good colostrum from ProCROSS cows and they’ve got really good high fats. To rear calves from them is just so easy. They just hit the ground and are strong which is great for my job”, she says, and adds: “I remember Holstein calves, I couldn’t always get them to drink 4 litres and they’ve got to have 4 litres. These girls will drink 4 or 5 litres when they weigh at 40 kilos”.
Tom still has a few Holsteins and when he compares them to the ProCROSS cows he’s amazed. “The pure Holsteins are a lot thinner, they’re a lot higher maintenance than the cross breeds we’ve got. They just stand out to me like a sore thumb now”, Tom says.
“I’ve just fallen in love with the whole aspect of the crossbred cow we’ve got now. The strength of her and the ease of working with her”, he concludes.
Halton farms hosts many visitors from farmers keen to know more about cross breeding. They’re happy to share their experience. Tom and Karen advise people to get advice from experts like Coopex and VikingGenetics.
“You need a specialist. You wouldn’t get an electrician to give you advice on your plumbing. You need to go to the right place to get the right answers. Instead of just dipping your toe in the water go and look at some places that have done it. Go and buy some cross bred animals that you can start straight away”, Tom says.
Karen says it’s been an amazing journey. “My advice to a dairy farmer is just stop thinking and do it. I’m just so glad when Tom did it that he took the plunge and did it wholeheartedly. If you’re going to do a bit of this and a bit of that it’s not worth it. Stick to what you’re doing and do it well. If you’re thinking about it speak to somebody and just go for it. Just do it you won’t look back,” she says.
- Number of Employees: 11, including Tom & Karen
- Size of the farm in Ha: 220 hectares
- Production: Yielding 11,500 Litres
- Fat: 3.8%
- Protein: 3.3%
- Dairy master 2040 rapid exit milking parlour
- Cows in the herd: 99% ProCROSS, 1% Holstein