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Thriving grass-based crossbreds deliver top milk solids

Switching to a 3-breed crossbred herd is proving to be the change a Scotland family dairy business needed to thrive. With the VikingGoldenCross, they are thriving and seeing improvements all around.

Meet John and Jack Warnock. Together, they milk 234 VikingGoldenCross cows at Eastfield Farm, near Biggar in Scotland. 

Driving high milk solids production from grazed grass and quality forage is the linchpin of the Warnock family’s autumn-calving dairy enterprise.

Last year their herd averaged 625kg of milk solids per cow from an average cow bodyweight of 580kg in their first lactation. They believe sourcing VikingGoldenCross cows that thrive in their pasture-based system has been key to unlocking much of this potential.

The autumn-block system is a departure from John Warnock’s previous all-year-round calving herd. After dispersing his herd of Holsteins in 2015 due to rock-bottom milk prices, John spent a six-year stint contract farming pure Jerseys. 

But when his son Jack decided to return home to Eastfield Farm, in Coulter, they settled on a hybrid between the two systems in which Jack had cut his teeth. 

“I went to New Zealand in 2018 and saw a lot of simple, spring systems. It was labour extensive during the summer months, and I liked seeing cows at grass. Then I worked for two and a half years on an intensive farm milking three times a day where you can control a lot more. Autumn calving was the best of both worlds,” explains Jack.

An autumn block also suited the farm’s grass-growing climate. The farm is situated 750ft above sea level, which can delay spring grass growth and result in bitterly cold winters. It also knitted well with the farms’ existing sheep enterprise, spreading family workload between spring lambing and autumn calving. 

John’s wife Margaret, and daughter, Megan, both being indispensable to the business. Both rear calves and Megan relief milks on weekends around her job as a vet nurse.  

VikingGoldenCross Scotland UK John Warnock

Introducing VikingGoldenCross

The Warnocks imported VikingGoldenCross in-calf heifers from Denmark through VikingGenetics and VikingLivestock

The VikingGoldenCross is a 3-breed rotational crossbreeding programme combining the complementary breeds VikingHolstein, VikingRed, and VikingJersey.

Heifers were bought in three groups and calved from August to December 2022.

“We considered buying New Zealand cross cows, but they didn’t have the yield potential and the solids production on the VikingGoldenCross cows are higher,” explains John.

Another appeal was Denmark’s high health status with the animals certified free from TB, Infectious bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR) and Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD). 

During mating last season, the best heifers were bred to sexed semen for six weeks with the remaining animals artificially inseminated to British Blue before they ran with high-health Aberdeen Angus sweeper bulls.

To make breeding decisions simpler, calves are identified by using tags at birth based on the breed of its dam. VikingHolsteins are put to VikingJerseys, VikingJerseys to VikingRed, and VikingRed to VikingHolstein. 

Following 16 weeks of mating in 2022, only 6% of animals were not in calf. The Warnocks concede the calving period is longer than they would like but explain this has been dictated by the fact that animals were sourced in three batches and -17C temperatures last winter also hindered conception rates but the aim is to reduce the calving block. 

John says the VikingGoldenCross have a docile nature and are easy calving. “They are nice cows to work with. We have calved 230 heifers and we only had to assist six; three of those were twins,” he adds.

VikingGoldenCross Scotland UK John Warnock

Milk quality dividends

Tom Benson, the farm’s consultant, believes one of the biggest benefits the VikingGoldenCross offers is the abundant production of high-quality at a low-cost. This is helping them maximise returns on their solid-based contract with Yew Tree.

The rolling 12-month yield is 6,744 litres at 5.05% butterfat and 3.52% protein – the equivalent of 7,940 litres of energy corrected milk.

“This is tremendous for second lactation heifers,” comments Tom. “Typically, these cows are 0.5% higher in butterfat and 0.3% higher in protein compared to a Jersey cross cow. This year, the herd is on track to produce 5.05% butterfat and 3.93% protein,” he adds. 

Tom estimates this equates to a 5ppl benefit in milk value compared to a standard litre at 4% butterfat and 2.25% protein.

He says it is essential herds adjust for energy-corrected milk to get a fairer comparison of production. 

“I monitor all my herds this way now because otherwise, you aren’t comparing apples with apples. 

“At currently daily yields of 30 litres the feed rate won’t look so good, but it takes energy to produce this quality,” he adds.

VikingGoldenCross Scotland UK John Warnock
The health traits are really good, and the calves are vigorous and up and suckling straight after birth.

John & Jack Warnock,
Dairy Farmers, Eastfield Farm

Simplified feeding

Feeding revolves around simplicity. Cows are paddock grazed from March until October, weather permitting, across some 59ha (146 acres), with surpluses removed for silage.

The Warnocks aim to take four cuts annually. “The beauty of the multi-cut system is that it works particularly well in a grazing system. It eliminates the need for topping and is a great way of maximising grass intakes from July onwards,” adds Tom.

During harvest, silage is layered with wholecrop in the clamp. Last year’s three cuts averaged 11.6ME, 16.8% crude protein with sugars of 3.86%. 

Last year, 35 acres of wholecrop was grown after grass. “Wholecrop is a useful way of cleaning up fields. It is not an essential crop at Eastfield, but it ensures we have a nice bit of starch and fibre in the clamp,” adds Tom. 

During the winter housing period, cows are fed silage, wholecrop and a blend. The feed rate is running at 0.31kg of concentrate/litre of milk with milk from forage currently averaging 12 litres a cow.

 This year, in-calf heifers have been outwintered on forage rape to reduce housing costs and simplify the winter routine. 

 Now in their second season, the Warnocks are looking to finesse their system by reducing their calving block to 12 weeks and have 80% of animals calved within the first eight weeks.

They would also like to reach 8,000 litres, although they believe this is perfectly attainable with current performance. 

Learn more about the VikingGoldenCross
VikingGoldenCross Scotland UK John Warnock

Farm facts

  • 300 acres owned at Eastfield Farm
  • Averaging 1,200ml of rain annually
  • Milking 234 VikingGoldenCross cows
  • Autumn calving
  • Milking through a Fullwood 16/32 swingover
  • Feeding 2.2t concentrate a cow a year (including parlour feed and blend)
  • Selling milk to Yew Tree
  • Yielding 30 litres a day at 5% butterfat and 3.8% protein
  • SCC of 83,000 cells/ml and bactoscan of 24
  • Hill farm 18 miles from Eastfield Farm extends to 1,400 acres where they run 600 Blackface and pedigree Blue Faced Leicester (crossing type) ewes. 

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