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The rewards of genomic testing

Systematic genomic testing helped a farmer in Denmark identify one of his cows as one of the best in the country. Two years later, she delivered a bull to the VikingHolstein breeding programme.

Bjarne Refsgaard milks 125 Holstein cows at the Vester Bjerregård farm in West Jutland, Denmark. He and his wife purchased the farm in 1991, along with the high-quality herd that came with it.

Making the most of innovation is a must for Bjarne, and he knows good genetics are key to a successful herd. So when the opportunity to genomically test his herd came along, Bjarne knew this was one way to achieve this, and the results didn’t disappoint.

Among the very first animals to be tested, two heifers ranked so highly that VikingGenetics offered to buy them. Knowing that they would contribute to the VikingHolstein breeding programme, Bjarne did not hesitate to sell them.

"Selling the heifers to VikingGenetics was the right decision. I doubt I would be able to find enough recipients here in my herd while they have ideal conditions for it at the flushing station,” he explains. 

After flushing, one of the cows – a VH Alberta daughter – went to a different herd, where she completed her first 305-day lactation yielding 12,182 kg ECM, where her valuable solids production really stood out.

VikingHolstein Denmark Vester Bjerregård VH Gosvid

Dedicated to his breeding goal

That cow's son, VH Gosvid, was the result of the VikingEmbryo programme. He was chosen due to his high estimated breeding values (EBVs) for fat and protein, which he transmitted to his offspring, further advancing the genetic progress of the VikingHolstein breed.

Longevity, productivity, strong feet and legs, and a good temperament are the traits Bjarne values most, and they are what his breeding strategy focuses on. This is also how he describes VH Gosvid's granddam.

She is a robust and strong VH Rakeem daughter who has had four calves, has a lovely type and milks very well. She is also healthy and thriving, having never required any treatment.

“She could be a really good robot cow,” he says, as he is considering replacing his milking parlour with two new robots.

To make this switch, there are two things that he must keep in mind. As Bjarne explains, it might extend his working hours on the farm, but it would help future-proof the farm for the next generation. Choosing the right genetics is, of course, also part of the equation.

In the picture: VH Gosvid

VikingHolstein Denmark Vester Bjerregård VH Gosvid

Future-proofing the business

Bjarne’s 25-year-old son Christian recently came back home and has become fully involved in the operations, partly to find out if this is the future he sees for himself.

Future-friendly farming is what Vester Bjerregård stands for. In addition to robot milking, animal welfare is always improving, as they want what’s best for their animals and to be ahead of future regulations. Last summer, the heifer and calf housing received a major upgrade for the benefit of both animals and people.

"I am investing in this place because believe that we will still be producing milk on this farm when I pass on the torch 10 years from now,” says Bjarne. “I see great global demand for our products, and I have no reason to believe that Arla won't be just as good at selling our milk in the future," he adds.

Bjarne also has sustainability in mind, as consumers and regulators demand more sustainable food production. He trusts in the developments that VikingGenetics and its partners are making towards breeding more climate-friendly cows.

Innovative tools such as the Saved Feed Index, supported by the CFIT system, are key to this. These allow breeders and researchers to collaborate in implementing new genetic traits that target improving cows’ feed efficiency and reducing methane emissions.

"In addition to delivering the genetics for sustainable production animals, I also believe that VikingGenetics can deliver the climate-friendly cow so that my colleagues and I can document, through a genomic test, that our cows have reduced emission levels," ends Bjarne with purpose, as he looks toward the future.

Learn more about VikingHolstein
VikingHolstein Denmark Vester Bjerregård VH Gosvid

Farm facts

  • Founded in 1991.
  • 125 cows.
  • Average yield: 12,171 kg ECM per cow
  • Farms: 144 ha.
  • Three employees: Bjarne, Charlotte, and Christian.
VikingHolstein Denmark Vester Bjerregård VH Gosvid

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