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Bang for your buck

“We’re about to calve down this spring and the results have been phenomenal. Even the fringe cows’ in-calf rates are pretty good, about 70 per cent in three weeks. It’s a crazy number.”

Leigh “Skeeta” Verhay has a bit of a problem on his dairy farm at Koondrook in Northern Victoria, not that he’s complaining about it.

Skeeta aims to raise about 80 heifers annually over two joinings, but this year he’s likely to get that number in just one joining.

He’s not a fan of the export market so Skeeta has to decide what to do with the excess numbers. It’s a good problem to have and the extras, made possible by his successful relationship with VikingGenetics, have allowed Skeeta to improve the quality of his herd.

“I only need 80 heifers a year as replacements for my culls,” Skeeta says. “Because I’m rearing so many, I wanted to focus on my best cows and bring in the best genetics.

“It allows me to put pressure on the herd; it’s a really good opportunity to cull hard and get the cow I want, physically and health wise.”

The extras have allowed Skeeta to boost his herd to 350-380 this coming spring.

Great results with X-Vik sexed semen

“I don’t like the export market; I’m just a regular dairy farmer in it for the milk - so I’ll just milk them but I’m going to be sensible about it and make sure it’s profitable,” he says. He can also sell on the lucrative local market.

Skeeta says using VikingGenetics has been the cornerstone of his success for many years, and it keeps getting better.

Last season he used X-Vik sexed semen for the first time and he’s extremely happy with the results.

With X-Vik sexed semen, Skeeta has achieved 56% pregnant in a synchronised heifer program, and 40% on 81 cows of average age 50 months from 40 days post-partum on natural heats.

Production improvements

His herd and production improvements over the past four years are staggering.

“Four years ago, we were doing an average 6795 litres on 286 cows, last year we did 8,069 litres on 325 cows,” Skeeta said.

During that time, the stocking rate increased from 1.9 to 2.1 cows per hectare while the average cow size was reduced from more than 600 to 564 kilos.

Protein went from 3.37 to 3.54 last year and fat component from 4.29 to 4.33 last year. Most impressively, milk solids per cow liveweight were 81 per cent four years ago, last year 109 per cent. “That’s a good number,” Skeeta adds. His herd costs are $55,000 on a herd of 320, well below the northern Victorian average of $85,000.

Combined with a favourable season, Skeeta says it’s a good time to be a dairy farmer. “If it was like this every year, everyone would be doing it,” he says.

Skeeta added adjoining properties to create the current 170-hectare home farm backed by a 90-hectare leased support block, growing his herd from 100 when he started in 2005.

Mix of Holsteins, Reds and Jerseys

Before buying his farm, Skeeta worked mostly with Holsteins but wanted more variety in his enterprise and has a mix of Holsteins, Reds and Jerseys.

“I love cows but don’t think there’s a perfect cow so I enjoy what the three breeds bring.
Jerseys are an efficient little cow with higher fat content and very good feed efficiency.
There’s a lot of information on Holstein genetics and they bring a lot of production. The Reds offer fertility, health, good feet and legs.”

Skeeta says VikingGenetics provides what he wants and what his farming system needs.

“We don’t want a big cow and that’s why we went to Viking cattle,” he said. “Efficiency is not always a big animal; efficiency is what makes you profitable.”

He aims for 40 per cent Holsteins and Reds and 20 per cent Jerseys. “I can breed them fairly quickly because sexed semen is such a great tool to get cow numbers.”

He uses Easy Dairy to assess the cost of raising heifers and to ensure it is profitable using the highest fertility cows.

In Skeeta’s business, cows start to fail in fertility and milk quality when they reach eight years. “We’re pasture based so they do a fair bit of walking,” he said.

“We get six lactations out of a cow after two years of growing. Knowing that allows me to identify my turnover rate.”

Focus on health and fertility

Along with VikingGenetics’ breeding advisors, Skeeta works closely with vet Lachlan Fehring to monitor fertility and ensure all farm data is collected and used wisely. “I never thought we’d get this business to where we are now,” he said. Lachlan said Skeeta calved twice a year at strategic times to help his bottom line.

“With these programs, he’s trying to get cows calving when he’s got cheap feed to make the biggest margins over his milk,” he said. “He wants to breed enough replacements to keep a young herd with selection pressure to keep quality cows in his business.

“Those numbers with sexed semen are a good result and they also reflect Skeeta’s management skills. Cattle prices are ridiculously high at the moment so anyone with surplus cattle has a massive market to make more money.”

The joining involves three weeks of A.I and three weeks of bulls in June and October, tailored to meet the needs of his processing company factory Lactalis.

Three bulls are used for each breed at each joining; two proven and one genomic. “I like reliability and the ability to look up daughters that someone has milked,” Skeeta said.

His move to X-Vik is building on the success of long-term exclusive use of VikingGenetics. “We’re about to calve down this spring and the results have been phenomenal. Even the fringe cows’ in-calf rates are pretty good, about 70 per cent in three weeks. It’s a crazy number.” 

Skeeta wants a cow that can hold her body condition, is sound on her feet and legs and competes well for feed.

Health and fertility as priority

“In our system, I need healthy, fertile cows and that’s what Viking gives us.”  Healthy cows mean less vet bills. “We don’t have a lot of drug intervention,” Skeeta said. “We only use hormones on our heifer program, haven’t used PG for 18 months and we don’t use a semen program on the cows.”

“We’re about $85-$90 per cow veterinary costs per cow, we used to be more than $100, and I reckon I’ve reduced it this year as well. My mortality rates are down, so we’re constantly improving our bottom line.

“We’re not world beaters for production but we get the production that pays the bills and we are responsible for good farming practices all the way through.” 

Skeeta says he’d be happy to defend VikingGenetics to any farmer. “If people are in tune with their cows and want to do better on the bottom line and have a holistic approach to their breeding, they should look at VikingGenetics. It brings bang for your buck to the farm. It’s the best you can ask for.”

Farm facts:
Farm name: Marleigh Park
Farm owned by: Leigh “Skeeta” Verhay
Location: Country, region/area: Northern Victoria, Australia
Production system: grazing
Number of cows: 350-380
Breed: Holstein, Reds, Jersey
Performance:

  • Milk: 8,069 litres per cow across the three breeds.
  • 564 kg/Ms per year
  • % Fat: 4.33
  • % Protein: 3.54

 

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