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Sustainable cows are key for the 2020 Herd of the Year Sweden

Knutby Prästgård farm in Uppsala was named 2020 Herd of the Year in Sweden by VikingGenetics. Ulf and Liselotte Carlsson and their two sons run the dairy farm with over 500 cows. 

The Carlssons´ dairy farm was named Herd of the Year for 2020 during the Växa Days 2020 in Umeå, north of Sweden to the great delight and satisfaction of the family. “We are delighted to be named Herd of the Year, something that gives us a real boost and determination to continue doing what we believe is the best for our farm,” says Ulf Carlsson who, together with his wife Liselotte and two of their three children, runs the family dairy.

The Carlssons started to modernise the farm in many different ways and stages since they took it over from Ulf´s parents in 2002. The farm has been in the family since 1965, when his father had 40 cows. Ulf was one of two brothers and always showed a big interest in farming, with a focus on genetics. “As a little boy I always wanted to be surrounded by cows. Breeding maybe is in my genes,” he says.

The biggest transformation at farm management level came in 2014 when they built new facilities for the herd and installed four milking robots. This update influenced their breeding strategy and inspired the family to adopt a clear genetic strategy with sustainable milking cows at the heart of the business.

The hall that was build as an entry to the barn has many diploms showing winner cows, in a way, as a reminder of the “overall” outstanding cows they are breeding. “We have had some cows that have been really excellent, and we have been praised for that too.”

“I think the important point here is the sustainable cows that we produce; I am pretty proud of this. Then, of course, you add in the amount of milk we get, around 11,800 KG ECM,” he says. And he’s also right when it comes to components where Knutby Prästgård, with 245 milking cows, achieves 4.4% for fat and 3.6% for protein with a breed split of 60% VikingRed and 40% Holstein.

When choosing the traits on the Nordic Total Merit (NTM), Carlsson always thinks about the best way to continue breeding for sustainable cows with high production and outstanding health. As the cows are milked by the robots, udder health and feet & legs are traits that he doesn´t want to ignore. “We breed for the most suitable cows for the robots without losing production or putting the cows in an uncomfortable situation. Udder health and good legs are a key focus when we choose bulls,” he says.

Highlighting innovation

VikingGenetics has instituted the Herd of the Year Award for its three domestic markets: Denmark, Sweden and Finland. The winners are herds that are leading the way when it comes to breeding for innovation and sustainability. Knutby Pråstgård was nominated by their breeding adviser from Växa, Ida Hansson.

The Carlsson family have shown that they have an “overall” dairy business where innovation and sustainability are in focus. They joined the GenVik project at an early stage, and test all their livestock, over 500 cows in total.

“We try to have the most healthy cows possible because this enables profitability. The better your animals are, the better the price tag for  pregnant heifers when you sell them, and if a cow is going to stay with us for years here, this also means higher revenues from her,” he says.

Working towards the Nordic breeding goal

The fact that they work towards the Nordic breeding goal can be seen in several different ways: the NTM level for females is really good. In the case of one-year-old heifers, VikingRed is five units above the race average while their Holstein pairs are seven and a half units above the population average.

It is no surprise that VG tested 13 bull calves of interest on the farm last year. In previous years, the farm has sold three bulls to VG, VR Fiction (born 2017), VR Gripar (born 2015) and VR Flaxe (born 2014). In 2019, a heifer was sold to VG and she is now at the VG facility in Hollola for embryo production.

“We have sold male calves to VikingGenetics and we have always had good advisors from Växa. They have been with us from the start and inspired us to use the best of the best bulls. All of them have been very involved in our breeding strategy,” Carlsson says. 

He explains that the breeding strategy includes the use of genomic testing of females to identify the best and not-so-good cows, and around 40% of the latter group are inseminated with beef. They inseminate the rest with X-Vik and choose the best from the best females to inseminate them with sires of sons, aiming for bulls to be included in ­VikingGenetics breeding programme.

Carlsson sees opportunities at every corner and his vision and passion for breeding keep him thinking about the next step with enthusiasm. Using embryos in a more steady way is on the horizon. To date, he has booked five embryos from the heifer they sold to VikingEmbryo programme in Finland. “If I were to live my life again, I would do exactly the same thing,” Carlsson adds.

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