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“They handle the weather extremes better than any other breed I have milked"

The Davies were after a no-fuss cow and VikingRed have been giving that to them. Dairy farming is often about maintaining traditions, but Brett and Bronwyn Davies don’t mind bucking the trend to find the right farming-lifestyle formula. 

Not only did fifth-generation farmer Brett move from Swan Hill in northern Victoria to Simpson, near the Great Ocean Road in the south of the state, he’s also used VikingRed to transition from Holsteins to Aussie Reds.

The moves have been huge successes from both farming and family perspectives, creating the ideal work-life balance.

They moved from the north to get away from water issues, and they moved from Holsteins to overcome fertility problems.

 As Brett looks over his lush green paddocks and relaxes knowing he can sleep easy at night during calving, he knows they have made the right choices.

 

The move to the South

Six years ago, they made the move south, and it’s nine years since the switch to using predominately VikingReds in their herd of Aussie Reds.

“The water issues in northern Victoria were getting too challenging,” Brett said. “The first month I rang Dad and asked what he was doing. He said `I’m just irrigating the farm’ and I said I did that last night while I “slept listening to the rain on the roof”.

The Swan Hill home farm was sold but Brett’s parents Grant and Barb retained a support block and still rear the young stock.

“We rear to weaning and then ship everything up there and Dad rears them,” Brett said. “Then we get the heifers back and he keeps the steers as payment. It’s working well.”

Family farming with quality life

Although a bit further removed from opportunities for their young children, Levi, 3, and Kaiah, 2, and missing the water sports that Swan Hill offers in northern Victoria. The south-west Victorian farming land and the switch to VikingGenetics has been an ideal fit for their farming goals.

Their changes have been designed to improve work-lifestyle balance. Everything they do on the farm is about lifestyle, including the breeding plan.

They milked 600 cows at Swan Hill and now can employ a relief milker for their 280-cow herd on 165 hectares.

The shift from Holsteins to Aussie Reds was inspired by lifestyle choices, especially to avoid emergency night calving support. “We were a Holstein herd in Swan Hill, but it was getting harder and harder to get cows in calf.

A friend had a few Aussie Reds and invited me to a field day. I looked at them and met VikingGenetics and decided to dabble in Aussie Reds for a while. Once we started getting the daughters, we realised it was the way to go”, he said.

“We got an instant kick in that first cross for fertility and the health continued to improve which meant we weren’t spending as much on mastitis and lame cows,” Brett said.

Working with a no-fuss cow

The herd is now 95 per cent Reds. “We predominantly use VikingRed and don’t cross with anything else. The Holsteins are breeding themselves out, but we’ll keep 25-30 in the herd.

We’re using VikingHolstein higher fertility bulls to improve fertility and see if they can hold their position in the herd.” Brett also said they were after a no-fuss cow “and the Reds have been providing that for us”.

“When we had Holsteins, we used to do midnight checks during calving, but we don’t have to do that now; we trust them to calve. You don’t want a breeding cow that needs you there every night.”

They have also changed their calving pattern to better fit their lifestyle. “Four years ago, we decided split calving wasn’t working for us, so we went back to seasonal calving,” Brett said.

For the first joining period, they only kept all cows that were in-calf within seven weeks and topped up the herd with about 30 new Aussie Red cows. The calving period is now condensed to about seven weeks, usually starting around March 20 to avoid the winter cold.

Improving fertility with VikingReds

Nine years ago, the herd fertility rate sometimes dipped below 60 per cent for seven-weeks-in-calf; this year it was 83 per cent.

Daughter fertility was the top priority when making the change, and Brett has noticed genetic gain in each generation. “What I like the most about VikingGenetics is their reliability,” Brett said.

“Their proof is what they say it is. We wanted economical, no-fuss cows and that’s what we’ve got,” he said. The Reds also “hit the ground running” when moved from Swan Hill, while the black and whites took 12 months to settle in.

The cows produced about 580 kg/Ms last year at 3.95 fat and 3.6 protein and they are on track to match that this year.

“They also handle the weather extremes we experience of heat and cold better than any other breed I have milked,” Brett added.

Brett has embraced the Aussie Reds, becoming a board member for the national body and hosting the International Red Dairy Breeds Federation tour in early 2019.

“I like the Reds because they are very productive, have a good temperament, are robust and much healthier than cows I milked in the past”, Brett said.

He has just finished a five-year extensive pasture renovation program and is well advanced on a laneway and fencing upgrade. Now he can concentrate on growing grass and watching his healthy cows.

 “We see ourselves as grass growers with the cows being the tools that harvest it. You’ve got to have the right tools and VikingGenetics provides that for us.”