We are all aware that there is a direct correlation between your herds’ nutrition/condition and their health, fertility and overall performance. So how can you breed robust cattle designed to hold their condition and perform in less than ideal conditions?
In Northland, harsh weather conditions restrict pasture growth and droughts cause feed shortages. Breeding cattle that can convert feed into milk solids and hold their condition during harder times is the key to building a low-maintenance herd.
Cameron Shepherd farms 360 cows on a hybrid farming system fluctuating from a system 4 – 5 in winter to a system 2 in spring.
Our Friesians are beautiful and milk incredibly well but the weight stripping off them in our rolling hills can be disheartening as it creates a longevity issue with their fertility said Shepherd.
Shepherd first found the Flechvieh breed through his local Samen NZ rep Blaire Sidwell who recommended they could be a great solution to the issues he was having with his Friesian cows.
Shepherd thought yeah I will try a few, explaining he used some straws and got a fantastic conception rate yielding about 24 heifer calves in the first year. That first group came into milk last year and were all sired by a Samen NZ Fleckvieh bull Vollgas.
Last year Shepherd saw 45 Friesians and 24 Fleckvieh come into milk last year. The Fleckvieh outproduced the Friesians on 4 out of 4 herd tests by 0.1ms(milk solids).
Shepherd explained the Fleckvieh carry their udders a little differently and with some great Friesians in his herd, he was adamant from just looking at them, that the Friesians would have outperformed the Fleckvieh.
Four or Five of those Fleckviehs did over 500kg ms. The average ms for this area is the lowest in the country sitting at an average of around 305kg ms.
I was advised that the Fleckviehs will hold on a bit better throughout the season and that was confirmed in their herd tests, I saw the Fleckviehs get further ahead each herd test, said Shepherd.
At first, it is very hard to get your head around the breed as they don’t look dairy at all. You almost have to re-calibrate your brain. These cattle look like a beef animals and yet they can outproduce our dairy animals (Friesians).
The Fleckvieh are well known for holding their condition and having fantastic fertility traits. For many herds in New Zealand the Fleckvieh are a perfect third breed for use in a Three Way Cross breeding programme to help your herd hold their condition, take advantage of heterosis and gain better fertility performance.
Shepherd witnessed the fertility potential of the Fleckvieh first hand. Last season to accelerate the genetic gain of their herd Shepherd used Sexed semen.
We saw great mating results with both our Fleckvieh and Friesians however the Fleckvieh again outperformed the Friesians in this area. We gave the Fleckvieh a bit of a disadvantage with Sexed semen for their first service.
We had a couple return the first round but we ended up with a 100% in calf rate with the Fleckvieh and about 4 out of the 45 Friesians empty. Even in the small sample size their first mating with a big disadvantage I was very impressed with their Fertility, said Shepherd.
Fleckvieh offspring from Samen NZ sires across New Zealand are showing great temperaments.
Shepherd explains the temperament of the Fleckvieh is ideal, I was a little worried they would be a bit like beef Simmental but they are even quieter than our Friesians.
Over the last few seasons rearing half Fleckvieh and half Friesian it has been amazing to compare the two. The Fleckvieh seem to be ahead of our Friesians at every stage. They are better to rear, they reach their weaning weights quicker.
We came out of a really bad drought two years ago. The first Fleckvieh came through that drought in the same mob as the Friesians and would have been easily one condition score better than the Friesians.
Where a traditional dairy cow may lose a condition score between calving and mating we have seen the Fleckvieh seem to only lose around half around 0.5 of a condition score.
“The most exciting thing about the Fleckvieh is getting a dairy cow that lasts and holds its condition.”
The Three Way Cross breeding programme is simple to implement and is being taken up by crossbreeding dairy farmers across New Zealand.
Mating is simple for us, said Shepherd the cows all fall into three categories and I mate my own cows. Anything that is too dairy we are putting to Fleckvieh, anything that is well balanced with good type we put back to Friesian and anything we don’t like goes to the Short Gestation Belgian Blue.
Last year I used all Sexed VikingRed into the Fleckvieh crosses as well to make the most of Hybrid Vigour and implement a Three Way Cross breeding programme.
It was a big decision to go from a big beautiful black and white herd but the results are coming through and now I debate really just making the jump and going full Fleckvieh.
The market for the Fleckvieh bulls calves is massive, we generally top the sale here and we are getting $200 – $300 for our four-day-old bull calves.
My calves have an extremely good name in this area, with one of the few Friesian herds in this area. The Fleckvieh are strengthening this and the Short Gestation Belgian Blue are giving me more days in milk and a highly sellable beef calf.
I put around 10% of the herd to the Short Gestation Belgian Blue and while we use them over the bottom end of our herd, I am using it as a bit of a tool to tighten my calving period as well, said Shepherd.
Your local Samen NZ rep can help establish your herds goals and develop a breeding plan to create the future of efficiency for your dairy operation.