Graeme and Heather Spunner certainly know how to breed a good cow. Their 300-cow herd at Berrigan is testament to that.
The couple has spent more than 50 years improving the herd’s genetics, which has largely been done through continuous use of quality herd bulls.
Their breeding program began with the purchase of some heifers and Tara Glen bulls from Colin Gardner (progeny from his Lucy family remain some of the best cows in the herd).
They don’t use a lot of AI (only on the heifers they synchronise) but the results they are achieving certainly speak for themselves — and their passion and dedication has been rewarded with three of their cows sitting in the top 100 performers in the Australia Balanced Performance Index.
It takes a pretty special cow to make the list let alone have one ranked in the top three.
The Spunners’ cow Natalia Lulu’s incredible production statistics speak for themselves — in just 294 days she produced a staggering 15 646 litres and 915 kg of milk solids in only her second lactation.
She is one of only three cows in the country who has a BPI over 400, hers sits at 410. She was classified VG88 and is sired by the Spunners’ herd bull, Ladino Park Nash, a Shottle son out of Ladino Park Goldwyn Natalia.
Natalia Lulu’s dam, Jammer Lulu, produced 17 000 litres and more than 1000 kg of milk solids in three of her last four 305-day lactations — her best was 17 022 litres and 1227 kg of solids. Jammer has an elite production award and her daughter has a production achievement award. She is classified 90 2E and has a BPI of 314.
Jammer’s sister Eclipse Lulu is ranked 13th in Australia and has a BPI of 366 — her 305-day lactation was 15 292 litres and 1121 kg of solids.
The Spunners purchased Natalia Lulu’s grand dam Hillcrest Lulu as a second calver from Max Hardes at Numurkah — he imported Hillcrest Lulu’s grand dam as an embryo from the Hanoverhill stud in Canada.
“I am proud of the time and effort we have put into breeding the herd over the years and our herd is proof that you can have breeding success with natural bulls,” Mr Spunner said.
They always have about eight bulls on hand and they buy a couple of new ones each year.
“We calve year-round. We dry cows off every four weeks and change the bull over at the same time. Every thing is recorded in the computer so it is just a matter of referring to that,” Mrs Spunner said.
The couple prefers to use bulls for many reasons.
“AI is so dependent on getting the timing right, a bull always gets it right every time,” Mr Spunner said.
Driving around the farm and looking at the young stock, the answer to the question ‘how do you go for heifer numbers?’ is pretty self-explanatory — they have heifer calves everywhere.
They rear about 150 heifer calves each year and most of them make it into the dairy.
“We cull our older cows fairly heavily for mastitis and fertility and we stick around 300 because that is a manageable number for us to work with — we are not getting any younger,” Mrs Spunner said.
They agree that as the genetics in their herd continue to improve, it does make it harder to source quality bulls.
“As the daughters get older and come into the herd we can’t use the same bulls because of in-breeding so we have to keep rolling them over as part of our herd management.”
Mr Spunner is a firm believer in feeding his stock well from the very beginning. Calves are always fed whole milk and weaner mix, and are weaned on size not by age.
The milking herd is fed with a mixer wagon for five to six months of the year. The business purchased the mixer wagon during the second year of the millennium drought and have been using it ever since.
“The cows milked very well so from that point on we decided to move away from summer pasture, focus on growing annuals and lucerne and use the mixer wagon over summer,” Mr Spunner said.
Heifers are fed a mixture of 29 per cent cotton seed pellets and almond hulls, which they love. Mr Spunner has found this mix puts condition on and keeps the animals shiny and healthy.
The pasture base is predominately annuals and lucerne which is used to feed the cows and surplus is grown into hay and silage.
The herd is milked in a 50-unit rotary which was built back in 2002.
“We built the rotary to make milking easier, not to milk more cows and make things harder again,” Mrs Spunner said.
The couple and their son Shane have no plans of getting out of the industry at present.
Even though Mr Spunner is into his 70s, he says with a smile: “What else would I do? I love the cows and I will probably stay here until the day I die.”