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ABVS - Silverline the cream of the crop

By Rick Bayne

JUSTIN JOHNSTON thinks “we’re getting there” when it comes to breeding top quality bulls.

The facts and figures indicate they might have already arrived.

According to the latest ABVs, Justin, who farms with his parents Robert and Lynette, near Sale in eastern Victoria, has bred Australia’s number one ranked Holstein bull, Silverline.

The Johnstons have also experienced success on the show circuit.

The top Australian bred genomic bull is now with the Genetics Australia stable. He was bred by the Johnston family’s Glomar Holsteins and has a BPI of 352 with a 65 per cent BPI reliability.

It’s a case of double success for the Johnsons who also had the number one Australian bull last year with Super Lucky.

Silverline is in good company. Genetics Australia also has one of his brothers, Mainstreet, who has a BPI above 260 and also has very good type and always has milking daughters.

“He’s looking pretty good and improves every time,” Justin said.

Silverline is showing similar improvement year-on-year. “There’s only one way forward; he’ll keep going up. He’s already the best we’ve had.”

It hasn’t been overnight success. “We haven’t previously had number ones but Dad has been breeding bulls for Genetics Australia for the Australian market for 30-odd years and in that time there have been quite a few good bulls,” Justin said.

The farm has been pure-bred Holsteins since 1968 and the Johnstons are happy with their choice.

“I like how they’re a bigger cow than the Jerseys and not as moody. Their percentages aren’t as good but you get more milk,” Justin said. “I appreciate the other breeds; they’re good cows too but we’ve always liked Holsteins.”

The Johnstons have used a dedicated system to develop a bull that’s good for their land and for Australian farmers more generally.

“We breed bulls and females that are high production but also with very good type,” Justin said. “Our aim is to breed a cow that could win Dairy Week but also has highest genomic numbers that could breed a bull for the AI system as well. We’re getting there.”

Apart from the ABV success, the Johnston’s Glomar McCutchen Annecy won champion heifer at the 2017 Melbourne Royal Show and at Dairy Week. She also has a daughter doing very well on the BPI system.

They also have the number one type bull on genomics in Australia and the number one genomic cow, Glomar Goldwyn Lucky 4319. Her full sister, Glomar Goldwyn Lucky 4475, is the mother of the number one genomic type bull, named General.

“It’s a very good family,” Justin said.

The success follows “years and years of choosing bulls that fit our breeding goals of milk, type and facility, not just focusing on individual traits but more the bull as a round figure”.

At the moment they’re using mostly American sires, believing the quality of options in Australia to be variable. “We’re in a stage now where we’re looking for conversions on both systems, the TPI and the BPI,” Justin said. “That’s our next goal so if we can get something that comes on both systems and converts well we can cover all markets.”

The Johnstons milk 880 and when they’re all in this year there will be about 1150, which Justin admits is a few too many.

They have about 600 hectares under irrigation and nearly 700 hectares of dryland farm.

Turning 30 this June, Justin has dedicated his past 10 years to the farm and the Holstein stud after spending two years playing baseball in the United States.

Now he’s looking at a new venture with the launch of his semen company, Shamrock Genetics.

“We thought we could provide a service to the industry at a reasonable price and help farmers out a bit,” he said. “We’ve got the animals there and it’s a different avenue for the business.”

Shamrock Genetics has exported embryos to Ireland and is negotiating the sale of embryos and semen to Pakistan.

“It’s a whole new branch for us,” he said.