A decade in the making for three-way breeding results
THE USE of three-way cross breeding in dairy operations is a popular topic at present. With more farmers using the system, and herd conversions are obtaining critical mass due to decisions made in previous years, the results of taking such a strategy are now starting to show.
Josh and Lilli Philp run more than 700 head at Riverbank, a 440-hectare dairy farm they lease from Josh’s parents Barry and Vicky at Garvoc in Victoria. Barry and Vicky came to the farm from New Zealand in 1996 and started milking NZ Friesians.
After struggling with herd health issues and trying to breed a smaller cow, they introduced a two-way Jersey cross.
In 2008, looking for a more systematic way of breeding to create the cow they were looking for, the Philps chose to use the VikingGenetics GoldenCross program. When Josh and Lilli took over the herd in 2017 they continued the transformation, with around 95 per cent of their cows now with the three-way cross genetics.
“When we made the decision to go for the three-way cross, Dad was looking for better health and fertility across the herd,” Josh said.
“We also wanted to lift the average size of the cows, but not too much. A medium cow suits us best.”
GoldenCross is a three-breed program that uses VikingHolstein, VikingRed and VikingJersey genetics. In the top positions for health and production traits worldwide, they have been bred in Nordic countries, where testing and record keeping is arguably the most detailed in the world.
The Philps work closely with VikingGenetics Australia to select the right sires for breeding.
“We are careful with sire selection, using the local VikingGenetics team’s expertise to guide our decisions. She knows what we are trying to achieve, so provides us with a list of suitable options which we then choose from,” Josh said.
With the sires, Josh says they look for good health, fertility and the right size parameters, as well as milk production and positive fat and protein scores. Using AI only for around nine weeks, the couple are achieving 90 per cent in-calf rates.
Across the herd, the Philps are achieving an average of 6 155 litres per cow per annum, with 4.5 per cent milk fat and 3.6 per cent protein. Somatic cell count is averaging 110 000.
“The animals have got to last and get in calf well. They need to walk. We now have no mastitis and no hoof issues, no lameness,” Josh said.
“We are happy with the results. It is working well and proving successful for us.”
Backed up by research
Independent dairy consultant Dr Jo Coombe has researched the benefits of using three-way cross genetics in dairy operations. Completed for Dairy Australia through the University of Melbourne, her project looked at the implications of applying three-way breeding for dairy farming operations.
The project looked at Holstein, Jersey, Australian Red crosses, as there was enough ADHIS data for that combination to give statistical reliability.
The research found there are measurable farm management benefits from choosing to use three-way cross genetics, although Dr Coombe says it is not necessarily for every operation.
“It costs money to raise a dairy cow, so when looking at the effectiveness of breeding programs, we consider profitability not simply productivity. They are not the same thing,” she explained.
“It is a combination of factors that make a difference — fertility, production, and of course feed and running costs. We tend to find the greatest benefits from cross breeding are in operations that are predominantly pasture-based, those that don’t require as much supplementary feeding.
“The major benefit for three-way crosses is the fertility and sustainability of cow turnover. If you are turning over your animals less often, the herd is more sustainable and stable.”
Dr Coombe says that VikingGenetics’ approach to the three-way cross is different to many of the other dairy genetic providers.
“Probably the most noticeable difference is that they don’t consider the use of a three-way cross as diluting any ‘purity’ of the parent breed genetics. Rather, they see it is as a benefit when looking for a flexible and sustainable herd management strategy.
“It is important that farmers have a breeding plan to suit their operation, that they can adapt to their circumstances to achieve improved herd sustainability and animal health.”