Passion for breeding runs in family

By Dairy News

THERE IS a new generation coming through the ranks on the Henry dairy farm at Tinamba.

Oak Henry is the fourth generation of the family in Gippsland’s Macalister Irrigation District.

He is also, like his forebears, specialising in breeding genetics.

Trevor Henry’s passion for breeding dairy cows has infected his family, with his son and nephew sharing his commitment to breeding for continuous improvement.

Trevor, is a third-generation dairy farmer who began his career at 12 years old, helping his father choose and breed bulls.

His parents bought him his first Holstein stud cow when he was 15 and he registered his stud prefix, Wilara Holsteins.

Trevor and Tracey Henry milk 450 to 500 Holstein cows off 364ha.

Most of their farm is leased country, with a summer water right on 145ha and year-round irrigation available on 110ha.

Among the irrigated blocks, 13ha is sown to maize and 12ha to turnips.

“We focus on producing silage from maize,” Trevor said.

The number of milkers varies depending on seasonal conditions and cost of feed.

Lactation ranges from 300 to 400 days.

The herd is joined using artificial insemination and 10 to 15 cows are recipients of embryo transfers each year.

“We use the income from the bulls registered with Genetics Australia to pay for ET,” Trevor said.

He is particularly proud of the three bulls, out of three separate cow families, that are high ranking with GA.

He credits his approach to patience and his idle time is spent studying genetics and breeding tables.

“We’re quite fortunate to be able to build a really strong base over time,” Trevor said.

“We’ve focused on breeding high-producing cow families, with secondary traits of mastitis resistance, fertility, feed saved and heat tolerance.

“The heat tolerance breeding value will become more important.

“Breeding is very fulfilling work.

“Cementing high daughter fertility and feed utilisation in families gives me confidence I’m producing a really high-production value in the resulting calves.”

Since 2017, all heifer calves have been genomically tested.

While the business only needs about 110 heifers each year, an annual excess of 70 to 90 are sold as yearlings into the export market.

“We’ve found the export heifers averaged 150 BPI,” Trevor said.

“There’s no differential premium for what you get paid.

“For me, it’s about the personal rewards of breeding, knowing those heifers could go into Australian herds.

“The ideal would be if the market was able to genomically test all animals at three months old.

“That gives the farmer opportunities to make better decisions.

“The strength of my cow families keeps being consistency in the progeny they’re breeding.

“That results from depth in the herd from years of breeding.

“Our ABV is about producing a cow that is the most efficient at converting feed into milk solids.”

Trevor runs the farm with son, Oak, who completed his apprenticeship last year, and nephew, Damien, as assistant manager.

Oak and Damien are building equity, breeding their own registered cows in the herd.

Oak’s responsibilities on the farm include milking, feeding cows and calves, helping to make hay and silage and sharing responsibility around breeding decisions.

Since November 2017, Oak has been in partnership with his parents in Wilara Holstein stud.

“Dad and I bought two young heifers together at Stewart McRae’s commercial sale,” Oak said.

One of the heifers Trevor and Oak bought in 2017 is Gallrae Flamer Lola, a heifer, paying $10 000.

She was four months old with a BPI of 325. She has 11 generations of dams from the Lucky family in her breeding. Lola has proven to be the highest BPI heifer to sell in Australia.

“She had her first calf at the end of August last year, a heifer calf, Wilara Geronimo Lolly, who has tested currently at 379 BPI,” Oak said.

“She’s the second highest BPI female 2019 born.”

Lola’s production is good, with lactation averaging 31 litres per day and a recent herd test showing four protein and 4.8 fat.

“Lolly is in an intensive feeding system on the farm here at the moment, to encourage growth, so she can be flushed two or three times before she becomes in-calf,” Oak said.

“We want to increase the number of offspring available to us.”

They plan to keep all the embryos to use in their own recipient cows.

In spring last year, Oak spent a month in Britain on the Holstein Australia Youth UK Exchange.

He stayed on farms and visited shows, including the All Breeds All Britain Calf Show at Peterborough.

On farm, he was milking and feeding cattle.

Because of the time of year, all the cows were in barns.

It was a totally different farming experience to what he was used to in Australia.

But the show preparation and ring was the same, although Oak was only involved in preparing calves for show until he got to Peterborough. He was able to lead a heifer in the Calf Show.

“When I was there, it’s the time of year when the cows are inside,” he said.

“Barns were held at an ambient 15 to 25 degrees Celsius. Because of the feeding system, lactation was consistent; rather than the peaks and troughs experienced in Australia where cows graze outside and experience new pasture every day.”

He noted different animal health challenges because the cows were housed in barns.

“The cows get dermatitis on the feet, so they have to go through a foot bath every day,” Oak said.

A scraper ensures manure is regularly cleared in the barns, either with an automatic or manual system.

The herd size was smaller, averaging 90 to 100 cows on the Holstein dairy farms he was working on and visiting.

From a genetics perspective, the two nations have different breeding philosophies, based on how they are paid for milk.

“They get paid on volume,” Oak said.

“They don’t get paid bonuses for protein, so they have a different focus on breeding.

“In our system, we can get paid bonuses for high protein in our milk.”

Oak’s focus now is to keep improving the genetics of the Wilara Holstein herd.

“I’m aiming to breed the animal with the number one BPI rank in the country,” he said.

He is on the way, with many cows in the Wilara Holstein herd continuing to test in the top 100 genomically in Australia.

“We also want to keep breeding bulls that test high in the EBVs in Australia and people wanting to use that semen in their AI programs,” Oak said.