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2020’s top herds and best genetics released by DataGene

By Daneka Hill

The productivity of dairy herds across the nation has once again been measured in the Australian Breeding Values (ABVs), released this month.

First place among Holstein herds went to Illawambra Holsteins in Kangaroo Valley, NSW, which had an average herd balance performance index (BPI) of 196.

BPI is the measure of an animal’s profitable characteristics, including: survival rate, type, milking speed, temperament, fertility, and feed efficiency.

Illawambra Holsteins is run by fourth-generation farmer Trevor Parrish.

“We’ve been in the top five (of the ABV lists) before and we’ve been first place before,” Mr Parrish said.

He attributed the herd’s long-standing success to the constant weeding out of low-BPI cows.

Mr Parrish manages a milking herd of 260 and will sell up to 100 heifers and milkers a year.

“We genomically test everything and sell off the low ones,” he said.

“If a cow gets mastitis she’ll go straight on the truck.”

Mr Parrish said the ABV data and its compiler – herd improvement body DataGene – were most useful when it came to bulls.

“We aim to sell 30 to 40 bulls a year, so that is where the genetic data works well,” he said.

“We’ll have farmers specifically looking for high scoring polled or A2 bulls.”

Second place in the Holstein breed went to Western Australia’s Carenda Holsteins (BPI 167).

Multi-breed standout, Beulah Farms, completed the podium in third (BPI 161).

Beulah Farms also scored third in the Jersey list and fourth in the Australian Red Dairy Breed.

Beaulands Aussie Reds in Numbaa, NSW, had the highest scoring Australian Red Dairy Breed (BPI 108) herd.

Sam Graham runs Beaulands’ 460 milking herd alongside his father, Ron Graham, who was involved in founding the dairy breed in the 1980s.

“Getting to the top is a result of years of collecting the best genetic from around the world,” Mr Graham said.

“We are 100 per cent AI and use genetics from Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Finland and Norway.”

The Beaulands herd’s average BPI was equal to the top Jersey herd, but Mr Graham dismissed the idea of pitting breeds against each other.

“You can’t compare them, 108 for the Jersey is a totally different thing from 108 in a red breed,” he said.

“Our cows are great at converting pasture to milk solids… They’ve been very good in the drought, holding their body condition and calving really well.”

Mr Graham said his top BPI cows were producing 500 litres of milk solids a year from half a tonne of grain.

The Jersey breed’s top score of BPI 108 was achieved by regular list-topper White Star.

The White Star herd has been grazing in Noorat, Victoria, since 1923 under the watchful eyes of a single family.

Con Glennen attributed his family’s success to the decades of attention he and his uncles had paid to genetics.

“We’ve been genomically testing our cows since the ‘70s and ‘80s,” Mr Glennen said.

“We are a commercial farm, we breed for milk. We sell maybe a handful of bulls.”

Chelmonte Farming outside Toowoomba, Queensland, blew all competition from the water in the Illawarra breed, scoring an average herd BPI of -5.

The second-placed Illawarra herd, owned by B & J Wieck, had a BPI of -41.

The best Brown Swiss herd topped out with a BPI of 41 (Andrew Burgoine, Victoria), the best Guernsey herd achieved BPI 37 (Ian Gallus, Victoria), and best Ayrshire came in at -92 BPI (RM & SJ Livingstone).

The ABVs have been charting the progress of the Australian dairy industry since 1983.