Breeding for the long game

Trevor Saunders and Anthea Day with their heifers at Shady Creek. All heifers and cows on their farm are registered and genomically tested.

For Anthea Day and Trevor Saunders, dairy farmers at Shady Creek, sire genetics are proving an admirable combination for their herd’s own breeding.

In the past few months, they have seen some of their cows proven exceptionally, with EX94 classifications.

Classification assesses the conformation or structure of cows and heifers.

Anthea and Trevor register and genomically test all the cows in their Araluen Park Jerseys herd, located in the hills of West Gippsland.

Their commitment has paid off.

In December last year, at 10 years of age and recently calving her eighth calf, Araluen Park Vanahlem Posh was confirmed EX94 points.

In April, Araluen Park Vanahlem Olive was classified EX94. And in May, Araluen Park Valentino Posh was also classified EX94.

They join Araluen Park Sega Ebony, the couple’s first cow to be classified EX94, who twice has been sashed the Supreme Champion Cow in the Great Southern Challenge and, in 2018, named the Supreme Champion in the Great Australian Challenge.

There are seven EX94 classified cows, and a large number of females classified EX90 and above, in the herd.

The classifications above EX90 include daughters and sisters — Vanahlem Olive’s daughter Valentino Olive 2 is classified EX92 and nine-year-old Vanahlem Posh 2 (ET full sister to Vanahlem Posh) was classified EX93 in 2021.

“Posh cows are consistently high classifiers and they’re throwing it through the cow family,” Anthea said.

Trevor Saunders with Jersey heifers.

“The Olive family has been with us for a long time and we have quite a few in the herd.

“Araluen Park Vanahlem Olive is one of our favourite cows — she has a very placid nature but definitely knows her own mind.”

Anthea and Trevor prove the consistency in their herd because, of the cow families, there are many outstanding maternal lines.

Classified EX90 and above include cows from Posh, Olive, Ebony, Adeline, Sarina, Madge, Marysue, Mittens, Jenni Wren, Molly, Goldie, Kasare, Maxina, Naomi, Gayle, Rockett and Flower families. Some of their heifer daughters this year are already classified EX88 and above.

Bulls include Valentino, Tahbilk, Hatman, Navarian, Tbone, Marcin, JMO, Larfalot, Sega and Vanahlem lines.

Trevor Saunders runs the stocking rate to optimise the amount of grass that is grown and grazed. They also conserve fodder every year, as wrapped round bales. The herd peaks at 650, and milking peaks at 1700kg MS/ha.

“Longevity is what we want from our cows,” Anthea said.

“We’re continually trying to develop and improve our herd.

“When we select our bulls, we look at the proven bulls and the phenotype of their progeny — good feet and legs, good udders, fat and protein production, and rib capacity in the cows.

“The cow needs rib capacity to eat a lot of grass and therefore produce a lot of milk.”

With a herd that’s registered, tested and genomically classified, Anthea and Trevor apply the same rigorous scrutiny to choosing sires.

“We look for bulls that complement each other and what we already have in the herd,” Anthea said.

“For example, Geronimo complements Montana bloodlines and others we choose. We use big batches of a particular bull and we’ll use him over years.

Daughters in the Araluen Park herd are also being classified at EX88 and above.

“We’ve always been really conscious of the risk of mistakes, and how long it takes to breed mistakes out of your herd.”

Their number one focus of breeding is to sell milk. To do that, they choose cow families with proven functionality and longevity.

“Cows are a long time in our herd, so we like to breed what we want to see every day,” Anthea said.

“We also like to have cows that are confident around people in our herd,” Trevor said.

That confidence is built in the calf shed, where calves are handled a lot. Heifers are on a separate farm and are interacted with regularly, so maintain that confidence and quietness around people.

It spreads across the farm, where laneways are well maintained on the hills and cows are moved quietly to and from the dairy. At milking time, they move confidently through the 44-bail rotary dairy.

There are seven EX94 classified cows and a large number of females classified EX90 and above in the milking herd.

Anthea and Trevor are currently grazing 546 cows off 250 hectares of milking area, producing 1300kg MS/ha.

Trevor runs the stocking rate to optimise the amount of grass that is grown and grazed.

They also conserve fodder every year, as wrapped round bales.

The herd peaks at 650, and milking peaks at 1700kg MS/ha.

The Araluen Park milking herd is split-calving and completely AI. Heifers are joined at 14 to 15 months old, using sexed semen. An own-bred Jersey bull is used as a mop-up sire for the heifers.

The first round of artificial insemination with cows uses sexed semen, and they repeat that in the second round of AI for most of their cows.

They also join 20 per cent of their milking cows to beef semen to meet a growing demand for dairy-beef calves.

Araluen Park Vanahlem Olive was classified EX94 in April.