More than one way to achieve goals

Darby Norris, of Darby’s Consulting, with farmer Jan Giliam and Australian Probiotic Solutions’ Ash Spence have worked together to bring Jan’s Holstein, VikingRed and Montbéliarde three-way cross herd to a 600kg milk solid average on some steeper country in South Gippsland.

A Dutch-born family milking 500 head in South Gippsland, hasn’t looked back since deciding to formalise its Holstein, VikingRed and Montbéliarde three-way cross, and introduce probiotics.

Jan and Annie Giliam are joined by one of their four sons, George, 31, and his wife, Jaimee, on this rolling property which spans 242 hectares (230ha usable, including two 10ha lease blocks). They moved to Australia 31 years ago to avoid the environmental challenges they could see coming their way in The Netherlands. It has been an inspired decision for their family, which today includes six children (two Australian born) and 16 grandchildren.

Their dryland farm at Dumbalk had enough steeper country for them to chase mobility and fertility in their dairy genetics. They use the VikingRed (Swedish Red, Finnish Ayrshire and Danish Red), Scandinavian Holstein, and the French dual-purpose Montbéliarde.

Jan said, “Originally we had the Canadian and Dutch Holsteins. They were very hard to get in-calf, and 10 years ago I made a decision to put everything to VikingRed. Everything.

“Their offspring were then joined to Montbéliarde and – in turn – their offspring were joined to Scandinavian Holstein. The Scandinavian Holsteins are a bit smaller, and they had been breeding for fertility a lot longer than the Canadian and Dutch Holsteins. As a result, we have now got smaller cows that are a lot stronger, with a lot more muscling.”

He said their strength and lower centre of gravity offered some practical advantages.

“In the past, if we had a cow slide down a hill, you’d have to pick them up with the hip clamps. Now they just shake their head and stand up and off they go,” Jan said.

“The calves are much stronger and bigger, but because the shape of their frame is different, they just seem to come out easier.”

Herd production on the fully automated 60-stand De Laval E100 rotary (installed May 2020) is 600kg of milk solids per cow. While the amount of grain they feed depends on the automatic cow ID, averaging out at 7kg/cow/day. They also have an undercover feed pad, and while this doesn’t hold all the herd today, it still offers some important management options.

Probiotics a natural progression

The decision to move to probiotics with Australian Probiotic Solutions (APS) has been a natural progression.

“At that time we had some ‘off’ cows,” Jan said. “You could see it on their faces. They just weren’t happy. I had an antibiotic buffer going into the dairy, and they definitely didn’t like that. I liked the probiotic story.

“So, we thought, ‘We’ll try this’. And, really it changed things around.”

‘Can tell the cows are healthy now’

The BioPro probiotics (including trace minerals) is made from a unique combination of 11 powerful biological compounds, five selected strains of probiotic bacteria and a specific strain of active live dry yeast – Saccharomyces cerevisiae – which stimulates cellulose-digesting bacteria, improving fibre digestibility and rumen development. (The probiotic bacteria are microencapsulated, to reach the lower gastrointestinal tract for improved immune function and the competitive exclusion of pathogens.) Finally, a blend of five digestive enzymes in BioPro supports feed breakdown, allowing more surface area for microbes to work on.

“You can tell the cows are healthy now,” Jan said. “You can see it in how they act and their coats. Their black is black, and their white is white. Our components have lifted, and their manure is really good too. It’s a good consistency, with no grain in it.”

He said their in-calf rates had improved, and that encouraged him to extend their probiotic story to include APS’s Superstart lead feed, which Ridley Stockfeed includes in their springer grain. The combination of their herd’s baseline probiotic history, combined with the lead feed, has tightened calving dates and eased calving issues across the board within this predominately spring-calving herd.

“Calving this year was extremely busy. We had inseminated the cows for 10 to 11 weeks, and that was it,” Jan said. “With the probiotics, they cycled quicker after calving, and more held in-calf to those early joinings. To the point that most of them got in-calf with one straw in the first six weeks.

“We don’t use mop-up bulls and we only had a small group of perhaps 50 carryovers this year. We were finished calving by August 1.

“We only had one or two cases of milk fever in the 500. It felt like we had more twins, but less retained afterbirths. And, anything that did retain membranes cleaned up after a couple of days.”

Vet’s perspective

Veterinarian Robyn Plunkett said Jan’s observations are in line with the science.

“A lot of it has to do with general health and wellbeing of the animals,” Dr Plunkett said.

“When you don’t get that subclinical acidosis from the time of calving, the cows then don’t have any checks or negative impacts on their health. That’s because we’re not only keeping the rumen stable with the yeast, we’re improving their immune system with the bacteria, and the enzymes are also helping to break down the feed better – so those cows are getting more bang for their buck out of what they are fed.

“In turn, they hold their condition better, they cycle better, and they tend to go in-calf easier.”

Calves benefiting too

Probiotics are included in the calf shed too. The Giliam family raises 400 calves every year for replacements, export and beef (sold at four to five months). They are building a new shed this year with automatic calf feeders. They add BioCalf – sourced through Daviesway DASCO – to the calves’ milk every day. It includes five of the industry’s top-strength micro-encapsulated probiotics (at 15.5 billion colony forming units), five digestive enzymes, active live yeast, Actigen (a yeast carbohydrate that normalises gut microflora and promotes microbiome diversity) and Yucca (an extract derived from Yucca schidigera, which is native to the US deserts and leads to higher microbial yields through rumen nitrogen uptake).

Their regime also includes BioBoost – a popular oral probiotic treatment paste. Jan says it is a no-brainer, and it’s as good for the cows as it is for the calves.

“We always have the BioBoost in our pocket.”

Eyes forward

Jan said he’s not one to look in the rear vision mirror very often, and probiotics have been an important part of his family’s forward motion.

“I wouldn’t stop using the probiotics now. The cows are happy, they’re grazing better, they’re more active in the paddock, and I think that’s probably all because they feel heathier, It’s going great.”