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Genetics and animal welfare in focus

Ahlvik Gård farm emphasizes profitability, animal welfare and health. Success is guaranteed by VikingHolstein heifers from VikingGenetics.

Ahlvik Gård farm in Finland emphasizes profitability, animal welfare, health, and quality. Success is guaranteed by VikingHolstein heifers from VikingGenetics' embryo program.

Bror Ahlvik started the dairy farm with 25 cows in 1988. Bror, 56, has always paid a lot of attention to the breeding of the animals. Especially high solids have been in focus for a long time. Of the four sons of Bror and Sonja, Zackarias, 23, and Jeremias, 21, have inherited their parents’ enthusiasm for milk production. “Since elementary school, the barn has been a very interesting place to be. From the seventh grade, I have been regularly working in the barn,” Jeremias says.

Later, Jeremias’ interest in the business expanded beyond their home farm. “I was training in Sweden in two herds of 1,000 cows and I learned a lot about managing a large farm. I still keep in touch with these farmers,” says Jeremias. Both sons also have working experience in other large domestic herds.

Their experiences gained at a young age and the desire to learn more, led to the decision to continue their parents’ dairy farm. Prior to the farm expansion, Bror and his sons visited nine different farms in the Netherlands in 2018 to explore different barn solutions. Sand bedding made a big impression on them.

After the trip to the Netherlands, the family founded Ahlvik Gård Ltd. There was no possibility to build a large enough barn on the site of the old barn, but they were able to buy a suitable area near their old farm. Construction work on the new barn began in February 2020. The barn, silos, and feed stores rose rapidly during the spring and summer. In early August, 30 cows were moved from the old barn to the new stunning facilities. Now the number of cows has risen to 95 and a third milking robot will be put into use soon as the number of cows increases this year. They have room for 180 cows in the new barn.

Expanding the herd

To increase the number of animals, they entered into a deal with VikingGenetics to take in VikingHolstein heifers from the VikingEmbryo program. They are buying pregnant heifers who had been flushed for embryos. “We asked for advice from an expert, and he said that, in addition to heifers, we are buying six years of breeding work,” Bror says. Some top animals from other herds were also acquired for the farm.

So far, they have bought 58 heifers. “The heifers are top animals. The yield level of many first calvers is over 40 kilos a day. Our goal is to increase the longevity in the herd and thus the lifetime production,” says Jeremias.

The main breeding goals are milkability, fertility and solids, which are already quite high. The average yield for the last 12 months is 10,863 kilos of milk, but the ECM rises to as much as 12,513 kilos due to good solids. They also place emphasis on the animal size and efficiency. “We want a steady and good output with as little forage as possible. This is achieved with good quality silage and medium-sized cows,” says Bror.

The responsibility of breeding decisions is shared by many people. Bror and the boys are getting help from VikingGenetics and Faba (Finnish cooperative, one owner of VikingGenetics) but are still checking out the selections themselves. “Jeremias has the most passion for selecting the bulls,” Bror laughs.

All heifer calves are genomically tested and genomic ear tags are used. Several bull calves have also been tested and a few are already very close to be selected for the VikingHolstein breeding program. They have had their first heifer bought to the VikingEmbryo program. The heifer called Viking Suppernikkel (VH Boytoy x VH Leyton) had a very high gNTM +36.

Consistently good output, sustainability and high life expectancy enable a good financial result.

Jeremias Ahlvik,
Farmer, Ahlvik Gård

Animal welfare is essential

In addition to the top VikingHolstein heifers, the original herd from the old barn also receives praise. “In the new barn, they have all improved their yield and are clearly calmer. This is about good genetics and, above all, good conditions,” says Zackarias.

Animal welfare and health have been taken into account everywhere. The family emphasizes the importance of this. “Consistently good output, sustainability and high life expectancy enable a good financial result. Of course, you have to calculate the price of the actions carefully,” says Jeremias.

Sand bedding is one of the most significant solutions to improve the well-being of the cows. In terms of reducing udder and hoof diseases, sand is better than organic matter. Cows also enjoy lying down longer on a clean and cool sand bed; they stand less, and unnecessary tension is reduced. “Sand beds were an absolute prerequisite for the construction. Zackarias and Jeremias said that if there are no sand beds, there would not be a barn,” Bror says.

The sand is sourced nearby and about 15 kilos is used per cow per day. The used sand is emptied from the manure deposit every two months and the sand is applied to the fields as a soil improver.

In addition to sand bedding, interest in the Cow Signals® training program arose during the visit to the Netherlands. The family has applied the knowledge in their work. The calves’ journey begins in a nursing pen where they are fed freshly milked colostrum. After calving, the cows spend four days on a straw bed. At the age of four days the calves are placed in individual pens in the old barn and after a couple of weeks to a group pen. They return to the new barn at the age of 18-19 months. “This way of rearing calves is expensive, but it also produces good results. We want all the animals to have a good start of life, so they are milking at the age of 23 months,” says Jeremias.

Good routines and constant learning

The barn work is mainly done by three people. Everyone does eight to ten hours of daily barn work. Work days are divided into rotating morning, day, and evening shifts as well as the weekend shifts. Financial tasks, paperwork, feeding, and some of the inseminations are the responsibility of Jeremias. In addition to barn work, Zackarias takes care of calves, inseminations, and hoof care. "I am where I’m needed. Sonja also helps me from time to time. What is important is that everyone masters the routines of the farm,” Bror notes.

Zackarias and Jeremias are constantly learning new things, sourced from all over the world. They also want to help others by sharing information as well as providing a space for learning. A meeting room for 10 people has been built in the barn. “We are ready to receive schoolchildren, students and farmers. We can also invite top experts from around the world to lead training. Of course, the presentation of VikingGenetics' genetic material is an important part,” says Bror.

COVID-19 has put a stop to visits so far, but as it recedes, the visits can be restarted. “Finland has the cleanest food in the world. The presentation of our production is therefore really important,” concludes Jeremias.

The five maxims of Ahlvik Gård

Take care of the cows' well-being

All cows must have a clean, soft, and large enough cubicle at all times. There must also be sufficient room on the feeding table. The cows that moved from the old barn to the new one improved their yields in the new barn. They also have significantly less stress. These indicate how significant the surroundings are.

Health first

Health, and especially good rumen function, are really important. A steady daily yield of 40 kg of milk is the goal with a small amount of concentrated feed and without compromising health. The most economical thing is to increase the longevity and number of lactations. The return on the investment will come over time. Being medium-sized plays an important part in animal health.

Importance of quality feed

The goal is to use as little fodder as possible and to get as much protein as possible from silage. Most of the silage is made in the summer over just a few days. Silage harvesting requires precise timing and analysis. Since no preservatives are used, the work needs to be careful and precise.

Profit before yield

You need to know what is done and what it all costs. Guessing is not good enough and all the numbers need to be put on paper. With good accounting, you can detect possible problems. At current milk prices, profitable production is possible as long as the calculations are done well. It is not worth forcing the yield level up with concentrates. It is worth investing quite a lot in the rearing of calves, because that investment pays off.

Good start of life

Dry period feeding and conditions have a big impact on calving, health, and future yield. Actively reducing the stress of calving cows and heifers is important. Spacious, straw-based calving and group pens as well as calf care pens give a good start life. When the animals are stress-free, they adjust well to the production life and robot milking.

Farm Facts

  • Name: Ahlvik Gård Ltd, Finland
  • Owners: Bror, Zackarias ja Jeremias Ahlvik
  • Herd: 95 cows, of which 80 % first-calvers, 90 % VikingHolstein
  • Average production: 10,863 kg of milk (12,513 kg ECM)
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