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Switch to VikingGenetics rewards Aussie farmer with trouble-free cows

Breeding cows from all over the world to A.I. was like a dream come true for Gayle Clark, a dairy farmer from Katandra West, Victoria. It became even better when she transitioned her herd to VikingGenetics.

When Gayle Clark first started dairy farming, she already had an interest in breeding Kelpies – an Australian sheepdog breed – but was “like a kid in a lolly shop” when she and her husband Laurie started their farm in the Goulburn Valley, Victoria. 

Twenty-five years later, Gayle’s passion resulted in a herd of long-lasting, trouble-free, and highly productive cows.

Gayle and husband Laurie’s 450-head herd is 85% VikingHolstein, with the rest made up of VikingRed and VikingJersey. Much thought went into breeding these cows and deciding to transition the herd to VikingGenetics.

“After doing it for 25 years, we want an animal that’s easy to look after, and that’s what we’ve got,” Gayle says.

VikingHolstein Australia Gayle Hayley Clark

Cows like race cars

Gayle likes to use a race car analogy when describing her cows. "The cow's conformation or type is her chassis; her health traits are the running gear - everything from gearbox to tyres - and her genetic productive capacity is her engine. She can have the most powerful engine available, but unless that's harnessed to a chassis that can carry it and has the right running gear to go with it, it won't carry her across a chequered flag," she explains with a smile.

Throughout the journey, she realised that the cows that make the most money are the ones that remain in the herd year after year.

"Choosing purely on productive capacity from a catalogue gets you a 'sprinter'. However, if you recognise that the money is with the cows who make old age in your herd, you want a 'stayer'," she adds. 

Gayle's cows repeatedly get in calf, have very few health setbacks, and "physically hold together a lot better than most because their build quality is a house made of bricks, not straw." 

Gayle's herd is made up of "invisible cows" - high-producing and efficient cows that you don't notice until they stand out as old or the last of their generation.

VikingHolstein Australia Gayle Clark Calf

VikingGenetics brings the solution

The farm has experienced a few hiccups along the way, and that's where VikingGenetics came to help. 

"Lameness became an issue after an extremely wet year in 2016, especially on the tall cows. At the same time, cows over 700kgs struggled to fit in the rotary bales," explains Gayle. "Like many across the world, we started actively seeking a smaller statured cow, a grazing, walking kind of cow," she adds.

The herd includes a few red cows, and Gayle found an appealing VikingRed sire, V Föske, to use across them. Just like he did on hundreds of herds across the world, he left a big impression.

"His progeny was `wow' - they would be the first to get to the dairy, first to the feed, and were well built with a strong determination to thrive," she adds.

In 2020, the Clarks needed more cows to deal with a huge autumn surplus of feed, so they purchased a late winter calving herd pregnant from VikingGenetics bulls.

"What struck me about these animals was not only the ease with which they calved but the speed. I don't think we had any that took more than 30 minutes, but most had a calf on the ground within 20 minutes of the first signs of the calving being imminent," says Gayle, impressed by the cows' easy calvings.

Night watches in the calving paddock are now a thing of the past.

In the picture: 1-year-old VH Ascari heifer

VikingHolstein Australia Gayle Clark VH Ascari Heifer

Healthy, fertile Holstein cows

Gayle also recognises that fertility is paramount for a cow to become an old cow in the herd. Cows that don't get in calf don't stay in the herd very long.

Gayle hasn't found a Holstein bull that surpasses VH Sparky for daughter fertility, though VH Romello comes close. These bulls are rated at 6.3 DPR and 4.5 DPR in the USA system, and both are 117 in the daughter fertility index in the Nordic Total Merit indexNTM.

"Fertility and mastitis resistance are two of the biggest contributing factors that carry a cow through to old age," Gayle said. "Knowing that the Nordic farmer requires a vet to administer mastitis treatment, something we as farmers can do here in Australia, makes the data on health traits very real,"

In years past, the Clarks pursued rump correction, using some very white bulls, which led to a rising incidence of cancers, mostly eye or third eyelid cancers. Bulls like VH Leyton, VH Berosus, and VH Nader, which have mostly black pigmentation, have been able to reverse that trend.

Nordic genetics have also been an excellent outcross, providing significant relief from inbreeding.

Gayle is happy with the results after transitioning to VikingHolstein. "I needed smaller statured cows, and we like the fertility and calving ease," she says.

She is now handing the breeding reins over to her daughter Hayley, who uses X-Vik sexed semen on the herd. This has resulted in many Holstein heifers being born in the Autumn of 2024. Gayle's son Ethan, along with two other staff members, also works part-time on the farm.

"Hayley is a keen cow enthusiast, loves her animals, and her engineering background benefits the farm by way of sound decision-making," Gayle ends as she proudly passes the baton to the next generation.

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VikingHolstein Australia Gayle Clark Calf

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