Keeping it simple pays off

15 Jan, 2018 09:10 AM
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Genetics have always been of major importance to the business.

THIRD-generation dairyfarmers, Luke and Melanie Wallace, Poowong North, Vic, continue the tradition, initiated by his grandfather and followed by his father, of showing at International Dairy Week (IDW).

The IDW, along with other shows, has been a critical pathway for creating interest in their herd genetics and sourcing new families for their breeding program.

Trading as Wallacedale Jerseys, the couple milk a 210-head self-replacing, split-calving herd off 79 undulating hectares, producing 565 kilograms milk solids per cow.

A primarily pasture-based system, they lead feed just-under two tonnes per cow each year.

The Jersey herd was registered at its inception.

"Genetics have always been of major importance to the business," Luke Wallace said.

"My father and grandfather and I have always kept herd records and classed the cows. Keeping a good genetic database has always been important to us."

Using the tools of artificial insemination, embryo transfer and genomic testing have added to the importance of record keeping.

It has enabled them to identify cow families with good conformation and production figures, both within their herd and when sourcing new genetics.

"It's a waste of genetics to use mop-up dairy bulls when AI'ing," Mr Wallace said.

"We also do a lot of ET - recipient cows are held for embryos. While conception rates are lower than average, that's made up for with split calving.

"It's better to get good calves out of the top five cows rather than the bottom 50."

Emphasis was on feeding the herd and bull selection.

"We focus on A2 Jersey bulls, udder depth, stature and chest breadth; and longevity in cows. We breed for solid cows rather than big cows in our herd," Mr Wallace said.

Reasons for culling included slow milkers and poor temperament.

Testing the genomics of bulls also paid off with the ability to sell sires.

"We sell 30 bulls privately each year - it's a good revenue stream. Genomic testing added to our record keeping, gives people confidence in their buying," Mr Wallace said.

Attending dairy shows has enabled independent and visual confirmation of their expectations based on data.

"We won our first trophy at IDW in the first year we showed there - my grandfather received the Junior Champion Jersey Heifer in 1997," Mr Wallace said.

"Shows enable us to network with other breeders and discuss breeding philosophies, programs and genetics.

"We get to look at other people's cow families. And it's always great to catch up with breeders and to see younger breeders and their successes - they're creating a future for the industry."

Work preparing the cattle for IDW and other shows can begin up to six weeks beforehand, although some of the preparation has changed since his grandfather's time.

"We separate the relevant cows and heifers from the herd and ensure they have access to the shed to get out of the weather. They have adlib vetch hay and a small amount of cereal hay each day," Mr Wallace said.

"Obviously we put some time into training them to lead, wash and dry, about three weeks out.

"We feed them a transition diet to stretch their rumen and ensure the change of scene to the show facility doesn't have detrimental effects and we increase their grain ration.

"We keep it pretty simple."

Choosing the cows to show is individual.

"They're never based on a cow family, but purely on individual traits," he said. "But we find that nine out of 10, it's probably a member of a champion cow family that pops out from the herd."

Wallacedale Jerseys' investment in improving genetics is recouped by sending heifers each year to sell at IDW.

This year they are sending a daughter of one of their best-known cows, Wallacedale Tbone Melys - a Kingsvale daughter - to show and sell at IDW. Melys was fourth in the six-year-old-in-milk at last year's IDW.

As a five-year-old, she produced 7701 litres of milk.

"This heifer is one of three ET full sisters. She's the highest scored and highest production of the three of them," Mr Wallace said.

"We got the Kingsvale daughter from a long-established cow family that I've always liked."

Attending the Kingsvale dispersal, he purchased an older cow which, using ET, produced six daughters for the Wallacedale herd.

But while IDW and the Royal Melbourne and other Victorian shows have their place in visually identifying cow families, Luke Wallace said on-farm trials were also part of the mix.

"Seeing the cows at home on the farm is still the best option," he said.

"Seeing them at shows can spark you to go to their farm and see the herd - and you might see something else you like.

"When you buy a cow, she's got to be able to move around the farm, eat grass and produce milk."

In recent years he used the Great Australian Challenge as an opportunity to gauge his herd against other Jerseys.

"Without travelling, you know you've competed successfully against hundreds of cows in each trial of the challenge," Mr Wallace said.

Wallacedale Jerseys won their classes in 2016 and the final in 2017 - taking out the five-year-old cow championship.

He prefers to select cow families from the visual assessment, then rely on AI and ET to go forward.

"You can buy a great cow in and she'll produce six calves and only one of them is a daughter," he said.

"There's also a risk with growing a cow family into your herd. Using AI and ET reduces the time to measure your risk."

Attention to detail on the farm also helps.

"We use the calving shed during winter and spring calving," Mr Wallace said.

"We transition and lead feed and spend time checking on them. We get the vet out because it's cheaper to fix the problem early rather than it becomes a bigger issue."

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