A move into high-end dairy breeding has paid dividends for two south-western Victorian dairy operations.
Byron Smethurst, who was part of a syndicate that bought the $10,000 top-priced heifer at the Winter Warm Up Sale at Bendigo, Victoria, on July 5 sells excess top-quality heifers from his farming operation at Corriemungle, Vic, into both the domestic and export markets.
A move three-and-a-half years ago into embryo transfer work has also delivered rewards for Geoff and Jessa Fleming's Fleyas Holsteins, Portland, Victoria, who sold two lots at the sale, including the second top-priced Fleyas Doorman Lotus for $8000.
Holsteins sold to a top of $10,000 and averaged $3812.07 at the sale.
Lucky syndicate Mr Smethurst bought the top-priced heifer Glomar Jedi Lucky 5953 in a syndicate with two friends Marcus Rees and Matthew Glennen.
He said the heifer, whose dam is the number one genomic cow in Australia, offered the opportunity for them to buy a high Australian Breeding Values Balanced Performance Index animal.
The trio is also hopeful Lucky would do even better on the United States Type Performance Index as its sire Jedi's progeny usually do better on the US index than the Australian index.
They plan to flush the heifer at the end of the year to a high genomic bull - selected to complement her genomic makeup.
Mr Smethurst said he had always been interested in high-end genetics. "I am a BPI and TPI person," he said.
Genomics has been a game changer for his farming operation where he milks 240 Holsteins. He genomically tests every heifer calf on his farm, using the information to make decisions about which heifers to retain and which to sell.
The genomics information helps him market his excess heifers for both the export market and private domestic sales. Up to a third of his heifers are exported each year, although in the past three years this number has been lower as he rebuilt his herd numbers after having sold off the Jersey portion of it that had previously comprised about half his herd.
Mr Smethurst said being able to buy a top animal like Lucky in a syndicate enabled he and his friends a cheaper way to get into a high genetics animal.
Fleyas Holsteins Jessa Fleming said their second-top-priced heifer Lotus was an embryo transfer daughter of their cow, Fleyas Bradnick Lotto, which was bought as an embryo from North America.
Lotto has been flushed a number of times and the Doormans arose from the second flush.
Four heifers from that flush were genomically tested on the Australian, United States and the Canadian platforms.
"Lotus came up high on all three," Mrs Fleming said.
The Flemings sold one of Lotus's sisters at International Dairy Week 2016 as a four-and-a-half-month-old calf for $7000.
Lotus has been flushed twice and produced 18 embryos.
But the Flemings decided to sell the heifer "because she is an elite genetic animal for us ... and to give someone else the opportunity to develop her".
"We are quite far from a lot of shows, and because we are a commercial operation, a family farm, we don't get the opportunity to spend developing the animals as they should be for showing, " Mrs Fleming said.
"And she has amazing potential."
Lotus is in calf to sexed semen and due to calve in November, at the right time to prepare for International Dairy Week 2018.
The heifer was bought by Bluechip Genetics, Zeerust, Vic.
Mrs Fleming said fitting the high-end breeding, including flushing and embryo transfer work, into their commercial operation was tricky.
"We always make sure we make it pay for itself," she said.
"The whole idea with the flushing, with selling embryos and heifers is that it goes back into the kitty, back into the money to spend back on genetics."
She said it was expensive, but "we feel we are on the right track by making it pay for itself by continuing to sell heifers".
The red junior champion at the Victorian Winter Fair, held in conjunction with the sale, was bred by the Flemings and sold privately to its owners a few months before the show.
The breeding operation is already making money for the Flemings.
"It has allowed us to reinvest into flushing more animals, to reinvest to bringing in some more genetics from overseas, and also little things, like we have actually booked a holiday for the family paid for by embryos," Mrs Fleming said.
It is also building their herd's genetics.
Although the number of ET heifers coming into the herd had not been huge (about 15 are due to come into the herd this year), the Flemings were already seeing better classification results and the ET heifers had a higher production index than heifers in previous years.
Mrs Fleming said they also found the whole process of breeding rewarding.
"It is the hours we spend doing research into the right sires, it is watching the animal, looking at what she needs to be correctively mated for the next generation but at the same time celebrating what is amazing about her and enhancing that as well," she said.
"The genetics side of it I love.
"Genomics is quite new, and being a younger farmer, I have embraced it and it is so exciting to be able to rank our animals worldwide as well.
"And these animals are also what kept us going last year, when the year was really bad and the price was terrible and the season was terrible.
"Being able to walk into our dairy and milk these animals , it was a pleasure it was a highlight to know that despite how bad everything was and as physically and emotionally exhausted as we were, we had these star animals that would come in and perform no matter what, and it made your life much easier."
Online auction Dean Malcolm, from Bluechip Genetics who organised the catalogue for the sale in partnership with Elders, said he was really happy with the sale results.
Elite Livestock Auctions operated at the sale, providing the opportunity for people to bid on lots online.
"The online auction is the way of the future," Mr Malcolm said.
Multi-vendor sales, such as the Winter Warm Up sale, were vital to offer smaller operations an opportunity to market their stock.
The organisers had worked hard to ensure the sale provided a good variety of animals, so there was something for everyone, he said.
"Everyone was realistic about the prices," he said.
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