Fleckvieh breeders’ reflections from 2014 trip to Germany

Nine lactations, average 10,000L
Nine lactations, average 10,000L

“It is essential to generate the maximum income from the sale of male calves and cull cows and with a low replacement rate to sell surplus heifers.”

Last spring, I and two colleagues made a trip to Germany to visit some Fleckvieh farms. The statement above was made by a young man (Dieter Burger) who has recently taken over the family farm in Germany.

It is an excellent farm with an 80 cow herd. He has a herd average over 11000Kg, cell count of 70,000 and a calving interval of 365 days. He was not getting carried away with the very good milk price at that time as he was well aware that it would only last for a short time. This herd has a high replacement rate which is not caused by culling, but because he has a regular market for 4th, 5th, and 6th lactation cows to other farmers wishing to improve their genetics. They genomic test bull calves from their top cows and cows with an outcross pedigree. These are sold at 12 – 14 months at special auction sales to AI stations, with the best making incredible prices. ‘Ordinary’ calves are reared to 80 – 100kg and sold at auction mart for 5.5 – 6 Euros per Kg. This is a herd of truly dual-purpose cows with many weighing up to 1000kg. He is passionate about the Fleckvieh breed because they have the lowest average cell count and highest health rating of all breeds with a large population, (Fleckvieh is the second most numerous breed in the world) and he wants the breed kept pure.

We also visited the farm of Mr Arnold, who had some of the most muscular cows I have ever seen. It was really dual-purpose at its best. His 70 – 80 cow herd had an average of 9317Kg with 4.13 fat and 3.49 protein. His aim was to produce as much milk as possible from forage. The average cell count was 145,000. He had a 10 point ‘swing over’ milking parlour and it was very interesting that the cows received no concentrate during milking. There was a continuous water trough and all animals were given time to drink before they left and could go straight to feed. This meant that the cows did not have to queue up at troughs where the ‘shy ones’ and heifers can get bullied away without being able to drink enough. His theory was that clean water is essential for health and the quantity of milk produced and that the animals should not have to compete for it. We saw the kill sheets for animals recently slaughtered. The dead weight for cows ranged from 480 – 580 KG and the bull was over 800KG. You can work out for yourselves the income that would generate.

Our third visit was to Fragner’s farm. Here the daughter had taken over the farm (farmers seem to retire at 65). They had 66 cows with a herd average of 9525kg, 4.05fat and 3.32 protein. They had used a large percentage of polled bulls and thus many of their cows were polled. They were in the process of erecting a new cow barn at a cost of 8000 – 9000 Euros per cow space.

These visits were organised by the BVN Breed Organisation, which covers an area the size of Ireland. It is breeder owned, the president being a farmer. They organise registrations, milk recordings, sales, shows etc. They have specialised personnel to deal with animal health, diets, business accounts, etc. They have a stud of 600 Fleckvieh bulls from 12 year olds to young genomic tested ones. During the visit we had the opportunity to see (on farm) the flushing of a first calved heifer (40 days calved). She produced 15 grade A embryos and 8 grade B. We were then taken back to the lab to see them processed. Their highest ever success rate was 57 embryos with 43 pregnancies.

BVN advises that Genomic testing should be used wisely along with daughter proven bulls. Genomic testing has shown that all breeds have genetic faults, with some breeds having a much higher number than others which is thought to be caused by high rates of inbreeding. If a bull has a genomic fault it has to be shown in the catalogue and the farmer uses it at his own risk. High Rated bulls have been removed from their catalogue.

The BVN economist claims that their model for a dual purpose breed makes dairying viable. She showed us findings from the German Department of Agriculture that 84 Fleckvieh cows can produce the same income as 100 Holstein cows.

There are very strong animal rights in Germany and Holland about dehorning cattle and it must be done under vet supervision. For this reason, BVN are endeavouring to improve their polled sires and they estimate that in 10 – 15 years, with genomic testing, their polled bulls will have the same genomic merit as their horned bulls with most being homozygous. A short time before our visit BVN purchased a young genomic tested homozygous polled bull for 131000 Euros. They called him Incredible because he was an incredible price.