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No more fertility problems at Longford Farm

Karen and Jonathan Martin at Longford Farm in Market Drayton, in the UK used crossbreeding to turn around their Shropshire farm after TB devastated their herd. They made the right decision, and ProCROSS transformed their dairy business.

Tuberculosis struck a big blow to Longford Farm eight years ago, when Karen and Jonathan lost 80 cows. They decided to go to Holland, because they couldn’t source cows in the United Kingdom. They bought 31 in-calf crossbred heifers in 2012, and they revolutionized the whole system.

“The fertility costs are less, we have fewer fertility interventions, we’ve got better yields. It’s just a win-win situation. People say if things sound too good to be true, they can’t be real, but this is really great.” Karen says.

The Martin family are now milking 370 cows using the ProCROSS system at Longford Farm, which consists of 590 acres on two different sites.

Karen became involved with the business when she married Jonathan 20 years ago. Back then, they we were milking 120 Holsteins. “We were getting disillusioned with Holsteins because they were getting very extreme. We were struggling with feet, fertility and production,” Karen says.

She explains that since farming is an isolated industry, they didn’t realize there was an alternative until they got in contact with VikingGenetics and got invited to go and see ProCROSS´ herds in Denmark.  

 “It was really informative. I met farmers there who were all very welcoming and wanted to spread the word,” Jonathan explains. “We didn’t do much internet research; we were more hands on,” Karen adds.

Production of fat and protein attracted the eye

Another reason that influenced the couple’s decision to switch to ProCROSS was the high quality in the production of solids, and since they have a cheese contract which pays them on constituents, this advantage attracted them from the beginning, because the higher the butterfat, the more they get paid for the milk.

“We went with the Montbeliarde and the VikingRed cross, because they produce naturally high butterfat milk, so you get paid for it. Also, there’s more data and more finesse with them,” Jonathan explains.

Karen admits they had doubts initially because they were the first farmers in the area to make the switch. “It is a big decision to make with the outlay. Farmers are notorious for questioning new things,” she says.

But once they’d started cross breeding, they realized it was the way forward. “We were so impressed with the three-way cross, it was just the next step up the ladder to do the Montbeliarde and VikingRed cross," Karen says.

Healthier and more easy-to-manage cows

The couple have found the ProCROSS cows are easier to manage as they have better health and fertility than the pure Holsteins they were used to. It has meant fewer injections to help fertility and they don’t need a professional foot trimmer as their herdsman can easily handle it.

Karen has also noticed their increased vitality. “If they fall over, they just bounce back, but with the Holsteins they’d have a broken leg, or they wouldn’t milk for that lactation. Their feet are also stronger. It’s the hybrid vigour bringing all those good bits of each breed in together that makes it work.”  

They are also having better calves. “We’ve finished with the Holstein bull calves which were not so worthy. Now we either have a lovely dairy heifer replacement or we’ve got a nice beef bull to sell through the market. We sell all our calves at 10 to 14 days and that’s a big winner.”

The strength and vigour of the calves is also an important factor. ‘As heifers they just pop the calves out, very rarely do we have to intervene in a calving. The calves are up, they’re sucking, they’re sparky little calves. We’ve all seen the Holstein that doesn’t want to live, but these calves want to get up, start sucking and get into that dairy herd and produce milk,’ she says.

Profitability – an essential factor of the new story

Karen and Jonathan noticed the benefits of their new strategy immediately. “We started to see the results straight away through the milk price. The fact we weren’t winching cows up the wagon, and they were going back into the food chain. We’re seeing over £1,000 for barren cows, that’s seriously good money. Also, they last longer so you’re getting more lactations out of them,” Karen explains.

They wish they’d switched over sooner and replaced their entire herd when they bought the initial group. Karen said that they had the natural fear of the unknown.

“We should have sold every Holstein heifer we’d got on the place and replaced them. It was a big leap of faith but looking back, we definitely should have done that, and we’d have been further down the line at this point. But hindsight’s a wonderful thing. It was something very new and we weren’t sure it was definitely going to work.”

Jonathan says ProCROSS cows have increased profitability and longevity compared to the Holsteins. “Financially it’s great, the cows are happy, they’re great to work with and their temperaments are amazing. We’ve got the good bull calf price; we’ve got longevity and the fabulous barren prices,” he says.

Building a strong and healthy herd from the beginning

Karen looks back and thinks that it was a silly decision to only replace a few cows initially. “It was a big leap of faith but we’re so glad we made it. I can’t really understand why everybody isn’t doing it. I just say get on and do it.

She adds that if there are some dairy farmers considering following in their footsteps, she advises them to trust the experts and visit other farms using the ProCROSS concept. “The VikingGenetics´ staff are great at letting farmers talk to other farmers and see how the concept works.”

The benefits of crossbreeding, including more profit, longevity and smaller vet bills, are too good to give up, they conclude.

“We definitely wouldn’t go back to pure breeding, because what we’re doing is pulling all the good traits from all these breeds and putting them together. That’s the strength of what we’re doing,” Karen states.