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ProCROSS makes a lasting impression

William Chestnutt has been crossbreeding for the last five years. After moving his dairy herd away from traditional pure Holstein cows, he has achieved encouraging results.

“ProCROSS is clear, and this is how I see it. Two breeds are better than three.”

William Chestnutt is a fourth-generation dairy farmer from the north coast of Northern Ireland, close to Portrush town. William has been working on the 360-acre family farm since 2010.

For the past five years, he and his father James have been crossbreeding their dairy herd, moving away from traditional pure Holstein cows. After two enlightening tours to learn about the benefits of crossbreeding, William decided ProCROSS was the system his farm needed.

Using the three breeds – Holstein, Montbeliarde and VikingRed – on a rotational basis is helping Willian develop the cow he wants that suits his system.

Five years later, William is seeing good results in terms of production, fertility, and cow efficiency, but his main goal is to increase longevity.

ProCROSS Crossbreeding UK Northern Ireland William Chestnutt Farm

The Chestnutt way

William and his father milk 255 cows with 80 replacements and 100 heifer calves. The herd is predominantly autumn calving with over 200 cows calving between the second week of September and the end of November.

The Chestnutts are using the ProCROSS three-breed rotation with Holstein, VikingRed and Montbeliarde. “At the, start our herd comprised all Holstein Friesian cows, so we bred them to either the VikingRed or Montbeliarde and then their offspring were crossed to whichever breed hadn't been used,” says William.

Their cows are milked twice per day, with a current 12-month rolling production average of 8,900 litres at 4.12% fat and 3.46% protein.

“As of this year, we are using AI on all cows. When choosing bulls to use the four main traits I look for are good fertility, protein, fat, and yield,” he says, highlighting his breeding strategy.

“With each breed, we have a different focus. For example, when choosing a VikingHolstein bull I strictly look for a good fertility score and longevity. With Montbeliarde I like to keep an eye on temperament and calving ease,” he adds.

ProCROSS Crosbreeding UK Northern Ireland William Chestnutt Farm

Getting started with crossbreeding

William has been using semen from VikingGenetics since 2016, following a research trip to Denmark looking at VikingHolstein bulls, due to their excellent health traits and longevity compared to other Holsteins.

He said: “While in Denmark we visited a herd that had been using ProCROSS for 13 years. I thought the cows looked fantastic and the figures on fertility, yield and milk solids were very impressive too,” he says.

After this trip, William ordered some VikingHolstein and VikingRed semen to introduce into his herd. The trip, however, also sparked a real interest in crossbreeding, which led him to another research trip, this time to The Netherlands.

“Next, I travelled to Holland in the spring of 2018 to see ProCROSS herds there, and that convinced me to start crossbreeding on all my cows,” he says enthusiastically.

“The previous year I had used crossbreeding on half the herd – so my heifers born in 2018 were 50:50 pure Holstein. The group of heifers born in 2019 were my first batch of full cross-bred heifers,” he explains. William’s first generation of full crossbreds are now in their second lactation, and his oldest crossbreds are in their fourth.

ProCROSS Crossbreeding UK Northern Ireland William Chestnutt Farm

Clear and easy to understand

William chose ProCROSS, as the strategy was easy to understand and gave him much insight into the cow he was trying to breed.

“I choose ProCROSS because I found it simple to understand and implement. Some of the other crossbreeding strategies promoted can be a bit vague or not very prescriptive,” he says.

“ProCROSS is clear, and this is how I see it. Two breeds are better than three,” he adds.

“The three breeds in ProCROSS have their place and their purpose. Holstein brings yield and good udders; Montbeliarde adds strength, longevity, and milk solids. VikingRed adds good health traits, maintains good yields and solids, and can bring the stature down to breed smaller, more efficient cows.

William is very pleased with how the crossbreds’ performance. However, as increased longevity is one of the key goals and biggest benefits, it will be a few years before he sees the results in this aspect.

ProCROSS Crossbreeding UK William Chestnutt Northern Ireland Farm

A new business venture

Back in 2019, William and his wife Alison decided to diversify and sell some of their cows' fresh milk to the public via a vending machine – The Milk Hut. This has proven to be a good management decision and is popular with the public. "We always strive to increase our sustainability and liked the idea of selling milk in reusable glass bottles," says William.

"The other big driver for me, personally, is that I'm not a big fan of shop-bought milk. Milk tastes much better when it is fresher, unhomogenised, batch pasteurised and not standardised, and this is what we sell," he adds.

Chestnutt's Farm is located on the main road into Portrush, near an area where many customers spend weekends and holidays in their summerhouses or caravans. "Our daily sales vary widely depending on the day of the week, but the weekends are always busy," he ends with a smile.

Text by Chris McCullough

Pictures by Chestnutt's Farm

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ProCROSS Crossbreeding UK Northern Ireland William Chestnutt Farm

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