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Changing course for health and sustainability

Roger Peters' dairy farm in northeast Victoria, Australia, proves that big isn’t always best and how sustainable breed choices can go a long way.

Roger Peters and his daughter Edith farm 350 crossbred cows at Tallandoon in the Mitta Mitta Valley, in northeast Victoria, Australia. After cutting cow numbers, changing the herd mix, and eliminating synthetic fertilisers, they have seen encouraging results and increased profits.


This transformation began around 15 years ago when the Peters moved away from purebred Holsteins and introduced VikingRed and VikingJersey. The changes have solved the herd’s fertility and health issues and shown that sustainable farming can also be profitable.

While Roger oversees the operation and Edith manages the herd, the Peters also have a couple of helping hands: John Godde, who has worked at the farm for over 20 years, and Sam Gordon, a farm assistant who joined last October.

In the picture is farm assistant Sam Gordon.

VikingRed VikingJersey Crossbreeding Australia Health Sustainability

Quality, not quantity

“Reproduction and herd health are excellent. We haven’t had a vet visit in the time that I’ve been here,” says Sam, highlighting the crossbred’s excellent health. “We had an A.I. contractor out here recently who said that if this isn’t the most f­ertile herd in the region, it would have to be second,” he adds.

Last year, the herd had 81% in calf after six weeks of joining using sexed semen and beef-on-dairy.

A mid-March test showed the herd’s solid production at 3.82% protein and 4.88% fat. The average cow peaks at 24 litres in spring and has a low of 18 litres in late summer. “For us, it’s about quality, not quantity,” says Edith.

VikingRed VikingJersey Crossbreeding Australia Health Sustainability

Changing strategy

For the last three years, the farm has also stopped using Holstein semen altogether. “They were continually having trouble with the big North American-style Holstein cows that were always breaking down, weren’t getting in calf and were having metabolic problems,” says Sam.

After removing Holstein from the breeding program, the Peters began using VikingJersey on the heifers and VikingRed on the cows – all sexed semen – and introduced beef semen on everything else.

“I’ve found that the Jersey cross with Red makes a really good, little robust and healthy cow that seems to be perfect for a grazing system,” says Edith, explaining her breeding strategy.

VikingRed VikingJersey Crossbreeding Australia Health Sustainability

Healthy, trouble-free cows

Everyone at the farm is happy with the herd’s health. “We see hardly any problems,” says Sam. “We’ve just finished calving and I treated five cows with very mild milk fever, otherwise we had trouble-free calving in a tight two months, starting early March and finishing late April,” he adds.

The VikingJersey cows have particularly impressed the farmers, with Sam emphasizing that they are different from other Jerseys he has worked with. “These are a bit bigger with more constitution around them. They have more bone about them,” he says. “They also have good udders, are fertile, can walk long ways and are generally trouble-free,” he adds.

However, the definitive word on the positive impact the changes have had comes from long-time milker John: “The cows have never been healthier,” he says with a smile.

VikingRed VikingJersey Crossbreeding Australia Health Sustainability

Big savings and healthier pasture

Another success from the new strategy has been in pasture management, with Roger and Edith eliminating synthetic fertiliser use. Instead of fertiliser, the farm started sowing multi-species pastures, ensuring it gets a good recovery period and using effluent and compost.

“When the urea was still in the pasture system, we had some fresh cows getting grass tetany, but they haven’t seen any the last two years,” says Edith, explaining the reasoning behind the change.

With skyrocketing fertiliser prices and many farmers looking for alternatives, Edith is happy to have been ahead of the curve. “We’re going into our third year without synthetic fertiliser, and it has resulted in big savings,” she says.

“When we dig up the clover, you couldn’t see any nodulation when we started, now you can see a fair bit and that’s what the clover uses to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere,” she adds, highlighting another of the strategy’s long-term benefits.

“If the interaction goes well, it’s going to really benefit growing grass and herd health,” ends Edith, showing how the benefits of their sustainable strategy are interconnected.

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