The biggest on-farm herd dispersal in Scotland since 2007 will take place next month when Jimmy and Fiona Hodge sell more than 500 cows in Berwickshire.
The couple will be dispersing with 550 Holsteins over two days at Lemington Farm in Reston. But this is a herd of cows with a difference.
While the current 10,357 litre average for the 290 cubicle-housed milkers is impressive, for the last 10 years the herd has maintained a breeding policy where major emphasis has been placed on longevity, fertility and functionality rather than simply following fashion when it comes to sire selection. And it’s a decision that has undoubtedly paid off.
“Rather than simply follow fashion when it comes to selecting sires, we’ve followed the best cows in the herd with the aim of consolidating their traits - traits that are most important to commercial milk producers. So as well as yield we’ve focussed on fertility, cow health and wearability,” says Jimmy.
“When you’ve got cows giving 12,000 litres and you know how much milk they have to give every day, you’re looking at real bovine athletes. These cows are doing the equivalent of a daily marathon at their peak of lactation and they need to have the constitution and genetic make-up to cope with that.”
Until 10 years ago the herd had been heavily involved in showing and had imported top genetics from Canada, but the Hodges felt there were new challenges facing commercial milk producers and they needed the right cows for the job.
“About 10 years ago our cow numbers had reached almost 200 and at that point, with further herd expansion in mind, we decided to concentrate on breeding for the range of traits that were most relevant to profitable milk production. We sold the milking portion, bought in another 100 cows and re-started the business milking 300 cows.”
Jimmy knew precisely what he wanted in his cows - extra chest width, more body capacity and more width in the rump. He decided to stop using bulls with poor rump development and those that were narrow through the chest and lacking in strength.
“We chose bulls that were producing daughters with more width, good udders and good legs.
“And we’ve forfeited nothing at all in terms of production by following this breeding policy. Over the years we’ve steadily increased the average yield to almost 11,000 litres although we’re currently running at a little less than that after a high number of heifer lactations.”
The most prominent sires used in recent years include Baxter – who has left some outstanding daughters - Mr Sam, Comestar Export, Garrison, Hornland Jayz, Design and Altaross.
The in-calf heifers are carrying calves to Glauco, Shottle, Destry, Wyman, Absolute Red, Kanu Red and Savard Red while the recently served heifers have been AI’d to Newabbey Windbrake with sexed semen.
Jimmy Hodge has always had a blueprint in mind for his ideal cow: “The goal has been to breed cows that give five lactations and 50,000kg without needing an entry in the medicine book. And there’s certainly already plenty of them currently in the herd that will be offered at the dispersal.
“There’s no doubt that our approach to breeding has produced us more robust and functional cows,” says Jimmy.
The dispersal sale, which takes place on November 14th and 15th at Reston, will be conducted jointly by Wright Manley and Harrison and Hetherington. The two-day fixture will see 290 cows and heifers along with 60 heifer calves offered on the first day followed by the second day of the sale when 200 in-calf and maiden heifers – and a stock bull – will be sold.
The herd, which is cubicle housed, has an average yield of 10,357 litres at 3.91% butterfat and 3.17% protein. The current cell count is 180,000 and the calving index is 412. The herd is on a four year TB test. A TMR ration is fed all year around but no concentrate is fed in the parlour.