Things just got better and better for the Dakin family when they decided to improve their dairy herd by crossbreeding.

Brothers Matthew and Nathan, along with their father, Roger, have been farming Holstein cows on their farms near Skipton, Nth Yorkshire, for as long as they could remember.

However, over the years, they found themselves spending more and more time looking after the herd as more issues arose. This meant the family couldn’t push their cows to produce more milk, as they were worried this would lead to further problems.

“If they had any ailments, we had to work hard to get them right,” explains Matt. “It was things like fertility, feet and health, including metabolic diseases,”

Best of Breed Livestock Managing Director, Owen Daley, suggested the family look at ProCROSS stock as an effective shortcut, rather than using the traditional three-way rotation system of crossbreeding, which can take years to achieve consistent results.

The ProCROSS three-breed rotational crossbreeding system, created by VikingGenetics and Coopex, is ideal for intensive systems, combining VikingHolstein, VikingRed, and Coopex Montbéliarde.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Matt Dakin is delighted with the new herdMatt Dakin is delighted with the new herd (Image: Ruth Downing)

When the Dakins travelled to Sweden, in February 2018, to see the cows for themselves , they were impressed by the easy-to-manage, high-producing cows – especially with their fat and protein percentages.

“The average across the farms we visited was more than 11,500 litres, with about 4.5% fat and 3.5% protein,” recalls Matt.

The Dakins decided to purchase all their heifers from one of the farms they visited, with the first 35 arriving at the farm in May.

Any doubts they might have had were dispelled as soon as they calved, six to eight weeks later.

"Often, a heifer needs help with calving, retained cleansings, or just to get going. But these just calved themselves, were in the herd within a couple of days and just mixed in and looked after themselves,” says Matt.

The calves were equally trouble-free, showing vigour and good health. As the imports had been bred using sexed semen, every calf was a heifer, so the herd was already set up for the next generation.

Darlington and Stockton Times: ProCROSS crossbreeding has resulted in a significant reduction in costs, and an increase in profitsProCROSS crossbreeding has resulted in a significant reduction in costs, and an increase in profits (Image: Ruth Downing)

"As soon as we started calving, we were definitely happy to crossbreed the rest of our herd," says Matt.

By crossbreeding in a three-way rotation system, the Dakins’ herds get the free benefits of heterosis, also known as hybrid vigour.

Heterosis gives the cows extra benefits for favourable traits on top of their parents’ average, improving traits like vitality, fertility, health, and survival.

"The hybrid vigour, which is so beneficial to health and fertility in the cross-bred animal, declines in a continuous two-way cross,” explains Chris Stone, crossbreeding expert for VikingGenetics and Best of Breed Livestock.

"It will level at about 67% of the first-cross generation over the long-term, whereas by bringing in a third breed, it will stabilise at 86%, which is about as good as you can practicably get.”

So confident are they in the future of the ProCROSS cattle, that the Dakins have doubled their herd, and, almost five years after their first import, the new herd is 100% ProCROSS.

Milk volume is on par with the previous herd, at about 8,500 litres, with improved fat (4.5%) and protein (3.5%) levels, which suits the farm's solids-based contract with Arla.

As more generations of the cross-breeding come through, the production will be even better.

Improvements to health and fertility are reflected in fewer veterinary visits for the current 400-cow herd, compared to 200 cows five years ago.

Matt says: "Our vet’s bill is massively down, especially for antibiotics and callouts. Previously, they were here once a week for caesareans or displaced abomasums, but now it is once in a blue moon."

All in all, the Dakins have seen a significant reduction in costs and an increase in profits by switching to ProCROSS crossbreeding, and they couldn’t be happier.

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