Switching genetics pays off for Yarroweyah dairy farmer Chris Hibberson

Updated May 13 2022 - 12:13pm, first published May 11 2022 - 8:00pm
Yarroweyah dairy farmer Chris Hibberson.

Yarroweyah dairy farmer Chris Hibberson has shown great consistency in winning gold milk quality awards over the past three years, now he's also getting persistency in his herd.

For the past three years, Chris has ranked number one in the Murray Dairy region in Dairy Australia's Australian Milk Quality Awards, based on bulk milk cell count (BMCC).

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He attributes much of that success to his decade-long use of VikingGenetics and the health traits he has bred into his herd.

Now things are getting even better with VikingGenetics' breeding value for persistency, aiming to flatten lactation curves to improve health and reproduction outcomes.

"I look for an allrounder when I look for a bull," Chris said.

"I like them to have a bit of milk, good health traits and now persistency.

"Persistency is a relatively new trait and I like that idea.

"I don't like cows that dry off early and the Viking cows seem to persist, so I've been particularly happy with that."

Chris with his wife Nicole and son Jonathan milk 250 cows twice a day on an 80-hectare milking area just outside Cobram.

He has been on the farm since 2014 and hails from a strong dairying background, with his parents and five siblings all involved in the industry.

His herd is 70 per cent Holstein and 30pc crossbreds, with Chris now using only Holstein bulls to boost his black and white numbers.

This year he achieved a BMCC of 69, slightly above the previous 65 but still good enough to put him at the top of the tree in the Murray region.

Chris says VikingGenetics are an important part of his farm's success.

"I've been using VikingGenetics for about 10 years," he said.

"I just decided to try it and I've been happy ever since, especially with the health traits."

The improvements over the past decade attest to this successful breeding program; the cell count is a lot better; production has gone up; fertility has been maintained, and hoof and teat health have improved.

VikingGenetics' Nordic evaluation records all clinical cases of mastitis, helping Chris to pick the right bull for his needs.

Healthy and profitable

As Chris says, a healthy herd is a profitable herd.

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While the breeding program is a proven success and Chris plans to continue on a similar path, he's always looking for other management advantages to improve his outcomes.

"I try to do something a bit different every year to keep my cell count down," he said.

One of those changes has been the introduction of three calving periods; 45pc each in spring and autumn and 10pc in November.

The change was made two years ago to fit in with processor needs, not because of any fertility problems.

"Instead of carrying the cows through, I now join about 40 to calve in November to fit in with the payment system of our processors, ACM," he said.

Last year he added automatic cup removers, he has started herd testing and maintains a stringent teat spraying system.

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"I'm big on teat condition; I think that's the main reason I have a low cell count," Chris said.

"This year has been difficult with the mud but I've maintained good coverage with teat spray."

Teat sealing in the past two years has helped, particularly with mature cows.

"The cows that come in fresh now don't have much mastitis," Chris said.

"The old cows' cell count is as good as the young cattle which is helping to keep my number down."

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Herd testing is a major contributor. If a cow has a high cell count a couple of times in a row, she is culled from the herd.

"I've only got about 10pc above 100 cell count and I always aim to keep it low," Chris said.

He has no need for a separate sick herd.

Chris adds that the introduction of cell count figures on bulls had been good for the industry, helping all farmers to reduce their cell counts.

In a good space

The farm is in a good space at the moment.

The shift towards more Holsteins in the herd has resulted in a slight loss of components but that has been more than compensated for by the additional milk volume, with cows averaging about 580kg/MS.

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"The last few years have been really good," Chris said.

"We're pushing numbers up at the moment because of the good milk price."

While wondering what new innovations can be introduced to ensure his herd maintains its milk quality supremacy, Chris is proud of his achievements and keen to keep a low count.

"We definitely strive for it," he said.

"My brother Justin farms about 10 kilometres away and we work off each other...it's a bit of a competition to keep the cell counts down."

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Justin received a silver award this year.

With an average herd age of about 4.5 years and Chris aiming for a cow about 600kg but not over 700kg, he is happy with his progress.

"My aim is to keep milking cows until I can't," he said.

"I don't do much different to other farmers; it's more about knowing your cows.

"Testing is important, but it's also about observation.

"If you know your cows, if there's anything wrong you pick it up early.

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"I think I'm getting fussier but I'm always happy with Viking."

This article was supplied by VikingGenetics.

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