Success with Holsteins – 2

At the Wait-and-See Holstein Stud, between Cradock and Cookhouse in the Eastern Cape, John Sieberhagen milks 420 cows in a 15-a-side Herringbone parlour. The milking herd calves year-round, with about 50 cows dry at any one time. The herd ICP is 412 days.

The Herringbone 15-a-side dairy at Wait-and-See.
Photo: Heather Dugmore

Depending on the cow group, animals are milked either two or three times a day. Average production is 40l/cow/day, with high producers peaking at 70l/day.

Wait-and-See cows average 4,6 lactations, in line with the New Zealand average of 4,8 lactations, and well ahead of the SA national average of 2,3. Several productive milking cows are in their eighth lactation.

Milking cows are fed and grouped according to age, production and stage of lactation. There are three production-driven feeding regimes:

  • Total mixed ration (TMR) consisting of maize silage, lucerne and concentrates;
  • Partial mixed ration (PMR) with the ration component fed at night and cows on rye grass pastures during the day; 
  • A pasture-based group, with concentrates fed in the parlour.

The TMR and PMR groups are milked three times a day and cows that are late in lactation are on pasture with twice-a-day milking.

“Heifers kick off on TMR in their first lactation and can milk up to 40l/day,” explains John. Some heifers start peaking at 250 days.

“Milking high producers three times a day reduces the stress on udders, increases cow longevity, and prevents leaking and bacterial infections. The economics make sense because there’s an improvement in milk volumes,” says John.

“When we started doing it, we had an initial increase of 25%, which probably dropped off after a while. The national norm is a 15% increase.”

Wait-and-See milk has good solids, with about 4% butterfat and up to 3,5% protein; well above the average for high- producing Holsteins.

Calves are fed growth pellets and a mixture of lucerne, oats and teff, until they are eight months old.

Heifers are inseminated at 15 months when they have reached their target weight of 350kg to 400kg. Heifer calves are retained for herd expansion and about 60 bull calves are raised and grown out.

The sale of registered Holstein bulls to clients countrywide is an important part of the business.

John has chosen rye grass for his dairy pastures as it bulks up well, grows quickly and is easier to manage than lucerne, which can cause bloat. Home-grown maize is used to make silage for winter feed. No roughage is bought.

Cows are moved onto pasture as soon as the seasonal flush brings on more grass.

Adapted from ‘Getting it right with Holsteins’, by Heather Dugmore (FW, 3 October 2014).