A Swedish Red future

Richmond dairy farmer Anthony Morris has one of the oldest herds of Swedish Reds in the country. It’s a medium-sized cow that produces ample milk with a high solids ratio on grass, with very little extra feed. He and another Swedish Red breeder, Judy Stuart, believe it’s the dairy breed of the future, writes Robyn Joubert.
Issue date : 15 August 2008

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Anthony Morris of Maywood farm, 10km outside Richmond in KwaZulu-Natal, was one of the first farmers in South Africa to introduce Swedish Reds into his dairy herd. Originally milking 150 Guernseys and Holsteins, Anthony started crossbreeding with Reds in 2000 and it will take another five years before the coup d’état by the beautiful red cow is complete. “I found the Guernseys were too refined for South African conditions and had problems with fertility, the way they walk and their udders,” explains Anthony. “Milk production was poor on the grass system. wanted to get strength back into my cattle and needed a cow that could milk off grass. The Red was the solution to my problems.”

Now with his fourth generation of Swedish Reds, this breed is starting to tip the scale in the herd genepool, which is 80% Red blood and 20% Guernsey and Holstein, but Anthony’s aim is to have a pure herd. “As the level of Swedish blood has increased, have had a fantastic increase in milk production,” he says. “I’m now up to a 23â„“ herd average in July, up from from a low herd average with the Guernseys and Holsteins. Some cows even give 40â„“/day.” Managing a dairy diet A nthony says the increase in milk production is not due to changes in the cows’ diet. “don’t feed a lot of meal out of the bag, the cows get 265g/â„“ of bought in meal, which is below the normal 300g/â„“. Rye is drilled into the summer pasture with a no-till planter and fertilised with chicken litter.

In autumn the cows are fed maize silage to supplement the autumn pastures for quota months. “To average 23â„“ per herd in autumn on a system like this is good and then still have some way to go, but am happy with the results.” W ith 150 milkers, 20 dry cows and 130 followers, the herd produces 3 600â„“/day. Top cows produce 10 000â„“ in 305 days. “Because of the longevity of the breed, sell about 30 in-calf heifers a year,” he adds. Anthony says that the Swedish Reds are the highest-ranking milk producers of the red breeds in Europe. In Sweden, the yield of Swedish Reds is only 3% behind Swedish Holsteins. “I believe the Red is the breed of the future,” he says. “They do everything I want them to do. Fertility is excellent and I use 1,4 straws per conception.

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The inter-calving period is 375 days and they adapt well to all weather conditions. They are still grazing at 11am when the Holsteins stop and look for shade.” Anthony’s cows are on pasture 24 hours a day, all year round. In Sweden, the law dictates that while they may be kept inside in the freezing Scandinavian winter, in summer they have to go out into the sunlight to graze. However, the Swedish Red is equally at home grazing all year round in hot and dry areas such as in Australia, South Africa and South America.

A good genetic base
Judy Stuart farms with Swedish Reds on her dairy farm outside Howick in KwaZulu-Natal (see box: Using the Swedish Red for crossbreeding). She imports Swedish Red semen and says the Swedes have been selecting for resistance to mastitis, udder health, and daughter fertility since the early 1970s, and for hoof health over the past 10 years. “These are the three conditions that can cost the farmer the most. After three decades of selecting for genetics that avoid these conditions, the general breed trend is that daughter fertility is increasing as milk production increases,” says Judy.

The breed society places huge emphasis on longevity and wants cows that calve easily, get back in calf quickly and don’t have problems with fertility. “In Sweden a farmer cannot administer mastitis medication; only a vet can do it, which means that an infected cow immediately goes on record as having the disease and can then never be a bull mother,” explains Judy. Sweden has the most comprehensive daughter-fertility programme in the world and uses fertility data from first, second and third calvers.

The data includes the number of inseminations, the interval from calving to first insemination, the interval between the first and last insemination, the non-return rate and fertility disorders. In addition to this, each bull is scored on how strongly his daughters show heat. “In 2006, average production for the breed was 8 633kg of milk, with a 13,1 month calving interval and 1,8 inseminations per pregnancy,” says Judy. “Today production is at 8 754kg, with a 13,1 month calving interval and 1,77 inseminations per pregnancy.

“The same period has seen a decline in still births and difficult calvings, and somatic cell counts have dropped from 85 000 to 83 000 for all Swedish Red milk delivered in Sweden. It’s as much as 20% lower than the average for Holsteins. Still births in the Swedish Red, stand at 5,4% compared to 10,5% in Swedish Holsteins, and difficult calvings are at 3,4% compared to 5,85% in the Holsteins. However, it should be noted that the Swedish Holstein has also been subjected to the same selection pressures as the Red and as a result it’s also showing positive trends in terms of daughter fertility and udder health.

This is contrary to the general global trend in Holsteins.” The Red has always been a working breed and there is no culture of showing associated with it. “While other breeds place great emphasis on breeding beautiful cows, Swedish Red breeders focus on legs and udders and the productivity and functional traits, the profitability of the cows and what they can do on the farm,” concludes Judy. Contact Anthony Morris on (033) 212 3270 or e-mail [email protected] or Judy Stuart on (033) 330 4322 or e-mail [email protected]. |fw