Meeting the Challenge

As we reach the eve of harvesting fodder, are you prepared to produce quality? This issue isn’t new… But the quality of the fodder you’re getting ready to harvest will significantly influence your herd’s productivity and your year-end financial results since fodder represents the very foundation of the dairy cow’s diet.
Last fall, La Coop network launched "Défi Goliath." The goal was to promote early calving in heifers without sacrificing production. The contest was extremely popular with more than 700 farms participating! By the end of this contest, it was more than evident that high productivity can in fact be combined with early first calving.

Last September, I even wrote about the daring goal of early first calving at 21 months in this very column. And I heard about it all winter long! I'm happy to see that the topic is stirring up reactions and promoting changes in how many breeders are doing things. Moreover, when we realize that quite a lot of operations are nearing this goal, it simple served as further evidence that when hard work and the right components are in place for success, then this goal quickly becomes achievable. The recipe is simple: a combination of proper management, genetics and diet.

There was a double objective as our expert-consultants collected all of the dairy data within the framework of the "Défi Goliath": first, to draw attention to the year's best results and second, to compare with the previous year and highlight the most impressive improvements. By analyzing the data collected we were able to determine the following averages: calving age is 28.5 months, milk production is 8,315 kg, and BCA is 215-224-218. Note that for the purposes of fairness in comparing between breeds, we only took into consideration the calving age and the BCA of first calf heifers.

Among the data collected, we interestingly noted that 63 farms had average milk BCA of 250 or over, which represents over 10,000 kg for Holsteins. These same herds had an average first calving age of 24.8 months, which is one month earlier than the overall average. The earliest recorded calving age was 22 months. It's encouraging to see that 151 farms (21% of participants) were successful in achieving a first calf at 24 months or younger on average and that their 229 of milk BCA represented about 600 kg more milk than the average participating herd.

The Best of the Best
As for the best results, Ferme Denis Latour, in Saint-Albert, Ontario, heads the list with an average first calving at 24 months, a BCA of 309 and 11,252 kg of milk. Not far behind is Ferme Val-Bisson, in Saint-Polycarpe, which achieved an impressive first calving age of 22 months with over 10,100 kg, and a BCA of 283. And finally, Ferme Guyette, located in Sainte-Marthe on the south shore, achieved 11,494 kg and a BCA of 299 at 24 months.

In terms of best improvements, Ferme D.M. Marchand, in Saint-Justin performed very well with an average first calving age of 23 months and a BCA of 257 for their Jersey herd and another notable performance comes via Ferme J.M.S. Forest, in l'Assomption, with an average age of 25 months, a BCA of 266 and 10,200 kg of milk.

Even if not all of your heifers will have their first calves at a young age, there are still quite a few that have the capability of attaining early fist lactation. In fact, just recently, I had the opportunity to see a very good looking cow in the 2-yr category during an exhibit that had calved at 20 months! Furthermore, the young cow that has been featured on our Goliath ads for the past year is getting ready to calve for the second time at the age of 32 months and it has already produced 8,000 kg of milk!

We are planning a second edition of "Défi Goliath" for the 2013 winter. La Coop network's objective in creating this kind of contest is to promote the best breeding practices to improve performance and focus on better cost-effectiveness at the farm.

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