I started dairy farming (or rather owning a cow), when I was still an employee at an IT firm. This was through my grandmother purchasing some heifers for me which she considered of good heritage. This was because most of the farmers at the time didn't keep records or register their cows.
My first cow looked like a cross of Holstein and Jersey. This is because despite the black and white coat, her height tended towards the short Jerseys. Her face too looked more of jersey and had the bulging big eyes.
The second heifer I got was red coated and looked more of an ayshire. I didn't own this for too long as at the time it was coming into milk, my grandmother had a disagreement with one of the farm hands. He allegedly did something to the cow which meant it was not possible for the cow or him to remain on the farm. This was however before I left my job and went to be on the farm full time.
When I did get onto the farm, my first cow, the holstein-jersey cross breed, was in-calf. It still had a few months to go before I started getting any returns from milk. I did however get a holstein yearling which at least was of traceable lineage. It wasn't the healthiest as it had been zero grazed along with the dam. I got the feeling the farmer I bought it from was not able to get enough fodder for all his animals especially the non milk producers.
As my first problem was something that could give me returns in the short term, I got into crop farming and concentrated more on greenhouse tunnel and grew tomatoes and green peppers. Broccoli also played a big role in keeping some stream of income.
My first cow did eventually calf down. The calf did develop complications and had to be put down. Since I want sure about its lineage and whether the problem was due to some inherited problem, I decided to cull it. I bought an ayshire cow from my mother as a replacement. She was a better cow and served me well until she started going blind. I also had to cull her after the 4th lactation.
At the farm we had decided to combine efforts and also sell the milk together. This was my grandmother, mother and me. Other family members had decided to go in a different direction in terms of land use. As most cows kept were holstein and ayshire, there was a problem in terms of milk quality. The butter fat and protein content of the cows was on the lower side. To improve the quality of our milk, I decided to get some jersey or guernsey cows. I ended up getting jersey cows which greatly improved the milk quality. The customers who buy our milk could taste the difference, and we were thus able to command a premium for the milk.
When my holstein yearling finally calved down, she did prove that tracing the lineage of a cow is an advantage. She is and average producer and consistent with coming into heat and calving down. Her first daughter was actually my star cow. She outproduced all the cows in the herd from the first calving. This was also due to careful selection of the bull with the help of the person who was inseminating my cows.
Somewhere along the way I noticed that the calves being born looked small and unhealthy. I was also getting calves that died before they got to their first month. I started researching on what could be the matter. I found out that there was a high degree of inbreeding especially in the pedigree bulls that I was getting for my cows. I started thinking that in as much as this was true for the holstein breed, it probably was the same for the other cow breeds.
I also discovered something called hybrid vigour. This is some traits that offspring of two different breeds have over and above the two breeds from which their parents were. This can establish itself in various ways such as faster growth, increased milk production, higher fertility, longer productive life and more positive traits. I thought this was a better way to get a healthy productive heard, with less problems. I have decided to do crossbreeding on all my cows. I had 3 distinct breeds of cows, namely holstein, ayshire and jersey.
In as much as inter-crossing the three breeds would result in hybrids, I also read that the more different the breeds were, the better the hybrid vigour that would be exhibited. This is to mean that the three breeds are purely dairy breeds so the difference in the crosses would not that big when compared to the two base breeds. I thus researched and found of some farmers were cross breeding their dairy cows with a dual purpose breed of cow called fleckvieh. Fleckvieh being dual purpose breed can be used for both meat and milk production. They have a bulkier frame than the conventional skinnier looking dairy cattle breeds.
I thus embarked on my journey of crossbreeding and have gotten my first 2 generations of cross bred animals. I decided to compare the growth between the crosses and the pure bred ones and for sure, the cross bred ones look healthier despite being reared in same conditions. They also are putting on weight faster than their pure counter parts. As both generations are still under a year, I am still yet to arrive at a conclusion as regards other traits like milk production and longevity, but I can honestly say that I am so far impressed by the outcome.
I intend to post my views on the cross-bred cows here once they have calved down and get into milk.
Would I do it again?
I probably would do dairy farming all again. Unfortunately experience cannot be bought and you just have to earn it. Looking back if there was a way to start off with cross-bred cows I probably would do so. This is in light of the inbreeding problem which I think is a little more than what is reported. The holstein cows that for instance my grandfather kept , in my opinion, differ greatly from the ones I see nowadays, both in size and production.