By Trygve R. Solberg
In Norway, the breeding advisors working in the field are employed by the dairy cooperative, TINE SA (www.tine.no), however, they also have a cross-function to represent Geno, the breeding organization for Norwegian Red.
During this trip, we have decided to conduct our interview in a historical place “Stiklestad”, where the battle of Stiklestad took place in the year 1030, which is one of the most famous battles in the history of Norway. In this battle, King Olaf II Haraldsson (Olaf the holy) of Norway was killed. Interestingly, this area is now known as the agricultural region due to being the most fertile area in Norway, and therefore is considered as one of the best agricultural regions in the area.
Breeding advisors Jan Atle Bakkenget and Hans Snerting
During our visit to Trøndelag, we have specifically arranged a meeting with two prominent breeding advisors, Jan Atle Bakkenget and Hans Snerting.
Jan Atle Bakkenget has been working as an advisor within milk production since 1988 and his work has a strong focus on milk quality, feed, and economy in addition to breeding and genetics. In addition, his special field of competence is also within breeding planning and conformation scoring of cattle. His vision as a breeding advisor is to help Norwegian dairy farmers positively progress their farms given their assumptions of typically less farming area, the type and amount of feed, milk quota system etc.
Hans Snerting in the meantime has more than 35 years of experience with advisory service and also years of experience in milk production from owning his farm. Hans has always been focusing on a proactive approach and enjoys working closely with farmers to help them achieve the optimal solution together. Hans’ specialties also include breeding planning and conformation scoring of cattle.
When we asked them about how Norwegian Red had developed over the years, and what traits that they think have made progress the most, they both agreed on production (incl. milk quality), temperament, health, and udder. This is a pleasant surprise for us to hear, considering that Norwegian Red has been mostly known by international dairy farmers for its fertility, health, and moderate size (hence feed-efficient) cow.
Setting up breeding plans is one of the main tasks for all breeding advisors including both Jan Atle and Hans. Typically, prior to setting a breeding plan on a farm, some examination and questions need to be asked.
“It is important to have an overview of the herd, check the data by using the National herd recording system, and discuss with the farmer about the data and his challenges."
Hans explains that based on this, they need to agree on the focus traits and a common goal. Once that is decided, then we can set up the breeding plan, and select specific bulls to more or less tailormade to maximize the herd's genetic gain.
Setting up breeding plans with the best possible combinations has also been the fundament aspect for Geno when selecting and purchasing bull calves for our breeding program. This is critical due to the importance of monitoring the best match based on the combinations in the breeding plan, and how Geno can follow the birth data and follow up by genotyping the calf. Based on a genomic breeding value, Geno can then select and buy the best possible candidates to become future elite sires.
The genetic progress of Norwegian Red
Both Hans and Jan Atle have a passion for Norwegian Red. It’s not only because this is the major dairy cattle breed in Norway, but mostly because they know that Norwegian Red is an exceptional breed both for purebred and crossbreeding programs. The Norwegian Red is prominent for its characteristics of good production, superior fertility and health, and at the same time very good for all functional traits.
The Norwegian Red cows are also moderate in size, which means it is very feed efficient. When Geno started in the dairy business, production was not considered the top strength for Norwegian Red. However, we have learned from dairy farmers in Norway and internationally that fast and steady improvements in production in the last decades have been a huge highlight for the Norwegian Red.
The use of milking robots has also developed quickly in the last 10-15 years, which means the ability to adapt to the robot with good functional udder is also another development we all have noticed.
Close collaboration between farmers and advisors
The close collaboration between the farmers and advisors is obvious to see when we visited our first farm in the area. The farmers truly appreciate the advice and knowledge shared by the experts, and they believe it is very helpful to have a dedicated advisor to discuss before decisions are made.
“We always think of the best approach to offer advice for the farmers depending on their needs, some farmers trust us 100% as their breeding advisors and they will follow our advice with no questions asked, but we also have some who might want to get involved more and discuss before making their decisions, e.g., choices of bulls, we are there for them no matter how”. Adds Jan Atle.
It has been a pleasure for us to meet with so enthusiastic and knowledgeable breeding advisors in the areas. Their insights have confirmed that the gap between science, new technology and implementation of new technology has always been a strength for Norwegian dairy farmers. And thanks to the breeding advisors, the latest innovation will quickly become available and implemented.
We thank Jan Atle and Hans for their kindness and willingness to share these days with us.