Gudbrandsdalen valley is surrounded by the highest mountains in Scandinavia, in the South-Central part of Norway. It runs approximately 250 km from Lillehammer to the uplands and central mountains area. And "The valley of valleys" is a nickname given due to its large size and variety.
Bold ambition to be among the top breeders for Norwegian Red
In September, we visited Svahelle farm in Gudbrandsdalen valley to meet with the owners, Bente Bogen and Stian Løvik. Known for their long-time ambition to be among the top herd in Norway, their focus to breed Norwegian Red has been eminent in the industry. And for that reason, we kept our expectations high, and our high expectations were met.
The herd has shown steady improvements over the years, thanks to a combination of best practices in management and breeding. In 2021, milk production per cow was around 9.769 Kg of milk at 4.19% fat and 3.60% protein, above the average in the country.
According to Bente, although production is good, it is still an area they want to improve even more. “We are satisfied with the solids %, especially with the high protein content, but we believe we can increase milk production a bit more, with genetics”. The trends in the past ten years are also positive for udder conformation and claw health.
“Fertility is a big strength for Norwegian Red, and related to that, cows' health has a positive impact on reproduction”
Norwegian Red has been known for being the best dairy genetics for fertility, so, no surprise that the calving interval has been stable for around 12 months on this farm too. “Fertility is a big strength for Norwegian Red, and related to that, cows' health has a positive impact on reproduction,” said Stian. In 2021, there were only 3% of the herd for issues related to reproduction, and 0 cases of frequent cow disease Ketosis were recorded in the same year and 2020 and 2019. “This is important because not only that it helps keep the cost of production down as much as we can, but also for our animals’ welfare if we want to breed profitable and healthy cows” added Bente.
Breeding and genetics are critical tools for any dairy farm, but management is always placed on top. Every corner of the Svahelle farm is perfectly clean with everything in the right place. When speaking to Bente and Stian, we immediately understand that they have a plan for every step of running their farm. To highlight again, animal welfare is a big focus, and the focus is always there.
Animal welfare will always be a strong focus
It is also interesting to mention that the brushes installed in the calf area have been contributing to a positive impact on gaining the average weight per day of calves.“We installed them about three years ago, and since, we have been expecting great calves, in general, because of the brushes. We are particularly impressed to see how the brushes have helped significantly improve their development and daily weight gain. Since they enjoy frequent visits to the brushes, they also have more visits to the feeder”, Stian explained.
The welfare of cows is also visible in the barn with a milking robot installed in 2016. Their robot also has a camera to take pictures of the cows during the milking to keep track of the body condition score. This has also added data on individual amounts and types of concentrates based on their specific needs.
“Learning from better feed efficiency of calves due to the combination of right management and genetics has been an important motivation for us, as we continue to make the right decisions and make the right investments, we know we can improve our results,” said Bente.
Genetics as a key player in breeding top animals
Both Stian and Bente are very passionate about breeding and want to enjoy all the benefits Geno and Norwegian Red can offer. Just like most dairy farms in Norway, adopting the Geno mating plan is crucial to monitor and control the genetics in the herd for the Svahelle farm. “The mating plan suggests bulls based on traits we want to improve, then, I select the right bull among the options I have. This is something I enjoy doing” said Stian. All the calves are genotyped (both males and females) and they also use top Norwegian Red embryos to speed up the genetic progress. "We've also bought a few of the top Norwegian Red heifers used by the Geno embryos program," added Bente.
“We take joy from breeding our animals and we believe genetics is key to improving the performances of our herd and we want to enjoy the results as much as we can. By collecting samples for genotyping also on the bull calves, we hope to deliver some top AI bull calves to Geno in the future” said Bente.
Norwegian Red, fully capable to develop well with low inputs systems
Before leaving, we stopped outside the barn to look at a fantastic group of heifers in the pasture. They recently returned from a grazing period up in the mountains, fed only with grass in the summertime.
An indication that Norwegian Red is also a breed that is fully capable to develop well with low inputs systems (as in some other grazing types of countries). Bente and Stian were particularly keen to show us one of the heifers, sired by 12024 Trondstu, that had a very high index for TMI (Total Merit Index). A beautiful animal.