Middlevale aims to produce all-rounders
Selecting for solid performance across a range of traits is a proven formula for Doug and Josephine Dodds, owners of one of New Zealand’s oldest pedigree holstein friesian studs.
Middlevale Stud was established in 1921 by Doug’s grandfather and great uncle.
Middlevale’s earliest cow family – the “B” family – dates back to when the first cow was registered in 1922.
Since then, there has been a steady weeding-out of unwanted traits, with more favourable traits being brought out.
“In saying that, though, animals are only as good as your last two or three choices and you can make wrong choices over time that will set things back,” Doug observes. “There’s nothing easy about it.”
On the plus side, access to information on traits such as fertility and somatic cell scores is unprecedented, especially when compared to what his grandfather had to work with.
“And the tools just keep getting better all the time.” Today’s breeding worth (BW) values are based on a range of traits.
At Middlevale, the goal is to achieve consistency rather than star performance in one particular area.
“We have always looked for the all-round cow, rather say the absolute best protein-producer.
When selecting sires, we’re looking for bulls that will improve across a range of traits, not just the best for just one trait.
“Protein is important, so is fertility. And there are some traits that don’t have much influence on BW that I also select for – conformation and capacity, the engine room of the cow, and udder traits.”
Doug compares ‘capacity’ to ‘strength and power’.
“However, it is dairy strength that we’re aiming for – the ability to convert feed into milk solids.”
The stud has bred a number of AB bulls with sought-after dairy genetics for CRV Ambreed.
The operation consists of two small, dairy unit: the original home farm of Middlevale (117 hectares) with 220 cows alongside an 80ha block with 230 cows.
Since buying the second block in 2003, they have been building the second herd.
“We’ve been taking animals from the home farm and using them to populate next door as replacements,” says Doug.
“Initially we had a 50:50 sharemilker who had his own cows. The difference between the two herds is now much smaller.”
By building the herd, they hope to also build efficiencies of scale into the overall operation.
They have plans to replace Middlevale’s dated (1973), 16-bail, rotary shed and the 20-bail herringbone on the other unit with a new 54 to 60-bail rotary shed.
“The old rotary shed is getting pretty tired – it hasn’t missed a day since it was put up. A new shed would obviously be a lot more efficient and less labour intensive, but the timing of building is subject to a number of things, finance the biggest.”
Rather than chasing high production targets, Doug says they focus on a sustainable grass silage-based system.
Thanks to a great spring and autumn last season, everything is well set up for this winter. Kale and swedes are grown as supplementary crops.
Both Doug and Josephine are actively involved day to day; Josephine does “quite a bit of milking and helps with stock work.”
Their adult son is at university and weighing up career options.