The Holstein breed had served Ian and Will Nixon well over many years. At its peak in the early 2000s, their 350-head pedigree Clockhill herd had won the NMR production/inspection award for Shropshire and was yielding 9,500 litres.

But over the years they noticed things starting to slip, with veterinary bills edging upwards and production dropping below 8,000 litres. Culling was based on health and fertility issues, replacement rate edged up from 20% to 30%, and they struggled to produce sufficient heifers.

Farming at Upper Farm, near Market Drayton, they finally bit the bullet. In 2017, after trips to the USA and France to study the breeds, they switched to ProCROSS, bringing the three-way cross of VikingHolstein, Montbéliarde and VikingRed on to their 600-acre farm.

A quick start with new strategy

The Nixons kick-started the process to change the breed of their herd with the import of 79 ProCROSS heifers from Denmark in 2017.

“We were reassured by the science but we could also see that the herds our heifers had come from were achieving good results.”

As the ProCROSS heifers settled, the Nixons quickly saw they had better health and fertility, were easier calving and gave plenty of high-quality milk.

Positive results led to surplus heifers to sell

Always alternating the same three breeds, it was not long before they’d fulfilled their own herd’s replacement requirements and had surplus heifers to sell.

“The bull calves had a slightly higher value than a Holstein bull calf, but we could see how much more we could get by producing more dairy heifers and breeding the rest of the herd to beef,” says Will.

So, when confronted with the idea of using sexed semen from VikingGenetics, they had no hesitation in making the switch.

We were already confident in the fertility of the ProCROSS cattle, and at our first PD session after using sexed semen we had a 70% conception rate to first service in heifers, and 45% in the cows,” says Will.

The Nixons inseminate every cow and heifer to X-Vik sexed semen in the first six weeks of breeding. “We don’t make any pre-selection of cows bred to sexed, as those which come bulling first are going to be the most fertile,” says Will.

Sire selection is also straightforward. “It’s really important to use the best genetics, and we are selecting bulls which transmit the best mammary systems and udder health, good legs and feet and not too much stature.”

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Today, production of their herd is back above 8,000 litres at 4.19% fat and 3.49% protein. Veterinary costs have dropped from £87/head in 2016, to £39/head by the end of 2020 and margin has increased by £200 per cow.

“It’s a much less stressful way of farming as calving is so much easier and we don’t have to worry so much about inbreeding or sick cows,” says Ian.

Read more about the sexed semen and how you can improve profitability in your herd

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