I was raised amidst admiration teetering on veneration for the Holstein cow. Each heifer represented the full potential of her genetics, her dam, grand-dam and those of her sire and sometimes that potential paid off. We always classified our cows, taking pride in histories being built with 2E92 mothers of VG daughters at first calving and the hopeful climb to Excellent through lactactions, my father rattling off a pedigree for another interested (and more often than not, fully engaged) farmer. In that environment, especially at shows, my love of the Holstein was built.
I have a liminal perspective though: I can see them for their beauty, incredible stature, dairyness and tremendous capacity but I can also see that they have been blemished. They have been bred out so much that the genetics that are left are hardly comparable to those of the past. I really believe that they have less oomf, less bang, the cows we breed today are shadows of their great-great-great-grand dams. (especially if we get into the role that nutrition and environment plays on genetic manifestation ….GMO’s and factory farms have changed the cow) The maternal line has been diluted. I have a good feeling about the care that my family bred cows with but in general I have a bad feeling about the genetics that I am being offered today. So, as I begin this life with cows and take up this legacy of my father’s I have had big decisions to make. Do I keep the giant 1600lb Holstein who could eat 60-70lbs of dry matter/day and make 100+lbs of milk or do I forgo Chase family history and buy a herd of bird boned Jersey cows that will fare much better on grass and make much better milk for cheese making and raw milk drinking.
To some it’s a no-brainer; to me it is complicated. I inherited a herd. I have 30ish cows. So far I have 5 Jersey’s, 3 Brown Swiss and the rest are Dad’s Holsteins. I am trying to feed for high components regardless of breed and I am also breeding my Holsteins to bulls that have the A2A2 beta-casein. So far I have only had access to conventional semen but I have a distributor coming to the farm in the next weeks to bring me two different Holstein-Fresian sires who come from grass genetics; they are also A2A2 and throw smaller, more efficient dairy cows.
I would like to walk into my barn and see on one side a full string of Jersey’s bred for grass performance and on the other a fleet of Holstein-Fresians. A nod to my past with an infusion of what I believe is sustainable and practical- I’d really like to become an accomplished breeder of the Holstein-Fresian and the Jersey cow, both for grass but also for type. I want good looking cows- I can’t help it! I’d also LOVE to have crosses and Swiss and Guernsey’s too. I’m hoping to make the best tasting milk so I’d like a little bit of everything. I think I have a Jersey bred to an old Aryshire bull that I found in the semen tank- I hope she’s a heifer!
Thanks to Stonyfield, Profits for the Planet, for funding the 2013 Bootstrap blog series.