The high-quality Holstein livestock currently at Vala are the tip of a breeding program that stretches back for almost 20 years. Over this time Alex Arena, the owner of Vala Hosteins has accessed elite genetics from a wide range of breeders overseas and within Australia usually by buying embryos and successfully implanting them here in Australia. The focus has been to access genetics from breed-leading Holstein cow families with a sound record of transmitting favourable genes to their next generation – this formula can be summed up as “good cows are the cows that continue to make good cows” or expressed somewhat differently as “good gene transmitters make good gene transmitters”.
Over the years these embryo-transplant (ET) breeding programs have often resulted in over 500 calves being born each year. Each calf is i) a registered pedigree; ii) genomically-tested under 3 leading indexes - the American TPI; Canadian LPI and Australian BPI; and iii) maintained at high health status to ensure export as a live animal to closed markets such as Japan and, in the case of bulls, to also allow for semen export.
Each year the top 15% of the Vala calves enter the Vala ET program. This means 30 or more of each year’s crop of heifers become donors. This constant process of selecting the best from the best over many years, running a very large ET program and doing this based on science that genomic testing provides means that Vala keeps moving the Holstein breed forward.
To gauge this one only has to see that in October 2019 Vala Bandares Boliana was not only the #1 heifer in Australia on the BPI index but also the outright #1 female Holstein; her herdmate Vala Quantum Nady was #3 heifer and #7 female Holstein. Clearly both breed leaders are examples of the embryo-donor heifers that are in the Vala ET programs and they are producing embryos that will be tomorrow’s Vala breed-leaders.
There are many different strands to breeding selections at Vala. Five themes are currently our focus:
Dairy cows need to pay their way by making lots of milk effortlessly – and with high butterfat and protein components. We select both embryo donors and joining sires based on sound production traits;
Whether one believes in the “science” around A2A2 or not, clearly a lot of consumers of dairy products believe in it and are prepared to pay a premium for A2A2. Vala has been breeding consistently to meet this market demand and over 50% of Vala’s herd is already A2A2. We prioritise A2A2 in our choice of donor heifers and joining sires. Our aim is to achieve over 90% of our herd as A2A2 within 5 years;
Dehorning calves is an awful business and one that can be avoided by using polled Holsteins. The gap between the breed-leading horned Holsteins and breed-leading polled Holsteins has closed very rapidly in recent years. The reality is that now dairy farmers do not need to take a penalty in terms of production or any other management trait by introducing polled Holsteins into their herd. Eliminating the dehorning trauma from young calves also eliminates a “free kick” that the animal welfare lobby uses against the dairy sector time and time again. At Vala we have already bred homozygous (PP) bulls that are now in AI making semen for dairy farmers – every calf from a PP bull will be born polled. In our Vala breeding program currently about half of the donor heifers are polled and we heavily use polled sires in our embryo production and in AI of our heifers. Within 5 years we would aim to be 100% polled;
4) Health and Welfare
We like to breed Holsteins that survive a long time and are relatively trouble-free. In selecting donor heifers and joining sires we particularly look at DPR, Calving-ease, Productive Life, SCS and Feet & Leg traits. Poor scores on any of these would tend to rule a heifer out of our ET program; and
We all like Holsteins that look nice when they come into the dairy every day. Sometimes at Vala we will deliberately try to produce a Show winner by emphasizing type traits but usually we focus on the four themes listed above and because we have kept an eye on type in our breeding selections over many years we often find that Show type comes naturally without sacrificing the four themes above.
Hopefully the discussion above gives an insight into the breeding philosophy at Vala and why Vala livestock that are for sale either directly via the on-line catalog on our website, or at a feature Sale have so many of these desirable traits already.