We started dairy farming on a shoestring on a 120 acre farm that had a bank barn, basement stable with 28 cow stalls, hay mows overhead and one 14x40 cement stave silo. The stable was originally built for Jerseys around 1910: this was 1979 and we were filling it with purebred Holstein cows assembled one at a time through private purchase and local club sales. We had to remove the stancions and put in a tie rail to keep cows from standing in the gutters.
We bought “bridesmaid” cows mostly, when the bidding got too high on our first choices we bought the second or third choice cows. We had a simple breeding goal: breed the highest protein % herd we could, while depending on “aAa” to improve the type of our herd (lots of bulls we used were unfamiliar to mainstream popular Holsteins of that time).
Feeding was dry hay all year long, pasture in season, corn silage in the winter, and a purchased feed mix from a local elevator. We raised our heifers at my Dad’s farm lacking room here.
We generally sold half our heifers through club sales, in order to pay back the cow purchases. We found the cows who came from balanced “aAa” matings lasted longer, so we needed fewer of them to keep the barn full. We also had an open door for anyone who needed a 4H show calf for their children. We milked this way from 1979 through 1986, when we transitioned to Jerseys, then moved to a 44 cow tie stall barn where we had half Jersey, half Holstein.
Of these heifers we sold, surplus to our needs, I am aware of eight that produced 200,000 lb + lifetimes in the herds of their buyers. Looking back at those eight, six of them were sired by young sires (unproven at time of mating) thus selected on the longevity of their maternal line and used according to their aAa numbers. The highest had 275,000 lbs lifetime milk when a cow in heat stepped on her udder—the owner was expecting her to reach 300,000 lbs.
It is instructive to me that none of these six young sires were returned to service as proven sires, because their first “proofs” said “not enough milk”. So how did these often amazing heifers happen? The selection of mating sires was consistent, above average protein % (our genetic goal) from dams who had maternal lines consistent for longevity. Then in choosing matings, matching each individual cow to an individual sire, we followed “aAa” closely—for the reasons (a) we wanted to correct the worst faults of momma, so we would not see them in daughters; (b) we wanted to develop cows with the capacities to express the latent gene potential, (c) we wanted a physique that remained functional into mature production levels.
What did we accomplish with the cows we kept? From a type standpoint, the original cows had 100.7% BAA. We reached 106.8% BAA with “aAa” heifers. The original cows averaged 3.20% protein. We reached 3.45% protein. For a brief time we had one five generation cow family milking in that little barn. The best of all the heifers we freshened made 20,071 pounds milk with 5% fat 1004 pounds butterfat and with 3.6% protein 722 pounds protein, she was two generations up from a grandmother who only tested 3.3% fat and 3.2% protein. Keep in mind we only bred Holsteins from 1979 to 1987, half and half 1988 through 1994, all Jerseys since.