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Herd of the Year 2023 Finland - Ahlvik Gård

A great passion for breeding – including top genetics, genomic testing, and embryo flushing – is the key to efficient, long-lasting cows with excellent production, says VikingGenetics’ 2023 Herd of the Year in Finland.

The 2023 VikingGenetics Herd of the Year Finland award was given to Ahlvik Gård this winter. This is a recognition of the family’s commitment to the VikingHolstein breeding programme and a well-established breeding partnership with Faba osk and VikingGenetics.

Bror Ahlvik and his sons, Jeremias and Zackarias, milk 190 cows180 VikingHolstein and 10 VikingRed Finnish Ayrshire – near Pedersöre, in the West of Finland. Bror works the fields and the machines, Zacharias runs the routines in the barn and looks after the calves and the cows’ hooves, while Jeremias is responsible for breeding, feeding, and finances.

Their focus is investing in top genetics, genomic testing for all heifer calves, and embryo flushing. This helps them secure the herd’s profitability, as they breed healthy, long-lasting cows with a high production of milk rich in fat and protein, says Jeremias.

VikingGenetics Holstein Finland Herd 2023

Looking back

Bror’s parents started the family farm in 1960 with a single cow. In its over 60 years of history, the Ahlvik family has paid much attention to the cows’ breeding and genetics and focused on high solids production. Zackarias and Jeremias inherited Bror’s and his wife Sonja’s passion for dairy farming.

“Since elementary school, the barn has always been a fascinating place to me. I enjoyed regularly working in the barn already in the seventh grade,” says Jeremias.

This passion soon grew beyond the boundaries of their home farm as both sons started getting work experience in other large herds. “I trained in Sweden in a few herds of more than 1,000 cows, and I learned a lot about managing a large farm,” says Jeremias.

Their experiences and curiosity to learn more led Zackarias and Jeremias to return to Ahlvik Gård to help with a planned expansion. As part of this, they went on a farm tour across the Netherlands to explore different barn solutions and consider their options. Construction of the new barn, with capacity for 190 cows, started in February 2020, and the rest followed soon after – including four milking robots.

VikingGenetics Holstein Finland Herd 2023

Genomics lead the expansion

To make the expansion as smooth as possible, the Ahlviks entered into a deal with VikingGenetics to purchase 60 pregnant VikingHolstein heifers from the VikingEmbryo program.

“We have also purchased heifers from other good farmers, most of which were top animals. Many of the first-calvers have a daily yield of over 45 kilos, which greatly helps our goal of increasing longevity and, therefore, the cows’ lifetime production,” says Jeremias.

As they say, the Ahlviks' main breeding goal is to have long-living cows with high milk and solids production, partly ensured by their focus on health and fertility. "If we breed cows with the best genetics and good conformation and provide them first-class comfort every day, they have the potential to produce an incredible amount of milk," he adds.

The average yield for the last 12 months has been 15,029 kg of energy-corrected milk (ECM), with 4.35% fat and 3,79% protein. “We want a steady and good output with as much forage as possible. This is achieved with good quality silage and medium-sized cows,” says Bror.

This results from the cooperation between the Ahlviks with VikingGenetics and Faba – who are part-owners of VikingGenetics. Their breeding advisor from Faba classifies the cows, helps select new bulls, and makes the breeding plan together with Jeremias.

All heifer calves are genomically tested, and genomic ear tags are used. Several bull calves have also been tested, and a few have been selected for the VikingHolstein breeding program and embryo flushing. Beef-on-dairy semen usage is also high – 70% for cows and 20% for heifers – reducing waste and boosting the value of lower-ranking cows.

Things will only continue to improve as the herd composition is generally still young. Soon, the Ahlviks will have older cows, showing the true results of their hard work – better longevity and an increase in average calvings per cow.

VikingGenetics Holstein Finland Herd 2023

Conditions focused on animal welfare

Good animal welfare is central to everything the Ahlviks do, including the new and old barns.
A clean, soft, and large enough cubicle at all times and sufficient room on the feeding table are a significant part of this.

“A consistently high output, healthy and sustainable practices, and good longevity give us a resilient bottom line. However, we still have to calculate our techniques' price carefully,” says Jeremias.

Deep, sand-bedded freestalls are one of the best solutions to improving the cows’ well-being, as they help reduce udder and hoof diseases. The cows enjoy lying down longer on a clean, cool, soft bed, therefore standing less and reducing unnecessary tension.

“The new barn has lots of light and sand bedding. Good conditions and management will get the most out of the cows’ top genetics,” says Zackarias.

“We aim to provide our cows with first-class care every day. They should have the best feeding, optimal health, comfort, and welfare. They should feel like they live in a luxury barn where they are well taken care of,” he adds.

By providing the cows with excellent conditions, the Ahlviks ensure they remain stress-free and are better adjusted to production and robot milking. To achieve this, the farm follows five maxims:

  1. Maximal comfort = Cows’ wellbeing
  2. Provide calves with an excellent start to life
  3. Health above all
  4. Quality feed from silage
  5. Focus on profitability and comfort before yield
VikingGenetics Holstein Finland Herd 2023

An excellent start to life

The Ahlviks also put a lot of effort into ensuring the calves get the best start possible in life.

Dry period feeding and conditions greatly impact calving, health, and future yield, while actively reducing the stress of calving cows and heifers is essential. On top of that, spacious, straw-based calving and dedicated calf care pens give the calves an excellent start to life while also providing the dam with a smooth start to the new lactation.

Their journey begins in a cuddle box, where they are fed freshly milked colostrum directly after birth. They are then placed in individual pens and later in a group pen after a couple of weeks. Currently, the first-time calving age stands at 23 months.

VikingGenetics Holstein Finland Herd 2023

Learning is part of the routine

Everyone has a responsibility at Ahlvik Gård, and routine is essential to their success. The barn work is mainly done by three people, split across eight to ten hours, and divided into rotating morning, day, and evening shifts and weekends.

This helps the Ahlviks deal with the challenges in a proactive way. By focusing on improving the aspects of the farm that can be controlled, they have excellent sustainable production and a more resilient bottom line.

"As a dairy producer, it's difficult to influence the milk or meat prices. We must focus on what we can control to have the most profitable operation possible,” explains Jeremias. “Considering the higher costs, rising interest rates, and an uncertain global situation, it's vital that production is at its best and that the business is profitable," he adds.

Learning from their peers is essential to this routine, and the Ahlviks are always looking for new tools to improve results and the herd’s genetic progress. For this purpose, they often travel to Europe and the USA, which allows them to hear from other farmers and get global insights into their problems and solutions.

"If anything will be needed in the future, it's milk. The global population is increasing, leading to higher demand for food. We must invest in the future and always remember that while we produce food, we also bind carbon dioxide in the soil through all the plants on the farm. It's an important functioning cycle no other industry can replicate, especially considering the climate discussion. Farmers are climate heroes," ends Jeremias.

The fruits of their hard work and optimism for the future were more than evident during a VikingGenetics visit to Ahlvik Gård in January 2024. Hanna Driscoll, Product Manager for VikingHolstein, said: “The cows are beautiful and have an amazingly high production, and the facilities are impressive. Bror, Zacharias, and Jeremias do an excellent job at the farm.”

Learn more about VikingHolstein
VikingGenetics Holstein Finland Herd 2023

Farm facts

  • 180 milking cows170 VikingHolstein and 10 VikingRed Finnish Ayrshire
  • 3rd highest average NTM in Finland for Holstein cows
  • High Beef on Dairy semen usage – 70% for cows and 20% for heifers
  • 4 Lely milking robots
  • Milk production: 15,029kg ECM
  • Fat: 605 kg (4.35%)
  • Protein: 527 kg (3,79%)
VikingGenetics Holstein Finland Herd 2023

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