Recent report from trip to France

Malc & Phil’s Tour De Montbeliarde

From the 4th to the 7th February 2013, Malc and I were given the opportunity to further our International dairying education, with a specific interest in the Montbeliarde.

Malc’s 16 hour journey was not the best start to his week; mine was much more to time. After meeting up with 7 other members of the UK party at Birmingham, we flew to Geneva. From there we were taken by coach to the beautiful, medieval town of Besancon in mid-east France.

On route I had my first farm visit to GAEC des Lisieres. Here a 50 cow herd all under one roof were being looked after by three partners. A herd average of 7517kg at 4.1 and 3.53 may not sound high, but they could not feed wet forage in winter. They had to feed hay and limited concentrates with grazing in the summer. The reason for this is because they were sending their milk to be made into specialist Comte cheese. However, farms doing this were receiving 40-45p per litre depending on the quality of their milk.

As with all the visits, groups of cows were split off for us to inspect. The star of this herd was the 16 year old, 13th lactation cow Madone with a lifetime of 110,000kgs. An average size cow with excellent locomotion and udder texture, still a 2 on udder depth.

Complimentary wine, cheese, salami and cakes were offered before we headed to our hotel.

Tuesday saw the UK party of 18 reunited. The only pure breeders were Michael Wilson (Chairman of Montbeliarde UK) and Laura Teasdale of Blackacombe Monty’s and Tom Sharman (Holbeck). The rest included ourselves, semen reps and cross breeders from Somerset, Shropshire, Lancashire and Campeltown.

We had three herd visits, the first to a family farm of 125 cows averaging 8900kgs at 3.9 3.49. Milked through two robots with fresh cows giving over 50kg, they were allowed to feed maize and brewers grains. Milk was sold for more commercial Emmental cheese production, reflected in the 30ppl price.

Cows here showed more dairy strength than true muscularity, as reflected in the yields. Clean bone and well attached udders with great veination also showed this.

After another long French lunch, the second farm again supplied milk for Comte cheese. (For diversification they also produced 500,000 snails a year) Cow families were the theme here and head of a good one was the 7th calf USINE (sire MICMAC). Just shy of averaging 9000kg with her first 6, she looked good for another few, still being a 4 for udder depth. Michael Wilson, Malc and I had discussions here about rump angle and leg set. We felt some of the younger animals were getting too level for a Monty (3) and too straight. Rumps are normally a lot more sloped in general although legs and feet need to be watched as a whole.

Two to three inches of snow fell during this visit and kept falling all day. It was a good job we kept ploughing onto the last farm, as this was a highlight (GAEC DE CLOUTIERS). 40 of the 65 head were show clipped and washed in a show tie stall. As Malc said, if he was going to milk Monty’s, he would want to milk cows like these. Fantastic conformation, udder quality, feet and legs with the muscularity true breeders were looking for. Senior Cows, Eurogenetique champions and cows chosen for Paris were present. Normal conditions for the herd were simple. A triangular yard, loose housing one side, self locking yolks and feed fence on another and parlour on the other.

Michael Wilson asked how I would break down one of the senior cows. I gave her 97 body, 95 DS, 93 F&L, 90 Mammary. Malc independently did the same, only difference being 91 in the mammary. Throughout the week, Michael Wilson, Tom Sharman and others felt both of us were looking at the cows how they saw them, and were happy with how Holstein UK had taken the breed on board.

Wednesday saw another early start and all of us heading to the COOPEX Progeny Showcase. Two presentations started the day; the first by Michael Wilson on the Cumbrian based Blackacombe Herd. The second on the use of Monty’s in cross-breeding programs by K&L Genetics from Holland.

Then followed the showcase. Around 3000 people attended many young farmers among them to witness a well presented show. 14 progeny groups of between 3 and 15 individuals per group were presented, along with a dozen individuals already in milk by young genomic sires. Genomics and sexed semen are a big part of Coopex and farmers benefit from cheaper semen if allowing coopex to market spare females at set prices for large export orders.

A judge watched each group and chose a winner and best udder to come forward for a championship. He was Max Mermety from Geneva and had had an exchange to the Somerset College as a student. Malc and I had lunch with him (although I wonder if it affected his concentration, as we didn’t follow him too well after that). Lunch was a sit down 4 course meal for 2,500 people. Well organised and executed.

Back to the show, the most impressive group was the large second crop group of Triomphe daughters. Average sized, wide, great udder quality with very good muscle and production. Temperament a possible problem, which is why Stuart Cademy of R Breeders is not selling him .There was concern with some of the genomic sired heifers, as to being too frail and straight in the leg with below average locomotion. There was also a heifer with a 2 and 2 on height and width of udder. Not good for a selected group!

All day Malc and I had a Triomphe heifer picked out as champion and best udder. A strong framed heifer with excellent legs and feet (must have been good for Malc and I to give Excellent legs and feet to a heifer) a very well attached udder with plenty of veins. However, some Coopex political moves maybe made her reserve behind another well balanced heifer by the genomic sire Robin. Slightly stronger in the fore attachment, but bow legged front legs put her behind the triomphe for us.

Even the coopex reps didn’t follow the best udder award. FERREOL ROCHE is the UK rep and he agreed with us that the extreme reverse tilt and unbalance was not what the Monty’s were looking for. We later found out the first 3 in the best udder were by the same mating (URBANISTE x MICMAC), a promotional plus?

An after show party for international visitors finished off the day with more food and wine and ten pin bowling or go-karting for entertainment.

In conclusion I would like to thank Michael and Holstein-UK for giving me the opportunity to study the Montbeliarde breed on home turf.

We have been able to discuss the traits the UK breeders are looking for. The French only box score and linear heifers for bull proof reliability. They look at body/rump/udder/teats/F&L and muscularity. No final score is given and cows are not represented. Some measurements are done with sticks and tapes.

Concerns by the UK breeders present, were over loss of breed character, especially rump angle, width, straight legs and muscularity. However, this is being addressed as the breed does not want to fall into the trap of losing its identity. UK breeders like the UK scoring system and we will all hopefully look forward to scoring more for them.

Phil Oliver