Thursday, 8 March 2018

Extraordinary health improvement in the Swedish dairy cattle breeding 

By approaching cattle health through breeding as early as the 1980s, the Nordic countries had considerably cut the incidence of diseases. Sweden had 35 cases of sick cows per 100 cows per year in 2001, the number of cases reduced to 20 cases per 100 cows per year in 2016. An outstanding decrease by 41% in 15 years. 

According to the Redogörelse för husdjursorganisationens Djurhälsovård 2015/2016 (Statement on animal health 2015/2016) from Växa Sverige, the Swedish cooperative owner of VikingGenetics, the calculations of disease incidences are largely based on veterinary reports of disease cases (animal disease data). 

“The declining figures may be due to improved animal health, but they may also be an effect of altered treatment strategies or that a lower proportion of the veterinary cases will be recorded in animal disease data”, Växa states.

The graph below refers to incidence of diseases such as mastitis, feet and leg diseases, milk fever, retained placenta, and uterus inflammation, assistance while calving among others for the control year.

Sweden - Disease incidence per 100 cow / year (2001-2016)

Less Mastitis cases equals less use of antibiotics

During the last 10 years, breeding for less mastitis has given good results for the Swedish farmers. This reduction is considered a big step on the modern dairy farms, since mastitis is the most frequent infectious disease, and accounts for most of the doses of antibiotics given to dairy cows around the world. According to the information collected by Växa, from 16 cases of mastitis per 100 cows per year reported in 2006, the number of incidences decreased to nine cases, which means a reduction of inci-dences by 44%. 

Number of mastitis incidences per 100 cows per year 2006 vs. 2016

Dairy cows in Sweden also have remarkable hoof health, meaning considerable reductions on incidence in diseases such as sole ulcer, sole hemorrhage, digital dermatitis,  interdigital dermatitis, verrucous dermatitis, interdigital hyperplasia, double sole, white line separation and cork screw claw which are included on the index Hoof Health of the Nordic Total Merit (NTM). 

The data from around 267,000 hoof trimmings for all breeds together for 2016 are pre-sented below. 

Hoof trimming data - prevalance of hoof disorders, on cow level. Sweden, 2016

About 60% of registered hoof trimmings are ‘no disease registered’ / healthy. Around 18% of trimmings have sole hemorrhage, 17% heel horn erosion. Sole ulcer is regis-tered with 4.6% of trimmed cows, while digital dermatitis and interdigital hyperplasia with 4%.

Christian Bengtsson, Breeding specialist for VikingGenetics in Sweden explains that “the Nordic countries have a very strict veterinary regulation regarding the use of antibiotics, with limited access to them, and the dairy industry was forced to find other ways of keeping cows healthy”.  

The case of Sweden is also amazing in terms of the reduction in the use of antibiotics in the past 15 years. The number of antibiotic prescriptions per 100 cows per year has decreased from 24.2 in 2001 to 13.8 in 2015 as shown in the figure below, which means 43% decrease in the number of antibiotic prescriptions during this period. 

Number of antibiotic prescriptions per 100 cow / year

The case of Sweden shows us that breeding for healthy and productive cows is pos-sible. Breeding is a crucial part of successful dairy businesses. Good management and breeding for better health ensure profitability.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

VikingGenetics, ProCROSS, Ethics and Parmesan: an Italian family tale

The Giaroli family runs a dairy operation in Marmirolo (RE), the typical exclusive area where world known Parmigiano-Reggiano can be made. The family milk about 500 cows and the story of the Giarolis, their connection to cows and cheese started back in 1929. 

Ernesto Giaroli first settled nearby where the farm is today, with just three cows. The milk was already going to Parmesan in a local cheese factory and Ernesto’s seven sons followed their father’s path. One of his sons, Ello is now 83 years old. Six of eight of Ello’s sons (six boys and two girls) are currently managing the farm and their own cheese factory, that was built in the early 90’s. 

Currently, 13 people work at the farm; three of them work at the milking parlour, twice a day in a 40-places rotatory parlour. The Giaroli family members working on the farm now are Pietro (59) head of the cheese factory where four more people are employed; Luigi (56) in charge of feeding and administration, Elio (53) who looks after field and crops, Sauro (52) as herd manager, Angela (45) as responsible for milking operations and Ivana (39) who is manager for feeding and weaning of young calves. The rest of the brothers, Paolo and Ernesto, don’t work on the farm.

The farm changed manager and breeding strategy three years ago. Now, 100% of inseminations are made with VikingHolstein bulls or ProCROSS. First bulls used were Jul, Onside, Mason, Sol, Etoto, Limbo, Opman among the Holsteins and Foske, Haslev, Jurist, Brolin for crossbreeding. Nowadays, the 1st calves are all daughters of these bulls. Bulls currently in use for Holsteins are Clark, Bynke, Booth, Miracle, Justus, Jaybee while for ProCROSS are Crasat, Leastar, Fadil, Triomphe, Donato, Niki, Fenton, Vimpula. 

Left: VikingGenetics distributor in Italy Claudio Mariani (left), Genesi Project and Jan Andresen (right), VikingGenetics Export Manager have visited the Giaroli farm often.

Right: Claudio is checking the semen doses for the Giaroli farm.


The managment of the farm changed about three years ago when the oldest brother started his own operation. All of a sudden the rest of the family decided to take over and despite many obstacles in the beginning, the family got together and worked towards the same goal, managed to success. 

Nowadays,  Sauro is pleased with the results, averaging well over 32 milk kg (per day per cow) with 2.70 casein. He says they could make something more and they eventually will, as the main goal is producing same milk (155 milk ton consigned to cheese factory every day) with fewer cows.

They want to improve, rather than increase. More efficient cows, less labour, less expenses, more revenue: as simple as this.    

Claudio walking in the Giaroli barn.

Therefore, they have set some protocols for post partum, calvings, milking, breeding, and most of the daily routines are determined so that everybody knows exactly what to do and when.

Today most common causes for culling cows are mastitis and a few for fertility or because they are old cows. Hoof routine is managed by an external trimmer and they normally trim at dry time and 130 dim (days in milk). Heifers (1st calving) will be hoof trimmed at 90 dim.

All cows have a VWP (voluntary waiting period) of 60 days and they use pedometers for heat detection. Today, heifers receive their 1st insemination at 14 months of age and average age at 1st calving is 25.8 months. Days open are now set at 120 days, but often through the year is even lower.

500 cows are milked twice a day in this 40-places rotary parlour.


All calves get colostrum and from the second day and all calves enter the single pen for 20 days, then they are grouped: in summer they are put outside in the field in multiple boxes of eight calves while in winter they stay in groups of four. Weaning is at 90 days normally, but calves start having hay at day 20. 

Calves by VH Clark and VR Donato at Giaroli farm.

The reduction of antibiotics has been huge in the last period, and today for Ivana (calf manager) it’s really unusual to treat a calf. Last year 248 female calves were born and 11 died (4.4%). Surely there’s room for more improvements, and they are studying new facilities for the young stock, but anyway they already proved themselves they can make it. 

Cheese production 

The cheese factory includes five people working for producing a fine Parmesan. Pietro and Donatella are in charge of this important part, where all the farm work comes to its final stage. Today, they produce 36 cheesecloths per day, weighing about 38 kg each after one  year of seasoning. On average, here they need 100 milk kg to make eight kg of cheese, but those parameters can vary depending on milk composition and its properties, other than ability of the cheese maker. Cow feeding is also crucial as it is forbidden by the Parmesan Consortium to use sileage (such as corn) because the seasoning is longer than 12 months and bumps or holes could occurr in the cheese due to sileage fermentation. Milk has to be not too rich on fat but high in Casein (the closest to 3.00 the better).  

1. Every pot contains about 1200 kg milk that will result in 2 fresh cheesecloths.

2. Here it comes...every day 36 of these are made with fresh milk.
3. Starting to give them the typical shape, and meanwhile the cheese factory logo is printed on each one.
4. Aged to perfection: temperature and humidity are controlled to be the same all through the year.

Giaroli Family

If you ever will be in Italy, do not forget to plan a visit to this friendly family farm: doors are always open for a cup of coffee and a taste of their special cheese, made with passion since 1929.  

Left  to right, front row : Matteo (8), Giona (7), Tommaso (11), Elia (12), Giacomo (9)
Middle row : Ello (83), an F1 calf by Niki then Ivana (39), Helena (9) holding an F1 sired by FADIL, Angela (45)
Back row : Nicola (15), Samuele (17), Debora (14) Lorenzo (15), Donatella (54), Pietro (59), Milena (48) Elio (53), Sauro (52) Emma (5), Paolo (46), Luigi (56), Enrica (56).

Friday, 2 February 2018

Two-way success with Esben Matzen as our first agricultural trainee in the VikingGenetics barns in Denmark. 

Esben Matzen is 20 years old and finished his agricultural education in January. During his education, Esben was employed as a trainee in the VikingGenetics bull station in Bovlund in the southern part of Denmark. He was part of the barn team and took care of all the daily work: feeding the bulls, semen collection, training the very young bulls, and maintenance of buildings and machines.

Esben Matzen

Esben is a passionate young man and has taken all the challenges offered from his job with a smile and a positive attitude. He was especially very fond of working in a team of very competent colleagues with a professional relationship in a good atmosphere. “Getting insight into the breeding work and its development has been very interesting”, Esben says. He enjoyed following the bulls’ “journey” from entering the quarantine as a very small bull and until they are in semen production. “A bull is not just a bull. Each individual bull has his own personality that you need to take into consideration when dealing with them”, Esben adds.

The challenges of the work in VikingGenetics that Esben has had to overcome have been to handle the big bulls, collect semen from them and to work as a team.

Esben did not grow up on a farm, but his grandfather had a farm so he was introduced to farming at a very young age. Later, he got a job at the neighbour’s farm after school so going the agricultural way was very natural for him.
Esben wanted to try something different when being a trainee and he had heard a lot of good comments about VikingGenetics so he was excited when getting the opportunity to be a trainee in the bull station.

Esben Matzen and his class

Now that Esben has finished his agricultural education, he will leave VikingGenetics. He will stay in farming though. His dreams for the future is to have his own herd of dairy cows.

The rest of the barn team from Bovlund participated in the event held in the agricultural school to celebrate the graduation. They say Esben finished with the highest grade possible. We at VikingGenetics send our congratulations to Esben for his excellent result.

Friday, 26 January 2018

Torre Santa Maria optimises management with genomic test on females

Torre Santa Maria has started to see the benefits to make genomic test on all the females.  

Torre Santa Maria, owned by the Baptista family, has one of the biggest Holstein herds in Spain. Located in Lleida, the Torre Santa Maria farm is an excellent VikingGenetics’ ambassador that shows other farmers how the VG breeding programme works.

Having inseminated the herd with VikingHolstein for several years under the management of Joan Baptista, the family recently decided to go one step further in optimising their dairy business and started to genomically test females on the NTM (Nordic Total Merit) scale.

“By testing females genomically, you get more reliable breeding values and your selection of best females is more accurate,” Claus Langdahl, VikingGenetics Breeding Manager, says.

So far, 139 females have been tested which has given Torre Santa Maria a unique opportunity to optimise management decisions on their herd, Langdahl explains.

“It is really comforting to see that all the time and money spent on breeding is now also confirmed on paper - in terms of good breeding values, and it’s something that we have already been noticing on the farm for some time,” Baptista says regarding the good results his females achieved on the genomic test.

“Using genomic selection on your females together with X-Vik sexed semen on your top heifers, will ensure the highest possible progress of your herd. For the lower ranked females, you can use conventional or beef semen,” Langdahl says.

Top NTM heifers

The 139 genomically tested females also revealed very interesting top NTM animals; the best heifer sired by VH Cosmo having gNTM as high as +30. “VikingGenetics would like to congratulate Torre Santa Maria for their breeding work, and wishes all the success also in the future”, Suvi Johansson, Export Manager for Spain states.

About Torre Santa María
1,800 VikingHolstein cows
11,800 kg
35 employees

Read the story about Torre Santa Maria genomic tests on females from our website.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

VikingGenetics at BCBC conference - Breeding as a tool to reduce the use of antibiotics

Yesterday, our Head of Breeding, Lars Nielsen, gave a presentation about the successful Scandinavian breeding programme as one of the speakers invited by the British Cattle Breeding Club (BCBC) for their Annual Winter Conference in Telford, UK.

Nielsen presented the Scandinavian knowhow regarding breeding for healthy and productive cows, keeping focus on the best profitability for the dairy farmers, he also explained the Nordic Total Merit index (NTM) and the unique registration system that the Nordic countries have.

Nielsen presented the Scandinavian knowhow regarding breeding for healthy and productive cows, keeping focus on the best profitability for the dairy farmers, he also explained the Nordic Total Merit index (NTM) and the unique registration system that the Nordic countries have.

Nielsen also showed statistics regarding the incidence of diseases such as Mastitis for Sweden, Denmark and Finland compared to the UK. The Nordic countries being the ones with the lowest use of antibiotics in Europe, his presentation was of immediate interest to the audience of about 100 people from different corners of the beef and dairy industry in the UK. The cattle breeding sector in the United Kingdom is now putting more effort in reducing the use of antibiotics on cows.

With the title ”Farming & Genetics – Let’s inspire the next generation”, the BCBC included Nielsen’s presentation on the ”Health and Welfare – the key to a profitable future” chapter. This year, the BCBC is celebrating 70 years of its foundation.

”The programme has been put together to showcase the leading-edge technologies, our industry is developing to compete on a world stage, including genomics, gene editing and new ideas”, Chairman Andy Dodd, commented.

Lars Nielsen (left) the Head of Breeding at VikingGenetics and Chris Stone (right) Area sales Manager and Cross Breeding Specialist at VikingGenetics UK.


Lowest use of antibiotics in the world

The Nordic countries are perceived as a “paradise” with the absolute lowest use of antibiotics in the European Union and in the world. The Nordic tradition in breeding for healthy cows is reflected in the latest report from the European Medicines Agency (EMA), from 2016: “Sales of veterinary antimicrobial agents in 29 European countries in 2014”.

EMA is a decentralised body of the European Union with primary responsibility for the protection and promotion of public and animal health. According to EMA, Sweden, Finland and Denmark are the EU countries with the lowest use of antibiotics in livestock, far ahead of other countries.

VikingDefence is the solution that combines all the health traits that we have been breeding for in the Nordic countries for decades. Our bulls have been selected to breed high producing and healthy cows. They breed daughters with a natural defence against diseases - VikingDefence.

Read more here!

Thursday, 2 November 2017

VikingDefence™ is here!

The defence is in the genes

VikingDefence™ is the combined name for all health traits that we have been breeding for for decades in the Nordic countries. Our bulls have been selected to breed high producing and healthy cows. They breed daughters with a natural defence against diseases, VikingDefence™

Lately in media, there has been a lot of coverage regarding the low use of antibiotics in the dairy industry in the Nordic countries, compared to the rest of the world, and that is a result of the responsibility we have taken in breeding. We care about natural, healthy animals, and a responsibility for a sustainable dairy production where people, environment and animals are in focus.

VikingDefenceTM includes those traits with registrations from clinical diseases made by veterinarians and hoof trimmers. This sophisticated cooperation for data registrations is unique for the Nordic countries.

Dairy producers in the Nordic countries have a long tradition and feel a strong commitment to being a part of the registration system. The reason for this is that the data that each farmer receives is the strongest management tool they have as a professional dairy farmer today.

Registering the specific clinical cases, as we do in the Nordic countries makes the breeding far more successful than when relying on correlated traits such as somatic cell count, feet & legs, and immunity.

Some people claim that it's not possible to breed for better health, because heritability is too low, only 2-5%, but as long as there is a variation between bulls, selection works! Since we have reliable data in, we also get reliable data out. That’s the secret behind successful breeding!
In the Nordic countries we have been breeding for health traits longer than anybody else We have the most sophisticated registration system in the world that gives us the most reliable breeding values. Trust VikingDefenceTM, the natural defence for healthy animals! Healthy cows – better life, for you and your cows!

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Genomic selection is the way forward - Jens Lykou's success story

Genomic selection is the way forward

Jens Lykou in Denmark owns 450 cows and he uses genomic selection all the time to optimize the herd.

About a year ago, Jens Lykou began testing all females genomically as he became part of VikingGenetics' LD project. Jens is looking for higher reliability when selecting the best animals for breeding, and that he gets through genomic selection: "I get a lot of knowledge about my animals at an early age in their lives and it gives me a good basis when I have to decide how they could be used in breeding", Jens says. Jens has a goal of reaching 490 cows in July this year and has invested a lot in using sexed semen for a long time to ensure a sufficient number of replacement cows. Over the last three to four months, he has increased the usage of beef semen to slow down the number of heifers he gets, as his goal is just about to be reached. Today, 30 percent of the best heifers are inseminated with sexed semen X-Vik, while 20 percent of the cows are inseminated with beef semen.

Which animals should I choose?

The genomic tests help Jens decide exactly which animals he should use in breeding – on which of them he should use sexed semen and which should be inseminated with beef semen. It's all about economics: "In the past, we looked very much at each cow, while today we focus on optimizing the entire herd production, as well as animal health and much more. Ultimately, it is about getting the best animals that can contribute positively to the bottom line" - he says.
By means of genomic tests, Jens also finds the best heifers and cows for embryo flushing. The country's highest tested heifer after VH Ponder is found in the herd, and with her +33 in NTM she is an obvious candidate for flushing at a later date. In addition, Lykousminde has delivered a number of good bulls to the VikingGenetics’ breeding program over the years, most recently VH Vesuv.

 Denmark’s highest tested heifer with +33 in NTM after VH Ponder (left)

Breeds cows for robot milking

Jens Lykou invested in the first two robots for his herd in 2003, and today he has seven Lely robots for the cows. This means that he has been breeding for years to achieve balanced udders with not too close rear teats. Too close rear teats do not work for milking in the robots. Breeding advisor Jan Hinrichsen takes this into account when compiling the mating plan, and here too, genomic selection is an advantage:

"It increases the reliability of all individual characteristics of the females, so they get the same reliability as the bulls - which gives the best combinations in the selection of bulls”, comments Jan. Genomic selection therefore has many advantages, and Jens is early on it with testing his animals. The calves are tested as soon as possible: "We already take the test when the calf has just arrived and needs an ear tag" comments Jens.