When tragedy struck and Foot and Mouth wiped out the whole herd, the Lochhead family could either sink or swim, dwell on the past or “Focus on the Future”.
Their decision to focus on the future has resulted in Kedar Brown Swiss becoming one of the leading names within European Brown Swiss circles.
The entire milking herd and all the young stock were amongst 735,000 Scottish animals that fell victim to the foot and mouth disease (FMD) of 2001, slaughtered and burnt on mass funeral pyres to prevent the spread of this catastrophic disease.
Powerless to do anything, the Lochhead’s watched, as a lifetimes’ hard work went up in smoke. Dumfries was one of the worst affected areas. An eerie silence prevailed over the county, as fields and buildings stood empty and families grieved for their loss. The impact of losing their livelihoods was massive for all those affected.
Throughout a 100 year history of farming, the Lochheads’ trialled Milking Dairy Shorthorns to Ayrshires, then British Friesian to Holsteins before switching to cross-breeding.
The compulsory sabbatical following FMD, allowed them a golden opportunity to reevaluate their business plan and direction. Won over by their ease of management and high solids they committed to re-stocking with primarily pure Brown Swiss imported from Bavaria in Germany and Switzerland. “We wanted cows who could graze and consume large amounts of forage,” says Jonny, “we wanted healthy, easy managed cows, cows with great legs and feet, who could calve in unassisted with fewer incidences of mastitis.” Switching to Brown Swiss allowed them to capitalise from their current milk contract, which paid favourably for milk solids whilst benefitting from the breeds ability to graze and convert forage.
OUT WITH THE ROBOTS
The need to advance cow comfort and also improve working conditions, resulted in the construction of Kedar Barns, the new unit built on a greenfield site. Kedar Barns accommodates the milking herd, and an adjacent building provides a loose pack area for up to ten show cows, and heifer housing for a further sixty head. Centred around the installation of three De Laval Robots, the cattle accommodation and facility became operational in 2012, and signaled a marked improvement in the health and environment of the herd. The large spacious open sided building is extremely well ventilated and houses 220 cubicles, which are fitted with mats and bedded with sawdust and lime. Being a low input system, the aim is to produce as much milk from forage as possible, this means grazing out at pasture for as much of the year as the weather permits. Appreciating that robots are not for everyone, especially those reliant on summer grazing, Jonny is planning on reverting back to milking through a parlour in 2018. “We tried to make it work, but it’s too complicated when the groups are out at grass,” says Jonny, “training the 2 year olds who freshen during the summer months to use the robots is problematic.” It is hoped that by re-introducing a parlour, they will regain greater control of the animals and eradicate the problems and time spent following up the alarms generated by the robot.
SNICKERDOODLE LIVES ON
It wasn’t until 2011 that internationally renowned families began to make their way to Kedar. Focused on adding deep international pedigrees, ones that potentially could bring an added form of income to the farm through sales, Jonny looked for consistency. “True Type was really important. I wanted cow families that were consistent and pedigrees with a proven track record in producing the type of cows I wanted to breed and develop,” states Jonny.
His criteria was fulfilled when he purchased Old Mill Starbuck Spottie EX-94 2E (97 DS, 96 BC) in a private purchase from Nicola Pedrini in Switzerland. Her dam, Old Mill E Snickerdoodle EX-94 4E, is the only cow to claim 6 breed championships and win every milking class of her respective breed at World Dairy Expo. Snickerdoodle’s highest classified daughter, Spottie has 21 progeny registered in the UK, “quite simply this is the cow that likes to keep on giving,” says Jonny. Regarded as the lady of the manor, or affectionately known as “the BOSS”, Spottie is on a permanent flush programme.
Vetsch’s Nesta Calvin is a bull who has worked extremely well at Kedar. “We love Calvin, he’s consistently made great milk cows, worked on the greats, and not so greats and improved them all – particularly through the mammary systems,” says Jonny. Spottie’s most successful combination to date is her mating to Calvin, which resulted in Kedar Cal Snicker Spot EX, Kedar Spots Shenanigans EX and Kedar Calvin Sanchia Maria VG-89 (maximum score), who was Grand Champion at UK Dairy Day in 2016.
Last month, at the 2017 All Britain All Breeds (ABAB) Calf show, Spotties’s September 2016 Bosephus heifer was tapped out Champion Calf, “Spottie is a cow that you can use so many bulls on and they never miss,” smiles Jonny.
Proving that her daughters are also a huge success on the sales circuit, Kedar Blooming Snickers sold for €8,000 at the German Masters Sale. Another daughter, Kedar Big Star Sienna, was the lead priced heifer, creating a new UK and French breed record when she sold for the price of €10,400 to JLD Genetics, at the 2016 Brown Swiss World Congress. Right now there are full sisters to Sienna springing to calve at Kedar, which both Jonny and Jess are really excited about.
Whilst Spottie is the boss, her maternal sister Old Mill Wonderment Sunset EX-92 is most definitely the diva at Kedar. Jonny flew to Switzerland with the sole intention to buy her as a 6 week old calf in the Swiss National Sale. The hefty cheque Jonny had to part with to secure Sunset, proved to be a shrewd investment. “Sunset just gets better and better with age, she’s won over an army of fans regardless of their breed,” says Jonny. Twice All-Britain Cow, and Grand Champion at UK Dairy Day and UK Dairy Expo when she was 540 days fresh, Sunset was also twice Reserve Champion at the National Brown Swiss show…in the same lactation! Her first daughters will calve in the spring, but look extremely promising.
It is only fitting that some of the most prolific families came straight from the heart of one of Switzerland’s most successful breeders in recent years – GS Alliance. GS Alliance Glenn Jady EX-92 2E, was purchased in partnership with John West. Her full brother, GS Alliance Glen Joker, at Swiss Genetics, was proven in Switzerland, Austria and Germany, and has over 550 daughters in his proof. Joker continues to be one of the best proven sires for conformation.
Jady is a daughter of Jolahofs Denver Jona EX-91, maternal sister to Jolahofs Polo Jongleur, one of the most celebrated bulls of the breed in recent years. Their dam was Jolahofs Starbuck Jola EX-95 (99 MS). Jonny is quick to acknowledge that they hit gold with the use of Wonderment. “We struck lucky with how we used him, he’s left us a lot of show animals, and stamps them with style,” says Jonny. Jady’s only flush to Wonderment has created an aura of excitement. Satisfying Jonny’s obsession with Star Wars, Kedar Jedi has entered A.I, and will be distributed through Gene Source. The flush resulted in five heifers being born. Kedar Wonderment Jana, now classified VG-88 2yr and owned by Brian Miller, was unbeaten as a calf and yearling won Junior Champion at UK Dairy Expo and Champion calf at the ABAB Calf Show. Her full sister, Kedar Wonderment Jolie VG-87 2yr, is the only animal to beat her in class, narrowly edging her out at this year’s UK Dairy Day. Continuing the winning streak, Kedar Wonderment Juliet, was Junior Champion at the 2017 UK Dairy Expo.
Perhaps one of the most celebrated cows of the Brown Swiss breed is Ace Arve EX-97, a cow considered by many to rival Snickerdoodle in her prime. Kedar are working with nine direct descendants of this former Swiss Expo Champion, including GS Alliance Tau Arkansas EX, a full sister to Steiners Alino at Swiss Genetics. Purchased over the phone during the Swiss Mountain High sale, Arkansas was All-Britain as a yearling and is now making the same show stopping kind. Her first daughter, Kedar Blooming Alaska VG-87 2yr, was Junior Champion at UK Dairy Expo and Reserve Champion at the 2015 ABAB Calf show, and since calving was Honorable Mention Grand at UK Dairy Expo this year.
“Arkansas is proving to be a great brood cow, and makes the kind we like and want with every mating,” enthuses Jonny, “we are excited for her Solomon and Genox Boy pregnancies due in 2018.”
R IS FOR RHAPSODY
Reia VG-89 was the first heifer to calve on the farm post FMD, and the foundation female of the “R” family, that has in turn proved to be something special. Her grand-daughter, Kedar TD Reia EX-93 (3rd lactation 11,634kgs 3.9%f 3.66%p), proved to be a game changer. “She was the cow that could walk through the barns at a show and the Holstein boys would stop and stare and ask what she was,” laughs Jonny. Winning the National as a 2 year old and twice champion at UK Dairy Expo, she unfortunately died after calving for the fourth time, leaving Jonny bereft, but she did leave behind two yearling heifers. Her daughter, Kedar Jongleurs Romance VG-88 2yr, won Honorable Mention at UK Dairy Expo in 2016. Her Calvin daughter, Kedar Rhapsody, was the UK’s first 89 point 2 year old within the Brown Swiss Breed. “Rhaps” as she is affectionately known has already got a huge string of accolades to her name. A three time class winner at the National and Grand champion at this years UK Dairy Expo, Rhaps will calves again in the early part of 2018 and has a huge future ahead of her.
CREATING A MARKET
Every animal is mated on an individual basis according to their strengths and weaknesses. Jonny looks to use bulls which are positive for milk and have great udder traits, but he is increasingly aware of the cow families the bull comes from. “We’d never use a bull if we didn’t like his dam” says Jonny, “we are mindful to create the right kind of sire stacks within a pedigree, and look at our breeding programme from a long term point of view” says Jonny. “When we make matings, we are consciously trying to create marketable pedigrees that are interesting to prospective purchasers.”
Jonny’s partner Jess, takes a keen interest in the marketing side of the business. Specialising in marketing and cattle photography, her input is invaluable. “Certainly having a cattle photographer on hand helps us to capture individuals when they are on top form and allows us the luxury to take more natural scenic pictures,” says Jonny, “the Kedar website and Facebook pages have become invaluable in promoting our cattle and creating sales further a field.” The UK is still developing its Brown Swiss fan base and therefore the market can quickly become saturated. “Having the possibility to sell into mainland Europe has opened up opportunities we could never have dreamed of and really put Kedar on the map,” says Jess. “Whilst it has its trials and tribulations, the rewards have made it all worthwhile,” smiles Jonny, “selling top price in the World Conference sale is an experience that we will never forget; it was a truly humbling experience.”
IN THE FUTURE
Although the UK isn’t renowned as one of the world’s leading hubs for the Brown Swiss breed, the name Kedar has risen like a phoenix from the ashes, becoming one of Europe’s top herds.
Developing great cow families, capturing the accolades in the show ring and continuing to build high scoring pedigrees, have all undoubtedly helped build and develop a great demand both domestically and internationally for Kedar genetics, and this looks set to continue.
Champions aren’t made in the ring, but are the climax of years of hard graft, time and passion. In less than a decade, Kedar Brown Swiss have achieved so much, more than they’d even cared to dream about, but they remain grounded and focused on the future – focused on improving the already great foundation which exists within the barns at Kedar.