Dual purpose Fleckvieh – a consideration
for organic dairies
By Dr. John Popp, Ph.D., CEO, Big Bear Genetics – Bavarian Fleckvieh
Added August 18, 2014. Organic production practices demand a cow that is healthy, productive and can live a long time. An added bonus could be revenue generated from beef. Interest has grown in dual purpose breeds for that reason. Every cow has to fit her environment: Can she graze, is she of moderate stature, does she have a flat persistent lactation or a strong front end peak, can she tolerate heat, does she have good feet and legs, good udder health - most importantly can she do well on my farm? Why choose a breed like Fleckvieh?
Staunch supporters for breed development in the dairy sector believe that cows must be angular and dairy for style and type in order to have the ability to produce milk. Roundness and muscularity are not appealing to the eye of one that is in the business of producing milk. Indeed, it is a controversy even among breeders of dual purpose Fleckvieh in Europe. Bavarian Fleckvieh – Bayern Genetik along with their farmer co-operative in upper and lower Bavaria has taken steps over the years to separate themselves in their breeding goals from other organizations in Europe, as they continue to emphasize the importance of strength and dual purpose in their breeding targets. The proof to their philosophy. A strong, muscular dual purpose cow with the ability to produce as much as 32000 lbs. of milk and an income stream from both milk and beef.
In 1999 our organization took it as a life goal to introduce Fleckvieh to the United States and Canada in partnership with Bavarian Fleckvieh Genetics (Bayern Genetik – www.fleckvieh.de). When we started, we were fortunate as three dairies saw what we tried to do. This has grown to hundreds of dairies today throughout North America, many of them being organic. So despite the years’ of criticism for our work, it is something that makes sense to many farmers.
In Germany, Fleckvieh roam steep mountains in the summers foraging, but are also in confinement barns in the areas of rich fertile soils north of Alps. They perform well in both environments. Bavarian Fleckvieh have been bred to have high and tight udders – because of grazing in hills and sometimes trees and shrubs (minimize damage to the udder) and to produce ample milk and beef. Feet and legs are of great importance to the breeders. Their most important goal is productive life. It is common when you visit any dairy in Bavaria to see cows with 8 to 10 calves. Herds with an average of 3.5 to 4.5 lactations and more.
The values to organic production are numerous (documented by research studies and also our field experiences):
Some unanswered questions that I posed at the beginning on heat stress, stature and lactation. Fleckvieh have the ability to withstand hot and cold temperatures well, as they have a thicker hide and an increased body surface to weight ratio. Sire choices allow for the selection of small, medium or large statured cows. Fleckvieh have a flat and persistent lactation which makes their metabolism more stable and also reduces transition problems.
Production data from high and low producing dairies consistently see Fleckvieh crosses performing at 1 to 3% below pure Holstein. With that, however, component rise – a consistent increase in 0.2 units of the protein percentage in milk occurs. Further to that, somatic cell count is lower.
As with anything – not all Fleckvieh are the same. Much of the original breeding programs for Fleckvieh are in upper Bavaria; In the early 1800’s Simmentaler from Switzerland were introduced and crossed with local dairy breeds; later forming the foundation for the Fleckvieh breed. The genetics have then spread to Austria, the Czech Republic, Italy and throughout Europe.
I spend a great deal of time educating people on sires and sire lines. When choosing a sire to use it is important to understand how the bull is evaluated and under what conditions he will work. Both Genotype (sire * dam etc.) and Phenotype (physical appearance) are important. Phenotype, unfortunately is often overlooked. He’s got a good pedigree so he has to be good……. I am a firm believer in using highly proven sires along with some promising genetics, but I would not bet my future on only young or low proof sires or crossbred sires. We would be happy to provide information on sire choices out there, be it from our organization or our competitors. Nothing guarantees the outcome of progeny, however, highly proven sires are the closest thing to it. Our website and contact information is listed at www.bigbeargenetics.com. We can provide a great deal of information about Fleckvieh to you.
John was born in Bavaria, Germany and grew up around Fleckvieh. In 1983 his family moved to Canada and John enrolled in an Agriculture degree program in 1987 and later earned his Ph.D. focusing on management intensive grazing. John travels and leads tours to Germany frequently to study the Fleckvieh breed and see the sires and progeny of the bulls he offers in the North American market. A great deal of time is also spent visiting farms and studying cows in Canada and the United States to determine results of the matings we work with. He enjoys sharing information about the Fleckvieh breed and helping farmers succeed with their goals. For more information about the breed or to contact Dr. Popp, please visit, www.bigbeargenetics.com or email John at: email@example.com.