“In the ten years I’ve had Crossbred cows, I have had the vet here only three times!”

By Julia Zasada

As a third-generation farmer, Martin Mühlinghaus operates his family business, Ingelsbrucher Hof in Velbert, near Wuppertal in North Rhine Westphalia, Germany. On 1 June 2019 he became the official successor to his parents, running a farm that lies idyllically on a hill. Currently his dairy herd comprises 120 cows; their progeny brings the total to around 250 animals.

 
Martin himself, his mother, his now retired father and a temporary worker between them take care of the daily work. In 2014, the family commenced the construction of a modern cow barn in which two GEA robots replaced the former milking parlour; they have since simplified day-to-day operations.
 
The cows are outside all year, enjoying access in summer to extensive meadows. The barn incorporates stalls with a straw mixture and numerous cow brushes at intervals, ensuring the animals' comfort. The herd's current production output is 9,500 kg milk, with 4.20 % fat and 3.45 % protein.
Why ProCROSS?
 
For around 10 years, Martin has operated a cross-breeding programme. He was keen to breathe new life into his father's herd of Holstein cattle and crossed several breeds by way of 'experimenting’.
“Gradually, I began to notice how much stronger were the cross-bred animals. After calving they got back up and were healthy. The Holsteins on the other hand took much longer and were more susceptible to diseases”, he says.
 
Having made this discovery, Martin began to delve more intensively into the topic of cross-breeding. He gathered information and in the autumn of 2018 adopted the ProCROSS system, deciding first of all on the VikingRed as an addition. There are now around 38 ProCROSS animals in his herd, both from F1 And F2 generations. This year, around 50 % of the cows were inseminated with Montbeliarde and the remaining 50 % with VikingRed.
 
“At first my father didn’t understand why I was at pains to restructure a herd that had been doing so well. For six years, we were the leading farm of our district in herd performance. But I knew that this change would be good for us in the long term: it would mean less work and an improvement in performance,” Martin stresses. “In the meantime, my father has accepted my decision. As a retiree, he has taken a back seat away from all the administrative matters”, he adds.
A picture of health
 
“In the ten years I have been cross-breeding, both as a hobby and now more intensively, I called the vet out only once to these animals”, he proudly states. The farmer is also keen to point out that hoof problems in his herd have also decreased dramatically. He links the improvements both to the new barn but also to the robustness of his ProCROSS animals. Metabolic problems, likewise, hardly pop up in the barn any more.
 
Selecting the bull

“To me it's particularly important that my cows should have good udders, which make them suited to the milk robots and I also need them to be fertile. They should also have good maternal calving ease”, the farmer explains. He makes the choice of bull according to milk performance and constituents, since his aim is to increase current milk performance from 9,500 kg to 11,000 kg.
 
The bulls being used at the moment are VikingRed Bulle VR Henrik PP, and the Montbeliarde  Landos und Lancaster bulls.
Performance
 
Every farmer is familiar with one or other kind of fertility problem in his herd. If insemination is unsuccessful, cows are uneconomic and must be replaced. Martin is familiar with this problem also. But since he adopted the ProCROSS system, he has turned over a new leaf. “The last pregnancy test showed that 23/25 cows were pregnant at first go”, he says proudly. He believes the combination of good genetics and oestrus detection is the perfect solution for him.
 
And ProCROSS animals can also be inseminated earlier. Whilst Martin normally inseminated his Holstein heifers at 15-16 months, the ProCROSS heifers are ready at 13-14 months. His ProCROSS cows are a cut above the Holstein animals, both in looks and in technical performance.
 
When we visited, our first sight was the characteristic white heads of the ProCROSS animals. The animals are rougher on the barn infrastructure but in Martin's eyes, they are quite happy with the current stalls. “When we open the milk robots in the morning the ProCROSS animals are always the first to push into the pen. They're uncomplicated, and do their own thing”. Martin is evidently much enamoured of his cows.
 
At the end of the last grazing season, Martin could clearly ascertain the strengths of his ProCROSS animals. “My Holsteins did not take the grazing season well, whilst the ProCROSS animals were much more robust and all looked good”, he says.The average performance of a cow in his herd is 31 litres, with the ProCROSS all averaging 32 l, above the herd average.
 
The ProCROSS animals also present the farmer with a significant advantage: “Their feed conversion is much better than that of the pure-bred Holsteins. For instance, they convert feed of a lesser quality without a problem. The Holsteins always need the best, highest-quality feed”, he says.

Quite apart from their performance records, the ProCROSS animals are notable for their curious and rather affectionate nature. Martin talks of their ‘cheekiness’ and tells us some funny stories of the kind of things that happen every day with the animals. And we can certainly confirm that they clearly became more and more curious and communicative as we walked through the barn.
Wishes for the future
 
When we asked the farmer what his wishes for the future might be, Martin had no hesitation in replying, “I want to finally attain the 11,000 kg milk yield”, he smiles. Expanding the farm is also on his list of plans, to include extending the old barn to convert into a suitable shed for his machinery.
 
Martin is not concerned about the future of his enterprise. “We must simply await what the future has in store for us”, he says. He intends at some point to completely replace the Holstein herd with ProCROSS animals. “It’s a pity I started the ProCROSS system at a late stage. But I simply didn’t know about it”, he says, regretfully.
 
On being asked about his experience of VikingGenetics, Martin's answer is concise: “I am very happy”.
 
And we are content too, seeing the application of our genetics in so successful and productive a context in Germany. VikingGenetics is pleased that Martin is part of the circle. The day spent at the farm was very pleasant and educational, and we are most grateful for the welcome. The VikingGenetics team wishes Martin success in the future and looks forward to many more years of positive collaboration!
Facts:
 
Name: Martin Mühlinghaus (Velbert, NRW - North Rhine-Westphalia)
120 cows (with offspring roughly 250)
Milking robot
ProCROSS since 2018 (currently 38 animals)
Current production output: 9,500 kg (4.2 % fat, 3.45 % protein)

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