In the genes: meet our best Holstein breeders
A LOVE of dairy genetics has kept Tony and Leesa Northfield at the top of their game, with two of their cows placing first and second in last November's Semex- Holstein Australia On-Farm Competition.
In this case the judging covered a territory from the Northern Rivers to the Atherton Tablelands and encompassed 282 head of excellent Holstein cows from 37 breeders.
Tony grew up on his parents' dairy at McKees Hill, and learned as a teenager the love of breeding dairy cattle.
Back in 1981, Tony looked after his first black and white Rural Youth calf, Cumbaleigh Starlight Gayle, which was purchased from the Glasby family at Greenridge. This was the first Holstein to enter the Northfields herd of Jerseys and Jersey-Friesian crossbreds.
The Northfields' interest in breeding and family development just kept growing.
As members of the Far North Coast NSW Holstein Australia sub-branch, they learned much from other breeders.
"If you're interested in the cow, you look to see if her calf will be better or worse. You become interested in that line of cow," Leesa, a former NORCO dairy advisor, said.
"You visually recognise traits," Tony noted.
"You walk past a cow's daughter and every time you look at her you say, you look just like your mother."
This interest went on to transform the Northfield dairy, which today is completely black and white with infusions of genetics from the very best dairy operations in the world.
"I wouldn't go back to Jerseys," Tony said. "As a small family dairy we concentrate on producing quality milk in volume and, with Holsteins, we get better prices for our bobby calves and for our old cows."
In 1983 the Northfields bought Glendawn Marquis Betty at the Glendawn dispersal in Taree, for the top price at the sale.
She went on to become a cornerstone of the herd now run at Tatham, on land purchased by Tony's parents in 1994 and taken over by Tony and Leesa a decade later.
Betty was put into an embryo transfer program in 1985, flushing her to Hanover Hill Starbuck - one of the best Canadian bulls around at the time - for 18 embryos.
These became 11 pregnancies, six of which were heifers which were named Betty, Liz, Elizabeth, Beth, Bessy and Libby.
"Today 75% of our cows you can traced back to those embryos," notes Leesa - who grew up in Brisbane but was captivated by the dairy of her grandparents at Tansey, north-west of Gympie.
In 1997, Tony, along with Beaudesert dairy farmer Greg Dennis, bought a quarter share of a Canadian cow, Scientific Crystal Rae, at a Hanover Hill sale .
Crystal Rae has produced at least 12 heifers. Six are classified "excellent" by the Holstein Australia classification system.
"The Raes come from the globally-known Roxy cow family," Tony explained.
This purchase added another cow family to the Northfield's herd, although the Bettys still curry favour from the Northfields when it comes to producing milk.
As an indication of the success of their investment, which was a substantial $7500 back in 1997, a single six-month-old heifer offspring at Greg Dennis's dispersal sale sold for $9500 in 2003.
These days the Northfields milk a herd of 100 using part-time help but the issue of $1/litre supermarket prices still raises hackles.
While China is talked up as being the dairy industry's saviour, farmers need a substantial and sustainable milk price for the local NSW and Queensland market, before trying to make a big deal of feeding other countries.