November 13, 2021 at 7:33 p.m.
“This is the fanciest calf in the pen,” Paul Swenson said. “We’re confident someone should have a really good calf for the show season.”
Swenson and his family – wife Cindy, daughter Ashley and son-in-law David – are providing Forest Lawn Select 3777 as one of the grand prizes in The Great Christmas Giveaway 2021, in the 17 and under category.
The Swensons milk 265 registered Holsteins at Forest-Lawn Holsteins near Nicollet.
This calf is a September heifer out of Avant-Garde Unix Select-ET, a bull which is part of Select Sires’ Showcase sires, with her dam being a daughter out of Our-Favorite Undenied-ET, another Showcase sire.
“We had some kids lease Undenied heifers the last couple of years and they did well,” Swenson said.
When the dam was genomic tested as a calf, she became the highest test on the farm for type, said the Nicollet County dairyman.
“We genomic test all of our calves, but we don’t have this test back yet (as of Nov. 3),” he said. “We also select for high type bulls, so genomic-wise, this calf should be as good as anything we have.”
The calf is the result of a small portion of the Forest-Lawn herd that is bred specifically for show.
Within the herd, the Swensons follow two breeding programs; two that align with their ideals as registered dairy producers and dairy producers who want to develop the most productive, efficient milking herd as possible. The majority of the herd is bred with the high genomic net merit bulls, typically young sires, while a select 15% of the herd are bred to show-type bulls.
“It doesn’t work to stick a high net merit bull with a high type animal,” Swenson said. “You’ll just get an average net merit with an average show type. We breed each group separately to get the best from both.”
Following that breeding strategy has served the family well over the years.
As of late, the Swensons have sold embryos from high net merits cows to Chinese dairy farmers. Those farmers are looking to purchase registered genetics, and in that market, embryos are more important than a calf on the ground.
“That’s been working out good with Ashley in the embryo transfer business,” Swenson said.
With the show cattle, the Swensons will have people stop by the farm to view the animals before purchasing.
Up until a decade ago, a significant portion of the Swensons’ farm profits also came from selling breeding bulls. This practice has since subsided with the emphasis on artificial insemination and other breeding technologies, and the changing size of dairy farms.
“For a number of years, we would sell four to five bulls at a time,” Swenson said. “But with the liability of working with bulls, it’s been better for the industry to move to A.I.”
Forest-Lawn Holsteins has always been a registered herd, and the Swensons’ rich history in the industry dates back to 1883 when Swenson’s great-great-grandfather purchased the farm’s first registered bull. Two years later, the farm acquired two registered cows that became the foundation of Forest-Lawn Holsteins.
To date, the farm is the oldest registered herd in Minnesota and the oldest continuous registered herd across the United States.
“It’s somewhat of a tradition for us,” Swenson said.
Aside from a way of life for the family, breeding registered cattle has provided the Swensons with another avenue for income in the dairy industry. It has also greatly progressed the herd.
“It’s made us concentrate on the genetics of our herd,” Swenson said. “We’ve always followed the pedigrees and put genetics at a pretty high importance. Because of that, our herd’s productivity has been that much better.”
The Swensons’ farm is structured as a partnership between Paul, Cindy and Ashley, with David being employed on the farm; David also farms with his family near Goodridge. The crew is milking 260 cows with four robots they installed eight years ago. They recently added an additional 50 stalls to the freestall barn, renovated all existing stalls from waterbeds to deep-bedded sand and replaced the lagoon with a concrete bottom.
These upgrades, among others, will help maximize the productivity of the farm’s technology and help the herd become as efficient and profitable as possible, as the sixth generation of Swensons makes themselves a larger part of the operation.
“Ashley is 100 percent interested in taking over,” Swenson said. “We’re making (this farm) as efficient as possible because that’s what’s going to make it possible to milk cows going forward. That’s how we’re going to stay in the industry.”
Just as the Swensons have created a legacy for themselves in the industry with the reputation of their herd, they hope this September heifer can do the same by providing a young dairy enthusiast with a calf that will prove itself for years to come.
“I call her Lucky Seven for a reason,” Swenson said. “She should make a very nice calf and grow up to be a very nice cow.”
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