The Conleys have 13 heifers that will soon be a part of the milking herd at their farm in Neosho, Wis. The family is also purchasing full-blood Normande embryos from France to help accelerate their Normande herd.
The Conleys have 13 heifers that will soon be a part of the milking herd at their farm in Neosho, Wis. The family is also purchasing full-blood Normande embryos from France to help accelerate their Normande herd. PHOTO SUBMITTED
    NEOSHO, Wis. – The Normande breed’s reputation for great feed efficiency and for being excellent grazers are what led Chris and Brenda Conley to make the decision to add Normande blood into their Holstein herd.
    “We were first introduced to the Normande breed when we toured another Dodge County Holstein farm that had a couple of them,” Brenda said. “We did our own research on the Normandes and felt they would be a good fit for our operation.”
    The Conleys milk 52 cows on their High-Gem Holstein and Normande dairy farm in Dodge County near Neosho, Wis. There are 18 Normandes in the herd, with five milking. The herd has a rolling herd average of 15,237 pounds of milk, a 4.84 percent fat test, with 738 pounds of fat; and 508 pounds of protein on a 3.33 percent protein test with a 72,000 somatic cell count.
    Chris and Brenda provide the primary labor for running their farm. Chris handles the milking, feeding and cropping, while Brenda helps milk, cares for the calves, and handles the breeding decisions and recordkeeping. Chris’ 80-year-old grandmother, Rita, comes to the barn every morning to help with feeding cows and cleaning, and their daughters Mckayla, 12, and Paige, 9, help with chores on the farm as well.     
    The Conleys do a great deal of pasturing with their dairy herd, so they decided to start breeding their low-end Holsteins to Normande sires in 2012 to begin introducing the grazing and feed efficiencies.
    “They’ve done well enough for us that last year, we made the decision to start transitioning our herd to half registered Normandes and half registered Holsteins,” Chris said. “As we grow the Normande herd, we plan to keep our best Holsteins and continue to develop them as we have done in the past.”
    Normandes do not produce as much milk as their Holstein herdmates produce, but they make up for the lack of volume with much higher butterfat and protein tests. The Conleys have also been pleasantly surprised to learn that the Normandes have fewer issues with their feet and legs than the Holsteins typically do.
    “The biggest shock has been their feed efficiency,” Chris said. “They are fed the same exact feed as the Holsteins, but they carry so much more condition on them compared to their herdmates.”
    Another benefit the Conleys have experienced with their small Normande herd is an increased value of bull calves.
    “We’ve been able to sell all of our Normande bull calves to other farms for use as breeding bulls or as steers,” Brenda said. “That has given us some good extra income.”    
    Because of their efficiencies, the Normande breed is gaining popularity in the United States, particularly among dairy farmers interested in pursuing grazing programs, according to the Conleys. The breed originated in France and is considered to be a dual purpose breed for both milk and meat production. The milk is primarily used in cheesemaking in France.
    “Once they are done milking, they can be sold for good quality meat,” Brenda said. “The key is that they need to be at least 75 percent Normande and less than 8 years old.”
    The Conleys said they experimented with the meat aspect of the breed last year, when they had a 75% cow they were unable to get bred.    
    “We milked her down and sold her meat quarters privately,” Brenda said. “The people who bought the meat are now on a waiting list for more because the meat quality was so good. This will be another income stream for us, and gives a much better cull value to our animals, verses selling them on the market.”
     Another niche market for the Normande breed is the market for A2A2 milk and genetics.
    “Studies are showing they are very close to Guernseys, who are currently the top breed for A2A2 milk,” Chris said. “We have tested 10 of our Normandes so far and six of those have come back as A2A2.”
    The Conleys plan to continue A2A2 testing in their herd and are working to accelerate the expansion of their Normande herd by purchasing full-blood, sexed embryos from France.
    “The embryos are being made now,” Brenda said. “Hopefully we’ll have them in our tank soon and in our animals this winter.”
    To add more genetic diversity to their herd, the Conleys purchased two heifers from the largest Normande breeder in the United States, Vosberg Valley View Farm located in South Wayne, Wis.
    The Normandes in the Conley herd range from 50 to 88 percent pure Normande. In the North American Normande Association, there are two types of Normande: purebred and full blood. As their Normandes continue being bred to 100 percent Normande bulls, they will eventually achieve the 100 percent status. Full blood Normandes can have their lineage traced back to the French herdbook. According to Brenda, there are only two or three herds in the United States that have full bloods currently.
    The Conleys are only using A2A2 bulls in their Normande breeding program. Brenda makes the mating decisions for each Normande cow on an individual basis, placing focus first on fertility and then milk.
    Normande bulls they are having success using include Redondo, Jeolavel, Infinity and Jefroid. They have used a limited amount of sexed Normande semen and only on first natural heats.
    The same priorities are applied to mating the Holsteins in the herd, but the Conleys employ a herd mating service for assistance with the many new, upcoming bulls available.
    “Throughout the whole herd, feet and legs are important because of how much we pasture the cows,” Brenda said. “They need to last the long walks to and from the barn.”
    The first Normande born on the Conleys’ farm was out of a Holstein cow named Patches. Today, Patches is in her eighth lactation and has become a foundation cow for their Normande herd, having had four Normande calves, including three daughters, who are standouts in their herd.
    “Patches’ daughter, Paige, has turned the heads of Holstein classifiers and A.I. representatives,” Chris said. “She is only 50 percent, but she is stylish, has a great udder and a high butterfat test. She has also had three daughters in four lactations.”
    Paige is due back in late August with a heifer calf, and Patches is due back in April, bred to a Normande for her ninth lactation.
    The Conleys’ interest in the Normande breed led them to become members of the North American Normande Association in 2012. They became more active within the organization, attending their first national Normande show in 2017. Since that time, they have become more involved in promoting the breed and last year exhibited at the national show, with plans to show four or five head at this year’s show Sept. 21 in Mineral Point, Wis.
    Chris is in the second year of a four-year term on the group’s board of directors, and the Conleys have also helped with the Normande booth at World Dairy Expo, where they enjoyed meeting other Normande breeders from around the world. The Conleys also hosted a national field day for their breed at their farm in July, with people from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri in attendance.