Dairy focus: Importing Fleckviehs…from Austria to Co. Kilkenny

Michael Butler who is farming just outside Kilkenny town has been importing Fleckvieh cattle from Austria for the past two years.

Michael had previously been operating a sucker enterprise, but found he was “making no money out of it”.

After traveling to Austria with a friend, who wanted to buy some Feckviehs, he felt that there was an opening in the industry for someone to import the breed to Ireland.

Explaining his story, he said: “I got into this purely by accident. I was beef farming here and a friend of mine was converting to dairy.

“He came to me one day and started talking about the Fleckviehs. He said: ‘They are the only way to go’; but, in all honesty I didn’t know a whole lot about them – so I went off and researched them.

“After that, he said he was going over to get some and I decided to go with him.”

This was when Michael purchased his first batch of Fleckviehs. Since then, Michael has been travelling to Austria and purchasing Fleckviehs to bring home and sell to dairy herds in Ireland.

“The first time we brought back maiden heifers and in-calf heifers, along with a bull. My friend took some of them and I said: ‘Sure I will try and sell the rest of them’; that is just how it happened,” explained Michael.

The Fleckvieh breed

For those who aren’t familiar with the Fleckvieh breed, the animals are in fact dairy Simmentals and are recognised internationally as a single breed, similar to how Holstein and British Friesian operate.

Austria is at the centre of the Fleckvieh’s domination in Europe, with 90% of its dairy herd being pure Fleckvieh. They are also, reportedly, the number “one dairy cross used in the Netherlands and also in Northern Ireland”, according to Celtic Sires.

In Austria, average production in 2018 for all milk recorded was 7,713kg at 4.13% fat and 3.42% protein.

“Their milk production is very good. The yard this bull (above) came out of was yielding, on average, 10,000L and his mother was yielding, on average, 12,000L/lactation,” explained Michael.

In addition, the Fleckvieh breed is well known for its longevity. In Austria, Michael said: “The average lactation is eight.

“Austria is very different to here. They usually have about 50 cows and they take really good care of their stock.

They are very genuine too; they won’t show you an animal that they aren’t happy with themselves.

“Over there, when you walk into a shed they will have some of their heifers – who have the best milk records – haltered up; anything else will be in pens and will be going for beef.

“They are also extremely docile animals,” added Michael.

Sourcing the Fleckviehs

All of the Fleckviehs are sourced from herds in Austria. Since he began importing Fleckviehs, Michael has brought back three batches – including Fleckvieh weanlings, in-calf heifers, maiden heifers and bulls.

Michael explained that he has had “more and more farmers coming to him with an interest in purchasing them”.

Explaining how he sources the cows in Austria, he said: “There are sales in Austria; but, they are not in any way like the ones here.

“Each cow is lead into the ring by a halter; one by one. The sales aren’t on every week like here either. They usually have set dates at different times of the year.

“But we normally try and get out to the farms. The farms themselves are a real family affair and the mother is usually the one in charge of the stock.”

When purchasing the Fleckviehs, Michael has a specific criteria in mind that they must meet. In Austria, they follow the mother’s milk recording record. The criteria is based on this.

Explaining what this criteria is, he said: “Their mother’s milk yield has to be above 7,500L/cow and their solids have to be good.”

After purchase, the Fleckviehs have to be collected from the farms, quarantined and then transported to Ireland.

Michael uses his farm almost like a waiting area for farmers who may not be ready to take the Fleckviehs right away or for any in which he intends on selling himself.

Sale of the Fleckviehs

Some of the Fleckviehs are sourced on spec, where as others are sold by Michael himself. He has been selling the Fleckviehs through advertisements, but he is now in the process of developing a website.

“The majority of the lads coming to me looking for stock are dairy farmers or new dairy entrants. They generally want heifers which are going to calve down almost right away.

“I tell the suckler lads to forget about them because they would just produce way too much milk,” said Michael.

Touching on why he thinks farmers are inclined to go for the Fleckvieh breed, he said:

The bull calf is the real reason and they are finding that the Holstein is just not lasting long enough in the herd.

“But a lot of farmers are afraid to change their system and move from one breed to another. Although some of the farmers who are purchasing them from me, are moving to 100% Fleckvieh,” Michael concluded.