Important cow families: Jacobonias, Debbies, Connies, Essies, Buttercups
Favourite bull used: Wiabuna Sandman Justin
Important traits: udders, big bodies with hard loins, big open ribs with strong heads & longevity
First EX cow: Byrne Lea Rudolph Jacobonia
After 37 years of dairying, Craig and Fiona Fisher of Byrne Lea Holsteins have been awarded the Master Breeder just in time before their dairy retirement.
Having sold the bulk of their milking herd in April 2021, the Fishers were caught by surprise when they got an unexpected call from HA CEO, Rohan Butler who informed them of their accolade.
“It came out of nowhere and blew our socks off! It was just unreal,” Craig said.
Craig is a second generation dairy farmer who freely admits that he never thought he would achieve the prestigious award but it was ‘something he always really wanted’.
Having grown up on a Holstein dairy, Craig left school at 16 and he and his brother Matthew dived head first into breeding and showing, taking notes at every opportunity from their neighbourhood mentors and local Holstein community.
In 1995 Craig married his wife Fiona and soon after left the family business, working for John and Harley Gardiner at Avonlea.
“I was like a kid in a lolly shop,” Craig said. “Having had the opportunity to work for and learn from the Gardiners was amongst the best years of our lives and I’ll be forever grateful,” he said.
The same year Craig and Fiona began their own stud, naming it Byrne Lea by merging the prefixes of his parents and his employer.
Byrne Lea started with a handful of foundation heifers bought from Gardiners for a “very reasonable price”, immediately classifying, artificially inseminating and flushing cows.
Craig said those heifers have gone on to breed some of the best families in their herd.
Earlier this year their stud-bred cow Byrne Lea Octane Buttersnap (now owned by Rowlands Park) was crowned Senior 3 year-old and Reserve Intermediate Champion at IDW.
She can be traced back to the famous Australian cow family Mangoola Storm Buttercup that was bred from the Brundell Buttercups.
Over their long dairy career, the Fishers herd tested every month, keeping a close eye on cell counts and protein, aiming to breed for high production and high classification.
Craig regularly participated in sub-branch events, attending many farm walks and classification days.
"We implemented what we'd learned into our breeding and that's what fuelled our desire to breed better cows," he said.
Craig said the impact of open farm walks and classifying days were ‘massive,’ helping young breeders understand the type of cows they wanted to breed, painting the bigger picture of a modern Holstein cow.
He said you couldn't put a price on what it meant to young breeders. "It was invaluable and I hope they continue them for the Youth today,” he said.
He recalled one of the biggest lessons he learned while dairying was the power of good cow families.
Craig said their breeding program was based on selecting good lineage with many lactations, high type and good production.
He said if you can get into really good, consistent cow families the results will come.
“We were type breeders and if you build them right, they will milk,” Craig said.
Even with the genomic era, Byrne Lea proceeded to use bulls that had mothers with classification depth and lots of lactations to safeguard fertility and mastitis resistance.
Craig said the bulls Wiabuna Sandman Justin (son of Wiabuna Kriss Shona bred by Pam and Phil Malcom) and Hanover Hills Starbuck were extremely significant in their breeding program, helping transform the commercial looking cows to registered looking cows with big wide ribcages, good bone quality, more height and great rear udders that increased milk flow.
He said another factor to Byrne Lea’s success was the start his parents gave him. “Mum and Dad provided a strong foundation and grounding which propelled us into our dairying career,” Craig said.
Last year Craig and Fiona made the hard decision to relinquish dairying after decades in the industry.
They have downsized to a property in Jack River, selling the majority of their herd.
“We are completely chuffed with the award and knowing we actually made it makes myself and Fiona extremely happy,” Craig said.
Please join us in congratulating the Fisher family on their outstanding achievement and contribution to the Holstein breed.