Important traits: good legs & feet, nice high & wide rear udders
First EX cow: Billabong Shotime Skokie
Steve Afford of Billabong Holsteins at Woods Point, SA is a big believer in top quality semen, using it in their AI program for decades.
“If you’re choosing good bulls with good traits like feet and legs, good udders and good production consistently, you’ll breed good cattle eventually,” Steve said.
He said the use of good quality semen and constant culling of poor production and type cows has been key to their business success.
The Affords have used AI since the 80s, which Steve said has had the largest impact on their breeding program. He admits they have not always chosen the most expensive semen but selected well-proven bulls that carry important traits for their herd.
“AI has really taken over and that was a good change for us. We still have the odd home bred bull but we’ve mostly used AI in the last 40 years,” Steve said.
Steve has been running the breeding program for the last 20 odd years, working alongside his 80 year-old father and predecessor, Bob who still actively works in the dairy milking.
The family have remained a registered herd since 1949, believing strongly in the value of registration, even for export animals.
Steve is the third generation to take the reins of Billabong Holsteins which originated at Wandearah in the Mid-North, (near Port Pirie) by his grandparents Fred and Neta Afford.
He said achieving the Master Breeder award is justification for the years of breeding. “Our family is really happy we have done what we’ve set out to achieve,” Steve said.
This is the second Master Breeder to be awarded the Billabong prefix. The first award was received in 2006 by his parents Bob and Gloria Afford.
His parents farmed at Jervois until 1982, when they moved 5kms up the road to the current farm at Woods Point. Over the years they acquired neighbouring dairies, doubling in size, becoming self-sufficient by growing enough grain to feed their entire herd.
Most of the feed is grown on their Brinkley property which is managed by Steve’s brother Greg. Steve said, “in a normal year we crop 600 to 700 tonne of grain and roughly 1,500 roles of hay”.
The parlour is a 15 a-side herringbone double-up dairy with teat cup removers. Each day 7kgs of grain is pushed through the dairy at Woods Point to feed the 180-milkers.
The business is a family enterprise, with additional help from Steve’s mother Gloria and daughters Courtney and Tegan who each have their special talents. Courtney specialises in breeding and Tegan focuses on calf rearing. Like their grandparents, both girls equally have a huge passion for show-ring.
Steve said showing has had a great impact on his family, keeping them inspired year to year. “The girls are heavily involved in our local dairy community which has kept us motivated through tough times,” Steve said.
In 2007, the stud was forced to downsize due to drought, selling off the bulk of the herd, retaining only 35 milking cows and as many young show heifers as they could afford to keep.
“We had enough acreage with a small water allocation which we leased for a ridiculous price to grape growers which helped us through,” Steve said.
They milked enough to get through the next 3 years, riding out the harsh weather conditions. When rain finally hit NSW and Victoria, they got their water allocation back and soon after were back to milking 100 cows.
Fortunately for the Affords, the decision to keep their young stock for showing purposes was their saving grace. “By chance those young heifers we kept for showing became our replacement stock,” Steve said.
Billabong has seen a few changes in the last 8 years, implementing heat detection collars and more recently auto drafting.
The dairy has seen excellent results, identifying 50% more cattle on heat.
Since introducing the collars 8 years ago, heat detection has played a vital role in improving the mating and conception rate within his herd.
In the last 6 months, they Affords have prioritised auto-drafting, adding another layer to boost their breeding program. “It’s been a progression and we’re still fine-tuning the system to make things easier and better in the dairy,” Steve said.
When asked what’s in store over the next 5 years, Steve said the family want to remain farming in South Australia, meeting strong milk supply demands.
He said recently his daughter had been in his ear about sexed semen and that may be something the farm will consider using down the track.
“It’s a long slog; a grind and if you put in the effort, you can make a good living out of it,” Steve said.
Please join us in congratulating the Afford family on their outstanding achievement and contribution to the Holstein breed.