Big Holsteins: Already 103 cows with over 100,000 kg/220,000 lb by Breeding for Persistency and Late Maturity

This is Big Anna Jacoba 153 EX-90, a daughter of Big Spell (Bertil-Ramos) out of the EX-90 Shogun daughter of Big Anna Jacoba 115 EX-90, the dam of Big Malki.

With 103 cows >100,000 kg/220,000 lb milk and 29 cows >10,000 kg/22,000 lb fat+protein, the farm of the Knoef family (Big Holsteins) in eastern Netherlands is a true model of lifetime production. In addition, Big Holsteins is the only farm in the world to provide two cows that have passed the milestone of 200,000 kg/440,000 lb, is the home base of various show winners, and is the breeding enterprise behind popular sires like Big Winner, Big Malki, and several others… All ingredients that resulted in the prestigious title “Most Influential Breeder of the Past 20 Years”.

Bert Wesseldijk, Han Hopman

World-wide, 34 Holsteins have passed the legendary production milestone of 200,000 kg/440,000 lb. Two of them come from one farm (a novelty!): Big Holsteins in the Dutch province of Overijssel, where in the meantime 103 cows have produced more than >100,000 kg/220,000 lb and 29 cows have reached >10,000 kg/22,000 lb fat+protein. Specialists in the area of high lifetime production, that’s how we could fittingly describe Jos, Ingrid, and Ben Knoef – the owners of Big Holsteins. High lifetime productions as the result of a clear breeding goal, focused sire use, and well-chosen matings. That the Knoefs are entirely striking their own course can be deducted from their somewhat uncommon sire use. As such, Double W Rotary – the relatively unknown nephew of the Dutch bestseller Double W Ranger – is currently far and away the most used sire in the Knoef herd. Jos explains the choice for Rotary rather than the “mainstream sire” Ranger: ‘Rotary breeds a bit smaller than Ranger and the daughters milk a bit slower. And he has one specific trait that especially appeals to us: Rotary scores extremely high (116) for persistency!’ According to Jos and son Ben, the trait persistency has a large correlation with lifetime production. Persistent cows need to calve less often and are thus in a risky period less often. ‘We prefer to have cows calve once every two years. But then you really need to breed for persistency, since otherwise it will cost production. Cows that are not so persistent, need to get pregnant on time,’ states Jos, who then also views calving interval as a cow-dependent optimal trait, dependent on the production and persistency of the cow. As the ultimate example of persistency, Ben points to Big Clara 183, a very beautiful two-year-old from the combination Big Malki-Big Spell and the Reserve Champion at the Twente After Summer Show, who has now been milking for more than a year. ‘With the last milk production recording, her daily production reached 44 kg/97 lb; it has never been that high yet in the whole lactation…’


In the barn we find a remarkable amount of uniformity; cows that are not too tall with strong feet & legs and udders, and very balanced frames. Also here, well-chosen matings turn out to be a significant key to success. Matings are primarily with progeny-proven sires. ‘Reliability is still a high priority for us. With progeny-proven sires, you can make more targeted matings than with young sires,’ says Jos, who immediately continues: ‘That is not to say that we do not have any confidence in genomics. It is absolutely a revolutionary development and we also have all of our heifer calves tested for genomics. Especially in the area of production, udder health, late maturity, and persistency, the DNA figures are very valuable.’ In order to achieve their breeding goal (“high lifetime production without a lot of problems”), Jos and Ben base their sire selection especially on production (Inet), feet, and udder: Besides traits like persistency, late maturity, and udder health. When making combinations, they pay close attention to the balance in the cow; frame, front end, width, rump structure. ‘We want balanced cows with good udders and feet & legs. As far as that goes, the shows are coming to us,’ smiles Ben, who just like his father is a popular judge at cattle shows. In addition, the Knoefs enjoy a great hobby in participating in shows themselves. Ben: ‘We breed for longevity and lifetime production, and once in a while, a good show cow comes along. What’s nice is that our type of cow is becoming more appreciated at shows.’


The bull that makes an enormous contribution to the uniformity of the herd is Big Malki, who accounts for more than one-third of the current milking herd, and there are still plenty of Malki’s on the way. ‘We would like to have Malki blood in every cow,’ say Ben and Jos in unison. The strong confidence in the Maik son is partly based on the powerful cow family in the background: the Anna Jacobas. Foundation dam Anna Jacoba 71 (< Thonyma Top Brass) was the first cow with 10,000 kg/22,000 lb fat+protein on the farm. The following generations also display the very desired high lifetime production, late-maturity, and persistency. Malki’s dam, Big Anna Jacoba 115 EX-90, completed a highest record of 8.05 588d 22,195 kg/48,930 lb 4.79% 4.05%. Seven bulls out of her went to AI, including Malki, who now has 12,595 milking daughters in the Netherlands, 1,659 in Germany, and 930 in New Zealand. According to Ben and Jos, what is so special about Malki’s breeding pattern? ‘He is a cookie cutter sire, both for frame and colour (black). He gives outstanding feet & legs and udders, healthy hoofs, and cows that continue to develop for a long time. And, once in a while, he can also provide a show cow.’ Malki provided various EX daughters in the Knoef herd, and the oldest daughter will soon surpass the milestone of 100,000 kg/220,000 lb. Ben sees Malki as the nearly ideal sire: ‘His daughters all have a little bit of temperament, which is positive, they are go-getters. Malki daughters never stand around dreaming. In our new milking parlour, 30 cows can enter at the same time, and the Malkis are always among the first ones.’


The first Big sire to break through – and thus also of special significance for the Knoefs – was Big Winner, followed by Big Spell (Bertil-Ramos). From Win 395 son Winner, who descends from the strong Super Star family, 29,000 daughters are being milked in the Netherlands, 1,900 in Germany, and 1,800 in New Zealand. In the Knoef herd, Winner provided four daughters with 100,000 kg/220,000 lb, including the 100th one on the farm. A strong red & white member from the Super Star family is Big Super Star 69 EX-91, a Tequila daughter with 144,000 kg/317,460 lb on her resumé and the dam of Malki son Big Surprise-RC. Descending from the same line is Big Super Star 146 EX-91, the first EX Malki at Knoef and the dam of Colorado son Big Redstar-Red.

EVERY COW 100,000 KG/220,000 LB

The average production at Big Holsteins is currently 11,734 kg/25,869 lb milk with 4.45% fat and 3.64% protein. ‘Nice production, but from my perspective, it can get higher yet,’ says Ben, who indicates that the milk frequency would then need to increase to 3x daily. ‘In the former situation, our parlour was the limiting factor, but now more is possible. I would be okay with 13,000 kg/28,660 lb per cow. Ultimately our goal is that every cows here reaches 100,000 kg/220,000 lb. With 3x milking and even higher production, that will happen more quickly.’ l


Big Boukje 192 EX-90 (Cash-Labelle) was the first cow in the Netherlands with 200,000 kg milk. Her total production: 208,163 kg/458,913 lb 4.64% 3.86%. Last year, Big Clara 123 (<Win 395) also reached the famous milestone of 200,000 kg/440,000 lb. In 2018, Big Anna Jacoba 115 EX-90, the dam of Big Malki, was recognized as the “Cow of the Year”. While in 2021, Big Holsteins was selected by readers of HI Plus as “The Most Influential Dutch Breeder of the Past 20 Years”.

The people behind Big Holsteins: Jos & Ingrid Knoef and their son Ben.

Big Holsteins in the Netherlands

Located in Geesteren (Overijssel) in the eastern part of the Netherlands Owned by Jos, Ingrid and Ben Knoef 180 milking cows and 180 head of young stock 100 ha grass and corn silage Average production: 11,734kg/25,869lb 4.45% 3.64% Ration: grass silage and corn silage (70:30), corn gold, potato fibres, protein blend, rolled barley, and a maximum of 6 kg concentrate. Current sires: Double W Rotary, Big Deal, Big Malki, Big Redstar-Red, Cogent Supershot, Delta Dolmen, Delta Endless-RC, Delta Encourage, Delta Solero, Koepon Random, Weelder Empire

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