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Housing cows not the only way to increase production

Housing cows not the only way to increase production


From Wayne McNee, LIC chief executive

The recent visit by Professor Aalt Dijkhuizen, the president of Topsector Agri and Food in the Netherlands, raised some interested points about how New Zealand dairy farmers can learn from their Dutch counterparts.

But there was a flaw in his argument – profitability and efficiency did not seem to feature highly.

The two go hand in hand here. Profit is the ultimate goal for New Zealand dairy farmers, regardless of the system or technology utilised.

The best way to make a profit is by breeding animals that will efficiently, and repeatedly, convert feed into quality, high-value milk.

The New Zealand cow is renowned for her ability to efficiently produce milk solids, get in-calf each year (and keep doing so for an average of five lactations). For the majority, this is on pasture, at the envy of many farmers around the world.

The claim that Dutch cows produce twice the volume of milk as New Zealand dairy cows may be true, but it would be folly not to question how much feed the animals require to achieve those levels of production, and at what cost to the farmer?

Also, how fertile are they, and how long will they last in a herd? Therefore, how efficient are they, really?

What works in the Netherlands, or any overseas model for that matter, won’t necessarily work here.

Housing cows in barns is not the only way to increase production.

New Zealand dairy farmers have proven the success of this over the last 20 years, average production of milk solids from New Zealand cows has increased from 278kg to 371kg.

Sixty per cent of that increase is a result of genetic improvement.

In 2002, New Zealand and Dutch Holstein-Friesian dairy cows were compared in an independent study, fed pasture and mixed ration. On pasture, production for the two animals was similar, Dutch cows produced more on a mixed ration, but on both feed types the New Zealand cow was found to have significantly better efficiency in kilogram of milk solids produced per kilogram of liveweight.

It proved that the smaller, New Zealand cow, produced milk solids at lower cost to the business, making her more efficient and therefore, more profitable.

More recent trials in New Zealand also confirmed positive environmental benefits, with high genetic merit cows having significantly higher milk yields, with more nitrogen incorporated into milk (and less into urine).

On many farms, the crossbred cow, through the benefits of hybrid vigour, delivers additional efficiency.

New Zealand’s dairy industry is at the cutting-edge of technology, be it information systems, biological systems, or automated hardware systems.

A number of New Zealand farmers have introduced housing barns into their system where they consider it is profitable for them to do so, and the New Zealand cow has been proven to perform under a high feeding environment which is still predominantly grass-based.

This is all balanced with the fundamental principles of herd improvement.

That is, good culling decisions, selecting the best sires to mate their herd, breeding high quality herd replacements, and a focus reproductive performance to reduce wastage and provide more options to improve herd quality.

A growing number of farmers are also choosing to reduce stocking rates, milking fewer cows, but with higher genetic merit. This allows them to concentrate feeding more to their best cows, to get the most return on that investment.

In other words, doing more with less, as Mr Dijkhuizen suggests.

In contrast, the introduction of housing for cows can often lead to an increase in stock levels to deliver an acceptable return on the capital investment, which consequently increases the environmental impact and can lead to higher feed requirements and the possibility of a year-round system.

LIC has been working alongside farmers for more than 100 years to help deliver this genetic improvement. It is our vision to improve the prosperity and productivity of our farmers, and a big part of that is offering choice, so they can make profitable decisions for their business.

Our Sire Proving Scheme is representative of all farming systems and regions of New Zealand, and the superior sires identified through the scheme are responsible for approximately three out of every four dairy cows milking on farms around the country.

Some of these sires are from overseas, but only those whose daughters thrive and deliver in New Zealand conditions are selected for wider use.

Similar to Mr Dijkhuizen, I am not arguing that the Netherlands dairy system should be disregarded by farmers.

There is no one size fits all for farming in New Zealand, but one thing is certain - profitability is king, and efficiency is the best way to improve profit. It also helps reduce the impact on the environment.

ends

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