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BERL projects calf feeding could give dairy economy $340m

BERL projects calf feeding could give dairy economy a $340m GDP boost

Economic benefits worth up to $340m in GDP could accrue from an innovative new science-based and internationally peer-reviewed calf nutritional programme if adopted by 10% of the national herd, new research shows.

Economic research firm BERL has analysed the results from a seven-year ongoing longitudinal study conducted by Massey University (the first research of its kind in New Zealand) into the efficacy of the Queen of Calves feed supplement programme, which uses marine and land plant extracts to enhance the nutritional value of the milk fed to calves.

BERL’s analysis of dairy systems leader Dr Jean Margerison’s research shows that the use of the nutritional supplement boosts milk solids (MS) production, potentially increases herd survival rate, and can reduce the grazing footprint and herd size without lowering output. The scientific basis for these improvements in development of the heifers has been researched by the New Zealand Livestock Improvement Corporation (LIC) and by scientists overseas. They find that early lean growth in the calves drives their robust development.

Extrapolating on the findings, Kel Sanderson estimates that if 10% of the national herd (500,000 cows) were raised on the supplement programme, then it would:

• Produce 25 million tonnes more milk solids than at present on the same grazing footprint

• Generate an additional farm-gate income increase of $150m a year from the same grazing footprint

• The additional $150m in farm-gate income would multiply up to a total value chain increase in GDP of about $340m a year.

• Alternatively, farmers could maintain the present levels of production, and produce that on a 13% smaller total grazing footprint, reducing the environmental impact;

• That present level of production would be produced by 46,000 fewer cows.

Dr Margerison’s testing of the feed supplement on a group of calves over five lactation cycles demonstrated Queen of Calves delivered, on average, an extra 30kg/MS per lactation compared to the control group and same-age heifers in the Massey herd.

She says the seven year on-going study was exhaustive and conclusively proved that significant gains for calf and heifer weight gain, milk production and longer productive life resulted from the use of the nutritional supplement.

“Currently in New Zealand, more than one in five of the national dairy herd will not survive past the second lactation phase. This is hugely inefficient, and represents a significant cost to the farmer. In a depressed payout environment like what farmers face today, the financial margins to be able to sustain this simply do not exist.”

“What our research shows is that the Queen of Calves feed programme is not just an opportunity to mitigate existing herd replacement costs, but also to realise long-term economic gains for dairy farming,” says Dr Margerison.

Once all of an average 400-strong herd had been raised on Queen of Calves and had reached peak production, the revenue benefits could be $72,000 per season above that achieved by a similar farm not using the supplement, analysis of her findings by BERL shows.

But the ability to maintain output, while reducing the size of the herd and grazing footprint is also exciting academics and scientists.

Kel Sanderson, Director of BERL says their analysis of the Massey University research results show the New Zealand dairying industry is staring down the barrel of an innovative economic opportunity here.

“The long-term rigour of the research and the fact around 5% of the national dairy herd is already on the programme and starting to see the benefits – as the average dairy farm faces significant economic headwinds right now, means the timing of this work is significant,” says Mr Sanderson.

Commenting on the findings Massey University’s Vice-Chancellor, Steve Maharey, says: “BERL has highlighted the critical role that Massey University plays in supporting and developing new innovative practices here.”

Farmers using the programme are hailing the resulting flexibility, as it allows them to maintain production while reducing herd size and grazing footprint. North Taranaki Jersey breeder Nicky Hines says that in the present low payout environment, it made sound economic sense to reduce numbers, while still maintaining output.

Stephen Bell-Booth, whose company is behind the development of the programme, says the aim was to develop a calf nutrition programme that would benefit the animals, the farmers and the environment, while delivering strong economic benefits to the sector and New Zealand.

“It has been a long and robust process to establish the benefits, including a seven-year longitudinal study, that still continues,” says Bell-Booth. “About 5% of the national herd is already using Queen of Calves and we’ve proved beyond doubt its efficacy and we succeeded because we especially focussed on the milk-feeding phase, the importance of which has up until now not been generally recognised, in determining the future output for dairy cows.”


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