International trend to reduce cow numbers and increase production

The CEO of the export arm of the largest genetics dairy farmer owned cooperative in the world is urging Kiwi farmers to start thinking about how they could reduce cow numbers without impacting on the farm’s production or profitability. This comes on the back of the fact that, by 2025, herd numbers across the world are projected to decrease by 16% with only a slight increase in cow numbers.

John Schouten, CEO of global genetics powerhouse, World Wide Sires, says that in the face of growing global social and environmental concerns, the dairy industry needs to be more proactive about environmental issues. In Holland, for example, the Dutch national herd is expected to reduce numbers by 10% in the coming year in response to the regulation of phosphates by the Dutch government.

“It’s seems a frightening prospect but Dutch farmers are facing it head-on. They are rethinking every aspect of their operations – they still have to produce a certain amount of milk and realise they need genetics which will enable them to reduce the head count, but not the milk output,” John Schouten said. “Once they have those genetics, they need farming and feeding systems which enable the herd to express their genetic potential.”

Schouten, who has been with World Wide Sires for more than three decades (17 of which as CEO) each year, with his team, visits more than 60 countries around the world, talking with farmers to understand the challenges they are facing.

“Whether you’re on a farm in Turkey, Russia, Holland, China or New Zealand the challenges are the same - to efficiently produce a quality food product the demand for which is growing around the world. But this needs to be done in a socially and environmentally conscious way – and that is where the challenge comes in; confronting and revising farming systems to accommodate this new era.

“The past few decades have tended to focus on growth – it’s been a numbers game with the size of herds growing all around the world. However, our industry relies on synergy with nature and we can’t ignore the reality that we are at, or approaching, a crossroads which require change on a significant scale, on commercial farms around the world.

“The demand for milk protein will only increase so the challenge for everyone in the global dairy industry is to produce the most from the least or, in other words, turn the ‘numbers game’ on its head so every cow in the herd has the genetic potential to deliver consistently high milk solids.”

World Wide Sires has been in New Zealand for around 30 years with a steady and growing following. In 2017 alone, sales increased by 43%. Much of that demand is driven, according to Schouten, by the fact that the US animal databases are the largest in the world.

“World Wide Sires is the number 1 supplier of bovine semen in the world carrying out 19 million inseminations in 2016 in over 90 countries.

“We were one of the first companies in the world to launch a successful commercial genomic product and today our bull team comprises 421 genomic and 355 proven bulls selected from a database of tens of thousands of elite sires.

Demand for genomically selected sires is increasing - in the US demand is 55% genomic and 45% proven, whereas globally it is 63% proven and 37% genomic for World Wide Sires.

“The success of our genomic offering – and farmer confidence – comes down to the predictor group database we use which includes over 35,700 proven bulls and 1.16 million females. There’s no larger database in the world that can match that, or the reliability it enables. The correlation between the genomic prediction and what the daughter actually produce, consequently, is statistically reliable and consistently very high.

“Each week in the US we’re doing between 10,000 and 12,000 SNP tests or 50,000 a month – a year ago it was half that.”

John Schouten says “it’s not our job to tell farmers what they should select for – it is our job, however, to listen to what they want to achieve, to look at their farming system, do a genetic audit and come up with a list of sires which will enable them to reduce numbers and increase production and fertility.

“One size doesn’t fit all, so we work with the farmer – on farm – to tailor a solution which will help them achieve their business and lifestyle goals.

“We understand that BW is the currency which most farmers understand in this country but that often comes with a lack of engagement with the genetics which are being used on the herd.

“We’re simply saying there is an alternative. It is possible to milk fewer, higher producing cows. Sure they may not have BW against their number but their currency will show where it counts – in the vat and in the bank.”

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