FARMERS increasingly see benefits from concentrating their breeding programmes on improved performance rather than numbers as a means to improve efficiencies and avoid culling.
Whakatane-based breeding consultant Will Blakeway said the refocus was evident from calls he received from farmers.
“The rising price of land, combined with increasing environmental pressures is resulting in more farmers looking to improve the quality of their herd so they can improve and increase their farm’s profitability with the same or less cows,” he said.
Mr Blakeway heads the global marketing arm of World Wide Sires for the Bay of Plenty, Hawke’s Bay and Central Plateau.
He said he regularly spoke with farmers who had to cull a high percentage of their heifer replacements because they lacked the physical fundamentals required of a commercial dairy cow.
Whakatane dairy farmer Graham Lyford said the level of inbreeding in his 180-cow herd caused him to change breeding companies.
“I was shocked to see how many of the bulls couldn’t be used on a lot of cows. It was annoying mucking around having three or four different bulls in the row I would mate during milking.
“Even when I tried to get an outcross bull they all seemed to come from the same family,” he said.
“I’m in the dairy every day so it’s important that the cows have great temperament and milk well. If they lack either of those traits, they go.”
He said the real test would be when the new calves went into the herd in two years’ time.
“Our goal is to maintain or improve production with the same or less cows and the way these calves look, behave and are growing makes me feel confident we’re on the right track,” he said.
At Gabriels Gully, a 184-hectare farm near Waiotahi, Andrew Brown milks 400 predominantly Holstein/Friesian and crossbred cows once-a-day. But inconsistencies in the size of the cows coupled with conformation issues led to him reviewing the genetics he used.
“We’re getting inconsistencies across the herd – small, medium and large – which creates problems in a herringbone milking shed where the smaller cows get pushed around.
“Our goal is to gradually change the herd to moderate-sized Holstein/Friesians with high components and the udder support and capacity necessary to handle once-a-day milking,” he said.
He said many New Zealand-based breeding companies tended to have narrow gene pools, causing poor results for his heifers.
“This year, for example, we had to cull 20 percent of our replacement heifers which is a horrendous figure. It’s an experience we couldn’t afford to repeat, and we won’t,” he said.
In 2016 the Browns moved 50 percent of their mating plan to World Wide Sires to take advantage of their larger gene pool.
“Going 50 percent meant we could compare the resulting calves with the breeding company we’d been using,” he said.
Based on the comparison, Mr Brown will put 95 percent of the herd to World Wide Sires this year.
“There’s a visible difference between the width of the muzzles with World Wide Sires’ calves and the others, which they need in order to graze efficiently.
There’s a lot more calf – they’re noticeably bigger and stronger and they calve easily. They hit the ground running and are a breeze to rear,” he said.