Queen of Calves

Wednesday August 24, 2016

An improvement to dairy’s economic and environment impact


The dairy industry is working at improving dairy economic and environmental impacts on many fronts.


In the field we have walked across on-farm bridges which cost over $50,000 to keep cows out of streams you could straddle in a good stride, and we’ve seen riparian strip fencing and plantings that have encouraged fish back into Taranaki streams.


The whole matter of water quantity and quality associated with irrigated dairy production is coming under scrutiny from many directions, despite the fact that the shift to irrigated dairy production and exports has driven much of our growth in the last twenty or thirty years.


The quandary facing irrigated dairy production now is how to maintain production while reducing the water needed for irrigation and reducing the nutrient runoff from that production. One logical solution being researched in the industry is to obtain the same amount of production profitably, economically and with fewer cows grazing on the dairy farms producing less nutrient runoff.


Two things to concentrate on are firstly lifting the production per cow, and secondly increasing the 50% to 60% share of calves who enter and stay in the herd for more than three lactations. Industry organisations including DairyNZ and Livestock Improvement Corporation (LIC) are developing and promoting a number of industry guidelines aimed at improving this performance as part of dairy Good Management Practice, GMP.


Feeding the calves better


Kel Sanderson and Natalia Fareti have applied agricultural science and economics to assess the profitability and the economic and potential environmental impacts of an improved calf-raising system, developed by a private company, Bell-Booth, and researched by Massey University.


The Massey trials showed that the cows raised as calves on the Queen of Calves system produced on average 30kgs of Milk Solids more per lactation than the general herd. They also had a higher survival rate in the herd to later lactations.


Producing more from less


Applying these findings to a ‘national average’ herd of 500 cows in milk would produce 17% more Milk Solids on a grazing ‘footprint’ (or amount of feed) 5% smaller than the current herd. This provides a good lift to profit, needless to say.


Alternatively, the herd could maintain the same production as at present with only 454 cows in milk, and the grazing ‘footprint’ including that for replacement heifers would be 13% less. This reduced feed requirement could be achieved on the same land area, but with a lower rate of irrigation and less supplementary feed.


With the greater survival by Queen of Calves cows, only 16% of the herd would be replaced each year compared with the 24% average at present. So everyone is winning, even the cows!