Fewer cows, more milk. Better breeding pays off for NZ dairy

by | Dec 3, 2021 | News

Kiwi dairy farmers hit a new high for milk production last season with fewer cows, showing that a focus on breeding higher performing cows is paying off.

The annual New Zealand Dairy Statistics report, released today by DairyNZ and Livestock Improvement Corporation (LIC), shows that total milk volume, total milksolids and per cow production were the highest on record in the 2020-21 season.

New Zealand has 4.9 million milking cows – down from 4.92 million the previous season, and they produced 1.95 billion kilograms of milksolids.

DairyNZ Chief Executive Dr Tim Mackle says it is great to see a continuation of the “more milk from fewer cows” trend because it shows a continuing focus on milking better cows and farming even more sustainably.

“Farmers are focused on developing more productive and efficient cows and farming systems, with a lighter environmental footprint. They want to retain our unique pasture-based farming system and remain world leading.”

Favourable weather conditions also contributed to good grass growth, while higher milk prices meant many farmers extended their milking season in 2020/21.

The percentage of cows mated to artificial breeding rose to 71.3 per cent (up from 70.8 per cent in 2019/20), and the number of cows herd tested is the highest on record (3.735 million cows, or 76.2 per cent of the national herd). Herd testing enables farmers to monitor and improve the quality and productivity of their herds.

LIC Acting Chief Executive David Hazlehurst says the greater uptake of herd improvement services demonstrates farmers’ intent and focus on producing the most sustainable and efficient animals.

“Mating season has always been an important time to get cows in-calf but now with a focus on cow quality over quantity, more farmers are investing in premium genetics to help ensure their next generation of replacements are more efficient than the last.”

Hazlehurst says young, genomically-selected bulls and sexed semen, which generates female replacements from top cows, are examples of the high-impact tools farmers are adopting to increase the rate of genetic gain in their herds.

“It’s really pleasing to see these stats provide farmers with reassurance that the tools they’re investing in to increase their herd’s production efficiency and reduce their farm’s environmental footprint are working. Increasing milksolids with a reduced cow population is an achievement the whole sector should be proud of.”

Dr Tim Mackle says that dairy plays a really key role in New Zealand as the sector employs around 50,000 Kiwis and was estimated to contribute over $37 million to the economy in 2020/21.

“The latest Dairy Statistics report shows that despite a range of challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic and staff shortages, farmers are working hard to keep milk production flowing, and this benefits every Kiwi.”

Download theNew Zealand Dairy Statistics 2020-21 report here.

About the Author

Vincent Heeringa

Vincent Heeringa is a communications strategist, writer, marketer and PR expert specialising in tech, investment, and sustainability. He was co-founder of Idealog, Stoppress and Good magazines and helped establish the Science Media Centre. He is the host of a podcast ‘This Climate Business’, co-founder of The Feed.co.nz, and a trustee of the Adventure Specialties Trust. And there's nothing he loves more than a good story. vincentheeringa.com

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