NEW ZEALAND – After six years of research New Zealand and Australian dairy scientists have discovered that, like humans, some cows pile on weight and others stay thin.The results of their work could change how farmers breed and choose their cows. For when it comes to cows and milk production, there would be a proportion of the herd that produces the same amount of milk as the rest but eats measurably less.
DairyNZ scientists, in partnership with Australian research colleagues and genetics company Livestock Improvement (LIC), have just completed the Feed Conversion Efficiency Programme.
It was carried out in a customised feeding facility at Hawera in Taranaki, with a similar one in Victoria, Australia. International collaboration is important because about 2000 animals were needed to generate sufficient data and to identify genetic markers, and the costs of the research were also able to be shared.
The feeding facility in Hawera was specially designed to hold 224 calves for 50-60 days, with automatic recording of feed intake and frequent measurements of their weight.
DairyNZ senior scientist Kevin Macdonald says it was a bit like weight watchers for calves.
â€œWe fed them and then kept measuring how efficient they were at turning that energy from the feed into body growth. Then through further studies we found that the most efficient calves in growth are also best at producing milk when cows,â€ says Kevin.
DairyNZ scientists believe the knowledge that this gives them, and the fact they have now collaborated with others and gone on to identify the gene markers for these animals, could potentially have a significant effect on how farmers choose their dairy cows in the future.
â€œThe results will effectively help farmers to breed animals that grow better and could give the farmer more milk but cost less to feed. Thatâ€™s a win-win-win all round for the farmer,â€ he says.
He says the results of their work have been validated in several studies.
â€œWeâ€™ve identified a genetic trait that is heritable and the genetic markers make it easy to identify efficient and inefficient animals,â€ he says.
â€œThe ultimate benefit for the farmer in choosing animals with this trait results in lower feed costs for herds, without affecting growth and production.â€
DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle says the project is a significant one for the industry.
â€œOne of the key objectives of our industry is to increase on-farm profit through greater efficiency and to research and develop innovative technologies and solutions to meet the future needs of dairy farms.
â€œWith this project, weâ€™ve done both and delivered, in partnership with others, a really practical result for farmers. The ability to select for more feed conversion efficient dairy cows will be introduced as a breeding feature that farmers can choose from next breeding season,â€ he says.
The latest information on the Feed Conversion Efficiency Programme is available in the April edition of DairyNZ’s Technical Series. To view a copy visit dairynz.co.nz/techseries.