Breeding a dairy cow for the future should take economic and environmental changes into consideration. That's according to Tasmanian dairy farmer James Greenacre.
James and wife Sophie are equity partners in a 1150-cow operation at Cressy, just south of Launceston in Tasmania with Rob and Jo Bradley.
At 30 years old, he wants to build a robust farm business that thrives in the industry long-term - regardless of the macro and micro-economic or social conditions.
"I'm looking to breed the most efficient cow, so in the back of my mind, when the $4 (a kilogram of milk solids) milk price comes, or the government comes in and says we have to cut herd numbers by 20 per cent or something, we are in a position to take it as an opportunity rather than something that would completely undermine our business," he said.
Mr Greenacre looks across the Tasman for an insight into what might occur in Australia.
"You speak to farmers in New Zealand who were milking 1100 cows and are now milking 950 but they produce just as much," he said. "That sort of pressure, to reduce cow numbers, might come here at some point."
That's where data will play a role in future-proofing his business.
The farm Mr Greenacre manages has recently joined DataGene's Ginfo project, the industry's national reference database of genomic information.
As part of this industry project, they will genomically test their rising two-year-old heifers before they are joined to calve next year.
Genomic testing uses DNA patterns to determine an animal's genetic merit for traits, such as production and fertility, that otherwise wouldn't have been known until the heifer had calved and was milking.
Mr Greenacre wants to use this genomic information for joining. Practically, this would mean higher genetic merit heifers would be used to breed herd replacements. Those with lower genetic merit would either be joined to beef or culled.
In time, Mr Greenacre hopes genomics will guide culling and breeding decisions within the herd.
"For me, genomic testing is about getting a bit more certainty and robustness around culling decisions and herd-testing data. It could be used in conjunction with herd tests," he said.
For the past two years, the farm has grown 47 per cent thanks to retaining all female animals and buying some additional cows.
Now herd numbers have stabilised, they want to limit "passengers" and make sure they are milking the most efficient animals.
The "liquorice all-sorts herd" has been put together over the past six years and includes mostly crossbreds with some Red breed cows from the highly ranked Balanced Performance Index (BPI) Graham herd from Pyree, NSW.
The herd's average liveweight is about 480kg with average production at about 460 kilograms of milk solids across a 300-day lactation. The herd calves seasonally from August 10 until the middle of October and eats about one tonne of grain, 300 kilograms of turnips, four tonnes of pasture and silage. Cows are wintered off-farm.
The farm is 400ha with 250ha under pivot irrigation. The dryland is "pretty much useless" from late spring through to April, which means the summer stocking rate its "quite heavy" at 4.5 cows/ha.
This management system is considered when Mr Greenacre selects bulls - fertility is the biggest factor in bull selection.
He uses DataGene's Good Bulls App to rank bulls on Balanced Performance Index before selection.
"We are slowly moving towards the New Zealand-type cow, so I look through a New Zealand catalogue and then from that I look at the Good Bulls Guide to see what these bulls do in Australia," Mr Greenacre said.
"I then rule them out based on fertility and cost comes into it. I also look at production and then I really look at stature - their capacity - I really like capacious cows."
Mr Greenacre's breeding vision includes a Holstein/Jersey Kiwi-cross type cow with Red Breed infusion but he is "more than happy" to crossbreed his way to achieving this "type" of cow.
Increasing the genetic merit of their herd held the key to unlocking future profitability, he said.
Contact: DataGene, phone (03) 9032 7191 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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