Herd testing is not enough

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If the dairy industry wants to breed for cows with easy-care traits, we need to do more than simply herd test for milk, fat, protein and cell count.

This is the message from Mr Bill Montgomerie, Animal Evaluation Manager in New Zealand who will be speaking at Herd '11 at Ballarat, Victoria 30-31 March 2011.

Mr Montgomerie said many dairy farmers want to breed high producing, easy-care cows (see box).

"But it takes a lot of on-farm data to make accurate estimates of the genetic potential for easy care traits like mastitis resistance, calving ease and maintaining body condition. We need records of antibiotic treatments, joining and calving dates, calving difficulties - and in the foreseeable future -, rumen function, cow temperature, distances walked, changes in behaviour and many more," Mr Montgomerie said.

The good news is that these things are recorded on-farm for many herds.

"Herds are too big for the managers to carry all the information in their heads. So the data we need to select easy care cows is recorded in a variety of forms. It's the same information the manager needs to manage the herd effectively. These days the data is usually on the farm computer," he said 

The challenge is that most of these records never reach a national or international data centre; where it can be used for maximum benefit for genetic evaluation and selection.

The benefits of data sharing at a national level are clear -it would improve the industry's ability to breed easy-care cows; and it would also allow managers to benchmark their herd's performance against similar herds.

Countries such as Australia and New Zealand have very good systems to enable herd recording data to be used for genetic evaluation; and our dairy farmers have been reaping the benefits for decades.

But neither country has an efficient or comprehensive system for sharing data stored on-farm.

Australian herd improvement and industry bodies have started discussions about future data needs. It is one of three key topics to be discussed at Herd '11.

New Zealand has gone some of the way by collecting around 10 million fertility records for fertility monitoring, and about 50,000 body condition records a year.

"But that's only a start. A comprehensive system for data sharing is not looking very likely at the moment. There is a disconnect in incentives. Unless it is very easy and cheap for the farmer to transmit on-farm data to a national or international centre, it won't happen," he said.

"The New Zealand dairy industry is committed to making these data transmissions possible. With assistance from the Ministry and Agriculture and Standards New Zealand, the necessary protocols should be developed before the end of this year.

Diary note

Herd '11: 30, 31 March 2011, Ballarat, Vic. To register visit ph 1800 177 636 www.adhis.com.au

ADHIS is an initiative of Australian Dairy Farmers', with most of its funding coming from Dairy Australia through the Dairy Services Levy

The cows farmers want....

Efficiently produce the milk components farmers are paid for.

Low maintenance costs

Perform well on inexpensive rations

Show when they are ready for conception

Conceive when mated

Walk and stand comfortably without foot trimming

Produce a live calf without assistance

Avoid mastitis

Have high resistance to diseases and metabolic disorders

Avoid injury

Maintain body condition