Environment, milk price, sustainability ‘global issues’
As one of the world’s leading all breeds dairy cattle judges, Selwyn Donald has some revealing insights into the nature of dairy farming and breeding throughout the world.
“The big thing I’ve found when travelling abroad is that the same issues that we have in New Zealand are the same issues that they have in respective countries,” Selwyn says.
The environment, milk price and sustainability are all at the forefront of the industry globally, he says. Like their Kiwi counterparts, farmers in other countries are facing considerable pressure around environmental issues and effluent application.
Some countries, or states in the United States, have a considerably less favourable climate for dairying than New Zealand, particularly in winter, which creates its own set of challenges. Along with the increasing scale of farm operations, there is an obvious trend overseas towards robotic milking.
“The other big thing I’m finding is labour, enticing young people into the industry. They are facing exactly the same problems that we have.”
An advantage he sees in New Zealand is there is a “genuine” pathway for a person to progress from being a farm manager to a contract milker, sharemilker, equity partner and ultimately farm ownership. “Whereas overseas those pathways aren’t as good as what we offer in New Zealand.”
“New Zealand to me is probably the one country in the world that’s been the most proactive in facilitating young people to come through.”
Selwyn farms 112ha, which incorporates Arran Stud, near Featherston. He is the third generation on the property.
Last season it milked 340 mixed-breed and cross-breed cows, comprising friesian, jersey and ayrshire. This number was less than usual, with about 380 expected to be peak milked this season.
“The winter has been relatively kind to us and we’ve got reasonable grass covers coming into calving so we’re hoping to have a reasonable year.
Because the property is not summer safe, since 2008 53ha has been under centre pivot irrigation and 32ha lateral irrigation. This turned some “pretty marginal” land into productive pastures.
Following last season’s improved farm-gate payout and the coming season’s forecast payout of $7, Selwyn plans to have drainage put into about 10ha of paddocks which are prone to being wet, along with regrassing the paddocks with higher performing cultivars.
This ongoing development is expected to boost production in the coming years, particularly following a season which was not great, resulting in total production of 127,000kgMS, an average of 370kgMS per cow.
“This year we are targeting the 140,000kgMS mark and hopefully the climate lets us achieve that.”
When Selwyn took over the farm more than 30 years ago, ayrshires were the only breed milked. “Now all the breeds have got to compete for efficiency. I think each breed has its own advantages.”
A trend Selwyn is noticing overseas is a preference towards more moderately sized cows, especially those with good capacity, and good feet and legs.
“When I was judging in the UK back in March this year I noticed then there’s been a definite swing of cows over there to become a more moderate size and more functional, and obviously those cows are not having leg and hoof issues.”
“That’s what we are trying to breed here as well, more of a care-free cow rather than a cow that’s going to cost you money.”
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