It is early in the conversation with Canterbury dairy farmer and Jersey breeder Steve Ireland when his passion for farming and for the breed becomes apparent.
“I just think Jersey is a great all-round breed, easy to handle with superior fertility, ease of calving, better feet and legs and production rich in fat and protein,” Steve says.
Steve and Nina own 540 predominantly Jersey cows and farm at Temuka in South-Canterbury. They converted their 156 ha farm in 2003 and in 2011 added a 99 ha support block to their landholding. Both blocks carry centre pivot irrigation.
With the M Bovis outbreak impacting in the region Steve says there’s been a trend by more and more farmers with the means to purchase their own support block. He describes Canterbury, despite common misconception, as an ideal region to dairy farm.
“It’s actually an ideal climate, with low rainfall and good soils for cropping and growing pasture. From an animal perspective cows prefer a cooler climate though we can experience extreme weather at times.”
The couple have dedicated over 20 years to evolving the genetic quality of their herd, registered under their stud name ‘Lynbrook Jerseys’, supplying Jersey and kiwi-cross bulls to the artificial breeding industry. Currently 75% of their herd carries pure jersey genetics.
“We have tried to keep to a simple low-cost system. We feed up to a kilo of grain per day per cow through the summer months but our feeding emphasis is on grass, given our irrigation. We’re currently producing 430 to 440 kgMS per cow.”
The support block comes into its own in wintering most of the stock, growing kale and fodderbeet.
“Sometimes a support block can be difficult to run profitably with the cost of the additional land but it means we can carry more stock to sell so it pays for itself. High genetic animals always sell for a premium,” explains Steve.
When reflecting on the journey of jersey from once common stock on New Zealand dairy farms Steve says two factors contributed to their falling from favour.
“A lot of farmers turned to Holstein given better returns on beef. There’s traditionally been a focus on protein with milk fat seen more as a bi-product. That has now turned around with recognition by the industry of the value of high-quality fat jersey’s produce. Growing Jersey advantages are set to turn the national herd from Black to brown.”
Modern-day technologies are fully employed not only in the 50 bail rotary milking shed which, employs protrack automatic drafting and automatic cup removers but also in the decision last year to install Moo Monitors from Irish company Dairy Master.
“It’s a computer on a collar and it sends signals to our farm computer and our phones and retains the data in the Cloud. It tells us in real-time what each cow’s activity is. It helps identify when cows are in season.”
Moisture probes and high quality flow metres on the farm’s irrigation systems means that tiny adjustments can be easily made to deliver exactly the amount of moisture the paddock needs to grow grass at optimum levels. Brought up on a dairy farm Steve recalls how he and his older brother were attracted to stock genetics.
These days genetic gain has improved in leaps and bounds thanks to highly evolved embryo flushing and transfer systems.
Steve and Nina select their very best 10 cows and multiply the number of calves born from them each spring. It is common to generate 6 to 7 calves each year from the very best cows in the herd. Basically you can produce a lifetime of calves in one year.
Most resulting calves are of particular interest to breeding companies as seed stock for the next generation of bulls used over the national herd. The process of Flushing involves some hormone treatment to simulate maturity of more than one egg on the ovary.
The donor is mated with Artificial insemination . After 7 days the growing embryos are flushed out with saline solution. Inspected and sorted and individually transferred into a surrogate herd cows, who give birth 9 months later.
A number of high genetic herds today embrace Embryo Transfer and a significant number of the top performing bulls each year are a result of this technology.
Genomic selection, where a bull calf has DNA tested when just a few weeks old, has meant that AI companies are adding to the reliability of the genetic ability.
LIC in New Zealand was the very first company in the world to use this technology for sire selection.
Steve is a current director and vice president of Jersey NZ, having been elected to that position in June. The organisation has several purposes, including managing the national herd book, maintaining genetic records and registrations.
“It’s just as much though about promotion and advocacy of the Jersey breed. We also manage TOP (Traits other than Production) inspections and collaborate with LIC and CRV artificial breeding programmes.”
He and Nina also host visitors to their farm and are happy to explain how their successful Jersey dairy and breeding business has evolved.
This article was brought to you in association with the following businesses…
- Duncan Engineering
- Plunket Electrical
- Joyce Building