Breeding more efficient animals could help unlock profitability and environmental gains for Tasmanian dairy farmers, according to a new project.
This comes as consumer pressure mounts on agricultural production to improve its on-farm and supply-chain environmental credentials.
The project, led by DairyTas and supported by LIC, the Tasmanian Government and Serve-Ag, investigated how the Tasmanian dairy industry could reduce carbon emissions.
Central to the findings was the need to breed a cow that produces high milk solids relative to its live weight, while lasting longer in the herd.
Former DairyTas sustainable dairying adviser Rachel Brown said genetics was an obvious starting point for the investigation, as cattle produce 60 to 65 per cent of the emissions from the state’s industry.
“This project showed you can milk less cows, but milk better cows,” Dr Brown said.
“With the right animals you can focus on profitability, not production.
“With the right cows and the right genetics, it flows through the whole business, and you can have good people, who can run the farm well.
“Finding good staff is always a challenge and finding good people to run very large herds well, is even harder.”
Research from New Zealand’s Lincoln University Dairy Farm, included in the project, showed a 12 per cent reduction in emissions from milking fewer, higher-producing cows, reducing supplements, nitrogen fertiliser inputs and improving pasture management.
This project was a first for the Australian dairy industry and it drew on research from across the Tasman, specifically the HoofPrint breeding index developed by LIC.
The HoofPrint index allows farmers to select bulls based on their predicted ability to generate daughters who produce less methane and nitrogen per kilogram of milk solids over the animal’s entire life.
Dr Brown said tapping into the New Zealand dairy industry not only provided access to world-leading research, but this science was also applicable for Tasmania because of climate and farm system similarities.
Breeding for environmental and business gains requires a focus on the production and longevity of individual cows, according to New Zealand-based LIC environment and welfare manager Tony Fransen.
“It’s the right cow producing the right levels, driving overall efficiency,” he said.
“Then there’s lifetime efficiency — is the cow getting in calf every year? Is it early in the season? Does she have the health and conformation traits that means farmers keep her around longer?”
Mr Fransen said the next step to improving the environmental credentials and profitability of every generation, would be using sexed semen to breed from the best animals in each herd.
Dairy farmers can find the project’s ‘10-step guide’ on the Dairy Australia website.