Ground-breaking science in a 'cow-friendly' town

SUE O'DOWD
Last updated 09:30 10/04/2014
Among those involved in DairyNZ's feed conversion efficiency trial at the Taranaki Agricultural Research Station at Hawera were, from left, DairyNZ scientist Kevin Macdonald, WTARS manager Brett Thomson, research technician Cec Stringer, DairyNZ chief scientist Eric Hillerton, Taranaki Agricultural Research Station chairman Brendan Attrill, DairyNZ scientist Garry Waghorn and former TARS chairman David Hopkins.
SUE O'DOWD/Fairfax NZ

CONTRIBUTORS: Among those involved in DairyNZ's feed conversion efficiency trial at the Taranaki Agricultural Research Station at Hawera were, from left, DairyNZ scientist Kevin Macdonald, WTARS manager Brett Thomson, research technician Cec Stringer, DairyNZ chief scientist Eric Hillerton, Taranaki Agricultural Research Station chairman Brendan Attrill, DairyNZ scientist Garry Waghorn and former TARS chairman David Hopkins.

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The contribution of technicians to ground-breaking science undertaken in the "cow-friendly" town of Hawera has been acknowledged by DairyNZ.

The organisation shouted lunch to about 50 South Taranaki people who assisted with the award-winning research at a Hawera research facility.

David Hopkins, who chaired the Taranaki Agricultural Research Station Trust (TARST) when research into feed conversion efficiency began in 2007, said the station's technicians did hundreds of thousands of animal weighings and blood samples.

The station's size and the staff's skill base allowed the research, originally expected to be carried out in the Waikato, to be undertaken in Taranaki. Essential to its success were the facilities at Westpac Taranaki Agricultural Research Station (WTARS) and the trust's relationship with Fonterra and Dairy NZ .

"The project required passion and commonsense and to be an economic reality - and we had it all here. Ground-breaking science has been undertaken right here in Taranaki.

"Research like this hasn't been done anywhere else in the world. Hawera is a cow-friendly town and local belief [in science and the dairy industry] is very important. Good science is of value to farmers and to the industry."

The success of the research was worth millions of dollars to the industry year-on-year.

"Producing 3 per cent more milk from the national herd by giving them the same amount of feed while they continue to maintain body condition and to get in-calf has enormous value."

Using bulls that were more efficient at processing their feed intake would cement the trait into the national herd, he said.

DairyNZ's seven-year trial tested the efficiency of animals at converting feed into milk by measuring intakes of 1000 weaner calves in a customised feeding facility at the WTARS. Research was also done in Australia because 2000 animals were needed to generate sufficient data.

The identification of the genetics involved in feed conversion efficiency received the Waikato KuDos NZ Agribusiness Centre Agricultural Science Award and was given gold status by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MOBIE). Only 7 per cent of the 250 science projects funded by MOBIE funded achieved gold status.

In the trial DairyNZ scientist Kevin Macdonald, of Hamilton, found a range of genomic markers that identify the most efficient cows in a herd - those that produce the same amount of milk as others but which eat less.

Macdonald said the research showed cows with the trait produced 3-5 per cent more milk than those without it. "So they eat less for more production."

Animals with the trait cost less to feed, but their growth, liveweight, breeding worth and production was the same.

The aim of the trial was to identify sires carrying a DNA marker for efficiency. Semen from holstein-friesian sires with the trait is now available from Livestock Improvement Corporation (LIC).

After finishing his research on May 7, Macdonald will analyse the data, which he expects will validate earlier results, by the end of this year.

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TARST chairman Brendan Attrill said Taranaki was blessed with good research facilities at WTARS and at the Waimate West and Stratford demonstration farms. The entire industry had engaged with the project and breeders were looking at the impact it would have on breeding programmes.

"The marketplace takes up research if it's any good. We've done what others couldn't and taken it to market."

Attrill said all farmers had cows that more efficient than others at producing milk, but they didn't know why. The research was about grabbing the mechanics that controlled that capability.

DairyNZ chief scientist Eric Hillerton said the project was science that had not been done anywhere else. More than 50 people had got dirt under their fingernails assisting with the project in all kinds of weather. "And it's been fun."

The science was complicated, had delivered something of real value to dairy farmers and had generated a huge amount of extra science that was now awaiting exploitation. "There are more questions than we started."

The science team were trying to get the research findings rolled out to all dairy farmers through better bulls, he said.

- Taranaki Daily News

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