Not all cows suit once-a-day milking
Two key ingredients are needed to make once-a day-milking (OAD) a success, says a Massey University expert.
Dr Nicolas Lopez-Villalobos, Professor of Dairy Cattle Breeding and Genetics at Massey University, says at Massey Dairy 1, they are lucky to have both.
"To be successful at OAD, you have to have a good manager and good cows," he says.
"We work closely with manager Jolanda Amoore and she is very good. We have also spent a great deal of time ensuring the cows on the farm are the best suited for the system."
He says not all cows are suitable for OAD – only some are.
He is involved in a long-term collaborative project with Livestock Improvement Corporation (LIC).
"Together with Jack Hooper (LIC principal advisor) and Malcolm Ellis (LIC bull acquisition manager), we have been developing a selection index for OAD on Dairy 1," he says.
In terms of genetics, the main objective of the project is to develop cows that will be genetically suited for OAD as well as studying between the breeds and looking at variations between animals to find which breeds are more suited to OAD.
"We started with 280 cows and have only kept the best," he says.
"The number has since been reduced to 80 jerseys, 80 friesians and 80 friesian jersey cross which will give us a good mix to study. Most of the jersey cows were donated by farmers to Massey University through Jersey New Zealand."
He also says when milking OAD, there is a greater emphasis on traits other than production. Instead, OAD cows need to have good udder support, teat placement, body capacity, milking speed and milking ability.
"It is essential OAD cows have good udder support because they need to be able to hold their milk volume for 24 hours," he says.
"If they don't have good udder support, they can't hold the capacity of milk and the udder collapses. Jolanda has been very strict on keeping cows with good conformation for OAD."
Dairy 1 used to be a town milk supply farm but switched to OAD in 2013. The team spent the first two seasons culling heavily.
"It is a work in progress," he says.
"We had cows that had high genetic merit for milksolids production but bad udder conformation so were not suited to OAD. Just because she is a good cow, it does not mean she is going to fit in the OAD system."
Dairy 1 borders the Manawatu River so decreasing the herd also means less impact on the environment.
The team is also studying milk composition as OAD milk has a different concentration of milksolids.
"The concentration of milksolids is higher but also, the protein lactoferrin increases on OAD," he says.
"There is a big variation so this project will put us in the position to identify those cows with high lactoferrin production."
Lactoferrin is a protein of milk containing anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties and believed by medical scientists to have immune-enhancing properties. Those in the trade call it a "bio-active", a high value, minute component of cow's milk, also found in human breast milk, but in much higher proportions.
As part of the project at Dairy 1, 10 OAD farmers are also involved. A database has been created so farmers can identify top cows suited to the OAD system.
"Potentially, this will be extremely valuable information," he says.
"Already, OAD is proving to be economically viable – especially in a low payout year. There is reduction of costs in terms of power, veterinary bills, labour costs and capital expenditure."
Lopez-Villalobos says OAD systems are less demanding on people and cows, and less complicated. Cow body condition and fertility increases dramatically, and it reduces the distances walked by cows so lameness decreases.
"Jolanda has proof of the fertility increase," he says.
"Last season the three- week in-calf rate was 66 per cent, at six weeks 85 per cent and overall, it was 92 per cent."
This gave them the opportunity to reduce the replacement rate from a typical 22 per cent to 16 per cent which reduced replacement costs. It also increases the longevity of the cow leading to an increase in lifetime milk production per cow.
"Because of those two factors, we have more cows to select from which will increase the rate of genetic gain of the herd," he says.
"All the rest are still good cows and can be sold at a high price because those surplus replacement heifers and cows are of high genetic merit."
The main disadvantage of OAD is the decrease in milk production, especially in the first year. But farmer experience shows that, after the cows that do not suit OAD have been culled, the drop in production is smaller.
Lopez-Villalobos has been involved in the New Zealand dairy industry for the past 25 years after completing his PhD in animal breeding and genetics at Massey University.
Originally from Mexico, he is the son of beef farmers from Chihuahua. Throughout school, he studied agriculture at the National School of Agriculture of Mexico.
"I always wanted to study breeding and genetics," he says.
"Unfortunately, In Latin America, there were no breeding programmes we could study or learn from so I came to New Zealand."
He completed his PhD in 1998 on studying the profitability of crossbreeding systems for new dairy cattle. In the following two years, he worked at Massey University in a project funded by LIC on the customised mating selection programme.
He then embarked on various projects for LIC, DairyNZ and Vialactia (Fonterra) at Massey University.
"The project for Vialactia was on the prediction of concentration of fatty acids and proteins in milk using mid-infrared spectroscopy," he says.
"The concentration of fatty acids of important fatty acids and lactoferrin can be predicted at very low cost at the same time the traditional herd-testing for fat and protein is carried."
He says the work he is currently doing at Dairy 1 is not only enjoyable, but exactly what he wants to be doing.
"The work we are doing is extremely valuable,' he says.
"OAD systems are under-rated and there are a lot of misconceptions out there. But, the benefits are great once the farm management is well established and have the right cows."