Be cautious when using genomic bulls exclusively

Q&A: Malcolm Ellis, LIC NZ
Be cautious when using genomic bulls exclusively

Farmers who attended the recent LIC Ireland Open Day heard from guest speaker Malcolm Ellis of LIC NZ Ltd.

Farming in New Zealand for more than 20 years, he has worked just over two years with the LIC co-op which provides a wide range of services such as milk quality testing and cattle breeding to its New Zealand dairy farmer customers.

Malcolm gave an insight into current dairy farming practices down under.

* What do you think of genomically selected bulls and their widespread use in Ireland?

>>The principles of genomic selection are brilliant, and I fully believe they are the future of the breeding industry.

However, I would urge caution in relation to the use of genomic bulls exclusively.

In NZ, we have seen some of the first genomic bulls used five years ago fall significantly in terms of their breeding worth when they became proven.

I would urge farmers to be cautious when using genomic bulls.

Most LIC customers in NZ use a team of bulls known as the Forward Pak which includes the very best of daughter proven bulls combined with the best of the genomic bulls.

This is the best approach to avoid getting large variations in the EBI of your replacement stock in the future.

* What is the ideal cow for Ireland post quota?

>>The ideal cow for Ireland post quota is a crossbred cow, preferably F8 J8 [50% Friesian, 50% Jersey], 450-500kg in live weight and efficiently producing her own live weight in milk solids (1 kg of milk solids per 1 kg of live weight) from grazed grass, with some supplementation at the shoulders of the grazing season.

After using a Jersey bull on a Friesian cow to produce the first cross, you should use KiwiCross sires with a similar breed make-up to maintain the herd in the region of F10 J6 to F6 J10.

A good measure of efficiency is kg of MS per cow produced per kg of live weight per cow, as there is a vast difference in producing 450 kg of MS from a 450 kg liveweight cow, than from a 650 kg live weight cow, the 650 kg live weight cow needs to be offered over three quarters of a tonne of dry matter more than the 450 kg cow to do the same production.

I believe this mix in the breed make-up is needed to cover fixed costs that you have in Ireland, which is a point of difference from New Zealand, and gives a super balance on volume, solids and fertility.

* Can farmers make more money from producing less milk?

>>In a lot of cases this is the answer to making more profit.

Farmers are generally very focused on increasing production, but the danger is that they lose control of the cost incurred to achieve the increase — there needs to be a higher awareness of margins.

Producing milk at a cost of 30 cents/litre might work when you get paid 40 cents/litre, but if the pay-out comes back to 32 cents/litre, then this leaves very little margin. In this case, the answer is often to produce less milk at much lower cost.

On my own farm, we aim for a cost of $2.80, and in 2014, it will be around $3/kg of MS, currently the payout in NZ will be around $8.60/kg of MS, which means we have a very healthy margin.

The average NZ farmer now has a cost of production of nearly $5 per kg of MS, and there are many farmers well in excess of this.

If, or more accurately, when the payout drops back to $5.50 to $6 per kg of MS, there will be a large number of NZ farmers struggling. On my own farm we will still be returning enough margin to meet obligations.

The question I regularly ask is ‘Are we making money out of milk or milk out of money’.

Become more aware of live weight per hectare, production per kg of live weight, and profit per hectare, this will lead farmers to choosing the right cow and the right system for their situation.

Your business philosophy is key, make plans and stick to them.

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