Farmer Focus : Michael Scully 17/12/04

LAST MONTH I wrote that I was unsure about the future direction of the dairy herd from a breeding perspective. Staying in winter milk production will obviously require a different type of cow than what is required for spring calving.

For the past four years, we have been predominately using New Zealand genetics on the herd. The primary motivation was to breed a more fertile animal that would survive in a large herd for at least six or seven lactations.

I am now happy with that decision and it looks as if we have turned the corner with regard to infertility.

However, for the first time this year we encountered a number of calving problems with our heifers. They were well grown, but still physically small compared with Holsteins.

For that reason we have decided to use Jersey semen on this year’s crop of heifers. We will continue to use high index and high survivability Friesians on the cows.

It will be interesting to evaluate the Jersey crosses in three years time. By then it is likely we will have switched to 100% spring calving.

Rising input and labour costs without a corresponding increase in the winter bonus will probably mean an end to the system as we know it. I believe that dairy farming is going to change radically over the next few years.

We will need to be brave and flexible to embrace change in a timely and wholehearted manner. By using Jersey semen on the heifers only, we are planning for that change, while not closing any doors behind us.

Christmas is now nearly upon us and the shortest day of the year is only a few days away. I always look forward to the New Year and the extra length in the evenings.

In our part of the world, there is even a tradition of spreading the first bags of nitrogen on New Year’s day. That is weather and hangover permitting.