LIC | News


Spotlight on cow quality
31 Mar 2017

Malcolm, Mike & Greg
Malcolm Ellis, Mike Wilson & Greg Hamill

It’s estimated 1500 dairy farmers throughout New Zealand attended one of 46 events as part of LIC’s Herd Improvement Roadshow held in March.

Malcolm Ellis, LIC’s general manager New Zealand Markets, said he was “blown away” by the response among people who attended.

“The roadshow was a resounding success, and I’m sure the key messages were understood,” Ellis said. “We focused on communicating simple messages, but the roadshow was just as much about connecting with our customers, our shareholders – the people who own our elite bulls and use our genetics. One highlight was the sense of LIC community we’re building."

“A common farmer comment was ‘well, I thought I’d be coming along to hear how good your bull team is, but you actually ended up talking about our cows for an hour and a half’.”

Farmers recognised that LIC staff had taken the time to identify opportunities for their herd, and had appreciated the co-operative was seeking to make a sustainable difference to their livelihoods.

Some dairy farmers had for the past few decades done very well by riding the wave of the industry’s rapid growth, but Ellis believed the size of the pie had now “reached equilibrium,” which as much downside pressure on cow number growth as upside pressure, he said.

“That had people thinking strategically, and it initiated discussion between equity owners, for example, about their future plans – given that recent business plan were underpinned by the potential for growth. In essence, many farmers were quite adamant that the opportunity for further productivity and profitability will come through an increased focus on herd improvement. I think people have identified the scale of the opportunity."

"It’s not about LIC coming out to sell one Premier Sires straw and one herd test sample at a time. But the roadshow has certainly challenged farmers to think more about a targeted approach to breeding within their herds. This means perhaps that only the superior cows (the top 70, 80, or 90 percent, for example) might get elite straws during AB, thereby upping selection pressure in pursuit of a better overall herd. Poorer cows meanwhile can be mated to an alternative AB option such as SGL or beef.”

The roadshow had highlighted that, nationally, the difference between milksolid production between the top quartile of the herd and the bottom quartile of the national herd was 160kg milksolids per cow.

That got farmers looking at their own herd, Ellis said, “particularly given the 160kgs was calculated after age, breed, and location was taken account of and corrected for. There was an example of a farmer with multiple herds… together the farms added up to a herd that milked 5300 cows. It was a high-input operation, with cows producing an average of 518kg milksolids."

“Now they freely admitted there had not always been a big investment in herd improvement, preferring the ‘cow-is-a-cow’ mentality. But on inspection the top quartile of those animals were doing 693kg milksolids, while the bottom quartile of the herd was doing fewer than 379kg milksolids – the difference was 314kg milksolids.

“Obviously there is an opportunity in that operation to lift the bar – because the potential for rapid revenue growth is huge if they breed and milk better cows.” Ellis said there was increased interest in herd test activity to identify performance opportunities in their cows. We also had quite robust discussion about use of AB to combat bull fatigue.” 

Farmer feedback from the roadshow was deeply satisfying, Ellis said. “A farmer in Matamata thanked us in the end for material. He said ‘this is what we want from our breeding co-operative; it’s a story told with clarity’. So now we’ve got some farmers thinking really deeply about key aspects of herd improvement, and acknowledging the landscape we operate within is in fact quite a changed environment.”

The roadshows were presented by Ellis, Mike Wilson LIC sales innovation manager, and Greg Hamill, LIC genetics business manager.

Key Messages

  • Cow numbers consistently grew by about 100,000 per annum between 1994 and 2014, peaking at 5 million in 2014. Today the cow population sits at 4.92 million.
  • According to Ellis, the rapid, organic, growth in cow numbers of the last 20 years appears to have reached ‘capacity’ in New Zealand.
  • Driving forces behind this include tighter central and regional government regulations, changing land uses, environmental factors, economic forces, and public pressure.
  • Continued productivity and profitability for farmers within New Zealand is therefore unlikely to continue to come on the back of ‘a growing industry pie’.
  • But there remains an opportunity for those who wish to continue growing their profitablilty and productivity: That is, to focus on ‘milking a better-quality cow’.



Malcolm Ellis talking to farmers at Taupiri


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