After forty years working as an AI technician for Livestock Improvement Co, Alex Macmillan (81) now farms beef cattle at Pipiwai, Northland.
So says Livestock Improvement Corporation (LIC) chief scientist Richard Spelman.
“They want to have confidence that the animals that are generating the milk products have good animal health and the well-being of those animals is at the level required. That is really important for the sustainability of our industries,” Spelman told Dairy News.
The multi-million dollar seven year programme announced at the Fieldays will drive improvements in the health and wellbeing of the national dairy herd and a step-change in sustainable milk production. Called Resilient Dairy: Innovative Breeding for a Sustainable Future, LIC is leading the programme with investment and support from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and DairyNZ.
It will invest in new disease management technologies and advancements in genomic science to improve cow productivity, and produce better cows with improved health, wellbeing and environmental resilience.
“Three things come into that,” Spelman explains. “One is developing new tests to firstly allow the farmer to know the disease status or the health status of their animals.”
They can use those tests and they can be provided directly to the processor which can then give proof to the consumer that our animals are monitored and the facts behind that.
“That data can then also come into LIC where we have the ability to combine that with our breeding programme. So as well as giving the farmer a diagnostic test, we can also start breeding for those traits of interest for the farmers.
“It gives the ability to validate what consumers want but also enhance that genetically for the future.
“That is one very strong component of the programme.”
A lot of the work on genetic gain is based on genomic evaluations. Currently LIC and CRV operate those outside of a national framework.
“So we have a piece of work with DairyNZ as well on how to bring genomic evaluation to a national level. But what we are trying to test first is ensuring that the two companies that have invested heavily into these programmes can retain the intellectual property that they have generated or invested in but give farmers a more independent view of genomic evaluations.
“That is the second real component of where we are heading.
This is new work but builds off the capability that they have developed.
“Over the last 5 or 10 years we have used a lot of genomic technology within our business. We have worked out how to deal with DNA sequence technology. The cost has decreased incredibly. It cost $50million to sequence an animal 10 years ago and now it costs about $1000.
“We are now starting to look at how we can use that DNA technology in a diagnostic setting so it is transferring knowledge into quite a different area rather than just our breeding scheme.”
Spelman says if you look back 20 years ago we were breeding pretty much primarily for milk production. The breeding work at the time was focused around fat, protein and volume with a bit of liveweight.
“Where we are today breeding worth has a lot of other traits of interest in there, and the emphasis on milk production is actually less than 50%.
“If we look ahead 10 years I will expect that will further change and we will see further or traits added to breeding worth which will not be production but they will be around animal health, they will be around survivability of animals. And it will be about the well-being and environmental aspects.
“So this research is getting some of the groundwork in place for the new traits of interest that will come into BW in the next five or 10 years.
“Our consumers are expecting not just a dairy product – it is a dairy product they will expect comes from a reputable source and that is really important for our industry to be sustainable in the future.”
Spelman says pockets of similar work are occurring overseas. “The Europeans for whatever reasons seem to be more exposed to the consumer voice so they are researching in these areas as well.
“We have kind of followed Europe in the past and with this one here we are the same as well.”