Friday, 14 December 2018 07:55

Breeding success with a Jersey herd

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Claire and Michael Newson with children from left, Thomas, Guy, Lucy and Robert. Photo: Laura Taylor Photography. Claire and Michael Newson with children from left, Thomas, Guy, Lucy and Robert. Photo: Laura Taylor Photography.

Otorohanga farmers Michael and Claire Newson have a passion for the quintessential New Zealand farm and family lifestyle.

They met at Massey University, where both gained degrees in agriculture, married and have four young children. 

“Neither of us grew up on farms but through exposure to the farming life — from the grandparents’ farm and horses respectively — the desire to work and own a farm was and still is great,” says Michael.

“We have worked our way up from farm workers to share-milkers to now equity farm owners, and Jersey cows have been an integral part of the success of our business.”

They went sharemilking on a high — when herds were selling for $2000/cow. By smart buying and breeding they put together a well-typed (slightly motley) above-average herd for $1400/cow.

Within six years sharemilking and rearing 30% instead of the typical 20% replacements they were able to increase the herd breeding worth from 84 in 2012 to 111 in 2018 (when adjusting for BW base shift in 2016 this equates to +77 BW in six years)  and recorded ancestry from 76% to 96% today. 

“With the consistent reproductive success of our Jersey herd we were also able to sell a line of cows every year,” says Claire.

“We have also had six bulls selected from our ‘Caratacus’ Jersey herd into CRV and LIC respectively with one in each company last season.”

The Newsons also smashed production records on their sharemiking job: the Jersey herd went ahead by 7.5% of the previous record and also set their own record at 1218kgMS/ha or 355kgMS/cow.

“We believe we have fine-tuned a OAD system where timing and feeding is crucial. Done well, we believe there is no loss in production. 

“The Jersey cow’s ability to hold the volume of high-quality milk in their udder is second to none. We get more days in milk and cows get back in calf more easily. The cows are happy, staff are happy and we have more time for our young family.”

With youth unemployment at an all-time low, the Newsons say the industry must provide better working conditions for staff. 

“We need to attract young people to the industry and with less hours in the milking shed OAD is one way to do this,” Claire says.

Rasing calves

The Newsons pay a lot of attention to rearing the ‘infamous’ Jersey calf. 

“Pay some attention to doing the basic things well,” he says. “Get them off to a good start and you’re away laughing,” Claire says.

“Warm, dry, good colostrum and common sense. Once a day feeding from day dot, do it once, do it well. It’s not rocket science; if it’s cold and raining put them in a shed. A sunny spring day certainly helps.

“While the disadvantages of smaller Jersey calves are well documented, what is not recognised well is the significant saving in pregnancy feed energy with smaller calves.”

Pregnancy is one of the least efficient uses of feed energy: 30% of the pregnancy energy requirement is left on the ground in placenta and embryonic solids.

“Yes, Jersey calves are harder to rear than bigger calves,” says Michael.

“The extra detail required to successfully rear large numbers of Jersey calves is rewarded in the rest of cow life with less lameness, anoestrus, non-pregnancy rate, calving difficulty and mastitis.”

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