Jerseys fit the environmental bill

Staveley dairy farmer John Totty is breeding Jerseys with a lower environmental footprint in mind...
Staveley dairy farmer John Totty is breeding Jerseys with a lower environmental footprint in mind. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Jersey cows have featured prominently over the years among the four generations on John Totty’s 465ha property at Staveley.

The Jersey stud on farm was founded by Mr Totty’s grandfather — a passionate Jersey breeder — in the early 1960s. Back then the farm milked 150 cows and ran dairy replacements, sheep, beef and crop.

When Mr Totty’s parents took over the business the farm was expanded. They bought a neighbouring property in 1995 which was converted the following year.

A Friesian herd was bought and for 20 years the property supported a 750-cow herd while continuing to run young stock.

Mr Totty bought the dry-land farm in 2015, which today milks 1000 cows across two sheds with young stock grazed off-farm.

Seven years ago the farm had 50:50 Jersey and Friesian genetics. Today it was about 70% Jersey genetics and breeding back towards a full Jersey herd.

The transition to Jerseys has been an easy decision, Mr Totty said.

"Every season we have increased the Jersey content of the herd and managed to hold or increase per cow production without any farm system changes. This season we have increased production by 15% while only increasing cow numbers by 10%."

The ultimate goal was to achieve efficient, profitable production.

"We are aiming to get to the point where we produce a kilogram of milk solids for every kilogram of liveweight, while keeping farm working expenses under $4.

"Seven years ago, with a 50% Friesian herd, we were doing 265,000kg of milk solids. Now we are achieving 385,000kg of milk solids with a predominantly Jersey herd, at a lower cost. As a bonus, our Fonterra cheque is always ahead of the company average too."

Mr Totty’s first year on the farm saw a severe drought force the decision for once-a-day milkings.

"The Jerseys powered through but the Friesians sulked and had to go back on twice a day when the drought broke to get their appetites up."

Up until this season the farm had split the herds by breed, but this year the herds were split by breeding worth (BW).

"It has really simplified the operation. The top herd is mated to AB (artificial breeding) for six weeks using Jersey sires followed by four weeks of Jersey bulls and two weeks of short gestation dairy. Whereas the jersey bulls go straight out with the lower BW herd meaning we are only doing AB through one shed."

Mr Totty believed in the flexibility of his Jersey breed, which also includes the adaptability to variable milking intervals.

"One of our business goals was to move to a 10 in seven system — that is 10 milkings in seven days, a variation of 16-hour milkings but with more convenient milking times for staff. This season is our first employing the 10 in seven system full season.

"Jerseys have around a 30-hour holding capacity versus a Friesian at around 20 hours, and this is a big advantage when using variable milking intervals."

There had also been low cases of clinical mastitis. The somatic cell count was currently sitting at around 100,000.

"All of these factors contribute to reduced animal health costs, reduced labour costs and more manageable hours for staff."

The Jersey cow was gaining a reputation for its lower environmental footprint, Mr Totty said.

In the South Island, where wintering practices have come under the spotlight, a lighter cow could be beneficial.

"In our business the environmental picture is becoming more and more important, particularly around pugging and winter grazing.

"We always try to have an eye to the future and a lighter cow that has less impact on the soil structure could be critical going forward."

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