NZAEL is the industry good organisation for genetics and animal evaluation. As a wholly owned subsidiary of DairyNZ, NZAEL operates independently to ensure that farmers' interests are represented, striving for world-leading genetic gain that make our national herd resilient, profitable, and globally competitive.

Our guiding principles

  • Establish consistency across all genetic analyses where possible.
  • Identify animals whose progeny will be the most effective converters of feed into farmer profit.
  • Incorporate state-of-the-art animal evaluation systems.
  • Be totally transparent.

The NZAEL team works closely with farmers and industry stakeholders to ensure the delivery of meaningful information to breed cows that are fit-for-purpose. Through our advancements in Animal Evaluation (AE), we enhance data capture, record keeping and, ultimately, the rate of genetic gain in the dairy herd. This knowledge empowers farmers and industry stakeholders to make informed breeding decisions that elevate herd genetics and farm profitability.

What we do

Manage the National Breeding Objective

NZAEL is the owner and custodian of the National Breeding Objective, which is to breed dairy cows that efficiently convert feed into profit. This determines which traits and information are crucial for farmers to enable improvements in genetic gain. Through it, new traits and data changes are established and reflected in the Breeding Worth index.

Maintain the Dairy Industry Good Animal Database (DIGAD)

DIGAD is the sole industry database containing pedigree and performance data on all recorded dairy animals in New Zealand. This data is used to operate Animal Evaluation (AE) runs and deliver individual BW for animals which is published in the Ranking of Active Sires (RAS) list.

Provide an independent BW index

NZAEL delivers Animal Evaluation data for an independent Breeding Worth index which ranks all cows and bulls on their ability to breed profitable and efficient replacements. Each month, NZAEL updates BW using the latest Animal Evaluation data including mating and calving records, and herd test data. In collaboration with industry stakeholders, NZAEL develops and delivers improvements to BW as part of our commitment to continuous improvement.

Update the Ranking of Active Sires (RAS) list

Every month, NZAEL releases an updated Ranking of Active Sires (RAS) list, ranking the value of top-performing daughter-proven bulls. This information provides confidence in your breeding decisions when improving your herd.

How we operate

The operating structure of NZAEL includes the:

  • NZAEL board
  • NZAEL team
  • Farm Advisory Panel
  • Scientific Advisory Committee
  • Industry Working Group


The NZAEL Board of Directors has accountability to the DairyNZ Board to ensure the investment of farmer levy is used responsibly and for the purpose of industry good. The NZAEL Board includes:

Chair: Steve Howse
Board members: Professor Hugh Blair, Ted Coats, Scott Montgomerie, Wayne Reynolds, Cameron Henderson (DairyNZ board representative)
Observers: Dr Bruce Thorrold
Associate board directors: Cherilyn Watson (breed society rep).


The NZAEL team are responsible for the day-to-day operations and improvements of BW.

Farmer Advisory Panel

Farmer input is important to ensuring Animal Evaluation is meaningful for farmers. The Farm Advisory Panel is a group of farmers who provide advice and testing to NZAEL on behalf of farmers.

The Farmer Advisory Panel was established in late 2016 and consists of nine farmers who are passionate about dairy cattle genetics and breeding.

The purpose of this panel is to:

  • Assist the NZAEL Board and Management with setting priorities for trait breeding value and economic value enhancement and development from a practical, farmer perspective.
  • Practically and critically evaluate and provide comment on research outcomes before implementation into the animal evaluation system.
  • Discuss and provide recommendations related to the NZAEL Management and Board for greater interaction between end users, NZAEL staff, geneticists, and board members.

Farmer Advisory Panel: member profiles

Wayne Reynolds (Chair)

With his wife Raewyn, Wayne operates a 515-cow spring calving operation in the Waikato.

The herd comprises 80 percent crossbreds, with the remainder Jersey. Starting with a herd put together from multiple sources, good stock husbandry and recording practices have seen it move into the top two percent nationally on BW over 15 years of ownership.

Wayne has a B.Com (Ag) from Lincoln University and spent seven years working for LIC, involved in running sire evaluations, selecting bull teams, managing the Sire Proving Scheme and breeding and selecting bulls for purchase.

Wayne is excited at the role genetics has in helping meet current and future challenges the industry faces in the areas of sustainability and animal welfare, while also improving our profitability.

Jim Webster

Jim and his wife Sue own a 110-cow dairy farm in North Taranaki. Their herd consistently ranks in the top 5% nationally for Breeding Worth and is made up of 50 percent Friesian (mainly pedigree) and 50 percent crossbred cows. They have supplied a number of bulls to LIC, CRV and Liberty, including: Waiau Max Tommo, Waiau Fatal Leo, Paladium Mal and Mint Thadus.

Jim is committed to improving the profitability of the national herd. He has attended animal evaluation meetings for approximately 15 years, served five years as a traits other than production (TOP) inspector, and completed a Diploma in Agriculture with Lincoln University.

Mark Townshend

Mark has more than 40 years farming experience with current interests in New Zealand (Hauraki, Canterbury, Southland), North America and South America. Mark was a director of New Zealand Cooperative Dairy, NZ Dairy Board, and a founding director of Fonterra. He was the co-founder of Liberty Genetics Ltd and is a current director of several farming companies.

Bovine genetics have been a lifetime interest for Mark, and his stud herd consistently ranks in the top one percent for BW. He has supplied more than 350 sires to artificial breeding companies in New Zealand.

In 1997, Mark and his wife Diane were the inaugural recipients of the A.C. Cameron National Award for Excellence in Farming in New Zealand.

Michelle Burgess

Michelle and her husband Bill, along with their two young children, run 320 high BW Holstein-Friesian and crossbred cows on their 100ha farm near Matamata. They purchased their first farm after milking a large herd of 720 cows on a leased farm. Now all autumn calving, their herd produces over 600kgMS.

Genetics has been a lifetime passion for Michelle. She grew up with a quality crossbred 'bull-of-the-day' herd, and is now involved with embryo work and bull breeding in her own herd. Michelle is also a member of New Zealand Holstein Friesian Association and JerseyNZ, which allows her to register and classify their elite females. She says, “I consider myself open-minded and enjoy networking and learning different philosophies, especially regarding genetics. I think that it’s important for us to question the Animal Evaluation system, and work to make it more accurate and relevant for New Zealand dairy farmers.”

Steve Ireland

Steve and his wife Nina own 550 cows, which are predominantly Jersey.  They farm on a System 3 irrigated property in South Canterbury. Steve and Nina have developed a herd of high genetic merit, which is registered under their stud name ‘Lynbrook Jerseys’. Investment in embryology and yearling matings have contributed to high levels of genetic gain.

Lynbrook has supplied Jersey and kiwi-cross bulls to the AI industry for 20 years. Their most successful bull to date is Lynbrook Terrific.

Steve believes NZAEL is fundamental to the NZ dairy industry, paving the way forward to deliver a national breeding objective capable of optimising genetic gain suitable for a range of dairy farm systems and ongoing industry challenges.

Steve is currently director and vice president of Jersey NZ and served on the board of NZAEL for three years from 2008-2011.

Stewart Anderson

Stewart and his wife Katheryn are the proud owners of the Arkan stud. Their herd contains Crossbred, Friesian and Jersey cows. Within their breeding programme, Stewart and Katheryn focus on profit, type, production and farmer opinion traits.

Their goal is to create elite animals that will benefit the national herd and extensive embryo transfer work has allowed them to make quicker progress. The herd BW is consistently at or near the highest in the country and the herd has produced a large number of elite AI sires over the past 10 years.

Stewart’s passion for breeding began as admiration of earlier generation breeders such as Ned Stirling of Big Hollow and Ken Bennett of Broken Hill.

Tania Riddington

Tania is a 50:50 sharemilker at Culverden in North Canterbury where she milks 480 cows, a mix of Friesian/Friesian cross. Tania started out with 300 cows and has built up the numbers from the progeny. She is no longer growing the herd, so is concentrating on genetic improvement.

In 2017 Tania was runner-up sharemilker in the Canterbury/North Otago Dairy Industry Awards. She holds a Bachelor of Science (Hons) from Otago University and was a microbiologist before entering the dairy industry.

Kevin Buckley

Kevin currently farms 1150 mixed breed cows managed by his son Scott. The cows are predominately New Zealand Friesian breeding with purebred Jerseys and many crosses in between.

Kevin’s lifetime ambition has been one of genetic improvement started in 1956 when he established AB practises on his home farm. He has been involved in New Zealand genetic improvement for 45 years starting with NZHFA where he sat on the board for 12 years. He has been a TOP inspector for 20 years and was also on the farmer panel when Breeding Worth was first introduced.

Kevin believes that genetic gain and the use of superior genetics holds the key for New Zealand dairy farmers to remain competitive on the world stage.

James Courtman

James grew up on a dairy farm and has a B.Com(Ag) from Lincoln University. His interest in genetics was sparked by his parents’ 140-cow Holstein Friesian herd which has predominantly North American and European genetics mixed with some New Zealand bloodlines.

After university he spent two years farming overseas, one in Australia and then in Chile working for NZ company Manuka. He subsequently worked for six years as a contract milker for Mark & Diane Townshend on the Hauraki Plains including two years at their stud herd Crescent Genetics.

James is currently contract milking 680 cows in Te Kauwhata. He is an equity partner in the business and an equity shareholder in another farm at Helensville.

Hayden Lawrence

Hayden and Alecia farm 400 predominantly Friesian cows on their 177ha property just south of Eltham in South Taranaki. They operate the Niaruo stud (which spelt backwards says "Our Ain '' which is Scottish for "Our Own").

Hayden has a passion for farming systems and the integration of technology and information systems holding a PhD in Precision Agriculture Systems. Hayden is also a board member of Dairy Trust Taranaki where four local research farms are used to improve efficiency and performance in dairying.

Ben Watson

Ben and his wife Stacey, in a family equity partnership with Ben’s parents Tim and Wendy Watson, farm 900 cows on two properties at Richmond Downs and a further 600 cows at Piopio. The herds are made up of jersey and crossbred cows.

Ben is very interested in the economics of pastoral dairy farming and keeping costs low for farmers. He is currently involved with dairy beef studies and how dairy beef could address the issue of non-replacement calves without having a detrimental effect on profitability.

Ben joined the Farmer Advisory Panel in 2023 and is a farmer representative on the steering committee for the National Breeding Objective review.

Other members

  • Nathan Bayne
  • Dean Alexander

Scientific Advisory Committee

The Scientific Advisory Committee is tasked with ensuring genetic improvement in New Zealand is optimised by correctly weighting traits of economic importance and using world-leading analytical methods.

The Scientific Advisory Committee adivses NZAEL on:

  • New trait evaluation methods that become available for the genetic evaluation of dairy cattle.
  • Review the outcomes of the trait evaluation methods previously adopted for the New Zealand Animal Evaluation system for dairy sires.
  • Recommend changes based on these reviews.
  • Prioritise for research in the area of genetic improvement of dairy cattle in New Zealand matters relating to breeding objectives as they affect genetic evaluations.

The Scientific Advisory Committee is made up of representatives in genetic gain and animal evaluation from New Zealand, Australia and Ireland.

The Science Advisory Committee members include:

Professor Hugh Blair (chairperson) - Massey University

Hugh is a director of Research and Commercialisation at Massey University. He has a doctorate in quantitative genetics from Massey University, and has teaching, research, and consulting expertise in applied animal genetics.

Professor Dorian Garrick – Massey University

Dorian’s research interests are broadly involved in the genetic improvement of populations through selection. Dorian views animal breeding in a systems context, involving the integration of knowledge and understanding of business goals, production systems, processing, and marketing, in concert with quantitative and molecular genetics. In recent years, his activities have focused on the use of genomic data to predict offspring performance.

Dr Bevin Harris - LIC

Bevin is the Science Leader for LIC. His speciality areas include breeding value estimation, multi trait selection indices, implementing genomic technologies in breeding programs. He has a doctorate in Animal Breeding and Statistics from Iowa State University, USA.

Dr Peter Amer - Abacus Bio Ltd

Peter is a Managing Director at Abacus Bio Ltd. His speciality areas include breeding value estimation, multi trait selection indices, implementing genomic technologies in breeding programs, economic and genetic analyses of breeding strategies. He has a doctorate in Applied Genetics from University of Guelph, Canada.

Dr Gerben de Jong - CRV Ambreed

Gerben is part of CRV Ambreed’s Animal Evaluation Unit.

Dr Ross Evans - Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF)

Ross is a Research Scientist with ICBF based in Cork, Ireland.

Dr Jennie Pryce - DairyBio Australia

Jennie is Principal Research Scientist of Agriculture Victoria and LaTrobe University where she leads a large team of scientists and PhD students.

Industry working group

NZAEL consults regularly with stakeholders that include dairy farmers, research organisations, breeding companies, breed societies, milk processors and any parties interested in the genetic improvement of the national dairy herd.

An Industry Working Group has recently been established to review the current situation and make recommendations on how the New Zealand dairy sector could achieve world-leading genetic gain. The group seek independent advice to build recommendations for change including investment, action and regulation.

The independent working group's recommendations will be finalised by May 2024. Members of the working group are Colin Glass (Chair), John Penno, John Roche, Nicola Shadbolt, and Steve Allen.

Industry Working Group terms of reference

Contact NZAEL

Postal address NZAEL
Private Bag 3221
Hamilton, 3240
New Zealand
Physical address DairyNZ Headquarters
Cnr Ruakura and Morrinsville Roads
Newstead, Hamilton
New Zealand
General enquiries and DIGAD administrator email info@nzael.co.nz

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