NZAEL develops and delivers the technologies that publish the independent evaluation of all dairy animals using the Breeding Worth (BW) index. This is the critical information farmers and industry use to help guide their breeding decisions to increase both the genetic gain of their herds and their farm profit.

The role of NZAEL

The role of NZAEL as the industry good organisation for genetic evaluation, is to ensure that the New Zealand dairy herd is resilient, and our rates of genetic gain are internationally competitive.

We work closely with farmers and industry to ensure we provide farmers with meaningful information to breed cows that are fit-for-purpose, through developments we make in animal evaluation.

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.

We're working towards a better BW

The introduction of an independent, accessible and internationally competitive breeding worth system is about improving profits for dairy farmers and improving the Kiwi dairy herd as a whole.

Find out more at Better BW

Independent Animal Evaluation (AE)

NZAEL is the industry good organisation for genetics and animal evaluation. It works on behalf of farmers to ensure the industry is optimising genetic gain in the dairy herd.

It is responsible for the delivery of independent AE information in the form of the Breeding Worth Index. This information provides confidence to farmers in the decisions they make to improve their herd through breeding and culling.

A big part of our role in providing an independent AE system that farmers can trust and delivers genetic gains is in ensuring data is of high quality. We guide farmers and breeding companies to improve their data capture and record keeping.

The more accurate the data we work with is, the faster the rates of genetic gain in the dairy herd.

NZAEL has a commitment to the ongoing improvement of data and technology. This includes developments in new traits of Breeding Worth or Breeding Values, or in how we capture and input data and modelling within the animal evaluation system.

Each month, NZAEL releases the Ranking of Active Sires (RAS list) which ranks the value of bulls on their BW.

Dairy Industry Good Animal Database (DIGAD)

DIGAD is the only industry database that holds pedigree and performance data on all recorded dairy animals in New Zealand. Data held in DIGAD is used to operate Animal Evaluation runs and deliver individual Breeding Worth for animals which is published in the RAS list. Find out more about DIGAD.

National Breeding Objective (NBO)

NZAEL is the owner and custodian of the National Breeding Objective. The NBO determines which traits and information are most important to farmers to enable improvements in genetic gain in the national dairy herd. New traits and changes in data are established through the NBO and reflected in NZAEL’s Breeding Worth index and other industry animal evaluation indexes.

NZAEL structure

NZAEL is a wholly owned subsidiary of DairyNZ. It has its own Board of Directors and has accountability to the DairyNZ Board to ensure the investment of farmer levy is used responsibly and for the purpose of industry good.

Farmer input is important to ensuring animal evaluation is meaningful and helps farmers with their breeding and culling decisions. The Farm Advisory Panel (FAP) is a group of farmers who provide advice and testing to NZAEL on behalf of farmers.

The Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) is made up of representatives in genetic gain and animal evaluation from New Zealand, Australia and Ireland. Their role is to ensure we remain internationally competitive and continue to advance our technologies to be aligned with the best and latest in the world.

NZAEL also 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.


Chair: Mark Townshend

Board members: Professor Hugh Blair, Ted Coats, Scott Montgomerie, Steve Howse, Jacqueline Rowarth (DairyNZ board representative)

Observers: Dr Bruce Thorrold

Associate board directors: Wayne Reynolds (Farmer rep), Cherilyn Watson (breed society rep).

Scientific Advisory Committee 

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

The purpose of SAC includes advising NZAEL Management and Directors 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 and to recommend changes based on these reviews, and provide advice on priorities 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 members of SAC 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 acting chief scientist 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 consultant 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.

Farmer Advisory Panel

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-based perspective
  • Practically and critically evaluate and provide comment on research outcomes before implementation into the animal evaluation system.
  • Discuss and provide recommendations related to user and usability matters to the NZAEL Management and Board
  • Provide a forum for greater interaction between end users, NZAEL staff, geneticists, and board members.

Farmer Advisory Panel: member profiles

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 own 360 high BW Friesian, crossbred, and Jersey cows, averaging over 600kgMS/cow in a low cost system.  They have a young family with two pre-schoolers and recently purchased their first farm of 100ha in Te Poi after milking a large herd of 720 cows on a leased farm.

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.

Wayne Reynolds

Together 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 practises have seen it move into the top one 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, with involvement in running sire evaluations, selecting bull teams, managing the Sire Proving Scheme and breeding and selecting bulls for purchase over that time.

Wayne is excited at the role genetics has to help meet current and future challenges the industry faces in the areas of sustainability and animal welfare, while also improving our profitability. He also serves on the LIC Shareholder Council and the Pasture Improvement Leadership Group.

Wendy Harker

Wendy and David farm 460 predominately Holstein Friesian cows on a 252ha property situated at Pokuru, Te Awamutu.

The Westell herd contains pedigree Holstein Friesian, milking shorthorn and Jersey cattle and are currently farmed on a System 2 type operation. All young stock are grazed on the property, and maize is also grown on farm.

Wendy is currently on the Holstein Friesian Board and was president from 2015-2018.  She is a qualified TOP inspector, Holstein Friesian judge, milking shorthorn judge, and enjoys judging calf club during the spring.

Cathy Brown

Cathy and her husband Peter have a dairy farm in Galatea on which they employ a contract milker. They farm predominately Friesian, and have often used Progeny Test bulls to gain access to young genetics. They are system 3 farmers and have looked to genetics that suit their farm.

Cathy was a CRV farm consultant for over 20 years so has a deep understanding of the animal evaluation system. She has been involved with the Dairying Tomorrow Strategy and understands the role that genetics can play in achieve some of the Industry goals.

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.

Other members

Nathan Bayne

Dean Alexander

Susanna Booth

Links to sites of relevant societies, organisations.

Contact NZAEL

Postal, physical and email addresses for NZAEL.

Postal address

Private Bag 3221
Hamilton, 3240
New Zealand

Physical address

DairyNZ Headquarters
Cnr Ruakura and Morrinsville Rds
New Zealand

General NZAEL enquiries

email:  info@nzael.co.nz

DIGAD Administrator

email: info@nzael.co.nz