When making mating decisions for their 180-cow friesian herd, Sharon’s first criteria is Breeding Worth (BW). She selects bulls only from the top 50 of the Ranking of Active Sires list and with shorter stature. After that, she looks at fertility, somatic cell count and udder support.
“In terms of stature we already have reasonably large cows and don’t want them getting any bigger,” she says. “Udder support becomes critical over time as we want milkers that stay in the herd for as long as possible, and fertility is something we always focus on, rather than relying upon CIDRs (Controlled Internal Drug Releasers) or other treatments to get the cows cycling.”
Sharon says they have a clear goal to deliver a high-performing cow that can hold its own consistently through the season on the system two farm.
She and George make it a priority to monitor herd performance throughout the season. They do five herd tests a year: two prior to mating, one before Christmas and two after Christmas.
Despite the tougher milk price conditions, Sharon is adamant they keep herd tests in place.
“We have a smaller herd and a relatively low stocking rate, so we need to know every one of our cows is performing through the entire season. Herd testing is a vital tool.”
She pays close attention to age group performance and how individual cows within those age bands are managing.
Sharon scrutinises the initial ‘lab strip’ data to identify any cows with poor production or high somatic cell counts. Milk quality is another priority for the couple, who regularly earn milk quality certificates from Fonterra and aim to keep the herd’s average bulk somatic count under 150,000.
Both Sharon and George have been long-time advocates of weighing all stock. They weigh their milking herd every second year to increase the accuracy of BW in their cows. They also regularly weigh young stock during their first two years to monitor growth and detect any health issues.
Early in their farming career, the couple invested in a set of Allflex scales with two other farming couples.
Weighing has been vital in determining a start point for newborn calves when trying to achieve an appropriate weaning weight, Sharon says.
“It shows us the differences in birthweights and makes us more aware of calves which are inherently smaller animals.”
Sharon and George also body condition score their milking herd four times yearly. This gives them an objective assessment of their herd which is used for management decisions.
Sharon aims for maximum days in milk (usually drying off early May) and says once-a-day milking is a great option for managing low-condition cows, while maintaining days in milk.
“It enables us to maximise production without slicing condition off the herd. We’ve found once-a-day is an excellent means to help cows get back up to weight and once they get there we may put them back on twice a day, especially if it’s earlier in the season.”
The couple maintain detailed herd records throughout the season with accurate entries into MINDAPro for any calving or health issues, mastitis treatments or events.
“At the end of the season we can look back and identify any issues that may have been herd issues, or simply individual cow issues, and make some decisions accordingly to prevent them happening again,” Sharon says.
“All our new-born calves are tagged in the paddock with a temporary neck band to minimise mix-ups, and we require DNA checking only for the occasional uncertain pairing.”
In the long-term, Sharon is working to breed a slightly smaller friesian cow and she’s targeting an average liveweight of 520kg in the herd.
“In short, we're looking for an efficient cow that it's a joy to milk and we want to have her for as many lactations as possible.”
Here are steps being taken by Sharon and George Moss to improve the genetics in their herd.
- Selecting a bull team
The Mosses choose AI bulls which rank highly for BW. They then refine their bull team to include only bulls which are strong in fertility, somatic cell count, udder overall and with shorter stature.
- Recording parentage
Sharon diligently records matings and calvings to ensure accurate parentage for every animal in the herd.
- Measuring cow performance
- Completing five herd tests per season.
- Weighing every heifer regularly from birth to two years old.
- Weighing the milking herd every second year.
- Body Condition Scoring the milking herd four times/year.
For more help choosing the right bulls for your herd, visit dairynz.co.nz/bullteam.
This article was originally published in Inside Dairy February 2017