Over 90% of the New Zealand dairy industry is based on seasonal totally grass fed production. Whole herds are calved in spring and dried off at the beginning of winter. New Zealand’s herds average around 230 days in milk.
The average herd size in 1998 was 220 cows with herds of over 500 becoming common and an increasing number of farms milking over 1000 cows. As a result cows can have intensive grazing competition as well as long distances to walk each milking to and from the dairy. Because of these factors the average production yields of New Zealand dairy cows are generally lower than in countries where the feeding of meal and concentrates as well as year round milking is the normal practice.
For New Zealand dairy farmers the production yields are offset by lower farm input costs, the main focus being the grazing of sufficient, good quality grass. Farm profit is often measured by EFS (Effective Farm Surplus), the dollar profit per hectare after farm costs have been paid. Milk payments are by a system of A + B – C per kilogram, fat + protein less a per litre deduction for volume to reflect cartage and manufacturing costs related to the handling of bulk milk.
The ideal dairy cow for this scenario has a 12-month calving interval, strong constitution, is a good forager, has good legs and a well-attached udder. The Ayrshire has these attributes and is performing well on many New Zealand farms. We must strive for continual improvement in production as well as other traits. We are a minority breed of 108,000 Ayrshire and Ayrshire cross in a dairy population of over 3 million, and the 3rd largest of 6 dairy breeds represented in New Zealand so the potential for growth is enormous but we must perform to achieve our potential.
A major benefit for New Zealand Ayrshires is having the highest percentage of cows 10 years of age and over of total cows herd-tested among the three major breeds. This is likely to advantage the breed with the adjustments to the Animal Evaluation system to place more emphasis on survivability, increasing the relevance to farmers and the dairy industry of TOP (Traits Other than Production) assessments of dairy cows carried out by the three main dairy breed societies in New Zealand across all 6 breeds.