Dairy farmers in the Netherlands face multiple challenges which genetics can play a part to solve, CRV genetic product development manager Sander de Roos says.
Increasing regulations such as the country’s new phosphate limits add costs and restrict farmers production potential.
“There are some depressed farmers and some exiting the industry. They don’t know how to continue to farm, which has a lot to do with the environment regulations.
“We have many challenges ahead of us, and there is a role animal genetics can play.”
CRV is focused on looking after farmers and society by breeding better cows, he says.
These future cows need to be more efficient to produce milk more sustainably.
These cows also need to be healthier so they have better longevity in the herd which reduces the cost of replacements.
“Our role is breeding more efficient and healthy cows.”
When farmers breed for efficiency they need to consider many factors including milk production, feed efficiency, environmental impact, longevity.
“Efficiency is so much more than just milk production.”
For farmers to increase milk production by increasing their herd they must buy phosphate rights, selling for €10,000/cow.
“To earn that money back is a problem,” he says.
Many farmers are turning to genomics to ensure they are breeding from only their best cows and rearing only the elite.
While CRV has been leading with genomic bulls for many years, farmers are now also crossing that with testing their own cows’ DNA to breed their replacements.
Healthier cows includes things like less mastitis, less lameness and high fertility.
With labour a rising issue for farmers and the availability of technology, there are also fewer people on farms. Therefore cows need to be more healthy in that system where they are not being babysat, he says.
“Farmers still want a very high quality of animal welfare but the cows need to be capable without the farmer always there.”
Another good reason to breed healthier cows that genetically have less health issues is because of the increasing regulation of antibiotic use.
Antibiotic use in The Netherlands is already restricted.
“Farmers can only buy antibiotics from one vet and it’s all documented, and farmers need to be below a certain threshold.”
Farmers are only using dry cow therapy on high-risk cows, with high somatic cell count, and are using teat seal.
With the issue of antibiotic resistance and restricted antibiotic use, the emphasis on mastitis resistance is paramount.
Farmers are simply not selecting bulls unless they have high mastitis resistance, Sander says.
Green house gases (GHG) are under debate in the Netherlands as the country discusses how it will meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change.
CRV is researching methane emissions from dairy cows with the possibility of creating a genetic trait.
“GHG are not regulated yet, but it’s only a matter of time.
“As an agricultural company we have a role to play.”
CRV doesn’t want to jump the gun, however, and develop a trait now because it could be a measuring tool the government uses to apply regulation.
Looking to NZ genetics
More than 80% of Netherlands farmers now grazing cows outside during summer.
Consumers want to see the cows outside grazing in paddocks and the industry is responding.
Frieslandcampina is paying a premium of 1.5c/kg MS to farmers who graze their cows outside for a minimum of 120 days, six hours a day.
The milk is labelled as meadow milk.
The change to cows grazing outside is a new set of skills for the farmers and the cows alike and New Zealand genetics and pasture knowledge could be an advantage, Sander says.
“It could be that we use some of New Zealand’s knowledge in genetics.”