Until the late 1960s the Jersey breed accounted for 70% of the national herd. Today it’s at 12.1% and that, according to LIC jersey bull acquisition manager Malcolm Ellis, “is a dilemma – not just for the breed but for the whole industry.
“The industry is better with Jerseys. It is one hell of a breed that’s worth fighting for and there’s a lot to be excited about now and in the future with the work we’re doing.
“Based on the amount of milksolids they can produce for each kg of liveweight, Jerseys have a tremendous reputation for being a highly efficient breed and I’ve seen farmers make this breed work across all systems.
“A system 5 Jersey farm I visited recently, for example, has a top cow just short of 500kg liveweight – and it’s going to hit a tonne of milksolids this season. Their two-year-olds consistently exceed 600kg milksolids in their first lactation which is 1.18 times their liveweight.
“That’s massive and it doesn’t stop there – in system 3 and 4 farms I’ve seen 400kg Jerseys nailing up to 460kg milksolids each while system 1 and 2 rockets are also cracking the magical 1kg of milksolids for every 1kg of liveweight.
“These farmers are making the breed work for them but the biggest problem facing Jerseys right now is they’re currently running fourth in a three-horse race when it comes to farmers’ mating choices and their gene pool is getting lower each season.”
NZ dairy farmers understand breeding worth (BW) as a basis for bull selection and a goal for their herd but Malcom says declining numbers mean the Jersey teams just haven’t been up there in recent years so some have understandably made the switch to the popular Kiwicross.
“The Jerseys have got to regain BW respect because I know in this game if you don’t rock on the wall chart then you don’t perform because that is what farmers base their decisions on.
“They’re in a race against time to recapture genetic gain but we’ve got to balance that with diversity in the genes too.”
The Kiwicross cow is the most popular in NZ but Ellis says its continuity is enhanced with strong parent breeds, Jersey and Holstein Friesian, which allows the blend of traits that farmers want.
“Dairy genetics is about understanding and predicting market signals so we can then apply scientific logic to the selection of young bulls which will sire the cows which will produce the milksolid componentry required in the future.
“The Jersey cow is known for her high fat production and efficiency so her inclusion either as a purebred or contributor to KiwiCross sires is of huge benefit for the industry.”
Ellis left behind 22 years of dairy farming Jerseys for the LIC job 18 months ago and his goal is clear.
“My number one responsibility at LIC is to produce two Jersey bull teams (Daughter Proven and Forward Pack) that Jersey farmers are proud of and that KiwiCross and Holstein Friesian farmers can’t resist.
“We’re always going to have the Jersey demand for that first mating because it gets farmers to a crossbred but my challenge is to get that farmer to want to go Jersey again and for that to happen Jerseys have got to become more competitive against those other breeds.”
Embryo transfers will play a big part in that, allowing multiple bulls to be sourced from the country’s top Jersey cows and a lifetime of progeny to screen in just one year.
As part a new programme this year, 45 of the most elite Jersey yearlings from across the country will be farmed in Waikato and undergo embryo transfers in addition to standard AB mating to create what Ellis describes as an “explosion of elite genetics” with up to 440 high quality Jersey offspring for the national herd from just one season.
For now and for the upcoming spring mating, Ellis describes this year’s LIC Jersey teams as a “massive step in the right direction” with a combination of high BW, solid ancestry and strength in liveweight and udders.
The newly formatted Forward Pack is made up of the highest BW ranked Jersey Daughter Proven bulls and supported by a number of genomically selected bulls.
“The Forward Pack is new this year but it simply offers farmers the best of the best in their breed of choice.
“But no matter what your breed, I’d encourage you to take a good look at what we’ve got this year in Jersey.
“And keep watching this space too, because with a combination of science, rock solid ancestry and extreme depth of pedigree, the future for Jerseys is looking much brighter from where I’m sitting.”
To learn more about LIC’s plans for Jerseys, farmers are invited to chat with Ellis at the National Fieldays, Mystery Creek, next month. LIC's site is at Ex22, on the corner of D & Bank Streets.