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Could global warming incite greater interest in tropical dairy breeds in New Zealand?

Could global warming incite greater interest in tropical dairy breeds in New Zealand?

New Zealand dairy farming is being confronted by climate change and CRV Ambreed is ready.

The herd improvement company has recently widened the focus of its tropical dairy genetics scheme, which has sparked the interest of a handful of Northland-based farmers.

Once only common in parts of Central America, South America, Asia and Africa, CRV Ambreed introduced Sahiwal and Gyr genetics to its breeding programme to meet a growing overseas demand for heat tolerance and tick resilience, combined with the added benefits of New Zealand's grazing genetics.

A number of New Zealand farmers dealing with sub-tropical environmental conditions have since started using the crossbred option to build heat and parasite resistance in their herds.

Sahiwal, a popular high merit dairy breed in Central America, South America, Asia and Africa, sires small, fast-growing calves that typically have good temperaments, ease of calving, heat and drought tolerance, and parasite resistance. Gyr, a common dairy breed in Brazil, displays similar traits to the Sahiwal.

CRV Ambreed genetic strategist Phil Beatson said while tropical breeds tend to have lower milk production than the temperate dairy breeds like Friesian and Jersey, their key strength is heat and parasite tolerance.

He explained that when crossed to the temperate breeds, the crossbred cattle have higher milk production than the straight tropical cattle. As the proportion of tropical make-up decreases, it is expected that milk production will increase. For example, 25 per cent tropical cows will have higher production than 50 per cent tropical cows.

"Results show that in Northland, 34 per cent Sahiwal, 66 percent Friesian cows in a once-a-day system produced up to 1kg of milk solids per day for the first 100 days of lactation. 20 per cent Sahiwal cows produced up to 1.3kg milk solids in the same system," said Mr Beatson.

"If used in the sub-tropical regions of New Zealand, a proportion of Sahiwal and Gyr genetics across Friesian and Jersey cows could help combat warmer temperatures resulting from climate change."

CRV Ambreed and PGG Wrightson have worked together for 30 years to successfully import and cross Sahiwal semen to breed dairy heifers for export. Their joint programme resulted in a number of crossbred bulls that have progeny in New Zealand.

CRV Ambreed is currently marketing one bull, 'Flip-Flop', whose breed make up is 18 per cent Sahiwal, 50 per cent Jersey and 32 per cent Friesian. Flip-Flop will leave cows that are 9 per cent tropical, meaning they carry the benefits of heat tolerance and tick resistance.

As no two farms are the same and environmental conditions are constantly changing, Mr Beatson says CRV Ambreed is keeping one step ahead to ensure the company's genetic offering can suit any dairy farmer's environmental conditions or farming system.