Herd testing can help boost dairy farmers’ production by up to 160kgMS

While the number of cows being herd tested jumped by 1.2 per cent last season¹, many farmers may still not realise its value. CRV Herd Testing Manager Mark Redgate wants to change that.

Some dairy farmers could be missing out on up to 160kgMS of production because they are not herd testing. While the number of cows being herd tested jumped by 1.2 per cent last season¹, many farmers may still not realise its value. CRV Herd Testing Manager Mark Redgate wants to change that.

For some dairy farmers, herd testing can be another job to add to the list. They may not see the upsides. More specifically, they may not see how the expense of herd testing could make them enough money to justify the financial and labour costs of getting it done. Mark Redgate understands the rationale.

“I wouldn’t spend money on things that don’t improve my profit. But making money is the result of making enough of the right decisions,” he says. “That’s what herd testing is all about – giving farmers the kind of information from which they can make better money-making calls.

“The other thing to remember is that some key information and insights are hidden. You can’t know what’s really going on with an individual animal without this kind of testing.”

The gap between best and worst performers

160kgMS is a stat Mark likes to talk about with farmers. 160kgMS per year is the production difference between the top 20 per cent of a farmer’s cows and the bottom 20 per cent. That represents a big gap in revenue between these two groups of animals.

It makes financial sense to know which cows are in the top 20 per cent. You breed from these animals to increase the productivity of your herd.

Knowing which cows are in the bottom 20 per cent can also be profitable. The worst performers can be culled or bred for dairy beef, while animals with genetic potential can be inseminated with sexed semen or targeted with specific traits to boost the productivity potential of their progeny.

But which ones are which?

When Mark talks about identifying the top and bottom performers, many farmers feel confident they know their cows. There’s no denying farmers observe their animals every day. They watch their cows’ behaviour and can see who the best producers are.

Unfortunately, looks can be deceiving. Mark explains.

“Take the cow with high milk volume. Her quantities suggest she’s a good money earner, but farmers are not paid strictly by volume; they’re paid on milk fat and milk protein, neither of which can be discerned with the naked eye.

“But a test of 30ml of milk from that cow will reveal the exact composition of her milk and the true profitability of that animal. Farmers are often surprised at how BEST and WORST performers are reordered after a herd test."

“The same is true for animal health. We’ve tested herds and discovered cows that they were carrying mastitis but were asymptomatic. That means these cows weren’t going down sick themselves but were happily spreading mastitis throughout the herd.

“There’s no way to detect that visually. But we can spot a dangerous somatic cell count from that 30ml test of milk.

“By capturing your herd test results in myHERD, you can interpret and link the data to help you make better decisions.”

From the same 30ml milk sample, additional testing can be carried out for BVD and Johnes disease, cows’ A2/A2 Beta Casein status, any staphylococcus infections, as well as non-invasive pregnancy testing.

An essential addition to your ‘to do’ list

“We understand that farmers are constantly battling an endless list of things to do. They’ve got cows that are empty, and animals struggling with eczema. The idea of spending money on a herd test seems more trouble than it’s worth, especially if that test might lead to the culling of animals. But this is precisely where a herd test shines.

“In a herd’s bottom 20 per cent, there are animals that will continually drain resources and cost farmers money. But there are also animals in that lower 20 with the genetic potential to be among a farmer’s best performers. Based on milking stats alone, they look the same. So which ones are which? Herd testing will tell us.

“Not only will a herd test separate the definite losers from the potential winners, it will also tell us what specific breeding traits need to be used to make sure their off-spring are healthy and efficient. CRV can match the right bulls with that cow to help fill in the genetic gaps.”

No people to spare? No worries!

Some companies require farmers to self-sample for a herd test. That means collecting and labelling and supplying the milk samples. Many don’t have the time or the people to spare, especially when Covid, border closures and a low unemployment rate have been causing industry-wide labour shortages.

CRV takes a different approach.

“We supply herd testing technicians, who come out to the farm and collect the samples. We can even measure individual cow milk yield right there and then on farm. There’s almost nothing the farmer needs to do. When the test data comes in, we then arrange to come back to the farm to talk over the results and key findings.

“As I said earlier, farming is a business and being profitable is the result of making decisions that lead to better milk, and more of it. That’s what herd testing is about – giving farmers crucial information to help them achieve the goals of their farm business.”

Mark Redgate