“Not the Season for high empty rates” - Getting Cows in Calf Fundamental in Wake of Payout News

James Smallwood

As dairy farmers look ahead to mating in the wake of a downgraded forecast payout, CRV Managing Director James Smallwood says getting cows in calf will be fundamental.

"It’s not the season for high empty rates," he says. "Lactation length will be more important than ever to make sure farmers maximize days in milk. Making sure cows are in good condition before mating to help nail 6-week in-calf rates will be crucial."

In addition to accurate heat detection and putting up cows for AI at the right time, James says farmers need to be sure they are mating the right cows to the right bulls.

"On average, herd improvement only makes up about 2.8 per cent¹ of dairy farmers’ costs of production per kilogram of milksolids, which is not much when you consider that the success of a farm business hinges on getting cows in calf.

"Your herd is one of your most important assets. You need to nurture that asset and invest in maintaining its condition so you can capitalise when the market recovers.

"But that investment needs to be spent wisely. It starts by herd testing to identify the best animals to rear and mate. Without that information, you’re flying blind and leaving things to chance. That’s a risk dairy farmers can’t afford to take right now.

"At CRV, we talk about breeding healthy and efficient cows that last longer in the herd. Now's the time, more so than ever, to make sure the cows farmers are breeding are low-maintenance. Ones that are efficient converters of feed into milk and are robust enough to last the distance."

As dairy farmers continue to look for ways to remain profitable and deal with rapid change, CRV has seen an increase in demand for dairy beef over the last few seasons. James expects that trend to continue.

"We have seen a real shift in buying behaviours as farmers seek to minimise waste through good management and ensuring their animals are healthy, last longer, and turn as much grass as possible into milk.

"Right now, dairy beef could also be an option as farmers look for ways to generate an alternative income stream next year when the return from their milk could be lower.

"By being strategic around the products they use and how they identify their cows for AI, they can give themselves more options going into the next season."

News of the forecast payout dive has been followed by a plethora of ‘doom and gloom’ commentary in the media and online. James prefers to take a glass half full attitude.

"Positive news about Fonterra’s forecast dividend and insights from some industry commentators should give us reason to be optimistic.

"As a dairy farmer myself, I recently received an email update from the General Manager of BNZ Agribusiness, David Handley. He encourages us to remain positive and remember that agriculture is cyclical and will bounce back.

“He believes there is relief coming with fertiliser and feed costs falling, a greater supply of people in the labour market, and strong signs that we are reaching or have reached the peak of the interest rate cycle.

"While it’s certainly unsettling times for dairy farmers across the country, it is also an opportunity for them to hone their herd improvement and use genetics as a tool to help protect their business long term," says James.

"When the going gets tough, we know dairy farmers dig deep to find solutions, lean on those they trust, and think outside the box. This is one of those times."

¹ Breeding & Herd Improvement per kgMS as a percentage of total Dairy Operating Expenses per kgMS. Calculations based on DairyNZ’s Economic Survey for the 2021/22 season - p.30, Table 5.1