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More dairy farmers breeding to reduce environmental footprint

Peter van Elzakker bij de famillie Giesen, Angeren
Peter van Elzakker bij de famillie Giesen, Angeren. Image courtesy of CRV Ambreed

Dairy farmers are uping their game and doing more to improve their environmental footprint through their breeding programme.

CRV Ambreed’s Product Manager Peter van Elzakker says more farmers have been asking about CRV Ambreed’s LowN sires in 2018 with the goal to start breeding for lower Milk Urea Nitrogen concentration (MUN).

Cows bred for lower levels of MUN are expected to excrete less nitrogen in their urine, which then reduces the amount of nitrogen leached when cows are grazed on pasture.

In 2018 over a quarter of all CRV Ambreed’s orders are for bulls from the LowN sires team. Of that, 40 per cent of Jersey orders and 26 per cent of Friesian orders are for LowN sires.

“We’ve given farmers another tool that can help to manage nitrate leaching with minimal or no disruption to their normal farm management,” says van Elzakker.

“We take a lot of pride in knowing that overall there will be a reduction in urinary nitrogen concentration from the offspring of nearly half a million cows, meaning even as young calves, these animals will potentially have a lower environmental impact,” he adds.

The Government announced its plans to improve the country’s waterways to achieve an improvement in water quality within five years.

Environment Minister David Parker, Minister for Crown/Māori Relations Kelvin Davis and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor presented a working programme that includes new rules to be in place by 2020 to stop the degradation of freshwater quality.

CRV Ambreed’s head of R&D Phil Beatson says calculations by CRV Ambreed show a reduction of 20% in leaching within 20 years is possible by using genetics to breed cows with lower levels of MUN.

“It’s very encouraging that so many farmers are starting to breed in this direction,” he says.

For five years CRV Ambreed investigated the genetics of MUN by analysing around 650,000 milk samples. This research resulted in the creation of a MUN breeding value (BV) for all cows measured, as well as the sires of those cows.

While it is pleasing to see sales for sires with low MUN are increasing, Beatson says there is still more work to do in order to safeguard future generations of New Zealanders.

“This is a great starting point and we will continue to have conversations with farmers to help make a positive genetic change towards a more environmentally sustainable dairy industry.”

Farmers who start a breeding programme for low MUN now can expect potential nitrogen leaching reductions of 10-12% by 2025.

Farmers can calculate their herd’s predicted urinary nitrogen output using CRV Ambreed’s MU calculator.

Source: CRV Ambreed

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