Genetics will play a key role in helping dairy farmers meet climate targets at a herd level, while maintaining the highest quality milk production, says CRV managing director James Smallwood.
Farmers using genetics to breed hornless animals is a growing trend. Polled genetics save time and the expense of disbudding calves. And with less stress on the animals, it's another way farmers can look after the health and welfare of one of thier most valuable assets.
More than 85% of Floyd Smit's calves born this dairy season have been polled.
Floyd milks 370 cows through a 50-bale rotary on 322ha in Okoroire, nestled in the Kaimai Ranges. He runs a split calving system and milks twice-a-day all year round on a high input system five operation.
Floyd has spent the last 10 years on the farm, which he owns in equity partnership with his mother Nienke Hartog. The farm also operates in conjunction with another property where Floyd's younger brother Pete is sharemilking.
"We first started using polled genetics back in 2015 when CRV had the first heterozygous polled bull available, which was Powerplay," says Floyd.
"We didn't have to make a trade-off between polled and other traits. He met our criteria for being A2A2, he had good type and some solid figures behind him."
When the bull has two copies of the polled gene - Homozygous or (PP) - you are guaranteed his progeny will all be polled because all of them get one copy of the polled gene. Conversely, bulls with only one copy of the polled gene are referred to as heterozygous (Pp). Their progeny only has a 50% chance of being polled.
"We could see the merits of using polled sires and thought we'd give it a try as part of our breeding programme," says Floyd.
"It's grown from there as the quality of the bulls has improved and more bulls have become available.
"Now, we're milking about about 65 polled cows, with the majority of this season's calves born polled. Not having to dehorn them removes an intervention with the animals, which is important to me from an animal welfare perspective.
"The spotlight is us to do right by our animals. Breeding with polled sires helps our industry's international reputation and is an option for farmers wanting to secure a premium for their milk through initiatives like Fonterra's Cooperative Difference payment."
Floyd also invests in polled genetics for his dairy beef.
"We've got Angus, Hereford and some Belgian Blue on the ground. We're still experimenting a bit with the polled beef product, but I definitely think it makes sense.
"With beef, you want to be as hands-off as possible. We tag the calves as soon as they are born. But after that, we want to have as little to do with them as possible until weaning. If you don't have to dehorn them it's a time-saver, but it's also better for the welfare of the calf."
CRV markets a team of local and overseas polled bulls to farmers for both dairy and beef.
The stars of this year's polled line-up include crossbreed Arkan EFD Parkway ET PP, who offers excellent efficiency and strong fertility. Friesian Costers Hypol ET PP offers excellent fat and protein, along with great overall udder traits. Both these sires are also A2A2.
CRV product manager Peter van Elzakker says the availability of polled sires outside New Zealand is large, so these sires will be critical to speed up development of high indexing polled sires from New Zealand cow families.
"We aim to make available homozygous polled sires across breeds as this is the quickest way to a polled herd. In our breeding programme we use a range of homozygous bulls, but heterozygous bulls also have an important role to play because they give us access to different bloodlines and help add genetic diversity to a herd.
"We also use horned bulls over polled animals to help lift their index and lock in genetic gains. If we only used homozygous bulls over polled cows, we'd get a very narrow gene pool."
Peter says genetic solutions like polled play a key role in helping farmers improve animal welfare. This helps maintain their license to operate and achieve a premium for their milk through initiatives like Fonterra's new Cooperative Difference Programme.