New Zealand is one of those places that I have always wanted to visit, but never thought I would have the opportunity. That lofty goal of someday visiting the land of the Kiwis, was achieved in March of this year when I attended The International Dairy Federation (IDF) – Mastitis conference which was held in Christchurch, New Zealand. Isis Mullarky (a colleague from Virginia Tech) and I spent more than 48 hours in transit to enjoy a total of 8 days in New Zealand. Our first 4 days were spent in Christchurch, on the South Island, attending and presenting research at the IDF – Mastitis conference. This international meeting, held every 5 years, had 550 delegates. Third to New Zealand and Australia, the United States was represented by 30 delegates. Following the conference, the remaining days were spent visiting with Kiwi researchers, learning about the dairy industry in New Zealand, and touring the countryside.?

As you may know, the dairy industry in New Zealand is based on a pastoral farming system with seasonal calving. Similar to the human population of 5 million, there are 4.25 million cows in New Zealand with an average herd size of 366 cows. Although two thirds of the cows reside on the North Island, the cows on the South Island record the highest milk yield and milk solids. Holstein-Freisian cows make up 22.4% of the entire population, 20.5% are crossbred animals and 8.4% are Jerseys. The remaining 48.6% of the cows include a small number of Ayrshires as well as all other breeds, including many beef crossed animals.?

The entire population of Kiwi cows average approximately 8300 lbs of milk per lactation. This is obviously a lower production statistic than what we are accustomed to in our dairy system. However, the Kiwi cows are much smaller in size (Holsteins average just over 1000 lbs. in body weight) and are fed a more forage-based diet. With payment based primarily on milk solids, there is an emphasis on milk fat and protein percent, which average 4.9% and 3.7%, respectively. Related to milk quality, the average milk somatic cell count in New Zealand was 253,000 last year.? Artificial insemination is the predominantly used breeding method, with 75% of cows inseminated last year. Interestingly, services per conception average 1.34, which helps to ensure the 370 day calving interval. In terms of land use, the average number of cows per hectare is 2.83, which is a commonly used statistic in this type of a dairy system (one hectare is equivalent to 2.47 acres). At a premium, the cost per hectare is just over $35,000 NZD, which is approximately equal to $25,000 USD.?

Anecdotally, I was impressed with the awareness of the dairy industry across New Zealand. Even in the big city of Auckland, if we were asked the reason for our visit, people responded by relating their personal life to the farm they were raised on, the neighbor that dairies or just the general knowledge that the dairy industry is one of the primary agriculture industries of the country. Biosecurity is of utmost importance to the country of New Zealand, and that was profoundly obvious during our visit. Along the way, we learned several new terms such as vats (bulk tanks), sheds (parlors) and races (paths which the cows walk to get to the sheds). This “green” country was absolutely magnificent and we thoroughly enjoyed our journey. If we are lucky enough, maybe we will get the opportunity to visit again in the future.

Source: Christina Petersson-Wolfe, Extension Dairy Scientist, Milk Quality & Milking Management, Virginia Cooperative Extension