Ear samples from young dairy heifers are creating a bank of technological data for the Evans family, allowing management decisions to be made about which heifers will join the milking herd.
“The data from the sample is said to be the equivalent of having seven years of data in the herd,” Huw Evans said.
“The goal is to raise less heifers.
“The ones we do raise are much more likely to be in the herd longer based on the figures, therefore we won’t need as many replacements.
“Over the long term we can greatly reduce the number we need to raise.”
The Evans family dairy is set on the northern side of the Mitchell River at Wuk Wuk, near Lindenow, and is run by fourth-generation dairy farmers Huw Evans and his sister, Bron Evans.
The family has introduced a genetic evaluation program, coupled with an artificial insemination (AI) program that has lifted the quality of the herd.
The samples are taken at about six to 10 weeks of age.
“The data from the ear samples gives us a much more accurate picture of what they’ll be like over their lifetime,” he said.
The BPI figure – balance performance index – is a dollar figure of the cow’s potential extra profit per year based on an average of cows from across Australia.
The mastitis resistance figure and the fertility figure are the other two indicators the family takes into account.
They have been testing for the past three seasons, which means the heifers are starting to come into the milking herd.
“Obviously, the longer she lasts in the milking herd the more valuable she is.
“It looks like the program is working fairly well.”
The genetic evaluation program also gives estimated figures on traits like temperament, heat tolerance, teat length and foot angle.
The AI program uses sexedsemen over the top 30 per cent of the cows and the focus on creating better females is specific.
Huw said sexed semen cost a bit more than double that of conventional semen and the conception rate was a little less.
“There’s a bit of a risk that way,” he said. “But we fine tune the system every year.” The cows in the top group that don’t conceive after the first round are then inseminated with conventional semen.
This year, the rest of the herd that received conventional semen and didn’t go in calf were then inseminated with beef genetics, the majority to Speckle Park bulls and the following round with a short-gestation Angus bull.
“The idea is that those cows will calve a week earlier than they would have otherwise and then still be ready to go in calf again next time.”
At its peak the milking herd is about 350 head, currently there are 280 being milked, and they range in age from two to 10 years old.
The dairy comprises 80 hectares of irrigation and the Evanses milk off 100ha. Last year the cows averaged 8500 litres for the year with an average 580kg of milk solids.
milk solids per kilogram of bodyweight, so we were pretty happy with that,” Huw said.
About 65 per cent of the herd calves in autumn and the remainder in spring.
Of the two calving periods about 120 per year are kept and 50 surplus are sold.
“We’re still calving down more than we need but it’s better for the herd as we’re picking and choosing which ones go in.
“We sell the beef calves at a week old and the heifers that aren’t put into the herd are sold at eight to 10 months of age depending on what the market is doing.
“The Chinese export market for heifers is really good,” Huw said.
“Using the data helps us make more informed decisions,” Bron said.
“We’ve worked on the things we can control,” Huw said.
“We can’t control the weather or the milk price.”
The Evans’ connection to farming in the region stems back seven generations when the family first arrived in Wuk Wuk.
Huw and Bron’s grandfather, Bruce Evans, began dairy farming in 1946 after serving with the Royal Australian Air Force, and in 1961 was elected as the Member for Gippsland East, remaining until his retirement in 1992.
The team at the Evans’ dairy includes Anthony Nicklen, Georgia Fleming, Huw, Bron and their father Phillip.
The 60-stand rotary dairy, built 25 years ago, has been updated with cup removers and electronic identification.
IMAGE: Huw Evans and his sister Bron Evans, with Bron’s dog Freddy and a mob of heifers that have undergone ear-sample testing. The data has allowed the Evans family to pick and choose which heifers will join the milking herd. K361-576