Breeders of red-factor dairy cattle are using the weeks ahead of the first international conference on home soil in two decades to rally for unity in hopes the commercial breed can continue to excel.
Australian Red dairy cows are third in population behind Holstein and Jersey with more than 9000 registered and probably twice that many currently being milked. Australian Reds are a society made up of 22 member breeds from Ayrshire and Dairy Shorthorn to Illawarra, although the latter were the instigators of the offshoot that has become “Aussie Red”.
Breed secretary Graeme Hamilton, who farms 500 Australian Red dairy cows on his Mt Gambier, SA property, said the international conference, to be hosted in his home town the last week of March, would help catalyse the breed’s future direction and piggy-back off a European Union project that is helping secure the genetic future of European Red dairy cattle.
Visiting professor Professor Georg Thaller from Kiel University says the genetic diversity in red factor dairy cattle has shown them to be more resilient, fertile and able to produce higher fat and protein however there is not enough common focus on genetic gain among the various member breeds.
“The reds’ diversity is an asset that we need to cultivate,” said Mr Hamilton, emphasising production gain plus genetic diversity as qualities that need to be progressed.
He said the breed needed ideas from geneticists and input from artificial insemination companies who trade in those offspring.
Mr Hamilton spruiks the notion of breed unity in the lead up to the conference, because historically not everyone has pulled in the same direction.
“There is no need to amalgamate the different breed societies,” Mr Hamilton said.“But we do need to talk about the best use for our genetics. First we need to get people talking. We need shared visions, shared goals.”
Down the track genomic evaluation would help find the most efficient cows but whether extra funding would be sought for that part of the project was something to be decided at the conference.
“While there has been no comparison of cows between breeds we only have anecdotal information that suggest the reds are hardier. We tend to think of them as the “invisible cow” because she is less of a problem.”
Proven in the commercial world
Some 35 years ago when Siegard Blasche, imported Scandinavian genetics into his dairy at Fairy Hill via Casino, the radical member of the Illawarra society was told he wouldn’t be able to register the offspring.
Other dairy breeders found similar trouble, however the allure of genetic diversity from some 500,000 red-factor cows in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and northern Germany and their proven production record, convinced them that if they had to make a choice, the Aussie’s would start their own breed society.
These days Siegard’s son Terry milks 170 Aussie Red dairy cows, down from 200 because of the dry. The irrigated black soil paddocks, fed from the Richmond River, have cracks and now there’s talk of water restrictions. It’s times like this that he finds himself once again thanking his father for taking the lesser trodden path.
Australian Red dairy cows handle the sub-tropical heat and humidity – when there is some – and converts feed efficiently to produce higher percentages of fat and protein.
Mr Blasche’s young herd averages 3.4 per cent protein and 4.3 per cent fat, at 7500 litres a lactation with a cell count consistently below the level required to receive a price premium. First calf heifers account for a quarter of milkers.
Beyond this Mr Blasche denies any fancy management saying the Viking genetics infused into his herd have resulted in cows with less mastitis, better udders, superior fertility and calving ease.
In 2017 the Blasche’s herd was acknowledged by the Australian Red dairy breed society for having the greatest genetic gain over the previous 12 months.
European red dairy genetics worthy of conservation says visiting professor
A visiting European expert to Australia will highlight the importance of “conserving red dairy genetics through utilisation”, in light of a general decline by 16 percent of all breeding herds during the past century.
At the International Red Dairy Breed Federation conference, Professor Georg Thaller from Kiel University, Germany, will outline the European ReDiverse project which highlights biodiversity within and between European red dairy breeds.
The conference from March 22-29 is being hosted by the Australian Red Dairy Breeds society and will centre on Mount Gambier in South Australia while an adjoining tour will take delegates from Adelaide to Melbourne.
ReDiverse seeks to develop collaborative and integrated breeding and management practises to maximise the potential of red dairy genetics and according to conference organiser Kylie Boston said this could become a global effort.
Red dairy breeds across Europe are well known for superior functional characteristics and they represent a unique source of genetic diversity. ReDiverse will generate knowledge and concepts that will be disseminated to lead-users such as the breeding and dairy industry, the food sector, farmer cooperatives and farmers.
Professor Thaller, who will present at the conference on March 26 in Mount Gambier, became Professor of Animal Breeding in 2005 at the Christian-Albrechts-University and now plays a lead role in the ReDiverse project at Kiel University.
For more information and to register contact Ms Boston before February 1 on 0407 231547 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.