June 2018

More milk with less cows

It is interesting that the Government is talking about reducing cow numbers and some in the Dairy Industry are complaining about the fact that this will mean less milk. In fact, there are times that the opposite can be the reality. To make my point I will use general terms, just to keep it simple. A cow needs 12kgs of DRY matter [not wet matter] per day to maintain body weight. A cow can consume 20kgs of dry matter per day to maintain peak milk. The 8kgs difference is the milk production. Farmers aim for the 20kgs per cow but sometimes fall short, so they fill this gap with supplementary feed. In the past it has been more like a filler rather than energy feed. I call this stuff junk food.

 So, when I hear the Agricultural Minister saying the cow numbers in New Zealand have peaked, I don’t necessarily have a problem. For over 20 years now I have been advocating that many farmers would be better off with less cows and to keep them fully fed.  There has been an unhealthy emphasis on more and more production and nothing else has seemed to matter for the last number of years which to me has been a bit one-sided.

I say this advisedly because I believe it also lets Fonterra off the hook in many ways. Fonterra should be working much harder on increasing the value of the product that they export which has been an unfulfilled promise of theirs over many years past. Less cows, same production and more money – that is the way of the future. I am all for the dairy business and it is a huge part of our agricultural exports but talk to farmers outside of dairying and they tell me loud and clear that we might have been putting a few too many eggs in one basket and that is always a risk.

John Barnes (Managing Director)

From the Team at Fertilizer New Zealand