2021, Volume 24, Paper 17
ISSN: 2209-6612

A study of cow and farm performance during a change from a pure-bred to cross-bred seasonally-calving pasture-based herd1

Richard Shephard – Herd Health Pty Ltd, 65 Beet Road, Mafra, Vic, Australia


A comparison of cow-level and farm-level dairy farm physical and financial performance measures across a 20-year period when a dairy farm converted from pure-bred to cross-bred cows was undertaken. The study compared the cow- and farm-level changes and described management adaptations implemented to maintain farm-level performance as individual cow physical and financial performance altered with the change in breed. Performance per cow and per hectare were the primary measures monitored and compared. The farm was pasture-based but feeding between 1-2 tonnes of grain per cow per year (Dairy Australia production system 3). Key findings were: the stocking rate increased as the percentage of cross-breed cows increased; cow-production, cow pasture intake, cow gross income and cow gross margin remained stable during the transition from Friesian to crossbreeds, and began increasing again when the herd breed structure stabilised as three-way crossbreeds whilst the six-week-in-calf rate and cow survival increased whilst the not-in-calf rate decreased across the transition to cross-breeds and beyond. Farm stocking rate, pasture consumption, gross income and gross margin per hectare increased over time. The transition to the more fertile cross-bred cows improved farm reproductive performance and this reduced herd overhead and depreciation costs. The key management adaptation was to increase farm stocking rate as the cow transitioned to a smaller and (relatively) lower producing cow. Whilst the smaller cross-bred cow was able to eat and produce less than the pure-bred Friesian cow, it appears the efficiency of converting feed into milk was similar between cow types. The response by management to increase stocking rate as the herd transitioned to a smaller and less productive cow ensured high per hectare performance was maintained or increased. The gain in fertility arising from the transition to a cross-bred cow allowed the herd to remain wholly seasonally calving and this helped to maintain the low cost of production, high pasture intakes and high gross margin. This study demonstrates the superiority of farm-level measures over cow-level measures of performance and emphasises the importance of good adaptive management in optimising the performance of the suite of inputs that is a modern farm. Industry should reduce the focus on per-cow performance and emphasise per hectare measures.

Download full document here