I arrived on Kenmare Dairy just at the tail end of their calving season, the busiest time of year for any cattle farmer. About a month after my arrival, with only the late cows left to calve, we began breeding season. The majority of breeding in dairies in New Zealand is done through artificial insemination. To indicate whether or not a cow is in heat we placed a strip on the top of their back at the tail end which would become coloured when the cow was in heat. Another method used was tail paint to see if the cow had been ridden by others.
Every morning there would be an extra person checking the cows that were in heat and drafting them out for the vet. So not only is this a busy time for the dairy farmers it is an extremely busy time for the vets! After a couple months of artificial insemination we put the bulls in with the cows. We had approximately 15 bulls divided between two herds, and an extra seven bulls on hand if any had to be replaced.
Our herd was bred entirely Friesen, as that is the breed that Emlyn, the owner of the dairy, preferred. The other common breeds in New Zealand are Jersey (good once-a-day milkers) and Ayrshire. Each breed has its own positive and negative points like breeds in any industry, so it generally just comes down to personal preference.
After 11 weeks of breeding and two pregnancy checks, out of 1,160 cows, we only came up 12.5 per cent empty (or open as we say). This was a good rate of empty and therefore Emlyn will only need to purchase approximately 350 more cows next year to make up for the empty and cull cows.
It was a joyous time once the breeding season was over and work became more relaxed and allowed us to focus more energy on other tasks on the farm. It was an especially joyous time once we were able to ship the bulls as they kept breaking into our garden!
I learned a lot about the different breeds of dairy cows and preferences of the cows when it comes to breeding for milk protein, fat, white cell count etc. Overall it really depends on the preference of the farmer. It is important to pick a breed you like in the dairy industry and to understand its history of production so you know how to set up your dairy and properly maintain the animal.