Just How Efficient And Sustainable Is The Jersey?
Published in the 2020 March Jersey Focus magazine
Written by Roger Ellison – Convenor, Industry Affairs Committee
What Does The Literature Say?
In Jersey circles, a lot is spoken about how efficient the Jersey cow is at converting food into profit and how easy she is on the environment compared with the other breeds and crosses. However, when advocating for the breed, often in the presence of non-Jersey farmers, it is important to be able to back up these statements with facts and be able to point people in the direction of research findings.
So, a project was embarked to review the dairy literature. This was mostly done on-line and included all the major world dairy scientific journals. This article is a summary of the literature search and is an update of the article that appears at www.jersey.org.nz/thejerseyadvantage/ sustainability – full document. The references mentioned in this article (by a superscript number) can be cited in the website article.
Question 1: Is the Jersey inherently more efficient at converting food into profit?
Almost all studies in NZ and internationally indicate the feed conversion efficiency of Jersey (gMS/kg DM) is superior to Friesians in the order of 9-13%(12,15,25,27) and as high as 18.7%(27). Differences are even greater when expressed as g MS/kg body weight – in the order of 20-30% more MS/kg body weight produced by Jerseys compared with Friesians(12,15,25,27), due to a combination of the increased feed conversion efficiency and the fact Jerseys eat more per kg liveweight (kg DM/kg BW) than Friesians(12,15,25,27). These findings apply for both total mixed ration and pasture based diets but, on average, are greater for pasture based systems(27) . For both gMS/kgDM and kg DM/kg BW, JXF animals are generally intermediate between parent breeds with a small but significant heterosis component(25).
In a farmlet study at Ruakura in 1992(2), Kg milk fat per hectare was 13% higher and protein 2% higher for the Jersey farmlet when Jerseys and Friesians were stocked to maximise net income (In this study this was 3.7 cows/ha for Jerseys and 3.0 cows/ha for Friesians). Jerseys produced 10% more gross milk income and 5% more net milk income than Friesians. The relative value of milk fat to protein in 1992 was 0.55. Today it is 1.30, which, given that most of the Jersey gains were in kg milk fat per hectare, would translate as a net milk income advantage for Jerseys today of about 12% rather than the 5% reported in 1992(2).
The Jersey difference in FCE is greater on a pasture/roughage diet(12,27), where stocking rates are moderate to high(2) and during the first third of lactation(29).
So Yes, the Jersey is inherently more efficient than Friesians and crosses at converting food into profit. This is even more true now with the relatively high milk fat payments compared to milk protein and is in the order of 10-12%.
Question 2: Are Jerseys kinder on the environment?
Yes, because of their superior feed conversion efficiency. If a Friesian herd is replaced by a Jersey herd of similar genetic merit and at numbers to produce the same amount of milk solids, the maintenance requirement of the Jersey herd will be 5.5(19)-8(8)% less than the Friesian herd. At the whole farm level, less feed required for maintenance, means less production of greenhouse gasses and urinary nitrogen(19,27). These differences should be reflected in reduced GHG and N leaching outputs from Overseer(24). In essence, without impacting significantly on MS production, a farmer with a herd containing a high proportion of Friesian genetics can reduce both the GHG emissions and N leaching if these animals are replaced with cows of predominantly Jersey genetics.
Also, the higher Breeding Worth of Jersey means greater efficiency and less environmental impact. At the whole farm level, a high genetic merit herd, (high BW) is more efficient at converting drymatter into milk solids than a low genetic merit herd and therefore has lower greenhouse gas and N emissions per ton of DM(1,34) and per Kg MS. As of January 2020, the national average breeding worth of Friesian and JxF females of all ages was 36% and 72% of Jerseys respectively. For 2019 born heifer calves the national average BW of Friesians and JxF was 47% and 76% of Jerseys respectively(28).
Consequently, as things currently sit, Jerseys will produce less greenhouse gas and N than other breeds because of:
- Their inherently greater FCE and
- Their higher average BW.
This trend of greater genetic merit of cows containing Jersey genetics is likely to continue into the future as, at January 2020, the top 30 BW daughter proven bulls that will be the sires of many of the next generation cows consist of 93.5% Jersey genetics and just 6.5% Friesian genetics(23).
Also, less wastage of Jersey improves profitability and reduces environmental impact. Reducing wastage in the dairy population is another way to improve the sustainability of dairy herds as fewer replacements need to be reared, and therefore less GHGs and N are released across the whole farm system.
Jerseys have a number of advantages in this space. Studies consistently demonstrate that Jerseys develop less clinical mastitis(14,16,20) and lameness(9,18) than Friesians and JxF. In one large NZ study, the seasonal cumulative incidence of clinical mastitis was; Friesians, 15.8%, JxF, 12.4%, Jersey, 7.6%(20). Mastitis and lameness combined account for almost 75% of total disease problems on farm in NZ(35) and are a significant cause of cows being culled.
Numerous studies also confirm that Jerseys have a higher rate of cycling prior to mating than other breeds which results in less hormonal intervention and/or improved in calf rates(21,35).
Ultimately, lower wastage means fewer replacements are required and/or allows for a greater rate of genetic gain – both of which add up to less GHG emissions and urinary nitrogen loss for the whole farm system. Fewer replacements also reduces rearing costs, thus further improving profitability.
Jersey is more adaptable to once-a-day milking systems. Milking once a day (OAD) compared to twice daily is gaining popularity in the NZ dairy industry. In 2016, 9% of herds were milked OAD for the entire season and 47% of herds milked OAD as part herds or part seasons(11). OAD milking saves energy, needs less water for milk cooling and shed washing and requires less labour. All these improve sustainability.
Like twice a day milking systems, the Jersey in a OAD system is more efficient than both Friesian and JxF cows when expressed as gMS/kg LWt. When farmed together on OAD, Jerseys produced 9% and 6% more milk solids per kg liveweight than Friesian and JxF respectively over the first 150 days of lactation(17) .
The Jersey breed is the most adaptable to a OAD milking system due especially to its more concentrated milk. This means that the negative impact of OAD on milk solids production is less(11) and, farmer opinion is that udder breakdown is reduced compared with those breeds that produce less concentrated. OAD systems are more sustainable from an energy, water and labour use perspective. This sustainability is maximised if the herd is Jersey as there is reduced culling because of udder breakdown and mastitis(16), and therefore fewer replacements required.
So the benefits of Jerseys to the environment are significant and additive and include:
- Greater feed conversion efficiency (gMS/kg DM)
- Greater genetic merit (BW)
- Fewer replacements needed due to less culling from mastitis, lameness, reproductive failure, and udder breakdown if on OAD.
- More suited and adaptable to a once a day milking frequency
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This article is an extract from the Jersey Focus magazine, published in March. For more great articles, consider subscribing to the Jersey Focus.