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Over The Horizon

Gyring Up with Brazilian Cattle

Brazilian Gyr cattle, with their odd-shaped heads and floppy ears, might look out of place in the Kiwi countryside, but the exotic cattle are helping a local consortium produce a crossbred dairy heifer that is resistant to tropical heat and disease, and produces well when machine-milked.

Anticipating a trend away from hand to machine milking in South East Asia and South America as dairy methods improve, a Waikato-based group is in the final stages of a three-year breeding programme to find a new gene cross which will produce the ideal dairy animals for live export to these regions.

Wrightson-Wallace Breeding Venture is using a Brazilian Bos indicus breed, the Gyr leiteiro, a tropical breed selected for its milk production. Traditionally, export heifers are 75% Sahiwal semen over the national Friesian herd. Sahiwal is also a Bos indicus breed (from the Indian sub-continent) and consequently a comparatively good milk producer with exceptional survivability in tropical climates.

However, its strong mother-calf bond makes it less suitable for machine milking. Bringing in the counterbalance, through breeds such as Friesian, Jersey and Ayrshire, which have enormous potential for milk production but lower tropical survival rates, seemed to be a logical step for the research partnership.

Because of direct importation restrictions of semen and embryos to New Zealand from Brazil, the group commissioned an embryo transfer programme in the US. The Gyr evaluation programme involves animals produced as a result of both the imported semen crossed with New Zealand Friesians and imported Gyr-Friesian embryos out of the US.

Ken Cottier, a veterinarian and consultant to the project, says the group hopes to use the new genes to produce export heifers suited for milk production in tropical countries. The first heifers produced as part of the programme have completed their first milking season and those from the embryo transfer programme are currently in calf and will milk next season.

"We will be assessing milking shed behaviour before calving, but the most critical monitoring, including milk flow studies, will begin after each Gyr cross heifer has calved. While most of the production assessments will continue to be undertaken in New Zealand, a small number of the cross-bred heifers have recently been exported to East Malaysia where they will be assessed under the local management and environmental system," he says.

While Brazil has already exported Gyr cross animals to Malaysia, Cottier says New Zealand has great advantages in that it can provide consistent animals for export thanks to a disease-free environment and the efficiency of its dairy farms which produce many more calves than required for herd replacement.

Gyring Up with Brazilian Cattle Figure A (44KB)
Their floppy ears may look odd, but these Brazilian Gyr cattle are well-suited to warm climes, and offer good export opportunities for New Zealand breeders.