The Pillars of Sustainability

Craig Mckimmie, Genetics Programme Manager.


In 1814, New Zealand’s number one sector started with dual-purpose Milking Shorthorns. Demand for butter grew globally, so NZ brought in Jersey genetics and butter become our largest export. The demand shifted to protein, and Holsteins became the solution. Now with animal welfare and anti-microbial pressures, it’s again time to bring in new solutions from abroad.

As we look into the future of our industry and megatrends happening overseas, sustainability and efficiency are often at the roots of the discussion. But what are the pillars of sustainability for New Zealand?


In New Zealand, the opportunity of managing mastitis through genetic strategies is one key to our industries future. The cost of mastitis impacts the bottom-line of every farm, Dairy NZ estimates the industry loses $180m per year to treatment and production losses. Fonterra measured clinical mastitis at 11% within their suppliers.

“Our goal, by 2030 New Zealand will not need antibiotics for the maintenance of animal health and wellness” New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA).

Despite NZVA’s goal, mastitis resistance has no direct breeding value in New Zealand.

International genetics offer the possibility to rapidly decrease the need for antibiotics through robust breeding values for mastitis resistance, helping reach the NZVA goal.


NZAEL’s Farmer Survey returned both udder conformation and health at the top of the list of traits farmers want to see prioritised. The New Zealand Index (NZI) puts significant emphasis on the improvement of udder overall.

Daughter of high NZI sire, Joppolo PP.


One of the key pillars of a profitable dairy farm. The New Zealand target is to achieve a 78% pregnancy rate in the first 6 weeks of mating, currently, we average 66%. Dairy NZ’s NZAEL Farmer Survey highlighted that the farmer’s key area of concern is udder conformation and fertility, with a majority of stakeholders believing fertility is underweighted in New Zealand. Across the world grazing indexes typically weigh fertility four to five times higher than New Zealand, to account for its importance in seasonal calving.


Fonterra’s Animal Wellbeing Plan includes polled as a key genetic strategy. The polled genetic progress around the world has opened up exciting opportunities for New Zealand dairy farmers, to include polled in their genetic selections.

Total Feed Efficiency:

New Zealand is focused on maintenance efficiency, but total feed efficiency is measured in three parts, maintenance efficiency (ms/kg of live weight), metabolic efficiency (ms/kg of food) and lifetime efficiency (total lifetime production). Focusing on Maintenance efficiency can produce cows with a shortened total lifetime production. A cow with a higher live weight may produce less per kg of live weight, but may produce more per kg of food, and/or last an extra lactation, therefore her overall efficiency could be higher.

Dairy Beef:

A solution for improved sustainability and a profitable return.

From June 2023, Fonterra will require that all non-replacement calves enter a value stream.

Beef+Lamb NZ reports that 52% of beef production comes from dairy and dairy beef cross animals in 2021. Dairy beef has significant efficiency benefits compared to traditional beef production. With a growing number of trials, proven results, and the innovative development of the dairy beef coordinator role, dairy beef solutions are quickly becoming the future of the beef industry.

High yield dairy beef solution

New Zealand Index (NZI):

Based on farmers feedback, the development of the New Zealand Index (NZI) has utilised economic values that aim to better represent the true cost on farm. It also ensures traits have sufficient weighting to make gains or prevent a genetic slide in farmers key areas of concern. While the NZI emphasises udders, udder health, and fertility, it continues to weigh all the key traits in the national index with an 87% correlation.

Implementation of these pillars of sustainability has been made easy with the 2022 Samen NZ Breeding Guide.

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