New Zealand Milk

New Zealand, with a total land area larger than that of Great Britain and a population of only 4.5 million people is one of the least populated countries in the world. All this space, combined with plenty of fresh water and clean air, makes it ideally suited for agriculture. It is therefore no surprise that agriculture, and in particular dairy production, is the most important economic sector in New Zealand. In fact, New Zealand is the largest exporter to the world dairy market.All this milk is produced from New Zealand’s vast green pastures. Because of New Zealand’s favourable climate cows can be outside and graze all year long which allows them to behave and eat much more naturally. This is very different with the situation in most dairy producing countries in other parts of the world, where cows are kept indoors for a lot of the year and need to be fed grass stored from summer (forage) with grain added.
The New Zealand dairy sector has perfected a highly effective grass-based dairy farming system, which increasingly is looked at by the rest of the world as a future model for sustainable dairy farming.

For such a system to work well, the cow must be allowed to eat as much grass as it can while roaming freely on large areas of grassland, rather than relying on a diet of forage and grain. After all, by design dairy cows are ideally suited to convert large quantities of pasture into high-quality milk

In New Zealand, all cows are carefully managed to have calves in late winter to early spring, just in time for the plentiful spring grass growth. This is crucial to optimizing our milk milk production. The weeks following the baby calf’s arrival coincide with the time when grass in the pasture is at its lushest and highest in nutrients. As winter approaches and the grass doesn’t grow as much, the needs of the mother cow for milk production also become less as the calf is now grown and no longer needs milk anymore.

Over the years the cows in New Zealand have become increasingly suited and adapted to this system. Compared to American cows they tend to be smaller and produce more concentrated milk (see Table)

 New Zealand Cows  American Cows
Body weight (kg) 495 565
Milk (kg) 5,300 5,882
Milk fat (%)  5.03 4.28
Milk protein (%) 3.74 3.50
From: Proc. New Zealand Soc. Anim. Prod. (2002) 62: 246-251

The same study also looked at the effect of grain feeding. The next table shows that although cows fed a typical New Zealand diet of only pasture (i.e. grass) produced less milk, their milk was richer in protein and fat, compared to those supplemented with grain.

  Pasture  diet Grain supplemented diet
Milk (kg) 5,300 7,304
Milk fat (%) 5.03 4.60
Milk protein (%) 74 2.65
From: Proc. New Zealand Soc. Anim. Prod. (2002) 62: 246-251

This study shows that indeed New Zealand cows are very well adapted to producing milk of high quality from a pasture diet. Total milk yield per cow is lower with a pasture-based system, but this is easily compensated for by the larger herd sizes in New Zealand, which is no problem for a country with vast meadows of rich grass throughout.

Page    1,   2,    3,   4