Science and genetics used to boost Fernside farm


Fernside dairy farmer Julie Bradshaw is passionate about the ability of genetics to create the most efficient herd of cows. Photo / Supplied

A five-year irrigation study has helped Julie Bradshaw make science-based decisions on her Fernside dairy farm.

Bradshaw also uses genetics to improve her herd, as part of her goal to reduce her farm’s environmental footprint.

Bradshaw took part in the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) co-innovation study from 2016 to 2021.

The study provided landowners with real-time data and forecasts to make science-based irrigation decisions.

This data included measured rainfall, soil moisture, soil temperature, drainage and estimated evaporation, as well as two, six and 15-day rainfall and weather forecasts.

The practical study gave each farmer a fantastic insight into their own land and irrigation practices, while also providing a broader picture of what was happening in the catchment, Bradshaw said.

Having access to precise data also helped Bradshaw and her neighbor farmers to apply exactly the right amount of irrigation and fertiliser at the right time which aided in mitigating environmental impacts.

“It was amazing. We had so much data and information that we had never had before,” she said.

Fernside dairy farmer Julie Bradshaw demonstrates how she uses data to make science-based decisions on her farm.  Photo / Supplied
Fernside dairy farmer Julie Bradshaw demonstrates how she uses data to make science-based decisions on her farm. Photo / Supplied

“[This] has helped us make decisions about irrigation and fertiliser use … backed up by facts and scientific data.”

Having these records also made it easier for Farm Environment Plans and audits, Bradshaw said.

“We can show that we have been using our water resource correctly.”

All farmers involved in the study were able to see each other’s data and this high level of transparency helped the group understand what was happening in various parts of the catchment, Bradshaw said.

“We have always been very open – it’s just information and data about water. Getting to know more about other farms is helpful because we are learning from each other along the way.”

Although the study had ended, Bradshaw still logged in to the group’s website most days to enable her to make accurate decisions about water allocation for the Cust Main Drain Water User’s Group.

The group was established 25 years ago to manage water allocation during the irrigation season when water takes were restricted.

“It has been such a bonus to be able to see where everyone is sitting in terms of the moisture on their paddocks, as this helps me to allocate the water more accurately to where it is needed.

“Not only do you see today’s moisture levels but you also get a future reading, so you can see where things are heading.”

Last year Bradshaw and her husband Peter received the Sire Proving Scheme Farmers of the Year Award from the Livestock Improvement Corporation (LIC).

The couple had worked with LIC for 15 years and the award recognised their record-keeping and commitment to having their entire herd DNA-tested.

“We have a KiwiCross herd which is a cross between Holstein-Friesian and Jersey cows,” she said.

“I am really passionate about the ability of genetics to improve your overall herd quality. Having 99 per cent of the ancestry of the cows recorded is an immense help when doing the breeding.”

Bradshaw believed improving the overall quality of the herd meant, that if she needed to reduce her stock levels in the future, she knew exactly which animals had the best genetics to meet future farming limits.

She was committed to using science to reduce her impact on local waterways.

“Genetics and DNA testing are so helpful when you think about the possibility of reducing herd numbers in the future.

“We must think ahead and use science to help us make the best decisions both for our business operation and for the environment.”

Bradshaw was also participating in a six-month farming project, which examined how the next generation of farmers used innovation to improve their practices.

Waimakariri Landcare Trust (WLT) and Waimakariri Irrigation Limited (WIL) have partnered with the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) for this project, with support from MPI’s Sustainable Food and Fiber Futures fund, along with Environment Canterbury, Ballance, and DairyNZ.

Bradshaw aims to learn more about genetics through the course of the MPI innovation project.

“We have three cows that LIC would like a bull calf out of, so that will be an interesting process to follow.

She was also keen to use the MPI innovation project to improve the quality of the grass throughout the farm.

“With the colder and wetter spring we had last year, followed by a cloudy and cooler summer, our grass didn’t contain enough sugar and energy for the cows. We want to work on that throughout this project.”

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