Prepared by: Geoff Norman

The Department of Agriculture has been involved in some form of herd improvement since the first Dairy Instructor was appointed viz Mr P.H.Suter in 1905. It has included herd management, herd testing for milk and butter fat production, feeding, disease control, artificial breeding, sire and breed selection.

1. Herd Management.

Advice on the management of the dairy herd was offered initially by officers whose titles have changed over the years from Dairy Advisers to Dairy Extension Officers and more recently Technical Officers. Advice was made available to farmers who sought it through farm visits, or at times through field days on selected farms. More recently a fee for service has been applied with variable results.

With the introduction of The Dairy Industry Act in 1928, dairy farms and dairy processors in a proclaimed area eg, excluding the Metropolitan area, were licensed. Officers of the Department of Agriculture were required to ensure that minimal standards of hygiene and composition were maintained. Minimal standards for dairy buildings were also required. These have included milking sheds with bails, or walk through construction. More recently herring bone and rotary dairies for larger herds have been popular.

Since 1947 and the development of a Dairy Research Centre, Dairy Advisers and Research Officers have worked together to identify problems on the farm and develop solutions through specific research programmes. The dairy herd at the Northfield Research Centre and individual farms were used to trial and develop these solutions.

Mastitis control, fodder conservation, bloat control, farm records and calf rearing are some of the projects developed.

To demonstrate the result of the various aspects of improved herd management the average recorded butter fat production per cow in 1951 was 95kgs, by 2007 it had risen to 276kgs.

2. Farm Extension and Education

Distributing or extending new information to farmers to assist in improved production is referred to as farm extension. This has taken the form of field days where farmers are invited to view new production methods on the farms of innovative farmers, Agricultural Bureau meetings, farm visits by Dairy Advisers, advice in rural publications, television and radio programs or viewing projects in operation at Research Centres; these are some of the means by which farmers were introduced to new ideas. Until 1987 the basic unit of importance in milk production was butterfat. Medical reports listing an excess of fat in the average diet attracted artificial substitutes for animal fat which advertised cholesterol lowering ingredients. Accepting the challenge milk producers now added an emphasis on protein as a vital component of cow's milk. Milk yield with payment for fat and protein, replacing payment for butterfat alone. A further paper prepared by Steve Scown, titled "Dairy Extension- The Role or Function of The Department of Agriculture" is also available on this website.

3. Herd Testing

The recording of individual cow and herd production is the basis of herd improvement. It determines the efficiency of the cow and in a sire proving programme the efficiency of the sire. The first herd to be officially recorded was under the supervision of Mr P.H. Suter the first Dairy Expert in 1913. The herd was owned by Mr H.C. Toppin of Plympton and the results listed in the Journal of Agriculture, May 1915.

In May 1920 Government subsidies were offered to any Herd Testing Association that was formed.( See "Herd Recording in South Australia".)

Herd Recorders were employed to test herds for five days per week, taking samples from each cow in the herd at both am and pm milking. The resultant samples being tested for butterfat prior to moving to the pm milking of the next herd.

Herds were divided into Official Herds (stud cattle) and Grade Herds. The records for each animal were listed in the South Australian Dairy Cattle Production Annual Report produced by the Department of Agriculture and distributed to producers.

In 1977 Herd Recording was handed over to HISCOL - a private company- based at Yankalilla. In2006 ABS (American Breeding Service) took over HISCOL and now supplies both herd recording and artificial breeding services.

4. Feeding

The need to supply suitable feed for dairy cattle at all stages of their lives is the aim of all successful dairy farmers.

However it has often been a hit or miss process depending on the farmers pasture development expense.

It was not until 1947 with the introduction of research centres that Research Officers were able to assess accurately the nutritional value of fodder crops and the best time to harvest the crop to obtain maximum value.

The individual identification of cattle, either freeze branded or ear tagged has been a major part in the development of improved herd production.

At milking time an automatic feed dispenser can allocate the feed required by the individual animal according to its milk and fat production. Departmental field days and individual farmer extension has played a vital part in the efficient use of food harvesting and feeding whether it be bail, or lot feeding, strip or free grazing.

5. Disease Control

5.1 Mastitis. This is a disease found in most mammals. The bacteria responsible can spread into normally healthy animals by injuries lowering their resistance and poor hygiene during milking. As it is contagious, management of milking procedure to control it is critical in dairy herds. One or all quarters of the cow may be infected and treatment includes the injection of an antibiotic into the infected quarters.

As very low antibiotic levels in milk may affect allergic consumers and cultures used in cheese and yoghurt manufacture, dye marker was introduced to assist in ensuring treated cow's milk was withheld for the necessary period. This requirement has since been removed.

5.2 Tuberculosis. Initially the major disease of concern to the dairy industry was the control of Tuberculosis in milking cattle. A Tuberculin test was applied to each animal by Departmental veterinarians and those reacting were sent for slaughter. (Tuberculin is an antigen used as an injection to indicate a Tubercular infection). The owner was compensated for 75% of the market value of the animal to a maximum of £60. With the introduction of pasteurisation and subsequent bottling of milk Tuberculosis is not the health hazard it was. However the sale of un-pasteurised milk from herds not Tuberculin free is closely monitored by local health officers. Australia was declared Tuberculosis free in 1997. The last case of tuberculosis occurred in 2002.

5.3 Brucellosis or Contagious Abortion has long been the bane of cattle breeders. The animals become infected by the organism Brucella abortus which multiplies in the uterus and udder of females and the genital organs of males.

Milk production is reduced and animals can become permanently sterile. Eradication of the disease has been by test and slaughter of positive testing cattle. More recently a live attenuated preventive vaccine known as Strain 19 used on calves 6-12 months of age can result in a resistant herd. From 1920 State Governments through their veterinary departments undertook control measures of Tuberculosis and Brucellosis. By 1970 it was resolved to endeavour to eradicate these diseases with a national programme. As a result BTEC was formed. This was a programme funded by Commonwealth and State Governments and industry and referred to as the Bovine Brucellosis and Tuberculosis Eradication Campaign. Australia was declared free from Brucellosis in 1986. (See paper "Brucellosis and Tuberculosis Eradication" on this web site).

5.4 Sterility. In 1966 following the appointment of Veterinary Officer Dr W.K.Rose, an investigation was begun into the cause of infertility in South Australian dairy herds. The underlying problem was found to be the venereal disease vibriosis. It is usually spread by bulls which have become infected from infected females. The initial indicator can be cows returning to service and low pregnancy rates. Gross margins can be reduced by as much as 65 %. As artificial insemination was in its formative years it was agreed to short circuit any chance of future infection by the use of AI as it became known.

6. Artificial Breeding

In 1961 The Artificial Breeding Act was approved and a centre for the collection, packaging, and distribution of Bull semen was built at Northfield. Dr Rose became the Director, Dr Marshall Irving D/A Director was elected Chairman of the Artificial Breeding Board.Mr A.G.F. Itzerott, Chief Dairy Officer, was a member of the Board.

Both Friesian and Jersey bulls were purchased under the Subsidy Bull Scheme and a bull proving scheme introduced.

Initially semen was packaged in liquid form in test tubes but subsequently glass capsules were used and stored in liquid nitrogen for distribution to the regions. The Centre employed inseminators based at regional centres in Mount Barker, Murray Bridge, Mount Gambier and Clare. Farmers phoned the centres each morning before 9.30am to arrange daily insemination.

By 1975 The Victorian Artificial Breeding Board (V AB) was well established. It could supply much better quality semen than Northfield, and Northfield became a distribution centre rather than a semen collection centre. In 1984 the Artificial Breeding Act was repealed

In 1975 The Artificial Breeding Advisory Board was appointed with Mr A. G. F. Itzerott as Chairman. Its role was to provide a liaison with the VAB and be prepared to re-establish the previous A.B.Board if required. See www.absaust.com. for recent developments. The web site advises that per cow production has increased by 1 % per year since AI was introduced.

7. References

1. "Herd Recording in South Australia", Department of Agriculture ( See this website).

2. "Report of The Committee of Enquiry into Herd Recording in South Australia", Department of Agriculture, April 1991.

3. "Brucellosis and Tuberculosis Eradication". ( See this web site).

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