History of Dairy Research in the Department of Agriculture, South Australia

Prepared by: Roger Wickes and John Feagan

  1. Dairy research began in SA in 1965. John Feagan was appointed Principal Dairy Research Officer in the Dairy Branch and built up three sections that looked at dairy manufacturing, led by Alan Hehir, Dairy Genetics led by Dr Lindsay Bailey and Dairy Husbandry led by Dr John Radcliffe. The laboratory work was undertaken at the Northfield Laboratories and the field work at the Northfield Dairy Research Centre which was formerly used by the mental hospital as a dairy for supplying the hospital and providing light duties for some of the patients.

  2. Dairying at the time was widely practised in most agricultural regions of the State and had been an occupation provided for returned servicemen by the government.Pressure was on the industry to become more efficient and increase production per dairy farmer and per factory. During the 1970's a major restructuring of the industry took place and the number of farmers and factories reduced but the production and cow numbers remained the same.

  3. Consequently the research focused on improving the feed year for cows by becoming more efficient in agronomic practices and in fodder conservation. Silage making and mechanization of hay making was a focus as well as the nutritional value of these products. The rearing of bobby calves as an alternative enterprise for beef production from dairy stock was examined and methods of low input calf rearing (once day feeding, dry feeding, health control) were developed and promoted. Skip a milking once or twice a week was examined and promoted to the industry to reduce the constant demand on farmers' time.

  4. The industry was based on payment for milk fat and as the medical effects of fat in the diet of humans became more understood the industry was looking at milk protein to promote itself. Consequently a great deal of worked focused on the production of milk protein and the genetic relationships between cows with different milk protein types. SA had a large cheese industry and the protein type had an influence on cheese making properties and the link between type and cheese making ability was examined. The yield of cheese was directly related to protein genotype, a single gene inheritance. This research finding was a world first. To help with the introduction of the milk genotypes into herds, young bulls were treated with hormones so that they excreted small amounts of milk so that they could be typed as sires for semen collection. The first butter mixed with vegetable oil to make a spread with higher poly unsaturated fat was researched and later entered the market in competition to poly unsaturated margarine and was called dairy blend. A poly unsaturated feed was also tested and fed to cows and while the milk production had good levels of poly unsaturated fat, it was unstable and oxidized before it made it to the milk vat.

  5. The calf replacement and herd build up of a farm is limited by the number of heifers produced a year. An attempt was made to increase the ratio of a calves being born as a female. Treatment of the early fetus with female hormones was tried with no result. Also increased pressure on an animal was tried to see if the theory that deep sea divers have more daughters could be proven. Again this failed.

  6. The bobby calves surpluses to the industry were a resource that could be better used. Research into raising bobby calves for meat production was undertaken looking at low input methods of raising the calves, growing them out and finishing them for the market. During a period of low grain prices, opportunity feed lotting was investigated helping establish an opportunity feed lotting system in SA.

  7. Northfield Research Centre was the first institution to study the effects of mastitis and dairy husbandry practices on the quality and yield of milk and milk products. Mastitis research proved that treating cows at drying off with antibiotics and strict hygiene in the dairy was the most effective way to reduce mastitis.

  8. The Research Centre became under pressure from the expansion of Adelaide and eventually it was moved to Flaxley in 1986 where it is today. The manufacturing side of the dairy industry became quite centralized so this research in the Department ceased. The dairy husbandry work continued with a significant finding in the production by cows of antigens in colostrum that limit diarrhoea in pigs and in humans. This idea was commercialized and is produced by participating herds and the colostrum turned into powder and included in baby foods.

  9. The impact of the research undertaken at Northfield Dairy Research Centre was high. It helped farmers cope with the increased herd size they needed to survive, spawned a dairy beef industry and helped the manufacturing industry while it adjusted to the change in market requirements. It set up the mastitis control programs and services to the industry. It promoted the use of milk protein as the choice of product for the industry to focus on.