The dairy industry is New Zealand’s largest exporter and its growth has accelerated dramatically over the past three decades. A productive, healthy and efficient stock is vital to preserving these gains and enhancing sustainability in the sector – something consumers and producers demand in the face of unabated scrutiny and regulatory influences on farming practices.
Dairy exports grew from just over NZ$2 billion per year in 1990 to almost $20 billion in 2020. Dairying is under pressure to meet consumer demand for NZ milk, while also supporting New Zealand’s climate goals. This puts the impetus on reducing environmental impacts per litre of milk produced.
Efficient production, animal welfare and preventing disease spread from animals to humans is critical to the future of NZ dairying. Without the tools that drive this, the dairy industry would lose 40 percent of its value - $7.68 billion per year, according to a recently released KPMG report.
The animal health industry contributes to the value of the dairy industry by providing preventative vaccines and mastitis treatments to keep animals and humans safe from disease. It also helps New Zealand reach its 2050 target for greenhouse gas emissions.
Efficient milk production is the key driver underpinning a smaller footprint and there are positive signs to indicate that this has already begun. In the 2018-19 season, cow numbers decreased 0.9 percent from the previous season, yet total milk solids (kgMS) processed by dairy companies increased by 2.4 percent.
The increase in per cow milk production has in part been enabled by solutions to keep cows healthy year-round. The animal health industry supports efficient and cost-effective milk production, driving a $7.8 billion contribution to New Zealand's GDP, according to the ‘Assessing the value of the Animal Health Industry to New Zealand’ report. It supports dairying to increase per cow milk production and decrease cow numbers. This, in turn, has a positive impact on methane emissions.
Reducing the environmental footprint of farms by allowing animals to thrive and increasing efficiencies without the challenges of disease or deficiency is an intangible benefit to farmers.
Sick animals aren’t a good conduit for sustainable farming, healthy protein or food security. Untreated mastitis removes a cow from the milking shed and is painful for the animal, yet the cow still eats grass, releases methane and needs to be cared for.
Mastitis is one of the most common ailments and is economically crippling for dairy farmers. Udder health is vital to the production of high quality, healthy milk and a happy cow.
Mastitis is prevented by teat sealants, antibiotic dry cow therapy solutions, as well as antibiotics for the treatment of clinical cases. According to the report, the cost of mastitis is estimated at $180 million per year.
Vaccinations also protect cows and people from debilitating diseases, such as Leptospirosis. By vaccinating cows, disease is prevented from being passed on to dairy milkers and meatworkers, preventing further productivity losses. The disease is transferred from animal to person through contact with urine from an infected animal. New Zealand has one of the highest incidences of Leptospirosis in humans in the developed world. So whole herd vaccination programmes are vital for protecting the health of cows and humans. When a vaccination programme for dairy cattle was first introduced in the 1980s, human cases of the diseases more than halved – from 11 to 4.5 incidents per 100,000 people, the report highlights.
The animal health industry is also developing innovative technologies to reduce methane production in the cow’s digestive system. The potential of this to reduce emissions is promising for the dairy industry. These solutions and innovations are critical to the future of sustainable dairying as well as productive farming, keeping animals and people healthy, and supporting veterinarians.