DAIRY NEWS JUNE 11, 2019
8 // NEWS
Buffalo herd milked by NIGEL MALTHUS
NESTLED IN the hills
on the edge of the Canterbury Plains is a small and surprisingly high tech buffalo farm. Wairiri Water Buffalo is believed to be one of only three commercial buffalo herds in the country, and the only one – despite the small size of the herd – running a DeLaval robotic milker. Wairiri is owned by couple Lucy Appleton and Christo Keijzer, who have been farming buffalo since importing a few animals from Melbourne about 2008. They have used pure bred Italian bulls and Italian AI to produce what they believe to be the purest Italian river buffalo herd in New Zealand.
Christo Keizzer, Wairiri Buffalo with some of his herd.
Compared with African and swamp buffalo, riverines are the best milkers, they say. They produce up to 12L/day each of high fat, high protein milk. Their 37 animals include one of only three purebred bulls in NZ, and they milk up to a maxi-
mum of 20. They milk all year round, with 10 now milking and an eleventh due to calve in a couple of weeks. The milk is processed in a new modern cheeseroom with a pasteuriser and mozzarella maker, but pride of place goes to the
deLaval robot in the adjacent milking shed. Keijzer knows of “a few” robotic milkers for buffalo in Italy, and one in the Netherlands. “With buffalo this is definitely very rare, worldwide.” Appleton says the robot is a “lifestyle
choice” because of its ability to work largely unsupervised once all animals are trained to use it. The machine reads RFID ear tags to identify each animal and uses a laser to locate the teats and place the cups. It has to be taught where the teats are on a new animal but updates and re-learns for itself after several milkings. It has four separate cups and hoses, so manages each quarter separately, warning when a quarter gives more or less than expected, diverting the milk if it detects a problem like high cell count, removing the cup when finished and letting the cow out when all are done. Each animal also gets a ration of grain tailored to
her needs. When milking is finished, washing the machine down is a single button push. “It’s very, very smart,” says Keijzer. The robot has been modified for buffalo, being wider than usual
creating avoidable empties – and ultimately sending cows to the works for “pennies on the dollar” compared to the value they would have if they were able to stay in the herd. Once you have applied the tail paint it is essential to be skilled at reading the tail paint – a bit like my great-grand mother used to read the tea leaves, which is how we found out that my great great uncle was actually a wizard called Estus who apparently was shape-shifting late at night and had to be cured with a particularly strange concoction of castor oil, leeches and hot baths. This Tail Paint analysis would be most easily carried out during milking – and if you happen to be 12 feet tall or have a telescopic neck, the height of your cows rump at milking is no obstacle to taking a good look to assess the scrapings. For everyone else it would be terrific to have a way to assess heat indications using oestrogen instead
TAIL PAINT is how my grandfather improved his heat detection guesswork, and its pretty much how we still do it. Most people who sell tail paint in New Zealand tell us this is OK – and I guess, for them it is. Trev Dugan, who farms out by Governor’s Road agrees with them and has doubled down on tail paint this season by trading up to some cutting-edge tail paint technology and going fluro - he says that if this pays off for him he may even look at getting one of those new phones you can carry around out of the house that have no wires.
Lucy Appleton runs a regular stand at the Lyttelton Farmers Market.
The use of tail paint as a way to indicate the possibility a cow has submitted, and is therefore in heat, dates back to Victorian and New Zealand dairy farms in the late 1970’s. Since then, despite pretty much everything else changing, we still are using this basic method on many dairy farms. Tail paint is used to suggest cows that are in heat by indicating those which have been mounted, resulting in the tail paint being rubbed off. Where other parts of the dairy world have seen amazing innovations and improvements using the technology that has been invented
or improved since the 1970’s (back before cell phones, the internet, personal computers , tries were still worth 4 points, rugby players were amateurs and there was no lifting in the lineouts) – the improvements to tail paint based heat detection have been limited to the colours they use, the cans and how sticky the paint is. Perhaps its time to move on from the old school to the new school of heat detection, especially when you consider how important accurate heat detection is in a seasonal calving system like New Zealand. If you miss a heat you can stretch your calving pattern – missing days in milk,
and with stainless steel sheet walls and ceiling to protect hoses and other machinery from the horns. An electromagnetic lock is fitted to the exit door as backup for the pneumatic ram. Keijzer
of witnessing a possible symptom of what will happen amongst herd mates if it is acting on her system. And if this could be done automatically and accompanied by automatic drafting you could free up a whole labour unit. Or instead of thinking a better system, you could stay with the “old ways” and just tweak the paint itself, playing at the edges of improvement – maybe you could think of a new brighter colour, stickier paint or larger can for tail paint and just keep hoping your farm hand has improved his or her ability to notice the difference between a cow in heat and a cow. If there was a better way – it would pay for itself in no time at all, by giving you the possibility of lower AI costs, fewer empties, more days in milk, more replacements, fewer culls and just get rid of the hassle and stress that checking for heats creates.
The same since 1974
Dairy News 11 June 2019