Kiwi company breeds team of Jersey bulls designed for hot climates in world first

A New Zealand company is helping boost milk production in some of the world's hottest nations with a world-first team of Jersey bulls bred to be more tolerant to heat.

The dominant slick gene makes hair shorter, wetter and shinier than other breeds and keeps cows 1-degree cooler.

"The slick gene will give a Jersey cow the ability to expel that heat easier and that translates into still being able to eat and turn that food into milk," says Thermo Regulatory Genetics CEO Derek Fairweather.

The Waikato- based company started in 2008 breeding slick genes into dairy cows but its Jersey bull team with the dominant gene, is now "making a difference to a lot of farmers' profitability where they need protein." 

Farms across the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Tanzania, Australia and even Mozambique are among the 12 nations benefitting. 

TRG, which has a strategic alliance with the University of Florida says its research shows cows with the slick gene produce on average, 4 litres more milk a day. They also drink less, reducing stress on limited water and providing greater food security in some of the globe's hottest and poorest nations.

CEO Derek Fairweather says, "We've listened to them and we've developed the product they wanted -  a heat-tolerant Jersey because the Holstein Friesians are just too big and too brittle in the tropics." 

In New Zealand dairy farmers in Northland, South Canterbury and Waikato are noticing increasingly hot temperatures impact milk production.

"It's not good for your bottom line, it's not good for your cows' wellbeing, " says farmer Isaac Camp.

Heat stress is also an animal welfare issue on MPI and Fonterra's radar.

"Fonterra's given some good signals now around animal welfare and there's an 8 cent premium coming for farmers reducing heat stress, that's a good sign," according to TRG's Derek Fairweather.

TRG claims its technology suits many System 5 New Zealand farms (half pasture, half supplements), where "much larger cows eat a lot more food, experiencing a lot more heat stress so we've got a good set of genetics for them now too."

Alongside the slick genetics, TRG says its next frontier will include adding traits such as resistance to ticks, but he stresses "this is all achieved through a natural breeding programme."