NZ and Aussie dairy heifer exports to Sri Lanka halted -report | Daily News

NZ and Aussie dairy heifer exports to Sri Lanka halted -report

Shipments of dairy cows from Australia and New Zealand to Sri Lanka will be halted until an inquiry into how a number of them have died at Sri Lankan farms is carried out.

So far, 5,000 pregnancy-tested Holstein-Jersey heifers have been shipped under a government programme to increase Sri Lanka’s fresh milk production and reduce imports of expensive powdered milk.

Cabinet decided in 2014 to import 20,000 in-calf heifers, but some farmers who subsequently purchased the cows are now claiming they are facing financial ruin because of poor milk yields, low conception rates, abortions, stillbirths, high mortality rates, and unrecognised diseases.

They say the cows, which cost about $1,600 a head, were unsuited to Sri Lanka’s hot and humid tropical conditions—although Holsteins from Australia have been performing well in Indonesia.

Australian livestock exporter, Wellard, was awarded a contract in 2014 to supply the 20,000 crossbred dairy heifers with the first shipment of 2,000 from New Zealand in May, 2017, and 3,000 from Australia in December, 2017.

Holstein-Jersey cross heifers were chosen because purebred Holsteins were considered too big for Sri Lankan farmers who were used to handling their small, native dairy cattle.

Wellard released a detailed statement on March 18, in which the company claimed a “handful” of the 68 farmers selected by the government to receive some of the cattle had failed to follow prescribed herd-management advice, which had caused some animal welfare issues at those farms.

“As a result, the farmer selection criteria will change,” the statement said.

It said 84 million litres of milk had been produced by the cows since the programme began (including a pilot programme in 2013), replacing $US32 million of milk powder imports.

The statement claimed Wellard regularly monitored a number of key production and animal health-related measures to assess performance and identify emerging issues. Mortality was one of the measures recorded.

“There were 95 mortalities from the first shipment in the first year, a rate of 4.8 percent,” it said.

“There have been 331 mortalities from the second shipment, representing an annualiSed mortality rate of nine percent.

“Unfortunately, four farms that received cattle in the second shipment account for 61percent of the recorded mortalities from that shipment.

Wellard Executive Chairman John Klepec said this had been a source of immense frustration, as those farmers were ignoring advice, particularly on nutrition, and animal health was falling to the point of mortality.

“So, while we are continuing to seek immediate changes to the nutrition management on those farms, we must also change the Sri Lankan farmer selection criteria for future shipments so that negative animal welfare outcomes that have occurred on these few farms are not repeated and other farmers in the programme are not tarnished by the results of few,” he said. (Agencies)

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