Dairy farmers facing the reality they won't be milking more cows in future so need to make sure the ones they have are top quality, are buying in record numbers into technology that delivers a 90 per cent chance their animals will produce a female calf.
The number of dairy cows mated to sexed semen through artificial breeding services from listed genetics company LIC will double this spring to around 200,000 cows, a move that will also help reduce the number of bull bobby calves sent for slaughter.
LIC is the country's largest supplier of artificial breeding services.
The sexed semen from LIC's top bulls is not cheap - at $56 a straw it's about $33.50 a straw costlier than an unsexed product - so the record investment by farmers is noteworthy.
A farm business with the average sized herd of 440 cows could be investing $24,640 for one round of insemination this spring - with no guarantees the cow will get in calf.
However, LIC, the only provider of fresh sexed semen in New Zealand, said fresh semen delivered a noticeably better chance of getting a cow pregnant than the frozen alternative.
Hamilton-headquartered LIC has been providing sexed semen to farmers for more than a decade but interest in the technology has spiked in the past two years, said general manager New Zealand markets, Malcolm Ellis.
That's driven by a deeper realisation among farmers that if they aren't going to be milking more cows in the future, they will need to be milking better cows, he said.
Tighter environmental regulations and compliance cost pressures on dairy farmers have seen New Zealand milk production flat line, with industry general acceptance it may decline.
"Using sexed semen helps farmers accelerate the rate of genetic gain by effectively guaranteeing female offspring, their next generation of replacements, from their highest genetic merit cows," said Ellis.
"Farmers don't need to leave the gender of their calves to chance. By knowing sufficient replacements will be generated from their best cows, farmers are able to consider alternative beef AB (artificial breeding) options for their poorer performing animals, enabling them to significantly reduce the number of bobby calves leaving the farm."
Aside from the waste aspect, the annual production of bobby calves ignites strong public sentiment and animal welfare concerns.
Last season 1.903 million male calves were sent for processing, compared to 1.816 million in 2019, and 1.828 million in 2018.
Ellis said with farmers proactively seeking ways to meet consumer, environmental and animal welfare concerns, sexed semen was a useful tool.
To meet increased demand, LIC had repurposed an area at its Newstead, Hamilton, headquarters for a new laboratory.
The leading edge technology lab is alongside LIC's bull farm and semen processing lab, and will be the world's biggest fresh sexed semen sorting facility, the company said.
Sexing Technologies, a US company is contracted to sex-sort semen from LIC's top dairy and beef artificial breeding bulls.
The new sexed semen lab has opened in time for peak spring mating season in which LIC artificial breeding technicians will inseminate around 4.5 million cows between now and December.
There are 4.9m cows in New Zealand according to DairyNZ 2020 statistics.