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Thwaites honored for his work

He's credited with bringing the Jersey back in New Zealand

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

simmet@agrinews.com

MADISON, Wis. -- While it's hard to think about New Zealand grass-based dairies without Jerseys, the small brown cow did not always hold the prominence it does today in that South Pacific country.

James Thwaites, the man credited with bringing the Jersey back to prominence in New Zealand and around the world, was honored as the 2002 World Dairy Expo International Person of the Year.

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When Thwaites started dairy farming in New Zealand after World War II, he chose Jerseys even though they had fallen out of favor.

"I believed Jerseys were very economical animals,'' Thwaites said.

Thwaites said that any breeding organization that's not breeding for production isn't helping farmers.

"Probably the show ring has been an inhibiting factor because many breed for type, not production,'' Thwaites said. "We need to breed for traits that tend to make an animal easy to milk and handle, good feet and legs and sound production traits.''

One of the highlights of Thwaites' career as a Jersey breeder was placing Glanton Red Dante, a bull that changed the emphasis of the breed, into artificial insemination. Dante was recently recognized as New Zealand's Jersey bull of the century.

Dante had 417,000 inseminations and over 27,000 tested daughters, and his sons and grandsons comprise much of the Jersey bloodline used through AI breeding in New Zealand, Thwaites said. A Dante grandson holds a world record for 254,000 inseminations in one season and could easily become the first Jersey bull in the world to make a million inseminations.

In addition to developing the Jersey breed, Thwaites also threw his efforts behind a small dairy company that under his leadership as a director and chairman grew to be the world's largest single-site dairy manufacturing plant. He also helped establish the first artificial breeding committee in his home province.

Thwaites led a study group of New Zealand farmers to the United States in 1981 to find ways to improve milk quality. His international travels have helped bring the New Zealand grass system to the United States and elsewhere.

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Thwaites and his wife, Betty, have five children. They are retired and a son now owns and operates Glanton Jersey Farm, milking 200 Jerseys on 126 acres

"He has no feed brought in at all,'' Thwaites said. "It's all pasture and silage grown on the farm.''

His son milks 200 cows in 90 minutes by himself.

Cows are moved to fresh pasture every 24 hours. In the winter the farm has a 35-day rotation. In the spring and summer, when there's a lot of growth, the rotation shortens to 20 days.

"My son makes a good living off that operation,'' Thwaites said. "In New Zealand our cost of production is very low. We don't need buildings nor machinery like here.''

Thwaites said he's thrilled to see Midwest producers using grazing techniques from his country.

His advice to them: "High quality cattle and high quality pasture.''

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