ImProving Herds – summary of findings
The ImProving Herds project brought together world-class experts in a collaboration of the dairy industry, with the aim of turning complex science into simple, data-driven decisions to deliver profits to farmers.
The project involved four modules of work which investigated:
- The financial contribution of genetics to dairy businesses.
- The value of genotyping heifers to the dairy businesses.
- The value of herd testing to dairy businesses.
- The contribution of genetics to reducing dairy’s environmental footprint.
Contribution of genetics to dairy businesses
The project showed that making decisions based on Australian Breeding Values (ABVs) and data pays.
At the core of the ImProving Herds project were 34 inspiring focus farms. For the 27 ‘Genetics Focus Farms,’ the emphasis was on demonstrating the financial impact of the use of higher genetic merit bulls, and from genotyping heifers. For the seven ‘Herd Test Focus Farms’, the emphasis was on the impact of herd testing on the farm business. We are immensely grateful to all the ImProving Herds focus farmers.
The project has shown that compared to their herd contemporaries, cows with a high Balanced Performance Index (BPI) have higher margins over feed and herd costs. On average, the top 25% of cows (based on BPI) have a $300/cow/year greater margin over feed and herd costs than the bottom 25%. The analysis drew upon more than 10 years of financial and herd data on 7,700 lactations from 2,600 cows. The top 25% of cows produced 88kg more milk solids per cow per year and lasted on average eight months longer. The additional feed demands of high BPI cows were easily recouped through additional milk income.
Genotyping of heifer calves is increasing in popularity in many countries as a tool to:
- help choose replacements based on ABV(g)s;
- improve mating decisions by using high value (sexed) semen for selected animals;
- reduce errors in parentage assignment.
The ImProving Herds project evaluated the relationship between pre-calving ABV(g)s and first lactation production records in the Genetic Focus Farms. The results showed that there was a strong relationship between ABV(g)s and production records. In fact, the relationship is very similar to published national mean reliabilities for equivalent traits.
After accounting for the cost of genotyping, we have calculated that the benefit of picking the top 50% of replacements based on genomic BPI is typically worth about $40/head more than using parent average.
In addition to the Genetic Focus Farms, seven more went under the microscope for herd-testing and shared their experiences with the ImProving Herds team. Six out of seven decided to continue herd-testing after the project was complete. All used the herd-test information in decision making, with four saying that herd-test data was especially valuable to help them respond to high pressure events. After a short period of time, the seventh farm, who had discontinued herd-testing at the end of the project, started back up again because they found they missed the data and couldn’t make the management decisions they wanted to.
Reducing dairy’s environmental footprint
Assessing the impact of genetic improvement of dairy cattle on the environment was one of the activities of ImProving Herds. Selecting for high BPI leads to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions because high BPI cows are more efficient producers and live longer, which leads to lower greenhouse gas emissions per unit of product. Even though per cow greenhouse gas emissions are increasing (as milk volumes and feed intake increase), the rate of increase is slower for BPI than its predecessor Australian Profit Ranking (APR), which is partly attributable to having the Feed Saved ABV included in the BPI.
ImProving Herds was funded by the Gardiner Dairy Foundation and Dairy Australia, ImProving Herds. The key collaborating organisations were The Victorian Government, DataGene, Holstein Australia and the National Herd Improvement Association of Australia.
Watch the video or click the image to find out more about the National Muster at Jelbart Dairy on the 10th May 2018. The launch of the ImProving Herds findings.