Pretty pictures don't always make profitable cows

For most farmers, the profitable cow of the future is an efficient cow that makes more with less. She maximizes net profit with a smaller body size for high feed efficiency, a healthy udder which produces quality milk with great components, breeds back quickly and produces more over a longer lifetime.

Monday, 6th November 2017, 6:28 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 10:35 am
Andy Rutter.
Andy Rutter.

Take a moment and make a mental picture of the most profitable cow in your herd. Is she the stylish, large-framed and open-ribbed two-year-old who catches everyone’s eye?

Not likely – your most profitable cow is is the one that produces strongly every lactation and breeds back easily. Never a sick day or a cell count flare-up to mention. She does her job easily, under the radar with minimal inputs, making milk effortlessly. While her looks might not be anything to write home about, she is definitely the kind you appreciate lactation after lactation.

Genetics play an important role in creating a long-lasting, healthy cow that milks efficiently and breeds back quickly. However, there are so many selection traits that it can be confusing. In addition genetic selection is not a one-size-fits-all task – your herd will have a different genetic make-up and profitability factors than your neighbours, and each individual cow within your herd will have a different genetic make up.

Thus genetic selection can become quite a minefield. To assist you with this task Genus ABS introduced the GMS mating system which tailors each mating to the genetic requirements of each individual cow. It is the only system that can go back seven generations thus taking account of strengths and weaknesses in each animal yet avoiding inbreeding. In addition to selection for the traits that are most appropriate to your herd the GMS system will also provide a detailed record keeping system that will monitor progress in the herd and ensure that genetic progress is being achieved. The emphasis will be on the traits affecting your herd’s daily operating income and costs.

Five ways to breed more profitable cows

While protecting for functional type is important, genetics invested heavily into the herd should profitably correlate with either increasing income or reducing expenses for maximum net profit.

The model of efficiency is achieving target production levels with the minimum daily investment of time, money, labour and feed resources. By focusing genetic selection in the following five areas, you can improve your herd’s profitability:

1. Milk and component yield

Protein, fat and milk yield are clearly profit traits. Farmers have done an impressive job of increasing levels of milk production over the past six decades. Unfortunately, emphasizing production alone for greater income can result in increased input costs from feed, reproduction, labour and health treatments.

In reality, you do not get paid on the potential of a cow to milk hard, only the product leaving the dairy as saleable milk. A cow may be a high producer, but if her milk must be discarded due to treatment, she does not breed back quickly to reach another lactation peak soon or she is removed from the herd after only two lactations, the amount of saleable milk is reduced.

In some cases, a moderate-producing, trouble-free cow may have the lifetime advantage in saleable milk and profit margin versus a high-producing cow.

Genetic improvement is not limited to increasing output. Genetics can also help control expenses and preserve profits during market downturns. Generate a higher net profit from less expense by increasing the health, reproductive and management genetics in balance with progressive production and component yield.

2. Fertility

One expensive side effect from the exceptional climb in milk yield is reduced fertility. Female fertility is negatively correlated to high milk production. The leading reason most cows are culled involuntarily is poor reproductive performance.

What is a pregnant cow worth to your profitability? Daughter pregnancy rate (DPR) is a prediction of how quickly a bull’s daughter will become pregnant. Daughters of sires with high DPR genetic values are expected to have daughters with fewer days open than daughters of sires with low DPR PTA values.

Income over feed cost margins are highest when cows are in peak production. Cows which breed back easily return to peak milk sooner.

3. Stature

Another strong genetic trend in dairy cows has been a rapid increase in type.The downfall of such intense type selection has been a compounding increase in stature. It’s not surprising cows are bigger than ever because type is 77 percent correlated to stature in today’s sire population.

Stature is the most heritable type trait which can be passed down to the next generation. Although most commercial dairy producers don’t select for taller cows on purpose, they may inadvertently select for stature when putting an emphasis on type.

It has become increasingly difficult to find actively marketed A.I. sires with a stature PTA less than or equal to zero. The sire population with stature PTAs above zero will increase cow stature.

Although there is no correlation between size and milk production, in the world of feed efficiency, we can all agree, size does matter. Ruminant animals must consume nearly 2 per cent of their bodyweight in dry matter intake for maintenance. Bigger cows require more feed than smaller cows. Larger cows will not as efficiently convert feed into profit (milk and components) because they require more energy for body maintenance. Beyond feed intake efficiency, cow comfort is not typically optimized for large cows in most facilities.

4. Longevity

Are cows not lasting as long as you would like? Productive life (PL) is the ability of a bull’s daughter to remain productive and functional in the herd. It is expressed as the number of additional or fewer months expected from a bull’s daughter over their lifetime above breed average. High values represent long-lasting genetics.

5. Milk quality

Somatic cell score offers an indication of udder health and somatic cell levels for a bull’s daughters. Lower values are more desirable and imply daughters will be less prone to milk loss from treatment withdrawal times and have improved milk quality.

Make progress toward the type of cow which makes the most sense for your farm’s business plan.

Pretty-picture cows or traditional genetic breeding strategies might not fit your needs for profitability.

For more information contact your Genus ABS advisor or telephone the office on 028 3833 1451.