#1 sustainable dairy farming practice: improving dairy genetics

Looking for sustainable dairy farming practices with a return on investment? Practices that make dairy operations more eco-friendly while staying profitable? In this article, we argue that you should focus on dairy genetics. Discover why choosing the right strategic decisions will future-proof your dairy farm.

How to design a good breeding strategy?

Find out which two dairy genetics strategies will become common practice and how CRV will help you create a more profitable and sustainable dairy farm.

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Why you should keep investing in sustainable dairy farming

The environmental impact of dairy farming in the U.S. already decreased significantly between 2007 and 2017:

  • 19% less GHG emissions, equal to the CO2 removed by half a million acres of forest
  • 21% less land used, equal to 100,000 NFL-sized football fields
  • 30% less water used, equal of water consumption of 29 million U.S. households

Stricter legislation and consumer demands drive the need for more sustainable dairy farming practices. The costs of implementing sustainable dairy farming practices, inflation, increasing purchase prices for energy, water and feed increases the need for long-term strategies to cut costs and increase profits. To become a sustainable dairy farm - in the sense of eco-friendly operations and of lasting farm profitability - dairy farms need to stop with scale increase and first invest in a more efficient herd by improving dairy genetics.

Discover your
profit potential

Limited offer: Contact us to discover your dairy herd potential and get 0.2 units of elite sire semen per milking cow for free!

Do you want to reveal the true potential of your dairy herd? CRV can give you the genetic insights to make a future-proof decision which genetic breeding strategy works best for you to secure your farm's profitability.

Invest in a more efficient herd

To stay profitable, a sustainable dairy farm should invest in efficient genes. Or to be more specific; genetic progress towards breeding value Efficiency.

This decision protects farm profitability, because:

  • It is maintainable. Current external factors threaten farm profitability. For example, higher feed costs can minimize any profit. New (regional) laws could restrict the hours of farm workers. You could run out of land to expand your barn and grow feed crops on.
  • It is more environmentally friendly. Of course, it is true that economies of scale afford more efficient manure management. But investing in a more efficient herd keeps end consumers happy and DNR or DEC off your porch. Because manure would not increase, there is less water pollution and greenhouse gases. And less feed transport means less greenhouse gases.
  • It allows you to stay in the competition and not go out of business. More efficient farms that do invest in efficiency will outcompete you as they can stay profitable in case of lower milk prices or restrictive milk base prices.

To make your herd more efficient, you could work to lengthen the profitable lifespan of a dairy cow, decrease involuntary culling, work on feed efficiency or work towards specific component ratios to make milk more valuable. Improving dairy genetics is a good way to do so.

rotary milking parlor with crv dairy cows

“A lot of dairies just add cows. I would rather milk more profitable cows, than just have a bigger herd. I think adapting a new genetic strategy worked out well for us. We can be really profitable with 1.400 cows and I don’t really need to milk 3.000 cows to get the same profits.” With the pandemic and everything, we’ve been penalized for making pounds of milk. But we’ve been able to stay very profitable.”

Brian Robbins, North Harbor Dairy

Change dairy genetics, change farm efficiency

There are several genetic strategies that increase dairy efficiency and profits. Breeding for health, a longer productive lifespan of a dairy cow, fertility, milk production all help to reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses (GHG) in one way or another. All genetic strategies create long-lasting environmental wins directly or indirectly, as they produce more or better milk on less feed. Because of this increase in average milk production per day or in premium components, the herd can be smaller for the same milk revenue - or would not need to grow to increase it. ILVO studies in Belgium showed that if the culling rate of dairy cows goes down by 5% and average milk production per day goes up by 3 kg, methane emission per kg of milk produced decreases with 11.7%.

Focusing on higher feed efficiency makes dairy farming ‘greener’ in most ways. Like healthier cows (less culling), higher fertility (shorter dry period, more pregnancies) and higher milk production per cow, it will make the milking herd more efficient in producing milk. As a result, a smaller milking herd is needed for the same production or a herd of the same size will use less feed which saves money and transport fuel and takes up less crop land.

Even the milk component strategy will make the milking herd indirectly more efficient and decrease carbon footprint. The more the milk contains the components the processing factory is looking for, the less energy and water needs to be used in the industrial process, and the higher price will be paid for it. Whether those are macronutrients like fat for cheese or protein for sport supplements, or micronutrients such as A2 or kappa casein. A smaller herd producing better components produces equal profits than the larger herd producing more milk, because of the premium prices the components will yield. Whether the herd will produce more milk or milk of better quality, farm efficiency is increased.

CRV breeding for sustainability

A more efficient dairy is a more eco-friendly dairy

A herd that has a higher average milk production per day will need less replacement heifers. This increases long-term profitability, as it results in lower rearing costs (especially when rearing is outsourced). Replacement costs (of either raising heifers or buying them) are the third-highest cost on a dairy farm, behind feed and labor.

A more efficient dairy herd also decreases carbon footprint. It leads to less manure and thus less nitrogen and phosphorus that will pollute water and air. Less barn space is needed, so there’s more room for nature. On top of that, a higher feed efficiency will decrease the land needed for feed crops - opening up space for trees, plants and soil that stores carbon. And last but not least, feed efficiency will decrease feed transport and the corresponding fuel use.

CRV tools for genomic testing dairy cows

Know your best milk cows

Breeding towards better health is not the only way towards a more efficient, and thus profitable herd. You also need to know exactly when to replace cows in the milking herd and sell them for slaughter. To make this decision, someone needs to predict the cow’s milk output in the next lactation, predict the value of the replacement heifer and compare those predictions. To be able to make a useful comparison, this person needs reliable data. They can best base voluntary culling decisions on genetic indicators.

He also needs reliable data to identify the best milk cows with the best dairy genetics in the first place, as they’ll give birth to replacement heifers. The key to vast and fast genetic progress in your herd and profitability is knowing which heifer calves should be reared and which to sell for beef. Luckily, enomic tests provide reliable data that simplify these decisions. If the results of a genomic test suggest that the potential performance of a calf in the milking herd is enough of a benefit to offset the cost of raising it, the calf should be raised into the milking herd. If not, the calf can be sold.

Insights into dairy genetics enables the herd manager to determine a heifer’s genetic potential before it enters the milking herd. This means he can keep only the heifers that will be the best milk cows instead of every heifer. Thus, he can maintain the optimal size of their milking herd. Reducing the number of heifers retained for replacements has the same sustainability wins and impact on dairy farm profits as the genetic strategies explained above. That’s why both sustainable dairy farming practices are essential in future-proofing your dairy operation.

“CRV helps us with selecting calves to keep in the herd and the calves to sell. They help us with the numbers of animals we need to maintain. So, they make things pretty easy for my herd manager. Basically, CRV gives him a very straightforward Powerpoint with advice and he can make decisions upon it.”

Brian Robbins, North Harbor Farms.

Which dairy genetics to breed for?

What should you breed for? How do you know that a specific genetic strategy or a combination of strategies will really be successful in increasing dairy farm profits or sustainability? It all comes down to the right dairy genetics and the right dairy herd management practices.

Knowing your herd’s potential is crucial for choosing and applying the best genetic strategy and making the right herd management decisions for a sustainable dairy farm. You need to know which of these proposed improvements is achievable in your herd. On which elements does your herd already perform well? Where is the biggest improvement in dairy genetics possible?

CRV is here to simplify dairy herd management and to help you breed a healthy, efficient and profitable dairy herd in the most sustainable and cost-effective way. CRV lets you take advantage of genetic technologies and proven breeding practices by offering top quality dairy genetics, smart breeding management apps and personal advice on breeding strategy and dairy herd management. It all starts with a performance benchmark and detailed predictions based on the genes of your cows and heifers. CRV experts know exactly how to select the right (combination of) breeding goals, identify the best milk cows, breed towards those goals, and calculate and monitor your return on investment.

Don’t wait with the implementation of a data-driven breeding program. For the sake of the environment, for the sake of short-term profits and to stay profitable in the long run. Let us help you choose and implement the most profitable genetic strategy. Discover your profit potential

“The dairy is very profitable since we adapted the new genetic strategy. I definitely think it has a big part in it..”

Brian Robbins, North Harbor Dairy

Learn how to design and implement a future-proof breeding program

Want to know exactly how to design a breeding program that meets the current and future challenges of dairy farming? The CRV Breeding Guide includes practical tips on how to create an optimal, future-proof breeding program, proven profit calculations and testimonials from our customers.

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Discover your profit potential

Limited offer: Free genomic tests

Together, we can implement a future-proof dairy cow breeding program that secures your farm's profitability. Request a farm visit today and we will offer to test a group of animals at no cost to you! With this information we will determine the genetic potential of your dairy herd, calculate your profit potential and help you decide which genetic strategies work best.

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