Ireland leading in cow genetics profitability research

Teagasc Moorepark and the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) are in the process of developing a new tool for dairy farmers called The Cow Production Index (CPI) to evaluate their animals and aid them in making management decisions at farm level.

Dr Donagh Berry of Teagasc speaking on the new index explained the index takes into account factors not currently accounted for in the EBI system but are key when calculating profitability.

Differences between EBI and the new proposed tool include the effect cross breeding on profitability, for example. “EBI is only based on genetic value,” he noted. “The new index will be able to calculate how much the increased hybrid vigour of a crossbred animal is worth to the farm.”

Other factors the new CPI also accounts for include heterogeneous effects, environmental factors such as injury and management factors such as calving date.

Dr Berry noted the absence of these factors in the current EBI system were the motivation behind the development of the CPI index. The new tool will also account for some of the irregularities in the current system such as: “A cow in her second lactation is worth considerably more than a fifth lactation cow, yet they may still have the same EBI”; and “A cow calving down in early spring having the same EBI value as a cow calving in a May”.

The index has been in development for a number of years and is similar to the production worth index that is already operational in New Zealand.

According to Dr Berry, the main benefit of the new index for farmers will be as an aid in the culling decisions made on the farm. He also noted the new index could be used in conjunction with the EBI index in stock purchases decision-making. Teagasc and the ICBF hope to roll out the index before the end of this year.

Expansion

Speaking on the broader issue of dairy expansion and herd quality, Dr Berry an international genetics expert in Teagasc stressed “the worse thing an inefficient farm can do is expand”.

In this situation, he said simply “the more cows you have, the more money you lose”. He went on to say that “half the gains in terms of profitability in all sectors have come from genetics.”

On the question of new entrants to the sector and their ability to purchase high EBI cows and not unwanted poorer performing stock, Dr Berry conceded that this may be an issue. However he noted: “Buying from the bottom half of a high EBI herd might be better than purchasing the best animals from a poorer performing herd.”

Noting the high levels of investment for farmers in this situation, he was still eager to stress that “buying unprofitable cows cheaply is not the way to go”.

Tools such as the EBI and in the near future CPI will be key for farmers to access the profitability of their herd, he concluded.

By Ciaran Moran

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