Although Irish dairy farmers are the most environmentally sustainable food producers in the world, agriculture accounts for 33% of our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

And with the EU setting us significant targets, it makes it necessary for us to achieve GHG reductions.

One technology which is brought up time and time again as a way of improving efficiency, improving profitability and lowering GHG emissions, is the economic breeding index or, better known as, the EBI.

Research by Teagasc has illustrated that for each €10 gain in herd EBI, there is a gain of €20 in terms of additional net profit/cow/year while also leading to a 3% reduction in carbon footprint.

But how does this work?

According to the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF), the EBI has the capacity to reduce dairy emissions through a number of ways.

Firstly, it outlined that by improving fertility, the calving interval and replacement rate is reduced, thus lowering methane emissions per unit of product.

In addition, improving the fertility of the cows will help to achieve a more compact calving pattern, in turn maximising the proportion of grazed grass in the diet.

While maximising the amount of grazed grass in the cow’s diet will reduce the need for bought-in feed on farm, this in turn reduces GHG emissions due to less imported feed – improving farm profitability from reduced costs and greater animal performance.

It also noted that fertility improvements contribute to the age at first calving; resulting in more heifers calving down at the optimum age, thus reducing the “idle time in a cow’s lifetime”.

Secondly, by increasing milk yield and composition, this increases the efficiency of production which then decreases emissions per unit of product.

Thirdly, improved survival increases the longevity of cows in the herd and so methane emissions per unit of product are reduced.

And finally, improved health reduces the incidence of disease leading to higher production levels and lower replacement rates – thereby lowering GHG emissions.

The ICBF also mentioned that the level of feed intake is an important element influencing methane production – with smaller cows consuming less feed than larger cows.

The maintenance sub-index in the EBI captures cow size using cow liveweight. This can be used to breed a more carbon efficient cow that produces high kg of milk solids.