UK breeding objectives for the dairy industry

Breeding Objectives – The dairy industry in the UK has a robust system for collecting genetic breeding data from the producers of all major dairy cattle breeds and crossbreeds. These genetic evaluations are distributed throughout the industry three times each year and form a key part of decision making within the sector. Many organisations submit data whilst also benefiting from the information being sent out.

Purpose of the Breeding Objectives

The dairy farming systems found throughout the UK are diverse and the vision for the breeding programme is to produce dairy cows which can thrive within these diverse systems. It also aims to improve the productivity, welfare and herd health by supporting farmers to strive for improvement in these breeding objectives, while still maintaining the genetic diversity currently found in dairy cattle in the UK. It is believed that this vision will enable farmers to create a sustainable dairy herd that is focused on animal health, environmentally sustainable and also profitable.

Economic gain from establishing breeding objectives

Setting and following breeding objectives has allowed for a cumulative increase in genetic gain. According to Interbull Bulletin, a leading reference source for bovine cattle genetic evaluation, between 1980 and 2010, the aggregate benefits to the UK dairy industry from genetic improvement are believed to be somewhere between £2.2 billion and £2.4 billion. These genetic improvements are also believed to be responsible for the reduction by approximately 0.8% year on year of greenhouse gas emissions.

Breeding Objectives and Cow welfare

The focus of the national breeding strategy for the last 10 years in determining the breeding objectives, has been on a cow’s welfare, health and longevity. The weighting given to traits relating to fitness and over production, stand at approximately 32:68 to achieve the breeding goal measuring £PLI (Profitable Lifetime Index). These traits are looking at milk production, lifespan, Somatic cell counts, conformation, temperament, fertility, easy calving and milk speed.

The Dairy Cow Welfare Strategy, established in August 2010, was set up to address welfare concerns, and the Dairy Roadmap from May 2011, has been designed to look at reducing environmental impact. The dairy industry as a whole has signed up to both of these as part of UK breeding objectives.

Monitoring success of the Breeding Objectives

Evaluation of all data collected within the genetic indexing process is monitored to establish its effectiveness in creating future generations of dairy cows which conform to the breeding objectives set by the industry. This ensures that areas of concern and of success are disseminated to all parties involved in genetic breeding programmes.