For the most part, North American data collection for genetic evaluations operates much like it did in the 1960s, with data collected through traditional milk recording systems. While farmer-recorded health data allowed the genetics sector to develop evaluations for health traits, we have not tapped into the growing reams of information gathered from a host of on-farm electronic systems. That must change, and quickly, if North America wants to remain the worldwide leader in genetics.

Penn State University’s Chad Dechow paints a vivid picture of future possibilities in the Artificial Breeding Column on pages 646 and 647 of this issue. There is plenty of low-hanging fruit, along with some opportunities that will need more ideation.

Certainly, daily milk weights, the resulting milk flow patterns, and lactation curves will have immediate impact. While component and somatic cell count data could be a short-term hang-up, some robot systems are recording that data, too. And it’s being calibrated every day with data from milk plants via each farm’s bulk tank. While not perfect, it does provide good within herd, cow-to-cow comparisons.

Speaking of voluntary milking systems, individual cow weights, rumination, teat placement, udder depth, and balance of udder floor get recorded every milking on robotic farms. This also includes individual milking speed from each quarter, temperament via milking unit detachments, and time spent in the robot box itself. Not only can this data help measure new traits, correlations can potentially be identified to a host of other measurements.

While this data is great, we must be able to make it useful. Just like a wild horse, it cannot generate a positive outcome until it is corralled and harnessed. It then needs to be placed into usable components.

Then there’s the bigger picture issue — who owns the data? Some companies may try to write agreements to collect on-farm data and limit a farmer’s and the industry’s ability to share it with others. We urge everyone to closely read user agreements laid out on the farm table before adding your signature. Simply said, you should hold the destiny on your farm’s information.

Bright minds can resolve these issues if there is a desire to do so. And if North America is going to remain on the cutting edge, the old world of data collection for genetic evaluations must give way to the new world. While there will be bumps on this road, failing to work together will yield our competitive advantage to competitors