THe COLLECTIVE dairy world should be shouting acclamations from the mountaintops. We’ve made enormous strides in production per cow and that’s helped us double down on our efforts to reduce dairy’s carbon footprint. If that weren’t enough, the base change woven into this April’s genetic evaluations also confirms that we’ve made significant improvements in animal health. All this took place because of our dedication to using the best available genetics to create the next generation in our dairy herds that produce nutritious dairy products.
Whether you know it or not, the dairy community has been formally documenting progress, via genetic rollbacks, dating back to 1980. Since then, scientists have been making these adjustments to the genetic base every five years.
Those first base adjustments 40 years ago largely involved milk and fat production. These days, 25 genetic traits factor into the rollbacks. When considering the six major dairy breeds involved, that total morphed into 102 traits and doesn’t even consider confirmation. Of those 102 traits, 81 showed favorable gains over the past five years and reflect exponential progress in the genomic era.
Every breed was a winner. That’s because all the lifetime merit indexes — Net, Cheese, Fluid, and Grazing — showed genetic advancement with the largest gains posted by Holsteins, Jerseys, and Ayrshires. The same held true for the three yield traits as milk, fat, and protein marked major movement. As a result, Predicted Transmitting Abilities (PTAs) for fat and protein shifted by 18 to 25 pounds in Holsteins and Jerseys.
Cows also are living longer. That’s measured by the trait Productive Life, and every breed showed gains with Holsteins, Jerseys, and Guernseys leading the pack. And when it comes to confirmation, 80 of the 90 appraisal traits improved with the remaining 10 holding steady . . . and that’s a good thing because those are traits in which intermediate is the optimum.
Despite our success, we still have work to do as only one breed made progress in all three of its fertility standards. The same stubborn trend also took place on somatic cell score.
While we will see genetic evaluations with lower index values this April, that’s a mark of progress. And when we truly sit back and consider the big picture, that also means we are improving sustainability and helping eliminate world hunger as our cows produce more with less. All our dairy farm families can raise a glass of milk as a toast to that tremendous narrative.