Every cow in a herd has the potential to be a profit maker or a cost centre, but without accurate and relevant records it is difficult to identify which is which.

Sue Cope, Cattle Information Services national operations executive, told delegates that for herds to be profitable in future they would have to make informed breeding decisions, ensuring that replacements were suited to the farming system.

“Recording allows farmers to assess the financial performance of individual cows, creating an individual cow profitability ranking for the herd.

This data can then be used to assess which genetic factors are important for herd profitability.”

Identifying the best and worst cows in the herd then meant more informed breeding decisions could be made, with better performing cows put to high quality sires and poorer cows put to beef sires.

“It only takes a minute to breed a cow, but it can take a lifetime to breed out the problems created by poor breeding decisions,” she said.

In future it may be that genetic markers take a role in breeding and selection decisions, including fertility markers, beef tenderness and milk component identification.

But before any breeding decisions could be made farmers should define their breeding objectives for profitability, such as production traits and locomotion.

“Then the best available genetics can be used to address problems in the herd.”

And improving performance through genetic changes could soon repay the financial investment in recording.

“In a herd with a 7500-litre average yield, increasing fat content from 3.6% to 4% could be worth, 43.21 a cow a year, while increasing protein from 3.1% to 3.3% would be worth 30.29 and increasing yield from 7500 litres to 8500 would increase returns by 193.62 a cow a year,” she estimates.

“Also, with the average cost of lameness being 178 a cow, breeding for improved locomotion could yield significant savings, as could improved fertility through use of a milk production planner.”

jonathan.long@rbi.co.uk