8 October 1999

Yields false target

GENETIC improvement of UK dairy herds must move away from the emphasis on yield and consider reducing costs of poor health and fertility to maximise profit.

SACs head of animal genetics Geoff Simm told the BSAS conference that yield had increased returns but selecting just on yield had resulted in lower health and fertility.

But now genetic improvement should focus more on reducing costs associated with poorer health and fertility.

Although this would slow gain in yield increases, adding mastitis and fertility to PLI would increase the economic return by up to 80% compared with breeding for production only using PIN.

"This increase in return occurs because breeding for production only has hidden costs in that it can reduce fertility and health," said Prof Simm.

But the type of cows, breeding goals and management policy best suited to different production systems likely to develop in the UK will differ.

He believes producers are likely to follow one of three differing systems options; high output with high production efficiency, pasture based minimum cost production; and niche markets such as organic milk which is increasing demand. These will be dictated by market requirements, he said.