'Dairy yields set to double over the next two decades'

World record cow, Ever-Green-View My 1326 EX92 produced an average of over 100 litres per day.
World record cow, Ever-Green-View My 1326 EX92 produced an average of over 100 litres per day.
Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Ireland will soon have the most fertile Holstein Friesian herd in the world, but massive advances in productivity are still achievable over the next 20 years, according to Teagasc's top genomics expert.

Prof Donagh Berry told farmers at the Positive Farmers conference in Cork last week that even with the huge strides in fertility and production over the last decade, output per cow could easily double by 2036.

"I would go as far as to say that a mere doubling of yield over the next two decades is an insult to the potential of the dairy cow," enthused the geneticist.

Prof Berry highlighted the fact that 90pc of the vast improvements in feed conversion rates in pigs and poultry was due to genetics, as opposed to improvements in diet or management.

He pointed to an increased number and length of lactations per cow as being key to not just greater output, but also for reducing the greenhouse emissions per litre of milk.

"The average herd only gets four lactations per cow, while some herds are getting 5.5 lactations per cow. This equates to an additional 40pc of milk solids during their lifetime," he said.

Prof Berry also pointed to an increase in the average days in milk from 262 to 285 days and crossbreeding as two other simple ways to achieve a further 8pc boost in output.

He said that genetic improvement would continue at the current rate of 1pc annually and, when coupled with better management, would cumulatively add another 40pc to overall production.

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The Teagasc researcher also headed off suggestions that the increasing focus on fertility and more health traits would halt the rate of milk output growth per cow. "Even though 'milkiness' as a trait has been reduced from 100pc to just 30pc of the EBI index over the last 16 years, milk production continues to increase steadily," he told conference delegates.

"The fertility sub-index of the national herd was €76 in 2014, and has been increasing by €3.79 per year in the last five years," he said.

In response to a query from the floor, Prof Berry explained that the ability to increase output per cow would also be key in the Irish agri-sector's battle to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

"Greenhouse gas emissions from the 5.5 lactation cow that milks for 285 days fall because she is spending a much smaller proportion of her life either growing or dry. We also know now that some cows are just better converters of feed into milk, eating 6t of drymatter less over the course of a lifetime to produce the same amount of milk and body condition. That's going to help dilute emissions even further."

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