Breeding and genetics

Relationship between dairy cow genetic merit and profit on commercial spring calving dairy farms

G. Ramsbottoma1 c1, A. R. Cromiea2, B. Horana3 and D. P. Berrya3

a1 Teagasc, Oak Park, Co. Carlow, Ireland

a2 Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, Highfield House, Bandon, Co. Cork, Ireland

a3 Animal & Grassland Research and Innovation Centre, Teagasc, Moorepark, Co. Cork, Ireland


Because not all animal factors influencing profitability can be included in total merit breeding indices for profitability, the association between animal total merit index and true profitability, taking cognisance of all factors associated with costs and revenues, is generally not known. One method to estimate such associations is at the herd level, associating herd average genetic merit with herd profitability. The objective of this study was to primarily relate herd average genetic merit for a range of traits, including the Irish total merit index, with indicators of performance, including profitability, using correlation and multiple regression analyses. Physical, genetic and financial performance data from 1131 Irish seasonal calving pasture-based dairy farms were available following edits; data on some herds were available for more than 1 year of the 3-year study period (2007 to 2009). Herd average economic breeding index (EBI) was associated with reduced herd average phenotypic milk yield but with greater milk composition, resulting in higher milk prices. Moderate positive correlations (0.26 to 0.61) existed between genetic merit for an individual trait and average herd performance for that trait (e.g. genetic merit for milk yield and average per cow milk yield). Following adjustment for year, stocking rate, herd size and quantity of purchased feed in the multiple regression analysis, average herd EBI was positively and linearly associated with net margin per cow and per litre as well as gross revenue output per cow and per litre. The change in net margin per cow per unit change in the total merit index was €1.94 (s.e. = 0.42), which was not different from the expectation of €2. This study, based on a large data set of commercial herds with accurate information on profitability and genetic merit, confirms that, after accounting for confounding factors, the change in herd profitability per unit change in herd genetic merit for the total merit index is within expectations.

(Received May 06 2011)

(Accepted September 27 2011)

(Online publication December 12 2011)


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