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4 Nov 2020

Metabolic efficiency included in Saved feed index

The Saved feed index in the Nordic Total Merit Index (NTM) now includes the breeding value for metabolic efficiency. This is a measure of how efficiently the cow utilizes the feed consumed. VikingGenetics has developed a Cattle Feed Intake System (CFIT), where the feed intake of individual cows can be monitored by 3D cameras in barns using artificial intelligence algorithms. The first CFIT data are now available for Jersey. Data from both commercial and research farms are used to calculate the breeding value for metabolic efficiency for VikingJersey.

More efficient cows

Metabolic efficiency captures how well the cow utilizes feed. An efficient cow will convert a larger part of the energy consumed into milk and meat, while a smaller part is lost in the digestion process to production of e.g. manure and heat.

When selecting for an efficient cow, we take all the major processes that the cow uses energy for into account. We have two sub-traits included in the Saved Feed Index:

  • Maintenance efficiency - energy required for maintenance
  • Metabolic efficiency - how efficiently the consumed feed is utilized by the cow

Metabolic efficiency is defined as the difference between the actual feed intake and the expected feed intake. The expected feed intake is estimated based on the actual weight and milk production of the cow. A cow that eats less feed than expected will be more efficient. In other words, if you compare two cows with the same weight and milk production, the cow which eats less feed is a more efficient cow.

Cooperation and new technology

Breeding for feed efficiency in dairy cows has not been possible until recently because of the lack of feed intake data on individual cows on a large scale. There is an increasing focus on resource and feed efficiency around the world, and new methods to measure feed intake are being developed.

One way of measuring individual feed intake is by installing feed boxes. This is very expensive and has only been done in research herds around the world. Therefore, the number of cows with records within each country is limited. By cooperating with universities from several countries (Denmark, Finland, Canada, USA and Australia), we get records for more cows – but still not on a scale that gives basis for breeding values with high reliability.

Data from commercial herds

Many companies are trying to get affordable and precise registrations of feed intake in commercial herds by using different technologies, but it’s not an easy task. Therefore, it is a game changer that VikingGenetics has developed an alternative way to collect feed intake data using a 3D camera-based solution, called the Cattle Feed Intake System (CFIT).

In the barn, feed bunks and tables are scanned by 3D cameras, and the visual image of the feed is converted to an amount of feed using artificial intelligence algorithms.

The images are also used to identify the cows eating the feed. This is based on the distinct pattern of colours and body shape of each cow.  By continuously scanning the feed bunks and tables, the amount of feed consumed by different cows is measured. In this way, we get measures of individual feed intake. This is valuable data for both management and breeding.

“The data on feed intake are collected from the commercial herds without disturbing the daily routines and the cows’ behaviour.”

Jan Lassen ,
MSc., PhD, and Senior Research Manager at VikingGenetics

Committed to quality data

We are working to develop an extensive registration system to make data for an individual cow’s feed intake over her lifetime available. We focus on collecting the data that are comparable across the breeds and herds. Dairy farmers in the Nordic countries deliver high-quality and accurate data. This provides important insights for research and development.

The first CFIT data are now available for Jersey. Data from both commercial and research farms are used to calculate the breeding value for metabolic efficiency for VikingJersey.

This should be seen as a start of a very important journey. All efforts made within breeding and management that strive to make our dairy cows more profitable and climate-friendly are of great importance. Inclusion of metabolic efficiency in the Saved Feed Index will give some changes in both Saved Feed and NTM values, and therefore cause some re-ranking of AI bulls.

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