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24 Oct 2020

Optimise feed efficiency with the Saved feed index

The Saved feed index is now part of the Nordic Total Merit Index (NTM) for the genetic evaluation of Holstein, Jersey and Red Dairy Cattle. The aim is to improve efficiency, reduce feed costs at farm level and ensure a more resource-efficient production.  

With the Saved feed index is possible to achieve even more environmentally friendly milk production by reducing greenhouse gas emissions per litre of milk produced. At the same time, the production profitability is streamlined.

Economic importance

The fact that the Saved feed index has now become part of NTM reflects the importance of this aspect in the three VikingGenetics´ breeding programmes: VikingHolstein, VikingRed and VikingJersey.

From an economic point of view, breeding for improved feed efficiency is an important area to focus on. According to Nordic Cattle Genetic Evaluation (NAV), up to 88% of the variable costs on a dairy farm relates to feed costs.

The Saved feed index describes the animal´s genetic ability to save feed costs as a result of improved feed conversion ability and lower maintenance. The higher the index, the more efficient a cow is in turning feed into milk.

Maintenance and Metabolic efficiency

The Saved feed index consists of two parts: Maintenance efficiency and Metabolic efficiency. Maintenance measures how much energy a cow uses due to her body size. It is well known that heavier cows use more energy than less heavy cows at the same production level. Metabolic efficiency measures how efficient the cow is in converting feed energy in her body. This is energy used, for instance, to support milk production. 

This new index has until now only consisted of the maintenance efficiency aspect. The breeding value for maintenance efficiency is based on different measures of live weight with the conformation traits like stature, body depth and chest width used as indicator traits.

The researchers continue to collect data on the live weight of cows in herds that are included in the research. Besides, the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) is also investigating whether the slaughter weights can be used as a measure of the size of the cows in the calculations.

The size of the cow matters

By adding the Saved Feed Index to the NTM the idea is also to have a better control of two aspects that are of high relevance for daily dairy farming:

  • Set a limit to the size of the cows.
  • Improve cows´ feed conversion ability.

The fact that cows are getting bigger is unprofitable because it leads to higher feed costs and poorer durability. There is a negative genetic link between the cow´s growing size and its longevity.

Artificial Intelligence to increase reliability

We are working to develop an extensive registration system to make data for individual cow´s feed intake over her lifetime available. We focus on collecting the data that are comparable across the breeds and herds. 

As one of the first movers, we are exploring the missing link in the feed efficiency equation – the individual cow feed intake. VikingGenetics has developed a 3D camera-based solution to make individual feed intake records on cows in commercial farms.

The analyses of the data collected on cows´ weight, feed intake and milk production will contribute to identifying which cows have the most efficient energy intake.

What’s in it for me?

  • With the Saved Feed Index, farmers can breed for more efficient and high-yielding cows with a long productive life to ensure a more resource-efficient production.
  • The data is collected from commercial farms which means farmers are engaged in the making of the new index.
  • From November 2020 proofrun Saved feed index will include the breeding value for metabolic efficiency. The new index will comprise feed intake records on cows in both commercial and research farms.
  • With the Saved feed index farmers can reduce the size of the cows. The bigger the cow, the more energy it needs to maintain itself.
  • There is a negative genetic link between the cow´s growing size and its longevity.

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