UK dairy breeding objectives

High quality cattle are at the heart of profitable dairy farming. This requires good quality genetics, as without this – however good your management – there is a ceiling to your herd’s performance and profitability. 

Our breeding vision

To breed dairy cows which are able to thrive in the diverse dairy farming systems which are found in the United Kingdom, and to provide dairy farmers with the opportunity to improve the health, welfare and productivity of their cows, while simultaneously protecting their genetic diversity. Such a breeding policy will contribute to a profitable, healthy and environmentally sustainable dairy herd.

Genetics background and areas of focus

Genetic evaluations are produced and disseminated three times a year for all the major dairy breeds and crosses in the UK and form an integral part of the dairy industry, with many organisations feeding into the process and subsequently benefiting from it.

Cow health, welfare and longevity have been a focus of the national breeding strategy for more than 10 years and the current national breeding goal £PLI (Profitable Lifetime Index) weights the ‘fitness’ traits over production traits in a ratio of roughly 32:68.

Traits currently evaluated are broadly; Milk production traits, Somatic Cell Counts, Lifespan, Conformation traits, Milking speed, Temperament, Fertility and Calving traits.

Breeding has many stakeholders from inside and outside the sector scrutinising its activities and breeders should be aware of their needs. Alongside Economic benefits which genetics can provide for, welfare and environmental needs should also be addressed.

The benefit of genetic improvement

Every year, the economic value of the genetic gain achieved by the breeders accumulates. The aggregate benefits of genetic improvement in the UK dairy industry are estimated to have been between £2.2 billion and £2.4 billion in the period 1980 - 2010¹. In addition a reduced impact on Green House Gasses is achieved and is estimated to have been about 0.8% per year as a consequence of genetic improvement².

Genetic trends

In order to monitor the effectiveness of the genetic evaluation process we will monitor the dairy genetics being used on farm to breed the next generation of dairy cows and annually we will highlight areas of success or concern.

Abbreviations used: SCC (Somatic Cell Counts), LS = Lifespan, FI = Fertility Index, £PLI = Profitable Lifetime Index,dCE = direct Calving Ease, mCE= maternal Calving Ease, CI = Calving Interval, NR = Non-Return 56 days, TM = Type Merit, Legs = Feet & Legs, Mam = Mammary (TM, Legs, Mam source ;Holstein UK).

1. Amer et al. INTERBULL BULLETIN NO. 43. Stavanger, Norway, August 26th – August 29th 2011
2. Defra (AC0204) conduced by Genesis Faraday and Cranfield University, 2008

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