There is an old management adage that states “You can’t manage what you don’t measure”. Without measurement, you don’t know if you’re getting better or worse and without knowing this, you can’t manage for improvement! This statement is also true when it comes to milk recording.
Therefore, it is no surprise that, according to research carried out by ICBF, herds that are Milk Recording, in a Discussion Group and using HerdPlus are delivering €184 higher output per cow than herds that are not.
Table 1 above compares herds that never milk recorded with Herds that started milk recording in 2012 and herds continually milk recording, in a discussion group and/or HerdPlus. The research shows that in the average 70 cow herd, the extra output equates to over €12,000 due to increased milk volume and more milk solids.
The level of milk recording in Ireland over the last eight years is displayed in Table 2. While the number of cows recorded has been steadily increasing (e.g. up 7.5% between 2016 and 2017), these gains are coming from expanding cow numbers as opposed to an increase in the number of herds milk recording.
Therefore, we still have huge scope for improvement, as the number of cow’s milk recorded still only represents about 48% of total dairy cow compared with a figure of 66% in New Zealand.
Improved Milk Output & Quality
Data from milk recording herds clearly shows an increase in milk solids per cow over the last four years i.e. 2013 V’s 2017 (Figure 1). The biggest increase in milk solids has come about during the first five months of the year, which would be expected given the improvement in cow fertility brought about by choosing high EBI bulls. ICBF calving data has shown improvements over the last five years in traits like calving interval, six week calving rate and percentage calved between January and March. These improvements have a direct impact on a cow’s ability to produce more milk due to longer lactations.
Finally, it is important to note that Ireland has also seen a considerable improvement in Somatic Cell Count (SCC) over the last five years with average SCC from milk recording herds falling from a high 282 cells/ml in 2010 to 165 cells/ml in 2017 (see Figure 2). This improvement has also contributed to the farmer’s bottom line with increased cell count bonuses but more importantly, increased milk output.
The industry as a whole, must continue its focus on getting more herds engaged in milk recording, as the gains to be made must not be allowed go to waste especially in the context of a quota free environment and fluctuating milk prices.