Breeding Healthier Dairy Cows

Based on figures calculated by Animal Health Ireland’s own Cell Check Quick Calculator, the cost of mastitis for a herd averaging 300-400,000 cells/mL is estimated at €186.26/cow/year. For a 100 cow herd, this amounts to a staggering €18,626 reduction in profit. The total cost of every case of lameness is estimated at €300 once treatment costs and loss of production are all taken into account as demonstrated at the 2016 National Dairy conference. These are significant losses in profit which could otherwise be going to dairy farmers if addressed.

One way to improve mastitis and lameness in the herd is to breed replacements using Sires which are genetically more resistant to these diseases. Research published in 2011 by the Irish Veterinary Journal shows that resistance to mastitis and lameness both have heritabilities similar to that of calving interval, a trait that has already been successfully used to improve fertility. As there is also sufficient genetic variation in the national herd, selecting for genetically healthier cows is not just possible but very achievable.

However, this research also highlighted that the main challenge when selecting animals for mastitis and lameness resistance is around the quantity of data being recorded. Consistent recording of data over time is also critical. As part of the Dairy Efficiency Program (DEP) approximately 3,500 herds were recording cases of mastitis or lameness for an average 52,000 cows each year. Since the DEP ended in 2014, this has fallen to approximately 10,500 cows with a mastitis or lameness record. This shows a significant drop-off in the level of data being recorded.

With the purpose of increased data recording in mind, ICBF have sent Health and Temperament Surveys to over 8,000 dairy herds which will allow farmers to record mastitis, lameness and milking temperament in a quick and easy manner. In the first week alone, almost 450 herds have returned surveys capturing data on a total of 38,000 cows. Cases of either mastitis or lameness have been recorded on over 5,300 cows. This works out at an average of 14% of cows showing Mastitis or Lameness with an average herd size of 85 cows. Herds which have not already done so are strongly encouraged to take 5 minutes to fill out the survey online at www.icbf.com , or failing that, to return the survey sheets by post.

The EBI has already delivered an estimated €587 million in additional profit to the sector, primarily through gains in milk and fertility. Recording this health and temperament information will help improve the reliability of the health and management sub-indexes of the national herd and will better place the Irish dairy sector to select the next generation of high health, easy management AI sires which will ultimately leave more profit for Irish dairy farmers in the future.