Designer Cows: Technologies Are Reshaping Dairy Herds

Rapid advances in breeding technologies and genetics in the dairy production sector are changing the way dairies run their businesses and design their herds. Technologies like genomic testing and sexed semen were once an expensive niche for elite cattle, but they are quickly becoming a necessary tool for success. Along with improving dairy producers' bottom lines, these developments will have implications for the beef industry, farm input suppliers, sustainability goals, and consumer products.

Report summary

The benefits of customizing herd genetics reaches beyond the farm, and increasingly shows signs of tapping into processor and consumer demand. Consumers are demanding more detailed information about where their food comes from, including down to the genetic level.

“Now, producers, in cooperation with processors of these products, could work to breed specific genetics into their herd,“ according to Ben Laine, Dairy Analyst at Rabobank. “This will produce a milk that matches the profile of the products being produced, resulting in increased efficiency and a higher yield at a lower finished cost, with a milk price premium to the producer.”

Using genomic testing to develop herds with greater feed efficiency also has implications both for sustainability and farm profitability. Feed is a major expense on dairy farms, and growing feed has environmental implications. Improving genetics toward greater feed conversion will drive more milk production from fewer cows and will use less land and feed resources.

In any case, producers are currently using these technologies to achieve premium prices, either for their milk, or for increased revenue on the beef side. This is working as a short-term strategy, but it will soon become critical to long-term success. Producers who are not adopting these technologies will increasingly fall behind and see their efficiency lag compared to their peers.