We are a group of scientists who have joined efforts to improve the efficiency of producing milk. Our project is "Genomic Selection and Herd Management Tools to Improve Feed Efficiency of the Dairy Industry" and it is funded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture of the USDA. Our goal is to increase the efficiency and sustainability of producing milk.
Past improvements in dairy cow productivity have increased feed efficiency indirectly through the dilution of maintenance. A cow at "1X maintenance intake" eats just enough to maintain body weight and produces no milk. All of the feed energy is lost as chemical wastes in feces and urine or as heat from digestive and metabolic processes. That is not why we feed cows. As a cow eats more, a smaller percentage of her diet is used to meet maintenance, resulting in big increases in the efficiency of converting feed to milk, especially as intake increases from 1X to 4X maintenance. Most top Holsteins currently eat at >4X maintenance (averaged over lifetime), so further increases in feed efficiency of cows must focus on direct selection for net efficiency.
To achieve this goal, we will: 1) develop a feed efficiency database seeded with 8000 genomically characterized Holstein cows, 2) determine the genetic architecture of feed efficiency in lactating dairy cows, and 3) facilitate implementation of genomic selection programs that will improve feed efficiency without impairing health or fertility. The existing artificial insemination infrastructure will ensure rapid and sustained implementation of our results across thousands of farms throughout the world. In addition, improvements can be made in the efficiency of nutrient use by the whole dairy herd through better management. To achieve this goal, we will 4) develop and deploy practical state-of-the-art decision support tools. Finally, we will reach out to our future consumer base and 5) educate K-12 and undergraduate students about key practices in dairy husbandry that promote efficiency and environmental stewardship.
We have assembled a team of global leaders in nutrition, genetics, genomics, and management across the research, extension, and teaching missions. International and Minority-Serving Institutions are key players. Stakeholder input is incorporated throughout the project. Undergraduate students are engaged and mentored in research, extension, and teaching. Dissemination of our database, genomic and management tools, and educational modules are integral to our work plan. Our project will produce more efficient cows, more efficient herds, and a better educated public to promote sustainable dairy production for global food security.