February was a pretty busy month here at the Drum as we hosted NMR/AHDB Genomics Roadshow and I also took the chance to attend Dairy-Tech, and the Scotland and North of England Milk Records Herd Competition Evening.

Dairy-Tech was a busy event with some interesting technology. One that particularly took my eye was an ozone generator for use in sterilising milk lines etc post-milking which would eliminate the need for chlorinated chemicals etc.

However, I think that while there would obviously be environmental advantages, there is maybe a bit of work to do in trying to bring down the rather eye-watering capital costs.

Certainly, there seemed to be plenty of ways of spending money at the event so it was perhaps unfortunate that that week in late Jan/early Feb also saw the announcement of some major milk price reductions.

In fact, over the period Feb-Apr, we are looking at our milk price dropping by more than 17%, and no doubt there will be further, hopefully smaller, reductions to come as that will not quite see us through the milk flush. That said, the recent cold weather will have constrained production a little and stabilise the price.

The drop in milk price once again highlights the need to boost efficiency so it was perhaps timely to host the Genomics Roadshow. We’ve so far only really dabbled a little in the area doing an initial screen of our youngstock back in 2019, which we hoped would build our confidence in it.

With those animals now well ensconced in the milking herd, I recently took the time to go back to the original output of the genomic tests and see how the prediction matched against how the cows were actually performing. I must admit I was pleasantly surprised at how well the genomic data performed.

The best co-relation came, not surprisingly, when looking at milk output which quite closely co-related with the prediction, but then to be honest just looking at how a cow’s mother performed also gives a pretty good prediction, albeit slightly less reliably, at much lower cost.

What did surprise me a little was how well the predictions worked when looking at protein production and fertility. The protein graph is not as clear cut as the production one, but the trend is definitely there.

With fertility, the lowest ranked two animals were clearly outliers in comparison with their peers when you look at their average days calving-to-conception.

Also at the roadshow, Marco Winters presented some data which looked at the lameness index, and while in the first couple of lactations there wasn’t a lot a difference, as cows got older, the lower lameness genetic merit cows showed quite a marked increase in lameness issues.

This brought two thoughts to my mind. Firstly, how powerful genomics can be, but also the importance in getting other management of the herd right because unless the cows are going to be in the herd long enough for the genomic differences to manifest themselves, you’re not really getting the full value, especially for health traits such as lameness and mastitis.

Read more: Milk production expected to rise marginally

We have recently carried out a further round of genomic testing on our current crop of youngstock and what is quite nice to see is that the herd is making good progress. For example, with PLI the top ranked heifer in 2019 wouldn’t even match the average heifer this time round. Likewise for protein, which we’ve been targeting in our sire selection because we’re on a cheese contract.

Another topic at the Roadshow was the GenoCell project. This is where the individual SCC of cows in the herd are determined from a single bulk tank sample rather than having to take a milk sample from each cow.

The proof of concept work that NMR have done on this would appear to be quite promising and they are now doing further work in conjunction with Digital Dairy Chain at SRUC Barony and several milk processors.

If it works as hoped, it certainly looks like it will be a valuable tool for those farms that want to use Selective Dry Cow Therapy (SDCT), as we will all have to in the future, without having to go through the process of milk sampling. The only drawback is that obviously all the cows need to be genomically tested, but then again that only needs to be done once.

Hopefully, all those that attended the Roadshow found something useful to take home.

A couple of days later was the Milk Records Herd Competition evening. The big change this year was that entry was opened up to herds that record with all the companies, not just NMR.

This meant that prizes were spread more widely although I’m pleased to say that on the whole, Scotland seemed to win more than a fair share of the prizes.

Overall, it was a very good evening and I’d like to thank the organisers for all their hard work.