Emerging technologies and innovative research methodologies continue to provide dairy producers with new opportunities to improve production efficiency and therefore, profitability.

One opportunity of immense interest involves the exploration of animals which consume less feed while maintaining similar production to their herd mates. Such an animal has a superior ability to efficiently convert feed energy into useable products such as meat or milk.

Given that feed accounts for the largest variable input cost of production and is inextricably tied with greenhouse gas emissions, the efficient conversion of feed energy to product directly impacts two of the most critical issues currently affecting dairies: feed cost and sustainability.

Recognising the immense implications this area has on the future of the dairy industry, Cogent has introduced EcoFeed™, a feed efficiency index in order to help producers create progeny with superior abilities to efficiently convert feed energy into production outputs.

The EcoFeed™ index is an integrated approach to genetic selection based on progeny testing of females to identify sires that produce offspring who consume less feed, whilst maintaining production compared to their herd mates to increase profitability and global sustainability.

In the dairy industry today, feed costs represent up to 50% if not more of total variable cost on UK dairy farms according to Kite Consulting. Combine that with the current volatility of feed prices and growing competition for feed as food and fuel, it is expected that this will rise even further in the near future. With this in mind, selecting and breeding animals that produce the same amount of milk on less feed is a necessary solution.

It has been found, that high EcoFeed™ heifers can consume up to 24% less feed/day as fed, which equates to 4.7kg less feed as fed/day. For a 200-cow dairy rearing 60 heifers per year (30% replacement rate), a reduction of just 1.8kg of fresh feed per day per animal, could lead to annual savings of as much as £2360 per year.

Since the start of this programme in 2014, Cogent's parent company, STgenetics®, has evaluated feed conversion efficiency on over 5000 female progeny from 700 sires, making it the largest feed efficiency database of a single organisation to date.

EcoFeed™ is uncorrelated with other traits currently utilised for selection purposes in Holstein cows, and is a moderately heritable trait (21%). This means that producers can select for high EcoFeed™ animals with confidence, alongside other economically important traits such as Milk, Components, PLI and Fertility as part of a wider breeding strategy that aims to deliver overall profitability and sustainability.