Article Text

Farm Animal Practice
Breeding for improved cow fertility
  1. Brian McGuirk

    Brian McGuirk is an independent animal breeding consultant who divides his tirne between Orange in Australia and Edinburgh. With a PhD in animal breeding from Edinburgh University, he spent 20 years in sheep breeding research in Australia, and subsequently worked for Premier Breeders and Genus in the UK, for which he was R&D manager. He was also a breeding consultarit to the Milk Development Council.


ANECDOTAL evidence and results from milk recording organisations such as National Milk Records (NMR) suggest that there has been a decline in dairy cow fertility in the UK national herd. Many people believe that the British Friesian had better fertility than the modern-day Holstein. The switch from Friesian to Holstein occurred in the mid-1980s, but there is evidence that cow fertility continues to decline, a trend that is blamed on the pursuit of higher yields by breeding companies. Dairy farmers also want to see genetic gains in yield, as it accords with their own demand for more efficient dairy cows, but many see any decline in cow fertility as undesirable and even unacceptable. With low milk prices, there has been a move back to the use of less concentrate, and the perceived need to produce 'milk from grass'. A regular annual calving pattern is more difficult to achieve if herd fertility is declining. Farmers are also concerned about the direct costs of poorer fertility (eg, veterinary costs, semen and insemination fees, higher herd replacement rates). This article examines the evidence for and against some of these beliefs, and explores the possibility that there may be a resolution between the interests of breeding companies and those of commercial milk producers. It is an axiom of sound business practice that the interests of supplier and producer cannot remain at cross purposes.

Statistics from

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.