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What will the ideal cow look like in 2025?

Jean-François Thouny for Progressive Dairyman Published on 31 May 2017
Jersey Herd

Today we can drive Tesla vehicles guided by automatic driving modules, hockey players and professional athletes shatter statistics and establish new records, and thanks to science, we are testing hyper-loops to shape our future – and the human race will eventually control its biological destiny like never before.

In our modern dairy world, production sites have followed the path of this evolution, and the farm uses all cutting-edge means available, ranging from milking robots, electronic heat detection or metabolic monitoring by sophisticated software and applications up to the choice of the sex of the newborn calf.



Precision agriculture gave the power to producers to optimize the return on investment in inputs while preserving resources.

Tractica, a market intelligence firm that focuses on human interaction with technology, forecasts that worldwide shipments of agricultural robots will grow from 28,453 in 2015 to almost 600,000 units in 2024, increasing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 40.2 percent during that period.

Worldwide agricultural robot revenue is expected to grow from $3 billion in 2015 to $74.1 billion in 2024, at a CAGR of 43 percent.

It is known agricultural production needs to double by 2050 to meet the needs of nearly 10 billion of our grandchildren; it is also known the population pressure on arable land is constantly increasing, requiring forest land to be cleared, with all the associated environmental pressure.

Because the planet is on a fast-track route to go hungry, there will be more expectations and more eyes on the dairy industry as a true factory to produce milk and solids; the cow, however, must now meet a simple basic need for the consumer of tomorrow: healthy milk produced in quantity and in an efficient way.


2025 high-tech cow?

Dairy cows in our Western world need to be evaluated on criteria that meet the expectations and necessities of the 8.1 billion consumers in 2025. From a point of view of the progressive dairy, that comes as such:

  1. Greater food efficiency (kilograms of milk by quantity of solid and liquid ingested)

  2. More milk production and solids per cow

  3. Increasing milk components, specifically casein and fatty acids

  4. A problem-free cow

Greater food efficiency (kilograms of milk by quantity of solid and liquid ingested)

In a first plan, the cow of 2025 must be able to transform less food and water through the rumen for each kilogram of nutrient produced. It’s an obvious logic with feed costs representing approximately half of the milk production cost.

Rationing and the management of a healthy rumen are dictated by the genetic print. The ruminal bacteria population, the real motor for production, determines the consumption and the optimal production.

As with any organism, bacterial synthesis is dictated by genes, and here is the future for a reasoned and well-managed milk production.

Our cows are actually athletes of modern times. The long jump world record belongs to Greg Rutherford, an Englishman who broke the record with a jump of 8.51 meters at the Olympic Games in London.

Rutherford and his coaching team are specialists. They use all of the tools science gives them, among which was reading Rutherford’s DNA in order to train better and even to eat better based on his gene sequence.


On the bovine side, scientific research at the genetic level to identify markers of feed efficiency of dairy cattle are made on very large numbers across the globe.

It is estimated 5,000 litres of water is needed to produce 1 kilogram of cheese – against 3,300 litres for the same amount of egg production. Yet 1,800 litres are needed for 1 kilogram of soybeans.

But by lowering dry matter intake per cow per day by 2 or even 3 kilograms and producing 3,000 kilograms more of standard milk with our Holsteins, we will get herds to 50 kilograms per day average, with feed efficiency rates of 1.7 or better.

Thus, the challenge of producing more with less will be achieved. Financially, few genetic traits can have this economic impact.

Today, our Holstein cows are gaining about 50 pounds of bodyweight every decade. Mature cows that used to scale at 1,400 pounds are now pushing 1,600 pounds. It won’t necessarily result in increased milk production or better feed efficiency.

The first solution is to avoid selecting big, inefficient cows with low productivity.

More milk production and solids per cow

The second point is already well-harnessed, identifying both genetic resources (about 100 kilograms of milk adjusted to the mobile base each year, 4 kilograms of fat and 3 kilograms of protein) and environment (specific TMR, expertise and understanding in the rationing to manage transitions) will allow us to achieve daily peaks of 90 kilograms and more in the near future.

Increasing milk components, specifically casein and fatty acids

The third point for the dairy cow of 2025 and beyond will be to meet the needs in specific milk solid components. Already the kappa-casein B gene is used for best cheese yields.

The increased selection for beta-casein A2A2 and fatty acids (linoleic) also prove that today not only the quantity but also the composition of milk plays an important role in our industry.

In a global context with populations made of diverse histories and cultures, the dairy industry has to build its future around these specific needs.

A problem-free cow

Finally, and certainly the biggest block to consider, is the ability of our high-performing futuristic cow to avoid sickness. The publication of genetic evaluations for mastitis resistance and metabolic disease resistance are a step forward to more robust health genes.

Combined with excellent management and the comfort of the pre- and post-calving transition phase, the wise producer of tomorrow will have a recipe for avoiding the ravages made by mammary infections, placental retentions, subclinical ketosis, metritis (69 percent incidence rate) or endometritis, and milk fever.

Managing feet and leg health will be facilitated by the increased knowledge of the genes and markers involved in lameness.

Adding a focus on functionality first and foremost with these innovative criteria, coupled with better genetics for the body condition, fertility, longevity, calving ease and the persistence of lactation (a rate of descent of 5 percent for 200 days after peak).

The collection and centralization of data for each animal, provided by advanced technology from its birth to its Productive Life, analyzed continuously by the breeder, by his advisers in animal health, diet and genetics will be commonplace in a spirit of efficiency and profitability, thanks to early detection and a rapid response. Sharp risk management will be required.

How will we get there?

To reach the highest genetic gain, the ideal 2025 cow must come from the elite group of the previous generation determined by genomic testing. That’s the more efficient way to improve all of the aforementioned traits.

All other cows could be bred with beef semen so resulting calves would have higher feed efficiency in feedlots.  end mark

PHOTO: Jersey herd. Courtesy photo.

Jean-François Thouny
  • Jean-François Thouny

  • Ontario Manager
  • STGenetics of Canada
  • Email Jean-François Thouny