Selecting the ‘Sustainable’ Cow Using a Customized Breeding Index: Case Study on a Commercial UK Dairy Herd

Matt J. Bell, Greta-Marie Jauernik

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review

45 Downloads (Pure)


The aim of the current study was to investigate using a customized profit and carbon total merit index to identify sustainable milking cows and herd replacements within a commercial dairy herd. Balancing the economic, social and environmental aspects of milk production has gained interest given the increasing global demand for milk products. Furthermore, a farm-level customized breeding index with farm-derived weightings for biological traits would incorporate the effect of the farm environment. This study used a Markov chain approach to model a commercial dairy herd in the UK between the years 2017 and 2022. Production, financial, genetic and nutritional data for the herd were used as input data. The model derived the economic (GBP per unit) and carbon values (kilograms CO2-eq. emissions per unit) for a single phenotypic increase in milk volume, milk fat yield, milk protein yield, somatic cell count, calving interval and lifespan, which were used in a profit and carbon index. The study proposed a methodology for selecting individual milking cows and herd replacements based on their potential to increase herd profitability and reduce carbon emissions as a means to identify more sustainable animals for a given farm environment. Of the 370 cows and herd replacements studied, 76% were classified as sustainable with a desirable increase in profit and reduction in carbon emissions. Customized breeding indices with trait weightings derived from the farm environment and selecting individual animals on economic and carbon metrics will bring permanent and cumulative improvements to the sustainability of milk production with appropriate nutrition and management. The approach used can be applied to any commercial farm to select animals that are more sustainable.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)423
Number of pages1
JournalAgriculture (Switzerland)
Issue number2
Early online date10 Feb 2023
Publication statusPublished - 10 Feb 2023


  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Food Science
  • Plant Science
  • biological traits
  • Article
  • dairy systems
  • greenhouse gas emissions
  • profit


Dive into the research topics of 'Selecting the ‘Sustainable’ Cow Using a Customized Breeding Index: Case Study on a Commercial UK Dairy Herd'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this