November 16 2022
GREEN COWS FOR THE FUTURE – BREEDING THE WAY TO CARBON NEUTRALITY
Irish farmers can now select partners for their cattle based on carbon efficiency
Irish dairy farmers are being encouraged to breed their way to a cleaner, greener future with the launch of a new breeding tool which will allow them to select the parents of the next generation of dairy cows according to their expected ‘carbon hoofprint’.
Now, researchers at the VistaMilk SFI Research Centre (in conjunction with international researchers at AbacusBio) have added a carbon efficiency layer to animals in the EBI (the Irish cattle breeding tool), meaning that Irish dairy farmers will have the choice to breed calves specifically because they are more environmentally friendly, as well as being more profitable.
The EBI (in its original form) has been around for 21 years helping farmers identify the most profitable bulls and cows for breeding dairy herd replacements. Thanks to the farmers who’ve worked with it, it has already reduced the average amount of carbon associated with each litre of milk produced by 14% over that period.
The launch of the new carbon index, which will ‘go live’ in January, comes as the dairy sector strives to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by the end of this decade, with some commentators suggesting the only way of doing so is to cull the national herd.
The new improved EBI, which allows farmers to choose specific genetic characteristics such as longevity, fertility, milk yield and now carbon efficiency, is set to be a major contributor to Irish dairy’s strategy for meeting the 25% target – without threatening the sector’s future.
This cattle breeding tool is based on nature’s own principles that genetic characteristics are likely to be passed down across generations, and the effects of the breeding programme are both cumulative and permanent. Delivering evolution takes time however, and the beneficial effects of the enhanced EBI will take several years to show through.
Donagh Berry, Director of the VistaMilk Research Centre and one of the team who have spent two years developing the new carbon index for the EBI, believes that this development will be a real game-changer.
“You can’t argue with the benefits of breeding programmes – the improvements build over time and once they’re established, they don’t drop off. We’ve been working with the breeding index for two decades and we’ve seen a 14% reduction in carbon hoofprint.
This new piece of work specifically targets carbon efficiency in cattle and will provide farmers with the choice of breeding green into their cows.
“The beauty of the EBI is that there is no reason for farmers not to use it – they have to breed cattle and they might as well ensure that they’re doing it in a way that improves the performance, the value and the environmental impact of their animals. On that basis – everyone should be doing it.”
Siobhan Ring, Senior Research Geneticist at the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF), commented: “The EBI works on the principle of ‘more from the same’. It’s the same cow, buts she’s better in any number of different ways – healthier, more fertile, longer-lived, more productive.
“Now we can include more carbon-efficient in that list of improvements to our animals – which means we’re delivering more sustainable and environmentally-friendly dairy products to the consumer, attributes which we know are increasingly important to them when they’re making food choices.”
For further information, or to arrange an interview with a VistaMilk or ICBF spokesperson:
Jeremy Probert | jeremy@4TC.ie | 00 353 (0) 89 700 0792
Craig McKechnie | craig@4TC.ie | 00 353 (0) 87 621 8839
Notes to editors
VistaMilk SFI Research Centre
Established in 2018, the VistaMilk SFI Research Centre identifies challenges and solves problems for the Irish dairy sector in four specific areas – soil, pasture, cow, and food. VistaMilk is a unique collaboration between Agri-Food and information communications technology (ICT) research institutes and leading Irish/multinational food and ICT companies. It is funded by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine (DAFM).
Through strategic collaboration and co-ordination, VistaMilk’s research programme provides an opportunity to acquire, analyse and act upon data to generate a range of recommendations and practical solutions to real and current issues.
VistaMilk’s access to expertise and resources makes it an authoritative voice on a range of topics facing the Irish dairy industry, including sustainability, emissions reduction, and carbon sequestration.
VistaMilk’s projects will enable Irish dairy farmers to develop the sustainable practices that will protect the 18,000 family farms, the 60,000 jobs and the €5bn yearly economic contribution that dairy supports in this country. It will also provide consumers with the reassurance of knowing that the dairy products they buy continue to be both farmed and processed locally.
 extra kilogram of milk solids