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Meeting Breeding Potential in Organic and Low-Input Dairy Farming

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Hannah DavisORCiD, Dr Sokratis Stergiadis, Eleni Chatzidimitriou, Dr Roy SandersonORCiD, Gillian Butler



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© Copyright © 2020 Davis, Stergiadis, Chatzidimitriou, Sanderson, Leifert and Butler.Low-input (LI) dairy farming, relying heavily on grazing, is increasing in popularity for perceived sustainability, welfare, and milk nutritional quality benefits. However, there is little research into the breed suitability for these systems. The popular Holstein–Friesians are not well-suited to LI production as, to achieve their potential high yields, they require high levels of concentrate intakes and veterinary inputs. Holstein–Friesians were traditionally bred for high milk yields, which often correlate negatively with functional traits, such as fertility and health. This drives the need for alternative breed choices, and UK dairy farmers use several crossbreeding practices. Additionally, classic measures of production efficiency (kilogram feed per liter of milk) are not the sole priority in LI systems, which also aim for improved health, fertility, forage conversion, and milk quality. This study aimed to explore the effect of breeding strategy on LI and organic production in dairy systems, collecting data from 17 farms throughout England and Wales: 7 organic and 10 low-input conventional systems with both purebred and crossbred cows from different breeds. Records from 1,070 cows were collected, including background data, health, fertility, breeding, and parity. Additionally, milk was analyzed on four occasions (autumn 2011 and winter, spring, and summer 2012). Principal components analysis was used to visualize the effect of management, Farm ID, and stage of lactation on LI production. The analysis clustered cows by Farm ID, showing that individual management practice on each farm had the greatest impact on various production traits. Cows were allocated a composite score based on their yield, health records, and milk fatty acid profile, and a linear mixed-effects model indicated (p < 0.01) that crossbred New Zealand Friesian cows scored highest, whereas Dairy Shorthorn cows scored the lowest. This paper highlights weaknesses in current breeding programs for LI and organic farms in the UK, in terms of the alignment of breeds with husbandry practices. Additional research is needed to explore any gene by environment interactions to meet the true potential of individual cows and certain breeds under LI and organic management.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Davis H, Stergiadis S, Chatzidimitriou E, Sanderson R, Leifert C, Butler G

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Frontiers in Veterinary Science

Year: 2020

Volume: 7

Online publication date: 28/10/2020

Acceptance date: 16/09/2020

Date deposited: 15/12/2020

ISSN (electronic): 2297-1769

Publisher: Frontiers Media S.A.


DOI: 10.3389/fvets.2020.544149


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