Environmentally Friendly Cows

Randy Shaver, UW-Extension dairy nutrition specialist
Department of Dairy Science
UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences

3:04 – Total time

0:15 – What is an environmentally friendly cow
0:27 – Efficient Cows
0:52 – Breeding indexes
1:05 – How we got here
2:05 – Research support
2:55 – Lead out


Sevie Kenyon: The environmentally friendly cow, we’re visiting today with Randy Shaver, Department of Dairy Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison/Extension in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and I’m Sevie Kenyon. Randy, what makes an environmentally friendly cow?

Randy Shaver: Well, it’s one that we can minimize the amount of waste products that the cow excretes in the environment and talking a lot about nitrogen and phosphorus and these days even methane emissions.

Sevie Kenyon: So, what makes an efficient cow?

Randy Shaver: Well, it’s one that produces a high amount of milk for the amount of food that she consumes and so we normally talk about a high producing dairy cow may consume feed at about four percent of body weight and they need that amount of nutrients to maintain their weight, maintain their body condition and also produce milk efficiently. But in the breeding indexes, they’re starting to put a discount factor in for cow size so that you will be selecting for milk production potential and then also the potential milk production relative to feed intake.

Sevie Kenyon: Randy, how did we get to this position?

Randy Shaver: Well I think just through selection, really over the years, for high production and I think we’ve done a lot to improve efficiency but these days we’re concerned not just about milk production and economics we’re also concerned about the environmental situation. How much nitrogen or phosphorous are we excreting? How much impact does agriculture have on the greenhouse gases and methane specifically and what we’re finding is that fine tuning this, not just according to how much the cow milks but how much does she eat can have a big impact. So, I think that’s kind of the way going forward is looking how do we make dairy be even more green than what it is and we are finding some big impacts and quite a bit of research going on just looking at how can we reduce the methane contribution. And one of the ways to do that is to simply have that cow be more efficient.

Sevie Kenyon: Does the research indicate how much difference there is?

Randy Shaver: Well, I think one of the goals of the overall dairy industry is been to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by, I believe, over 20 percent at some time point and so a lot of the research that’s gone into this has been looking at different diet. Can we feed maybe more digestible fiber and reduce methane output and so we are seeing some big impacts from different feed additives, different dietary changes, but when you look at the total output of methane it really comes down to how many cows are out there to support the level of milk production that we need. And simply having the more efficient cow dilutes out the maintenance cost and we’re simply continuing to ratchet down the environmental impact of the dairy cow through the efficiency side as well as dietary manipulation.

Sevie Kenyon: We’ve been visiting with Randy Shaver, Department of Dairy Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison/Extension in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and I’m Sevie Kenyon.

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