Have you heard a dairy farmer say … “It is my data! … Why should I share my data? … Just so that someone else can make money from my data! … It costs me to generate my data! … What are you going to pay me for my data?” In dairy cattle genetic improvement, these comments are often aimed at A.I. organizations or breeding companies who have access to but do not pay, as they once did, for the use of breeders’ individual animal and herd performance data.
Where is this ‘Pay Me’ Approach Coming From?
Breeders today see that their futures are threatened when it comes to revenue from their breeding stock sales. They have much less (if any) income, as a percent of total revenue, from animal and embryos sales than they had thirty years ago. No one is beating down their doors for open heifers, springing bred heifers or quality second calvers. They still participate in type classification and DHI programs, but their officially documented animal data is not being asked for. Grade females with documentation fetch as many dollars from sales agents as do purebreds. High herd performance averages (BAA, milk/fat/protein yield averages, …) do not bring buyers to farms seeking surplus animals.
Why Participate in Animal Improvement Programs?
So, breeders are saying why spend the money to participate in industry offered breed improvement programs? These breeders know full well that they need the data for their on-farm use but question if organizations beyond their farm gate have the right to use their data without paying for it.
Nothing remains the same forever. At the farm level, animal and herd data once used to generate revenue now has the primary use of helping to keep costs under control.
But … what is the big picture of this matter?
The Data Focus is Now Value Added
The profitable cow for most dairy farmers has evolved or is evolving to a healthy, long-lived, efficient converter, high fat and protein producing cow. As well, dairy farmers are making extensive use of sexed semen, breeding the low-end females to beef semen and buying systems and technology that enhance herd management and help cut costs.
Every piece of data, old and new, must provide a return on the investment … It must have a value added at the farm of origin level. It is no longer just how much milk, fat or protein or if she classified above breed average. It is – does she do that and more – calved without difficulty at 22 months of age, conceives on 1st or 2nd service, does not get sick, does not have feet/hoof problems and remains in the herd to at least 72 months of age (completes 4 lactations). The ideal cow needs to be much more genetically and performance wise than she was even ten years ago.
Value Added Answers New Questions
Even though the focus in the press and social media is on the genomics for young animals, breeders want and need to have the profitable lifetime cow. That requires that on-farm finances need to be given a much higher priority for inclusion in data captured and reported than they have been up until now. Without including the dollars and cents relative to a trait – do the trait genetic indexes have worthwhile value?
It goes even further. Some old beliefs may not hold their perceived value. Do wide bodied cows consume more feed? Will a2a2 animals generate more revenue in the future? Are there bloodlines or breeds that are more profitable at converting feed than other bloodlines or breeds?
Viability and Sustainability are High Priority
We need to dig much deeper using more data points so cows, dairy farms and the industry can be viable and sustainable. More production is not always better. The fact is we talk value added but we are not using the data to actually determine if it is adding value. The dairy cattle improvement industry needs expanded thinking when it comes to using all data.
How Did the Dairy Cattle Improvement Industry Get to this Point with Data?
Many often blame the introduction of genomics as the reason that breeders are unable to get back some return for sharing their data.
With the introduction of genomic sire indexes, A.I. stopped paying incentive dollars to breeders that sampled young sires. Payment in return for breeders’ data that was used to daughter prove the young sires. It so happened that, at the same time, semen prices for proven sires dropped and semen sales volume for proven sires went from 80% to 30% of the market. And so, the money was not there for A.I. to continue their young sire incentive programs.
Dramatic Expansion in Data
In this past decade progressive dairy farmers have been purchasing more tools to evaluate their herds in order to improve their herd management practices. Breeds did not change the services they provided while milk recording expanded their scope of services. New entrepreneurial service providers entered the dairy cattle improvement industry and many more services and technologies were offered to dairy farms. The result is that there has been a dramatic expansion in data and data points for cows and herds.
Who Analyzes the data?
Yet in many cases the increased data points are not linked. Dairy farmers must sort through all the data and draw their own conclusions and make decisions based solely on their herd’s data. Of course, all data capture costs money so dairy farms have incurred more expense and yet are having to link the data on their own. No wonder dairy farmers are saying, “It is my data I paid for it all. How do I get a return on my data investment? My data has a value beyond my farm. Am I seeing benefit from my data used by organizations?”
Has the dairy improvement industry not kept up with farmers’ needs when it comes to linking, analyzing and providing information for animal and herd advancement? Likely, that is partially true. But all is not lost. Organizations are now seeing the need to link all data points to provide more complete answers for dairy farmers.
Everyone Benefits from Sharing Data
When a farm’s data is not available for others everyone looses … original farm … other farms … service providers … the industry.
Here is a partial list of the benefits of shared data for farms and for the industry:
Broadly based guideposts for animals and herds have been and will continue to be integral for farms to be able to improve. Industry databases containing large volumes of animal and herd data are needed to develop the guideposts.
- Accuracy of Prediction and Forecasting
Broad based animal and herd data is needed to know performance and trends. As well as for all stakeholders to predict and plan.
- Research and Development
Innovation is critical for any industry to progress. Extensive data along with both public and private funding are needed for research and development.
- Genetic Advancement
Large comprehensive databases are needed to expand the economically important traits for which dairy cattle are genetically evaluated. CDN/Lactanet research has shown that half of the progress in on-farm profitability comes about because of the genetic improvement of animals.
- Product Guarantees
Databases that include monitoring of location of production, of production methodology, of product identification and of product movement are important for consumers to know that the food they buy meets standards, is safe and wholesome. In the future producers, processors and marketers will be required to guarantee their products
- Results of Industry Collaboration and Initiatives
Dairy farmers have been asking for their service organizations to expand and link the services offered. Elimination of duplication, sharing of services and efficiencies within services are important to dairy farmers. To achieve all these animal, herd and farm data is necessary.
- New Technology and Systems
The rate of implementation of technology and new systems is occurring at a break-neck speed. The result is more and new information to manage by and for more effective use of labor and feeds. Past animal and herd data are paramount to create the new equipment and management softwares for not only milk cows but also for calves, heifers, dry cows and farm and industry systems.
It is Check-In Time for How the Dairy Industry Deals with Data
Shared data will be the foundation on which the dairy industry will build its future viability and sustainability.
All industries (auto, medical, energy, …etc.) are changing their approach to who has access to individual organizations’ data. It is not who owns or controls the data, – it is who uses the data to implement new.
No person, service provider or industry can exist as an island onto themselves.
The Bullvine Bottom Line
All farm data needs to be used on the farm of origin and in the industry. Sharing data is not a “no way” – it is a definitely “yes do for success”. Opportunity is out there for farms that share their data but, in return, there must be ways to improve income, efficiencies, cost cutting, management improvements, and more. Sharing dairy data is sound business.