The dairy cattle breeding industry has, for the past century, had goals … increased lifetime production, udders compatible with machine milking, first calving at second birthday, … BUT … mostly the goals have not considered the people who spend their grocery dollars to buy dairy products. Yes, consumers are important. Yet consumers are, 99% of the time, the farthest thing from breeders’ minds when they make breeding decisions.

With all the back and forth in the media these days on trade and supply and demand in milk products in North America and also the world, The Bullvine decided to study the USA, as an example, of how breeding could possibly take place in the future in order to meet consumer demand for milk products. During the writing of this article, we consulted closely with Dr Jack Britt, as he has been giving considerable thought to what the US dairy industry will be in the future. Our review of Dr Britt’s work included presentations, that he made on dairying in 2067, at the CRI Annual Meeting in January 2017.

Current Situation for US Milk

In short, the US is swimming in surplus skim or what one writer called “a glut of skim’. To put it yet another way it requires the processing of too much milk to get the needed amount of butterfat. Thereby leaving a mountain of skim that must find a home in America or abroad. All the while when there is excess production in Europe, New Zealand and Australia. The result is that the US farm gate prices have tanked. Recently some producers have been informed that their processor will no longer pick up their milk.

After a thorough study of total domestic and export disappearance of US milk in 2016, Dr. Britt estimates that America consumes only 82% of its skim solids while using 97% of its fat solids. Simply said to come into balance the US needs to reduce its total milk production by 18% and significantly increase the fat percent in that reduced national production. By the way that significantly increased fat percent would need to be 4.6%.

History of US Milk Supply

The US dairy industry, in the past, operated well when supply was 105% of domestic demand. The current production level of 115+% of US demand has thrown the industry into disorder. With low prices, farm shipments increasing just so farms can maintain their cash flows and many newer producers, with debt and limited equity, being forced to leave the industry.

In the past when the milk supply in the US significantly exceeded domestic demand many governments and volunteer programs were implemented including the buyout of milking herds, purchase, and storage of excess butter, powder and cheese mostly destined for export, school milk for children and more.

Dairy marketing programs with commercial users (cheese, pizza, etc.) have been successful, but not to the extent that they have stopped the rise in the burgeoning stocks.

Moreover, cow numbers have crept up a bit in recent years and this means more cows are in the national herd and these cows are producing more and more each year.

No initiative has been the long-term solution to bring stability to milk supply or demand for milk in the American dairy industry.

Breeds (2014) in America

For dairy cattle farmers one immediate question is … “Do they have the right breed of cows or have they been making the right choice when selecting sires for their herds?”

Current (2014) production averages by breed for recorded cows are as follows:

Table 1 – American Breed Production (2014) for Officially Recorded Cows*

Breed % of Total Milk(#)**          F%           P%    P:F Ratio
Ayrshire 0.2 19,214 3.91 3.15 0.806
Brown Swiss 0.7 22,691 4.04 3.32 0.822
Guernsey 0.2 17,907 4.49 3.31 0.737
Holstein 87.4 27,251 3.73 3.06 0.821
Jersey 11.3 20,592 4.77 3.63 0.761
Milking Shorthorn 0.1 19,122 3.74 3.06 0.818
Red & White 0.1 24,675 3.76 3.05 0.811
    Weighted Average 26,421*** 3.82 3.11 0.818

* Data Source : Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding (
** Milk yields are for officially recorded cows
*** Milk yield for officially recorded cows exceeds the average US cow’s production by over 4,400 lbs

When considering Table 1, it is important to note: (1) the weighted butterfat average is 3.82%; and (2) that the weighted production level of officially recorded exceeds the level for the average US dairy cow by 4,400 lbs.

The Bullvine asks … if all US dairy cows were Jerseys or had a fat percent like Jerseys … would there still be a problem of not enough fat in proportion to other solids? Although Guernsey’s are few and far between their P:F ratio may be what the industry needs to bring into balance fat to other solids according to domestic disappearance. Breed loyalties run strong with dairy cattle breeders and it normally generations of selection to increase Fat %.

American Customer Needs (2030)

Healthy human nutrient intake has had a very significant uptake in research projects in the past decade. One big winner from this research has been the dairy industry with butter and whole milk now on the good side of the ledger, where just five years ago they where severely frowned upon.  In short, butterfat is no longer a swear word.

Considerable research into milk products is now in progress and a decade from now consumers will have many new or enhanced products that are based on milk or that contain milk products as a significant ingredient.

Other Factors That Will Affect the Desired Milk

The list is almost endless of factors that will change the way milk is produced and the component composition of milk the processors will demand. A partial list of factors could include: forage/pasture diets (80-90% forage); ways to minimize transport costs (don’t ship water); ways to best utilize storage capacity on-farm and at processors (higher component milk); environmental and emission regulations; a2 milk; the best milk for cheese making; enhanced fats in butter; … etc. As well as all the on-farm factors of cow size, cow mobility, cow feed conversion, labor minimization and adoption of technology.

The challenge for dairy cattle breeders will be to change their genetic, nutrition and management programs to capitalize on the opportunity to ship milk that brings the premium price.

Breeds in America (2030)

Dr. Britt’s work predicts that the average US cow in 2030 will produce 34,100 lbs of milk, that number considers the advances that will be made in genetics, nutrition, management and farm practices.  34,100 lbs. is 155% of what the average (all breeds) cows produced in 2014.

But is that the way to go? More and more and more milk? More and more and more skim? More and more and more whey? Is more volume the route the dairy breeding industry always needs to follow?

What about Dr. Britt’s idea of 4.6% fat in the milk? And what about a more significant portion of the national dairy herd being crossbred animals for reasons other than production?

The Bullvine offers (Table 2) a suggestion for breed composition and for when cows produce only 130% of their current (2014) volume of milk.  But with enough fat to fill the American domestic need.

Table 2 – Possible American Breed Production (2030)*

Breed % of Total Milk (#)**          %F            P%    P:F Ratio
Holstein 50% 35,424 4.3 3.5 0.814
Jersey 25% 26,770 5.3 4.1 0.774
Crossbred 25% 31,354 4.6 3.7 0.804
  Weighted Average 32,200*** 4.6 3.7 0.802

* Assumes dramatic genetic improvement for Fat % and Protein % and no genetic improvement for milk volume.
** Estimated milk yields for officially recorded cows at 130% of 2014 production
*** Dr. J H Britt predicts average US dairy cow’s production in 2030 will be 34,100 lbs (155% of 2014)

Do the numbers in Table 2 make sense? Are they achievable? Remember that the heritabilities for fat percent and protein percent are high and there will be 5 generations of cows before we reach 2030. If the numbers in table 2 are not achievable, then what are the numbers that the American dairy industry needs to plan for?  Or simply do Jersey and Guernsey need to be the breeds for the future?

Of course, there will be fewer cows needed to meet the national demand for milk in 2030, but that is a fact of life that the dairy industry has been living with forever.

Sires To Use

For Table 2 to become a reality, then heavy emphasis would need to be placed on selection for fat percent and some emphasis on protein percent. Sires that increase fat and protein yield but do not increase milk yield (0 PTA Milk) would help the process immeasurably. Table 3 provides some examples of high fat percent North American sires.

Table 3 – North American Sires that are High for Fat %

Name      Fat % **              Fat    Protein %        Protein         Milk  TPI/JPI/LPI NM$ / Pro$   Sire Stack
US Holstein                
Marriott 0.37 69 0.09 1 -823 2328 588 Predistine x Facebook x Bogart
Skateboard 0.35 99 0.07 22 121 2478 672 Uno x Russell x Auden
Element 0.35 81 0.12 23 -387 2429 652 Balisto x Hill x AltaAlly
Armani 0.35 33 0.16 -4 -1491 2087 249 Goldwyn x Regiment x Durham
Bloomfield 0.34 105 0.07 29 875 2429 652 Delta x x Uno x Shottle
US Jersey                
VJ Dee 0.58 69 0.24 13 -889 141 428 Lappe x Hirse x Lemvig
Vivaldi 0.52 82 0.22 29 -407 177 576 Lix x Implus x Paramount
Huell 0.45 87 0.16 31 -23 182 584 Hulk x Renegade x Maximum
Canada Holstein              
Flame 1.16 96 0.39 28 -515 3021 1809 Uno x Freddie x Bolton
Loic 0.91 104 0.45 61 283 3001 2066 Flame x Sudan x MOM
Lynx 0.81 118 0.24 55 920 3424 2678 Lylas x Jennings x McCutchen
Achiever 0.78 141 0.21 73 1550 3332 2902 Yoder x AltaEmbassy x Robust
Brewmaster 0.77 133 0.12 54 1235 3186 2377 Garrett x Shottle x Champion
Canada Jersey                
Maserati 1.09 80 0.38 28 40 1659 914 Merchant x Implus x Lemvig
Antonio 1.05 80 0.46 37 210 2030 1508 Vivaldi x Zuma x Lemvig
Mastermind 0.97 82 0.42 40 308 1822 1257 Hilario x Impuls x Lemvig

* Milk Rel – sires 90% and higher are daughter proven and sires 80% and lower are genomically evalauted
** Fat % cannot be directly compared US to Canada. All sires listed are at the top for their grouping.

Note that Fat % cannot be directly compared USA (expected daughter performance) to Canada (breeding value). Most of the sires in Table 3 may not be well known as North American total merit indexes place only minor emphasis on fat %.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The entire global dairy industry, not just the USA, needs to take heed and implement ways of balancing milk supply with the demand for milk products. If fat percent and/or protein percent are to be changed significantly for the milk shipped to processors then genetics will be involved. And 2017 is not too soon to start considering ways that genetics can assist with balancing supply and demand. Definitely the balancing is more than just a genetics problem, all stakeholders need to bring forward possible solutions so dairy farming and the dairy industry can be viable and sustainable.



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