meta Data Systems in the Future – Are We Ready? :: The Bullvine - The Dairy Information You Want To Know When You Need It

Data Systems in the Future – Are We Ready?

Three times in the past two weeks serious dedicated dairy cattle breeders have asked the Bullvine questions that we too have been wondering about.

QUESTION 1: Why do we accept breeders collecting DNA samples but not owner recorded milk weights?

QUESTION 2: Why can’t milk weights from robotic systems be considered for publication purposes?

QUESTION 3: Why don’t milk recording programs take all relevant details about a cow when the milk yield data is captured?

We decided to turn those queries into a think piece so that even more breeder input can be brought into the discussion.

The Reality Is

The current data included in national data bases is based on what was the norm a couple of decades back. As well it is based on the previously accepted fact that only human eyes could determine if a recording was accurate or unbiased.

Times have changed. Today robots milk cows without human oversight. Technology is coming out every year on ways to capture more details that can help in breeding, feeding and managing dairy animals.

It is true that individual owners own their animal’s data. They paid for its capture, but only through having all the data for dairy cows in one or inter-linked data systems will breeders be able to advance their animals as quickly as possible.  No one breeder is an island onto themselves so the approach must be to use and make available all the animal data.

The reality is that it is time to put energy and resources into addressing the needs and possibilities when it comes to the data captured, stored and reported.

Capturing Cow Data

In both robotic and large herds owners do not milk the cows. The computers or cow milkers have no bias towards any one cow. Also systems are being used in some tie stall barns where the RFID tag identifies the cow and the system electronically captures the yield. In these systems the data is captured for each and every milking.

QUESTION 4: Why is that data not available for others to see?

QUESTION 5: What can be more accurate than recording every milking?

Surely we are not prepared to argue that eight to ten single milking observations in a lactation by a third party person is more accurate than every milking captured by the milking system.

Canada found twenty years ago that owner recorded milk weights and collected milk samples were accurate enough for sire proving purposes. Data that is 95% accurate is much superior to no data at all.

In the foreseeable future there will be parlour systems that can instantaneously provide readings for butterfat %, protein %, SCS, milk temperature and hormone levels and we expect in time readings for fat composition, protein composition and a host of other readings. Wow won’t that be useful information to use to breed, feed and manage?

Question 6: Will this further information be moved off the farm into the national data system?

Just last week it was reported at the Progressive Dairy Operators Conference that RFID ear tags may have use for measuring temperature and ear movement to monitor heats in tie stall barns. That is interesting.

Data Starts Early

Calves are to be identified at birth with RFID tags.

Question 7: Why is it not possible to use technology that now exists to collect a piece of the ear tissue for DNA analysis?

That way every animal would have a DNA profile at birth. With the very interesting things we are learning on DNA profiles and heifer management, we have just scratched the surface of this crystal ball.

Calves are now being fed by computers from day three or four of age. There will potentially be a very useful data set there that can be of great benefit when determining genetic merit, feeding programs and management practices.

Let’s Dream the Possible Dream

But it does not end there! Many other details and data sets exist that are not part of the national data base but that can be useful for animal traceability, food safety (mastitis and other drug treatment), foot care, reproduction, production limiting diseases (i.e. Johnes), pedometers, rumen boluses (i.e. temperature),… and the list goes on.

Question 8: Are plans being made to link all dairy cattle data bases?

But Is It Official?

In the past, if a piece of information could not be authenticated then it could not be published.  In the future, every farm using genetics to advance their animals will, out of necessity, need to capture and use more data than they have ever had to in the past. Official and unofficial applied when breeders were or were not prepared to trust the method of data capture.

In today’s world there are many systems of marketing and commerce that are monitored as necessary but without a third party observing every event. Breeders are routinely putting on Facebook events about their cows, including their milk yields, an animal’s profit per day, flushing history and ability to come into heat when milking 120 pounds per day. The world of dairy cow information is changing and changing quickly.

QUESTION 9:  What does the current “official” actually mean in the bigger future scheme of things?

The Bullvine Bottom Line

THE ALMOST FINAL ANSWER: Future data standards will need to address that more information will be needed and that data must be universally available. Breeder input is needed now to guide the development of future standards for data captured, stored and reported.


Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.



  1. Great article! Things are changing fast. We should really be asking why “official” tests are accepted! Daily milk weights are more accurate and we as an industry want real data, right? With this much raw data out there, daughter records should be wiped clean of any genomic or parent averages and see how good they do compared to their herdmates. That would be the correct way of determining real genetic gain. It is now possible with so many people investing in technology that accurately measures every aspects of a cows life.

Leave a Reply

Send this to a friend