From Agrilife, apparently we’re going to spend 3 million bucks to confirm the obvious – if you only breed for one thing, maximum milk production, you will be casting a lot of other critical traits to the winds:
“Fertility is a critical component of efficient dairy production,” Pinedo said. “Failure to attain and maintain a timely pregnancy is a major reason for production loss in dairy herds. Consequences of low fertility include a reduced percentage of cows at the early stages of lactation, increments in insemination costs, premature culling and delayed genetic progress.
“The decline in fertility of dairy cows has been a concern for the dairy industry and has motivated profuse research in the last decades,” he said. “Multiple variables have been identified as contributing factors to this condition.”
Development and implementation of genetic selection of dairy cattle has been the major method to improve productivity per animal; however, the selection emphasis has been focused on production traits and only more recently on reproduction and health traits, Pinedo said.
“Traditionally, fertility has not been related to genetics, but rather to environmental factors such as nutrition and management,” he said. “But recently, the role genetics play has come under more scrutiny. We have to separate the environmental components so the genetic effect can be isolated.”
Or, of course, we could simultaneous recognize the value of genetic diversity while also paying dairy farmers adequately so that they don’t have to sacrifice everything else – longevity, good health, foraging ability and fertility on the alter of a tiny bit more milk in the short term. We could stop treating cows as milk-machines that just need a the isolation of one more genetic factor to tune-up optimally and start treating them like, well, living things.