ICBF in conjunction with Teagasc are developing a new dairy cow production index (CPI) which ICBF hopes to launch as part of their August 2014 genetic evaluation run, according to a recent News item on ICBF's website.
As we know, in 2001 the Economic Breeding Index (EBI) was introduced by ICBF in a bid to provide farmers with a single figure profit index, aimed at identifying the most profitable bulls and cows for breeding dairy herd replacements.
The EBI replaced the RBI (Relative Breeding Index for dairy cattle) which, according to Teagasc, was a relative breeding goal made up of milk yield, fat yield, protein yield and protein percent. The RBI failed to take into account any other important traits such as fertility and locomotion, without which even the highest yielding dairy cow cannot function successfully.
Since its first introduction to the Irish dairy industry in 2001, the EBI has undergone a welcome and much needed evolution. Originally only comprising information on an animal's milk production and fertility, over the years ICBF and Teagasc got to understand and acknowledge that secondary traits such as length of gestation and ease of calving, beef characteristics, health issues and cow management (milking speed, temperament) are all important contributing factors to the profitability and longevity of a dairy cow.
According to ICBF, the new dairy cow production index (CPI) is designed to rank cows on their expected profitability, taking into account not only the genetics of the animal (i.e. EBI) but also the environmental factors which affect farm profit, e.g. mastitis, lameness, etc.
Some past managerial or environmental disturbance can affect an animal's production for the rest of its life but are not transmitted to offspring (for instance, the loss of one quarter due to an injured teat). This fact has been much discussed amongst critics of the EBI. The development of the CPI can therefore be cautiously seen as a step into the right direction; as a potential improvement over the EBI, hopefully more realistically reflecting the on-farm situation compared with the EBI's more theoretical approach. This is, of course, provided that truthful and complete information from farmers will be forthcoming to ICBF, from which to produce CPIs for individual animals. Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing the CPI in operation.