The answer to this question became more open to me during my visit to a 10.000 cow dairy herd in Nevada which is not joining a DHI program. Health in this herd was above average according to the vets servicing the herd. Milk production and quality, reproduction and replacement rate was fine! So, what does it take to make DHI sampling beneficial to this herd?

 Travel Report by Tove Asmussen  


  Fig.1 Just one endless row of cows…

With a “per cow”-price of 100 kg milk to join DHI,- and an average difference in yield usually being 800-1000 kg milk it more seems a matter of communication that all farms do not join DHI herd improvement… or is there something I have overlooked??
Let’s take a closer look at the herd in Nevada:


  • 10.500 cows were split in three barns, 3500 in each
  • All were fed the same ration and production was very similar in all barns
  • Average milk yield was 9500 kg milk (305 days yield) with an average fat content of 3.7
  • The cows are milked twice a day, no BST was used
  • Kg milk was registered per cow in Dairy Comp based on milk meter registration once every month. No analyses for fat, protein and cells are made
  • Somatic cell count was below 100.000 in all three barns!
  • More than 50% of the cows were bred without being synchronized and they did not buy heifers from outside
  • An evaluation of general health in one of the barns showed performance above US average according to the vets servicing the herd:
 ü The number of cows getting mastitis was on average level compared to other herds. 3-6 % of all cows are diagnosed with mastitis per month (March best, August worst due to climate
 ü  In one barn 5% of cows calving were culled or died within 60 days after calving, which is roughly 50% of average according to the vet
 ü  4800 calvings in one barn with 3500 cows indicate an exchange rate of 35-40%
Fig.2 Old parlor without fancy technology
–  but stringent procedures.


Now, what do they do to reach this level, – and can it be further improved by using DHI data?
All cows are cultured at calving as well as when they are diagnosed with clinical mastitis in their own lab.


Fig.  3 Cows are cultured when calving and when clinical
mastitis is diagnosed…

This information together with the monthly registration of milk yield in kg is carefully entered into Dairy Comp together with all breeding information and treatments! Based on this information the herd is managed stringently with fixed procedures in order to optimize milking, feeding, reproduction and treatments.


So, will addition of DHI data (fat, protein, cells, urea, ketone bodies…) be of sufficient benefit to the herd?

Below I have listed benefits and disadvantages of DHI to small and large dairy herds:
At small farms:

  • DHI sampling allows the dairy farmer to optimize performance of every single cow in the herd.
  • Small herds will benefit a lot from the breeding programs which can be carried out in cooperation on a
    national scale
  • It may be easier to know general performance of the single cow and thereby optimize selection and culling strategy, even without monthly DHI sampling, however health and optimization of performance for every single cow is maybe even more important in smaller herds

At large dairy farms:

  • Large dairy farms will have a hard time keeping track of cows on single cow level without monthly sampling.
  • However, the hassle is also much bigger of taking all the samples keeping track of the cow ID, the samples etc.
  • In large herds, cows can be dealt with on group level (dry cows, early lactation cows, mid lactation cows etc) and some optimization can be reached in this way
  • Large farms can follow their own breeding programs, buying semen from private companies. If big enough they can get decent discounts
  • Being independent they can avoid using young untested bulls which is part of the game in the cooperative breeding programs!


 Fig. 4 The equipment was there for sampling 

the cows….and it was used!

So, obviously there seem to be more potential disadvantages for the large herds, – and the larger the herds the bigger the disadvantages! The consequence of this is seen in areas where herds are very big, – tendencies to decreasing enrollment.






But do the disadvantages surpass the benefits?

Additional information about fat and protein on cow level, – and thereby on pen level will of course allow further adjustments of the ration and thereby increasing the fat and protein content.

It is hard to see how cell count on cow level can further lower the very low cell count this herd have at present, but this is not always the case…

Monitoring urea and ketone bodies will allow to closely monitor feeding and metabolic problems, thereby increasing yield and decreasing the number of cows diagnosed with ketosis and in particular all the diseases and problems following (subclinical) ketosis. Like metritis, mastitis, fertility problems etc.

I do not know the price for joining DHI in Nevada, but in Denmark the costs of official DHI sampling 11 times per year is the value of 50 kg (2010, ICAR report) of milk if the sampling at the farm is done by the staff themselves (and 80 kg if done by the DHIA). If the contribution margin is approximately 50% (milk price minus feeding costs) this means that every cow must produce 100 kg extra to pay the DHI bill!  Or treatment costs/losses due to culling must be reduced correspondingly!

Usually the difference in yield level between recorded and unrecorded cows is 800-1000 kg! It therefore seems likely that an increase of 100 kg easily is achievable!

So, – is it all a matter of communication or is there something I have overlooked??

I look forward to some comments from all of you out there…..


Tove Asmussen

Master of Sci. Milk Production
Dipl. Business Innovation
Consultant & Business Owner, Raw Milk Connect