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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: IMPROVING NUTRIENT DIGESTIBILITY TO ENHANCE FORAGE UTILIZATION IN LACTATING DAIRY COW FEEDING SYSTEMS Title: Environmentally friendly cows–reducing our environmental hoof print

Authors
item Boettcher, Paul -
item Henderson, Benjamin -
item Powell, J Mark

Submitted to: Meeting Proceedings
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: October 30, 2012
Publication Date: November 20, 2012
Citation: Boettcher, P., Henderson, B., Powell, J.M. 2012. Environmentally friendly cows–reducing our environmental hoof print. In: Proceedings of the 2012 World Holstein Conference, November 4-7, Toronto, Canada. Paper No. 13.

Technical Abstract: The use of natural resources impacts the environment in five areas: 1) Energy, 2) Water, 3) Nutrients, 4) Greenhouse gases and 5) Biodiversity. The greatest opportunities for decreasing environmental impacts of the Holstein cow would seem to be enhancing utilization of nutrients and reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. Effects on “wild” biodiversity can be changed little, but improved management can increase breed and species biodiversity. Energy utilization decisions are usually made at the herd, rather than the cow level. Water intake varies among individual cows, but genetic effects have not been quantified. Phosphorus and nitrogen are the two most important nutrients in dairy production and significant genetic variation has been demonstrated for the latter, as measured by milk urea nitrogen. Methane emission is also heritable and genetic differences associated with rumen microbe populations have been observed. In terms of biodiversity, intense selection for increased production has been highly successful, but has greatly decreased the effective population size of the global Holstein herd. Exportation of Holstein genetics has increased food security in many developing countries, but sometimes at the cost of decreased genetic diversity at the species level. New genomics tools may offer greater opportunities to decrease the environmental impact of the Holstein cow, but the current economic conditions, practically devoid of penalties with respect to environmental impact, provide little incentive for direct selection. Efficiency of production is generally correlated with environmental impact, however; so increased emphasis on this trait may simultaneously increase the profitability of the Holstein cow and decrease her environmental hoof print.

Last Modified: 7/30/2014
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