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Breeding for organic dairy farming: what types of cows are needed?

Ruth Rodríguez-Bermúdez, Marta Miranda, Javier Baudracco, Ramiro Fouz, Victor Pereira, Marta López-Alonso
Journal of Dairy Research 2019, 86 (1): 3-12
Organic farming is believed by many to be an environmentally friendly production system that promotes the use of local forage while strongly limiting the input of chemicals, including allopathic treatments. As organic dairy farming has grown, farmers have realised that many available conventional breeds of cow are not well adapted to the new situations and that more 'robust' cows, able to function well in the constraining organic environment, are needed to yield acceptable longevity and productivity. In this review paper, the current breed diversity in organic dairy farming is analysed with the aim of identifying the types of cow that would best fulfil organic breeding goals. Unlike the conventional sector, organic dairy farming is very heterogeneous and no single type of cow can adapt well to all scenarios. There are advantages and disadvantages to the use of existing breeds (rustic Holstein-Friesian, other rustic breeds and crosses), and strong genotype × environment interactions demand different strategies for very diverse situations. Organic dairy farms producing milk for systems that recompense milk volume would benefit from using higher milk yielding cows, and rustic Holstein-Friesian cows may be the best option in such cases. Although most Holstein-Friesian cows are currently selected for use in conventional systems, this situation could be reversed by the implementation of an organic merit index that includes organic breeding goals. Farms producing milk either for systems that recompense milk solids or for transformation into dairy products would benefit from using breeds other than Holstein-Friesian or their crosses. Organic farmers who focus on rural tourism, farm schools or other businesses in which marketing strategies must be taken into account could benefit from using local breeds (when possible) or other rustic breeds that are highly valued by consumers.


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