Organic dairy farmers put more emphasis on production traits than conventional farmers

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The overall aim of this research was to characterize the preferences of Danish dairy farmers for improvements in breeding goal traits. The specific aims were (1) to investigate the presence of heterogeneity in farmers’ preferences by means of cluster analysis, and (2) to associate these clusters with herd characteristics and production systems (organic or conventional). We established a web-based survey to characterize the preferences of farmers for improvements in 10 traits, by means of pairwise rankings. We also collected a considerable number of herd characteristics. Overall, 106 organic farmers and 290 conventional farmers answered the survey, all with Holstein cows. The most preferred trait improvement was cow fertility, and the least preferred was calving difficulty. By means of cluster analysis, we identified 4 distinct clusters of farmers and named them according to the trait improvements that were most preferred: Health and Fertility, Production and Udder Health, Survival, and Fertility and Production. Some herd characteristics differed between clusters; for example, farmers in the Survival cluster had twice the percentage of dead cows in their herds compared with the other clusters, and farmers that gave the highest ranking to cow and heifer fertility had the lowest conception rate in their herds. This finding suggests that farmers prefer to improve traits that are more problematic in their herd. The proportion of organic and conventional farmers also differed between clusters; we found a higher proportion of organic farmers in the production-based clusters. When we analyzed organic and conventional data separately, we found that organic farmers ranked production traits higher than conventional farmers. The herds of organic farmers had lower milk yields and lower disease incidences, which might explain the high ranking of milk production and the low ranking of disease traits. This study shows that heterogeneity exists in farmers’ preferences for improvements in breeding goal traits, that organic and conventional farmers differ in their preferences, and that herd characteristics can be linked to different farmer clusters. The results of this study could be used for the future development of breeding goals in Danish Holstein cows and for the development of customized total merit indices based on farmer preferences.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Pages (from-to)9845–9856
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2016

    Research areas

  • Trait preference, Organic farming, Breeding goal, Dairy cow

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