Milk Recording as a Decision Support System for the Commercial Farmer – Ireland Developments.

To grow milk recording in Ireland we had to make it more attractive to commercial dairy farmers. We employed a two pronged approach to address the gap in milk recording uptake, a) increasing the benefits and b) reducing the effort of recording (inconvenience and cost factors).

After running trials in 2004 and 2005, the Tru Test electronic DIY milk recording was offered as a service option to all dairy farmers in 2006. This has taken out a lot of the inconvenience and reduced the cost of recording when compared to the recorder based model. We complimented these new service options with new reports that were more “action” based, designed to make milk recording more of a decision support system for the commercial farmer. We also ran an education programme to fully explain our profit based Economic Breeding Index (EBI) so farmers could maximise the benefit from their data.

By March 2006 we had 1,000 herds signed up to the new system of which 40% are new to recording. By the end of 2006 we expect these Electronic cells to reach 1,400 herds on the new DIY service. Using the same ratio for new herds (40%) we would expect this to translate to approx 35,000 cows new to recording in 2006. Through EDIY adoption and promotions of the benefits of recording ICBF and the Irish service providers have grown the number of cows recording to some 520,000 cows recording by the end of 2011.


Ireland had only 33% of its dairy cows in milk recording. Countries like New Zealand, Holland and Denmark have in the region of 75% – 92% of dairy cows in milk recording. Through EDIY adoption and promotions of the benefits of recording ICBF and the Irish service providers have grown the number of cows recording to some 520,000 cows or (approx. 50% of dairy cows) recording by the end of 2011.

ICBF’s has bridged this gap in Milk Recording take up, so Ireland now is as competitive as others and has become an exporter as well as an importer of dairy genetics. Too long milk recording has been perceived as the preserve of the pedigree breeder, we needed to widen the scope to include commercial entities. Commercial farmers, like anyone else running a business, will only pay for a service if the perceived benefit outweighs the effort (for effort in this case read cost and inconvenience). To grow milk recording in Ireland we needed to address both sides of the equation so we endeavoured to increase the benefits and at the same time come up with service options that reduced the effort in milk recording

Increasing benefit

More Service Options for Farmer

We trialled the Tru Test Electronic Meter in 2004 and 2005. This recording and sampling system is operated by the farmer (DIY), so no third party labour is required in the parlour. It features electronic transfer of data (no writing or keying) and automated sampling into bar-coded vials. The trials were a success and farmers liked it. As a result we invested capital to purchase some 800 meters and targeted non recording commercial farmers, offering them the service in 2006 as an alternative to the recorded based model.

We offered a reduced number of visits per year. We offered a scheme of minimum 4 visits for spring (compact calving) herds and minimum of 6 visits for year round herds as qualified by  Berry et al (2005). We also changed from a per cow charge system to a per visit charge system, which gives the farmer more flexibility on number of visits he wants in the year.

For farmers on the electronic DIY we also qualified the prediction of daily protein and fat yield from one milk sample (volumes taken at both PM and AM milking).This was detailed in a report to ICBF by Burke et al (2004) titled “Prediction of daily yield from part-day samples on do-it-yourself electronic milk recording”. Because the electronic meter has 24hr clock we now know the exact time interval between PM and AM. This means that the sample is only taken in one of the two periods. This has been very well received by the farmer as it makes the “non” sampling milking very easy and time efficient.

Increase Usefulness of Data

Throughout 2004 and 2005, ICBF and the national farmer advisory body (Teagasc) held nationwide workshops, farm walks and seminars to educate farmers on the Economic Breeding Index (EBI). The Irish EBI is a profit based index which tells farmers which cows will leave more profit per lactation. It was designed with a commercial focus to help farmers breed profit into their herd. Specific cow EBI reports were developed and released in conjunction with the ICBF active bull list to help farmers identify the profitable cows to breed from and the non profitable ones to cull. Our approach was to move away from just sending back cow data and to move our focus to help the farmer make better management and breeding decisions. As examples of this we released the following two “decision support” reports in 2006;

  • Milk Quality Report

    Report on herd SCC, giving % cows recently infected, and whether chronically infected, their lactation group and days in milk, all compared to national averages. The report contains a specific “Action list” of cows needing corrective action by the farmer.

  • Sire Advice Report

    We ask farmer to input what type of bull he wants (e.g. breeding for protein or fertility) and ICBF will send him 3 recommended bulls for each cow in his herd.

The format and mechanism of getting back the information to the farmer was also revamped. As well as the conventional hard copies by post, herd info/reports are also made available on the internet via  (farmer gets own password). We also email results and SMS text worst 5 SCC cows as soon as lab results are processed.

Reduce Effort (Reduce Cost)

Remove Capital Impediment

Meter Purchase is a large capital impediment for the commercial farmer who has not recorded before – on the recorder based system a farmer with a 20 unit parlour would have to buy 20 meters – a capital outlay of €3,000 (@ €150 ea) for meters. On top of this he would have to pay somewhere between €13 – €16 per cow/year for the recorder charges for the year. We needed to come up with a system that better utilised the meters.


Reduce Labour Content

Recorder and Office costs – with the Irish economy forging ahead means labour related costs are under increasing wage pressures. The “recorder” based system of manual recording is not sustainable going forward as, a) its proving difficult to recruit and retain recorders and b) Irish labour costs continue to increase.  We cannot grow the existing customer base with this current recorder based model and if anything the numbers of herds/cows in Milk Recording is likely to decline if status quo is maintained.


We found the electronic meter/system for DIY Milk Recording from Tru Test addressed most of these issues. It provided a very favourable alternative to the existing Manual (Recorder based) method of recording cows in Ireland. ICBF with Dairygold Co-op researched and trialled the system in 2004 and 2005 with very favourable results from the pilot. (See Table 1. Comparison of Electronic Milk Recoding vs Recorder based Model).The €DIY Service was subsequently launched nationwide in 2006.

Table 1. Comparison of Electronic Milk Recoding vs Recorder based Model



Recorder Based Model

Electronic DIY

Inconvenience/Hassle 3rd Party in parlour,  manual sampling, writing cow details slows down milking. No stranger in pit, Farmer controls, meter auto agitates, auto samples, no writing, no spilt milk.
Service Quality – Field Diff to recruit/retain & manage 600-700 recorders Select Hi Q techs – easier to manage/motivate
Service Quality – Turnaround More steps between farm & dbase Less steps from farm to dbase
Meter Cost/
Utilisation is at best once a month & farmer has to buy Meter used every test day,
No purchase for farmer
Cost of Office Keying Every Herd has to be keyed None
Cost Recorder 1 recorder for every test – Ave No. Herds/Recorder in Ireland is 12 1 tech for every 5 tests & he can serve up to 150 farmers

Tru Test Electronic Automated Milk Recording System

System components There are 2 basic components to the new �DIY system;


1. Data Handler (DH) 2

Tru Test Electronic Milk Meter (TTEMM)

Cows’ IDs loaded direct from database

  •  Meter Records Milk Volume Electronically
  •  Meter automatically agitates & takes sample
  •  Bar-coded vial, no writing, more accurate
  •  Milk Yields electronically loaded to database
  •  Lab results electronically loaded to database
  •  Meters delivered – No Capital Purchase required


Operational model

The country is divided geographically into milk recording “cells”. Each cell can contain between 150 – 180 herds.  At the centre of the cell is the DIY technician who services these 150 clients. He is deployed with a customised van stocked with 72 meters and 7 data handlers and a schedule list of clients. His job is to train & support the milk recording clients in his cell, to deliver and pick up meters/samples, download herd ID info and upload recording results to database. The technician organises visit schedules by area, by number units in the parlour and by visit scheme. By clustering farmers by area a technician can do four to five farmers a day. The technician is given a laptop and access to the ICBF intranet to upload and download to and from the database. All meters are put through an annual calibration check by ICBF.


Uptake and Summary


In March 2006 ICBF and Irish Service Providers had eleven electronic DIY cells in operation. These eleven cells serviced 1,000 herds or approx 60,000 cows. It is planned that these eleven cells will fill out to 1400 herds before end of the year (some 80,000 cows).  It is significant that some 40% of the 1,000 herds that signed up were new to recording. This is exactly the result we need to help us increase our level of Milk Recording. Through EDIY adoption and promotions of the benefits of recording ICBF and the Irish service providers have grown the number of cows recording to some 520,000 cows (approx. 50% of dairy cows)recording by the end of 2011.