By applying new genetics knowledge, special varieties of milk can be developed for people with specific needs. This is a highly interesting development for consumers as well as dairy farmers, as such products offer greater margins. Knowledge of the composition of milk also helps to make dairy production more sustainable by reducing phosphate emissions. This was the clear message issued by Henk Bovenhuis on Thursday 14 September during his inauguration as Professor of Animal Breeding and Genetics at Wageningen University & Research.
Dutch Black Pied cattle all produce white milk, although the composition of these types of milk differs greatly between cows. Milk fat consists of over 100 different fatty acids, and the extent to which these fatty acids account for the total fat content of the milk can differ greatly between cows. The composition of the proteins in the minerals can also vary considerably. The genetic differences between individual cows can be used to identify cows that produce different types of milk. This enables product differentiation based on dairy-cattle genetics. In short: special cows produce special milk.
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Zinc in milk
Bovenhuis highlights zinc as an example of a vital component of milk. It is an essential trace element – particularly for babies – and some cows produce milk with an above-average zinc percentage. These cows can be identified by means of DNA testing. Milk from these cows is therefore particularly interesting to manufacturers of baby food.
Making the dairy sector more sustainable
According to Professor Bovenhuis, genetic knowledge of milk and its composition also offers opportunities to make the dairy sector more sustainable. Besides zinc, cows also differ with regard to how they process phosphorous. Individual phosphorous needs vary greatly between cows. By capitalising on these differences, the phosphorous efficiency of the Dutch dairy sector can be boosted substantially.
This genetic variety in cows also applies to many other minerals. Excess amounts of minerals cause inefficiency, while shortages result in health problems. Genetic data helps to predict the differences between cows' mineral needs, and additional data can be obtained from infrared analysis of the milk. 'By combining infrared-analysis and genomics data, we can much more effectively predict the mineral needs of individual animals,' says Henk Bovenhuis. 'The same applies to methane emissions,' he adds. Reducing levels of this particular greenhouse gas is of vital importance to the dairy sector. By including genetic differences in our calculations, we can more effectively estimate the methane emissions of individual cows," says Bovenhuis.