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18 Oct 2023

Feed efficiency: the key to sustainable dairy success

The world has put dairy farmers and their cows under a magnifying glass. Public scrutiny of food production’s environmental footprint has never been more intense. Finding ways to maximise farm returns while reducing emissions is more important than ever.

Identifying your most efficient feed-converting cows plays a vital role in sustainability by reducing farm waste and ensuring maximum farm returns.

Using the Saved Feed Index, you can breed more feed-efficient and climate-friendly cows, all while achieving high production and maintaining good health and reproductive performance.

The Saved Feed Index is based on data collected by the Cattle Feed Intake System (CFIT). This advanced AI-based system uses recycled 3D cameras and deep learning to monitor and measure feed intake in a cow’s natural environment during lactation.

With highly reliable feed-efficiency data, you can make well-informed decisions that enhance feed efficiency, reduce costs, lower emissions, and simplify your daily tasks on a farm.

Feed efficiency is the key to sustainable dairy success

Identify the top performers in your herd

The data reveals a significant difference in the level of profitability among the individual cows in the herd. The best-performing cows have a 3-4 times higher contribution margin (CM) than the worst-performing cows within the same herd. Data from 11 CFIT herds in Denmark shows that, on average, the difference between low and high-efficiency cows is 18,400 € per year.

Caeli Richardson PhD, Plant and Animal Geneticist at AbacusBio, also vouches for the system's benefits after seeing it in action during a visit to Denmark.

“Having individual feed and weight measurements on commercial cows allows our industry to enter a new level of precision farming,” she says, highlighting the advancements enabled by the CFIT system. “Looking at the results from just those 11 herds really shows us that we are missing out on profit if we ignore selection for feed efficiency,” she adds.

Identify the top cows in your herd

Benefits for the environment

Research into greenhouse gases indicates that, on average, 6% of the energy that a cow eats is spent on producing methane. However, this varies from 2-12% depending on how feed-efficient the cow is.

Data from the 11 herds also show a significant difference in methane emissions. The best-performing herd has 26% lower emissions per kg ECM milk produced than the worst-performing herd.

Methane production (calculated based on the model used for reporting climate impact to the United Nations’ Climate Panel) ranges from 147 to 167 kg of methane per cow annually across the herds.

Feed efficiency Benefits for the environment

Data throughout the full lactation

A cow’s physiology changes dramatically through lactation. In the early stage of lactation, cows transition from not producing milk to a potentially high milk yield. This phase is particularly unstable for the cow.

It is especially important to have extended data for cows' weight and feed intake for early lactation, as cows are more susceptible to diseases during this period.

CFIT data provide insights into the weight change during the first seven weeks of lactation. The table shows the breed averages for weight loss by parity for Holstein, Jersey, and Red Dairy Cattle. 

Weight change during the first seven weeks of lactation


1st lact.

2nd lact.

3rd lact.


-12 kg

-12 kg

-15 kg


-13 kg

-12 kg

-17 kg

Red Dairy Cattle

-11 kg

-17 kg

-24 kg


Feed efficiency Data throughout the full lactation

Ensuring adequate energy in the feed ration prevents excessive weight loss and promotes improvements in production levels and the overall health of cows.

As lactation progresses into the mid and late stages, the cow becomes accustomed to high milk production and the corresponding feed intake.

“Previous studies indicate that feed intake differs between early, mid, and late lactation,” says Jan Lassen, Project Manager at VikingGenetics. “Merely having data from mid-lactation would lead to a situation where feed efficiency is compromised rather than improved,” he adds.

To create a reliable Saved Feed Index, it is essential to have data available throughout the entire lactation. The data obtained from CFIT farms provide valuable information spanning the full length of each lactation.

feed intake differs between early, mid, and late lactation

More data, more feed-efficient cows

Currently, the CFIT system is installed across 25 commercial herds, which collects data from over 13,000 cows, including VikingHolstein, VikingJersey, and VikingRed.

The amount of feed intake data is consistently growing. The goal is to have feed intake data for 30,000 cows by 2025 for the three major dairy breeds – Holstein, Jersey, and Red Dairy Cattle.

VikingGenetics leads the way with a Saved Feed Index as the only company in the world to offer a feed efficiency index for Jersey cows and Red Dairy Cattle.

Dairy farmers across the Nordic countries and over 50 markets where VikingGenetics operates are already reaping the benefits of breeding for improved feed efficiency.

The amount of feed intake data is consistently growing

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