Cows are incredible: They might just keep producing more milk forever

Cows are incredible: They might just keep producing more milk forever

BY LYDIA DEPILLIS

February 17 at 2:51 pm

Along with the bright future of soybeans, this year’s long-term projections from the U.S. Department of Agriculture contained this fascinating graph of the future of growing things:

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You see that blue line? That is the number of pounds of milk the average cow will produce per year, progressing upward in a linear fashion forever. Which, of course, seems impossible. Physical beings are not machines, and there are limits on their productive capabilities.

Right?

“There doesn’t appear to be a cap yet on the projections,” says Nigel Cook, a dairy expert at the University of Wisconsin’s School of Veterinary Medicine. Even though cows are producing 23,000 pounds per year on average, some herds produce more than 30,000 per head — and he’s found exceptional animals that can produce between 45,000 and 50,000. If more cows can be brought up to that level, the line could keep moving upward for a good while yet. Unlike poultry, for example, the state of dairy science isn’t anywhere near maturity.

“We learn new things about dairy cows almost every day,” Cook says. “I never thought I’d see cows producing 200 pounds of milk a day. That was beyond my ability to imagine 20 years ago.”

So, what’s happened to make cows so incredibly productive? For one thing, Cook says, farmers are feeding them excellent food — the best alfalfa and other forms of grass silage. For another, they’ve been bred to be healthy and long-lived, not just walking milk pumps.

“There was a big focus on production, but we didn’t focus on how they looked and survived and walked and how they milked,” Cook says. “Instead of production indices, there’s a much greater focus on cow survival, traits that allow her to stay in the herd longer.” For a farmer, that’s more valuable than a heifer that hits peak production and then needs to be replaced.

The final factor is environmental: Happy cows produce more, so he teaches farmers to coddle them. “Putting the cow in a very comfortable environment where she can rest for half the day, and she has all the things she needs to be a cow,” Cook says. Deep sand beds to lounge on, for example, and heated barns when it’s cold outside. “Basically she gets to live on a beach all day.”

“They have a metabolic rate that’s their equivalent of Lance Armstrong doing the Tour de France,” Cook says. “They’re like Olympic athletes, and we have to treat them like that.”

It’s a good thing cows are producing more, too, and that the world requires fewer of them. Cattle generate a lot of carbon dioxide and its equivalents, like methane, which contribute to global warming. Cook says they’ve already managed to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases produced per kilo of milk to a third of what it used to be — and super-productive cows will only keep driving it down further.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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