Milking Big Data in Pursuit of… More Milk

organic dairy cows Milking Big Data in Pursuit of... More Milk

A recent article from The Atlantic explores how Big Data has revolutionized the dairy industry.  In the past sixty years, through innovations in dairy science, milk production from an individual dairy cow has gone up from an average 5,000 pounds of milk in a lifetime to 21,000 pounds of milk.  This astonishing increase has largely been fueled by data-driven predictions that allow dairy breeders to optimize their herds.

Dairy breeding is perfect for quantitative analysis. Pedigree records have been assiduously kept; relatively easy artificial insemination has helped centralized genetic information in a small number of key bulls since the 1960s; there are a relatively small and easily measurable number of traits — milk production, fat in the milk, protein in the milk, longevity, udder quality — that breeders want to optimize; each cow works for three or four years, which means that farmers invest thousands of dollars into each animal, so it’s worth it to get the best semen money can buy. The economics push breeders to use the genetics.



  1. G. F. Barbato May 2, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    If you think that’s something (and it IS), check out the poultry industry — where a million or so chickens can be screened to find the best 50-100 roosters…

  2. Philip Papadopoulos May 2, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    The Dairy Industry in Southern Ontario has been milking this data for more than 15 years.