India Has How Many Cows?!?

An International Perspective of the Dairy Industry

Bonnie Mohr Studio is excited to have Doug Savage as our final guest blogger for June Dairy Month! Doug has been the North American editor with Holstein International for the past 17 years. He is originally from Australia where his home farm bred one of the all-time great cows of the Illawarra breed!

Doug moved to Canada in the late 1980s to work as a sire analyst in the AI industry. He has always enjoyed the excitement of cattle shows, and has judged two different breeds at the World Dairy Expo.

Below Doug shares with us the top two engines of change in the dairy genetics industry: Genomics and Gene Editing and the adoption of these new technologies!

Q: What is the fuel behind the growing international dairy industry and such a need for new technology?

A: Rising standards of living in the world's two most populous countries, China and India, has added dairy products to their diet. Dairy exporters have viewed the growth in demand with excitement, but they have perhaps under-estimated the ability of the industry in those countries to adopt new technology. 

Q: What are the top international countries for numbers of dairy cows? (Spoiler Alert: it's not the US!)

A: 1: India boasts a total of 43.6 million dairy cows, almost double any other country!

2:  Brazil 22.9 million

3.  Sudan 14.9 million

4.  China 12.5 million

5.  Pakistan 10.1 million 

6.  Kenya 9.3 million 


7.  US with 9.1 million.  

However, when it comes to total milk produced, the US still leads the way with 87.4 million tonnes but it is India (50.3 million tonnes) and China (36 million tonnes) that are now second and third. 

*Source:  FAO Figures

Q: What is GENOMICS?

A:  Did you know that the average cow today produces twice as much as she did in the 1960?  Improved management, nutrition and cow-care have played key roles, but so too has superior genetics. 

The new technology of genomics allows us to look at a cross-section profile of genes of a young calf, and by comparing it to the profiles of all performance recorded animals in the population we can come up with a reasonably accurate estimate of the calf's genetic merit.  Instead of waiting till a bull is five years old with performance-recorded daughters before we decide if he's good enough to produce sons for the next generation, we can now use him for sons as soon as he's old enough to produce semen at nine or ten months.  And we can then harvest ovum from heifer calves as young as five or six months and fertilize them in-vitro in the laboratory. This dramatically shorter generation interval, with two or three generations in the space of time that we had just one before, significantly bolsters genetic gains. 


A: Which new technology will the genetics industry be adopting next? Gene editing is a process with a lot of promise, and is maybe much closer than people realize. When generating embryos in-vitro we could simply over-write or fix unwanted mutated genes rather than producing a lot of calves and then testing to see which ones inherited the defect.  Genetic defects such as Cholesterol Deficiency (HCD) could be edited in the laboratory. 

A Minnesota based company Recombinetics owns licenses for gene editing in livestock, and has produced Holstein calves that are polled after editing the horned gene at the one-cell embryo stage. Now to be clear, this is not a GMO (genetically modified organism) which attracts some controversy and involves adding an outside gene to a species. In this case, the polled gene exists in most breeds, but just not in the most productive bloodlines. This would simply speed up what would take years of selection to achieve.   

The animal welfare benefits of not subjecting animals to the stress of dehorning are obvious. Adding the BB kappa casein gene for better cheese-making, or the A2A2 beta casein protein gene for improved digestibility of milk could be other examples. This same editing technique may even be able to fix unwanted mutations in the tissues of living animals. Scientists have used the technique to halt the development of muscular dystrophy, which is due to a genetic defect, in living mice. Replicating this in humans will be truly magical. It's quite impressive, the kind of technology they are adopting down on the farm! 

Thanks for reading!