Using genetics to improve the economic performance of dairy cows increases the profitability of the dairy business in the long run. The Economic Breeding Index (EBI) is important for the economic and environmental sustainability of dairy cattle.


The EBI  is a single-figure profit index aimed at helping farmers identify the most profitable bulls and cows for breeding dairy herd replacements. It comprises information on seven sub-indexes related to profitable milk production.

These are: 

  1. Milk Production,
  2. Fertility
  3. Calving Performance
  4. Beef Carcass
  5. Cow Maintenance
  6. Cow Management
  7. Health

The gains in extra profit directly contribute to the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as fewer resources are used to produce a kilogram of milk. 

Why is EBI important for greenhouse gas emissions mitigation?

  • Mitigation strategies like the EBI, that increase profit and reduce emissions are a win-win for the farmer and the wider communities.
  • For each €10 gain in herd EBI, there has been a gain of €20 in terms of additional net profit per cow per year while leading a 2% reduction in the carbon footprint (Teagasc).

The video below outlines how a higher EBI can be achieved and its implications on climate change mitigation.

How do you increase your herd EBI?

Breeding for higher EBI is achieving a more sustainable cow that is more kind to its environment. Herd owners should be targeting to increase their herd EBI by at least €10 each year.  This can be achieved through a combination of the following:

  • Identify the key traits you need to improve, focusing especially on milk production and fertility.
  • Choose a team of high EBI bulls that complement your herd. For most herds, fertility is the main weakness that needs to be improved.
  • Select your team from the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) Active Bull List.
  • Use sufficient straws, e.g. 55 straws per 10 heifers required.
  • Focus on your heifers – breeding heifers to carefully selected high EBI bulls is the fastest way to improve herd EBI and profitability.

Economic and Environmental Benefits

The costs are compounded over some time and benefits could also be difficult to isolate. To illustrate the increase in profit from EBI, the Shinagh 249 cow herd is used and the major assumption would be that the EBI results in increased productivity. Two scenarios are presented to show the increase in annual profit as a result of extra milk sales and to compare the emissions per kg of FPCM in Table 14.

Table 14 Annual increase in profit and reduction in emissions due to EBI.

Scenario 1
No change in productivity
Scenario 2
5% Increase in productivity
Extra milk sales (€)23781
Environmental impact
Total emissions(kg CO2-eq / kg FPCM)0.842 0.819
Reduction in emissions (%)2.73
*kgCO2-eq /kg FPCM is the carbon footprint per kilogram of Fat and Protein Corrected milk
Extra milk sales represent the annual increase in profit from increased productivity


Research at Farm Zero C

Farm Zero C have been applying the EBI for long term gain in the profitability of the dairy farm. Together with the improvement in other management aspects, scenarios have been modelled to see how possible an increase in productivity would increase the environmental and economic benefits. 

Other research

The latest work carried out by Teagasc has indicated that:

  • Increasing milk yield and composition per cow will automatically decrease the emissions on a per unit of product basis.
  • Improving the cow’s fertility sub-index will result in reduced calving intervals i.e. more calves produced per cow, and increase the longevity of the cow in the herd, thus reducing methane emissions per unit of product. 
  • The more compact the calving season, the more grazed grass can be included in the cow’s diet. Improved cow health e.g. Mastitis & Lameness, reduces the incidence of disease and deaths leading to higher production levels and lower replacement rates.

Links to more Research


The use of EBI for economic and environmental sustainability is in line with the following action of the

Ag Climatise roadmap 2021

“ Action 3: Genotype the entire national herd by 2030 to underpin the development of enhanced dairy and beef breeding programs that help achieve a reduction in our overall GHG output at a national level.”


In Ireland, the ICBF plays the advisory and regulatory role for cattle breeding. More information can be found on their website