Royal recognition for leading dairy geneticist

15 Sep 2020

A renowned researcher, who has been instrumental in driving forward the genetic development of UK dairy cattle, has been awarded the prestigious Princess Royal Award. 

Professor Mike Coffey, team leader of the Animal Breeding and Genomics Team at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and head of EGENES, was presented with the award by Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal on September 14.  

Outstanding contribution

The Princess Royal Award is given each year to an individual who has an outstanding lifetime contribution to the dairy sector. 

Professor Coffey has spent almost 40 years working in the dairy breeding industry and, to date, has written more than 85 published papers.

He has dedicated his working life to dairy cattle breeding and, specifically, identifying breeding goals that are important to the entire supply chain including, most recently, the implementation of genomic selection. 

Sire selection

He began his career by milking cows after finishing his Animal Science degree at Nottingham University, before going on to work for the Holstein Friesian Society, where he developed one of the first sire selection programs. 

During his 15 years at the Society, he was involved in developing new breeding indices for dairy cows as the Holstein breed increased in popularity. 

Genetic development

He then joined the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC), which is now SRUC, where he has continued to drive forward dairy genetic development. 

Most recently he successfully implemented genomic selection in dairy cows and, by working with others in the industry, has been able to create one of the biggest reference populations in the world. 

Feed efficiency

A feed efficiency index will be released later this year, based on records from the Queen’s Anniversary Prize-winning Langhill experiment. This will help producers to  select animals that can produce more milk from less feed and, as a result, produce lower methane emissions. 

Professor Coffey is also currently looking at the use of milk spectral data to predict various health conditions, such as bTB, with high accuracy using Deep Learning. This could be a huge game-changer for quick and accurate disease diagnoses.   

Significant impact

“I was gobsmacked and found it difficult to find the words to respond to the email informing me of the news that I was to be given this award,” says Professor Coffey.

“It is nice to be recognised for the work I have done and to know it has had a significant impact on the dairy industry.” 

Invaluable work

Professor Coffey was unanimously chosen as this year’s winner by the RABDF board of trustees. 

“His work has had a massive impact on the dairy industry,” says RADBF chairman Peter Alvis.

“He has been at the forefront of dairy cow breeding for almost 40 years and continues to be so. His work in invaluable in helping producers to breed cows that are productive, profitable, healthy, and provide a product that consumers wants.”