SRUC researcher scoops royal accolade

An SRUC researcher 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 SRUC and head of EGENES, was presented with the award by Her Royal Highness Princess Anne at Gatcombe House today (Monday 14 September).

The award is presented annually to a person who has made an outstanding lifetime contribution to the dairy sector.

Mike said: “I was gobsmacked and found it very difficult to find the words to respond to the email informing me of the news.

“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.”

Mike was unanimously chosen as this year’s winner by the board of trustees of RABDF, a UK charity focused on the unique needs of milk producers.

Peter Alvis, chairman of RABDF, said: “Prof Coffey’s work has had a massive impact on the dairy industry.  

“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 our farmers produce cows that are productive, profitable, healthy and providing a product the consumer wants.”

Peter Alvis, Chairman, RABDF

Mike’s work has focused specifically on identifying breeding goals that are important to the entire supply chain, including the implementation of genomic selection.

After finishing his Animal Science degree at Nottingham University, he worked for the Holstein Friesian Society where he developed one of the first sire selection programmes.

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

He then joined the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) – now SRUC – where he has continued driving forward dairy genetic developments.

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.

Later this year, a feed efficiency index will be released based on records from the Queen’s Anniversary Prize-winning Langhill experiment. This will help farmers select animals which yield more milk by eating less and, as a result, produce fewer methane emissions.

Mike 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 – which could allow for quick and accurate disease diagnoses.