For thousands of years, the dairy cow has been a valuable producer of food for humans and animals. Animal breeding began when owners tried to mate the best to the best; however, deciding which animals were best requires considerable insight. As genetic principles were discovered, animal breeding became a science rather than an art. Early cattle may have given less than 4 liters of milk per day; some herds now average 40 liters per cow per day, and a few individual cows have averaged over 80 liters per day for an entire year. Although much has been learned about how to feed and manage dairy cows to obtain larger quantities of milk, current yield efficiency would not have been achieved unless concurrent progress had been made in concentrating those genes that are favorable for sustained, high milk production.

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