Archive for February 2019

Unlock Your Herds Potential With Farm Data Management – Canadian Dairy Xpo 2018

Constantly looking for ways to optimize every part of the farm business to improve animal productivity, watch as Mike Jerred helps producers become data driven not just “gut” re-actionists, having 24/7 access to seamless,structured, and actionable information that can be used for long term decision making, data driven decisions and risk mitigation.

Be sure to attend the 2019 Canadian Dairy XPO – April 3rd and 4th

Four Steps to a Workable Herd Genetic Improvement Plan for Profit Focused Milk Producers

Dairy herd managers often express the view that reading bull books or searching for bulls on the Internet is not their forte. They are rightly focused on making a profit from harvesting quality feeds and converting them into wholesome milk.

The genetic data seems overwhelming. “So many sire numbers! Which ones are of most importance? How does a milk producer use them? What does a herd genetic audit look like? How can I make a workable breeding plan? Who can help me?” In this article, The Bullvine will attempt to address these concerns.

Steps to a Successful Solution

Here are four steps to success:

  1. Select an effective helper.
  2. Narrow your focus.
  3. Complete a genetic herd audit.
  4. Implement an action plan.

Who Can Help You?

A.I. companies have trained staff who are available to work with dairymen to conduct a herd genetic audit and develop a plan for which sires to buy and how to use those sires. In today’s genetics industry typically speaking 70% of the sires will have genomic indexes and 30% will be daughter proven sires. Reputable A.I. companies and semen salespeople want dairymen to be successful. They do not first want to make a sale for their own short-term gain. The first audit is to find the partner who has milk producer success as their #1 priority.

Are There Too Many Genetic Indexes?

Over fifty indexes are available for all sires.  Yes – too many for milk producers. Very few, if any, dairy breeders use all the genetic indexes. For milk production focused dairymen, most of the indexes can be set aside as they are of limited financial significance. 

No Focus No Improvement                              

After these two initial sorts, focus comes into the picture. Once a herd genetic audit is completed (we’ll cover that later in this article) a milk producer needs to narrow down the traits that need the most improvement on their farm. The Bullvine’s recommendation is that, for milk producers, that list should not exceed nine traits. Genetic improvement research has shown that going beyond 7-9 primary traits when selecting sires results in minimal, if any, genetic advancement for a herd.

Table 1 – Primary Selection Traits for Milk Producers

Table 1 contains The Bullvine’s suggested list for the 9 primary traits. This table also contains alternatives to the primary nine for milk producers to consider.

Category Trait Trait Label Alternate Traits
Production Fat Yield Fat FE*, EcoFeed**, %F
  Protein Yield Protein FE*, EcoFeed**, %P
Function Productive Life PL HL***, LIV
  Udder Depth UD UDC*, MS***, Teat Place & Length*, Udder Attach*
  Rear Legs Rear View RLRV Foot Angle*, FLC*, RLSV*, F&L***, Heel Depth***
  Daus Calving Ability DCE CA$, DCA***, Thurl Width*
Fertility Daus Preg Rate DPR FI*, DF***, HCR, CCR
Health Somatic Cell SCS WT$****, HLH$, Mastitis & Metabolic Disease Resistance***
  Calf Wellness CW$**** Immunity+*****, 

Notes: Data Source for all values/traits is CDCB/AIPL except where otherwise noted
* US Holstein
** STgen 
*** CDN
**** Zoetis
***** Semex

How to Do Your Herd’s Genetic Audit

Before conducting the audit all information on the animals in the herd should be sourced from breeds, herd recording agencies (DHI’s), genetic evaluation centres (CDCB/CDN) and DNA testing labs.

An audit can be either by year of birth of the females in the herd or by category of the females – calves, yearlings, 1st lactation, 2nd lactation and 3rd+ lactation. Either way works.  Using the latter sorting method, by categories, sorts by current life stage which is normally how dairymen think of their animals.

There are five indexing combinations that can be used to do the herd genetic audit:

  • Parent Averages Indexes;
  • Combined Parent Averages & Performance Indexes;
  • Genomic Indexes;
  • Combined Genomic & Performance Indexes; and
  • Three Nearest Sire Average Index.

The method to use depends on what information is available for the herd. #4 will be the most accurate method. However, very few milk producers are doing genomic testing so that eliminates methods #3 and #4. Most progressive milk producers measure the performance of their animals so method #2 would be available. For milk producers that do not do performance (milk) recording then method #5 will be the method to use. Females that are to be culled or that are being bred beef can be excluded from the audit as they will not be contributing to the genetics in the herd in the future.

Table 2 – Sample Herd Genetic Audit Report

Table 2 gives an example of what might be the herd genetic audit for a milk producer’s herd for the traits that The Bullvine has selected.

Female’s Average Genetic Indexes
Animal Group            Fat      Protein            PL    U Depth         RLRV           DCE          DPR          SCS           CW$
Calves 22 18 1.1 0.26 0.01 6.6 0.4 2.81 -17
Yearlings 18 14 0.2 0.31 0.09 6.9 0.1 2.86 -25
1st Lactation 12 9 1.1 0.27 -0.11 6.7 -1.1 2.91 -22
2nd Lactation 8 5 -0.9 0.19 -0.08 7.1 -1.4 2.99 -24
3rd + Lactation -1 0 -1.4 0.05 -0.22 6.9 -1.6 3.11 -26
Approx. Breed AVG 21 17   0.8 0.5       -12
Desired Value               3.5 +                < 5          3.5 +        < 2.80  

Note: For DCE and SCS a lower numbered is the desired

The Bullvine’s assessment of this example is that the herd has used sires that increased the herd’s genetic merit for fat, protein and SCS but not for the other traits.

Make and Use A Herd Genetic Plan

  • Goals are always an important part of any plan. Using Table 2 our example milk producer, working independently or with an advisor can set goals for the traits to be improved. In this example, the function and fertility categories need significant improvement. Reaching a herd average of PL +5.0, UD +1.25, RLRV +0.75, DCE 4.5, DPR +3.5 and CW$ 30 in 5 years is possible. It would be advisable to increase Fat to +50lbs. and Protein to +40lbs. as part of the plan. SCS could be improved but it is not necessary unless the milk processor would pay a premium for low somatic cell milk.
  • Sire selection will be the key to making genetic improvement in a milk production focused herd. 85-90% of the genetic improvement will come by using superior sires. The money invested in buying sexed semen from top sires will pay for itself many times over in five years.  Using sexed semen on all heifers and the top half of the milking herd will allow for adequate herd replacements. Extra replacement heifers cost $2,500 to raise but are only likely to bring $1,800 as newly calved first lactation cows so why raise them and take the $700 loss? The bottom half of the milk cows can be bred to beef sires and the calves can be sold at birth or raised for meat sales.
  • Buy semen from only elite sires for the traits to be improved as determined from the herd’s genetic audit. The initial sort for sires to use should be to sires that have a minimum index for NM$ or Pro$. Good minimum index values are: Genomic Holstein NM$ +800 (Pro$ 1800); Proven Holstein NM$ +700 (Pro$ 1600); Genomic Jersey NM$ +650 (Pro$ 1500); and Proven Jersey NM$ +575 (Pro$ 1300). Milk producers who sell to specialty processors or cheese makers should also consider selecting sires that are A2A2 Beta Casein and BB Kappa Casein. 

Table 3 – Sire Selection Levels for Milk Producers

Table 3 is a guide for milk producers to use when selecting sires for the nine traits in Table 1.

A. Initial Sire Sort – Minimum NM$ or Pro$*
      Min. NM$   Min. Pro$
  Holstein Genomic 800   2500
    Proven 700   2300
  Jersey Genomic 650   1500
    Proven 575   1300
B. Second Sire Sort – Recommended Minimum Sire Genetic Indexes**
  Average Proven Sire Indexes for Sires that Meet Initial Sort Criteria
Trait US Hol US Jer Trait CAN Hol CAN Jer
Fat       81 lbs.       74 lbs. Fat        76 kgs        57 kgs
Protein       58 lbs.       54 lbs. Protein        73 kgs        45 kgs
PL 5.1 4.6 HL 106 102
U Depth 0.88 1.5 U Depth 103 100
RLRV 0.61 FootAngle 0.6 RLRV 103 100
DCE 4.3   DCA 105 104
DPR 1.5 -0.01 DF 104 102
SCS 2.83 2.91 MastitisResist 104 104
CW$ -12        

* Sires below these levels should be eliminated from milk producers semen purchase lists

** Sires not meeting these levels should not be used more than 25% of the time

Remember before finally deciding to buy an individual sire, a check should be done to ensure that a sire is not below average for production, functional, fertility or health indexes traits.

Why Bother with a Herd Genetic Audit?

Every Milk producer has heard other dairy people question the value of genetic information and using only superior sires. The reason often given is that it is performance, not genetics that fills the bulk tank. That is a behind-the-times way of thinking. CDN studies have shown 50% of the productivity gains being made in Canadian dairy cattle comes as a result of genetics. Even if 33% of the productivity gains are genetic, 33% are nutritional and 33% are management, improving genetic merit of a herd is important. If a herd’s genetic level is not improved the herd will fall behind other herds and the dairyman will be at a disadvantage in the efficiencies that higher genetics bring with them.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Genetic improvement is important to all dairy farmers, no matter the focus on their farm. First comes a genetic audit of the present herd, then a plan for traits most in need of genetic improvement and then the use of sires that will achieve the herd’s genetic goals. Genetic improvement is permanent. Don’t delay. Don’t fall behind.




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The Story Behind Peterson Farm Brothers – Canadian Dairy Xpo 2018

Join Greg Peterson, one of the Peterson Farm Brothers from Assaria, Kansas, who became internet sensations with farm-related parody music videos, as he talks about advocating for agriculture at the 2018 Canadian Dairy XPO.

Be sure to attend the 2019 Canadian Dairy XPO – April 3rd and 4th

The Jersey Future is Now

Last year I had the opportunity to contact an energetic 27-year-old dairyman who has enthusiastically selected the Jersey breed for his dairy operation. Listening to Tyler Hendriks of Seaforth Ontario as he talks about the dairy industry and Jersey breeding made me excited about the future possibilities for Jerseys.

Young Mind – Fresh Start

After college in 2011, Tyler bought his retiring uncle Gerard’s milking herd and quota holdings. He rented his uncles 100 acre farm and milked in a tie-stall barn. Within two years he had added in half his father’s quota holdings. His grandparents had immigrated to Canada from The Netherlands, working factory jobs and dairy farming part-time. Eventually, Tyler’s father and uncle took over and divided the operation into two average sized neighboring tie stall farms. Tyler’s parents had farmed with a mixed breed herd however Tyler saw breeds differently and swapped out the Holsteins for an established Jersey herd. In his own words, Tyler commented on his bold start saying, ‘actually being responsible both for the management and labor in a tie stall barn was a big wake-up call for a guy just out of college’.

While attending college Tyler had formed strong friendships which he maintains with other young dairymen who represent other types of focus including an organic and grazing herd, a large herd with high performance and a large herd including high genomics and embryo marketing. All those herds have Holsteins but after doing much research and study Tyler determined his goal of total concept from field to milk sales could be best realized by farming with Jerseys.

Family Foundations     

Tyler has the total support of his family – Emily, his parents and sisters, Brittney and Kylie. Noteworthy is the fact that Tyler’s parents gave him the opportunity to immediately be the dairy leader. Tyler and his wife Emily, who also grew up on a dairy farm and is a bank ag specialist, were married in 2016. They have a six-month son, Liam. Tyler gives much credit to Emily on the financial side as well as being willing and able to step in when needed for work or fine-tuning plans. Family time with Liam and off-farm time are important to Tyler and Emily. They both participate in CrossFit as a way to get off the farm and be active in their community.

Taking the Leap

In 2014, Tyler switched to a total Jersey herd when he combined the quota holdings of his uncle and half of his father’s quota for a total of 130 kgs of fat per day. At that time his herd was housed in a tie stall barn. In 2016 a new tunnel ventilated sand stall barn and double eight rapid exit parlor were built. This reduced the labor requirement and gave Tyler more opportunity to manage the milking herd at an elevated level. The Jersey herd came a whole herd, but Tyler found it necessary to cull especially on a production basis. His herd additions have been elite genetic heifers as they left the Progenesis Program. Currently (Jan ’19) the 93 Jersey cows are milked 3x with a daily average of 1.55 kgs (3.42 lbs.)F, 1.20 kgs (2.65 lbs.)P and 39.5 kg (87 lbs.) Energy Corrected Milk. SCC is 120,000 SCC, Pregnancy Rate is 30% and average days open is a remarkable 88 days. One important metric for Tyler is that his herd produces 2 kgs of Energy Corrected Milk for every 1 kg of Dry Matter consumed.

The calves are in hutches and fed 2x and weaned at 75 days. Younger heifers are housed in an old pig barn renovated by Tyler and Emily. Older heifers are housed in an older cow barn.

Tyler milks at two of the three milkings each day usually with his father or sisters. He employs a night milker and along with family this allows for family time, for harvesting to continue, for vacation time and for when he has meetings to attend.

Tyler quickly told me that his most important and ongoing mentor has been his father. To this day they usually have time during milkings to share, discuss and even, as Tyler says, to disagree. He was reluctant to start naming mentors as he has had and continues to have many. He values highly what he has learned from veterinarian Dr. Ray Reynen, when Tyler assisted him doing herd health visits to other farms, and also values the advice given to him by nutritionist Jesse Flanagan and his neighboring dairy farmers.

Fieldwork and cropping on 800 acres is on a shared basis between Tyler, his father, and his uncle. All forages are grown on the farm and they are stored in horizontal silos. High-quality corn silage is important as it forms 65% of the milking cow diet.

The Future is Information, Data Gathering and Improving Results

Tyler spends considerable time every day, except on the busiest harvest days, studying reports from Dairy Comp 305, searching the Internet for information and ideas, communicating on Facebook and participating in online webinars.  He shared that at times he may feel slightly guilty for all the time at the screen. However, in the big picture, there is little doubt that the hours spent are yielding great returns to Hendriks Dairies.

To date, Hendriks Dairies does not have parlor ID but that plus many other tools are on Tyler’s consideration list. All will be evaluated on a cost-benefit basis on his Jersey farm.

I did ask Tyler – “Why Jerseys?”. His quick and progressive thinking mind came right back at me with “Well, Why Not? … Feed efficiency, smaller more docile cow who isn’t so hard on herself in a commercial environment, lower age at first calving, less health events, less animal labor per unit of output, high fertility, … do I need to give your more reasons?”.

Other Young Dairy People Also Interested in Jerseys

One year ago, The Bullvine produced articles on the very progressive Suntor Holsteins (Read more: Suntor Holsteins – New Baby, New Robot, New Perspective and Suntor Holsteins – Breeding Goals Revisited. Kevin and Amanda Sundborg, Master Breeders and owners of ‘Lightening’ nominated for Holstein Canada’s Cow of the Year (2019) have added a few Jerseys to their robotic farm. Why? Partially we have learned that it is because of Kevin’s friendship with Eric Silva (Sunset Canyon Jerseys, Oregon, US) and mostly because of seeing how productive, efficient, trouble-free and fertile the Jerseys are at Sunset Canyon. Are Jerseys the future at Suntor? Time will tell.

The Future is Officially Here

Tyler shared with me some interesting thoughts that I feel we all need to consider:

  • It is facts and on-farm performance that should be the basis for all decisions
  • Look down the road to how milk will be priced in 5-10 years at the farm gate
  • The future pricing of milk will be for the solids not the fluid portion
  • High fat milk should be transported and processed separately
  • Jerseys can be 20+% of the national herd, provided Jersey breeders focus on productivity
  • Much can be learned by studying very successful Jersey farms in the US
  • Jerseys can work very well on automated farms – 3x or stall robots
  • Dairying with Jerseys in the future will be about much more than average first lactation score and the show ring. The Ontario Jersey Benchmarking Service (Troew Nutrition – Jersey Ontario) is excellent for bottom-line focused breeders to compare their herd to other herds.
  • More progressive Jersey thinkers need to be involved in farmer organizations
  • Lifestyle and family are very important, take time for both
  • Kevin Sundborg sees it as a total farm operation when he considers which breed suits best. It is the efficient use of all resources – facilities, land available, land value, topography, heat units, manure disposal, phosphorous run-off, investment in machinery, labor required and many more.

More thoughts on future Jersey breeding, heifers, feeding and managing from both Hendriks and Suntor Farms will be covered in a future article.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Future Jersey dairy farmers can follow the examples of Tyler and Emily or Kevin and Amanda’s models for including Jerseys. It isn’t absolutely necessary to copy the program of others or to maintain a farm’s tradition. Always look for new ideas and ways to farm successfully. The keys to future dairying will be data and information, thinking of and implementing ways to use it to increase revenue per unit of input, control costs and farm each day to maximize profit. The future is now for innovative dairy farmers. Move forward. Be Awesome.    



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