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Should You Share Your Data?

Have you heard a dairy farmer say … “It is my data! … Why should I share my data? … Just so that someone else can make money from my data! … It costs me to generate my data! … What are you going to pay me for my data?”  In dairy cattle genetic improvement, these comments are often aimed at A.I. organizations or breeding companies who have access to but do not pay, as they once did, for the use of breeders’ individual animal and herd performance data.

Where is this ‘Pay Me’ Approach Coming From?

Breeders today see that their futures are threatened when it comes to revenue from their breeding stock sales. They have much less (if any) income, as a percent of total revenue, from animal and embryos sales than they had thirty years ago. No one is beating down their doors for open heifers, springing bred heifers or quality second calvers. They still participate in type classification and DHI programs, but their officially documented animal data is not being asked for. Grade females with documentation fetch as many dollars from sales agents as do purebreds. High herd performance averages (BAA, milk/fat/protein yield averages, …) do not bring buyers to farms seeking surplus animals.

Why Participate in Animal Improvement Programs?

So, breeders are saying why spend the money to participate in industry offered breed improvement programs?  These breeders know full well that they need the data for their on-farm use but question if organizations beyond their farm gate have the right to use their data without paying for it.

Nothing remains the same forever. At the farm level, animal and herd data once used to generate revenue now has the primary use of helping to keep costs under control.

But … what is the big picture of this matter?

The Data Focus is Now Value Added

The profitable cow for most dairy farmers has evolved or is evolving to a healthy, long-lived, efficient converter, high fat and protein producing cow.  As well, dairy farmers are making extensive use of sexed semen, breeding the low-end females to beef semen and buying systems and technology that enhance herd management and help cut costs.

Every piece of data, old and new, must provide a return on the investment … It must have a value added at the farm of origin level. It is no longer just how much milk, fat or protein or if she classified above breed average.   It is – does she do that and more – calved without difficulty at 22 months of age, conceives on 1st or 2nd service, does not get sick, does not have feet/hoof problems and remains in the herd to at least 72 months of age (completes 4 lactations). The ideal cow needs to be much more genetically and performance wise than she was even ten years ago.

Value Added Answers New Questions

Even though the focus in the press and social media is on the genomics for young animals, breeders want and need to have the profitable lifetime cow. That requires that on-farm finances need to be given a much higher priority for inclusion in data captured and reported than they have been up until now. Without including the dollars and cents relative to a trait – do the trait genetic indexes have worthwhile value?

It goes even further. Some old beliefs may not hold their perceived value. Do wide bodied cows consume more feed? Will a2a2 animals generate more revenue in the future? Are there bloodlines or breeds that are more profitable at converting feed than other bloodlines or breeds?

Viability and Sustainability are High Priority

We need to dig much deeper using more data points so cows, dairy farms and the industry can be viable and sustainable.  More production is not always better. The fact is we talk value added but we are not using the data to actually determine if it is adding value. The dairy cattle improvement industry needs expanded thinking when it comes to using all data.

How Did the Dairy Cattle Improvement Industry Get to this Point with Data?

Many often blame the introduction of genomics as the reason that breeders are unable to get back some return for sharing their data.

With the introduction of genomic sire indexes, A.I. stopped paying incentive dollars to breeders that sampled young sires. Payment in return for breeders’ data that was used to daughter prove the young sires. It so happened that, at the same time, semen prices for proven sires dropped and semen sales volume for proven sires went from 80% to 30% of the market. And so, the money was not there for A.I. to continue their young sire incentive programs.

Dramatic Expansion in Data

In this past decade progressive dairy farmers have been purchasing more tools to evaluate their herds in order to improve their herd management practices. Breeds did not change the services they provided while milk recording expanded their scope of services. New entrepreneurial service providers entered the dairy cattle improvement industry and many more services and technologies were offered to dairy farms. The result is that there has been a dramatic expansion in data and data points for cows and herds.

Who Analyzes the data?

Yet in many cases the increased data points are not linked. Dairy farmers must sort through all the data and draw their own conclusions and make decisions based solely on their herd’s data. Of course, all data capture costs money so dairy farms have incurred more expense and yet are having to link the data on their own. No wonder dairy farmers are saying, “It is my data I paid for it all. How do I get a return on my data investment? My data has a value beyond my farm. Am I seeing benefit from my data used by organizations?”

Has the dairy improvement industry not kept up with farmers’ needs when it comes to linking, analyzing and providing information for animal and herd advancement? Likely, that is partially true.  But all is not lost. Organizations are now seeing the need to link all data points to provide more complete answers for dairy farmers.

Everyone Benefits from Sharing Data

When a farm’s data is not available for others everyone looses … original farm … other farms … service providers … the industry.

Here is a partial list of the benefits of shared data for farms and for the industry:

  • Benchmarking
    Broadly based guideposts for animals and herds have been and will continue to be integral for farms to be able to improve. Industry databases containing large volumes of animal and herd data are needed to develop the guideposts.
  • Accuracy of Prediction and Forecasting
    Broad based animal and herd data is needed to know performance and trends. As well as for all stakeholders to predict and plan.
  • Research and Development
    Innovation is critical for any industry to progress. Extensive data along with both public and private funding are needed for research and development.
  • Genetic Advancement
    Large comprehensive databases are needed to expand the economically important traits for which dairy cattle are genetically evaluated. CDN/Lactanet research has shown that half of the progress in on-farm profitability comes about because of the genetic improvement of animals.
  • Product Guarantees
    Databases that include monitoring of location of production, of production methodology, of product identification and of product movement are important for consumers to know that the food they buy meets standards, is safe and wholesome. In the future producers, processors and marketers will be required to guarantee their products
  • Results of Industry Collaboration and Initiatives
    Dairy farmers have been asking for their service organizations to expand and link the services offered. Elimination of duplication, sharing of services and efficiencies within services are important to dairy farmers. To achieve all these animal, herd and farm data is necessary.
  • New Technology and Systems
    The rate of implementation of technology and new systems is occurring at a break-neck speed. The result is more and new information to manage by and for more effective use of labor and feeds. Past animal and herd data are paramount to create the new equipment and management softwares for not only milk cows but also for calves, heifers, dry cows and farm and industry systems.

It is Check-In Time for How the Dairy Industry Deals with Data

Shared data will be the foundation on which the dairy industry will build its future viability and sustainability.

All industries (auto, medical, energy, …etc.) are changing their approach to who has access to individual organizations’ data. It is not who owns or controls the data, – it is who uses the data to implement new.

No person, service provider or industry can exist as an island onto themselves.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

All farm data needs to be used on the farm of origin and in the industry. Sharing data is not a “no way” – it is a definitely “yes do for success”. Opportunity is out there for farms that share their data but, in return, there must be ways to improve income, efficiencies, cost cutting, management improvements, and more. Sharing dairy data is sound business.




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Break the Mold – Shape Your Future Through Sire Selection

Dairy farmers use a total merit index (including – TPI, NM$, JPI, CM$, LPI, Pro$, DWP$, …) as their primary tool when selecting sires that they will purchase semen from. Using such indexes equates to what is commonly referred to as following a “balanced” breeding program. Balanced because the emphasis placed on the traits included in the index are proportional to the historic economic importance of the trait or balanced because the relative equal emphasis is placed on conformation and production traits with a lesser emphasis on auxiliary traits.

It is time to go beyond total merit indexes when selecting sires.

Total Merit Indexes – Too Many Masters?

Expecting total merit indexes to serve the past, present and future is an impossible situation. The past positions the ancestors in the pedigree. The present positions an animal relative to its current market worth. That leaves the future taking third place, when it comes to having progressive total merit indexes.

Animal improvement is about creating future generations. Having traits and appropriate future weightings in total merit indexes need to have higher priority for the future of dairying to be relevant.

A new concept for total merit indexes, when used to predict the future, is the need for them to be outcome-based considering both direct and correlated responses for the traits included. (For more information about outcome-based total merit indexing, read about Pro$ at

Another weakness usually overlooked in total merit indexes is that recently developed genetic traits indexes (i.e. A2A2) are not included.

The primary reason total merit indexes are developed and published is not for breed societies animal ranking lists, bull breeders, breeding company marketers, or embryo and animal marketers … total merit indexes are for dairy farmers, who generate over 90% of their income from milk sales and who use genetics to minimize on-farm costs!

Animals for 2025+

In the past couple of years, there has been a dramatic shift in the genetic attributes that sires’ daughters must possess.  The emphasis in the past was on milk volume, average milk component percentages, breed ideal conformation and a limited number of auxiliary traits.  Dairy farmers are now seeing genetic indexes, produced by genetic evaluation centers and breeding companies, for additional traits. Traits that will either generate more income, reduce costs (i.e. feed, labor, herd replacements, etc.) or do both simultaneously.

 One example of a trait that has had a dramatic shift in emphasis is stature. Many dairy people are saying that they want mature cows that are 5+ inches ( 12.5+ cms) shorter in order to have animals that are longer lived, require less labor, are healthier, are more fertile, are more resistant to disease, are able to consume more dry matter, … yet are able to produce more fat and protein volumes each day.

This author’s current read is that dairy farmers have increased their demands for expanded genetic sire information before they purchase semen. For almost 75% of the doses purchased the decision is based on genomic indexes. The shift has been made and not all total merit indexes are now futuristic enough. Breeders now want to know the outcomes they can expect for the sires they use not just the weights applied to the traits in the total merit indexes.

Just last week the author had a conversation with an eager young dairyperson asking why breeding companies do not produce and publish more genetic information on what their sires’ daughters are capable of from birth to first calving,

It is a new era for what must be known about a sire’s genetic abilities for an expanded array of traits.

What’s Not in Current Total Merit Indexes

All total merit indexes are different in the traits included. However, here are eleven of the areas where additional trait information may be of benefit by increasing revenue or reducing expenses.

As you read these, consider which ones would make a dramatic difference to your specific situation.

These traits are not presently included in most of the current total merit indexes.

  • Significantly Positive Deviation for % Fat (Reasons: lower cost associated with storing, transporting and processing less water; consumers now buying based on full fat; and less milk volume demands on milking cows to produce high fat yield.)
  • Casein Composition (Reasons: consumers want A2A2 milk; and processors get higher cheese yields from BB milk.)
  • Optimal Animal Health (Reasons: every farmer wants cow wellness [WT$]; heifer wellness [CW$]; disease resistance [MDR & MR]; and immunity[I+].)
  • Genetic Ability for Nutrition Matters (Reasons: feed conversion efficiency [FE & EcoFeed]; optimal dry matter intake; maximization of income over feed costs [IOFC].)
  • Functional Feet & Legs (Reasons: hoof health [HH]; hoof growth; and locomotion)
  • Heifer Performance (Reasons: calf vigor; weight gain; growth pattern; age to first calving [AFC].)
  • Milking Parlor Performance (Reasons: milk let-down; milking speed [MS]; milking temperament [MT].)
  • Reproduction (Reasons: age at first heat; embryo viability; metritis; retained placenta; hormone levels post calving.)
  • Transition Time (Reasons: ability to perform without problems in transition and fresh pens.)
  • Environments (Reasons: ability to perform at an optimal level in cold, temperate and hot climates; performance in confined or pasture situations; robot/parlor ready.)
  • Labor Costs (Read Bullvine article – “Don’t Waste Time! Choose Sires that Save on Labor”)

Decide on the Additional Trait Information that You Need

The Bullvine recommends the dairy farmers identify three to five traits that are important to their farming operations but that are not currently included in the total merit index that they use when selecting sires.

How to Consider Additional Traits when Selecting Sires

First off, shortlist the sires that meet and exceed your minimum requirements for traits that are included in the total merit index (i.e. 70 lbs. fat yield, PL 4.5, DPR 2.5, above average mastitis resistance, ..etc.). For dairy farmers not sure which is their preferred total merit index, The Bullvine recommends using NM$, CM$, JPI or Pro$.

Secondly, using your shortlist of sires, check each sire to make sure they are significantly above breed average for the three to five additional traits that you identified above and that are not included in your preferred total merit index. Do not purchase semen from the sires on your shortlist that are below average for your additional important traits. (i.e. If a sire’s daughters are below average for resistance to metabolic diseases do not purchase his semen.)

The Bullvine surveyed the top twenty Holstein and Jersey sires in all the major total merit indexes and found very few sires that were significantly above average for all current and new novel traits. So, dairy cattle breeders will need to do extra homework when selecting sires. More than simply ranking, buying and using sires based on total merit index.

Sire Selection Assistance

Breeding companies have staff members that can assist dairy farmers in identifying if a sire is superior or inferior for all traits. Breeding companies want dairy farmers to be successful. They can also offer programs in which farm breeding goals are established and mating recommendations are provided. 

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Future dairy cattle genetic improvement is more than production and conformation. Breeders need to determine the additional areas in need of improvement in their herd.

The best scenario is to use only sires that are significant improvers (i.e. 70+%RK) for the health, milk composition, feed conversion, fertility and body functioning traits that need improvement in a herd.

The tried and true method applies – identify the traits in need of improvement in your herd. Only buy and use sires that are superior for those traits.



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The entire world has dealt with restrictions because of the COVID 19 pandemic. People are now facing the “new normal” for living their lives. The outcomes of COVID 19 are many and include distancing, hygiene, isolating, operating from home (work, education, meetings, childcare, socializing, communicating, telemedicine, …) and more.

Is life changed forever? Is it time to realize and re-organize for tomorrow’s success? Time will tell. Of course, the immediate challenge also includes how to move forward with business, employment and social interaction. We must develop strategies and practices for the human population to establish robust and dynamic immunity programs.

Professor & Author Brene Brown Puts Going Forward This Way (April 20, 2020)

We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.”

Only One Alternative – Plan and Move Forward

The dairy farming industry, like all of agriculture, needs to take what has been learned from COVID 19 to produce safe healthy food for a changed world.

The Bullvine offers some ideas for readers to consider as they adapt. It amounts to engaging opportunities in the new reality.

Agriculture Has Always Implemented

Challenges taken. Opportunities met.

The dairy and agricultural industries have always taken the opportunity to move to new levels of excellence. Four advancements include: 1) doubling of global milk production in past thirty years; 2) North American dairy cows now produce three times as much milk as they did seventy years ago; 3) the genetic ability of dairy cows for production and conformation are 20% higher than they were twenty years ago; and 4) each US farmer now feeds 200 people where seventy years ago it was 16 people fed per farmer.

Dairy farming and the dairy cattle improvement industry have made significant progress in the past decade. Butterfat is now a positive. Yet milk production exceeds demand in many countries. Resulting is depressed farm gate prices. 

Opportunity Themes for Dairying

The Bullvine offers six Opportunity Themes for dairy farmers, their advisors and service providers to use in planning and execution in the future. The pace of change will be fast. Based on what is currently being published and talked about on how healthy food will regain in importance to consumers. And knowing that dairy farmers’ history of turning on and producing more milk there will continue be tight on-farm margins in the coming years. The following six opportunities will need to be applied to all areas on-farm and in the entire industry. Of course, opportunities always require investment to yield a positive outcome.

  1. Revenue Generation – Income is the major driver of all businesses and for dairy’s future it will be closely associated with marketing and consumer needs, demands and preferences. Just think of the opportunities for dairy of setting and achieving the goal of 10% increased sales of enhanced fluid milks (to children, athletes, seniors, …) and 10% increased sales of milk solids products (which may well include alignment with other food producers and processors). In the end only with increased revenue will all dairy industry stakeholders be viable.
  2. Efficiencies – An efficient operation is the second biggest factor that determines success. On a total operation basis, it includes improving efficiencies in both variable and fixed costs on farm, in processing and in wholesale-retail. Without continually improving efficiency there is not sustainability.
  3. Value-Added – If any device, decision, service or approach does not enhance the bottom line, lifestyle or the overall operation success then it is a negative not a positive.
  4. Virtual– COVID 19 has shown that the world is now virtual. All sectors of the dairy industry must adopt and adapt. Perhaps not exclusively but the WWW provides an excellent means for communication, information sourcing, education and training, banking, marketing, ordering supplies, shopping, … etc.
  5. Business Relationships – Farmers working collectively has been a significant factor in the past success of dairy farming. That will continue in the future, but close mutually beneficial relationships must be expanded to include the milk processors and retailers as well as input suppliers.
  6. Practices – In order to guarantee food quality, safety and traceability, the practices and protocols on-farm, in transport, in processing and in delivery to retailers will be required to be documented and available to both other stakeholders and consumers. Accepting accountability for how milk is produced, handled, processed and delivered is the way forward.

Be Ready for More Industry Changes

Dairying must be ready for even more changes in the 2020’s.  The pace of change will be accelerated. Those who hold back or oppose will be left behind. Some changes could include:

  • Sire Selection – With already 70+% of dairy sires used being genomically evaluated and with perhaps 40%-60% bred beef, the use of daughter proven sires (dairy or beef) is likely to be discontinued. When, not if, the reliabilities for genomic indexes reaches 85% for production and 75% for health traits, turning generations will be much more important the accuracy of indexes. Breeding companies’ programs would be significantly changed.
  • Animals with the Best Genes Regardless of Breed– Dairy farmers have favored one of about six breeds of cattle. Down the road there will be a need for a super breed that is a combination of the best genes available. CDCB now produces crossbred genetic indexes. Will those crossbreds be the new breed? Or will the super breed come about because of science and invention? It is not an if or a why but a how and a when.
  • Data Services – With added technology on-farm comes new data for even more accurate decision making. Past practices of third-party eyes, official designation and international approved devices and practices will become less important and less used when dairy farmers are running their businesses based on daily, even second by second, data capture. Who ‘owns’ the data will not be nearly as important as having integrated data systems that yield the most accurate information. The organizations, public or private, providing information or advice to dairy farms will change to an integrated data approach or they will exit the industry.
  • Eliminating Services – Could the day come when it is more cost, performance and herd improvement effective to individually genomically test all replacement heifer calves at birth, cull the low indexers, allocate animals to groups according to their indexes and only monitor groups of animals for performance? Thereby reducing the costs associated with some of the current improvement services that are based on data being captured on every animal.
  • Milk Leaving the Farm – The importance of fat and protein content of milk due to genetics, nutrition and management will be increased. Both lactose (fed back to animals) and water will be removed at the farm level for revenue generation, cost savings and business alignment reasons.
  • Vertical Integration – Other livestock industries have systems whereby there are alignments from the farm all the way to the sale of product. Dairy could well be the next where 100,000 cow groupings align from the inputs all the way to the sale at the grocery store.
  • Meetings – All decisions beyond the farm will be made without leaving the farm office. On farm decisions and instructions will be virtual.
  • One Health – with over 70% of diseases in humans originating from animals, dairy farming can expect to see animal health linked more closely with human health. Expect more regulation.
  • Food Security – Citizens and governments are quickly becoming more concerned about their ability to domestically source their food and to insure viable domestic agriculture. Countries and agricultural industries that produce more than their domestic needs will need to find ways to prices product for domestic use separate from product that is exported.

Of course, these nine are just a start to the long list of changes that the dairy industry may address and implement. The take-home message is be ready for challenges, opportunities and changes.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Looking to the future always involves the unknown, opportunities and changes. The changes will challenge history, norms and beliefs but the end result must be viable and sustainable if dairy businesses are to survive.

COVID 19 put the world on pause. During this pause everyone associated with the dairy industry has a responsibility to take the time to find the Opportunities to Create the Future.



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Watch Out – Breed Societies are on a Course to Crash and Burn

Have breed society members become too complacent? Have they lost hope? Do they even care about their own futures?

The Bullvine knows and understands that with the current global health crisis and the associated food supply disruptions that there is much on dairy breed society members’ minds about immediate survival and future business. 

The outlook for dairy cattle farmer-breeders is often negative. On the Milk House Group and on Facebook there are comments about how breeding companies (formerly called A.I. companies) are taking over from farmer-breeders by running their own breeding herds, by having their breeding lines proprietary to themselves and by producing their own genetic evaluations.

The Bullvine wonders how breeders feel about this because we see that breed society members are not asking more of their breed organizations. More to keep them in the breeding scene. More to help breeders generate revenue from the sale of breeding stock (breed societies once did that). More action to demonstrate a ‘go-to-it’ organization as members plan for the future of their farms. More focused on the future and not repeating the past.

We here at The Bullvine care about helping dairy cattle farmer-breeders to be successful … but … do breeders themselves care?

Is It Too Late for Breed Members and Breeds?

It should never be too late. However, nothing will change in breed societies, if breed members do not act collectively and demand results.

What Can Breed Members and Breed Societies Do?

Here is a partial list of things that breed members and breed societies could do to start down the road to a successful tomorrow:


Future Dairy Farming

  • Take time to acquaint themselves with where dairy farming will be in their region in 5 years’ time. Dairy farms will, on average, be double their current size and have considerably more technology.
  • Reach out to neighbors that milk cows but do not register to find out their future service and genetic needs.

Expectations of Director

  • Elect only progressive dynamic breed society directors. Boards only need to meet virtually for 3-4 hours per month so that busy directors are not taken away from their farms for days at a time. Insist that boards of directors are doing accurate visioning, setting priorities, updating policies and programs, overseeing finances and virtually reporting to breed members.

Animal Data

  • Lead by example and genomically test all their breeding animals. Then use the genomic information in all herd improvement and service purposes – genetics, nutrition and management.
  • Promote maximum data capture from breed members entire herd (cows and heifers) and ensure that all animal data reaches the national data base so that it can be used for benchmarking, genetic evaluation, research and development purposes.

Breed Genes

  • Be open to supporting ways of introducing new superior bovine genes into their breed. 


Breed Priorities

  • Breed purity, pretty animals and protection of animal owners’ investment must take the back seat. The front seat will be value-added services including those that related to a) animal health, welfare, feed conversion, functionality and heifer performance; and b) financial details on both a daily and lifetime basis.
  • Work with breed members, all dairy farmers and industry stakeholders to research and determine breed strengths, limitations and opportunities.

Work with Others

  • Takedown the walls and align, merge or collaborate with DHI’s, breeding companies, herd software providers, herd device providers, genetic evaluation centres, genomic testing organizations, cooperative milk marketing organizations, animal research centers, extension education and youth development. The farmers own the data, not the breed societies or other services that capture animal data.
  • Staff and data systems are costly items. Only one national dairy animal database is needed.

Breed Services

  • Leave behind the verified, control and only official data source approach. The future will depend on serving the needs of breed members, milk producers and industry partners. This includes governments.
  • Move all breed-related services for heifers and cows into the virtual information and service age.
  • Expect that funding breed societies based on registrations, genomic testing and animal transfers not to be acceptable to dairy farmers. Breeds must address the need to work with industry partners on animal traceability services (the combination of animal id, location and movement) in order to guarantee products to consumers.

Animal Data

  • Support that all animal-related information is publishable provided the data source is identified. Farmers will decide if any or all the animal information is useful to them.

Breed Operations

  • Modernize the breed’s purposes, roles, organizational infrastructure and operations.

Breed Genes

  • Takedown the barriers by expanding the gene composition of the breed.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Dairy cattle breed societies are in the process of moving from being on life-support to becoming museums.

Without new value-added services, society members will do their voting with their chequebooks. Dairy farmers have been heard to say – “I no longer get value from registration, type classification and historic data files”. So, they will quietly stop registering, having the classifier visit and requesting performance pedigrees.

Is there an opportunity for breed societies to exist in the future? Yes … but only if they change. Performance efficiency, satisfying the consumer, viability and sustainability are today’s prime drivers of that change.

Now is the Moment of Truth. Breed societies have only two options … change or fold!



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Are Sire Ranking Indexes Out of Date?

Modern cattle breeding is about creating the future not the past. The dairy cattle breeding industry has reached the stage where yield and ideal conformation should no longer collectively receive the majority of the weighting in total merit indexes? In our current indexes the weights assigned to traits are based on historic happenings. The Bullvine asks the dairy cattle breeding industry to re-consider what is needed in future total merit indexes for milk production focused herds.

Why Consider Changes Now?

Here are five reasons triggering the need for change:

  • Daughters of the sires used in 2020 will form over half the national milking herd in 2025. On-farm financial margins will remain under significant pressure. There will need to be more required producer guarantees in many areas including animal health, animal welfare, production practices and food safety.
  • It is predicted that increased consumer demand for milk products will come from higher fat content, A2A2, BB and other speciality products.
  • In 2025, nowhere near 60% of the cull cows will be removed for production and type reasons. Yet, those two areas account for over 60% of the trait emphasis in today’s total merit indexes.
  • Herd replacements account for 16% of dairy herd costs yet calf and heifer traits are not included in national total merit indexes.
  • Dairy farmers and dairy organizations are now placing their emphasis on efficiencies, viability and sustainability, not on high production and type.

Genetics must take these matters into consideration and do its part in creating dairy’s sustainable future.

US Dairy Genetics Report Card on Genetic Progress

CDCB has published the base changes (“April 2020: Genetic Base Changes”) that will occur at the time of the publication of the April 2020 genetic indexes. A synopsis the US genetic progress and implications for the future include:

  • Farmers have used superior sires which has resulted in very significant progress in milk, fat and protein yields in Holsteins and Jerseys (approximately 93% of the national herd).
  • Only Holsteins have improved (very slightly) in fertility.
  • Improvement has been made in PL, yet no improvement has been made in SCS and LIV.
  • Holsteins have made minor improvement in metabolic diseases.
  • Final type scores increased for all breeds (+0.10 to +0.76). Most type traits have improved especially udder traits. Short teat length is a problem, especially in Holsteins.
  • Stature for all breeds continues to increase even though it is widely agreed that there is a need for less stature.
  • NM$ increased for all breeds. Holsteins and Jerseys increased $231 and$191, respectively, for females born in 2015 compared to 2010.

The genetic advancement pattern in Canada is similar to that in the US. Canadian base adjustments occur annually.

In order to assist dairy farmers to adapt to the April base changes and to quickly know the genetic superiority or inferiority of animals, CDCB, Lactanet/CDN, breeding companies, breeds and other improvement organizations need to more widely publish %RK (percentile rank) or use the technique of an average rating being 100 for a trait.

In summary, the genetic merit of dairy animals has improved significantly with the use by breeders of the current total merit indexes (NM$, CM$, JPI, Pro$, TPI, LPI, …). The challenge before the industry is to develop and implement enhanced total merit indexes that will guide animal selection according to future needs.

Determine Where Your Herd Stands Genetically

For herds genomically testing all their breeding animals, they will know the genetic level for all traits and will be able to use the health, fertility and functionality ratings, when mating the heifers and cows.

Herd owners that are not DNA testing the females they are using to produce the next generation can obtain an approximate level of the females’ genetic merit by averaging the merit of the three nearest sires. An example could be a Holstein sire stack of – Delta x Supersire x AltaIota – this sire stack shows superiority for production, above average for conformation, but in the bottom one-third of the Holstein population for health and fertility. So, herds with that sire stack would benefit by using top of the breed sires for health and fertility.

For Jerseys, a sire stack of Harris x Valentino x Iatola would have production but not health, fertility or longevity. For the sire stack of Vivaldi x Joel x Tequila there is type and A2A2 but not production, longevity or mastitis resistance.

A study of the top twenty-five Holstein sires with the most daughters registered with USHolstein in the first half of March 2020 averaged: TPI – 91%RK; NM$ – 85%RK; PL – 66%RK; SCS – 69%RK; and DPR – 37%RK. This shows that purebred Holstein breeders are using TPI and NM$, but are not as concerned about survival, health and fertility when selecting sires. Of these top twenty-five Holstein sires 72% were A2A2, 32% were daughter proven and 6% transmitted the polled gene.

What’s Holding Back Dairy Cattle Genetic Improvement

Some factors holding back the genetic evaluations for health, fertility and functionality traits include:

  • An industry attitude appears to persist that having production and type data is all that is needed.
  • Milking cow health, fertility and functionality data may be captured on-farm, but it is not forwarded to or is not usable at the national central database.
  • Calf and heifer data are not captured, forwarded to or stored at the national central databases.
  • Financial herd data is not matched with performance data for all animals (birth until herd removal) and used in management and genetic evaluations.
  • Future farm revenue needs to include the economic value of fat, protein and other solids and for novel traits – A2A2, BB, … etc. Processor and consumer input needs to be included in determining revenue generation associated with traits. For some dairy farms, now using beef sires, attention will need to be given to growth and health of young stock.
  • Only a relatively small proportion of animals have their samples submitted for DNA profiling which limits accuracy for management and genetic improvement. Additionally, it limits industry research and development.
  • When it comes to sire selection, dairy farmers too often use sires that are below average for health and fertility traits. It is a known fact that increased yield is negatively correlated with fertility. There are sires that can improve both simultaneously.

If on-farm data does not reach the national central databases for health, fertility and functionality, dairy farmers can expect to see breeding companies collaborating with cooperating automated herds to capture more of the details. The breeding companies will then develop their own proprietary genetic indexes for ranking their sires.

Bullvine’s Suggested Trait Emphasis

In addition to adding genetic indexes for traits associated with health, labour and revenue, The Bullvine recommends revisions to weightings in future total merit indexes. For discussion purposes, the following areas and emphasizes are provided:

  • Revenue 30% – Based on ECM (Energy Corrected Milk), A2A2, BB, Meat Sales, Novel Products, …
  • Durability 20% – Including survival, functionality (mobility, milking ability, calving, …), …
  • Efficiencies 20% – Including feed conversion, heifer growth, % of lifetime spent milking, …
  • Health & Fertility 30% – Including reproduction, metabolic diseases, immunity, animal health/welfare, …

Selection Methods Dairymen Can Use Now to Increase Emphasis on Health, Fertility and Functionality

The Bullvine has three suggestion on what dairy farmers can do to put more emphasis on traits beyond production and type:

  1. Select Sires Using DWP$ – At the time of every sire proof release Zoetis publishes DWP$ (overall index), WT$ (cow wellness) and CW$ (calf wellness). Using DWP$ instead of NM$ dairymen can expect 80% of the improvement in production and conformation, but 110% for the improvement in fertility and 200% for the improvement in health.
  2. Select Jersey Sires Using JPI(2020) – In April 2020 USJeresy will publish a revised JPI for all animals that places trait emphasis as follows: Production 49%; Type 20%; Fertility 14%; Health 9%; and Survival 8%.
  3. Modify Selection Using a Current Total Merit Index – In the various sire listings there will be high ranking sires that should not be purchased and used as some of the top sires will not be significant breed improvers for health, fertility and functionality traits. Most breeding companies publish sire lists for their top health, fertility, immunity, robot ready, etc.

Worthy of note is the fact that Holstein and now Jersey breeders have sire indexes for health information on metabolic diseases published by CDCB, Lactanet/CDN and breeding companies.

Dairy Farmers Need to Voice Their Genetic Needs

All dairy farmers need to be making known their future genetic needs when it comes to the genetic merit of their cattle for health, fertility and functionality traits. The industry including breeding companies, bull-breeders, genetic evaluation centers, on-farm data capture organizations and breeds needs to listen and to revised total merit indexes.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The time has arrived where dairy cattle owners need to have more animal genetic information for health, fertility, functionality and survival traits. As well, predictions need to be made on how revenue will be generated from dairy herds in the future and the effect those revenue sources will have on genetic indexing. Now is the time to include the entire lifetime of animals, covering both revenue and costs, in total merit indexes. Now is the time to create new total merit indexes that best serve milk production focused farms. Now is the time!



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NEEDED – More Heifer Data

For far too long the dairy industry has neglected to capture and transmit to a central data base calf and heifer data. It is time to do a full-scope analysis of what is needed for the genetic improvement of calves and heifers. The result will be dairy farmers with calves and heifers that will positively contribute to long-lived productive trouble-free cows and profitable dairy herds.

Setting the Scene – The Cost

Herd replacement costs range from 15-20% of total herd costs. Every dairy worker knows that a sick calf can take an exorbitant amount of time. Is that calf sick because of genetics, nutrition or environment? Calves and heifers are important when it comes to herd profitability. And currently, we know only a limited amount genetically when it comes to the best calves and heifers.

Even More Perspective – Time is Money

Currently, the average number of lactations per cow in the North American herds is about 2.8 lactations. This means that the time prior to first calving equates to 45% of a female’s lifetime. When and if the average was 4.0 lactations for an average milking cow’s productive life it would be 32% of time spent pre first calving. If knowing more about heifer genetic merit for additional traits would add even half a lactation to a cow’s lifetime – that would be significant.

Heifers – A Cost or An Investment?

Most often when reporting on calves and heifers, the number provided is the cost to first calving. Currently the cost is estimated to be $2,200 (US) to $2,400 (US).

Yet costs are only a part of the financial equation. Important, but seldom mentioned, is that calves and heifers are an investment. Maximizing heifer ROI in today’s dairy economy is a must do.

The question becomes what can be done in next 2-5 of years in capturing and analyzing heifer data to maximize their ROI?

Current Heifer Genetic Indexes Are A Good Start

For some time now breeders have had genetic indexes on some traits that affect calves and heifers including: (sire) calving ease; daughter calving ease; sire stillbirths; daughter stillbirths; and genetic defects/haploids. These have been developed due to the need to primarily to avoid the death of calves are the time of birth. Recently CDCB has added a trait called EFC (early first calving). Yet these do not address the heifer rearing challenges associated with growth rate, feed conversion efficiency, health, immunity and morbidity.

Although the heritability for these traits is quite low, considerable progress has been made from when the majority of Holsteins could be a problem calving for the first time.  Results included the possibility of a dead calf or a calf that was a ‘poor doer’ that did not reach its genetic potential. Sire calving ease (CE & CA) has received the primary attention. Even though daughter calving ease (DCE & DCA) has been reported it is unfortunate that it has not been given more attention in sire selection. Hard first calvings can severely hold back first calvers from achieving peak production and in quick breeding back.

Breeders have available to them sire rankings for calf related health indexes calculated and published by Zoetis. Table 1 reports the top proven Holstein sires for: overall calf health (CW$); calf respiratory problems (C RESP); calf scour problems (C SCOURS) and calf livability (C LIV). There are many genomically evaluated sires that have even higher indexes for CW$.

Table 1 – Highest Ranked US Proven Holsteins Sires for CW* (Dec ’19)

Rank / Sire   C RESP** C SCOURS    C LIV        CW$
1. Frazzled (7HO12788) 110 105 109 63
2. Petrone (7HO11169) 106 105 109 53
3. Megaman (7HO13302) 107 108 106 51
4. Winston (7HO13326) 102 105 111 50
5T. AltaCraig (11HO11749) 108 105 106 46
5T. CashFlow (534HO00033) 105 102 110 46
7. AltaCR (11HO11434) 112 101 105 42
8T. Atwood (7HO10506) 108 109 102 40
8T. Rev-Me-Up-Red (566HO01231) 107 104 106 40
10T. AltaTopShot (11HO11779) 111 104 103 39
10T. Diamondback (7HO12587) 104 108 105 39

Notes: * Date Source –; ** 100 is the average rating for sires.

The Immunity Plus program (Semex) reports that the sires, designated as Immunity+, show 4-8% superiority for many heifer and cow performance limiting health related diseases.

Other Young Stock Genetic Indexes

The Angus Breed has an extensive program that capture data and produces genetic indexes for growth (birth, weaning and yearling), feed conversion, fertility, carcass, functional conformation, health, and temperament. It has been a key factor in Angus having an excellent branding program.

As early as the 1960’s, Norway was performance testing all dairy bulls, entering its young sire sampling programs, for growth, fertility, health and hoof growth.  The young sires were initially selected based on the parents’ milk production ability but only the top half of the sires based on their own performance had semen collected and were sampled to determine their daughters’ performance.  This screening continues in the present day in Viking Genetics cattle improvement programs.

A recent study in New Zealand reported on the benefits of high fertility male and female lines compared to low fertility lines. High fertility lines reached heifer puberty 21 days earlier and 55 lbs. lighter than low fertility lines. High fertility line females in first and second lactations had 30% more pregnancies six weeks after first breeding than low fertility lines. This research supports the moves by many A.I. not to return to proven service low fertility sires even though their total merit indexes may be high.

New Traits for Calves and Heifers

The potential list is long. Every dairy farmer will have 1 to 3 performance traits they wish to improve in their calves and heifers. Which traits would add to the profitability of your herd? Calves that resist disease? Calves that grow faster? Calves with more functional feet? Heifers that have their first heat at a younger age?

It would be beneficial if young A.I. sires could also be evaluated before semen is sold for their own ability to grow and resist disease. Genomic indexing will be important when adding new heifer traits. Almost every A.I. company is working on some trait to genetically improve calves and heifers.

New Technology Will Provide Usable data

Currently there are automated calf feeding devices that have considerable information for calves from birth to weaning. We can expect to have many new monitoring devices, cameras and management softwares in use on-farm in the near future. There will be data that will have significant benefit for management at the farm level and improvement in the industry. The data for new traits will need to be uniformly defined and it needs to get to the central data system.

Organizations Must Act

The way forward will require data captured on-farm, the data transmitted to the national data bases and then analyzed and reported for benchmarking and genetic advancement purposes. If this process is not part of the national system, then the calf and heifer data systems will be taken on by breeding companies in order to support their services and products.

Animal improvement organizations are procrastinating in moving this matter forward. Why is that? This inaction should not continue.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The dairy cattle improvement industry must expand the focus from primarily the milking herd to all animals covering from birth to removal from the herd. And as the dairy herd expands to be a larger portion of the meat production industry, the data needs to be more than just milk production focused.

Breeders, milk producers and industry organizations need to insist that the matter of monitoring and sharing of calf and heifer data be given a much higher priority in research and development.



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STOP WASTING TIME! Choose Sires that Save on Labor

Recently I overheard two milk producers discussing a proven sire’s daughters in their herds. One producer praised the sire for his ability to raise fat yield while the other producer put down the sire because of the extra time it took his staff to treat sick calves, the need to pull the calves from the sire’s first calf heifers and that it took 3-4 services to get the sire’s daughter pregnant.

That conversation got me thinking – “Do we put enough emphasis in sire selection on the amount of staff time that a sire’s daughters may require?”

Attitude to Labor Required

In the past breeders were pleased to obtain superior production and/or conformation from a sire’s daughters and were prepared to overlook the extra labor required for a sire’s daughters.

With the increased cost for labor and the often lack of availability of skilled herdspersons to treat sick, underperforming, infertile or special needs animals, labor utilization is often front and center on a herd manager’s work agenda.

Genetics and Labor Meet

The Bullvine asks – “Is it time to address how the genetic merit of our dairy animals affects the cost of labor on the farms of tomorrow?

Farm financial analysis shows that labor is between 14-20% of total farm costs. Reducing labor costs by 15-20% by having animals of all ages and stages that require less staff and management time could significantly impact net income, while freeing up staff time to implement enhanced procedures.

Traits the Affect Labor Required

The thirty-five traits with genetic indexes that can affect labor costs is significant and apply from birth to herd removal follow:

Direct Affect:

  1. Animal Health: All animal health issues on dairy farms require the attention and time of staff.

Genetic indexes include: C Scours; C Resp; C Liv; CW$; Immunity+; SCS/MAS/MR; LIV; WT$; …

  1. Reproduction: For some time now, dairy breeders have selected for improved reproductive performance, but it remains a high priority as it requires considerable staff time.

Genetic indexes include: DPR/FI/DF; HCC; CCR; MET; …

  1. Calving Time: Calving time issues can be stressful and can require an excessive amount of staff time. It continues to be a priority item for improvement on dairy farms.

Genetic indexes include: CE/CA; MCE/DCA; SSB; DSB; RP/RPL; GL; …

  1. Milking Time: Regardless of the degree of on-farm automations the milking process requires staff time at every milking. Factors that slow down milking time of individual or groups of cows is a staff cost.

Genetic indexes include: MSP(Milking Speed); MT(Milking Temperament); RTP(Holsteins); UD(Udder Depth); …

  1. Animal Locomotion: An animal’s ability to move without problems is an absolute necessity. Dealing with locomotion problems requires extra labor. Any genetic indexes currently available are at best an indirect measure of animal locomotion.

Genetic indexes include: HH(Hoof Health); FA(Foot Angle); HD(Heel Depth); LAME; …

  1. Metabolic Disease: When a metabolic disease occurs, extra staff is required to detect and treat.

Genetic indexes include: DA(Displace Abomasum); KET(Ketosis); MVF; MD(Metabolic Disease Composite – 3x); …

Indirect Affect

Some genetic related traits may have an indirect affect on the cost for labor. These include: PL/HL (reduced labor for replacements); PP (no dehorning); AFC (Age at First Calving – reduce labor for replacements); Sexed Semen (easier calving); Cross Breeding (correction of breed limiting traits).

Necessary to Apply Selection Pressure

Dairy cattle breeders know that to improve the genetic level of their herds, they must use superior sires. To improve quickly the sires must be significantly superior.  Significantly superior sires are the ones that are in the top 5% of the breed. In statistical terms those sires are two standard deviations above average.

The traits mentioned above, the contributors to saving on labor costs are lowly heritable, not easily measured and often only identified later in an animal’s life. All of which contribute to the need for stringent sire selection in order to make herd improvement.

In Canada, CDN/Lactanet expresses traits on a scale of 100 being average, one standard deviation is 5 so two standard deviations (top 5%) is 110.

In the USA, at CDCB and with many company’s proprietary labor-saving traits, there is not a standardized method of trait expression, average is not always zero (0.0) and the standard deviation value is not published. It is difficult, if not impossible, for a milk producer to quickly know the superiority or inferiority of a sire’s rating for those traits.

No matter the source of the information, milk producers planning to improve a labor-saving trait must make sure that only truly superior sires are used.

Some Top Sires for Saving on Labor

To assist Bullvine readers to start the process of finding labor saving sires the following sires are offered:

  • AltaTopShot (11HO11779) – SCS 2.67/MR 107; PL 7.4/HL 108; DPR 1.6 / DF 106; SCE 5.9% / DCA 109; DSB 3.7%; HH 108; MD 107; LIV 2.7; UD 0.0; MSP 97; #10 CW$, #50 WT$(#1 DWP$; #1NM$; #2 TPI; A2A2)
  • Exactly (7HO12721) – MR 111/ SCS 2.50; DF 111/ DPR 2.9; HL 109 / PL 4.5; DCA 107 / DCE 5.2%; MD 105; HH 105; DSB 4.5%; LIV -0.9; MT 103; MSP 101; UD 3.41 (GLPI 3399; Pro$ 2097; TPI 2438; NM$ 563, A2A2)
  • VJ Tir (JEDNK303616) – SCS 2.68/MR 109; DPR 4.6/DF 111; PL 6.1/HL 115; MSP 104; UD 1S (#3CM$; A2A2)
  • Vivaldi (200JE07756) – DF 106 / DPR -1.9; MD 104; MR 103 / SCS 3.00; MSP 103; HL 101 / PL 2.0; CA 108; DCA 100; MT 117; UD 2D/+1.30                                                   (#1 Pro$; #1 LPI; JPI 143; CM$ 547; A2A2)

Very noteworthy is the fact that, with 70% of A.I. services to genomic sires, milk producers can choose from many many genomic sires that have high indexes for labor-saving traits. 

Facts that the Bullvine Observed

In developing this article on genetics and labor-saving traits the author observed:

  • North American total merit indexes (NM$, Pro$, CM$, TPU, LPI, …) are frequently not labor-saving trait friendly. This could be because these indexes are developed from historic breeding objectives rather than for the future reality.
  • Locomotion and functional feet are not well defined in genetic terms. More research is needed.
  • The methods of expressing traits with respect to breed averages and levels of superiority are not easily understood or known to milk producers.
  • Work needs to continue on trait definitions as more and more labor-saving traits will be captured by electronic on-farm systems. Common trait interpretation is need when data is combined when conducting genetic evaluations or when benchmarking herd performance.

Bonuses from Improving Labor Saving Traits

The bonus for dairy farmers for improving labor-saving traits will be in time saved primarily by eliminating doing the unnecessary. More time will be available to attend to other important on-farm herd functions – fresh cow temperature checking; extra health checks of calves; increased heat checking; more time for report analysis; more time for staff training; …

The Bullvine Bottom Line

With more animals per employee and the focus moving to on-farm efficiency, it is imperative that milk producers choose and use sires that are significant breed improvers for labor-saving traits.



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Tomorrow’s Dairy Cattle Genetic Evaluations Must Consider Environments

Have you ever wondered why some sires’ daughters perform better in some herds or environments than they do in others?  I have.  The current sire indexing system may rank two sires as being of equal genetic merit, yet their daughters may perform differently in the individual tie stall barns of cold Minnesota compared to the 400+ cow groupings in the heat and humidity of a Florida cow shed.  The system assumes that there are not performance expression differences due to environment.

Geneticists do not know enough about what happens on farm

It is a known fact that our geneticists do not have enough details about the animals’ health events, ability to perform in large groups, differing nutritional programs within a herd, calf-heifer disease and many other matters when processing the genetic evaluations to produce genetic indexes. Without the details, geneticists can only assume all animals in a herd are treated equally. We all know that this not the case.

Other Livestock have similar Challenges

Recently I read an interesting presentation (EPDs only one part of the genetic selection formula, 2018 Canadian Beef Breeds Council’s Technical Forum) by P J Budler of Modern Ova Trends on beef cattle genetic indexing. He cautioned about using EPDs (Estimated Predicted Differences aka genetic indexes) without also considering nutrition, herd management, animal health, forage program, animal marketing program, record keeping, human capital and farm finances.  His article also made mention about breed performance differences that depend on environment. His example was fertile Black Angus cows that are great at raising calves in the sometimes harsh cold of the Upper Plains of the United States and Western Canadian Provinces but put them in a hot semi-tropical environment and they do not graze, stand in ponds and they do not breed back.  My summation of Budler’s presentation is – a) environment, management and nutrition play a role in an animal’s expression of its genetic make-up and b) sires need to be proven in the environment in which their future daughters will perform.

Plant scientists in genetically evaluating varieties of corn, need to know the length of the growing season, heat units, soil type, tillage program, nutrient program, plant population, spray program and more in order to make accurate predictions on a variety’s ability to perform. The extent of the data captured from corn test plots is huge.

Likewise, it is a fact that livestock genetics do not work independent of nutrition, animal health, animal care, animal management and the environment.

Assuming can lead to Errors

Budler’s presentation got me thinking. Does the dairy cattle breeding industry make too many assumptions about animal treatment equality, when we do our genetic evaluations?

We have super super computers and very advanced methods to statistically analyze data, but we have not expanded the data forwarded to genetic evaluation labs.

Every Bullvine reader can think of a long list of factors beyond genetics that can affect an animal’s performance and for which geneticists do not have data available for inclusion when they do their analysis.  This list includes all the things that happen from birth to removal from the herd. Some things like calf morbidity, calf growth, hoof trimming, disease occurrence and animal grouping are not known. And yes, each one on its own may be minor in its affect but in total they lead to errors being made, when it comes to genetically ranking animals in the population. 

More Data Can Help

I often hear dairy people say – but that trait has a low heritability so we should not pay much attention to an index until the reliability of prediction is over 90%.

We need to ask – if we could have more data for the animals could the prediction accuracies be increased?

Feet, as currently scored by classifiers, has a low heritability.  Could the heritability for feet be increased if the geneticists knew details about calf hoof growth, housing environment of calves, heifers and cows, how recent was the last hoof trimming, have the feet ever been trimmed and has the animal ever been lame?

For more and more milking cows we electronically have observations from every milking (90 data points per month), the nearest weather station can provide the weather for the each day, in-barn monitors capture extensive information, … yet, the dairy cattle improvement industry (breeders and organizations) persist in using one milking or one day’s observations per month to calculate milk yields and ignore data from in-barn monitoring systems. In addition, animal performance beyond milk cows is non-existent in our central data bases.

There are never too many known facts when it comes to making accurate genetic index predictions and information available for managing a dairy herd.

The Goal in Genetic Evaluations

The goal in genetic evaluations is to accurately predict an animal’s ability to transmit a trait relative to other animals in the population.  Of course, ability can be both positive and negative.

Every breeder’s goal is to have the perfect animal for a trait and for that animal to transmit that perfection to the next generation. Perfection is not achieved by making decisions based on averages.

More Data Points affect all Aspects of a Dairy Herd

  1. As mentioned above having more animal, herd and farm data will enhance herd nutrition and management. In fact, those two disciplines will determine 75% of herd profit.
  2. Bullvine readers continuously learn about new on-farm monitoring devices. The data they supply should be included in the national data base if it can assist in improving herd profit.
  3. Dairy farmers will experience even tighter financial margins in the future. Data points that contribute to increased profit are a “must have” in the national data base.
  4. With more and more cloud or on-farm animal / herd management softwares in use, some farmers are talking about discontinuing to use DHI and breed services. If that is done it stops data from being available for benchmarking and for enhancing improvement services.
  5. It is highly unlikely that sires will ever be sampled and proven randomly across all herd environments scenarios. So, having more data points will assist in genetic index accuracy, especially for low heritability traits.
  6. More data especially feed efficiency, animal health, animal fertility, calves and heifers will assist in increasing the reliabilities of genomic indexes. Even to 90+% REL within the next decade.

Something to think about

Determining an animal’s lifetime profit is a marathon that starts at birth and ends when the animal leaves the herd. The performance and events focus in the past has been the lactations of the milking cows, thereby the industry has been missing the data from significant parts of each animal’s life.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

It is time for breeders and their representatives on committees and boards to think to the future and the need to use more on-farm data.

The accuracy and number of traits included in genetic evaluations and on-farm performance reporting can be significantly increased by having more on-farm data reach the central national data bases. Use it, not waste it!




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Does Your Sire Selection Need an Overhaul?

When was the last time you changed the traits on which you base your sire selection?  Was it this year or a decade ago?  Today’s dairy cattle are much different than what they were even three generations ago. Today there are many new genetic indexes that could be well worth your investigation.

Be Progressive – Identify Your Herd’s Limitations

Recently when speaking with two production focused herds, I heard the following on their genetic improvement needs.  Here is what they told me.

Herd #1

This Holstein and crossbred herd and is housed in two groups (mature and 1st/early 2nd lactation cows) and are milked by two robot stall milkers. The owner focuses his time on TMR preparation and feeding and caring for the 100-110 milking cows, dry cows, heifers and calves. Cows average 86 lbs. (39 kgs) of 4.2%F and 3.3%P with SCC 105,000 and pregnancy rate is 40%. The annual replacement rate is 28%. Heifers calve at 22-23 months, and cows are not rebred until they are 100 days in milk or are past their peak and are gaining back weight. All field and cropping work is hired out. The owner is considering purchasing an automated calf feeder. He gives credit to the data from his robot milker system for helping him to be a much better dairy farmer. His sire selection has been primarily based on the LPI sire index and calving ease (CA) for heifers. He uses 20% (sexed) proven, 40% genomic, 10% Brown Swiss and 30% beef sires. He still uses DHI but is contemplating not classifying as, as he says, “I do not sell breeding stock, classifiers do not do a good job of evaluating my feet and locomotion issues in my herd and, with robotic milking, udders are not a stressed”.

The owner manages the herd by himself with some relief help for times he needs to be away especially for family events, but he says he is continually tired from having to deal with herd health issues, equipment maintenance and heat checking. He stated that he does not have enough time to manage and plan. He feels that the sires that he has been using are not leaving what he calls trouble-free long-lived tough cows and his calves require too much attention, due to illness. He reached out to me to discuss sire indexes for functional traits including Immunity+.  “I feel that I need to improve the genetics in my herd for fitness and health traits.” He wants to be ready for when his son comes home from college, at which time they will add a third robot.

Herd #2

This 1000 milking cow (2x) Holstein herd is going through an ownership transition from parents to agricultural college-educated children – daughter (the next farm business manager) and son-in-law (manager for the herd and the cropping). The daughter contacted me via The Milk House to discuss sires they should be using and on-farm data systems that will provide them with the information they need to manage. They are planning to install a new milking parlor in about three years. An automated calf feeding system was installed six months ago, and they are very pleased with the reduction in calf diseases and excellent calf growth to weaning. This new calf program pleases the daughter a great deal as calves are her speciality and she wants to start her own family soon. Her parents are supportive and happy to have the farm continue in the family.

The daughter reported that “Dad always said he bred for high PTAT (show type) and fed for production”. In her words “that philosophy just won’t work for us in the future”. First calvers too often have at least some calving difficulty, resulting in both dam and calf getting off to a poor start. The herd is 70% first and second lactation cows, average production is 73 lbs. (33 kgs) 3.6%F and 2.9%P, SCC 200,000 and pregnancy rate 18%. Sires used have been 80% proven (PTAT >2.75) from popular cow families and 20% genomic from show cow families. The annual replacement rate is over 40% – it takes all the heifers born to replace the culls.

Her thoughts on the herd’s past genetic selection program included: 1) no selection for female fertility; 2) cows are large requiring more maintenance and are not mobile enough; 3) little attention has been paid to fat and protein yield, SCC and persistency of production; 4) too many animals are being culled at a young age; and 5) heifers first calving at 25-26 months is adding $300 per heifer in rearing costs.

“Yep, Dad liked a ‘good-looking cow’ so he could sell purebred breeding stock – but – that’s not happening any longer. Dad is not opposed to change and says it’s in my hands now”. Her husband calculates that it takes one extra staff member just to trim feet, care for metabolic / production limiting diseases problems, assisting with problem calvings and to medicate sick animals. In summary, this wife-husband team are planning for changes including a significant change in the breeding program.

Opportunity Exists to Select Sires Differently

It was great being able to address sire selection for these two progressive thinking dairy farms knowing over 90% of the genetic progress that can be made in a herd comes from the sires used.

With about 85-88% of the on-farm cost being associated with feeding (50-58%), replacements (14-17%), labor (14-17%) and veterinary/medications (2-6%) it comes down to selecting sires that can assist in reducing the costs for these four areas. There are function-fertility-fitness-health trait genetic indexes that can be selected for, and that will assist with helping to reduce on-farm costs and thereby to increase profit.

Herd #2 needs to give attention to revenue generation by selecting for fat and protein yields and component percentage.

 Traits Milk Producers Should Consider Beyond Production and Type

The following six groupings are ranked by this author’s order of importance for tomorrow’s North American dairy cattle populations. The function-fertility-fitness-health genetic indexes that apply to each category are listed. There are both public indexes and company proprietary indexes.

  1. Longevity – Cows that remain in the herd for five or more lactations are the most profitable. Sires PL Productive Life indexes should be >5.0 and HL – Herd Life should be >105 to genetically add to a herd’s longevity. In 2019 CDCB produced a new sire indexes Early First Calving (EFC) which breeders will be able to use to shorten the time to first calving.
  2. Animal Health – Many health genetic indexes currently exist, and more will be added in the future for breeders to use to change away from no genetic attention on health. It started with SCS, which is now being called Mastitis Resistance, others include Immunity+, (Cow) Wellness Traits$, Calf Wellness$, Wellness Pro, Hoof Health, Metabolic Disease Resistance, …etc. All helpful genetic tools to help breeders identify sires that should not be used.
  3. Fertility – Much attention has been and continues to be focused on genetically improving fertility. If possible, breeders should not use sires that are below average for fertility traits. Indexes include: DPR (select >2.0), DF (select >103), FI (select >0.0), CCR, HCR, BCS, Fertility Pro, Superior Settlers, …etc. Progress has been made in the population average genetic merit for fertility, but the selection of superior sires must be continued.
  4. Efficiencies – Presently, the attention is on feed conversion efficiency. Currently available are a direct measure index EcoFeed and indirectly calculated indexes FE and Feed Pro. CDCB and CDN/Lactanet are concluding their research so they can publish feed efficiency indexes in 2020. Although not being used at the genetic level producers and their feed advisors are making much use of Income Over Feed C … Expect to see genetic efficiency indexes in other areas – labor (animals not requiring human attention).
  5. Calving – Genetic indexes relating to calving time were started over forty years ago, and the genetic progress has been significant. Ratings include CA$ (CE + MCE), CA, DCA, Stillbirths, Gestation Length, identification of lethal recessives (Haploids), …etc. It is important to note that any matters negatively impacting calving can result in poor subsequent performance for both dam and calf and calf morbidity.
  6. Milking – Milking occurs 2 to 4 times per day, so anything affecting milking is important. Genetic indexes exist for Milking Speed, Milking Temperament (aka inter-action with the parlor environment), Robot Ready, Robot Pro, …etc.

Genomic evaluations have greatly assisted with increasing the accuracy of the indexes for these traits. The Canadian indexes are published on the 100 scale and a standard deviation of 5. US indexes are published on numerous scales and average is not always 0.00. Breeders using US indexes can look up details on the CDCB site for index averages and ranges.

It is essential for breeders to be aware that the heritability’s for these traits are low and accuracies for the indexes are lower than for production and some type traits. To make genetic improvement in a function-fertility-fitness-health trait, it must be selected for on a continual basis.

How to Select Sires

Just as there are no perfect sires, there is no perfect index that will place the correct emphasis on functions, fertility, fitness and health for an individual farm’s breeding program.

Table 1 shows the trait emphasis for North American Holsteins in the major total merit indexes. The variation is considerable, which provides the answer as to why sires rank differently from index to index. The trait emphasis is not published for Pro$ as it is based on an outcome-based cow profit approach.

Table 1 Trait Emphasis for North American Total Merit Indexes

           TPI          NM$       DWP$           LPI
Production 46% 45% 34% Production 40%
Conformation 26% 15% 10% Durability* 40%
Function/Fertility/ 28% 40% 56% Health / Fertility 20%

* The Durability portion of the LPI index contains both function and conformation traits

Relying solely on any one of the total merit indexes to rank the sires according to an individual breeder’s needs for function-fertility-fitness-health trait improvement is not a wise decision.

The Bullvine recommends that a breeder select the total merit index that suits their needs. Then eliminate the sires from the list that are not above average for the 3 or 4 function-fertility-fitness-health traits most in need of improvement in the herd. This will result in a list of sires best suited for the herd.

Note: 1) This list will vary from herd to herd depending herd genetic needs and plans; 2) Likely 70% of the top 100 sires on the total merit index will be eliminated; and 3) In developing the herd needs remember to account for weaknesses of sires used in the past – i.e. DPR (<0.00), PL (>2.0), CW$(<-10).

Star Function, Fitness, Fertility and Health Sires

A list of top sires (based on Aug 2019 indexes) follows:

  • Frazzled (7HO12788)            #1 DWP$, #4 TPI, #5 NM$ and high for F+P, PL, SCS/MS, LIV, MET, GL & EFC
  • Rubicon (151HO00681)          #3 TPI, #7 NM$ and high for F+P, PL, LIV, SCS, FLC, DCE, DSB
  • Rowdy (29HO17947)             #1 NM$, #5 TPI and high for F+P (200 lbs.), PL, LIV, DCE, DSB
  • Enzo (29HO18016)                 #12 TPI, top 50 NM$ and high for PL, SCS, DPR, LIV, UDC
  • Rio (7HO13866)                      A2A2, 2673 TPI, 799 NM$ and high for PL, SCS, DPR, LIV, UDC, DCE, DSB (Genomic)
  • Porter (200HO10532)            #2 LPI, #12Pro$ and high for F+P (yield & %), HL, HH, DF, DCA, Mammary, F&L
  • Detour (513HO03091)           #2 Pro$, #3 LPI and high for F+P, HL, HH, Milking Speed, DCA
  • Brewmaster (250HO01009)  A2A2, #11 LPI, #13 Pro$, #1 F% and high for F, HL, Persistency, DCA, R, F&L
  • AltaGlow (11HO15023)        A2A2, 3123 Pro$, 3639 LPI and high for F+P, HL, HH, Persistency, DF, CA, DCA (Genomic)
  • Almamater (200HO11665)   A2A2, 3629 LPI, 2744 Pro$ and F+P, HL, MasRes, MET, HH, DF, M Speed, DCA (Genomic)

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Total Merit Indexes do a very good job of ranking sires for overall genetic merit. However, breeders need to search deeper when it comes to finding sires that stand out from the pack for function-fertility- fitness-health traits.

Progressive breeders need to determine where their herd needs improvement for traits beyond production and type. Then they should use the best sires for improving function-fertility-fitness-health traits in order to have the genetics in their herds that will assist in reducing their farm’s cost of production.




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Dairy Breeders – Changing Times Require Changing Ways

It is happening all the time! Bullvine readers and Milk House members have been commenting that the dairy cattle breeding industry has changed too much for them.

How Much Change is Too Much?

As far back as 1980, the daughter performance-proven sire (95+% REL) had replaced the brood cow (15-25% REL) as the most important animal in the breeding population.

Today fewer and fewer dairy females from higher PTAT/CONF or show families command high prices.

But most difficult of all for some dairy people is the fact that dairy breeding companies (formerly called A.I. companies) have responded to the need for change by developing their own male and female breeding lines to provide the genetics their customers demand.

Should Dairies – Even Yours – Resist Change?

If you have survived any length of time in the dairy cattle industry, you can probably point to the ways you have made strides forward in the genetic merit of your herd. It may have been in production. It may have been for overall type.

You can probably also name changes that are now arriving on your doorstep that are problematic for you. Changes in your herd’s genetic merit for fertility and longevity may be a problem for you. Or perhaps you struggle with changes in your herd’s health, functionality, and welfare traits.

Today we have sexed semen being widely used and genomic testing available but not universally used. Yet, we have merely scratched the surface when it comes to what advancements new technology will bring and what the DNA of an animal will tell us.

When you add in the very public problems that consumers are having with dairy farming, you begin to feel that change has you between a rock and a hard place.

Some dairies resist change so successfully that by the time they recognize the need for change, making any change at all is much harder to achieve.

Dairying, as Usual, is Giving Way to Constant Change

The reality is that the future in dairy cattle breeding and farming will not be the present or the past. Here are some facts to set the scene for future breeders:

  • Changing Numbers
    The trend to 5%/year fewer farms due to economies of scale, limited labor, cost of technology, and increased production will continue. More and more herds will link together for milk processing, custom farming, feed storage and preparation, input purchasing, labor utilization, animal rearing/handling, etc. purposes. In some cases, expect to see 100,000 cows in a single linkage. Some estimates predict 6,000 North American farms will produce 90+% of the milk within 15-20 years.
    Who will your farm be partnering with?
  • Changing Economics
    On-farm margins are tight. Surplus breeding stock sales cannot be expected to provide a profit over rearing costs. Genetics must contribute to increased revenue, improved efficiencies, and reduced costs. Economic improvement cannot be left up to feeding and management only.
    What are the strategies for your farm to address narrow margins?
  • Changing Milk Marketing
    Milks with unique composition and high quality receive the premium at the farm gate. Farms are finding it advantageous to work in unison with processors and other farmers in order to balance milk supply with the demand for milk products. Breeding cattle for unique milks is an opportunity for the breeding industry.
    Is your farm in a position to obtain a premium farm gate milk price?
  • Changing Technology
    It is increasingly costly to employ staff to milk, feed, care for sick animals, and record the data for feeding, breeding, management and business purposes. New technologies are replacing farm labor and provide the opportunity for improving herd and farm management. Animals must be able to perform with less individual worker involvement and attention and thrive in large groups.
    All new technologies appear to be great … but …which ones are a fit for your farm. Choose carefully!
  • Changing Data
    Decisions based on data, including genetic information and indexes, are increasingly crucial in dairy farming. Herds are expanding the data captured for their own use and for use by their advisors, service providers, and animal/product marketers. Progressive dairy people tell us that they benefit by having access to data from other farms for benchmarking purposes.
    Make data king on your farm for you to be both profitable and sustainable.
  • Changing Herd Service Industry
    Farms are deciding which services they need to use based on the cost to benefit ratio of the service rather than tradition or loyalty.  Not all current service and data suppliers will survive the next ten years.
    Without the profitable sale of breeding stock and the requirement for breed purity being important, breed societies are investigating aligning with other organizations. Herd recording services are capturing data and monitor animals, birth to herd removal, for many more factors. Cloud-based systems are becoming the norm.
    International genetic companies with aggressive breeding programs, owning both males and females, are here to stay. They may or may not provide insemination services, but most will provide services is genetics sales (semen and embryos), data capture, genotyping, herd management advice, on-farm systems, genetic evaluations, … and more. Some of their products, services, indexes, and information are proprietary. Dairy people are deciding if and how they use private services and information.
    Evaluate your services and your service providers and only retain the ones that positively impact your operation or your bottom line.
  • Changing Farmer-Breeder Role
    The role of the individual independent farmer-breeder and the need for third-party verified data are faced with change. The fact is, they have already started to change.
    If your farm plans to be at the forefront of the dairy cattle breeding industry, are you making the necessary changes? Is your heart, or are the facts, your data and your analysis guiding your decisions?

Genetic Opportunities Must Reactivate and Rejuvenate the Dairy Breeding Industry

The production and type in dairy cattle have been greatly improved, but fertility, functionality and animal health have suffered. These and other new traits provide opportunities for breeders to produce animals with increased genetic merit.

Genetic suppliers, companies or individuals, need to consider addressing the following:

  1. Improved animal longevity and livability through breeding for fertility, functionality, health and disease resistance. Breeders should aim to increase PL/HL by 60 lifetime days per generation.
  2. With feed being 52-57% of total herd costs improving feed conversion efficiency for growth and milk production will be necessary. Breeders should aim to improve feed conversion by 5% per generation.
  3. As milk revenue is 87-93% of farm revenue, breeding for increased fat and protein yield will continue to be necessary. Breeders should aim only to use sires that are in the top 20% of the population for both fat and protein yield.
  4. For efficient milk processing, a correct balance of fat to protein to other solids is necessary to meet consumption demands. 4.3-4.5% fat and 3.4-3.6% protein is what is currently needed to produce the products consumers buy. Breeders should aim to breed for milk with a balance of 1Fat:2SNF.
  5. Animal conformation has been improved to the point that the functioning of feet & legs and udders and the trouble-free birthing of calves need to receive the attention once placed on ideal conformation. Many breeding companies have already shifted the emphasis, and independent breeders will need to also change their focus with respect to animal conformation.
  6. Lines of cattle will be needed globally to meet housing needs, to adapt to new technologies and varying environmental needs. (Read more: Can We Create Holstein Blood Lines to Feed The World?) Breeders should consider including new traits in their selection programs (beta-casein, kappa casein, hoof health, immunity, disease resistance, heat tolerance, slick gene, epigenetics, nutrigenetics, …etc.).

A vision based on both reality and desired outcome is fundamental to be a successful breeder. Unlocking the power of new data will be a necessity. Dairy breeders and companies supplying the animal genetics must be working ahead of the genetic needs curve to stay in the game.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Individuals that choose the blame game for why the farmer-breeder’s role has been negatively affected by breeding companies are focused on the past and not the future.

Breeders and genetic suppliers must lead are measuring new traits and putting the appropriate emphasis on all traits. CDN research has shown that genetics can contribute about 50% of the on-farm gains in margins.

Moving forward using the results from both the farm and the lab is the only way to guarantee the dairy cattle breeding industry.




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Dairy Improvement Services: Which ones are worth investing in?

As the saying goes … ‘Nothing is as constant as change’.  Today in the dairy farming industry, the world over, owners and managers face a change in the data services they use, which data pieces are important to them and who has access to their data. This article will focus on factors milk production focused farms need to assess when it comes to the use of dairy cattle improvement programs and services.

Herds of The Future

Currently, the average US dairy herd size is 250+ milking cows (in 37,000 herds) and 90+ in Canada (in 10,500 herds). Those averages have been increasing and will increase faster as labor availability diminishes, technology is applied, and margins per cow remain narrow.

Recent USDA analysis has shown that in the US 2000+ cow herds have a 20% lower daily cost per cow as compared to herds with 100-200 cows – “on a per hundredweight basis, large farms face 12% lower feed costs, 20% lower operating costs, and 45% lower allocated overhead than smaller operations” (Ben Laine, dairy analyst for Rabobank). Twenty per cent savings is huge – so we can expect to see larger herds. Presently 55% of US milking cows are in herds of 1000+ cows.

Double the current average herd size may not be the answer. The USDA study also shows only 4-5% savings in daily cow cost for 500 cow herds compared to 100-200 cow herds.

Canadian herds are currently considering how they address the loss of market share to foreign milk products, the payback on purchasing technology and the size of quota holding for their operation.

Milk producers in both the US and Canada need data on which to base their planning and management.

It’s a Changed Business Model

Only milk with unique content (A2A2, BB … etc.) will demand a significantly higher future farm gate price.

For most farms, the market for surplus heifers and cows no longer exists.  A profit centre, often 10% but up to 50% of farm revenue, has disappeared.

With sexed semen, only the top 60% of females need to be bred dairy to produce herd replacements. The remaining animals including low fertility animals can be breed to beef sires.

Dairy farms will sell both milk and meat. The meat revenue will be from beef-dairy cross animals born on the farm.

Dairy farm managers will need to focus on ways to increase revenue while keeping costs under control.

In short, generalization is gone, and specialization and focus must be practiced – in order to have a positive bottom line.

Future On-Farm Focus

These three areas of dairy farming will be added to milk producer planning in the future:

  • Producing to consumer demands/needs.
  • Efficiencies will supplant production, type, cattle shows and high records.
  • A total business approach must be considered – from the soil to the consumers’ tables.

Improvement Services for Milk Producers to Invest In

The following are areas for milk producers to consider when enrolling or investing in improvement services in the future:

  • Virtual Management Service will be Very Important

All farms, no matter the size or country, will need an animal, herd and farm information to plan, manage, feed and breed their operations. Progressive farms will not stop animal and herd recording. They need the data. They may, however, discontinue traditional DHI and herdbook recording and go to global cloud-based data systems that are linked to their on-farm electronic data capture systems.

  • Genotyping Service will be Very Important

Herd replacements females need to be genotyped. To identify: 1. Accurate parentage; 2. Animals that can be culled and not raised based on production, longevity, functionality; reproductive fitness and resistance to disease genetic results; 3. Desired protein (beta and kappa caseins) genotypes, as well as other ingredients in milk; and 4. For optimal mating decisions.

  • Private vs Cooperative Service will not matter

Traditional animal and herd recording systems have been provided by cooperative type organizations. However, that is changing. Private organisations are now providing parentage verification, data capture, new trait evaluations plus indexing and testing for a host of other things with more services promised.  So, where once it was the domain of cooperatives to provided trusted information, it now comes down to the trust that producers put in the information provided by whomever.

  • Animal Traceability Service will, in time, be Important

Being able to guarantee product by having an effective and accurate animal traceability system in place exists in many countries. It will come to North America. There are three components to animal traceability: premise identification; electronic identification; and tracking of animal movement. In most areas, North America has the first two, however not the third one. All livestock owners will require a service whereby an animal’s location and movement can be known. Farm biosecurity, including records, will also be a necessity.

  • Animal Purity will not be necessary

Animal purity in milk production herds will not add revenue for the milk shipped or reduce on-farm costs. Milk producers need to breed for the gene make-up in their animals, not purity.

  • Third-Party Verification will not be necessary

Milk producers need to be focused on their farm and its profitability but do not require third-party verification of the data on their farms.

The Future for Improvement Services

Milk production focused farms will decide on a cost: benefit basis which improvement services or programs they will use. Not all the current services will survive either entirely or in their current format.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Herds will be fewer and larger. Consumers, efficiencies and a total farm approach will need to be added to what is important in animal, herd and farm improvement services.

The future scope, options and services in improvement programs offered to milk producers will need to be different from the past or present services. Milk producers will participate according to their plans and needs.




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Ideal Rump Structure – Does It Actually Matter?

Classifiers and show judges evaluate and compare cow body parts for their structure according to the breed conformation scorecard and breed ideals. Yet, yield and profit focused breeders and A.I. are now selecting based on the proven science of the functionality of body parts. This Bullvine article addresses the documented facts on Holstein cows’ rumps. Which rump traits need to be left behind? Which rump related trait indexes need to be used in over ninety percent of dairy herds when selecting and mating sires?

Source: Holstein Canada

What Do Breed Ideal Rumps Look Like?

Both US and Canadian Holstein Breeds describe the ideal rumps as being long, wide, pins slightly lower than hips, neither anus or tailhead recessed, freedom from coarseness, etc. … so as to have rumps that facilitate easier calvings and that assist with improved cow fertility, healthy recovery after calving and increased cow longevity. 

But do those descriptions hold up, when it comes to what happens in the field?

Additionally, which is the correct emphasis on the rump – US at 5 point out of 100 or Canada at 12 points? In the showring it is the author’s observation that judges often place more than 20 points on the rump when giving reasons for their class placings.

The Evolution of Holstein Rumps

Very old cow pictures often show cows that were very, even extremely, sloped from hips to pins. Somewhat like what we see in today’s native wild deer populations.

By the early to mid-twentieth century the desired rump was wide, pins level with hips and tail heads between the pin bones on cows of about 53” – 55” in stature.

Then it was decided that Holstein cows needed to be taller. Much taller by the 1980’s. This tallness and the popular bloodlines seem to have brought with them narrower animals, narrower rumps or smaller pelvis openings and more difficult birthing. An added negative was that breeders wanted larger calves, feeling that larger birth size lead to larger mature animals. In fact, that is not universally the case.

Thank goodness reason is winning out for moderated stature and what size healthy calves need to be.

What Do Results Say About Today’s Ideal Rumps?

Published Canadian (CDN) genetic correlations provide information on rump traits that dairy breeders need to be aware of. These results are based on 4,182 Holstein sires proven between 2003 and 2018.

The genetic correlations to longevity (Herd Life) by the classified traits are: rump angle (0.12), pin width (-0.08), loin strength (0.04), thurl placement (0.18) and overall rump (0.15).

The genetic correlations to fertility (Daughter Fertility) by classified traits are: rump angle (0.04), pin width (-0.06), loin strength (-0.10), thurl placement (0.06) and overall rump (-0.01).

Remember that the breed societies say the ideal rumps lead to improved longevity and fertility – but with those low correlations it just isn’t so.

The conclusion this author draws is that the rump traits, as captured by the type classification programs, do not contribute positively to either longevity or fertility in Canadian Holsteins. Correlations using US data do not appear to be available on the www.

How Important Are Rumps?

How often in a cow’s lifetime can rump structure be a limiting factor?

Consider a cow that first calves at 23 months and completes four lactations and is removed from the herd at 75 months of age. Put on a functioning basis, this means she calves on four days (0.002% of her days), walks on her feet and legs for 2280 days (100% of her days), milks for 1430 days (62.7% of her days) and is dry for 150 days (6.5% of her days).

Draw your own conclusions. However for this author rump structure ranks far far behind feet and legs (foot structure, rear-legs-rear-view, flex of hock and mobility) and mammary system (depth, cleft, teat placement and attachments) when it comes to deserving attention when selecting sires to be used in herds that focus on profitably producing milk solids.

What Really Counts in Rumps?

Rumps that function best allow for quick, easy births, fast recovery of the mother and a healthy calf with minimal stress. For the dam side of this, it is best measured by farmer supplied measurements on her calving ease – Daughter Calving Ease (USA) and Daughter Calving Ability (CAN). For the calf side of this the sire’s calving ease is important – Calving Ease (USA) and Calving Ability (CAN). In the USA, CA$’s are published for animals which combines information on both calving ease and stillbirths.

The Canadian correlations for proven sires, for the study referred to above, are as follows: for longevity (Herd Life) with sire calving ability (0.25) and daughter calving ability (0.43); and for fertility (Daughter Fertility) with sire calving ability (0.14) and daughter calving ability (0.40).

By a considerable amount (2x to 10x) daughter calving ability is a superior index to all the classified rump traits in predicting longevity and fertility in Canadian Holsteins. Although farm captured data does not exist for calf health at one week of age, it is likely that daughter calving ability is at least moderately correlated to calf health and wellbeing.

Why the Fixation with Rumps?

The short answer may have two parts:

1) Tradition – when other more accurate measures were not available, then visual observation of the exterior was the best tool available; and

2) Sight line and proximity – breeders’, classifiers’ and show judges’ eyes, when viewed from the rear of an animal, are at the same level at the rump.

Take Home Messages

  1. Daughter Calving Ease (DCE or DCA) is the best predictor that currently exists for the best rumps.
  2. Holsteins are improving for Daughter Calving Ease, but breeders will be well rewarded for continuing to use sires that are rated above average for CA$, DCE or DCA.
  3. The bull Oman was a great help for the Holstein breed being able to reduce calving difficulties.
  4. AI. organizations publish CE’s and DCE’s for their sires and most no longer sample or market sires that leave calves that are born with difficulty.
  5. Sire rump type indexes are not good predictors of daughter calving ease.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Current Holstein breed ideals and standards for rump structure and the emphasis placed on rumps in the type classification programs are only of quite limited value for most herds. Outside rump appearance bears little value in predicting calving ease, longevity and fertility.

Conformation evaluations need to include the functioning of the body part and not simply the appearance. Rumps could be a good place for breeds to start in revamping their type classification programs in order to remain relevant to tomorrow dairy farmers’ needs.




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Specialty Milk EQUALS Money Everyday!

Milk lost some of its unique identity over sixty years ago! When bulk on-farm pickup rolled in the lane differentiation was sacrificed for one truck convenience. Premium milk for fat content or other specific composition no longer reached the processor’s door. 

Guernsey Gold, could no longer be sold for its high carotene content as milk from Guernseys became  simply part of the load of milk from all dairy herds in an area.  Back then milk was primarily considered as a liquid drink and the need for keeping unique milks identified separately was given no importance.

“Set Yourself Apart or Be Set Aside”

The market and the consumer have both evolved. Today consumers want to know that what they are purchasing will have a positive effect on themselves and their families. Meeting these changed needs means that producers, of generic milk, will have a very narrow profit window. The choices for success, for those producers, have dwindled down to a small list:

  1. Size up so that you profit from economies of scale
  2. Use technology to minimize labor and to assist management practices.
  3. Fine tune feed preparation, feed composition and feed delivery to cut costs or differentiate.
  4. Breed beyond production and conformation to produce value-added milk.

Milk’s future value (2025+) will be highly dependent on its solid’s makeup or methods of production. Over 80% of milk, once processed, will end up in solid form. The dairy industry needs to re-think the way milk is bred for, fed for, transported and processed. However, as we all know, changing those factors does not happen suddenly. With future needs for milk and its solids in mind, The Bullvine promotes for consideration, discussion, planning and production, milk that will be used for solids, new and specialty purposes.

“Analyze What You Are Producing Or Paralyze Your Profits”

Every week at The Bullvine we join our dairy industry peers in thinking, writing and talking about the future of dairy farming.  As a milk producer, you live it every day.

A recent US study reported that the reason almost 85% dairy operations will go out of business will be because of one or a combination of poor management, lack of application of the economies of scale and/or not keeping up with the times in consumer demands.

Productivity and profit will be key contributors to on-farm success.  Most often dairy farmers think and talk about cost reduction but even more critical than squeezing every last penny out of costs is the revenue generated by the milk that leaves the farm. The dairy industry, farm to fork, has evolved. Keeping up with change is not a choice.  It is a necessity.

 “Want More Money!  Provide More Processor Value”

The first rule for the processor of a product is that the value of the product to the consumer rules the day. For most dairy farms their immediate consumer is the processor.

 If the value that the processor can derive out of the milk that leaves your farm is the base product price, then expect the current approximately $15-16(US) per cwt to continue.  Below the true on-farm COP.

The value of milk will be set by consumers not by dairy farms.

  • Only if the processor can make higher valued products from milk received can farms expected to get a 10% to 30% higher farm gate price.
  • Only for a limited number of dairy farms that self-process, will producers be the price setters.

Tomorrow’s Consumers’ Demands

As we move forward healthy low-cost grocery store foods will continue to be demanded by consumers and governments will continue to support and demand cheap food. Only foods that meet specific health, nutritional or lifestyle needs will be able to be priced higher than the base in-store price.

New products made from milk are being sought out all the time.. Groceries can be ordered on-line and delivered just in time to people living in developed countries. Milk products need to fit into that evolving model.

Where is Your Milk Value Added?

How many of these can you check “Yes” to when your milk leaves the farm gate?

Fat % composition or processing

  • -full fat milk ,
  • unique butters,
  • specialty cheeses,
  • unpasteurized or unique milks

Protein Composition

  • beta casein (A2 allele),
  • kappa casein (B allele)


  • organic
  • forage (grass) fed
  • carbon footprint reduced


  • totally traceable,
  • animal health and welfare (including dehorning),
  • favorable animal environments,
  • clean water source,
  • farm with pristine industry image,
  • grown locally,
  • milk haulage pooling for differentiated milk,
  • data management system to support verification,
  • DNA testing for breeding, culling, feeding and marketing …

Denying the need to add a unique feature to the milk that leaves a farm will mean the farm is not keeping up with the times. Consumers buy on features not just on basic nutritional need.

“Value Added Indexes are Here.  Use them.  Develop Them. Ask for More.”

The following are some genetic factors/ indexes that will help milk processors derive more income from the milk producers ship. Most of these have become available during this century and farmers can expect more of these value-added indexes to become available in the future.

  • Fat %
  • Casein composition – A2A2, BB
  • Reproduction – conception, calving ease, embryonic survival, haploid avoidance, …
  • Polled and sound functional feet
  • Health – DW$, CW$, Immunity+, Feet/Heel/Mobility, combined health trait indexes (CDCB/CDN), …

Producers who do not use this information are continuing to hitch their futures to horse and buggy days instead of going modern and meeting consumer demands. There are many sires, reasonably (semen) priced, with high NM$ (over $800) or Pro$ (over $2000), that have the consumer demanded characteristics and are above breed average for all traits or indexes. There is absolutely no need to use sires not in the top 25% of the breed for all economically important traits.

Is it Too Late or Are You Too Tired?

NO, not too late, … but … it is time to stop the procrastination in expanding trait selection. Delaying or denying the inclusion of value-added traits in sire or embryo selection will result in the milk shipped being of less value to processors. 

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Shipping milk off farm that milk processors can sell at an increased price (to build their margins) will be very important to the future viability and sustainability of dairy farms.  Producers, when selecting their future genetics, need to move past what has governed their past selection practices and think first of consumer needs and demands.




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ATTENTION:  Dairy Farmer Cooperatives – Align, Merge or Die!

For the last century dairy farmers have successfully joined together for mutual benefit and, as a result, that joining has facilitated very significant improvement in all aspects of dairying. However, whether today’s farmer cooperatives recognize or admit it, working together in dairying in the form of cooperatives, associations, societies and alliances is currently under challenge. Challenges, especially on value-added and effectiveness will come from competitors offering enhanced, expanded and linked services for dairy farms. Tomorrow’s farms will list quite different priorities in services needed. These different priorities and the rapidly changing dairy economy mean that cooperatives will need to adjust their services in order to stay relevant.

This Bullvine article is a call-to-action for farmer cooperative organizations to address the future and to work with other organizations for the benefit of farms and members. Cooperatives that primarily focus on their organization’s past success will be recorded in the history books as a tool no longer used.

Is Your Organizations Involved?

Every organization that has a dairy producer board of directors that sets policy provides direction oversees finances and serves dairy farms is subject to the challenges. Farmer organizations were established when there were seven to ten times more farms than those currently shipping milk. Most cooperatives started as a specific service or as regional groups. Over time they have grown the size of the areas serviced but have not necessarily expanded the scope and effectiveness of the services provided.

Tomorrow’s dairy farmers need their cooperatives to remove duplication, eliminate ineffective programs and to increase the effectiveness of services retained. Often cooperatives are slow to critically evaluate and improve or eliminate member services.

These challenges must be addressed by all cooperatives – breeds, herd/milk recording, artificial insemination, milk and genetic marketing, input buying groups, milk transport, farm supplies, data/genetic analysis and any other cooperative seeking to a share of time and money from dairy farms.  

Is Your Cooperative Ahead of the Challenges or Falling Behind?

We are talking about CHANGE. Dairy farming is no longer characterized by labour-intensive, stand-alone enterprises with less than 100 cows. Today’s dairies and those that survive into the future will be specialized in scope and programs. Narrow margins mean that farms and their service organizations must focus on increased efficiency and effectiveness. In general, consumers want cheap food of high quality. For processors and stores that means listening to and not telling customers what they will get and what they will pay. Consumers will set the standards and the products. Tomorrow’s new consumers will live in Africa and Asia, as that is where population growth will occur.

Farmer cooperatives once had a single focus and ‘life was fine’. Breeds registered animals and may have assisted with animal marketing. DHI’s milk recorded the cows and details to manage by. A.I. sampled bulls and inseminated females. Milk marketing cooperatives bargained for price. Data centres analyzed and reported. In the past, farmer cooperatives provided most of the services needed on-farm except for animal health, equipment and financial services. In improvement cooperatives, the technology was not advanced. Reasonably priced labour accounted for 60-70% of total costs. Travel was relatively inexpensive, and farms were not demanding in the scope of information they wanted to know. (Read about future data needs at  Owner Collected Data: The Future of the Dairy Industry) Government services filled in where cooperatives did not provide.

Yesterday Is Gone

But that was yesterday and yesterday is gone! The technical and legal reasons as to why cooperatives were started no longer exist. Tomorrow’s farms will buy and use services based on value-added and/or cost-benefit.

The Changing Scope of Tomorrow’s Services

Dairy farms will require an extensive array of linked services all the way from inputs to the point of sale of product. In some cases, farms will be very large and will be vertically integrated from the soil to the consumer.

Overall, farm performance and profit will be more important than purity and individual animal performance. Services will cover all animals on the far, not just milking cows. Feed conversion, animal health and welfare and future consumer product buying decisions will be added to selection and improvement programs. Technology will replace labour and will greatly enhance decision making. Specific nutrients in feed will be integral to feeding regimes.  In total, dairy farming will be all-encompassing, and the services used on-farm will be markedly different. So will the sources that win the privilege of providing what is needed.

Private Companies Will Take on Whatever Services Cooperatives Ignore

Where once farmer cooperatives were the primary providers of service, private providers have filled in when farmer needs expanded, and services became more sophisticated.  A need was seen and answered.

Private or Cooperatives – Improvement Will Occur

On-farm improvement, profit and success will take place no matter whether the service provider is a cooperative or a private company. Current cooperatives that have stood still and not increased scope or benefits to their services will be left behind.

What are Progressive Cooperatives Doing?

Progressive cooperatives have expanded their scope of services or joined forces with other cooperatives or private companies to provide a more complete scope of services.  A.I. organizations have done extensive combining and expanding over the past fifty years. Breed societies have been the sector most determined not to join with others. With herd recording falling in between the other two.

The need to combine is not new to 2019. Cooperatives have been joining and expanding services for quite some time. The global list is long – LIC (NZ), Select Sires (US), CRV (NL & BE), Semex (CA), Viking Genetics (Scandinavia), Milk Marketing Board (UK, later disbanded by the government), Fonterra (Oceania), … and many more.

Recent examples of combining/aligning include URUS (US cooperative CRI and NL private Koepon Holdings); and Lactanet (effective June 01, CDN, Valacta and CanWest DHI will be combined in CA).

At present, there are farmer boards or trade associations planning their futures where they may be part of a combined or aligned organization.

Is it too Late for Some Cooperatives?

Yes, the time is up for farmer cooperatives which are standing still on providing and implementing value-added services. Other organizations, some of them global, are expanding to compete with the services that the standstill cooperatives have provided.

Many services are going private company or global. Where once farmers felt it necessary that their country have its own national cooperative services. It won’t be long until there are discussions on having an international animal registry, herd recording and genetic evaluation services? Already there are proprietary company genetic indexes.

Is Your Cooperative Ready for Vertical Integration?

In the future, vertically integrated farming companies will provide all their own on-farm services and may outsource for new progressive value-added services.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The tradition of farmer cooperatives has been to stick with their tried and true limited scope of services. For them, change or die is written on the wall. Their choices include: immediately provide much more value to users; combine with partners to save costs and add value; or close the doors and save their members the expense.

 By the time farmers discontinue the use of their cooperative’s services, it will be too late for those organizations to be able to take items of value to another organization.

Dairy farmers wanting to see their farmer-owned cooperatives continue need to stop being silent and demand dynamic progressive action by their leaders.

No matter the outcome on who provides on-farm services, the positive outcome is that dairy farms will be well served in the future.

Owner Collected Data: The Future of the Dairy Industry

Traditionally, in dairy cattle breeding, it has been a rule that only third party captured and verified data had been allowed to be published. By extension, anything less than that is considered second rate and must not be published. Is that the way for the future? The Bullvine is laying all the cards on the table so tomorrow’s dairy people can see both from the past and to the future.

What’s Behind Us?

Over the past 150 years, investors put their dollars down and imported dairy breeds into their countries. To protect their investments, they started their own breed societies to record and verify lineage. DHI’s were started to authenticate yield and % Fat and for management purposes. Independent expert conformation evaluators were hired to compare animals to a visual ideal. All these steps were used to confirm that the animals were what their owners claimed them to be in most countries, that has been the basis for publishing performance and genetic information for commercial purposes.

Minimum accuracy levels of at least 80% REL, were required for listing sire daughter proofs until genomic indexing came on stream a decade ago. DHIR cow records were considered to be accurate, only requiring monthly DHI supervisor visit results being used in the calculations of lactation totals. Owner recorded production records were not considered unbiased and publishable. The functionality of a cow was determined by breed society conformation scoring.

Everyone Benefited

Breeders that have been marketing breeding stock received financial benefit by having publishable information to document the animals they were selling. Breed societies gained memberships and business because cattle owners wanted to be part of the selling crowd. DHI’s benefited through dairy farmers participating in their programs. A.I. benefited because dairy farmers could trust the published information on their sires. Researchers benefited because they had reliable data to analyze. Genetic evaluation centres helped by knowing the data they used could be depended upon as accurate and third-party verified. Internationally standards were developed for all forms of dairy cattle data and rules and regulations were adhered to. Dairy farmers benefited because they had information to breed, feed, manage and perhaps market their animals. Moreover, so dairy cattle genetic and actual performance advancement occurred at a slow to moderate rate.

Past Data Collection will not take your Dairy into the Future

Dairy folks have been trained to require 90+% accuracy when making sire selection decisions. However, the fact is that the last 5-10% in accuracy for a few traits is too costly for what it adds in improving overall herd profitability. Having expanded information from many more observations including health, reproductive, efficiency and functional traits that directly influence bottom line profit far out-weigh the last ten per cent inaccuracy for any single trait.  Furthermore, beyond genetics, the expanded animal data will be very valuable for nutrition, management and business purposes.

Dairy Data Isn’t the Destination

For many dairy people, who are comfortable with the past, the future with automated systems looks frightening. Yet for many progressive dairy people wanting to advance and to be viable and sustainable, they realize that the future provides opportunities when it comes to animal information and how to use it.

The following are some Factors that will mark the Turning Point in Data Collection:

  • Animal parentage will be determined using a sample supplied to a DNA lab. Tomorrow’s breeders will target the gene composition of their animals – much more than breed purity.
  • Only the genetically elite purebred females will be selling for more than their value as milk producers. The days of $3000+ for above average bred heifers are behind us.
  • The most accurate lactation information for a cow will be the on-farm computer captured weights and compositions from every milking during a lactation. Soon there will be routinely calibrated devices accurately to measure %fat, %protein and udder health, with more measurements to come, at the parlour level. A cow measured 100 to 900 times in a lactation will have more accurate information than from 4-8 supervised test day samples run through an internationally certified lab. Since all cows in a herd will have data captured using the same device, within-herd comparisons will be accurate.
  • Dairy managers will require more milking cow information on health, feed conversion/feed intake, stress factors, rumination, mobility, reproduction, and more. They will want the information instantaneously with all on-farm data capture systems linked, combined and modelled in order to feed, breed and manage in real time.
  • Dairy managers will also want on-farm data capture and analysis systems that include calves, heifers and dry cows.
  • Herds will be mated on an animal group basis, determined by genetic merit, instead of animal phenotype. Epigenetics and nutrigenetics information will be used when making mating decisions.
  • Genomic indexes will increase in accuracy, to 80%-90% REL, within the next decade provided there is phenotypic data captured on-farm and shared to central databases for analysis.
  • 95+% of the sires used will be genomically evaluated, and their sexed semen will produce 95+% female offspring. There will be no need to keep sires in stud after 50,000 doses have been frozen.
  • The availability of more and more on-farm economically relevant data will far out-weigh the value of third-party verified data on a limited number of traits for 95+% of dairy farms.
  • Plan for the rate of change and animal improvement to be even faster in the future.
  • Tomorrow’s dairy operators will require all the data, from the field to the fork, to be successful.

Are There Steps to Get to the Future?      

The short answer is yes. However, it will require proactive and dynamic decisions by the dairy industry:

  1. Dairy people will decide for themselves what individual dairy animal data and information they will consider, trust and use.
  2. Individual animal data/information, when published, will be labelled as to the data source.
  3. On-line apps will be used for sourcing, comparing and benchmarking data and information.
  4. Computer software-based learning technologies will provide herd managers with comprehensive and forecasting models, so dairy enterprise plans and strategies can be achieved.
  5. Dairy cattle owners will focus their genetic improvement planning on their herd’s economically important needs.
  6. Private company proprietary genetic indexes are here to stay. Companies will need to be able to show relevance and accuracy for their indexes.

Time and technology will wait for no person. You will either be with or ahead of change, or you will quickly finish behind the pack.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

‘The bend in the road is not the end of the road unless you fail to make the turn.’

Past measures that were in place to protect the innocent from wrong information have served the dairy improvement industry well. However, the future will use animal data and information much differently.

Dairy people, their advisors and service providers, are already in the Age of Data Super Power. The volume of data will increase exponentially. The large volume of data points for many more factors will lead to high overall accuracy and facilitate dairy farm success.

Organizations and breeders that stick with the past will remain in the past. In the future individuals and organizations that implement new procedures, new technology, new systems and new disclosure and accountability protocols will be the leaders.




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Doing Dairy-Beef Ian Crosbie’s Way

Every dairy farmer is also a beef producer – even more, today than in the past. How so? Today there is considerably less demand for springing bred or newly calved heifers. Also, we must factor in sexed semen, and more effective on-farm cattle management and dairy farms are being advised to breed from 30% to 50% of their lower producing or lower profit cows and heifers to beef sires. The Bullvine wishes to share with you how one innovative dairyman, Ian Crosbie owner of Benbie Holsteins from Saskatchewan Canada, approached this profit opportunity. 

The Usual Approaches to Dairy-Beef         

New born male calves are quite variable in price going from no value, even a negative value when sold at sales barns, to over $150 depending on breed, time of year and number of calves on the market. With less demand in North America for milk-fed veal calves, even choice new born Holstein calves are not bringing the returns they once did.

Some farms have always bred a portion of their animals to beef sires to garner higher dropped calf prices. But that has not been a widespread practice.

Today with the extensive use of sexed semen on the top females in a herd and the surplus of fresh first calvers, dairy farms are looking to find a way to generate revenue from the lower end of their herds by producing animals that will enter the meat trade. Therefore they use beef sires on a portion of their herd. In some cases, they are even breeding all females beef and buying all their replacement milkers on the depressed price market for newly calved females.

Dairy-Beef Not All Roses

Dairy farms that retain all their half beef animals and grow them out for meat find no problem with growing them. They have the feed and the facilities, but when it comes time to send them to market, they face packer buyer price discrimination against part dairy animals in the live animal auction ring.  Breaking even or no profit on raising these animals for the meat market was not what the dairy farms had as their objective.

If selling their half beef dropped calves at the farm or at auction, dairy farms can obtain from 2x to 3x the price for a dairy calf, so most farms take that route for marketing their dairy-beef calves.

Setting the Benbie Scene

Benbie Holsteins, a high genetic high performance 160 milking cow Holstein family farm, has for a few years been breeding a portion of their lower end females to Angus sires.

Ian explains his decisions to investigate in using more beef sires as follows: “There are multiple reasons that breeding the dairy herd to beef semen made sense for us at Benbie Holsteins. The main reason for beginning breeding a portion of our herd to beef semen was to try to control how many replacement two-year-olds we were calving in. And from which genetics we were getting our replacements. It’s no secret that over a ten-year period extra replacements are typically sold for less than the cost of raising them. Sexed semen has added to the problem of surplus dairy heifers, and we did not want to overstock or further invest in our heifer facilities for replacements that were undervalued.”

Ian continued in his explanation: “We focus heavily on our top end genetics in the Holstein herd and through genomic testing, performance testing, ET, IVF and sexed semen we can genetically optimize our next generation of replacement females. Being located in Saskatchewan, we have good demand from beef producers for cross-bred Angus/Holstein calves, especially during calving season where those calves can bring up to $500 as drop calves.”

Ian Did His Homework

“After researching and learning about the Wagyu breed, mainly through YouTube, I became very interested in producing Wagyu/Holstein cross beef.  This has led to the launch of Saskatchewan Snow Beef in 2018.”

When asked ‘Why Wagyu?’ Ian’s response was: “Wagyu beef is the best money can buy, plain and simple. The breed is world renowned for its ability to deposit fat (marbling) throughout the muscling of the animal — the intense marbling results in a juicy, tender steak.  The ‘Canadian Prime’ grade for beef is the highest standard. Approximately 1-2% of all Canadian beef is graded Prime. The Wagyu breed will reach at least Prime over 80% of the time due to their superior marbling ability.  Wagyu crosses well with Holsteins. Calving ability is second to none; we have yet to assist a calving. And coming from two intensely bred parent lines the cross offspring have hybrid vigour. We have found the resulting calves to be extremely aggressive and healthy.”

Ian Received Great Advice

Ian himself is a great contributor in the dairy cattle industry; however, in this endeavour, he sought out and got valuable advice from Wagyu industry people. He credits Ken Kurosawatsu and Kevin Hayden of Wagyu Sekai, Puslinch Ontario for helping him get started and selling him full-blood Wagyu semen.  Ian found that a specialized diet is needed to finish the animals before slaughter and for that advice, he gives credit to Dr Jimmy Horner from Texas. Ian’s comments on his advisors include “seek out experts and follow their advice; it has been a key to our success”.

Benbie’s Production Routine

For the first 18 months of life, Benbie’s Wagyu/Holstein crosses are raised with their dairy animals. After that, they are separated and feed the specialized diet until they are finished at 28 months of age. There are approximately a dozen animals in the finishing pen at any given time. Although that number is not large, it must be remembered that Snow Beef has been in operation for just over a year and it easily fits into Benbie Holsteins without requiring extra labour and facilities. Benbie Holsteins now breeds 35% of its females to beef – 50% to Wagyu and 50% to Angus – so, Snow Beef will grow in size. Ian added: “Working with a good butcher is necessary. Shane Oram of Westbridgeford Meats has worked with us to get the cutting and wrapping done in a way to get the most value out of each carcass.”

Marketing Does Make A Difference

Coming from the milk production industry where producers seldom get involved in selling milk, Ian reports that he did considerable work on detailing his Wagyu meat’s attributes and finding customers for his product. Ian reports: “There is a lot of education that is needed to convince the general public to purchase beef at a premium price.  Selling directly to high-end restaurants in my province was always my business plan. And although those restaurants appreciate the quality and taste, margins are very tight in that industry so convincing them to pay a premium for the meat has been challenging.” Snow Beef is working with two high-end restaurants in Regina.

To support his marketing Ian is now participating in ‘Verified Beef Plus’, a program to document that the meat Snow Beef sells meets high standards for animal health and welfare.

It’s Results that Count

Ian shared with The Bullvine some of the dollars and cents side for Snow Beef so far. “Expenses for feeding to 28 months of age are definitely higher than that for springing heifers, but there are none of the heat detection, breeding and calving expenses that go with dairy heifers. All expenses in the per animal costs are about $4,500 to get the meat in the deep freezer.”

“Raising to 28 months results in extra marbling and high levels of Oleic Acid in the meat. That has a direct positive impact on the beef’s palatability and has shown to decrease levels of LDL cholesterol.”

“When finished properly the best cuts of Snow Beef (8-10% of hanging carcass) retails for $45/lbs. Margins per animal to date for Snow Beef far exceed margins for raising surplus dairy heifers, which for most dairy farmers is now a negative number.” Snow Beef only sells Prime grading meat under its label. And since it is early on in this initiative, Snow Beef is not stating exact extra profit numbers. But be assured there is considerable extra profit.

Every New Venture will have Pros and Cons

In researching for this article, The Bullvine was reminded of some facts:

  • Starting a dairy beef enterprise will not be a fit for all dairy farms.
  • A realistic business plan, including specialized marketing, can be a key to realizing a profit.
  • Tomorrow’s consumers will pay more for organic and grass-fed and for a product with total traceability and documentation.
  • Hair colour will not change meat quality, but coat colour is a factor for live animal buyers.
  • Feed costs may be saved for the growing but not finishing phase by utilizing lower quality feed or refused feedstuffs left over from the milking herd.
  • Feed and labour are the key expenses, but as with every enterprise, exact records are a necessity.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The effort and energy expended most often determines the degree of success. Thank you to Ian Crosbie for sharing his approach to creating an additional profit centre on their farm. As with all new ventures adding dairy-beef to a farm requires both a production plan and a marketing plan.



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How Jersey Breeders Can Take Over The Holstein World

Jersey cattle have many attributes. As more and more of the uses for dairy cows’ milk are based on the solids portion, the Jersey gene pool and its ability to perform well in all environments and efficiently produce high solids milk becomes an alternative sought after by performance-oriented herds.

Currently, in the United States 23% of milk goes for fluid uses and 77% for solid uses. The future trend will be to 80+% solids uses.

With this opportunity available to Jersey cattle, The Bullvine is offering an overview of what steps could be taken by Jersey supporters and milk processors to increase Jerseys’ market share in the dairy industry.

Jersey Goals – Realistic and Profit-Driven

National statistics show that Jersey cattle represent almost 10% of US dairy cows and 5% of Canadian.  Currently, at auction and in private sales, Jersey females are in demand as herd replacements. Milk producers see the merit of milking Jerseys. In North America, with over 9.3M dairy cows in the United States and .93 M in Canada, doubling the current proportions of Jersey genes would result in over 19% Jerseys in North America.

The next decade will be very important for Jerseys.  2030 is only three to four female generations away and a unified proactive progressive expansion plan is needed to achieve an increased Jersey market share.

Ten Steps to Jersey Success

This paper is intended to provide a big picture view and to initiate discussion.  Bullvine readers will, no doubt, be able to add steps and actions that can add to a dynamic growth in Jerseys.

It is Necessary to Work Together

  1. Create Stable to Table Alliances
    Research and innovation are the keys to Jersey’s future success. A way must to be found to bring all areas that touch Jerseys, from crops to consumer, into an over-arching alliance. Where such a structure to be in place, Jersey stakeholders would be able to source the funds for research needed to drive innovation.
    At the retail end, consumers will buy quality foods. Tomorrow’s consumers are today’s millennials and their children. A Jersey milk product line would have appeal for consumers wanting variety and quality.
    Some programs have been started in North America to expand the presence of Jerseys. However, a program is needed that includes as many stakeholders as possible.  A program that does not wait for everyone to buy-in and participates. Visionary leadership is needed. Immediately.
    No breeder or organization serving farms with Jerseys is independent onto themselves.  Collectively working together can be to everyone’s benefit.
  2. Data Central
    Jersey animal data currently exists in many databases all the way from the farm to central national systems for animals and from farm to the consumer for milk products. All Jersey animal and farm data need to reach data central. Without centralization recommendations on genetics, nutrition and management are too often siloed recommendations.
    Industries that are successful in the future will depend on research having one-stop access to all the data. 

    Applying Science is the Key

  3. Use Technologies
    Genomic Testing: After a decade of genomic testing being available to Jersey owners, uptake remains low.  The age of breeders using appearance, perception, instinct and only phenotypic data for analysis is in the past for dairy cattle. Nevertheless, many Jersey animal owners don’t see the benefit of genomically testing all female calves. However, one route to get started on getting answers would be for A.I. to genomically test and capture all relevant animal lifetime and herd data on the first 300 daughters for all sires for which semen is collected.
    Sexed Semen: To expand the Jersey population, 90% of A.I. Jersey services need to be using sexed semen. This would assist in supplying the surplus replacement animals needed for expansion. Breeding Jersey could be more profitable than breeding a portion of a Jersey herd to beef. Other dairy breeds could be bred to high genetic Jersey sires to produce healthy, fertile crossbreds (i.e. HoJo’s).
    Precision Dairying:  Many companies serving dairy farms have established precision dairying initiatives. In the next few years, farms systems and equipment will become available by which farms can profit from applying new technologies and systems.
  1. Turn Generations
    In less than ten years genomic indexes will be over 80% reliable. The fast-moving trend is for young animals to be the parents of the next generation and genomic sires should be used 90+% of the time. New traits, especially many health and wellness related traits, that positively influence profitability will have genetic indexes. Older animals will, in most cases, not be evaluated for the new traits. If Jersey owners need any examples of where rapid turnover of generations have been very successful, they need look no further than the poultry, swine and crop growing industries.

    Add to an Already Solid Foundation
  1. Breed for Key Profit Traits
    An entire article could be written on which traits are or are not important for the future. Successful selection must be driven on which economically important traits milk producers need. The future success of Jersey breeding will be achieved from putting the overall focus on driving up farm and other stakeholder revenue and lowering or keeping costs under control.
    Jersey breeding could be a world leader if there were four lines:

    1. high lifetime energy corrected milk,
    2. high component percentages,
    3. productive grazing animals,  and
    4. animals suitable for the sub-tropics.Future Jersey breeding should be about performance and business success not about breed purity.
  1. Capture Heifer Data
    The economics and science of heifer rearing remain in its infancy.  Dairy managers need to know how the costs and benefits associated with genetics, feeding, management and performance from birth to first calving affect the bottom line and, thus, the performance in the milking herd.
    It is possible that Jersey stakeholders working collectively on heifer performance could improve not only animal lifetime profit but perhaps as far as what consumers are willing to buy in the grocery store.
    Adding full scope heifer data to milking cow data would put Jersey owners on a rising trajectory to becoming the gene pool of choice.

    Apply Information for Success
  1. Jersey Improvement Clubs
    People sharing information with their peers is an effective means of learning and applying facts, figures and science.
    Dairy farm finance clubs and income over feed costs clubs have been popular with dairy herd owners. Today these clubs can meet face-to-face or through on-line communities. Clubs for Jersey herd managers and Jersey youth can serve from training on the basics all the way to advanced dairying. The focus and priorities can be set by the members and work best when led by trained facilitators
    The Dairy Industry is More Than Cows and Farms
  1. Field to Consumer Approach
    As mentioned above, successful dairying goes all the way from the soil that grows the crops to the consumer purchasing and eating the food produced. Jerseys are but one of the many parts to the total equation that comprises dairying. In the end, it all comes down to the profit and success of the stakeholders. In the past, the model followed has been based on individual and organizational goals, preferences and focus. In the future, modelling will be more expansive and inclusive. Systems with Jerseys as the animals in the model could well be with us in the next half-decade. Remember what the consumer will buy will be the benchmark for every successful model.
  1. Guarantee the Product. Put Customer Trust First.
    Consumers of all products want a guarantee that their purchase is what it is sold as and that it can be backed up with facts. This practice will soon be mainstream. Jersey stakeholders would be well served to proactively participate in programs that ensure that the consumer knows and can rely on Jersey sourced products they buy meeting the product claims.

     Jerseys Fit Everywhere

  1. Go Global with Alliances
    Dairy cattle exist on every continent and in a multitude of production environments. Jerseys have already shown that they perform well in sub-tropical environments. Could they do even better there if the Slick Gene was incorporated into a line of Jersey cattle? A universal theme could be healthy productive animals, healthy nutritious food, healthy stakeholder bank accounts.
    With the next 2 Billion people on this planet predicted to be residents of Asia and Africa, Jersey cattle should not miss the opportunity to perform in those environments.
    Jersey alliances must cross borders.
    The United States and Canada need to initiate expanded collaboration and to lead the way to Jerseys achieving a 20% market share.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Are performance-oriented Jersey people ready to take the leap to the future? It requires thinking and acting beyond the cow and farm. It requires forming alliances at every step of the food chain. Two immediate challenges for Jerseys to increase market share are leadership and stakeholder support.

The Jersey Cow is ready. Are Jersey people on board for what can be an exciting, successful and sustainable future? If so, then tell others.

It only takes a spark to get a fire going!



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US Dairy Industry Vision and Leadership – Video Presentation from the 2019 National DHIA Annual Meeting

The Bullvine’s geneticist and dairy improvement specialist, Murray Hunt, was invited by National (USA) DHIA to speak to its annual meeting on the topic of what he sees as the future in US dairy data and information from the farm to the national dairy database. He chose as the title for his presentation “Industry Vision and Leadership – A view based on need and opportunities”. Bullvine readers are encouraged to listen to Murray’s presentation and to provide feedback.

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 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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Improving Dairy Cow Feed Efficiency Begins with….

Frequently dairy producers are being encouraged to implement ways and means to improve the efficiency with which their cows and herds convert their feed into milk. For herd feeding and management, some solutions already exist yet for accurate genetic indexing the answers are yet to be found. The Bullvine has written about feed efficiency in the past (read more: Should You Breed for Feed Efficiency?, A Guide to Understanding How to Breed For Feed Efficiency and Fertility  and Feed Efficiency: The Money Saver), however, let’s further consider both the facts and the challenges.

The Growing Power of Small Wins

In the past 25 years, the matter of feed efficiency has gone from giving cows a “least cost” balanced diet and accepting the resulting milk production to monitoring both feed intake and milk production to arrive at maximum net profit per day.  Why? This is in a major part because the cost of production now, 50-60% of which is feed costs, is much higher relative to farm gate milk price than 25 years ago. Yes, the margins on dairy farms, the world over, are much narrower and the cost of feed is therefore under scrutiny. So even a slight gain of $0.25 to $0.50 on Income Over Feed Costs (IOFC) per cow per day can make the difference between a farm staying in business or exiting the industry. With most other items in the cost of producing milk increasing every year, it leaves feed cost as the target for change.

The challenge of cost savings is not the only matter producers face when it comes to feed.  Consumers want access to certifiable information on how the cows were fed to make the milk. Organic. Were human edible feedstuffs used? What ingredients were added? The list is expanding. Where producers once ignored customers questions on feedstuffs, there will need to be accurate records of feeds and feeding methods.

Past Progress Not a Stop Sign

Before we continue, it must be noted that US dairy farmers have put in place many improvements over the past seventy-five years. Comparing 1944 to today, cows produce much more milk per year (443%). As well as modern milk production requires 23% of the feed, 35% of the water and 10% of the land to produce a gallon of milk than was required in 1944. All impressive numbers.

The reality is, that like in many businesses, dairy farming will need to continue to operate on tight margins, all the time with more monitoring and the need to a guaranteed product.

Establishing Milestones to Feed Efficiency Improvement

There are two aspect to monitor feed efficiency – the herd and the cow.

  • Herd Analysis Through Data Collection
    Working with their nutritionist, dairy farmers can now monitor and specifically manage their herds, strings and pens for feed costs by recording feed inputs and milk output. There are programs that also consider the effects of a feeding program on udder health, fertility, animal health and more. For pasture-based herds, it is only the concentrates feed that can be closely monitored. My experience in working with dairy herd improvement clubs, producers can increase their income over feed costs anywhere from $0.50 to $2.00 per cow per day by fine-tuning both the nutrition program and the management program. $150 to $600 more net per cow per year – that’s well worth the extra work and effort.
  • Animal Analysis Through Genetic Ranking
    On the genetic side of the improvement equation, it is not possible to currently sort or rank animals for feed efficiency. It is costly to capture individual cow feed intake. The Bullvine article, “The Genetics of Feed Efficiency in Dairy – Where are we at?”, published in May 2018, covers in detail the current global studies to establish genetic ranks for sires and the approximations for Feed Efficiency sire rankings that A.I. organizations are currently producing.  As well, most national total merit indexes, including NM$, TPI, LPI and ProS, include in their formulae a discounting factor for cow maintenance. This is an attempt to, for equal production performance, reward smaller to moderate-sized cows relative to larger cows. It is noteworthy that LPI considers Dairy Strength, an approximation of size, as a positive in its formula not a negative. Within, especially the Holstein breed, there is a   trend around the world to favouring moderate stature and medium-sized cows.
    Achieving national sire genetic rankings, for all proven sires based on 100+ daughters for Feed Efficiency, are years away due to the cost of data capture and the variation in data capture systems. At the present time, some breeding companies (A.I.) and an increasing number of precision dairy companies are extensively studying the capture of individual cow feed intakes and matching that with production performance and genomic information. They will be producing genomic indexes for feed efficiency. Within a few years, breeders can expect to see company genomic indexes for feed efficiency in the 55-70% reliability range.
    USDA (Beltsville) researchers have studied heifer and milking cow feed efficiency and found that on a genetic basis for equivalent performance $0.21/day can be saved in heifer feeding costs and $0.23/day can be saved in cow feeding costs. The number of animals in the study are limited but it does give hope to having genetic indexes for animals in their ability to convert feed to meat or milk. The USDA numbers are in the same range as feed cost savings published in literature explaining STgen’s EcoFeed® sire ratings. In time dairy managers will be able to choose between sires of equal genetic merit for production where one sires whose daughters cost $0.20 more or less in feed costs per day.

Start by Improving Selection Criteria  

At the herd, string and pen level dairy managers need to work with their nutritional staff or advisors to routinely record feed inputs and milk production. Then calculate the Income Over Feed Costs. Always keep in mind that the Income Over feed Costs number is not the total answer as animal health and fertility are very important for a dairy farm to be successful.

At the sire selection level, dairy managers should consider the feed efficiency values that are published by A.I. As mentioned above, many national total merit indexes already factor in the cost associated with cow maintenance. As yet, the reliabilities for feed efficiency genetic ratings are only in the 45-55% range but they are a good start. Expect within a few years to see genomic sire and heifer indexes for feed efficiency. Our best advice, at this time, is to use the published feed efficiency numbers for animals as a supplementary piece of information. Total merit, production, health and fertility genetic indexes should remain the primary sire selection criteria.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Feed conversion efficiency is important now. It will be even more important in the future.  Dairymen need to record feed intake and using it for herd feeding and management purposes.  As sire genetic indexes for daughter feed efficiency become available to eliminate the use of sires that do not rank in the top 25% for feed efficiency.




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Forget the past, dairy cows in the future will look very different…or will they?

Often a story begins with looking back-back to the good old days. Have you recently heard a dairy cattle breeder speak or write about how cows used to last until they were ten years old and that today cows are one lactation wonders? Should Bullvine readers accept this perception as fact? Especially knowing that breeding dairy cattle is about creating a superior cow for the future? Let’s think this one through.

Unique Comparison to 1960

Holsteins with the genetic merit of the 1960s have been maintained for study and comparison purposes at a University of Minnesota research station.  The photo below shows the physical appearance of cows from back then.

This cow from the U of M Morris Research Dairy is a living representation of genetics from the 1960s.

Compared to present day US Holsteins the cows from the 1960s were shorter, beefier, had udders that deepened quickly with age and they produced half as much milk (35 pounds per day from first calving to herd removal). Heifers calved for the first time at 27-28 months of age and a significant percentage of first calvers were culled after difficult calving or for low production or physical problems including undesirable udders. Also, twice as many calves died before weaning as happens today. By comparison to today, there were fewer genetic indexes and they were less accurate. The theory of comparisons that utilized BLUP had yet to be developed by Dr Charlie Henderson at Cornell.

The fact is those good old days of the 1960s were not actually that great. Breeders lamenting for those years are selectively remembering that only the top 10-20% of first lactation Holsteins excelled and those breeders are not remembering that 20-30% of cows one month into their first lactation had health issues, low milk, low-fat test, deep udders or weak median suspensory ligaments.  Over half the first lactation cows classified Good or lower in Canada in 1965.  Breeders thought in terms of their best animals and not what their herd average was.

Globalization of Single Purpose Dairy Cows Has Occurred

It is not just in North America where the dairy cow has changed.  Dual purpose cows have gone by the way and single purpose dairy cows have become the desired milk cows in “dairy” countries.

The picture below of the President of the German Holstein Association holding two cow models shows how fifty years of selective breeding has changed German Holsteins.

The next two pictures are pictures I took of a prize winner and a class line-up at the 1976 World Holstein-Friesian Conference Show held at Stoneleigh England. ‘Holsteinization’ of the Black and Whites were just underway in 1976 in the UK and the judge at that show was still looking for the dual-purpose cow.

Other breeds have also experienced significant changes in the ideal conformation of their cows.

The Present-Day Mature Cow

Below is a barn shot of a ten-year-old Holstein cow that checks many boxes for today’s dairy cattle breeders.

  Riverdown Baxter Marina,  VG-2yr/5E,   7 lactations  97,512 kgs 4.3%F 3.4%P
                    (Sire Stack – Baxter x Goldwyn x Lee x Lindy x Prelude x Inspiration)

Marina first calved at 2-02 and in the next eight and a half years (3060 days) of her life, she averaged 70 lbs. of milk per day. That’s 70 lbs. for every day – milking days plus dry days. It is interesting to note that Marina was just slightly above the average milk yield to her herdmates throughout her productive life while excelling in fat % and protein %.

As a young cow Marina ranked top 10% for her genetic indexes, however, today she falls to the top 50% level, due mainly to the very rapid genetic improvement that the Holstein breed has made in the past decade. As ever, time marches on.

In today’s purebred dairy breeder circles, much discussion can be heard on whether the ideal cow is the great old cow, like Marina, or the productive, low maintenance first to third lactation cow. However, it is A.I. studs and their commercial dairy breeder customers that are now driving the overall genetic progress and for which traits. But that is in 2019 terms. What about the ideal dairy cow for the future?

Tomorrow’s Cow

In a recent Milk House post about the cow of the future, which was commented on by almost sixty group members, there was equal support for wanting cows to remain much as they currently are and for wanting cows to be more – more functional, fertile, healthy, efficient converters and to be evaluated on a daily net profit basis. So, that would appear to say in breeders’ mind that the jury is still out on future selection criteria for both sires and cows. However, as dairy farming continues to evolve into a finer and finer tuned business with average herds size, in the US, moving towards 500 milking cows we can expect significant changes in the traits breeders include in their animal selection programs.

The first question that traditional breeders will ask about the cow of the future is – ‘What will the cow of the future look like?” The Bullvine sees that body form will not be as important as it has been in the past for purebred breeders. Breeders have enhanced the body form of dairy cattle as much as is possible using visual evaluation. In the future, it will be body part functions that will determine the body form for commercial cows. So, breed ideal or true type models will not be used by over 95% of future herd owners, as each owner will have their own ideal.  Final score and body parts genetic indexes will not be used. And descriptive scoring will be the primary conformation indexes (udder depth, teat placement, legs rear view, thurl width and hoof form) used in sire selection and mating programs. It is entirely possible that the conformation data will be captured using photo imaging. (Read more: Are You Breeding for the Correct Conformation to Produce the Greatest Lifetime Profit?, Does The Current Conformation Evaluation System Work for Commercial Breeders? and She Ain’t Pretty – She Just Milks That Way!)

Dr Jack Britt, Professor Emeritus, North Carolina State University along with a group of associate researchers and ag extension specialists have done extensive work on predicting what the dairy industry, globally but primarily in the US, will be like 50 years from now. Dr Britt has presented the group’s predictions many times over the past two years, including at the 2018 World Dairy Expo in Madison Wisconsin. They are predicting that in twenty years US cows will average over 40,000 lbs. milk per year and in fifty years over 55,000 lbs.  One slide from his presentation is shown below for traits and processes that will be commonplace.

– Future Dairy Cow Selection Criteria and Processes as seen by Dr Jack H Britt

Dr Britt has other slides that show: 1) that seven countries (US, India, China, Brazil, Germany, Russia and France) produce 50% of the global milk and twenty countries produce 75%; 2) that with global warming dairy cows will change from an animal that functions best in temperate climates to be heat tolerant; 3) that increased technology and epigenetics will be commonplace; and 4) that there will be enhanced ways of feeding the rumen microbes.

The fact is that dairy farming, including the genetic side, will undergo major changes in the next ten, twenty and fifty years

The Bullvine Bottom Line

For sure yesterday’s cows got us here… Definitely, tomorrow’s cows will be different.

In the future cows will function trouble free for many years in large groups on automated farms. They will live in a multitude of environments and will need to be able to produce a high volume of milk solids. They will efficiently covert non-human food to milk. And genetic selection will turn on net returns over a lifetime and how body parts function most effectively.



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Reality Check – Is Balanced Breeding Working?

‘Balanced Breeding’ has been promoted and followed in dairy cattle breeding for at least the past forty years. It is when the important traits that breeders desire to improve are combined in what is called a total merit index. All the traits in the index are weighted according to their relative importance for the breed but not for individual breeders. An example could be applying a weighting of 5% for SCS in an index and expecting that all bulls in the top hundred for that index will be improvers for mastitis resistance. On average, there is increased total genetic merit but not an increase for all trait in the index.

Reality Check Time

Here’s the question The Bullvine puts to you – “Is using total merit indexing (aka balanced breeding) the best way to select and mate animals to achieve maximum genetic gain for profit? It could very well be that using balanced breeding gives breeders false hopes of improving all traits in the total merit index.

Check the Facts

If you say it isn’t so, then do this quick check. How many top (25x) daughter-proven US Holstein sires are above 2.90 for SCS and less than 2.0 for DPR? The truth is that that number is higher than you might guess it to be. For TPI there are seventeen (68%), for DWP$ there are sixteen (64%) and for NM$ there are twenty-two (88%) sires that are higher for SCC and lower for DPR than those levels. The Bullvine chose those levels because they are the index values needed to improve a herd that is average for mastitis resistance and fertility.

Furthermore, it is not just US Holstein sires or US total merit indexes. 80% of the top ten LPI Canadian proven Jersey sires, 60% of top ten Pro$ Canadian proven Jersey sires, 80% of top ten LPI Canadian proven Holstein sires and 100% of the top ten Pro$ Canadian Holstein sires are not rated as significant breed improvers for resistance to mastitis and daughter fertility.

The truth is that, by using a high-ranking sire based on North American total merit indexes, a breeder can only in about 30% of the time expect to achieve meaningful improvement in resistance to mastitis and female fertility.

What does Genetic Theory Tell Us?

When practicing single trait selection, breeders can expect to make 100% of the possible genetic gains from a given sire mated to a given dam. Table 1 shows the possible gain for each trait as the number of traits selected for is increased.

Table 1 – Expected Genetic Response

# of Traits Selected For Average % of Genetic Gain Achieved for Each Trait
1 100%
2 71%
3 58%
4 50%
5 45%
6 41%
9 33%
12 29%
16 25%

Of course, the genetic gain achieved is also a function of the merit of the parents. A sire needs to be 1 Standard Deviation above the breed mean (67%RK) before his progeny will exhibit improvement when he is mated to average females.  If a female in the top 1% of the breed (99%RK) for a trait is mated to a 67%RK sire their progeny will be 83%RK. Some breeders mistakenly feel that if they mate their 99%RK cow to a slightly above average sire (60%RK) that the progeny will retain the breed leading genetic merit of the dam. It just isn’t so.

Total merit indexes usually contain a dozen or more traits and as can be seen from Table 1, on average, for each of twelve traits the maximum gain possible will be 29% of what would be possible if single trait selection was practiced for each trait.

Bulls of the Past

Total merit indexes were partially implemented so there could be one ranking system for animals in a breed. Before there were total merit indexes marketers were all claiming to have the #1 sire – albeit they may have been #1 for type or production but not #1 overall.

Before total merit indexes, sires were known for what they did best – Marquis (type), Bell (milk yield), Fond Matt (udders), Sheik (% Fat), Rudolph (calving and fertility), Duncan Lester (production), Gemini (type), etc. Most often a sire’s weaknesses were ignored by breeders. So total merit indexes were good as they positioned a sire in the breed according to a combination of his strengths and weaknesses.

Dairy Cattle Breeding in 2025

2025 is less than three generations of cattle into the future. Profitable cows then will need to yield more lifetime profit that our cows do now. How will that come about? It will be by having cows that generate more revenue and decrease some costs. For farms that produce 95% of the milk, cows will generate more revenue by the uniqueness of the milk (i.e. %F, A2A2, BB, … etc.) and by reducing costs by having superior genetic indexes for traits like feed efficiency, productive life, disease resistance, fertility, mobility and milk ability.

Future Focused Selection

Selecting for the six cost reducing indexes mentioned above will slow genetic progress to 41% (see Table 1) of what is possible. The best route for a breeder to follow is to identify the three limiting traits in the herd and to select primarily for those three traits. That way the herd would make 40% more genetic improvement for those traits.

A.I. centers are already doing this when selecting the sire that they mate to a bull dam. They identify the dam’s three most limiting traits and find the bull that does the best job of improving those three traits.  They are having excellent success at producing top young sires using this method of breeding. A.I. sire analysts may use a total merit index (i.e. TPI, NM$, JPI, …etc.) to narrow down the list of sires to be considered but they require that a service sire for the bull dam be outstanding (95+%RK) for the dam’s limiting traits.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Breeding for a balance for a host of traits, some of which do not need to be significantly improved in a herd, is not the way of the future. To maximize the rate of genetic improvement in a herd, breeders will need to identify their 3 most limiting traits and then find and use the best sires for those three traits. In the future, focused breeding on the traits needed to maximize a herd’s future profit rather that a balance of traits will lead the way.




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STOP Limiting Dairy Progress – START Looking After Heifer Data

How often have you heard that the post-weaning heifers are the most ignored, yes even neglected, animals on a dairy farm? From birth and until weaning, calves are fed and observed two or more times per day by humans and now increasingly by specialized machines …  so, there can be on-farm records maintained either in hard copy or electronically. However, no matter how extensive the on-farm heifer records, much of the health, growth, sexual maturity, mobility and vaccination records never make it to the central national database. 

We have Created the Impasse

Somewhere back in time, the dairy farming industry decided that cows and their information was important but that heifers were not important. Of course, that is not the case on all farms, but as an industry, we have not monitored and analyzed the performance of pre-producing animals in the way it occurs in the swine and poultry industries and partially in the beef, sheep and fish industries.

Why? Perhaps there is not a right answer to that question. Likely it has something to do with milk production being over 90% of the revenue from dairy herds. However, the more important question is how much is the dairy cattle industry missing out on increased on-farm profits by not performance recording and genetic indexing for heifer traits?

Times are Changing. Why Aren’t We?

It used to be that 52% of births were females and on average 90+% of heifers survived to first calving. In the past, it took $500 to feed and $800 total to raise a heifer to calving and fresh heifers sold for $1,500 to $2,500. So, raising all heifers meant that concern about heifer rearing costs and age at first calving did not significantly affect a farm’s bottom line.

Those days are history.

Today, with sexed (female) semen, 90+% of births are heifers and, as well, 95+% of heifers get to their first calving. It now costs $2,000+ to rear a heifer to calve at 24 months of age, and fresh heifers sell from $800 to $2000 depending on demand, pedigree and genetic merit. Where it was once a profit centre, rearing all heifers is now a losing proposition.

However, the important consideration is what will the best future program be for producing and rearing heifers as herd replacements? Dairy producers can avail themselves to heifer software management programs but, without a central producer owned database system, there will not be publicly available research, development, benchmarking and genetic analysis for heifer traits.

Think of the Possibilities

What would you like to know about your calves and heifers in the future for management, nutrition and genetic purposes? Some, but by no means all, items could be:

  • Temperature, rumination, respiration, …
  • Growth, …
  • Immunity (including colostrum transfer and vaccination effectiveness), …
  • Feed intake, feed efficiency, visits for feeding, magnet effectiveness, …
  • Mobility, gate, stance, hoof care, …
  • First heat, stage of estrus cycle, pregnancy, …
  • Data to support guaranteed food safety, …

Some of these may be possible now; others will require new technology or devices. Most likely we will only get the heifer details if the data is captured electronically. Of course, the additional data points will be added to what is already known for animals on pedigree, DNA profile, …etc.

What is Currently Available? Is it enough?

Calf and heifer software management systems and devices are currently available, but some are stand-alone or not linked to an on-farm system.

A.I. and private companies have seen the need for more facts on calves and heifers and are producing private proprietary indexes for sires on immunity, disease resistance, feed conversion efficiency, wellness and other non-traditional traits. However, those indexes are just scratching the surface on what needs to be known.

Do We Have the Will to Change?

Ideally, all facts and figures must be in one data system on a farm that can be transferred to the national dairy data system that already stores the milk cow data. Until we have this calf and heifer data stored in the national dairy databases, it will not be possible to know their effect on and relationship with performance, economics and genetics.

A supplementary thought could be that if we knew more facts about young bulls destined for A.I. would we be able to more accurately know if they should enter A.I. or not?

The need is there. Yet … 1) will dairymen see that need and capture and transmit the data? and 2) will data centres do the analysis and provide the services in the areas of farm management and genetic evaluation?

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The dairy improvement industry must move beyond thinking that dairy cattle monitoring and improvement is only about milk cows. Extensive data for all heifer traits and characteristics are needed from conception all the way to herd removal. The average female spends sixty months in a herd. Twenty months or 33% of an animal’s lifetime, is being ignored.

 The extent of this untapped opportunity to take the dairy cattle industry forward in viability and sustainability is significant. Is extensive calf and heifer data needed in the central data system? The answer to that question is – YES!




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Should Farms Be Shipping 4.5% Fat Milk?

Dairy farmers, like all business owners, must continually be addressing financial viability and sustainability in both the immediate and longer term.  Revenue generation is an extremely important aspect of finances.   On dairy enterprises over 90+% of revenue comes down to the milk shipped. Today The Bullvine would like readers to think about the proportions of components in the milk they will ship off-farm in five years’ time.

Setting the Scene

A considerable number of factors come into play when planning the composition of milk and milk revenue. Some factors relate to genetics, some to feeding and some to management. Here are some with a bearing on both future genetics and revenue.

  • Fat is Becoming King – Reports from almost all dairy countries are showing high demand by consumers for butterfat. This demand is now reflected in the increased value of fat on farmer’s milk checks in some countries. This increasing trend for full-fat milk products for healthy living is predicted to continue and even to increase.
  • Excess Powder Yes protein level is important in cheese production but the move of the last almost half-century of increasing protein per cent and narrowing the percentage gap between fat and protein in cow’s milk has no doubt contributed to it taking more volume of milk to get the needed fat and thereby leaving more remaining solids to produce powder products.
  • Eating vs Drinking Milk The proportional use of milk in the US is now 75% solid and 25% fluid. In developing countries, especially in Asia and Africa where the future population growth will occur, the per cent of milk that is consumed in the solid form will be even higher. High per cent butterfat milk will be in demand everywhere.
  • Feeding the Rumen Ruminant diets are being fine-tuned for ingredients and feed preparation so that forages will form a very high per cent of the total. Feeding strategies to achieve high butterfat per cent will be common.
  • Cost of Moving, Storing and Removing Water High-fat content milk will save considerable energy and cost per unit of solids as it relates to cooling on-farm, transportation to processing, storing at processing and removal of water and disposal of whey liquids by processors. Costs saved can positively impact farm gate price.
  • Savings on Farm – High-fat cows provide the opportunity to save some on the stress of high-volume yields in the areas of cow health and reproduction. Although the genetic relationship of functional traits with % fat may not be high, every little bit will help to increase cow profit per lifetime.

These and other factors will contribute to what the composition of milk needs to be in the future.

The Ideal Milk of the Future

Currently, in North America, the average component per cent for milk leaving farms is 3.9% fat and 3.3% total protein. It should be noted that the current move to measure true protein will reduce the total protein per cent by 0.19% to 3.1% true protein. There has been a slow but gradual annual genetic increase of 0.02% fat and 0.01% total protein in the past decade. So, in five years if selection pressure on % fat and % protein remain unchanged, we can expect milk coming off the farm to be 4% fat and 3.15% true protein.

Based on the demand for butterfat and future milk uses and products, experts have estimated that in the future milk shipped from farm needs to 4.5% fat and 3.2% true protein by 2025. So, a revised strategy on sire selection will be needed higher % fat, hold % protein and continued improvement in production, functionality, feed conversion and animal health.

What About Switching Up Breeds?

In recent years the Jersey breed has seen a resurgence doubling to about 10% in the US and 5% in Canada. So, is it simply increasing Jerseys to 40% of the national herds to achieve a higher % fat? A complicating factor would be that Jerseys have in recent years been selecting for increased volume of milk at the expense of % fat. The fact is that there would need to be a movement to selecting for higher % fat in all breeds.

A scenario to reach 4.5 % fat for all milk shipped could be: 73% Holsteins at 4.25% fat; 23% Jerseys at 5.3% fat; 3.5% crossbreds at 4.5% fat; and 0.5% other breeds at 4.5% fat.  If breed percentages were to be 78% Holstein, 20% Jersey and 2% others, then Holsteins would need to average 4.30% fat.

Some will question Holsteins at 4.25% fat. It is a fact that the famous Montvic Holstein herd, dispersed over 76 years ago, had a herd over 4.1% fat and today there are many Holstein herds averaging at or over 4.0 % fat. The genes for higher % fat are there! The detour in the 1970s – 1980s to selecting against % fat and for % protein in Holsteins, in hindsight, was an error.

Not Simply Higher % Fat

There needs to be a higher % fat but not higher % protein. Since the correlation between selecting for % fat and % protein is 60-70%, using higher % fat sires will also get high % protein. Carrying on selecting for increases in both % fat and % protein would leave added surplus powder. No producer wants a future of what currently exists: low global farm gate prices – prices below the cost of production.

Which Sire Ranking Index Would Be Best?           

The following tables compare the results of analyzing the top US and Canadian proven sires for four selection programs with the overall objective to increase % fat, hold % protein and increase total genetic merit. The proven sires studied were the top twenty marketed Holsteins and top ten marketed Jerseys for the sire ranking indexes of % fat, fat yield, breed selection index and net merit ($).

Table 1 – Average Sire Proof* for US Proven Sires for Four Selection Programs

  Holstein (20x) Jersey (10x)
  (Selection For) (Selection For)
Trait     % Fat  Fat Yield      TPI        NM$      % Fat  Fat Yield      JPI      NM$
Milk 830 1761 1634 1775 -307 1462 1598 1282
Fat Yield 91 101 81 91 43 90 75 85
% Fat 0.22 0.13 0.07 0.09 0.29 0.11 -0.01 0.12
Protein Yield 46 61 62 60 10 62 61 57
% Protein 0.08 0.03 0.04 0.02 0.09 0.05 0.02 0.05
Productive Life 4.5 4.4 5.3 5.4 1.2 1.7 3.3 3.1
SCS 2.85 2.83 2.81 2.85 3.02 2.95 2.83 2.93
DPR  1.2 0.2 2.1 1.4 -1 -2.3 -1.1 -1.5
Udder Depth 1.04 0.76 1.2 0.78 0.9 0.2 1.1 1.1
RL Rear View 1.18 0.75 1.08 0.69                 na                 na              na                 na
NM$ 777 834 826 859 243 574 580 598
TPI(H) / JPI(J) 2576 2624 2696 2658 69 168 183 179

* US Sire Proofs are expressed in Estimated Transmitting Ability. Proofs from August 2018.

Table 2 – Average Sire Proof* For Canadian Proven Sires for Four Selection Programs

  Holstein (20x) Jersey (10x)
  (Selection For) (Selection For)
Trait     % Fat  Fat Yield        LPI          Pro$      % Fat  Fat Yield         LPI         Pro$
Milk 782 1401 1496 1807 395 738 1095 1081
Fat Yield 88 107 85 82 84 98 82 71
% Fat 0.52 0.48 0.26 0.13 0.87 0.81 0.36 0.22
Protein Yield 54 63 64 71 39 47 53 49
% Protein 0.24 0.14 0.11 0.09 0.34 0.26 0.16 0.11
HerdLife 105 103 104 106 100 98 101 102
SCS 2.75 2.89 2.76 2.69 2.96 3.03 2.9 2.83
Daus Fertility 102 103 104 103 101 100 103 104
Udder Depth             5s 0             4s             4s              1d             3d             1s 0
RL Rear View 7 4 6 3 -4 -5 0 -2
Pro$ 2148 2120 2356 2473 1157 1205 1633 1712
LPI 3082 2956 3190 3141 1803 1824 1969 1954

* Canadian Sire Proofs are expressed in Estimated Breeding Values (= 2 x ETA’s). Proofs from August 2018.

The fact is that selecting sires based on the four programs summarized in Tables 1 and 2 will not get the needed result of high %F, increased fat yield and a hold on %P. In all cases, the %P is too high or too high compared to the %F and would result in expanding the volume of protein/powder not holding it. Therefore, if following a program does not do it, then breeders will need to do it by their individual sire selections. Of course, there is the possibility that the formulae for national selection indexes could be revised to select for a widening gap between %F and %P, but that would take research and resources and, in the meantime, breeders are not preparing for what will be needed in 2025.

Bulls That Would ‘Ring the Bell’

Forward-looking breeders will need to use sires that give high % fat improvement, minimal % protein improvement and continued improvement in other important traits. There will be a very limited number of such sires available. Most sires will not widen the gap between % fat and % protein.

From a search of current top proven sires, here are five sires that give the high % fat, high-fat yield, hold % protein and that are breed average or above for other major traits.

                Brewmaster (CA EBV’s)      +0.78 %F,            +132 kgs Fat                       +0.11 %P

                Megatron (CA EBV’s)           +0.75 %F              +122 kgs Fat                       +0.17 %P

                Mookie (US ETA’s)                +0.39 %F              +106 lbs Fat                        +0.09 %P

                Mackenzie (US ETA’s)          +0.32 %F              + 96 lbs Fat                         +0.13 %P

                Rubicon (US ETA’s)               +0.26 %F              +120 lbs Fat                        +0.06 %P


The Bullvine Bottom Line

The decision on the need to widen the gap from 0.8% to 1.3% between % fat and % protein needs discussion in all markets – local and global. The sooner there an industry-wide position on what is needed in the future for milk component percentages, the sooner breeders will be able to get on with making the necessary changes in their genetic selections.




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Leadership & Vision: A View from the Sidelines – The 2018 Dairy Cattle Improvement Industry Forum

The Bullvine’s Murray Hunt was one of the presenters at The 2018 Dairy Cattle Improvement Industry Forum and the 23rd Annual General Meeting of CDN. Watch at Murray discusses Industry Leadership & Vision: A View from the Sidelines and ask the question: “Are we varnishing the past or building the future?”




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Dairy Cattle Genetics: Are we breeding cows for the correct environment?

What does a bull’s daughter profile reveal? A description of how the daughters are expected to perform in an intensive barn-housed environment. That works for temperate climates where there is winter, machinery for harvesting forages and cheap fossil fuels. However, what about areas, where only grasses can be grown? Are today’s dairy genetics suited for heat, new bugs and grazing?

The World is Changing

Our dairy cows, developed in north central Europe, operate best in temperatures -20C to +22C ( -5F to 72F). In the 21st century, there are many new factors at play as we breed cows for a variety of environments. Some of these factors include:

  • Climate Change: Predictions are that North America will be 5F warmer by 2050. Dairy cows, like humans, will need to be able to operate optimally at higher temperatures. It will be a significant added cost to keep cows cool for more than half the year. Heat resistance in cattle will be an important characteristic in the future.
  • Land Use: Around the world land for cities is gobbling up vegetable, grains and fruit lands. In turn those crops will push forages for livestock on to land only suitable for grasses or pasture.
  • Regions of Population Increase: The next 2B people, bringing the world to 9B, will be in Asia. Dairy cows there will need to be able to pasture the hillsides and floodplains.
  • Diseases / Insects Resistance: Hot climate and non-temperate climate diseases and insects will add stress to a cow’s life.
  • Fossil Fuel Usage, Machinery and Technology: All of these will become costlier. This will have a significant effect on farms without high cow/heifer numbers. The current trend to replace the cost of labor with technology will continue. Many producers will have cows harvest the forage instead of machinery doing it.
  • Consumer Opinion / Support: The world is no longer about farmers producing food and consumers accepting what is in the store. Consumers are making their needs and requirements known and, in the future, will put many more stipulations on the food they buy. Sure, the milk will be wholesome, but animal welfare, use of drugs on animals, feeds fed to cows, natural environments and many more items will be dictated by consumer understanding. The customer is always right, and they will only buy products that meet their specifications.

As with all things, it comes down to economics. The need to include and the relative importance of these and other factors in genetic indexing and breeding schemes will take time to become a reality. Cows will need to take care of their needs by themselves as much as possible. That also includes nutrition, health, welfare, … and intelligent robots everywhere.

Breeding Must be Ready

Our one-size-fits-all dairy cows are not ready for coping with and prospering under some of the above and other factors. It will take planning and implementation for dairy cattle breeders to be ready with adapted breeds or blood lines. It is hard to look long term when the current cost of production (COP) is not being exceeded by farm gate price in many dairy countries, but the future COP on dairy farms must be addressed by both progressive breeders and breeding organization. First come the ideas, then the research, then the development and finally the application.

A Breeding Goal – A Cow that Manages to Her Own Needs.

We already are breeding for the cow that, on her own, visits the milking machine. Now can we breed the cow that harvests her forage, resists diseases and infections and does it at optimal levels when the thermometer reads 90+F (32+C). Oh yes and she needs to do all that and get back in calf within 80-100 days after her previous calving.

Currently we do not have farm data to use in developing genomic ratings for sires and cows for their ability to forage and exist in tomorrow’s hotter world. So, it will be some time before we can rate and select animals genetically for the traits associated with grazing and a warmer planet.

Some genetic matters that are being worked on include: Slick hair gene, where animals with that gene cope better in hot climates; Tick resistance has yet to be successfully introduced into dairy cattle; Fertility (cow and heifer) is presently receiving much research study; Calf livability and scour resistance is being worked on but with only very limited farm data it is almost impossible to genetically rank sires for these matters.  Without devices that attach to cows it is not possible to measure intake for pastured animals. Information on feed conversion efficiency genetic indexing for animals consuming harvested forages was covered by the Bullvine (reference) but that is for machine harvested forage not for grazing animals.

Information Currently Available to Breeders

Health and wellness genetic ratings have become available for milk cows in the past 3-4 years and for calves and heifer in the past year. More health and disease will be added in the future.

That still leaves research into which sires are genetically the best in terms of heat resistance and forage intake from pasture.

Regarding the ability to cope with tropical temperatures relatively little new information has been found to help breeders. Some breeders rely on their understanding of added body capacity for lungs, solid red color, crossbreeding (i.e. using the Gyr breed from India) and raising heifers at higher altitudes to develop larger lungs. There are no sire indexes for breeders to use. Research needs to be done and field data captured so that more is known on the genetics of dairy cattle coping with tropical conditions.

On the matter of which sires produce daughters more suited to grazing, there are currently three indexes provided by organizations. These indexes are:

  • GM$ (Grazing Merit is published by CDCB) – it includes the same traits as NM$ (Net Merit) but puts 253% as much emphasis on fertility, 85% as much emphasis on production traits and 59% as much emphasis on PL and LIV as NM$ does. The AIPL-USDA research shows that grazed cows need to calve annually, do not need to produce as much fat and protein volume and have fewer longevity and livability problems as compared to housed cows. As in NM$, higher milk volume, higher SCS and higher body weight all receive a negative weighting in GM$. The trait emphasis for GM$(2018) follows:


GM$ = 38% Yield* + 24.5% Fertility* + 16% Type* + 13.5% PL/LIV/Health* + 3.5% SCS + 4.5% CA*

                (* indicates that a number of traits are combined to create the category.  Calving Ability is 4 traits related to calving.)

Table 1: Top Ranking US Holstein Sires for GM$ (Grazing Merit)

Daughter Proven Sires   Genomic Sires
        GM$ NAAB Code Name           GM$ NAAB Code Name
893 203HO1468 Delta   1016 551HO3529 Charl
880 29HO17553 Josuper   990 11HO12174 AltaExplosion
874 7HO12600 Modesty   975 11HO12157 AltaLawson
827 151HO0681 Rubicon   972 29HO18611 Skywalker
827 151HO1602 Director   947 29HO18682 Colorado
815 1HO10396 Cabriolet   939 29HO18693 Crimson
797 7HO12266 Yoder   935 1HO13404 Samsung
787 7HO12021 Ponder   932 29HO18708 Kenobi
785 1HO11327 Gatekeeper 932 29HO18296 Achiever
783 7HO13250 Jedi   916 29HO18633 Roxbury
  • GrazingPRO(Published by Select Sires Inc.) – SSI designates their sires as GrazingPRO™ based in their GM$ rating and requiring that the DPR is >+3.0, Stature is <+0.5, Fat% is positive and Protein% is positive.
  • GrazingPro™ (Published by Semex) – Semex designates their sires as GrazingPro™ and thereby Pasture Perfect for sires that will maximize component yield and put a focus on health and reproductive traits to ensure highly profitable, long-lasting animals with limited problems. These sires will also produce easier calvings and darker colored calves.
  • Outside of North America both Ireland and New Zealand prove their sires on grass-based feeding systems so their EBI (Ireland) and BW (New Zealand) indexes rank sires with consideration of grazing.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Dairy cattle being fed on grazing systems and living in warmer and warmer climates will be part of our industry’s future. To date there is only limited genetic information, based on assumed trait emphasis, available for breeders to use if they choose to graze their cattle or farm in regions having heat and humidity. Research and genetic evaluation centers need to address these topics.



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Milk Battles: The Red, White and Blues Continue

NAFTA renegotiations are front page news in the United States and Canada. From the dairy industry perspective, it appears that these talks are all about blaming and shaming the other side. Everyone dependent on the dairy industry recognizes that current viability and long-term sustainability are on the line.  Should they stay in the industry or pursue another occupation? What side are you on? If your side is declared the winner, what difference will it make to how you manage your dairy operation or how the dairy supply is managed? “

“It’s the Law”

Import laws only seem right if they support what you believe in. Both countries have import tariffs on foreign milk coming into their country. Canadian import laws have not contained details on the importation of difiltered milk.  Difiltered milk is allowed for the enhancement of the protein level in cheese and some yogurts in Canada. However, in the US, such enhancement has not been permitted.

“The Market Is Always Right”

American processors saw and took an opportunity to sell difiltered milk to Canadian cheese makers. Canadian producers were frustrated that the importation of this US product was taking what they considered to be their market. In 2017 Canadian producer organizations established an ingredient class of milk (Class 7) that they priced so their processers would buy Canadian milk. US producer associations thought that Canada made a hasty decision and were upset with the lack of notice. Currently the US is considering asking WTO for a ruling on if Canada is subsidizing the skim milk powder, made from the Class 7 milk, on the world market.

“Do We Want Governments to Legislate Dairy Financial Success?”

Through the US Farm Bill and other means, milk production in the US is indirectly financially supported by US governments. In Canada there is a dairy producer – government agreement (aka supply management) to make sure that domestic milk supply does not exceed the domestic demand. Also included in this producer-government agreement are milk pricing according to cost of production and level of importation. Part of the agreement includes that the Canadian government does not financially support its supply management industries. These differing methods of industry-government involvement and roles are front and center in NAFTA renegotiations.  The question is – Is there a level playing field? Canadian consumers totally pay for their milk in the store Americans consumers pay in the store and also through their taxes dollars that are allocated to farm support and subsidy programs.

“Overproduction is the Biggest Threat to the Dairy Industry”

Presently there is an excess of milk product in the world. This has resulted in low world prices which depresses the farm gate milk price in countries that base their domestic price according to the world price. The current total US milk production is over 115% of the US consumer demand. Milk presently leaves American farms at well below the cost of production. US producer organizations and governments are working hard to export the surplus, but the low world price means both low returns and added expense for the US. When there is an over-supply of milk, dairy farmers are price takers instead of price setters.

“We Only Want the Rules that We Put in Place. We will Ignore Yours”

What’s best? Regulated or unregulated production?  Each system has their benefits and limitations.

Through a producer association – government agreement, since 1971 The Canadian farm supply of milk has matched the consumer demand. The producer associations allocate daily quotas to producers, buy the milk from the producers and sell the milk to the processors. This quota system has provided stability for Canadian dairy producers.

The US has an unregulated system of producing milk. Producers have agreements with their processor. In times of surplus production, processors have three options: they may not pick up the milk; they can pick up and dump the milk; or, in the most drastic situation, a processor can terminate producer contracts. The US has used whole herd buy-outs, government purchase of product and risk insurance programs in times when there have been surplus milk leaving the farms. But none of these vehicles have been long term solutions in providing stability for producers. American dairy producers repeat the cycle every 5-7 years – from boom to selling below the cost of production to bust.

“Can We At Least Agree to Disagree?”

Today the world is awash with talks and negotiations on trade.  The trend had been for multi-country agreements. However, currently US President Trump is favoring bi-lateral (country to county) agreements. Questions abound about trade agreements. Are they reciprocal? Are they free? Are they fair? They are never just about milk products only. They are complicated business dealings between countries. And, of course, every country wants the best for their industries and their citizens. US and Canadian milk producers are pawns in the ongoing NAFTA renegotiations. Even though dairy producers may want a win-win, the reality is win a little lose a little is the more likely outcome. If President Trump had not removed (just after his inauguration) the US from the TPP agreement it would have allowed US milk more access to the Canadian market. Canadian milk producers have recently given up over 6.5% of their domestic market share, when Canada signed on to the CET (EU) and CPTTP (Pacific) trade agreements.

“Which Side Are YOU On?”

Dairy producers in both countries have lobbied their politicians so that they can receive support or be the winner. Even though his reasons may not be totally based on producers’ livelihoods, President Trump did stand up for the loss of processor contracts by a few American producers. Likewise, Prime Minister Trudeau has stood by the Canadian supply management system. Asking politicians to solve industry challenges is not always the best route to follow to achieve the optimum long-term solution for dairy producers.

“Misinformation Hurts Everyone”

Both economists and journalists continually study, survey and publish reports comparing the price of fluid milk in stores in the US and Canada.  But fluid milk is, at most, only 40% of the milk products that consumers buy. In Wisconsin 90% of the milk is marketed as cheese. Seldom are in-store cheese prices compared.  In the US, fluid milk is sold as ‘BST free’ and as ‘unknown’ if BST was given to the cows to increase their production. In Canada BST is not allowed to be used. In using and quoting the comparison of milk products prices in the store, great care should be taken to use accurate facts and to compare equals.

“Milk Production Isn’t Only Based on Border Lines”

The United States and Canada are neighbors, are each other’s largest trading partners and have the longest unprotected border in the world. Sometimes these three facts are lost in the milk mud-slinging.

The US produces twelve times the volume of milk that Canada does. 4% of the US farms produce 50% of the US milk. The top ten (20%) volume states (CA/WI/ID/NY/PA/TX/MI/MN/NM/WA) produce 74% of the US milk and have 64% of the US cows. There are 9.3M cows in 40,000 herds with an average herd size of 234 cows producing 22,500 lbs. per cow.  The smallest 25 (50%) volume states produce 5% of the US milk. From 2006 to 2015, 33% of the herds exited the US industry and the total volume of milk shipped increased 20%.

In Canada, two (20%) provinces (QC/ON) produce 75% of the milk and have 69% of the Canadian cows. There are 0.94M cows in 10,800 herds with an average herd size of 87 cows producing 19,500 lbs. per cow. The smallest 5 (50%) volume provinces produce 5% of the Canadian milk. From 2006 to 2015, 30% of the herds exited the Canadian industry and the total quota allocations increased by 20%.

When comparing the United States and Canada, milk production or human population, remember that the US is ten times larger than Canada. Ten times the cows. Ten times the consumers.

“The Daily Push and Pull of Dairying”

No matter whither the US or Canada, we’re looking for dairy farm sustainability. It has always been and always will be a moving target determined strongly by farm gate milk price and feed costs. Farms that can drive up revenue and keep costs under control will be the viable and sustainable ones.  Farm ownership and/or farm size do not automatically determine success.

“Can We Identify Where the Front Lines are Currently Located?”

Just now the political rhetoric, the political climate and trade talks are garnering much attention and energy of dairy producers.  It is The Bullvine’s opinion that producers need to put the focus on four areas.

  1. “Too Many Generals. Shrinking Troops”
    Producers have almost as many producer-directed organizations representing them now as they had when there were four or five times as many producers.  With so many it easily becomes a divide and conquer win for processors and politicians. Processors want volume and politicians listen to the loudest noise and count votes. Continuing with local or state/provincial or regional milk selling organizations will continue to stack the deck against dairy producers.  Dairy producers need more clout than they have had in the past in price setting.
  1. “Dairy Beyond Borders”
    In today’s connected world many items know no borders. Anything that is generic to all producers, processors and retailers needs to be addressed collectively. These can include – consumer awareness and education, food safety, animal welfare and healthy living promotion. In other industries today, the business model is based on mutual benefit. The dairy industry’s future is not one sided or about ’the art of the deal’.  Trade talks and agreements are here to stay. The production sector of the dairy industry needs to change from reactive to proactive, when it comes to milk promotion, increasing milk’s share of the food dollar and trade in milk products.
  1. “It’s Time for US Dairy Downsizing”
    The US dairy production industry needs to develop ways to: reduce production by 8% immediately; assist farmers faced with bankruptcies, challenged mental health or re-training; change regulations to allow the use of skim milk in the production of new or fortified food products; move to a production-marketing system whereby supply closely matches domestic and foreign demand for milk; and rethink the level of tariffs necessary. 
  1. “It’s Time for Canadian Dairy Modernization”
    The Canadian dairy production industry needs to implement: a revised system for pricing ingredient milk; consider ways to revise, or at least refine, the supply management system; find further ways for new farmers to be included in quota ownership; refine its milk pricing model; and rethink the level of tariffs necessary.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

There is no need for the United States and Canada to battle about milk. The current situation is a race to the bottom. It should be a climb to sustainability for dairy producers on both sides of the 49th parallel.

Success for US and Canadian dairy producers will come when progressive, dynamic producers support and lead the necessary changes to have milk supply match the demand. Producer-leaders will need to be visionary and able to bring groups with diverse positions to a mutual benefit.




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The Future Value of Genomic Testing

Is it likely that genomic testing will be more valued by North American, European and Oceana Holstein breeders, in ten years’ time? Looking ahead and planning is a good start to achieving profitable genetic goals for a herd and population. Let’s explore some thoughts and ideas about the future use of genomic testing in dairy cattle for herds focused on productivity and profit.

Current Scenario

The Annual Reports from the breeds show 6% (2017) of Canadian and 30% (2016) and 40% (20170of American Holsteins identified were genomically tested. Given those percentages, it shows that the majority of breeders with Holsteins do not value the information. For the other breeds the percentages are lower and, in some cases, almost non-existent. Given that the majority of American dairy animals are not identified with breed societies the use of genomic testing is very low.

If you or your family plan to be in the dairy business in a decade and proactively improving more than others do, when it comes to breeding superior cattle, will be a leg up. Moreover, when your children come home from college they will have the latest facts on genes and the DNA composition for the herd. With a herd genomically tested those children will be ready to hit the ground running when applying their knowledge to their chosen breeding program.

Currently There Are Seven BAD Reasons for Not Choosing Genomic Testing

This article does not plan to dwell on the past and the negatives however some positions are important to correct.

  1. Yes, the $38 to $45 seems costly but that only equates to three weeks raising cost for a heifer. Culling 5% of the heifers, the lowest ones, at 3 months of age will save twice the costs of testing. Culling the lowest 10% will save four times the cost.
  2. There is not the demand for surplus heifers that existed twenty years ago. Sexed semen, much improved heifer rearing and the rearing cost of $2,500 per heifer means that herd replacement programs, which are 15%-20% of total costs on dairy farms, are important to achieving a successful bottom line.
  3. It is true that, on average, the results of genomic testing may not differ greatly from parent average for total genetic merit (TPI, LPI, NM$, Pro$, JPI,..etc.). However, for 90% of the animals tested there be two, if not more, traits that are significantly different and that information will be very useful when making heifer mating decisions.
  4. It is true that when breeding for show ring type, genomically testing may not be of great help. But, when breeding for correct conformation, genomically testing is relatively (60-70%) accurate. Remember that less than 0.1% of heifers ever see the show ring in their lifetime.
  5. Although genomic testing results are most often quoted or promoted for heifers based on their total merit indexes (i.e. TPI or NM$), it is the component traits of the total merit indexes that are important when making breeding decisions. Component traits include yields, health, fertility, longevity, conformation and functional traits. The use and awareness of genomic indexes for all economically important traits would, today, be greatly enhanced, if breeds were to monthly provide top animal lists for all traits not just for TPI, LPI or JPI.
  6. Genomic indexes have been accepted for males as 70% of sires used have genomic but not proven sire indexes. Yet the female side of a mating is equally important to the male side so genomic testing of females should be equally important. Holstein USA is congratulated for initiating and providing genomic testing service programs in cooperation with its partners that are gaining in acceptance but they have yet to reach 40% usage by members.
  7. Breeders often mention that genomic testing is only for elite herds. However, that is just not true. For herds of average genetic merit, the opportunity to dramatically shift the herd average upwards is a definite possibility.

Which Is It – Cost or Benefit?

Most often genomic testing is regarded by breeders as an added cost. But what about the opportunity for added benefits that become available from having added information?

Here are some suggestions on how the $45 charge could be allocated to opportunities for benefits:

  • 100% Parent Verification                                                                      $5
  • Culling or Using as Recips the Lowest 10% of Indexed Heifers                 $20
  • Improved Accuracy for All Matings in a Female’s Lifetime                      $15
  • Building Larger, More Accurate Female Population Data Base                $5

Viewed that way the $45 presents valuable opportunities. The benefit approach is a return on investment. If the testing could be done for $25 it would be a giant step forward.

Nine Future Opportunities from Genomic Testing

The following list is by no means all-inclusive, but it is a start to some of the areas where genomic testing will most likely be used in the future. Our previously published article on epigenetics and nutrigenetics delved into some areas also (Read more: Forget Genomics – Epigenomics & Nutrigenomics are the Future and Epigenetics will be a Driver for Future Successful Dairying).

  1. Milk Products: Differences between animals in the fats and proteins they produce are sure to increase or decrease the value of the milk a cow produces. A2 milk has already caught consumer’s attention.
  2. Longer Animal Lifetimes: The surface has just been scratched on identifying animals that live longer and, thereby, produce higher lifetime profits.
  3. Disease Resistance: Animal diseases will be with the world for all time, so animals with immunity or that are capable of resisting diseases will be in demand.
  4. Feed Conversion: read our recent article on feed efficiency (Read more: The Genetics of Feed Efficiency in Dairy – Where are we at?,Should You Breed for Feed Efficiency?, and A Guide to Understanding How to Breed For Feed Efficiency and Fertility)
  5. Environmental Issues: Our dairy cows are temperate climate animals yet they are raised in hot humid areas and with global warming, animals will need the slickgeneor be able to live and produce in increasingly warmer climates.
  6. Less Labor and Automation: With less individual care and with more cow-machine interactions our dairy cattle will need to be able to operate effectively with machines.
  7. Herd Replacements: 15-18% of total herd costs are associated with rearing replacements. Yet few herds capture complete heifer data that can be used for determining the genetic traits on heifers. Through genomic testing it should be able to know more about calf disease resistance/immunity, growth, feed conversion, age at first heat and many more traits.
  8. Animal Mobility: Lack of mobility and lameness are major on-farm and animal welfare issues. By genomic testing and animal monitoring, it should be possible to identify the most mobile animals.
  9. Cow Fertility: The corner has been turned through analyzing farm reproduction data and associating it with genomic results. Great advances in cow fertility have been made in the past decade. Expect more improvement from further use of genomic information, especially as it relates to animals under stress.

Genomic evaluations are now going global. On June 1stInterbull, on June 1st, announced the launch of GenoEx-PSE as a service to internationally rate animals, based on genomic information. As well, we may see new breeds being developed that take the best genes from various breeds, as determined by genomic results. This could lead to developing animals that meet specific needs, environments, agriculture practices and response to new diseases. Breeders themselves or A.I. breeding companies will use genomic results to breed the best dairy cattle for the future. Genomic testing will be a must do in the same way that feed ingredient balancing, vaccination, continual animal monitoring and customer milk product guarantees are.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

If a breeder has not been genomically testing their herd, the time to start is now.  Every breed society can advise on the services available. Genomic testing needs to be viewed as an investment rather than a cost.

One reason people resist change is because they focus on what they have to give up instead of what they have to gain. (Rick Godwin)



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The Genetics of Feed Efficiency in Dairy – Where are we at?

Feeding dairy animals has gone from least cost to balanced rations to now where Income Over Feed Costs is king on a herd basis. Producers are now wanting to know which animals are the more efficient at converting feed to growth or milk. Since feed intake in dairy cattle has been considered to be too costly to measure, progeny testing programs have not provided sire daughter feed efficiency indexes.

Breeders want more for less. More growth and more milk from less feed. In this article, The Bullvine do an overview on where the genetics of feed efficiency is at.

Why is Feed Efficiency Important?

With feed costs being 50-60% of the total cost for the milking herd and an even higher percentage for calves, heifers and dry cows, it means that the managers of tomorrow need answers on the genetic side of feed efficiency to help attain future success. The margins in dairy farming are narrow and are likely to remain so into the future. Genetics, along with other disciplines, need to advance efficiencies.  Of course, this not just a “cow” issue, it is also a crop production, harvest, storage and processing issue.

 In other livestock industries, poultry, swine and beef, the genetics of feed efficiency has become a must-have. Dairy is behind in using genetics to advance feed conversion efficiency.

In dollars, saving $0.25 in feed costs per animal per day without reducing income, amounts to $83,500 per year for a 600-cow herd, that milks 500, has up to 100 dry cows and raises their own heifers as herd replacements. That’s not pocket change and if by genetic selection that $83,500 can be achieved – that’s significant.

Tracking Feed Efficiency

Many ways of tracking feed intake have been tried by researchers and companies to monitor animals. They include dry matter intake (DMI), residual feed intake (RFI), feed saved, time at the feed bunk, head movements during feeding, rumination activity and the use of novel electronic devices. But none, as yet, have been found to be the answer to the question – “Which sires produce the daughters that take less feed to produce the same milk revenue?”

Current State of Public Research Results

Dr. Kent Weigel (University of Wisconsin-Madison) on March 24, 2018 presented a very comprehensive report to the Northeast (Cornell) Dairy Production Medicine Symposium on a three-country dairy feed efficiency project (eleven research institutions with nine from the United States, one from Canada and one from The Netherlands) that analyzed numerous research projects and in each project the cows’ intake and performance.  A synopsis of the facts that he reported include:

  • The RFI data available, on approximately 8,000 cows, is not enough to provide accurate sire proofs. Heritability was found to be 19%, but the reliability of sire indexes is only 20-25%. Many, many more cow feed intake records are needed to go along with production and other data.
  • DMI information is closely associated with level of production and cow size but it is not a good indicator of the genetic ability of a sire’s daughters for saving feed costs without altering yield.
  • The ‘feed saved’ research results from Australia provide an interesting concept but, there again, much more data is needed, in order to provide sire genetic indexes.
  • To get to the point of sire genomic indexes for feed efficiency will take time. First of all, a broad-based reference population is needed. Breeders are accustomed to genomic indexes being 65%-75% REL, so the current 20-25% REL for feed efficiency is not high enough.
  • Currently high and low feed efficient cow families have been identified with some level of confidence. So there is progress being made in arriving at useful information.
  • The three country international project, studying dairy cow feed efficiency, will continue including trying out new measurements and devices but breeders cannot expect answers any time soon.

General Recommendation by A. I. for Selecting Sires for Feed Efficiency

The general recommendation from A.I. for breeders who want to move their herds forward, genetically, for feed efficiency has been that they place emphasis on sires with higher fat and protein yield indexes but that also only have average to below average size/frames proofs. National total merit indexes and A.I. stud composite indexes (TPI, NM$, JPI, LPI, Pro$, ICC$, …) usually only place about 50% of their emphasis on those three traits, so changing a herd genetically for feed efficiency will not occur quickly. And it will only occur if the top-ranked sires for those three traits are used extensively to sire the next generation.

Four Organization are Stepping Out and Publishing Feed Efficiency Sire Ratings

There are four organizations that are publishing sire ratings for feed efficiency. A closer look at their information, currently available to breeders, follows:

Holstein US Predicts Feed Efficiency by Using Other Genetic Indexes

All sires on Holstein US various sire listings contain a ‘FE’ (feed efficiency) column. It is an estimate of the net profit a milk producer can expect to receive. Factors included in ’FE’ are: dollar value of extra milk produced, feed costs of the extra milk and extra maintenance costs for large cows. This is the formula that Holstein US uses:

FE = (-0.0187 x Milk) + (1.28 x Fat) + (1.95 x Protein) – (12.4 x Body Weight Composite)

Table 1 – Top FE Proven Holstein Sires

Bull NAAB Code           FE*          Milk            Fat     Protein Body WC          SCS             PL             FI          PTAT           TPI          NM$
1. Josuper 29HO16553 260 3442 114 98 1 2.83 6.1 -0.1 1.42 2806 998
2. Princeton 1HO11881 252 2669 107 84 -0.16 2.77 3.9 -4.6 1.7 2562 842
3. Denver 151HO0690 240 2365 108 76 0.15 2.99 2.5 -0.3 2.14 2695 787
4. Peterpan 7HO12255 235 2226 108 75 0.62 2.96 2.2 -1.5 1.02 2459 708
5. Cabriolet 1HO10396 234 1064 101 53 -1.73 2.89 6.2 1 -0.03 2562 895
6. Maguire 7HO12256 230 1580 116 61 0.62 2.76 3.9 -1.9 1.39 2553 805
AVG Top 15 FE Sires 228 1972         101** 69 -0.09 2.87 4.6          -0.5** 1.54 2625 826
AVG Top 15 TPI Sires 206 1961          86** 68 -0.01 2.86 4.9          0.9** 1.82 2655 807

* Data Source – Holstein US Official Top 100 TPI List of Proven Sires (April ’18)
** Top 15 sires for FE and TPI differ significantly in averages for fat yield (Fat) and fertility (FI). FE sire are superior for fat yeild but inferior for fertilty. As well TPI sires have somewhat higher type (PTAT).

In Table 1 the only points of difference between the Top 15 FE and TPI sires are in the traits FE, Fat Yield, and FI (fertility index). The FE sires are inferior to the TPI sires for fertility (FI), but superior for FE and Fat Yield.

It is worth noting that a feed efficiency index in this context has no direct measurement of feed intake.

Select Sires Uses Indexes and Designates Sires as FeedPRO®

Select Sires identifies the top 20% of their sire lineups as FeedPRO® Sires. The purpose of this selection tool is to highlight sires for producers who are concerned about feed costs and want to improve overall profitability. FeedPRO® is based on US and UK research that found that production, body traits, body condition score and daughter fertility accounted for 90% of the difference in feed intake between animals. Sires that qualify are designated as FeedPRO® Sires but are not assigned an independent index.

Third party researcher reviews were sought by Select Sires in FeedPRO®’s development. Dr Chad Dechow (Penn State) in his analysis found the “FeedPRO® Sires have an advantage, on average, of $0.13 to $0.18 (USA$) per day in income over feed cost when compared to the average active A.I. sire”.

Table 2 – Top SSI FeedPRO® Holstein & Jersey Sires ranked by NM$

Bull NAAB Code          NM$         Milk          Fat     Protein           PL          DPR        PTAT         TPI Codes
(Holstein Proven Sires Designated FeedPRO® )*
Modesty 7HO12600 927 1012 90 56 6.7 1.3 1.93 2748  
Yoder 7HO12266 863 1243 107 53 5.1 -0.3 1.9 2690    A2A2
Jedi 7HO13250 825 2480 70 82 6.5 1.6 2.02 2716  
Tetris 7HO11985 793 2074 90 64 5.6 -0.7 0.69 2526  
Trenton 7HO13094 782 495 79 48 6.7 0 1.56 2562    A2A2
Montross 7HO12165 781 2910 80 85 4.1 -0.5 1.94 2641    A2A2
All 16 Designated Sires* 740 1542 73 56 5.3 0.7 1.41 2546  
(Jersey Proven Sires Designated FeedPRO® )*           JPI  
Chrome 7JE5004 539 1143 71 43 4 -0.9 2.3 180  
Jammer 7JE1254 493 1232 71 34 3.9 -0.7 0.7 139  
All 4 Designated Sires* 481 956 68 39 3.2 -0.7 1.43 150  

* Only the top 20% of SSI sires according to more income from less feed, high production, moderate size, long-term fitness and productivity are designated FeedPRO® 
** Note: These FeedPRO® sires always high high production and longevity but are variable for fertility and type.

The sires listed in Table 2 are among the current top sires that Select Sires has available based on the TPI and NM$ ranking systems.

Table 3 – Correlation of FeedPRO® and Other Indexes.

    Milk     Fat    Protein       NM$      TPI
0.54 0.7 0.7 0.91 0.9

* Data Source – Select Sires Inc Program Description for FeedPRO®

These correlations are moderately high. They show that FeedPRO® is aggressively selecting for increased production, but still, it identifies a noticeably different group of sires at the very top of the lists.

CRV Uses Genetic Indexes and Feed Intakes to Predict Lifetime Efficiency, and Feed Saved

CRV partnered with Wageningen Livestock Research to develop a large dataset of genotyped cows with individual feed intake measurements and then conducted the genetic analysis. From the results of this work CRV has developed two indexes relating to efficiency:

  1. a) ‘Better Life Efficiency’ – Its main components included the breeding values for fat yield, protein yield, longevity and feed intake. CRV has determined that, across a genotyped cow population of >60,000 cows, the top 25% of cows for life efficiency produced over 13,000 kgs. more milk per lifetime than the poorest 25% of cows. Ratings are published for every bull of every breed.  and
  2. b) ‘Saved Feed for Maintenance’ – Cows with a positive breeding value for Saved Feed for Maintenance need less than an average amount of feed for their body maintenance and therefore convert feed into milk more efficiently. This breeding value indicates how much feed (in kg dry matter per day) is saved because the cow is more efficient than average. It has been added to the Dutch/Flemish total merit index, NVI.

Table 4 – Top BLE (and SFM) Sires

US Sires
Sire Name and Code/ID BLE**    SFM***  F + P (lbs)         NM$           PL         DPR
1. Nash 97HO41910 19 0.64 130 877 7.4 0.8
2. Ligero 97HO61744 19 1.22 145 811 5.3 0.6
3. Dirk 97HO41786 17 0.76 117 763 5.7 2.1
4. Shero 97HO41974 16 -0.33 129 841 7.6 2.4
5. Audible 97HO41830 15 0.48 170 846 4.4 -0.4
6. Exclusive 97HO41855 14 0.89 117 820 6.7 3.1
Netherland Sires
Sire Name    BLE**    SFM***  F+P (kgs) Longevity   Fertiltiy  
1. Monaco NL937658659 25 1.77 167 847 97  
2. Empire NL729539557 18 0.85 123 1195 104  
3. Jethro NL872395552 18 1.07 141 855 101  
4. Locker NL872395552 18 1.05 138 832 102  
5. Treasure NL946221484 17 0.52 103 1248 108  
6. Smiley RC DE0539391976 14 0.82 114 932 102  

* Feed Efficiency has two indexes composing it – Beter Life  Efficiency and Saved Feed for Maintenance
** Better Life Efficiency uses the genetic indexes for fat yield, protein yield, longevity andfeed intake.
*** Saved Feed for Mantenance is the feed saved expressed in kg dry matter pe day
Longevity is expressed in days of productive life
Fertility has average value of 100 and STD Dev of 5.

The CRV sires in Table 4 give breeders a variety of pedigrees to choose from and are high production rated.

STgenetics Conducts Progeny Tests for Feed Intake and Performance to Predict Feed Efficiency

STgenetics has been capturing individual animal feed intake information for the extensive group of heifers and cows they own or control. From that feed intake data, along with all genetic indexes and DNA profiles, they have developed a program called ‘EcoFeed™’.

EcoFeed™ is more than simple feed efficiency for milking cows. It is a continuously growing database that monitors the animal’s growth and productivity throughout its entire lifetime from calves, to heifers, to milking cows. Feed efficient animals are expected to use fewer feed resources and convert feed more efficiently while creating less waste, manure, methane and CO2 per unit of production. All of these outcomes should greatly assist in making future dairying more viable, more sustainable and an environmentally friendly industry.

Some of the key components of EcoFeed™ sire indexing include: 1) it is a multi-factor efficiency index that encompasses the entire lifespan of a cow; 2) it is based on modern technology that measures daily individual animal consumption; 3) it includes a progeny testing program, the gold standard of dairy cattle genetic indexing; and 4) once proven, STgenetics sires reach high levels of reliability for EcoFeed™.

STgenetics reports that “To qualify as an EcoFeed™ sire, a bull’s progeny must be genomically tested and complete feed efficiency testing.  Ecofeed™ rankings are based on a 100 base system where every five points, over 100, equals one pound less feed that a sire’s progeny can be expected to consume each day while producing the same amount of milk as their peers.”

Table 5 –  Top Six ST genetics EcoFeed™ Progeny Tested Holstein Sires

Sire NAAB Code EcoFeed EcoFeed REL Milk Fat Protein BWC SCS PL FI PTAT FE TPI NM$ Codes
1. Charismatic 513HO03092 118 69% 850 81 27 -0.44 2.8 6 0.5 1.6 146 2468 709  
2. Comanche 147HO00500 115 53% 704 85 26 -0.67 2.94 5.7 1.1 0.88 155 2390 689  
3. Author 151HO00628 107 42% 543 35 32 1.25 2.92 1.3 1.3 1.69 82 2180 375  
4. Detour 513HO03091 106 64% 1342 73 51 -0.81 2.77 5.6 1.4 1.61 178 2596 795   A2A2
5. Missouri 147HO02462 106 44% 1888 52 54 -1.15 2.68 5.6 0.3 1.74 151 2487 707  
6. Mador 151HO00664 106 43% 1968 36 40 0 2.91 2.3 -1.1 1.91 87 2177 402  
15 Sires with REL >40% 106 53% 1187 62 40 0.02 2.81 4.9 1.1 1.52 134 2415 630  3 are A2A2

1. EcoFeed™ reliabilities are only moderate compared to other traits but they are double the reliabilities for other FE rating systems. As more research is conducted and more animal data is captured, the reliabilitites will increase.
2. Production and longevity focused dairy breeders want productive, fertile, longer lived and moderate sized cows.  The averages for fat, protein, BWC, SCS , PL and FI of the EcoFeed™ sires all should assist in achieving breeders needs.

In Table 5 full brothers, Charismatic and Comanche, stand out ahead of other STgenetics sires for EcoFeed™. Both have good reliabilities with considerable daughter information included, and neither is yet four years old. It appears that the story has just begun for EcoFeed™ sire indexing given that, every week,  STgenetics captures more feed intake and performance data on milking first lactation cows.

Table 6 ST’s correlations table

         TPI         NM$         CM$        Milk          Fat     Protein          PL         DPR         FE
0.02 -0.01 -0.01 0.06 -0.01 0.06 -0.05 -0.08 0.01

* Data Source – ST Genetics information materials

Table 6 reports no correlations between EcoFeed™ and other traits. We would not have expected that as Table 3 shows moderate to high correlations for FeedPRO® with other traits. But when we consider that EcoFeed™is more than just feed efficiency, it may not be as surprising as it first appears. Definitely, breeders will be following the research that STgenetics is doing on lifetime efficiency. It should be noted that the concept of lifetime efficiency is also what CRV bases its ‘Better Life Efficiency’ index on.

 The Bullvine Bottom Line

It is very encouraging to see that organizations have recognized the need to put weight on feed efficiency in their genetic programs.  The potential for increased profit is thereby using genetic indexes to save on feed costs.

 Now is the time for all dairy breeders to study the matter of feed efficiency sire indexing and decide how they will incorporate it into their breeding program. Dairy cattle breeders must use feed efficiency sire ratings now (2018-2019) for milk producers to be able to benefit tomorrow.





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You get what you select for – Know The Facts For Breeding Healthier Cattle

In cattle breeding, the saying goes “You get what you select for”. Another saying is “The birds eventually come home to roost”. Both these saying have come true for the dairy cattle breeding industry over the past seventy years. Breeders selected for ever-increasing milk yield, increased stature and frame and udders held high off the ground. As a result, today, cows produce almost three times more milk, they are about 5-6” taller and weigh 30% more and udder depth, under good management, is not the problem it once was for machine milking.

However, with that focused attention on those attributes came: 1) lower and lower conception in milking cows; 2) less healthy animals of all ages; 3) more difficult calvings followed by less vigor in new borns; 4) an increase in heritable defects; 5) feet and mobility problems in housed animals; and 6) … the list goes on. Unknowingly, at least in Holsteins, the bloodlines used as parents for the next generation, up to now, have carried health and functional problems that breeders have only gradually become aware of.

Change In Breeding Approach

The turning point in the downward slide for an improved functional cow came when breeders said, “That’s Enough”. They were seeing too many on-farm issues that were robbing them of some hard-earned increased profit. In the past couple of decades, breeds, genetic evaluation centers and A.I. organizations have commenced to produce information on calving ease, SCC, fertility, likeability, temperament, milking speed and some more traits. But the breeders’ needs for health information on a genetic basis has been largely ignored. It was said … it could not be addressed.

Breeding the ‘disposable cow’ (aka calve her in once and don’t be concerned if she ever calves again), has become unacceptable because of the current low farm gate milk price, the high cost of rearing replacement cows and the decreased revenue from the sale of breeding stock. Increased labor costs and many other factors also demand that attention be paid to traits long ignored.

Having said that there is good news. Breeds, A.I. organizations, genetic evaluation centers and private breeding companies have gathered on-farm data for health issues and are generating genetic values for health traits.  Some of this information has been available and some is coming available now.

Information to Assist with Breeding for Health Traits

In North America, CDCB, Zoetis, CDN and A.I companies have been putting considerable resources into researching and analyzing animal health data. The outcome is genetic indexes for health traits. Some of the ones recently announced are as follows:

CDCB – New Health Traits

Over the past two years CDCB have added genetic indexes for cow livability (LIV) and gestation length (GL) and in April ’18 will be adding the following sire health indexes (Source -New Genetic Evaluations for Health Traits –

  • Hypocalcemia
  • Displaced Abomasum
  • Ketosis
  • Mastitis Resistance
  • Metritis
  • Retained Placenta

CDCB/AIPL-USDA is currently doing further research and plans to appropriately incorporate these health indexes into the NM$ formula in the future.

Zoetis – Focuses on Health/Wellness

Zoetis has been publishing sire indexes for WT$ and DWP$ for a while now. Interestingly, it has just announced the addition of genomic-based measurements for three calf-wellness traits – livability, respiratory disease and scours to its Clarifide® Plus service. (Source – Wellness Is Now A Profitable Choice – Clarifide® Plus/Ultra Plus –

The end result will be an expanded DWP$ index for ranking sires that places the following weights on cow and calf traits:

  • Calf Wellness                 8%
  • Cow Wellness 25%
  • Cow Production 32%
  • Cow function/Type 10%
  • Cow Longevity 19%
  • Reproduction                 6%

CDN – Health Indexes

In 2016, CDN added a combined health index to its already extensive list of genetic indexes. This combined index is for the following three metabolic diseases (MDR) – clinical ketosis, sub-clinical ketosis and displaced abomasum. Then in Dec ’17 CDN released an additional wellness genetic index for digital dermatitis (DD). All CDN indexes, including the presence of any haplotypes, can be found for individual animal at

Other Organizations Also Publish Health Indexes

A.I. organizations often publish health/wellness indexes including Semex’s Immunity+® (reference TBV’s article on Immunity+®).  All breeders need to do is ask their semen sales rep or go to the A.I. website for health indexes on sires.

For some time now, New Zealand, the Nordic countries and the EU have been publishing genetic indexes for the cows best suited to their environments and for health traits. Breeders interested in knowing more about the genetics for health traits in those regions can search out details by going to their national data sites or Interbull.

What Have Breeders Been Doing – Health Indexes for Most Used Sires

Sire ratings for health/wellness traits are not universally available so, until now, breeders have not been able to eliminate from consideration sires that rank below average for those traits. However, The Bullvine was able to obtain from Holstein US and Holstein Canada the list of sires with the most registered daughters and we thought breeders would be interested in knowing sire averages for the health/wellness traits.  We have chosen to study the fifteen proven sires with the most registered daughters as proven sire lists remain relatively constant month to month and they are the ones which breeders have the most information on. The fact is that breeders are now using daughter proven sires only about 35-40% of the time, but the list of sires with only genomic indexes changes monthly and a base group is not as easily identified.

Table 1 – Health Indexes – 15 Most Used Proven US Holstein Sires*

Trait ** Average Index Index Range
Mastitis Resistance 97 86 – 108
Lameness 97 89 – 110
Displaced Abomasum 101 88 – 108
Retained Placenta 102 92 – 111
Ketosis 102 87 – 109
Metritis 102 93 – 109

Data Sources
* Holstein US April ’82 “Registry Activity Bulls”
** Wellness Traits – Zoetis (12/2017) – Average 100 & Std Dev’n 5

A synopsis of Table 1 is that: 1) the most used US proven Holstein sires were below average for both mastitis resistance and lameness; 2) 38% of the time for the six metabolic diseases, the sire rating was below average; and 3) only 17% of the time was the sire ratings in the top 33% (above 105) of the breed. 38% of sire ratings below average and only 17% of sire ratings above +1 standard deviation means that genetic progress is not occurring. US purebred Holstein breeders will need to change their sire selection choices if they plan to genetically improve their herds for metabolic diseases.

Table 2 – Health Indexes – 15 Most Used Proven Canadian Sires*

Trait** Average Index Index Range
Mastitis Resistance 105 102 – 111
Metabolic Diseases 99 94 – 104
Digital Dermatitis 103 97 – 111

Data Sources
* Based of Holstein Canada 2017 Registrations
** CDN (12/2017) Average 100 & Std Dev’n 5

A synopsis of Table 2 is that: 1) Canada’s most used proven sires were, on average, just below average (99) for metabolic diseases; 2) 18% of the time for the three diseases the sire rating was below average; 3) 31% of the time sire ratings were in the top 33% (above 105) of the breed; and 4) Canadian Holstein breeders have paid attention to mastitis resistance in their sire selections. The picture may not appear to be as negative for purebred Canadian Holstein breeders, but remember that the Canadian stats do not include lameness, metritis and hypocalcemia.

The take home message is that breeders need these new genetic health/wellness indexes to breed an even more profitable cow.

Sires Rank Differently Depending On Total Merit Index

As sire ratings for health/wellness are not universally published and used, The Bullvine thought it would of interest to its readers to compare the top WT$ sires to their indexes for other total merit indexes. Listed below (Table 3) is that comparison.

Table 3 – Sire Index Comparisons – Top 10 WT$ Proven Holstein Sires (12/2017)

Rank WT$ Sire (NAAB Code) DWP$ Rank TPI Rank NM$ Rank
#1 269 Penley (7HO12357) 1039 #2 2495 #81 694 #100
#2 248 Zyke (14HO07387) 1014 #4 2506 #68 707 #99
#3 235 Lights Out (7HO12183) 914 #19 2389 <#100 608 <#100
#4 227 AltaLeaf (11HO11478) 1159 #1 2689 #8 816 #20
#5 216 Coman (14HO07288) 739 #71 2267 <#100 489 <#100
#6 206 Jabir (200HO3877) 713 #85 2279 <#100 459 <#100
#7 201 Rennie (7HO11833) 1001 #8 2468 <#100 746 #57
#8 197 AltaEntry (11HO11448) 1005 #7 2461 <#100 752 #52
#9 196 Mirror (200HO6461) 598 <#100 2101 <#100 355 <#100
#10 194 Lets Go (566HO1162) 311 <#100 1920 <#100 100 <#100

A few points stand out from Table 3: 1) Only AltaLeaf is in the top twenty sires for all of WT$, DWP#, TPI and NM$; 2) Penley and Zyke do very well for health/wellness but only make #68 – #100 for TPI and NM$; 3) only three of the top 10 WT$ sires crack the top 100 for TPI; and 4) only half of the top 10 WT$ sires are in the top 100 NM$ sires.

If breeders choose to put more emphasis on health/wellness traits they will need to forego some of the emphasis they have placed on production and type in the past.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Selection using genetic indexes for health/wellness traits is only in its infancy in North American Holsteins. Of course, the reliabilities for the health/wellness traits will not match (only 2/3 as accurate) the reliabilities for the genetic indexes for production and type. However, breeders will now have information to use in selecting sires for many health/wellness traits.

The Bullvine strongly advises breeders to study the health/wellness traits that their herd needs genetic improvement in and to use only sires that are in the top 25% of the breed for the health/wellness traits they have identified (i.e. above 106 for displaced abomasum).




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Why Inbreeding is a good thing!

Much has been written and talked about in the global dairy cattle breeding industry on the need to avoid inbreeding. The focus has been on the negatives resulting from mating related animals. These negatives can include reduced fertility and lower disease resistance. In cows, this may mean health issues and thereby reduced profitability. For calves, it can be both health and livability issues.

Breeders are focused on genetic advancement and using the very best sires. In the last decade, two things have raised the attention paid to inbreeding and its possible negative effects. First is the extensive use of genomically evaluated related animals, which eliminated lower ranked unrelated animals as breeding parents. Secondly, which is a result of the first, is the much more rapid turning over of generations. All this has led to breeders often searching sire listings for lower ranked ‘outcross’ sires to avoid the negatives.

Let’s review inbreeding in dairy cattle and look at the possibilities for the future when mating related animals.

A Quick Review


Inbreeding is the mating of related animals. In dairy cattle, this can be mating half-brother and half-sister and often as close as first or second cousins matings.

Current Inbreeding Levels:   

In US Holsteins: (1) Four of the top five proven TPI sires all have the sire stack Mogul x Robust x Planet; (2) Fifteen of the top twenty-five proven TPI sires are sons of Mogul; (3) Proven TPI sires #1, #3 and #5 are Mogul sons out of Miss OCD Robst Delicious; (4) Delicious also has a Cashcoin son at #11 TPI; (5) Of the top twenty-five proven NM$ sires ten are Mogul sons, and eight are Supersire sons; and (6) So Mogul and Robust are close-up in the pedigree of 72% of the top proven NM$ sires.

In Jerseys, one sire does not dominate, but Implus, Berretta, and Duncan Belle breeding appear in many proven North American Jersey sires (Read more – Jersey Sire Usage: What Bulls Are Breeders Actually Using).

Inbreeding levels are increasing in North America in all breeds.

Table 1 – Inbreeding %’s – US Dairy Breeds – 1967-2017*

Year   Ayrshire Brown Swiss Guernsey   Holstein      Jersey
1967 0.46 0.46 0.53 0.69 0.29
1977 2.49 1.02 1.26 1.31 1.58
1987 4.02 2.24 2.79 2.56 3.01
1997 5.18 3.72 4.76 5.31 4.09
2007 5.76 5.43 6.24 6.77 5.56
2017 6.81 6.88 7.63 7.78 7.16

* Source: CDCB Files. Based on 1960 being 0% Inbreeding.

 Table 2 – Inbreeding Level and Change in Average Inbreeding by Canadian Dairy Breeds*

Avg % Inbred  -2016 Avg Annual Increase in % Inbred
Breed   1970-1980 1980-1990 1990-2000 2000-2010 2010-2016
Ayrshire 6.43 0.24 0.2 0.06 0 0.15
BrownSwiss 6.96 0.07 0.26 0.12 0.12 0.08
Canadienne 9.71 0.16 0.22 0.3 0.19 0.13
Guernsey 6.45 0.06 0.12 0.15 0.22 -0.1
Holstein 7.34 0.11 0.09 0.26 0.08 0.22
Jersey 6.36 0.15 0.08 0.13 0.06 0.06
Shorthorn 2.54 0.01 0.02 0.28 -0.14 0.06

* Source: CDN Files. Based on Females Born in Canada since 1970.

The increase is 1 to 2 % every ten years.

Once not a Concern: 

Before breeder co-ops providing artificial insemination service (approximately 1940), inbreeding was not a matter that garnered much attention. But A.I. was followed by frozen semen, genetic index based young sire sampling programs, E.T., IVF, semen sexing and genomic indexing. All of these contributed to narrowed breed gene pools in the current dairy cattle populations, especially in North America.  However, on a global basis, a broad pool of genes in dairy animals still exists in the form of frozen semen and embryos. It should be noted that it is not just the introduction of genomic, genetic evaluations that can be centered out for increasing the levels of inbreeding.

It is All About Looking Forward Not Backwards:

Breeders can find individual animal inbreeding coefficients (%INB) readily available on-line at breeds, GE centers and A.I. companies based on pedigree, aka looking backwards.  But when making a mating, it is all about the inbreeding coefficient of the resulting progeny, aka looking forward. Modern mating programs take into consideration the inbreeding level of the resulting progeny when making sire recommendations.

Other Details:

Seven points of interest relative to inbreeding include:

  • Linebreeding is based on making matings tracing back to a specific common animal and is a form of inbreeding. It has been used for generations by breeders to stamp good genes into a herd. However, it also can stamp in the not so good genes that the common ancestor may have.
  • The published inbreeding coefficients for animals can be one of the following: (a) pedigree-based (%INB); (b) future based that considers animals in the population in the future (EFI); and (c) genomic (gene) based that starts with EFI and adds in the DNA makeup of an animal. The latter one will become more commonly used in the future.
  • The breeding families used to produce North American Holsteins A.I. sires over the past fifty years had superior production and type but were too often inferior for fertility traits including calving ease. As a result, the concentration of the breeding lines, by the 2000’s, resulted in major breed problems for inbreeding and infertility in milking cows.  Cows that do not retain body condition score after calving often crash when it comes to conceiving when bred.
  • Conversely, until this decade, in Jerseys, the cow families used had very good fertility and even though inbreeding increased the fertility did not suffer, at least as much as it did in Holsteins.
  • To overcome the negatives of inbreeding, some breeders either: (a) alternated sires from diverse families that they used in their herds; or (b) used sires from other breeds. The latter group of breeders were more concerned about the effects of inbreeding than they were on maintaining breed purity. However, a large proportion of breeders were not concerned about inbreeding, and so they mated related animals.
  • A high percent of females are not genomically evaluated, and as a result, it is not possible for mating programs to factor in genomic information on inbreeding when making mating recommendations.
  • I. companies are now either not entering into a stud or openly reporting sires that are known to be carriers of a group of haploids, often associated with embryonic death or lower fertility. Breeders are protected from some of the negatives associated with inbreeding.

Planning for Positive Outcomes from Inbreeding

Improving a population so that only the most desired genotype occurs is something dairy cattle breeders aim to do for all traits under selection. Both constructive breeding and inbreeding can be used to achieve that end. When a single locus is involved in expressing a trait, the goal is to have both loci on the two-gene pair be identical (homozygous).

Some homozygous and desired genotype examples readily known to breeders include: PP polled; BB kappa casein for increased cheese yield; A2A2 beta casein thought to improve milk digestion by humans and bb red coat color (where BB and Bb are black).

For over a century corn breeders have inbred lines and then crossed the inbred lines to produce the superior corn we have today. The same applies to poultry breeding. Inbreeding is the foundation of their programs.

Of interest to dairy cattle, breeders will be the fact that it has been recently determined that the DGAT1 gene is a major determinant of milk fat percent (DGAT = diglyceride acyltransferase). And in addition to fat percent, in a 2007 study by A Schennink and Associates found that DGAT1 gene accounted for about half of the fat composition attributed to genetic variation that was present in the animals they studied. In humans, DGAT1 is important in triglyceride synthesis and essential for intestinal absorption. Having animals homozygous for DGAT may be one way to increase the rate of genetic advancement for both fat percent and yield.

Just think about what breeders can expect to learn in the next five to ten years on the effect of genes. Inbreeding can be one tool to fix the desired genes in a population and eliminate the undesired gene. If that is the case, there would be no need to insert certain genes or to edit genes, both of which may not pass the consumer acceptance test. Simply use inbreeding to get the job done.

Canadian Research into Inbreeding

Dr. Christine Baes, named in 2017 as the Semex-CDN-Holstein Canada Professor in Dairy Genomics at the University of Guelph, recently told The Bullvine about the focus of her and her associate’s research into the understanding of the genetic architecture of North American dairy cows. Part of their plan is to study the use of inbreeding to advantage. Another interesting part of their study also involves how many generations the desired genotype has been fixed in an animal’s ancestry. Dr. Baes terms this as determining the “run of homozygosity “or ROH.  It sounds like we can expect to learn much from this study including how to get to and maintain the most desired genotypes.

The first report on this Guelph research was reported to the October 2017 CDN OIS Presentation – “Examining Genomic Inbreeding and Homozygosity in North American Holsteins.”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Even though our industry has traditionally thought of inbreeding in negative terms, apart from linebreeding, there are positives in using inbreeding to fix the desired genes in our dairy cattle.  The bottom line at this point is to stay tuned as further research takes place throughout the world on gene effects and then how inbreeding can be used as one of the tools to eliminate the undesired gene and have only the desired gene in our cattle.


Suntor Holsteins – Breeding Goals Revisited

Many factors can lead herd owners to change their breeding goals. They may have bred to participate in shows but haven’t got their animals placed near or at the top of the class. Perhaps their herd is not producing enough milk or milk solids. Others may find that their herd needs to be genetically better for health and fertility reasons.  It could be that the next generation of owners has decided to go a different route in dairy farming. Whatever the reason the implementation of a new selection scheme, with the same breed or by using cross breeding, takes a plan with defined goals in mind.

Suntor Holsteins, Ormstown Quebec, has reached the point where changes are being made in their breeding program. Recently, The Bullvine produced an article on the planning and building of new housing and robotic stall milking at Suntor (Suntor Holsteins – New Baby, New Robot, New Perspective). This article will cover the thoughts of Kevin Sundborg as he decides on the direction of Suntor’s future breeding program.

Suntor’s Past Breeding Program

As described in the previous article, Suntor has been housed in a typical Canadian tie stall barn and has won two Master Breeders Shields. That was after Fred and Ruth Sundborg had started with a grade Holstein herd in 1973 and were fully purebred by 1981. If a proven bull did not leave high type daughters, he did not get used in the Suntor herd and only young sires from high type families were sampled in the herd. Kevin, who is Fred (herd founder) and Ruth’s son and the current co-owner with wife Amanda, told the Bullvine that back in those days, “the goal was to get VG 2year-olds producing 80 lbs at their peak because that is what got the attention of cattle buyers and other breeders”.

Now move forward to the 1990s when TPI and LPI were created.  Initially both these total merit indexes placed approximately 50:50 emphasis on type and production. Suntor adopted the use of LPI when selecting sires both proven (70%) and unproven (30%). With time LPI placed 40:60 emphasis on type and production. When health and fertility traits were added to the LPI, Suntor again followed the breed recommended LPI and considered production, type and health/fertility when selecting sires.

Why Breeding Needs Have Changed

It’s now 2017 and Suntor has two robots milking their herd and Kevin and Amanda have plans for 80 cows producing 140 kgs of fat per day. It does not matter that a first calf heifer is not 60” tall or that she needs to be stylish, but it does matter how much high-quality milk she produces. It also matters that she is fertile and goes about her work without creating issues that require Suntor owners’ attention.

These factors have resulted in Suntor commencing to use sires with a different mix of attributes than the sires that they had used in the past.

New Ideal Young Cow

Kevin described to The Bullvine two first calf heifers currently in their herd. One is 61” tall and the classifier scored her VG86 with a shallow VG87 udder. She is producing 37 kgs (81 lbs) of 3.7%F 3.0%P milk after calving at 25 months. The other heifer is 57” tall, classified GP80, has a GP80 udder, has excellent mobility, and will produce 13,000 kgs of 4.0%F, 3.3%P milk in 305 days after calving at 22 months. In Kevin’s words – “In the past we would have preferred the first heifer, but now we also appreciate the second heifer as well. Today Kevin and Amanda are finding that the robots had no trouble in milking the second heifer and her moderate frame size means a lower body maintenance requirement for feed. Her excellent mobility greatly improves her chances of a long trouble-free life in their free stall-robot operation. (Read More – She ain’t pretty she just milks that way)

Based on what Kevin is seeing in the cows that do the best job in their new set-up, he has modified his sire selection criteria. He says he still wants balanced cows and has added good milking speed, positive indexes for wellness traits and high component production to his must haves in the sires he uses.

Other Breeders Have an Ideal for Young Cows

But Kevin is not the only breeder to be breeding for a different type of young cow than they did in the past.

Alan Andersen of the well-known SeaGull Bay Dairy in Idaho considers their ideal first calver to be 54-56” tall, classifying GP80-82 with an udder capable of producing 110+ lbs of milk (3x) per day. They want cows that will breed back on 1st or 2nd service and have zero health or metabolic problems. The Andersen Family milks 2,400 cows, 25% Holsteins and 75% crossbreds (Holstein x Montbeliarde x Viking Red).  Their Holsteins must keep up with the crossbred for fertility, health and longevity. The picture below is one of their first calvers, 6-7 months fresh, that classified GP81 (2yr). She represents that kind of Holstein young cow that SeaGull Bay wants to breed and work with. In her first lactation she stood 56” tall and produced on 305 days (3x) 29,350 # milk, 4.3%F 1264#F and 3.3%P 966#P. That’s 2230 # (1010 kgs) of fat + protein. She peaked at 121# milk per day. On a relative basis she was 130% compared to her contemporaries for yield.

Aardema Cabriolet 7820

Mark Yeazel, Ja-Bob Holsteins in Ohio, gives serious consideration to his operation’s needs when selecting sires for his 120 cow free stall robot milked herd. Mark wants the productive trouble-free kind of cow. Wide chested, moderate stature, functional udders (good milking speed, no reverse tilt, wide at rear to allow for easy robotic teat cup attachment, teats of moderate length and well-spaced and good udder texture), excellent mobility and wide and properly located thurls. Mark says, ‘If their rear teats cross or they are slow milking, I must sell them as I run my robots to capacity and I cannot tolerate cows that cannot be milked properly or take too long in the robot”. Mark considers all genetic indexes and aAa when mating his cows. In his opinion “high TPI sires often only get to be high because they sire daughters that have short teats, are overly tall, likely lack udder depth and capacity and will lack adequate body width”.

Jotan (Red) x Burket Falls Poll Pledge PP x Lawnboy average cell 101 2-09 305 28829 4.8% 1379 3.6% 1051 365d 31640 4.8% 1525 3.7 %1174 true protein 3 -9 now Bred first service on first lactation, took a couple extra this time. she is GP 81. Her dam was 2nd high cow for protein in state as 4 year old.

The Truth Is

Every day more and more breeders are fitting their breeding goals to their plans and operation rather than just following what was used in the past or that their neighbor use.

Try These Breeding Thoughts on For Size

During our discussions with Kevin Sundborg, he mentioned to us some thoughts that are guiding him as he changes his breeding program. We share Kevin’s points with Bullvine readers, so that they can consider refining or changing their sire selection criteria to more nearly fit the cattle needed in their own operations.

Kevin’s thoughts:

  • “Milk production (milk and milk solids) will be generating our revenue in the future.”
  • “Heifers that calve at 21-22 months and are 55-57” do a lot of growing and easily make 59-61” cows. That’s tall enough.”
  • “Shorter and medium stature cows tend to have fewer problems in free stalls than do taller cows.”
  • “We feel that +5 to +9 CONF or +1.0 to +2.0 PTAT sires with high production and good health & fertility are the ones we need to use.”
  • “We have been and will continue to use Pp and PP (polled) sires.”
  • “We will be using the genetic indexes for health traits when selecting sires in the future.”
  • “We are interested in the sire genetic indexes soon to be available for feed conversion.”
  • “It comes down to how much dry matter a cow can take in rather than how tall or how wide she is.”
  • “In our robotic operation we will likely continue to use type classification and DHI programs.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Do you agree with Kevin’s thoughts? Or do you lean toward the way SeaGull Bay or Ja-Bob are breeding for the future? Do you have additional thoughts?

Eventually, from your semen buying pattern, your semen suppliers will know your future genetic requirements. However, in the mean-time, you can help them by sharing your thoughts with the representatives who service your farm.

Breeding dairy cows is dynamic. It won’t be the same tomorrow as it was yesterday or ten years ago. Not every type of cow is the best for every system or environment.

The important thing is that each breeder decides what’s best genetically for their operation and then selects sires that produce daughters that conform to their future herd’s needs.

Suntor Holsteins – New Baby, New Robot, New Perspective

Progressive business owners know that if a business is not planning and moving forward then it will soon be average or behind.

Dairy farmers experience that reality in multiple areas – facilities, genetics, inputs, technology, labor efficiency, …. to name a few. The challenge to remain competitive is a matter that every manager must continually have on their mind.

Suntor Openly Shares

Suntor Holsteins, located in South-West Quebec, recently shared with The Bullvine some of the very positive results that they have experienced by their move to new animal housing and the use of milking robots for their high production and elite genetics Holstein herd. After reading details that Kevin and Amanda Sundborg posted on Facebook, The Bullvine decided to interview this progressive couple and share their story with our readers.  The fact is that they shared so many details, we decided to make it into two articles. This one will consider facilities and another one, to follow, will highlight their thoughts and plans for their breeding program.

Suntor Background

Kevin’s parents started dairy farming in 1973 with grade Holsteins. By 1981 they had a fully purebred Holstein herd that has twice (2000 & 2014) won the coveted Canadian Holstein Master Breeders Shield.  The herd had been intensively selected for both production and conformation, but also important was sound cropping on the fertile land south of the City of Montreal.  

Kevin and Amanda are very thankful for the encouragement their parents gave them to seek higher education and in thinking progressively when it comes to dairy farming.

Until January 30th, 2017 the Suntor herd had been housed in a fifty-one tie stall barn. Cow care was always important and many awards for high production had been received. But the work was labor intensive and required long hours.

A New Generation at Suntor

2015 was a big year for Kevin and Amanda. In mid-year Suntor Holsteins was transferred from Kevin’s parents to Kevin and Amanda immediately joined in.  To top off this very busy year they welcomed their daughter Saydie in December.  Saydie will welcome a sibling in April. At the time of purchase the herd consisted of 51 cows in milk, 10 dry cows and 60 heifers with the cows producing, on 2X, 40 kgs (88 lbs) 4.3%F and 3.4%P.

Kevin and Amanda have a love for dairy farming. Both are farm management and technology graduates from Macdonald-McGill, and have worked and/or traveled off the farm. Once the farm and cattle were theirs, they immediately set about to take Suntor to new heights.

Big Picture Goals

Kevin and Amanda shared with The Bullvine the following thoughts that formed the basis on which they built their plans:

  • Lifestyle: Family is important and spending the time from 4:30 am to 8 pm in the barn, every day, is detrimental to family, friends and community time.
  • Managing staff: They prefer to work directly with their animals and not have to manage staff.
  • Get out of tie stalls: They found housing in tie stalls to be labor intensive and wearing on the body.
  • Use new technology: They want to know, hourly to annually, the facts about their cows and operation, so having new technology to do more of the work and capture the data was a must have. Their ten-year plan was to have double the daily milk shipments without any extra labor.
  • Happy and Comfortable Workers (aka cows) are a Must Have: Amanda in her off-farm worked (nutritionist and robot specialist) had seen the great results that other dairy farmers were achieving from cows that were comfortable in their environment, able to be milked on demand and that were fed high quality forage diets.
  • Efficiency – a key to a successful operation: Although gross output has advanced the bottom line for dairy farms over the past half century, Kevin and Amanda foresee the need for a successful dairy farm in the future to be driven by efficiency and net returns. Cutting out or reducing daily cow expense is, they feel, an incorrect and risky decision. Their plan is produce more milk with the same expenses.

Planning, Planning, Planning

Over a five-month period, Amanda and Kevin investigated every viable alternative available for dairy facilities in Canada. They talked with mentors, engineers and consultants and visited numerous farms that had recently built new with and without robots. Much was learned from asking critical questions.

Kevin and Amanda planned based on – ”How do you want to be milking cows for the next twenty years?”.

At the end of the five months they had a detailed plan complete with a budget that put milk income at  90% of current Canadian industry level, milk production level on par with their tie stall level, costs at 5% over historic operational costs and capital costs based on 4% interest. Upon presentation of their building, operation and financial plans to their financial institution, Kevin and Amanda were told that their plans were excellent and they were approved. They had thought, for sure, that they would be told that they needed to adjust their dreams, for an ultra-modern farm, downwards. What a relief that was!

Some of the building and start up decisions Kevin and Amanda made include:

  • They hired a top-notch engineer who costed out every detail for the new operation. They then identified areas for cost saving. Side note here from Amanda – “Always, always be prepared for meetings or suggested changes. Being prepared worked great for us.”
  • They built large enough with a twenty-year horizon on their projected herd size and production level.
  • They made the jobs of fetching and separating cows easy and quick. “Routes to the robot need to be direct. Have it so one person, operating alone, can handle the animals”.
  • A fresh and special care pen, with access to a robot, needs to be fully equipped with support materials. Most definitely include a fresh and special care pen and foot baths in the building plan.
  • Provide extra open space around robot entry and exit points. Expect cows to be both bossy and timid. Avoid sharp turns.
  • At start up, they planned on a maximum of 1,800 – 2,000 kgs (4,000 – 4,400 lbs) of milk per robot per day. Based on their experience they strongly recommend not to over-fill the robot(s) at start up.
  • In her experience with start-ups in other herds, Amanda recommends a maximum of 50 cows per robot at start-up.
  • After cows leave the fresh pen and go into general group, Kevin takes the time to make sure those animals know where the second robot is. They have found that some cows only go to one robot, while other cows will use both robots.

Kevin and Amanda told us that they committed 100% to the process of moving from the old tie stall to the new robotic barn. “Only going half way will only get you half way there.”

Pre-Move In Steps are Important

Kevin and Amanda had a very smooth transition. Amanda and Kevin shared the following ideas to help others transition to robotic single stall milking.

  • Hoof Care: “Trim hooves at least two months before and not any closer to the move in date. Cows need a good hoof build up when being moved onto freshly grooved cement floors.”
  • Minimize Fetch Cows: “Dry off any cows who would be a waste of time to train. Those end of lactation cows giving under 20 kgs/ 44 lbs will have no need / want to go to the robot. They will end up being a fetch cow until dry off. Don’t bother making them part of start up.”
  • Have DIM 150 days or lower: “Try to plan to have Days In Milk around 150 days for start-up. A stale herd takes longer to transition and your fresher cows will suffer.”
  • Dry Cow Program: “Our dry cow program was one key to our success. We feed a simple dry cow TMR which consists of corn silage and a low potassium dry hay. In the pre-fresh pen, we have an automated grain feeder (Cosmix) that feeds a pre-fresh pellet. It allows us to monitor and feed the exact amount they need. It also works to train our heifers prior to their first calving. They get accustomed to going into a box to get grain and the sound is like the sound of grain falling in the robot. We find that the heifers are calm in the robot for their first milking.”
  • Ration before Start-Up: “Suntor fed the robot feed to the cows as a top dress for two weeks before start-up. Cows need to know the feed when they go into the robot for the first time. Do not be afraid to drop the TMR energy at start-up. The less energy you have in the ration the faster they will go to the robot. We wanted our cows hungry, so they would go to the robot. They did drop on average 10 kg of milk per day the first week, but by 10 days 70% of the herd was going to the robot on their own. By one month, the average milk was back up to where it was when they were in the tie stalls.”

More Pertinent Details

Daily Cow Management: Amanda uses the reports generated from the T4C software, especially the health report, the expected heat report and the fetch cow report, to manage the herd on a daily basis. She noted that keen producers can also design their own reports.

Feeding Program: In the tie stall barn, cows were fed a one group TMR of 50:50 corn silage and haylage balance for 42 kgs of milk. Fresh and high producing cows were top dressed protein, fat and beet pulp. However now, based on Amanda’s five years of experience as a nutritionist and seeing how feed changes can significantly affect production, a one group TMR is still fed but it is now 75% corn silage and 25% haylage – balanced for 150 days in milk and for 6-7 kgs below herd average production. Feeding more corn silage allows for a more stable ration, given that haylage can vary greatly depending on stage, field and cut.

Six Month Results: First calf heifers have responded very well with 200 – 1,500 kgs more milk in the new system.  Three (20%) of Suntor’s first lactation cows have peaked at 50 kgs and have continued to give over 40 kgs past 240 DIM. And six months in the herd was averaging 42 kgs milk, the same as when they left the tie stalls. However, given that some older cows were dried off before the move and many were just calving by six months in, the Sundborg’s are very happy with the herd average from the younger milking herd. Cows are currently being milked 3.1 times per day on average. Reproduction is excellent with a 55-60% conception rate and 9 of 10 cows pregnant at herd heath check day.

Worthy of note is that Kevin and Amanda moved the entire tie stall herd into their new facility. All cows transitioned well or extremely well. They plan to increase their herd size by growing from within.

One Year Expectations: By one year in, January 30th, 2018, Kevin and Amanda can see easily reaching 45 kgs milk per day and average days in milk will be very good at under 140-150 days. By next spring they will be milking 70 cows with no added labor required, two things that were not possible in their old tie stall barn.

Some Added Benefits:  Kevin told us about some added benefits. “The expansion happened at the right time as they have been allocated or purchased 35% more quota since purchasing the farm. The robot reports help them catch any problems sooner, which helps to avoid sick cows. Having two robots, that were not used to capacity, shortens any line ups. We wondered about retaining and moving an older deeper uddered brood cow but she took to the new system like a duck to water. Using a higher percent corn silage assists by reducing the summer rush of harvesting of haylage.”

Future Operation Plans: The original plan was, in ten years, to milk 80 cows producing 140 kgs of fat per day. With more quota becoming available for purchase and the barn and robot working so well it now appears that that goal will be achieved in half the time. The higher revenue will speed up the process of implementing systems to monitor and manage calves, heifers and dry cows.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Planning to be successful is Step #1. Carrying out the plans is Step #2. The Bullvine congratulates Kevin and Amanda Sundborg and thanks them for sharing their dreams, thoughts and information on both these steps.  What cow would not want to live and be cared for at Suntor Holsteins?




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Russell Gammon – Cheer Leading Dairy Cow People

Being lauded and recognized by your peers gives one a special feeling. That is exactly what happened recently to Russell Gammon when he was awarded the 2017 Canadian Dairy Cattle Improvement Industry Distinction Award. For Bullvine readers living outside of Canada, this is Canada’s equivalent to The Industry Person of the Year which is awarded annually, in the United States, at World Dairy Expo time.

A Loving Start

Russell came from British Isle stock and was born and raised on the North Shore of Nova Scotia (Pictou County), Canada. His parents boarded a few dry cows and heifer from his Gammon grandparents milking grade herd, and as well his parents had a large garden and a managed woodlot.  Russell, the eldest child, fondly remembers a home with many visitors, an off-farm working father, who included him in everything, as well as a supportive, energetic, loving stay-at-home mother. Russell learned early that the people in your life are the mark of success and the material world is there to make the people part happen. His siblings were and continue to be important to him. Although, because they are in Nova Scotia and Alberta, it means that he must communicate electronically with them these days.

Russell Gammon with Family and friend, Lyons Brook, Pictou N.S. 1968.

Youth Training

School, church, and 4H all had a great influence on the young Russell. He was eager and successful on all fronts. Russell shared with the Bullvine that his eyes were opened wide when he traveled to Toronto Ontario as the recipient of the Nova Scotia CNE Award for his stellar leadership performance in 4H. For Russell that visit to the CNE and Toronto was a life changer. “My eyes were opened wide to a bigger world, one where a farm boy from Nova Scotia got to see what opportunities there are in Canada and in the dairy industry.”

A Life Long Learner and Generous Communicator

Russell’s studies took him out of Pictou County to the Nova Scotia Agricultural College (NSAC) and then to the University of Guelph. Russell excelled at taking in new knowledge and then composing it into the written word. The humanistic written word is something his friends and peers associate with him. Russell knows ‘the power of the pen.’ While in his youth he read every breed magazine he could get his hands on. He reports that subscribing to many, many breed and farm magazines used all his petty cash. Starting with the pencil, then the pen, the telephone, then as a magazine editor and now a very prolific facebooker, Russell uses each and every tool to communicate the latest news. He is an incessant reader. Russell, more than most, excels at sharing all things important and new, with his community of friends.

Dreams Really Do Come True. Well Almost.

Lowell Lindsay, Tom Byers & Russell Gammon , three Canadian Dairy Industry Legends

Russell dreamed, from an early age, of being the Canadian Ayrshire Breed Secretary. You see Russell started in grade Ayrshire cattle and in 4H showed purebred Ayrshires from a kind and helpful neighbor’s herd.

Though that Ayrshire Secretary dream did not materialize, Russell has had an interesting and fulfilling career in the field of breed improvement. After a summer job as Canadian Guernsey Fieldman, he returned to NSAC for three years of work in extension education. In 1981 the opportunity for more breed work arose. Russell joined Jersey Canada where he worked as Associate Editor, then (1982) Editor of The Jersey Breeder. And then it happened. In 1985 he was named Jersey Breed Secretary. His youthful dream of being a breed secretary had been achieved.

His career path changed one more.  In 2011 he joined Semex as the coordinator of the Semex Global Jersey Program. With that move, Russell’s career had expanded to include both the cow and the bull sides of dairy cattle improvement.

Going Above and Beyond

If you have ever met someone that gives greatly beyond their job description, then you have met someone like Russell Gammon. For Russell, going beyond is second nature.

When Russell joined Jersey Canada, it was an organization not yet recovered from the colored breed recession that followed the change in Canada to pricing milk more on volume than on solids content. Fat percent, a Jersey strength, was not what consumers were told they should consume. No longer could consumers readily purchase that full flavor Jersey milk. Add to that that in the early 1980’s Canadian Jerseys were not especially milky.  High fat percent, yes, but only with 20% more milk volume than thirty-five years previous. Like all Canadian dairy breeds, at that time, Jerseys were bred for type.

With Russell’s careful and visionary suggestion to the Board of Directors, there was an awakening within Canadian Jerseys to the benefits through more extensive use of milk recording and type classification. Following that came the realizations that faster breed improvement could be had by sampling more young A.I. bulls and extensively using the top daughter proven sires. Jersey Canada also looked beyond its borders, especially to the United States, where increased production and the marketing of Jersey milk were driving forces. Over time Canadian Jerseys would achieve higher milk volumes, especially in the younger cows.

There have been many other feathers in Russell’s peaked cap:

  • collaboration with other Canadian dairy breeds;
  • linkages with milk recording agencies and A.I. organizations;
  • a unified breed type classification program;
  • a progressive breed registry service;
  • a marketing plan focusing on a brown cow in every barn; and
  • extensive involvement in the World Jersey Society.

Russell became the face – Mr. Jersey Canada.

Mentoring A Key Gammon Strength

Gilbert Robison

Russell told The Bullvine that there were many mentors who helped him along the way. One was Gilbert Robison, of Jersey and Clyde fame, from New Brunswick. Russell only knew Gilbert for three years, in the early 1980’s, never-the-less, he benefited greatly from Gilbert’s sound advice and, to this day, Russell maintains a connection to Gilbert’s descendants. This article would be much too long if we included the many, many mentors that Russell feels he is indebted to.

Mentoring is not only just about receiving. It also applies to giving. This where Russell is a pro. There is a long, long list of young people, Jersey folks, agriculture enthusiasts and community workers, that Russell has mentored and continues to cheerlead. Russell’s facebook friends are very aware of the numerous times each day that he encourages or messages youth telling them to ‘soar with the eagles’.

“Changing the world one person at a time” is a fit way to describe Russell. He does it by focusing on attitude, approach, and vision. He meets people where they are at and moves them forward.

Diversity Abounds

Russell Gammon received the International Friendship Award last year at the Supreme Laitier! As was announced, “He has travelled to over a dozen countries and reached out as a friend, a confidant, a source of immense knowledge and sage wisdom. His name is synonymous with the breed… Think of Jerseys… Think of Russell.”

There isn’t a species of livestock that Russell does not follow, and yes, for each species he has favorite breeds. Ayrshires, Jerseys, Clydesdales, Barred Rocks and likely more to come. Russell knows by heart the ideals associate with each breed.

Russell’s friends in his home community of Fergus come from all walks of life.  Russell continues his encouraging ways there too. He is currently championing a local food store that was started a few years ago by a chef and a dairy gal. There isn’t a worthy cause in Fergus that Russell does not support is some way shape or form.

Of course, in his working career, Russell has been very diverse. He has been breed fieldman, goat and cow classifier, writer, editor, breed secretary, breed strategist, organization specialist, breed marketer, international liaison, national standards chairman, sire analyst and much more.

Selfless – Yes, Yes

Russell’s selfless nature comes out loud and clear. One example was when he and fellow church members raised funds and did on the groundwork, especially in adult education, over a twenty-year period in Haiti.

All one has to do is to meet Russell, and he’ll start inquiring about you. When asked “What about what Russell is doing?”  He brushes it off as only doing his duty. It’s about others not about him.

It’s Results That Count

Russell appears to operate on the premise ‘make a difference every day in some way’.  For him it is people first, livestock second, followed by industry collaboration and progressive organizations that deliver results.

The results of Russell’s efforts can be found on many fronts. Russell told us that “He gets extra energy every time he interacts with young people.”

Always Moving On

For the last few months, since leaving Semex, Russell has been quiet about what’s next for this early sixties guy. He has recreated himself quite a few times to this point, and he told The Bullvine that his next career will be in an area where he can help others develop or enhance their careers. Stay tuned for more people being successful because Russell provided them with a helping hand.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

We only pass this way once, and Russell Gammon always walks the talk. He is motivated to make this a better world. The Bullvine wishes Russell continued success in leading by example and cheerleading others to be the best they can be.





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Are Elite Dairy Genetics Still In Demand?

There are sales every week where dairy cattle are bought and sold for milk production purposes.  Not often anymore are there public auctions where only very elite genetically rated dairy animals are offered for sale. Bovines-on-the-Goal-Line, held on September 12th, hosted by Ri-Val-Re Genetics LLC, Michigan and Faria Brothers Dairy, Texas, with the management assistance of The Cattle Exchange, was truly a trendsetting sale where fifty-four genetically elite Holsteins and Jerseys were sold. It was a very successful online sale held in a lounge at the University of Michigan overlooking the football stadium.

To make our readers aware of the facts The Bullvine decided to do a deeper dive into the facts and figures.

Organizers Dedicated to Breed Advancement

“It only takes a spark to get a fire going”. Well in the case of Bovines-on-the-Goal-Line there were two sparks. Jerry Jorgensen and Jason Faria. With the encouragement of family and friends, they put together a sale of only top of the line Holstein and Jersey heifers. Knowing that both the Holstein and Jersey breeds are moving to moderately sized animals with high genetic ability beyond just production and functional type, Jerry and Jason selected animals that also had high genetic indexes for PL, LIV, DPR, SCS and CFP.

What Constitutes Elite?

Elite can have many definitions. For dairy cattle, in the past, it has meant high production, high classification or show winners. But in 2017 it equates to animals that have high genetic indexes for all of production, type, pedigree, fertility, longevity, and health (including disease resistance) traits.

An analysis of the pedigrees for the forty-one Holsteins and fifteen Jerseys cataloged in the Bovines-on-the-Goal-Line sale shows the following averages:

Holsteins:   TPI 2791,   CM$ 937,   CFP 152,   PL 7.9,   LIV 2.3,   DPR 2.3,   SCS 2.82

Jerseys:         JPI 209,     CM$ 718,   CFP 123,   PL 7.3,   LIV 1.5,   DPR 0.4,   SCS 2.84

By comparison and to assist readers to know how truly elite these heifers are, listed below are the top CM$ (Cheese Merit) proven sires, top cow and heifers in the sale.

Table 1 Cheese Merit Indexes (CM$) for Top Holsteins and Jerseys *

  Top Proven Sire Top Milking Cow Top Two Heifers** All Heifers (avg)**
Holstein 909 970          1035 / 1032 937
Jersey 685 672            781 / 760 718

* Indexes and information as published by CDCB – August 2017
** As per the Bovines-on-the-Goal-Line catalog

Outstanding Sale Average

The fifty-four animals sold averaged just thirty-eight dollars short of $30,000 at $29,962. Holsteins (39x) averaged $28,653 and Jerseys (15x) averaged $33,367.

The vast majority of the heifers sold were born in 2017, with some as young as two months. Some consignments were old enough to start on an IVF program.  Fifty-seven percent (57%) of the animals cataloged came from the Ri-Val-Re and Faria breeding programs with multiple consignments from Genosource, Peak and Pine Tree. In total, there were ten consigners. Fifty-four percent (54%) of the consignments were sold via the online bidding app,

Top Sellers

Our readers are always interested in the top sellers and who bought them, so here are the top lots, including sire stack, total merit indexes and sale price:

Table 2 Top Sellers at the Bovines-on-the-Goal-Line Sale

Animal Sire Stack gTPI / gJPI        gCM$  Sale Price     Buyer
HOLSTEIN (39 sold)        
Lot #1 Modesty x Montross x Supersire 2913 1021 $230,000    Genex (CRI)
Lot #3 Achiever x Silver x Supersire 2865 1035 175,000    Genex (CRI)
Lot #11 Frazzled x Rubicon x AltaOak 2863 1032 120,000    ST Genetics
Lot #10 Delta x Kingboy x Punch 2827 916 42,500    ST Genetics
Lot #6 Soectre x Delta x Supersire 2802 1014 42,000    De Novo Genetics
  Average (5x) 2854 1004 121,900  
JERSEY (15 sold)        
Lot #22 Disco x Hilario x Action 224 781 80,000    Progenesis (Semex)
Lot # 31 Jodeci x Chili x Apparition 214 722 50,000    Progenesis (Semex)
Lot #24 Vandrell x Mackenzie x Dale 215 760 44,000    Genex (CRI)
Lot #27 Pele x Hulk x Action 213 715 44,000    ABS Global
Lot #32 Vestige x Chili xApparition 211 719 35,000    ST Genetics
  Average (5x) 215 739 50,600  

Five Take-Home Messages

Here is how The Bullvine sees the sale results:

  1. AI organizations see the need to have elite females in their programs for producing bulls, selling embryos and for producing females that will themselves become bull dams;
  2. AI organizations are prepared to pay high prices in order to get the top females;
  3. Breeders with elite females can ask high prices for animals in the top 0.5% of the breed;
  4. Innovative breeders joining forces can bring attention and returns to their breeding programs;
  5. Genomic indexes are the first step to identifying elite animals. The second step is a sound and healthy animal.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The dairy cattle breeding industry has adopted social media as the communication and commerce vehicle of choice. Bovines-on-the-Goal-Line helped to move the marketing of top dairy cattle forward by providing a successful way for breeders to sell their very best animals in the future.




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Immunity+™ – What’s Known So Far

There is no substitute for good animal health. Without it all other goals (production, genetics or showring) have only a limited chance of success. How so you say? Well, as I see it, the health of animals in herds in today’s world can have a significant bearing on the costs associated with medication, the labor and worry required to treat sick animals, the food safety of both milk and meat leaving the farm and very importantly the trust consumers can put in the dairy farm generated food they buy.

Immunity+™, a Semex exclusive program, was researched, designed and implemented to assist breeders with genetically improving the health of their animals.

Informing Breeders

With improving the genetic merit of the health of animals high on the want list of breeders, I was very interested when I became aware that Eastgen, one of the owning partners of Semex, was hosting an update day for Immunity+™.  Eastgen did a first-class job of hosting the event at its Guelph Canada base, with speakers covering the technical, the results from field data and four breeder testimonials. Time for bull viewing, wholesome food and breeder-to-breeder chat time were added components to the event.

I must admit that going to the day I wondered what the field results for Immunity+™ would show.

The Technical Story – Immunity Can be Found in the Genes

Dr. Steven Larmer, from Semex, led the day off with a presentation that covered both the technical and an analysis of the field data collected to the present time.

  • The Research on Immunity: Dr. Larmer covered the twenty-two years of research by Dr. Bonnie Mallard and her University of Guelph team on the genetic regulation of the immune system of livestock. Dr. Mallard’s program has produced almost 100 research papers from animals in both research and commercial herds. It was interesting to learn that Immunity+™ had recently had been awarded the very elite Canadian Governor General Innovation Award.
  • Testing the Bulls: The proprietary University of Guelph testing service, that Immunity+™ is based on, challenges animals for both bacterial and viral infections and measures the animal’s ability to fight off the infections. It is an expensive hands-on test and only animals that are superior in their ability to fight off both types of infections are designated HH (High-High) for Immunity+™.  About 10% of bulls tested receive the HH designation. Dr. Larmer also reported that the level required for an animal to be categorized as high resistance will be a sliding scale. Over time animals will be required to be more and more resistant to be classified high resistance.
  • Type of Diseases Covered: There are two categories of classification for the infection associated with Immunity+™: 1) from organisms from outside the cell (bacterial); and 2) from organisms from inside the cell (viral or mycobacterial). Bacterial infections (predominately controlled by AMIR) include mastitis, listeriosis, brucellosis, E. coli, scours, bacterial pneumonia, metritis and digital dermatitis. Viral and mycobacterial infections (predominately controlled by CMIR) include viral pneumonia, BVD, IBR, leucosis, foot & mouth TB, retained placenta and Johne’s.
  • Genetic Improvement Possible: The research has shown that there is a slightly negative correlation between the animal ratings for the two tests and thus the reason why Immunity+™ requires that bulls be high disease resisters for both bacterial and viral infections. The heritability has been found to be 30% which puts it in the same league as milk production and thus can be improved by a selection program that directly selects A.I. bulls rather than through indirect selection on the end result such as SCS, PL/HL, DCE/DCA and DPR/DF of a bull’s daughters.
  • The 4 Generation Effect: Dr. Larmer predicted that after four generation of using Immunity+™ sires the genetic ability for disease resistance of a herd could be improved from 5-10% in generation one to 20-40% in generation four.

Farm Study Results Show Improved Defense Against Diseases

A synopsis of the on-farm results provided, by Dr. Larmer, to breeder and industry attendees include:

  • High Immune Cows Deliver Threefold: A study involving 64 North American herds has shown that high immune response cows: 1) have half the incidence of six named diseases as low immune response cows; 2) have higher quality colostrum with more antibodies as determined by the Brix Scale method; and 3) respond better to commercial vaccines. By the way, it was interesting to learn that, in general, 15%-30% of animals given a vaccine may not respond depending on the nature of the vaccine and thus will have no immunity.
  • Immunity+™ Sired Daughters Deliver Health: A Semex study in 35 commercial dairies, containing 75,000 heifers and 30,000 cows, was reported by Dr. Larmer to show disease reduction rates of: 10% for mastitis; 17% for persistent mastitis; 12% for lameness; 9% for miscellaneous illness; 20% for mortality; 2% for heifer pneumonia; 5% for heifer diarrhea; and 16% for heifer mortality. There is more data for heifers than cows as the cows sired by Immunity+™ sires have only recently entered the milk production phase of their lives.
  • Economic Return from Using Immunity+™ Sires: Economic analysis from the 35 herds shows total lifetime savings of $103 per Immunity+™ sired cows and that is without including the benefits of increased colostrum quality, stronger vaccine response, reduced vet costs, on-farm labor savings and any premiums possible from the sale of disease free milk or meat.
  • Breeders Speak Highly of Immunity+™: The four breeder testimonials at the Eastgen hosted day all reported positive results from their Immunity+™ sired daughters. Most of their reports were for calves and heifers for the reason stated above that their first Immunity+™ sired females are just now in their first lactations.

The Story Continues

Other interesting facts and comments that breeders should be aware of include:

  • Research is underway to find the genome association (genomics) relative to AMIR and CMIR.
  • Brian O’Connor, Eastgen General Manager and MC for the event, reported that there is no extra cost, as Semex sires are not priced higher when designated Immunity+™.
  • Currently almost 40% of the Semex dairy semen sales are from Immunity+™ sires.
  • A study is not yet possible that compares the production performance in the milking herd of Immunity+™ and non-Immunity+™ sired cows. However, there are many high TPI/ LPI and NM$/Pro$ Semex sires that are Immunity+™ and therefore are available for breeders to use.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The end to this update story has yet to be written. More data must be captured and analyzed, especially for milking females. However, if future field results hold up to what is currently known, sires that carry the Immunity+™ designation will be able to deliver high genetic resistance for a multitude of diseases.

Healthy animals, less drug use, lower vet costs, on-farm labor savings, safe food, satisfied consumers, prosperous industry, … dairy cattle breeders want and need them all. Understanding and using immunity genetic information can be a contributor to improved animal health and longevity.



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Jersey Sire Usage: What Bulls Are Breeders Actually Using

Jersey breeders read about their breed’s top genetic sires, the popular show ring sires and the most promoted sires. However, do they know which Jersey sires are producing the next generation of milking cows in the United States and Canada?  Even though the Jersey breed is garnering attention in commercial settings, The Bullvine is quite sure that even the most ardent Jersey breed enthusiast will not be able to list all ten of the sires with the most registered daughters. Just as we did for Holsteins, a few weeks ago, we have now studied the Jersey sires with the most registered daughters. (Read more: North American Sire Usage: Time changes everything)

Read on if you are interested in the recent genetic gains and what’s possible for the compact brown cows known for their high percentage of components, fertility, calving ease and heat tolerance.  

Data Sources

Off the top, thank you to the American and Canadian Jersey Associations for providing us with the lists of sires. The Canadian lists derived through a search of the female registrations by year. The US list was obtained by reviewing the annual Jersey Journal list of the forty sires with the most registered sons. Those Journal listings also contained a column on the number of daughters for those forty sires and we selected from those listings.

To cover the recent period of considerable change and breed improvement in dairy genetics, our study included three years, 2008, 2012 and 2016. We analysed the genetic indexes for the top ten sires from each of the countries and years. To make comparisons equal we used the genetic index details for all sires from the April 2017 index run as available from the Canadian Dairy Network, Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding and Accelerated (now Accelerated-Select Sires) files.

Which Sires Were Used

The ten sires from each year and each country are listed in tables 1 and 2.

Table 1 Sires with the Most Registered Daughters* – United States

      Sire           Sire Stack Interval**
Iatola Paramount x Barber x Tops 7.25 yrs
Jacinto Lemvig x Delco x Malcolm 7.25 yrs
Manny Perimiter x Haug x Index 10.5 yrs
Q Impuls IDE x BYG x Haug 9.75 yrs
Action Avery x Berretta x Venture 9 yrs
Abe Lemvig x Skyline x Legend 8.25 yrs
Rocket Barber x Berretta x Lyndon 9.75 yrs
Jevon Mecca x Daniel X Berretta 6.25 yrs
Matinee Angel x Haug x Index 7.25 yrs
Country Avery x Berretta x Lyndon 9.25 yrs
Average 8.5 yrs
      Sire          Sire Stack Interval**
Eclipes-P Action x Henery x Lemvig 6.75 yrs
Tbone Jace x Lemvig x Delco 4.75 yrs ***
Valentino Louie x Paramount x Lemvig 3.75 yrs***
Plus Iatola x Artist x Tanic 5 yrs ***
Riley Axtion x Paramoung x All A 6.75 yrs
Allstar Maximus x Berretta x Major 7 yrs
Abbott Lemvig x Hallmark x Berretta 7 yrs
Q Impuls IDE x BY x Haug 13.75 yrs
Premier Impuls x Jace x Berretta 3.25 yrs***
Action Avery x Berretta x Venture 9 yrs
Average 6.7 yrs
      Sire          Sire Stack Interval**
Lemonhead Samson x Renegade x Hallm. 6 yrs
Calypso Prescott x Headline x Iatola 3.5 yrs ***
Valentino Louie x Paramnount x Lemvig 7.75 yrs
MacKenzie Vinnie x Merchant x Impuls 3 yrs***
Harris Volcano x Garden x Rocket 4 yrs***
Dimension Renegade x Impuls x Param. 6 yrs
Archer Volcano x Champ x Jacinto 3 yrs***
Regency Visionary x Plus x Lexington 3 yrs***
Volcano Legal x Paramount x Abe 6 yrs
Reno Volcano x Maxim. x Ramus 3.75 yrs***
Average 4.6 yrs

* Listed in order of the ten sires with the most registered daughters
** Years from sire’s birth to the birth on July 1st, in the study year, of a daughter (in genetic studies known as Generation Interval)
*** Sire used based on genomic indexes

Table 2 Sires with the Most Registered Daughters* – Canada

      Sire           Sire Stack Interval**
Senior Councillor x Perim. X Gemini 7.75 yrs
Comerica Remake x Renass. X Bruce 7 yrs
Sultan Centurion x Jude x B Major 10 yrs
Legacy Perimiter x Renass. X Lester 7 yrs
Iatola Paramount x Barber x Tops 7.25 yrs
Country Avery x Berretta x Lyndon 9.25 yrs
Jamacia Councillor x Renass. X Bruce 7.5 yrs
Fusion Berretta x Fascin. X Fneva 10.75 yrs
River BigTime x Fusion x Montana 2.75 yrs***
Exploit Jade x Sambo x Lad 2.75 yrs***
Average 7.25 yrs
      Sire          Sire Stack Interval**
Legacy Perimiter x Renass. X Lester 11 yrs
OnTime Sultan x Delco x B Major 7.75 yrs
Iatola Paramount x Barber x Tops 11.25 yrs
I Pod Paramount x Parade x Delco 5.5 yrs***
Sultan Centurionx Jude x B Major 14 yrs
Habit Rocket x Remake x Jude 6 yrs
Blackstone Parade x Delco x B Major 9 yrs
Minister Jade x Fillpail x Pride 8.5 yrs
Kyros Avery x BigTime x Haug 6.75 yrs
Comerica Remake x Renass. X Bruce 11 yrs
Average 9 yrs
      Sire          Sire Stack Interval**
Joel Impuls x Paramount x Prize 5 yrs***
Beautiful Iatola x Prize x Delco 7.25 yrs
David Valentino x Impuls x Param’t 5.75 yrs
Bruce Branson x Impuls x Barber 4.5 yrs***
Matt Irwin x Tbone x Impuls 4 yrs***
Premier Impuls x Jace x Future 7 yrs
Valentino Louie x Paramount x Abe 7.75 yrs
Topeka Merchant x Nathan x Morgan 6.5 yrs
Tequila Primetime x Sambo x Regal 11 yrs
Colton Avery x Connect’n x Prize 6.75 yrs
Average 6.5 yrs

* Listed in order of the ten sires with the most registered daughters
** Years from the sire’s birth to the birth on July 1st, in the study year, of a daughter (in genetic studies known as Generation Interval)
*** Sires used based on genomic indexes

Points of interest from these tables include:

  • No single sire dominates on the year or the country lists. A more diverse use of sires of daughters and sire stacks than we found in Holsteins. That speaks well for maintaining genetic diversity in Jerseys.
  • By studying sire stacks, it was found that United States’ breeders used Danish breeding earlier (e.,.2008) than did Canadian breeders. Eventually, the Danish influence also reached Canada. The Danish Jerseys are noted for their outstanding production with high component percentages.
  • The American bull Berretta appears in many of the sire stacks for 2008 and 2012 in the United States.
  • In Canada, it is descendants of American bred and Canadian owned cow, Duncan Belle, that appear in 2008 and 2012.
  • Genomically evaluated sires were more quickly available in the United States (2009) than in Canada (2011).
  • In 2016 in the United States six of the top ten sires of daughters were genomic sires. In Canada, in 2016, three of the top ten sires producing the most daughters had only genomic indexes. Jersey breeders may use more sexed semen than happens in Holsteins. Often young sires are not available in a sexed format since young sires produce much less semen that mature bulls.
  • Never-the-less, in 2016 in Canada the most used sire, Joel, was used based on his genomic information.
  • River and Exploit, two genomic sires, on the 2008 Canadian list were the exception to the rule of only using heavily daughter proven sires. Canadian Jersey breeders may know why these bulls appear in positions #9 and #10, but this writer can only assume it was about the popularity of bloodlines, promotion of these bulls or a lack of positive proven sires.
  • There are 16 sire listing lines (27%) where the generation interval between sire and daughter is nine or more years. Thus, in a quarter of the time, Jersey breeders decided to stick with older proven sires rather than use newly proven sires or genomic evaluated sires. Turning generations quickly of highly ranked sires did not in the minds of those breeders’ warrant giving up the performance they had seen in the past for new and less accurately evaluated sires.
  • Within a single year, only on three occasions does a sire overlap being on the top ten list for both the United States and Canada. That highlights the difference in general breeding philosophies that exists between the two countries.
  • Some sires overlap years within country. Since the years in the study are four years apart, sire-year-overlap shows that some breeders stay with using a chosen proven sire and do not move on to newer sires.
  • By 2016, Danish and Duncan Belle bloodlines figured prominently in the sires used to produce daughters in both countries.

Index Comparisons from 2008 to 2016

In both countries, the average indexes are quite similar in 2008 and 2012. However, in 2016 the indexes are much higher in genetic merit than what is seen in the other two years.

Table 3 Average Genetic Indexes* for Ten US Jersey Sires with Most Registered Daughters

  2008 2012 2016
  Average Range Average Range Average Range
Milk    lbs -69 -1078 to 494 -39 -668 to 1331 894 69 to 2062
Fat      lbs 13 -22 to 65 22 -26 to 65 50 20 to 92
Fat      % 0.08 -0.08 to 0.34 0.12 -0.12 to 0.47 0.06 -0.17 to 0.33
Protein  lbs 3 -23 to 24 10 -12 to 46 38 17 to 81
Protein  % 0.03 -0.03 to 0.12 0.06 -0.03 to 0.16 0.03 -0.06 to 0.31
PL 1.1 -1.9 to 4.1 1.9 -1.1 to 6.2 4.2 2.5 to 6.2
SCS 3.02 2.87 to 3.30 3.04 2.89 to 3.24 2.93 2.80 to 3.08
DPR 0.7 -1.8 to 4.10 -0.6 -5.1 to 3.0 -1.4 -4.3 to 0.8
LIV 0.2 -1.9 to 4.1 0.3 -9.5 to 4.1 -0.7 -6.5 to 3.0
Final Score 0.1 -1.0 to 1.2 1 -0.2 to 2.0 1.4 0.20 to 2.0 
U Clef 0 -0.7 to 1.6 0.4 -1.10 to 1.60 0.3 -0.20 to 1.00
U Depth 1.2 -2.3 to 2.3 1 -0.20 to 2.20 1.3 0.50 to 1.90
GFI (%) 7.1 3.4 to 9.8 8.3 4.1 to 11.3 8.4 6.0 to 11.3
JPI 28 -1 to 76 53 -20 to 87 128 85 to 213
CM$ 110 -63 to 277 190 -61 to 341 442 280 to 739
NM$ 102 -62 to 270 173 -69 to 335 421 286 to 702

* April 2017 genetic indexes were used to allow for comparisons on a common base

From Table 3 it clearly stands out that US Jersey breeders increased their focus on component yields from 2008 to 2016. Increasing from 16 lbs. fat + protein in 2008 to 88 lbs fat + protein in 2016. A genetic increase of 9 lbs of fat + protein per year was seldom seen in the past. Gains were also made in PL, Final Score, SCS, JPI, CM$ and NM$. But the gains were at the expense of fertility ( -25% in DPR) and cow livability (- 20% in LIV).

Table 4 Average Genetic Indexes* for Ten Canadian Sires with Most Registered Daughters

  2008 2012 2016
  Average Range Average Range Average Range
Milk  kgs 238(525#) -850 to +1015 147(324#) -985 to 1063 518(1142#) -709 to 1678
Fat    kgs   8 (17.6#) -49 to +50 16(35.3#) -31 to 39 35(77.1#) -13 to 52
Fat      % -0.05 -0.53 to +0.44 0.12 -0.20 to 0.44 0.13  -0.15 to 0.77
Protein kgs  7(15.4#) -31 to +30 11(24.2#) -33 to 39 26(57.2#) -18 to 47
Protein  % -0.03 -0.23 to +0.25 0.08 -0.05 to 0.25 0.09 -0.23 to 0.33
HL 103 98 to 111 100 92 to 110 102 99 to 106
SCS 2.96 2.78 to 3.28 2.98 2.78 to 3.22 3.01 2.85 to 3.20
DF 100 92 to 106 98 89 to 106 101 97 to 105
CONF  3 -5 to 8 4 -3 to 11 9 1 to 16
Mammary 3 -4 to 10 4 -5 to 10 9 4 to 13
U Depth 0 11 D to 7 S               2S 4 D to 7 S               3S 0 to 9S  
Feet & Legs  1 -6 to 8 4 -3 to 18 6 -3 to 15
Inbreeding (%) 5.13 1.65 to 7.95 6.33 2.02 to 9.21 5.23 0.31 to 8.68
LPI 1188 881 to 1540 1285 987 to 1540 1579 832 to 1894
Pro$ 403 -261 to 1054 411 -261 to 1054 1053 97 to 1475

* April 2017 genetic indexes were used to allow for comparisons on a common bases

Table 4 shows that Canadian Jersey breeders also increased the selection for fat + protein from 2008 to 2016. That increase was 46 kgs or 101 lbs., so even greater than in the US.  In Canada, there were gains for fat %, protein %, conformation, LPI and Pro$. No gains were made in SCS, longevity (HL) and fertility (DF).

Overall, North American Jersey breeders annually increased the genetic merit of their herds by 12.5 JPI points, 50 LPI points, 40 CM$ points and 80 Pro$ points during the 2008 to 2016 time-period. That compares to +100 points per year in Holsteins for TPI and LPI, +75 in NM$ and 150 points in Pro$.

The sires of daughters from 2008 would not have been competitive in 2016. A close look at the 2012 sires used lists (in both US and Canada) shows that many sires ‘were long in the tooth and/or low in genetic merit’. The result was little or no genetic improvement in 2012 from 2008.  Those same North American breeders turned it around and made significant genetic progress by 2016 by using top sires.

Country Differences in Genetic Gains

Another way of comparing what has happened in sire usage is to make the comparisons on a percentile ranking (often short formed to %RK or %ile) basis. To make this country comparison, The Bullvine went to the CDN publicly available files to bring the index values for the two countries to a common basis. To look at this on a different basis, we decided to compare using four categories – LPI, LPI Production, LPI Durability and LPI Health & Fertility.

Table 5 United States vs Canada Comparison of Sires with Most Registered Daughters

  United States Canada
  2008 2012 2016 2008 2012 2016
Production      17%RK      34%RK      97%RK      17%RK      33%RK       85%RK
Durability      27%RK      73%RK      89%RK      23%RK       77%RK      89%RK
Health & Fertility      49%RK      47%RK      99%RK      35%RK      38%RK      96%RK

Note: Comparisons made using Canadain genetic indexes and Canadain percentile ranking tables as published by CDN

The take home messages comparing 2008 to 2016 percentile ranks from Table 5 include:

  • US Jerseys have made great gains in Component Production
  • Canadian Jerseys have made great gains in Durability
  • Neither US or Canadian Jerseys made gains in Health and Fertility. This is a lost opportunity for sure.
  • Jersey breeders need to be asking themselves if they have been giving away some of their breed advantages in fertility. And if breeding for cow health (aka wellness) and livability (LIV) need to be given more attention.

What the Future Can Hold

Breeding is about what the future will be. A synopsis of how 2016 top ten groupings of sires of daughters compared to the top ten sires available in 2017 is shown in Table 6.

Table 6 Comparison 2016 Daughter Sires to 2017 Available Sires

United States
  2016 Sires 2017 Proven 2017 Genomic
JPI 128 199 *155%* 221 *173%*
            (FS 1.4)           (FS 1.4) *100%*           (FS 1.7) *121%*
CM$ 442 691 *156%* 743 *168%*
            (PL 4.2)           (PL 5.7) *136%*           (PL 6.8) *162%*
LPI 1579 1803 *114%* 2035 *129%*
         (CONF 9)         (CONF 7) *63%*          (CONF 9) *100%*
PRO$ 1030 1472 *143%* 1881 *183%*
           (HL 102)          (HL 102) *100%*          (HL 105) *166%*

Note: HL (Herd Life, produced by Canadian Dairy Network) has an average of 100 and a standard deviation of 5. HL 105 is 166% in a standardized basis.

The potential for an increase in the genetic merit of Jerseys is clearly shown in Table 6. Increases from the sire averages in 2016 of up to 100 JPI points, $300 in NM$, 400 LPI points and 800 Pro$ points are possible by using the top 2017 sires based on their genetic (daughter proven or genomic) indexes. Note that there is no loss in type or longevity by using the top ten 2017 JPI, LPI, CM$ or Pro$ sires and potential gains range from 14% to 83%.

In short … Opportunity Knocks for North American Jersey Breeders to take advantage of the genetically superior sires that are available.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Time marches on at a quick pace.  It was enlightening for The Bullvine to learn that US Jersey has excelled at increased production and Canadian Jerseys at improved durability. Yet they both were not capturing the top genetics available for health and fertility.

The challenge for Jersey breeders in the future is to genetically improve the total cow – production, durability and health and fertility. A total and aggressive genetic improvement program will be needed to support the breed plans to become a larger proportion of the North American dairy cow population.



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August Holstein Association USA Indexing Revisions – Will these changes to TPI do it for dairy breeders?

When The Bullvine reviewed the recently announced HAUSA decision to revise their UDC, FLC and TPI genetic indexes, we decided to do go beyond simply reporting the changes that will be made in August to the formulae. The critical matter for Holstein breeders will be whether the new information will assist breeders in achieving their breeding objectives. The usefulness of the changes will apply to breeders around the world as HAUSA indexes are used, or at least known, in all major Holstein breeding countries.

Successful dairy breeders only use genetic indexes to the extent that they find them effective in breeding productive, profitable dairy cattle. Sometimes they wonder if breed association hear their questions, positions, and concerns about the accuracy of the indexes. Well, the good news is that the Genetic Advancement Committee (GAC) and research staff of Holstein Association USA (HAUSA) heard and worked on why udder composite (UDC) and feet and leg composite (FLC) genetic indexes for sires are so closely tied to a sire’s stature index.

Studied and Revised UDC and FLC

In a perfect world, every body part would be evaluated independently and then a final assessment would be arrived at for an animal’s conformation compared to our idealized view of a cow’s conformation. However, classifiers, just like all the rest of us cattle breeders and judges, let an animal’s outstanding or most limiting body feature unduly influence the decision made on other parts. This has been found to be true for both udder composite and feet and leg composite. Tall cows get over evaluated and short cows get under evaluated for UDC and FLC.

Breeders have been noticing this some time. It comes to the forefront now because many trend setting lifetime profit focused breeders have publicly stated they are breeding for decreased stature. They have found udders and legs on their desired shorter cows are being under indexed.

In studying this situation, HAUSA found that this was a relevant concern. As a result, an adjustment (+ or -) will be made to UDC and FLC for the stature of a bull’s daughters. The adjustment is a straightforward addition for short and a subtraction for tall. Of course, it will take a while for breeders to assess if these changes improve the accuracy of UDC and FLC.

Revised Formulae

UDC =  – 0.03 + [ .16 x FU + .23 x RUH + .19 x RUW + .08 x UDC + .20 x UD + .04 x FTP + .05 x RTP(optimum) +.05 x TL (optimum) – .20 x Stature ]  x 1.16

FLC =  0.02 + [ .09 x Foot Angle + .21 x Rear Legs Rear View + .70 x Feet & Leg Score – .20 x Stature ] x 1.09

Stature receives 16.7% of the weighting in both UDC and FLC. A surprising significant percentage.

What about Decreasing the Stature of Holsteins

As an aside but also somewhat related note, many leading breeders focused on high yield, high fertility, high health and long-lived cows are advertising bulls and heifers with negative stature numbers. When reading stature numbers remember that a zero animal will not genetically decrease stature. It will likely take a bull below -0.50 to -1.00 to result in progeny with less stature. A quick study of the current top twenty TPI daughter proven sires shows that they, on average, are +1.03 for stature. Therefore, using the top TPI sires does not decrease stature.

For the new TPI, which we will cover in the next section of this article, the top twenty proven TPI sires (using their April ’17 proofs) average +0.55 for stature.  The result of this proactive move by HAUSA is fewer top sires with higher stature indexes. For more on stature read the following Bullvine articles (Read more: Does Size Matter?, Are Today’s Holstein Cows Too Tall? and 15 Strength Sires That Will Still Fit In Your Stalls.

A question that one of my associates, an animal science researcher, recently asked was “Do we still need to measure stature in Holsteins?”. That is an excellent question given that most breeders are of the opinion that Holsteins do not need to increase in stature and that stature can bias the assessment for other traits. The latest correlations between stature and productive life and milk, fat and protein yields are in the range 0.04 to 0.13. So, is measuring stature helping or hindering in the breeding of better Holsteins?

Changes to TPI

It was two years ago (2015) that HAUSA last made changes to the TPI formula. Given the rapid pace of breed improvement, the increased number of traits evaluated, the decreased generation intervals and the more emphasis on health and fertility traits, changes in the TPI formula is an ongoing necessity.

The 2017 TPI formula will have some traits emphasis changes (see table 1). And beyond the changes that will be made in UDC and FLC, FE (feed efficiency) will have a revised formula that looks at body size differently than in the past and LIV (livability of cows generated by CDCB) will be added.

Table 1 – Trait Emphasis in TPI Formula

Trait 2015 2017
                 (%)               (%)
Milk Yield 0 0
Fat Yield 16 17
Protein Yield 27 21
FE (Feed Efficiency) 3 8
PTAT 8 8
Dairy Form -1 -1
Udder Composite  11 11
Feet & Leg Comp. 6 6
PL 7 4
LIV 0 3
SCS -5 -5
FI (Fertility Index) 13 13
DCE -2 -2
DSB -1 -1
Production 46 46
Conformation 26 26
Health, Fert., Longevity 28 28

Note: Major changes are the increased emphasis on FE in place of protein and the addition of LIV

The inclusion of LIV in TPI is a good addition. The FE index was first published by HAUSA a couple of years ago and is based on opinion not science based research. However, breeders can expect, within the year, to be reading more from the international scientific study on the genetics ability of a sire’s daughter for feed efficiency.

HAUSA Revised Formula

FE  =  – 0.0187 x Milk Yield  +  1.28 x Fat Yield  +  1.95 x Protein Yield  –  12.4 x Body Weight Composite

Breeders using TPI must always remember that a constant value of 2187 is added to the values calculated in the TPI formula. In other words, if an animal has a TPI number below 2187 then that animal is below breed average.

Table 2 – Averages and Standard Deviations for Production Traits (Bulls) 

Trait Active A.I. Proven Genomic Evaluated
  Average Proof STD DEV Average index STD DEV
Milk Yield 717 (+/-) 772 1125 (+/-) 638
Fat Yield 33 (+/-) 29 59 (+/-) 22
Protein Yield 26 (+/-) 21 43 (+/-) 16

Explanation – Of active A.I. proven sires 66% are between -55 and 1489 lbs of milk and 95% are between -827 and 2261 lbs of milk
Data Source – CDCB

Table 3 – Average STA* of Available US Holstein Bull Population (April ’17)

Trait Average Direction
Stature 1.09     Tall
Strength 0.62     Strong
Body Depth 0.56     Deep
Dairy Form 1     Open
Rump Angle** 0.06     Sloped
Rump Width 0.82     Wide
RLSV** 0.22     Curved
RLRV 1.17     Straight
Foot Angle 1.19     Steep
F & L Score 1.26     High
FU Attach 1.81     Strong
RU Height 2.31     High
RU Width 2.13     Wide
Udder Cleft 1.01     Strong
Udder Depth 1.4     Shallow
F Teat Place 0.83     Close
R Teat Place 0.79      Close
Teat Length*** 0.29     Short
Udder Composite 1.49     High
F&L Composite 1.15     High

* STA – standard transmitting abilities
** Trait optimum scored from one extreme to other extreme
*** Trait does not have a wide variation in Holsteins
Data Source – Holstein Association USA

Top TPI Bulls – Much Change?

Of course, with a new TPI formula there will be some change in which bulls make the top listings.  However, overall, do not expect to see major changes to bull TPI’s. The top twenty current proven TPI sires increase 14 TPI points from their April ’17 TPI’s using the TPI formula to be implemented in August. This is not much change, considering that these sires range from 2517 to 2761 in TPI

Bulls with high-fat yield, high LIV and moderate size will gain. Bulls leaving tall, large framed daughters with low LIV will drop down the TPI ranking list. Remember this latter group will have their UDC and FLC reduced by the new formulae for those traits.

Although Robust is no longer producing semen and has not appeared on the active proven sire list for a while now, he would rank 20th for all sires that are 85% REL or higher on the new TPI. Gaining even more will be his son, Cabriolet, a sire that has good numbers for PL, LIV, FI and for stature is -1.20 and for strength is -1.02. These are traits that commercial dairy farmers are saying are important to them. Other bulls increasing in TPI because of the new formula include: Monty, Racket, Altacr, Tetris, and Donatello.

Points Not to be Overlooked

Sire selection is extremely important with respect to herd improvement. In herds not using ET and sexed semen, sire selection counts for 90% of herd improvement.

Some points not to be overlooked when it comes to sire selection include:

  • TPI places considerable emphasis on breed ideal type but not necessarily on the most functional conformation especially as it relates to frame, stature, strength in young first calvers, up-hill-run and depth of body.
  • Breeders should have a genetic improvement plan for their herd or for portions of their herd. (Read more: Flukes and Pukes – What Happens When You Don’t Have a Plan, What’s the plan? and Pick The Right Bull – Your Future Depends on The Decisions You Make Today!) With sexed semen, heavy use of genomic sires and majority of the flushing being done of heifers, it is important for breeding plans to be visionary and dynamic.
  • For more on what selection index best suits individual breeder’s need go to (Read more: Everything You Need To Know About TPI and LPI and TPI™ and LPI – Marketing or Mating tools?)
  • For many breeders, it may be more beneficial to use the genetic indexes on descriptive traits instead of UDC and FLC. Traits like udder depth and rear legs rear view have higher correlations with productive life than UDC and FLC have.
  • It is possible that HAUSA’s actions in addressing the ever-increasing stature of the breed may be too little and too late.
  • The TPI formula does not include other soon to be important traits: Beta Caesin; Kappa Caesin; inbreeding; polled; gestation length; and fitness / wellness (Read more: 12 Things You Need to Know About A2 Milk, Breeding for Kappa Casein to Increase Cheese Yield, The Truth about Inbreeding, Is Polled Worth It?, Gestation Length: In-depth Review and The Complete Guide to Understanding Zoetis’ New Wellness Traits – CLARIFIDE® Plus)
  • HAUSA needs to be researching how to include these and other traits in order for TPI to remain relevant in the future. With the emphasis on protein yield exceeding the emphasis on fat yield, TPI may be assisting with cheese yield but not with the excess of milk powder on the world scene which leads to lower farm gate milk prices.
  • With many breeding companies generating total merit indexes and with many breeders having their own customized total genetic merit indexes, the universal TPI index may not survive.
  • TPI is a relative trait emphasis formula. However new total merit indexes are using outcome formula based results instead of relative emphasis formula. CDN’s Pro$ index is an outcome based index.
  • Always remember that TPI is a relative animal genetic merit ranking system. Mating a top TPI sire to a top TPI dam will not necessarily get a breeder a top TPI progeny. Breeders need to use corrective mating to have the possibility of an improved progeny. This means that the values for the traits in TPI must be considered.
  • Breeders should not get caught up in the marketing hype of indexes like TPI when buying semen and embryos.
  • For fast genetic improvement for a trait, use sires that are, at least, one standard deviation above average for that trait. Tables 2 and 3 contain the standardized measures for some traits.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Will these changes to TPI do it for dairy breeders? The changes are not major and time will tell if they have an impact on Holstein breeding. Holstein breeders using TPI need to delve deeper than the TPI number. TPI is however, useful as a first sort of sire lists.

For The Bullvine – “The HAUSA August index changes are an attempt to maintain relevance to Holstein breeders’ needs”.  It is clear that 95%, maybe even 99%, of tomorrow’s breeders will not be selling breeding stock and will only be buying semen and/or embryos. Therefore, the marketing aspects of TPI will not matter to them.

Much more needs to be studied and implemented by HAUSA, when it comes to its animal genetic ranking systems including the TPI formula. Breed improvement committees and those responsible for sire selection will need to base their decisions on a combination of what science and field data show them as what will be best for genetic advancement.




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North American Sire Usage: Time changes everything

Many dairy breeding information articles are published on which genetic index is the best or which traits are considered to be the most important … however … the proof of the best, from a breeder’s perspective, is the genetic merit of the heifers on the farm. To see which sires breeders in fact use, The Bullvine decided to study and compare the years 2008 to 2012 to 2016 Holstein registrations in the United States and Canada. Some interesting facts were uncovered including that North American Holstein breeders do use genetic indexes and do follow the latest in what research shows are the sires to use.

Which Sires Were Used

The twenty sires with the most registered daughters in the United States and Canada, as supplied by the breed associations, are listed in Tables 1 & 2.

Table 1 – Sires with the Most Registered Daughters* – United States

Sire Sire Stack Interval**
Toystory BW Marshall x Patron 7.25 yrs
Baxter Blitz x Mtoto 6.25 yrs
Pontiac  Durham x Emory 6.75 yrs
Oman Manfred x Elton 10.25 yrs
Boliver Amel x Mathie 9.75 yrs
Advent  Kite x Durham 6.5 yrs
Pronto Outside x Rudolph 6.25 yrs
Lou BW Marshall x Patron 7.25 yrs
Airraid BW Marshall x Manfred 7 yrs
Bolton Hershel x Convincer 6.75 yrs
Talent Storm x Leader 10.25 yrs
Moscow BW Marshall x Integrity 7 yrs
Mac BW Marshall x Rudolph 7.25 yrs
Coldspring BW Marshall x Patron 6.75 yrs
Fortune Durham x Blackstar 8 yrs
Colby Outside x Rudolph 6.25 yrs
Laurin BW Marshall x Lee 6.5 yrs
Mr Sam Durham x Emory 8.5 yrs
Damion Durham x Encore 8 yrs
Tres Mtoto x Elton 8 yrs
Average 7.8 yrs
Sire          Sire Stack Interval**
Million Outside x BW Marshall 9.25 yrs
Shot Shottle x Ito 6.75 yrs
S Braxton Shottle x Durham 6.75 yrs
Planet Taboo x Amel 9.25 yrs
Durable September x Outside 7 yrs
Shamrock Planet x Shottle 3 yrs***
GoldChip Goldwyn x Shottle 3 yrs***
Atwood Goldwyn x Durham 5.25 yrs
Guthrie Goldwyn x Blitz 6.25 yrs
Alexander Stormatic x Patron 9 yrs
Crown Goldwyn x Oman 6.5 yrs
Sanchez Stormatic x BW Marshall 9.25 yrs
Gabor Finley x Convincer 8.5 yrs
Super Boliver x Oman 7.5 yrs
Dempsey Goldwyn x Derry 6.5 yrs
Hero Toystory x Durham 5.75 yrs
Shottle Mtoto x Aerostar 13 yrs
Big Time Mac x Shottle 4.5 yrs***
Windbrook FBI x Blitz 6.5 yrs
Epic Super x Baxter 2.5 yrs***
Average 6.7 yrs
Sire Sire Stack Interval**
Mogul Dorcy x Marsh 6 yrs
SuperSire Robust x Planet 5.5 yrs
King Boy McCutchen x Super 3.75 yrs***
Yoder Mogul x Planet 3.5 yrs***
McCutchen Bookem x Shottle 5.75 yrs
Montross Mogul x Bolton 3.75 yrs***
Damaris Sterling x Bookem 3.5 yrs***
Spark Supersire x Gabor 2.75 yrs***
Jedi Montross x SuperSire 2.25 yrs***
Monterey McCutchen x Robust 3.5 yrs***
Mayfield Domain x Shottle 5 yrs
Bayonet Donatello x Shamrock 3.25 yrs***
Beemer McCutchen x Goldwyn 3.25 yrs***
GoldChip Goldwyn x Shottle 7 yrs
Pety Mogul x Explode 3.75 yrs***
Headliner Robust x Planet 5.5 yrs
Modesty Pety x SuperSire 2.25 yrs***
Atwood Goldwyn x Durham 9.25 yrs
Troy Mogul x Freddie 3.75 yrs***
Silver Mogul x Snowman 3.25 yrs***
Average 4.3 yrs

* Listed in order of the twenty sires with the most registered daughters
** Years from the sire’s birth to the birth on July 1st, in the study year, of a daughter (in genetic studies known as Generation Interval)
***Sire used based on genomic indexes

Table 2 – Sires with the Most Registered Daughters* – Canada

Sire Sire Stack Interval**
Dolman BW Marshall x Emory 7 yrs
Goldwyn James x Storm 8.5 yrs
Buckeye BW Marshall x Rudolph 7.5 yrs
Frosty BW Marshall x Sand 7.25 yrs
September Storm x Astre 10.75 yrs
Spirte Lee x Mason 9.75 yrs
Talent Storm x Leader 10.25 yrs
Final Cut Inquirer x Storm 7 yrs
Salto Convincer x Formation 8 yrs
Mr Burns Thunder Storm 8 yrs
Baxter Blitz x Mtoto 5.75 yrs
Toystory BW Marshall x Patron 7.25 yrs
Fortune Durham x Blackstar 8 yrs
Dundee Encore x Chief Mark 9 yrs
Bolton Hershel x Convincer 6.75 yrs
Jasper Lee x Bellwood 9 yrs
Tom BW Marshall x Merrill 6.75 yrs
Tribute Storm x Astre 11 yrs
Wildman BW Marshall x Winchester 7.5 yrs
More Mtoto x Luke 8 yrs
Average 8.0 yrs
Sire Sire Stack Interval**
Windbrook FBE x Blitz 6.5 yrs
Fever Goldwyn x Blitz 6.5 yrs
Steady Mr Sam x Convincer 7 yrs
Lauthority Goldwyn x Igniter 6.75 yrs
Jordan Goldwyn x Durham 6.75 yrs
Dempsey Goldwynx Derry 6.5 yrs
Sid Mr Sam x Finley 6.75 yrs
Manifold Oman x BW Marshall 7.75 yrs
StanleyCup Bolton x Blitz 5.25 yrs
Lavanguard Goldwyn x Titanic 6.25 yrs
Reginald Goldwyn x Durham 6.5 yrs
S Braxton Shottle x Durham 6.75 yrs
Altaiota Oman x Ito 7 yrs
Ladner Goldwyn x Champion 6.5 yrs
Shottle Mtoto x Aerostar 13 yrs
Seaver Goldwyn x Durham 6.5 yrs
Lavaman MOM x Goldwyn 2.5 yrs***
Sanchez Stormatic x BW Marshall 9.25 yrs
Spectrum FBI x Talent 6.25 yrs
Baxter Blitz x Mtoto 10.25 yrs
Average 7.0 yrs
Sire Sire Stack Interval**
Impression Socrates x Potter 7.75 yrs
SuperPower Bonair x Shottle 7 yrs
Jett Air Baxter x BW Marshall 8.5 yrs
Dempsey Goldwyn x Derry 10.5 yrs
Uno MOM x Shottle 6 yrs
Doorman Bookem x Shottle 4.75 yrs ***
Fever Goldwyn x Blitz 10.5 yrs
Elude Mccutchen x Snowman 3 yrs***
Brewmaster Garret x Shottle 5.75 yrs
Meridian Domain x Planet 5.5 yrs
Pinkman Super x Baxter 5.5 yrs
Supersonic Super x Shottle 6 yrs
Wickham Mogul x Snowman 3.5 yrs***
High Octane McCutchen x Observer 3.5 yrs***
Epic Super x baxter 6 yrs
GoldChip Goldwyn x Shottle 7 yrs
Brawler Baxter x Shottle 8.5 yrs
Capital Gain McCutchen x Observer 3.5 yrs***
Pulsar McCutchen x Super 3.5 yrs***
Facebook MOM x Airraid 6.25 yrs
Average 6.1 yrs

* Listed in order of the twenty sires with the most registered daughters
** Years from the sire’s birth to the birth on July 1st, in the study year, of a daughter (in genetic studies known as Generation Interval)
*** Sire used based on genomic indexes

Points of interest from these tables include:

  • In 2008 and 2012 many sires are common to both countries’ lists. However not so in 2016.
  • In 2008 BW Marshall was the most prevalent sire of the bulls in both counties. In 2012, it was Goldwyn. In 2016 Mogul and his sons have the most appearances on the top twenty list in the US, but in Canada it is McCutchen.
  • In the US in 2012 and 2016 there were a higher proportion of sires in the United States that were used based on their genomic indexes than there were in Canada. 65% on the 2016 US list are genomically evaluated, sires. That closely reflects the total volume of semen sales from genomic evaluated sires.
  • Generation Interval has decreased more quickly in the US than in Canada. In 2016 there was only one sire on the US list, Atwood, that has a generation interval (sire to his daughters) greater than 6.75 years. US breeders are using sires and moving on to newer, higher indexing, sires than occurred in the past.
  • As would be expected, each country has a dominant A.I. stud ownership of the sires on these purebred most used sire lists. In the United States, it is Select Sires, and in Canada it is Semex.

Comparisons 2008 to 2016

The short synopsis of the comparisons that follow is that the change in sire use patterns is quite similar in the United States (Table 3) and Canada (Table 4)

Table 3 – Average Genetic Indexes* for 20 US Holstein Sires with Most Registered Daughters

  2008 2012 2016
  Average Range Average Range Average Range
Milk    lbs 64  -1722 to 1189 381  -1204 to 1554 1421   -227 to 3063
Fat      lbs 2   -69 to 48  20   -26 to 51 62    1 to 108
Fat      % 0   -0.15 to 0.11 0.02   -0.21 to 0.19 0.04   -0.07 to 0.15
Protein  lbs 1   -28 to 32 10   -22 to 30 47   -22 to 91
Protein  % 0   -0.08 to 0.11 0.01   -0.10 to 0.08 0.01  -0.06 to 0.14
PL 0   -4.5 to 3.4 1.3   -3.2 to 7.8 4.8   -0.5 to 8.7
SCS 3   2.69 to 3.29 2.91    2.62 to 3.19 2.91   2.67 to 3.19
DPR -0.8   -4.0 to 4.0 -0.4  -5.2 to 3.2 0.1   -3.2 to 3.1
MCE 7.8    4.8 to 12.1 6.7  3.5 to 9.8 4.6   3.2 to 9.8
PTAT 0.58   -1.24 to 2.08 1.59   0.38 to 3.44 2.31  0.83 to 3.65
UDC 0.56   -1.37 yo 1.71 1.26   0.26 to 2.66 1.96  0.49 to 3.07
U Depth 0.46   -0.82 to 2.02 1.08   -0.27 to 3.33 1.59  -0.04 to 3.49
FLC 0.39  -0.97 to 2.26 1.09   -1.39 to 2.63 1.72   0.02 to 2.78
RLRV 0.41  -1.64 to 2.34 1.2   -0.78 to 3.16 1.95   0.05 to 3.16
TPI 1653  1355 to 1906 1908  1449 to 2283 2477  1880 to 2867
NM$ 28  -333 to 336 175   -229 to 602 618  104 to 977

* April 2017 genetic indexes were used to allow for comparisons on a common bases

In the United States from 2008 to 2012 breeders increased the emphasis on type, and to a lesser degree placed increased emphasis on functional traits. However, from 2012 to 2016 the big shift was too much more emphasis on production traits and increased emphasis on productive life and maternal calving ease.

Table 4 – Average Genetic Indexes* for 20 Canadian Sires with Most Registered Daughters

  2008 2012 2016
  Average Range Average Range Average Range
Milk  kgs 188  -1045 to 1582 415  -482 to 1948 1092  -209 to 2632
Fat    kgs   7   -44 to 51 29  -22 to 86  57   8 to 133
Fat      % 0.05  -0.24 to 0.36 0.13  -0.55 to 0.53 0.15  -0.15 to 0.77
Protein kgs  7   -38 to 50 19  -8 to 73 38  -18 to 68
Protein  % 0.01   -0.21 to 0.44 0.04  -0.29 to 0.54 0.02  -0.19 to 0.32
HL 99   91 to 106 103   94 to 113 108  102 to 114 
SCS 3.01  2.62 to 3.33 2.95   2.55 to 3.23 2.78  2.50 to 3.11
DF 98   93 to 103 99   82 to 111 102   94 to 111 
DCA 98   90 to 105 101   96 to 109 105   98 to 109 
CONF  1   -4 to 8 7   0 to 15 10   2 to 16
Mammary 1   -6 to 7 6  1 to 13 9   2 to 13 
U Depth 0   8D to 4S               2S   5D to 8S               6S   2D to 12S 
Feet & Legs  1  -5 to 8 5   -8 to 14 7   1 to 14
RLRV -0.5  -9 to 6 3   -10 to 11 5   -5 to 13
LPI 1966  1632 to 2561 2325  1746 to 2885 2890  2327 to 3224
Pro$ 245  -423 to 1247 901   -88 to 1963 1766  951 to 2377

* April 2017 genetic indexes were used to allow for comparisons on a common bases

From 2008 to 2012 Canadian breeders placed some increased emphasis on all traits, except for daughter fertility. From 2012 to 2016 Canadian breeders were much more selective when it came to requiring high genetic indexes for all traits. Sire genetic indexes for SCS and fat and protein yield stand out as being much higher in 2016 than in 2012. Note that Canadian breeders have always demanded a positive fat percent deviation.

In both countries, Holstein breeders used the genetic information available to them to greatly improve the genetic merit of their herds. From 2008 to 2016 average annual genetic increases were +100 TPI, +100 LPI, +75 NM$ and +190 Pro$. Definitely, the function traits associated with fertility, daughter calving ease and longevity have come on to Breeders’ radar screens when they select sires.

In actual sire terms, breeders in 2017 would no longer choose to use Toystory or Dolman, the sires that topped the sires with the most registered daughter lists in 2008.

There Are Country Differences

Another way of comparing what has happened in sire usage is to make the comparisons on a percentile ranking (%RK) basis. To make this comparison, The Bullvine went to CDN files to bring the values to a common basis. And to look at this on a different basis, we decided to compare using CDN’s three categories, on combining indexes, of Production, Durability and Health & Fertility.

Table 5 – The United States vs Canada Comparison of Sires with Most Registered Daughters

  United States Canada
  2008 2012 2016 2008 2012 2016
Production      17%RK      34%RK      97%RK      17%RK      33%RK       85%RK
Durability      27%RK      73%RK      89%RK      23%RK       77%RK      89%RK
Health & Fertility      49%RK      47%RK      99%RK      35%RK      38%RK      96%RK

Note: Comparisons made using Canadain genetic indexes and Canadain percentile ranking tables as published by CDN

In both United States and Canada, the most significant change in the genetic merit of sires used has occurred in Production. Both countries were low in 2008 at 17%RK and in 2016 US Breeders were at 97%RK, twelve higher that Canada. Increased emphasis in each country on Durability almost mirror each other, and both reached 89 %RK in 2016. Health & Fertility in both countries started low in 2008 but have reached very high levels by 2016. Breeders are using the best sires to take their herds to new heights.

What Can the Future Hold?

Breeding is about what the future will be. A quick look at how 2016 sire usage compares to what sires are available in 2017 show potential for continued genetic improvement.

In the United States, the top twenty available April 2017 proven sires average 2606 TPI and 798 NM$ and for genomic sires the values are 2833 TPI and 944 NM$. So, especially for NM$, there is considerable scope for improvement from the 618 NM$ level of 2016.

In Canada, the averages for proven sires are 3126 LPI and 2310 Pro$. While for the top twenty genomic sires the averages are 3471 LPI and 2939 Pro$. A 10-20% gain in Pro$ is immediately there for the taking.

Of course, beyond the current traits used by breeders, the future holds the use of traits with considerable potential like polled, A2A2, fertility, wellness, kappa casein, feed efficiency and many more. (Read more: From the Sidelines to the Headlines, Polled is Going Mainline!, 12 Things You Need to Know About A2 Milk, A Guide to Understanding How to Breed For Feed Efficiency and Fertility)

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Time changes everything. No longer are North American Holstein breeders sticking to only old ways. Now they are incorporating new young sires and refining trait emphasis into their selection. In the process, these breeders are not abandoning the old practice of always demanding higher production and true type conformation. The increases in genetic merit of Holstein sires with the most registered daughters from 2008 to 2016 were significant. Moving forward new traits along with more accurate genetic indexes will allow breeders to further customise breeding plans to their individual needs. It is exciting to see the progress made and the potential waiting to be harnessed.




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