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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.

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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Can You Trust Genomic Evaluations? 7 Facts Exposed

Successful dairy cattle breeding is about using the facts available including the degree of trust that can be placed in the numbers. The facts used by breeders can vary all the way from in-herd observations, to show results, to including actual performance and genetic evaluation indexes. This article will deal with the genetic evaluation indexes that are based to a great extent on an animal’s DNA analysis. Often just referred to as ‘genomics.’ In this article, The Bullvine will cover details, from recently released studies and articles. We will look at how genomic evaluations are adding trustworthy information to the toolkit that breeders can use to advance their herds genetically.

1) Accuracy

Before there were genomic indexes, there were parent average genetic indexes (PA’s) for heifers that did not have their performance (production and type) records of for bulls that did not have daughters with a performance recorded. The prediction accuracy for PA’s was low, standing at 20-33%. Breeders knew that there would be a wide variation from the PA numbers, once performance data was added in.

In 2008, based on the study of the DNA profiles of daughters proven sires, genomic (genetic) indexes were published by genetic evaluation centers that used both pedigree performance information and an animal’s DNA profile. Immediately the accuracy of the genomic indexes doubled (60-65%) those for PA’s. Of course, this was lower than the accuracies for extensively daughter proven sires, but a significant step forward.

Alta Genetics has recently published an excellent article on the accuracy of genomic index predictions – “How genomic proofs hold up.” The study compares genomic indexes at the time of release as young sires and what their indexes are in April 2017.

The study reports:

  • Young sires released in 2010 2014 decreased by 171 vs. 52 in TPI and by 151 vs. 74 in NM$.
  • For the 1078 US A.I. Holstein bulls released in 2013, their April 2017 indexes decreased on average by 99 TPI and 103 NM$. The degrees of change for TPI were: 4% of bull lost more than 300 TPI points; 9% remain, in 2017, within 20 TPI points of their 2013 indexes; and 19% increased in TPI from their 2013 to 2017 indexes. For NM$: 2% on the bulls changes by more than 300 in NM$; 9% were within 20 NM$ in 2017 of their 2013 indexes, and 9% increased in their NM$ index.

Definitely, there was an increase in accuracy of prediction of genomic indexes from 2010 to 2017.

Take Home Message: With each passing year, breeders can place more and more trust in the accuracy of genomics indexes. As more animals have their DNA profile established and as more SNIP research is conducted breeders can expect to see further increases in accuracy of genomic indexes. Also, there will, in the future, be the publication for additional genomic indexes for specific fats and proteins, for lifetime performance and for health and fertility traits.

2) Improvement Rates

CDN has recently reported on a study “Analysis of Genetic Gains Realized Since Genomics.” This study compares two five-year time periods: (a) animals born (2004-2009) immediately prior to the existence of genomic evaluations; and (b) animals born (2011-2016) after genomic evaluations were available to breeders.


The rates vary by trait with the range in compared indexes being from a small improvement rate to over 500%. Note that in Holsteins the rate of genetic gain in protein %, lactation persistency (LP), daughter fertility (DF) and milking temperament (MTP) went from negative to positive. In Jerseys LP, MSP and daughter calving ability (DCA) went from negative to positive, yet metabolic disease resistance (MDR) went slightly negative. Similar rates of improved genetic gains were achieved by both Ayrshire and Brown Swiss breeds.

Take Home Message: Congratulations to the breeders for trusting and using the genomic index information to make faster rates of genetic improvement. A word of thanks goes out to the genetic evaluation centers all over the world for doing the research on and implementation of genomic indexes. The very significant increased rates of genetic gain may not be duplicated in the future for all traits as breeders are now selecting for many new economically important traits not previously evaluated and published.

3) Terminology

It is a known fact that the term ‘genomics’ has not always been interpreted correctly by everyone.

Over forty years ago, when genetic indexes were first published, frequently breeders thought of them as only being for production traits when they were available for both production and type traits. Today many people refer to genomic indexes as only being for production traits when they are available for production, type, fertility, health, other functional traits and total merit indexes (TPI, NM$, …).

Take Home Message: Interpret genomic indexes to be genetic indexes that include both pedigree and DNA profile information. Breeders can find genomically evaluated sires for all traits at all A.I. studs. Breeders can use one or all the genomic indexes as part of their herd’s breeding plan.

4) Inbreeding

Alta Genetics recently published an article, “Inbreeding: Manage it to Maximize Profit,” on sire options to limit the effects of inbreeding.

The article covers:

  • When selection is practiced in a population, it results in a concentration of good genes and thus inbreeding. So, inbreeding is a natural outcome of selecting the best and eliminating the rest.
  • Every 1% increase in inbreeding results in $22 – $24 less profit over a cow’s lifetime.
  • There is not a magic level of inbreeding to be avoided. The current average level of inbreeding in North American Holsteins is 7-8%.
  • A Midwest US study shows that superior inbred high genetic merit cows are more profitable than inferior genetic merit non-inbred cows.

The average inbreeding level of the top 25 NM$ (April ’17) daughter proven Holstein sires is 7.9% for genomic future inbreeding index (GFI). For the top 25 NM$ genomically evaluated sires the average GFI is 8.2%. Having genomic bulls with a higher level of inbreeding than proven sires is as expected when selection pressure is high, when generations are turned rapidly and when there is extensive focus placed on a single total merit indexes (NM$ or TPI or Pro$ or LPI or …).

Take Home Message: A.I. sire mating programs are designed to take into consideration the level of inbreeding of future progeny when a sire x dam is recommended. If a Holstein sire has a GFI of 9% or higher a breeder should require that that bull should have positive proof values for all of DPR, HCR, CCR, LIV, PL, SCC, immunity and calf wellness. Breeders should use and trust that inbreeding is being handled by sire mating programs.

5) Functional Traits

At the same time, as genomic evaluations became available, breeders started paying attention to a host of functional traits. These traits have economic significance and include milk quality, fertility, heifer, and cow health (immunity, wellness, disease resistance, livability, …), birthing, productive life and mobility. In the future, these functional traits will be expanded as on-farm data, and DNA profiling on animals are recorded and farm data is sent to data analysis centers. Noteworthy is the fact that animal wellness and welfare will be front and center for consumers of dairy products.

Take Home Message: Breeders can trust in the published genetic evaluations for functional traits as animal DNA profiles play a significant role in increasing the prediction accuracies from 15-25% to 60-70%. Functional trait improvement will require that breeders pay attention to both genetic and farm management.

6) Feed Efficiency

Feed accounts for 50-60% input costs for heifers and cows on dairy farms. Any gains that can be made by selecting genetically superior animals for their ability to convert feedstuffs to milk and meat have the potential for breeders to make more profit.

Research and data analysis are underway or nearing completion in many countries including US, Netherlands, and Canada on using DNA data combined with nutrition trial data to produce genomic indexes for feed efficiency. Other trials are underway to electronically capture on-farm data on feed intake, dry matter intake (DMI). It is a well-established fact that level of production is highly correlated to DMI.

CDAB has just published that “AGIL/USDA has demonstrated the feasibility of publishing national genomic evaluations for residual feed intake (RFI) based on the data generated by the 5-year national feed intake project funded by USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), involving several research groups”. “The next step for CACB is to develop a proposal on how to collect data for use in genetic analysis for feed efficiency.”

Take Home Message: There will be genomic indexes for feed efficiency likely with 2-3 years. Once again breeders will have a tool they can trust into breed animals that return more profit.

7) Breeder Acceptance

A.I.’s are reporting that 60 to 90% of their semen sales are from genomically evaluated bulls. That fact on its own says that breeders purchasing larger volumes of semen are putting their trust in genomic evaluations. However, breeders wanting daughter proven sire proofs need to be given that option provided they are prepared to pay extra for their semen.

Take home message: Breeders check books tell the whole story – Genomic Evaluations are trusted.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

In less than a decade the use of DNA data in genetic evaluations has gone from unknown and not understood to a trusted source of very useful information. Having genomic indexes has given breeders the opportunity to advance their breeding programs, their herds, and their on-farm profits.  Trust in information is important to dairy cattle breeders and they have and will continue, in the future, to place their trust in genomic indexes.



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Meeting the DEMANDS for MILK in the FUTURE

The dairy cattle breeding industry has, for the past century, had goals … increased lifetime production, udders compatible with machine milking, first calving at second birthday, … BUT … mostly the goals have not considered the people who spend their grocery dollars to buy dairy products. Yes, consumers are important. Yet consumers are, 99% of the time, the farthest thing from breeders’ minds when they make breeding decisions.

With all the back and forth in the media these days on trade and supply and demand in milk products in North America and also the world, The Bullvine decided to study the USA, as an example, of how breeding could possibly take place in the future in order to meet consumer demand for milk products. During the writing of this article, we consulted closely with Dr Jack Britt, as he has been giving considerable thought to what the US dairy industry will be in the future. Our review of Dr Britt’s work included presentations, that he made on dairying in 2067, at the CRI Annual Meeting in January 2017.

Current Situation for US Milk

In short, the US is swimming in surplus skim or what one writer called “a glut of skim’. To put it yet another way it requires the processing of too much milk to get the needed amount of butterfat. Thereby leaving a mountain of skim that must find a home in America or abroad. All the while when there is excess production in Europe, New Zealand and Australia. The result is that the US farm gate prices have tanked. Recently some producers have been informed that their processor will no longer pick up their milk.

After a thorough study of total domestic and export disappearance of US milk in 2016, Dr. Britt estimates that America consumes only 82% of its skim solids while using 97% of its fat solids. Simply said to come into balance the US needs to reduce its total milk production by 18% and significantly increase the fat percent in that reduced national production. By the way that significantly increased fat percent would need to be 4.6%.

History of US Milk Supply

The US dairy industry, in the past, operated well when supply was 105% of domestic demand. The current production level of 115+% of US demand has thrown the industry into disorder. With low prices, farm shipments increasing just so farms can maintain their cash flows and many newer producers, with debt and limited equity, being forced to leave the industry.

In the past when the milk supply in the US significantly exceeded domestic demand many governments and volunteer programs were implemented including the buyout of milking herds, purchase, and storage of excess butter, powder and cheese mostly destined for export, school milk for children and more.

Dairy marketing programs with commercial users (cheese, pizza, etc.) have been successful, but not to the extent that they have stopped the rise in the burgeoning stocks.

Moreover, cow numbers have crept up a bit in recent years and this means more cows are in the national herd and these cows are producing more and more each year.

No initiative has been the long-term solution to bring stability to milk supply or demand for milk in the American dairy industry.

Breeds (2014) in America

For dairy cattle farmers one immediate question is … “Do they have the right breed of cows or have they been making the right choice when selecting sires for their herds?”

Current (2014) production averages by breed for recorded cows are as follows:

Table 1 – American Breed Production (2014) for Officially Recorded Cows*

Breed % of Total Milk(#)**          F%           P%    P:F Ratio
Ayrshire 0.2 19,214 3.91 3.15 0.806
Brown Swiss 0.7 22,691 4.04 3.32 0.822
Guernsey 0.2 17,907 4.49 3.31 0.737
Holstein 87.4 27,251 3.73 3.06 0.821
Jersey 11.3 20,592 4.77 3.63 0.761
Milking Shorthorn 0.1 19,122 3.74 3.06 0.818
Red & White 0.1 24,675 3.76 3.05 0.811
    Weighted Average 26,421*** 3.82 3.11 0.818

* Data Source : Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding (
** Milk yields are for officially recorded cows
*** Milk yield for officially recorded cows exceeds the average US cow’s production by over 4,400 lbs

When considering Table 1, it is important to note: (1) the weighted butterfat average is 3.82%; and (2) that the weighted production level of officially recorded exceeds the level for the average US dairy cow by 4,400 lbs.

The Bullvine asks … if all US dairy cows were Jerseys or had a fat percent like Jerseys … would there still be a problem of not enough fat in proportion to other solids? Although Guernsey’s are few and far between their P:F ratio may be what the industry needs to bring into balance fat to other solids according to domestic disappearance. Breed loyalties run strong with dairy cattle breeders and it normally generations of selection to increase Fat %.

American Customer Needs (2030)

Healthy human nutrient intake has had a very significant uptake in research projects in the past decade. One big winner from this research has been the dairy industry with butter and whole milk now on the good side of the ledger, where just five years ago they where severely frowned upon.  In short, butterfat is no longer a swear word.

Considerable research into milk products is now in progress and a decade from now consumers will have many new or enhanced products that are based on milk or that contain milk products as a significant ingredient.

Other Factors That Will Affect the Desired Milk

The list is almost endless of factors that will change the way milk is produced and the component composition of milk the processors will demand. A partial list of factors could include: forage/pasture diets (80-90% forage); ways to minimize transport costs (don’t ship water); ways to best utilize storage capacity on-farm and at processors (higher component milk); environmental and emission regulations; a2 milk; the best milk for cheese making; enhanced fats in butter; … etc. As well as all the on-farm factors of cow size, cow mobility, cow feed conversion, labor minimization and adoption of technology.

The challenge for dairy cattle breeders will be to change their genetic, nutrition and management programs to capitalize on the opportunity to ship milk that brings the premium price.

Breeds in America (2030)

Dr. Britt’s work predicts that the average US cow in 2030 will produce 34,100 lbs of milk, that number considers the advances that will be made in genetics, nutrition, management and farm practices.  34,100 lbs. is 155% of what the average (all breeds) cows produced in 2014.

But is that the way to go? More and more and more milk? More and more and more skim? More and more and more whey? Is more volume the route the dairy breeding industry always needs to follow?

What about Dr. Britt’s idea of 4.6% fat in the milk? And what about a more significant portion of the national dairy herd being crossbred animals for reasons other than production?

The Bullvine offers (Table 2) a suggestion for breed composition and for when cows produce only 130% of their current (2014) volume of milk.  But with enough fat to fill the American domestic need.

Table 2 – Possible American Breed Production (2030)*

Breed % of Total Milk (#)**          %F            P%    P:F Ratio
Holstein 50% 35,424 4.3 3.5 0.814
Jersey 25% 26,770 5.3 4.1 0.774
Crossbred 25% 31,354 4.6 3.7 0.804
  Weighted Average 32,200*** 4.6 3.7 0.802

* Assumes dramatic genetic improvement for Fat % and Protein % and no genetic improvement for milk volume.
** Estimated milk yields for officially recorded cows at 130% of 2014 production
*** Dr. J H Britt predicts average US dairy cow’s production in 2030 will be 34,100 lbs (155% of 2014)

Do the numbers in Table 2 make sense? Are they achievable? Remember that the heritabilities for fat percent and protein percent are high and there will be 5 generations of cows before we reach 2030. If the numbers in table 2 are not achievable, then what are the numbers that the American dairy industry needs to plan for?  Or simply do Jersey and Guernsey need to be the breeds for the future?

Of course, there will be fewer cows needed to meet the national demand for milk in 2030, but that is a fact of life that the dairy industry has been living with forever.

Sires To Use

For Table 2 to become a reality, then heavy emphasis would need to be placed on selection for fat percent and some emphasis on protein percent. Sires that increase fat and protein yield but do not increase milk yield (0 PTA Milk) would help the process immeasurably. Table 3 provides some examples of high fat percent North American sires.

Table 3 – North American Sires that are High for Fat %

Name      Fat % **              Fat    Protein %        Protein         Milk  TPI/JPI/LPI NM$ / Pro$   Sire Stack
US Holstein                
Marriott 0.37 69 0.09 1 -823 2328 588 Predistine x Facebook x Bogart
Skateboard 0.35 99 0.07 22 121 2478 672 Uno x Russell x Auden
Element 0.35 81 0.12 23 -387 2429 652 Balisto x Hill x AltaAlly
Armani 0.35 33 0.16 -4 -1491 2087 249 Goldwyn x Regiment x Durham
Bloomfield 0.34 105 0.07 29 875 2429 652 Delta x x Uno x Shottle
US Jersey                
VJ Dee 0.58 69 0.24 13 -889 141 428 Lappe x Hirse x Lemvig
Vivaldi 0.52 82 0.22 29 -407 177 576 Lix x Implus x Paramount
Huell 0.45 87 0.16 31 -23 182 584 Hulk x Renegade x Maximum
Canada Holstein              
Flame 1.16 96 0.39 28 -515 3021 1809 Uno x Freddie x Bolton
Loic 0.91 104 0.45 61 283 3001 2066 Flame x Sudan x MOM
Lynx 0.81 118 0.24 55 920 3424 2678 Lylas x Jennings x McCutchen
Achiever 0.78 141 0.21 73 1550 3332 2902 Yoder x AltaEmbassy x Robust
Brewmaster 0.77 133 0.12 54 1235 3186 2377 Garrett x Shottle x Champion
Canada Jersey                
Maserati 1.09 80 0.38 28 40 1659 914 Merchant x Implus x Lemvig
Antonio 1.05 80 0.46 37 210 2030 1508 Vivaldi x Zuma x Lemvig
Mastermind 0.97 82 0.42 40 308 1822 1257 Hilario x Impuls x Lemvig

* Milk Rel – sires 90% and higher are daughter proven and sires 80% and lower are genomically evalauted
** Fat % cannot be directly compared US to Canada. All sires listed are at the top for their grouping.

Note that Fat % cannot be directly compared USA (expected daughter performance) to Canada (breeding value). Most of the sires in Table 3 may not be well known as North American total merit indexes place only minor emphasis on fat %.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The entire global dairy industry, not just the USA, needs to take heed and implement ways of balancing milk supply with the demand for milk products. If fat percent and/or protein percent are to be changed significantly for the milk shipped to processors then genetics will be involved. And 2017 is not too soon to start considering ways that genetics can assist with balancing supply and demand. Definitely the balancing is more than just a genetics problem, all stakeholders need to bring forward possible solutions so dairy farming and the dairy industry can be viable and sustainable.



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Breeding for Kappa Casein to Increase Cheese Yield

The Bullvine seldom talks about the processing of milk into product when it comes to writing about the breeding of dairy cattle. We expect it happens even less frequently that dairy cattle breeders consider the yield their processor obtains in products from the milk they ship. The different kappa casein genotypes found in today’s dairy cattle can have a significant effect on the volume and quality of cheese produced from milk. Here are some interesting details that we found from our research on this subject.

The Situation

Dairy cattle are evaluated for their ability to produce the percentage of protein in milk and the total protein yield.  Milk processors find that: 1) some milks clot quickly, its cheese is firm and produces the most cheese per unit of milk; 2) some milks clot, but not quickly, and have varying degrees of firmness and produces 10%-15% less cheese, and 3) some milks do not clot. Cheese makers are not prepared to buy milk that fits into the latter category. Studies from Europe and North America have found a strong association between the kappa casein genotype BB and milk that clots quickly, produces firm cheese and has a high volume of cheese yield.

The situation of poor or non-clotting milk came to international attention in the 1970’s when Italian cheese makers were no longer able to make their cheeses from the milk from certain farms. After studying the situation, it was determined that some daughters from North American Holstein sires produced milk that was not desirable for cheese making.  In-depth study identified the problem to be with the kappa casein produced by these non-Italian sires’ daughters.

Kappa Casein Alleles

At least nine alleles have been identified for kappa casein. Specifically, three alleles, A, B, and E, dominate in global dairy cattle populations. Initially, it was thought that two alleles, A and B, were the main ones present in dairy cattle. However, a third allele, E, was found to exist approximately 10% of the time. E is the allele associated with the milk that does not clot to make cheese.

Cheese Yield by Genotype

A synopsis of the published findings on kappa casein genotypes follows:

  • Cheese from the milk of BB cows’ clots 25% faster and is twice as firm as cheese made from AA cow’s milk.
  • Milk from BB cows produces 1.0- 1.5 lbs (about 10%) more cheese per cwt of milk than milk from AA cows.
  • Milk from AB cows is about midway between BB and AA cows for clotting speed, firmness, and yield.
  • Milk from EE cows does not clot and is not suitable for cheese making
  • Milk from AE cows is also considered by most cheese makers to be unsuitable.
  • The literature is not informative on the properties of milk from BE cows. There are suggestions that it may be similar to milk from AA cows when it comes to cheese making.
  • A 1985 study by Okigbo, Richardson, Brown and Ernstrom found that milk with impaired clotting properties was not improved by mixing it with an equal amount of well-clotting milk.

General Stat’s with respect to Kappa Casein

Initially, our focus was on kappa casein relative to North American dairy cows. However, we found interesting information from published studies in Italy, France, Estonia, The Netherlands, Scandinavia, and Turkey.  Milk for cheesemaking is important in these countries because from 40% to 75% (Italy) of the national milk is used to make cheese. Some additional facts include:

  • About 10% of North American Holsteins are BB.
  • North American Jerseys have a significantly higher percent BB than do Holsteins. Likely the result heavy use of two BB Jersey sires from twenty years ago.
  • Globally Brown Swiss are reported to be 35% BB.
  • Holsteins in Europe have between 15% and 23% BB
  • Water Buffalo are almost 100% BB. India, the world’s largest milk producing country, gets half its milk from Water Buffalo.

What About Current Holstein Sires?

Table 1 is the frequency of occurrence for the kappa casein genotypes for the top North American proven or most used Holstein sires.

Table 1 – Kappa Casein Genotype Profiles for North American Holstein Sires

Grouping Total Sires BB AB AA BE AE EE
Most Registered Daughters – USA* 20 2 6 4 4 4 0
Most Registered Daughters – Canada** 20 2 8 5 0 5 0
Top Proven TPI Sires *** 20 4 8 6 1 1 0
Top Proven NM$ Sires *** 20 2 7 6 2 3 0
Top Proven CM$ Sires *** 20 2 6 6 2 4 0
Top Proven LPI Sires *** 20 6 6 5 0 3 0
Top Proven Pro$ Sires *** 20 6 6 6 1 1 0
Average (%)   17% 34% 26% 7% 16% 0%

* For time period two weeks prior to April 03, 2017
** Based on registrations in 2016
*** April 2017 Proofs

Some points that should be noted from this table include:

  • The sires in Table 1 have a higher occurrence of BB (17%) than in the general cow population (10%).
  • There are no EE sires but the 16% level of AE should concern breeders and A.I studs when it comes to cheese firmness and lost potential yield in the future.
  • The frequency of BB & AB is higher in the Canadian sire proof groupings than in other groupings.
  • The overall 38% gene frequency of the B allele gives hope that genetic progress to eliminating E and reducing the A allele should be possible in the not too distant future.

Some BB daughter proven sires that topped or were near the top of the groupings in Table 1 are listed in Table 2.

Table 2 –  Leading BB Daughter Proven Sires

Sire NAAB Code Sire Stack Rank
Aikman 250HO01043 Snowman x Baxter x Goldwyn #2 LPI, #20 Pro$
Aikosnow 200HO03914 Snowman x Baxter x Goldwyn #4 Pro$, #14 LPI
Balisto 29HO16714 Bookem x Watson x Oman #20 TPI
Bob 7HO11752 Bookem x Oman x Manat #8 TPI
Camaro 250HO01109 Epic x Freddie x Lucky Star #9 LPI, #19 Pro$
Donatello 7HO11525 Robust x Planet x Elegant #14 US Registered, #14 CM$, #17 NM$
Dragonheart 7HO12111 Epic x Planet x Elegant #1 Pro$, #4 LPI
Facebook 200HO03753 MOM x Airraid x Shottle #20 CAN Registered
Impression 200HO00560 Socrates x Potter x Durham #1 CAN Registered
Living 200HO06573 Epic x MOM x Shottle #12 Pro$, #19 LPI
Punch 7HO11207 Boxer x Oman x Manat #13 Pro$, #18 LPI
Rookie 7HO11708 Bookem x Bronco x Shottle #9 TPI
Trenton 7HO13094 Sterling x Robust x Planet #9 CM$, #12 NM$

One BB genomically evaluated sire is in the top registered USA sire grouping in Table 1:

  • Jedi                       (7HO13250)                             (Montross x Supersire x Bookem)                #8 US Registered

What About Genomic Sires?

With over half of the semen being used coming from genomically evaluated sires it is important to consider this category. In some herds, only genomic sires are used. However, to summarize the kappa casein genotype frequency for this group is not reasonable as many of the top sires on the April 2017 listings are too young to have semen available yet. As well the usual cautions that The Bullvine gives apply do not overuse any one genomically evaluated sire as their indexes range from 55% to 75% REL. Moreover, take into consideration the future inbreeding coefficient of these sires as a breeder may already have those sires close up in their animals’ sire stacks.

Some genomically evaluated Holstein and Jersey sires that are BB for kappa casein that are worthy of breeder consideration include:

Table 3 – High Ranking BB Genomic Evaluated Sires

Sire NAAB Code Sire Stack          CM$          NM$      TPI/JPI          LPI         Pro$
Achiever 29HO18296 Yoder x Altafrido x Robust 1062 1023 2788 3332 2902
AltaCraig 11HO11749 Stoic x Supersire x Massey 842 806 2643 3188 2498
AltaForever 11HO11821 Silver x Freddie x Obrian 774 746 2642 3313 2767
Baylor 551HO03419 Delta x Bob x Uno 874 846 2735 3379 2722
Cam 7HO13592 Jedi x Moonray x Bookem 893 876 2727 3263 2709
Cardinals 200HO10668 Yoder x McCutchen x Robust 804 785 2682 3108 2155
Galahad 200HO10755 Penmanship x Jacey x McCutchen 732 678 2636 3377 2695
McGuffey 551HO03350 Montross x Robust x Mac 834 820 2683 3199 2657
Medley 29HO18343 Yoder x Balisto x O-Style 986 966 2779 3447 2962
Powerfull-PP 224HO04510 Powerball-P x Supersire x Colt-P 670 635 2462 2962 2225
Selfie 224HO04273 Supershot x Aikman x Larson 749 734 2561 3231 2561
Yale 7HO13328 Yoder x Altafrido x Robust 836 824 2683 3286 2654
AltaBlitz 11JE01320 Axis x Kilowatt x Karbala 619 593 173 1803 1701
Charmer 29JE04009 Chili x Dividend x T-Bone 630 588 178 2010 1824
Halt 29JE03989 Harris x Hendrix x Redhot 664 628 187 1911 1744
Joyride 200JE10011 Rufus x Paramunt x First Prize 152 139 48 2014 1712
Torpedo 250JE01456 Santana-P x Fastrack x Nathan 408 390 118 1823 1514
Tyrion 203JE01632 Hulk x Action 782 736 231 1755 1587

Take Home Ideas

The Bullvine offers the following ideas for breeders and breeding industry people to consider:

  • Cheese Making: In the future, it is entirely possible that cheese processors will not buy milk from Holstein herds that cannot guarantee that their cows are at least a high percentage are BB. Jersey herds and totally BB Holstein herds are likely to be paid a premium for this milk.
  • Niche or Mainstream: In the next five years breeding to increase the percent of BB females will be niche. However, as more and more milk is used to make cheese selection for the B allele and away from the E allele is likely to be mainstream. Selecting sires on total protein without regards to the kappa casein profile of those sires should become a practice from the past.
  • Breeding Animals: Breeders and breeding organizations would be well advised to commence selecting for the B allele when it comes to sire and ET donor selection. An achievable objective would be for A.I. studs to only enter BB and AB bulls into stud starting in 2019. Breeders are advised not to flush any females that are EE, AE and perhaps even BE starting in 2019 or before. Breeders need to ask their semen sales reps for a sire’s kappa casein profile before buying semen. Bull kappa casein profiles are not included in CDCB or CDN files but are most often included in A.I. stud electronic bull files or hard copy catalogs.
  • Research: More research is taking place in many countries of the impact of kappa casein genotype on cheese production. At the University of California (Davis) there are major projects underway on how to use genetic engineering to eliminate the E allele and to fast track changing Holsteins into being BB.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

One characteristic, like kappa casein, cannot rule the breeding, milk production and milk processing industries. However, with a higher and higher percentage of dairy cows’ milk being used to make cheese, breeding for animals with the BB kappa casein genotype can no longer be ignored or thought not to be important. Breeders are advised to ask their semen suppliers for the kappa casein profiles of sires before they purchase semen. Starting immediately sires with EE and AE profiles should be avoided and if the semen is already in the tank then even throwing it out may make good business sense. Because producing females that are EE or AE will delay when premiums may be possible for milk sold for making cheese.



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Does The Current Conformation Evaluation System Work for Commercial Breeders?

Go to a commercial dairy cattle sales barn, anywhere in the world, if you want to get the low down on what successful milk producers want in the physical traits of the cows that they bid on.

At one time, you would have heard that udders were #1. However, with conformation progress, udders have been significantly improved and have been lifted to hock level in mature cows. It is likely that feet and legs are now #1 when it comes to selection. But do these breeders have good information on which to select for mobility?

Do Breeds Care about Commercial?

That’s a fair question. Do Holstein breed organizations care about what commercial dairy people want the conformation of their cows to be? The answer is, “Apparently; they don’t care!”, as proven by the fact that stature, height at shoulder, depth of rear rib and excessive angularity get an extra reward by type classification programs the world over.  This state of affairs is not surprising since type classification programs around the world have been modeled after the US and Canadian systems, where marketing often far outranks animal improvement in the use made of the information.

Other breeds may not be as obsessed with these ‘pretty’ traits, but they still want them.

Holstein US has acknowledged that there are strong positive correlations between stature and final class and stature and udder composite but, so far, it is an acknowledgment, not a plan to change. Why is that? Could it be that tradition overrules what the cows of the future need to be?

In Canada, Holstein Canada type classifies all the dairy breeds, so the other breeds will get the Holstein goal of tall cows, by proximity, if for no other reason.

I leave the final answer to The Bullvine readers to say if breeds really do care about the conformation of cows in commercial dairy breeders’ herds.

Commercial Dairy Breeders’ Needs

The Bullvine addressed this question in the article, Are You Breeding For The Correct Conformation To Produce The Greatest Lifetime Profit? From our discussion with the three breeders in preparing that article the take home message on conformation we got was:

  • The current ideal cows for breeds are not their ideal cow for conformation
  • Stature is a detriment, not an asset
  • Udders need to be what robots can milk
  • With cows milked 3x (or even 4-5x in robots) udders don’t need to be large
  • Mobility and no maintenance, not feet & leg structure, is what is needed

The Bullvine has produced other related articles on ideal commercial cow conformation including She Ain’t Pretty She Just Milks That Way and What’s Needed In Type Beyond Udders, Feet, And Legs?

So, if breed type classification programs are not concerned about serving the commercial dairy breeders when it comes to conformation evaluation what alternatives are there?

What Alternatives Are There?

Here are some alternatives to using the current type classification programs available to commercial dairy breeders:

  1. Stop classifying
  2. Stop breeding for conformation
  3. Ask breeds to immediately change the programs
  4. Ask breeds to initiate a program that only collects descriptive/linear traits on key traits
  5. Only use the information that A.I. or other companies collect for conformation

Do any of these work for you?

A.I. Caught in the Middle

At one time, some A.I. companies collected their own conformation information, and they published the breeding tendencies of their bulls.

However, for approximately forty years A.I. companies have supported and used the results from the type classification programs to select young bulls and promote their sires’ daughters.

Unfortunately, the kicker is that high PTAT or CONF are not correlated with high lifetime yields in milk producing herds.  A.I.’s are therefore caught. They use information that their primary customers do not see the benefit of having.  

This trend is also seen in the new wellness traits introduced by Zoeits.  For many commercial breeders the current CDCB official evaluations that included parentage, production, reproduction, health and type data was not accurately predicting the actual lifetime profitability of their animals.  Zoetis used on farm data that was not typically used or accepted by CDCB to introduce mastitis, lameness, metritis, retained placenta, displaced abomasum, and ketosis traits.  (Read more: The Complete Guide to Understanding Zoetis’ New Wellness Traits – CLARIFIDE® Plus and Can you breed a healthier cow?

What about Electronic Imaging?

Today with new exciting and very useful technology coming out almost monthly, why not consider something for electronically capturing animal conformation at the farm level. Surely, it’s possible.

I can see it now! A camera in the milking parlor or milking stall that snaps multiple pictures or records a video of animals. The images are uploaded to a data base where special software does the analysis. In parlors, it would probably work best in exit lanes where cows could be funneled through in single file. With single box robots, it could be done just after the cow is prepped.

“Not possible” some would say. Electronic imaging works in every other industry so, why couldn’t it work for cattle conformation evaluation? Of course, there will be naysayers, but there are always those people in the world. If it is not breed ‘approved’ so what? If it does the job to help with animal improvement, nothing else is needed.

The newest generic software in this area is very versatile, and it learns quickly. The software initially uses experts to give it “lessons,” but then it begins to build on those lessons. For this, a cow’s ID would be linked to her performance, and health data and a database would soon be created to connect the dots between “physical” traits and performance and/or health data. Some software is already in development in this area (i.e. lameness), but there are other great possibilities for the future.

By the way, this type of a system was talked about twenty years ago by breeds, but it was nixed as it presented the possibility of eliminating or redefining classifiers’ jobs. Breed organizations were not prepared to accept that technology could replace human judgment.  Politics won out over cost, service and animal improvement. Today I feel that more consideration needs to be given to the opportunity for more accurately capturing data and enhancing assessments using traits information from all traits, not just conformation traits.

What Evaluations would be Possible?

The list could, in time, be long but to start with here are a few:

  • Udder depth and udder cleft
  • Teat length and teat placement
  • Udder attachments
  • Feet, Pasterns, and Legs
  • Mobility (video or series of pictures)
  • Thurl location, Slope of Rump,
  • Stature, Body width, and depth

What else could happen?

In time, such an automated system would be able to decide how best to evaluate and combine the data captured. If we limited that data to only certain traits we would not get the advantage of artificial intelligence from the software and imaging system. The equipment could take 1000 images on each pass and then scrutinize them to match body parts up to performance and health traits.  A trained machine would be very quick, accurate and cost effective.

Commercial breeders would have more data than they ever imagined possible. Furthermore, a common software and data system could be used worldwide so that dairy cattle improvement organizations could easily share data. Organizations could focus on providing breeders with accurate information and avoid the expense of harmonization.

It could even go further. Going beyond only cows to doing heifers could be helpful for all non-mammary traits, as well as to monitor structural development. The data could even be used on young calves to match genomic data.

Who Would Do This?

To start with, it would take some venture capital for research and development. After that, it could be any interested party, independently or in collaboration with others. In short, it would be individuals or organizations that saw a benefit to having accurate, unbiased conformation evaluations for genetic indexing and animal mating purposes.

It could be an add-on to services offered by milk recording, breed organizations, A.I. companies, milking equipment companies or animal health companies. Perhaps it could even be a company like Google.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Breeders need relevant and accurate evaluations and indexes for making the best possible mating decisions for their herds. Much of the current information for conformation supplied by breed type classification programs is not suited to the needs of commercial dairy cattle breeders. Alternative means for evaluating and capturing cow and heifer conformation data needs to be given serious consideration.



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Has the Purebred Dairy Industry Lost Its Leadership?

Here at The Bullvine, we have the opportunity to hear and read about many new and exciting dairy topics. We take sharing these as our responsibility to our supporters to help the industry move forward.  We encourage our readers to go beyond their current approach, situation, or mindset and consider how to create the future.

But Things are not Always Positive

That’s a fact of life. The Bullvine writers also encounter dairy folks that look back to the good old days which, by the way, weren’t so good and we’ve heard that song before, and that is definitely today’s old news.

Just this week I heard from a few sources how their chosen breed of dairy cattle used to be longer lived, were pure, had greater market share and had higher component percentages. They reminisced about how buyers lined up to buy bred heifers at the farm. In those good old days, heifer rearing was a net income source, and there was demand for any and all progeny of a Grand Champion. Then the whining started about how genetic indexing has ruined the breed. …. And on …. And on.

So, I asked myself the next question …”Am I missing something or have these good folks not kept up with the times?”

Leave the Past Behind

Nothing is so passé as old ways or old technology. Who would want to go back to party line telephones or having to pay $1.25 for three minutes to talk to you cousin fifty miles away?

Which dairy cattle breeder would want to go back to cows that only milked seven months after calving? Or having to hand milk five cows before you went to school?  Or having to hand load mowed dry hay in the field and then pitch it off into the mow?

Times have changed for everything, whether we’re talking about businesses, consumer food demands or society. So too have farming practices and so must our breeds and breed societies change.  The cows of the last century and the rules, regulations, and programs of breeds from then will not take us forward into the future.

Yes. We need to stop revering the past. It’s time to stop using old methods, practices, and programs. We’re getting down to the wire, and it’s time to put significant effort into creating the road ahead for our cattle breed organizations.

What’s Involved?

Even though we have new and expanded information on our animals, everything still revolves around leadership. The people leading and working for our breed organizations will make the difference in the future.

New ideas, new technology, new programs, new services, … all these need a serious re-consideration.

The People Side

Here are some Bullvine thoughts for breeders to consider:

  1. Elected Leaders
    It is 2017 and breeders need to elect leaders that are prepared to focus on setting direction, establishing dynamic policies and ensuring breed organization financial health. Breed Boards of Directors need to follow the much talked about practice of removing two regulations for every new one added. Boards need to eliminate out-of-date or little-used programs and services. Culling at breed offices, like herd culling, is important.
    Our elected leaders need to be actively involved in the industry and forward looking. The best of these leaders will not be able to take the time to leave their farms for days on end but in this virtual world committees or task forces can take an hour once a week to discuss concepts and make recommendations for staff to develop further and bring back reports. Electronic committee reports or recommendations can be shared with the Board for feedback and fine-tuning so the Board approval can occur without the need for a Board to meet face-to-face.  Breeders are familiar with these concepts of time use and duty allocation.  That is how their successful farms operate.
    Boards of Directors need to identify one area a year where breed members can be served by the breed by collaborating its efforts or services with another organization. In many cases, the breeders will be better served.
    Elected directors will need their own local breeder advisory group with which they routinely virtually share information, ideas and questions. Hard copy and quarterly meetings no longer get the messages exchanged completely enough.
    Breeders will find it a breath of fresh air when they elect progressive visionary leaders to their breed board of directors.  Directors will find that their time is well spent in moving the breed
  2. Employed Leaders
    The Board of Directors of a breed usually hires only one person, the CEO. That person then hires all the other staff. It is extremely important that the CEO is a visionary corporate leader that works well with the Board to ratify the goals, policies, plans, programs and to keep the organization financially viable.
    When you have a CEO who works well with the Board, it does not mean someone who always agrees with the Board. Status quo is as deadly for breed associations as it is for managing a dairy operation.
    The CEO will have program and service leaders reporting to him/her. These people need to be good administrators, and as well they need always to be looking for ways to do things in an improved way or more completely for the betterment of the breed and its members.
    One matter sometimes not considered by breeders and directors is the need for a budget for staff training and skills development. Organizations that grow their staff grows their organization. Ones that don’t develop their staff stagnate and fall behind.
  3. Breed Members
    Youth and young adult programs are a must have for breeds. Finding the resources for such programs is often a challenge for breeds but teaming up with other like-minded organizations is one solution. One key to such programs is the need to make them broad and comprehensive. Limiting them to people interested in shows only is not enough. With young people so interested in social media, this is a good area for a breed to ‘go social’ in reaching out to youth.
    Young breeder training with the view to having these breeders trained and ready to run for election to the breed board is an excellent plan. This is an area where a breed could work jointly with a state extension service and/or other agricultural organizations.

The Program / Services Side

Here are some Bullvine thoughts for both breeders and breed boards of directors to consider:

  1. Herd Improvement Plans
    No two herds are the same when it comes to their needs in genetics, nutrition, technology and management. Breeds should have a range in herd plans that breeders could follow or adapt. A key component of such programs is to contain the business side of dairy farming, including revenue generation and cost control. If such plans are not provided, then beginning breeders may find the benefits from breed membership are limited. There is little doubt that in the future breeding companies will be providing such programs with or without breed
  2. Animal Data
    The sooner that breeds discontinue judging which data is ‘official’ and only publishing third-party verified data, as it is called, the better it will be for everyone – the breed, animal improvement, and the breeders. Breeds need to provide all the facts and label the data source for the information. The people reading and using the information will decide if the information is useful or not for them.
    The industry is just starting into a very expansionary era regarding the amount of information that will be known on every documented animal. Genomic indexes were just the start. Breeds will need to find ways to collaborate with other documenting If they don’t do this, the relevance of the breed data files could be very limited.
  3. Cows of the Future
    The Bullvine has written extensively on this topic. Other articles to refer to include The Secret to Breeding the Dairy Cow of the Future…, What Will The Cow of The Future Look Like? and 5 Things You MUST Know about the Future of the Dairy Breeding Industry

Breeds need to plan for fast-arriving modern dairy herd realities such as the following:

  • Cows that regularly complete 5+ lactation on average;
  • All heifers are not registered in the breed herdbook (no fee paid);
  • Over 95% of the milk production coming from herds where owners are not concerned about breed purity;
  • DNA profiles are able to identify, at 90+% reliability, the complete genetic merit of animals;
  • Gene editing is a reality; and
  • Specialized lines of animals (for traits and breed make-up) existing within a breed.

All of these will impact the viability of the breed, with or without breed associations.

  1. Research and Development (R&D)
    Breeds and breeders have been known to consider the responsibility for genetic R&D to be too costly and have let others carry out this role. This is not a wise off-loading. If breeds do not, at least, participate in breed related R&D, then the outcomes of the R&D investment will accrue to others and not the breed or its members.
    If breeds are looking for areas to consider for R&D they might look at 1) if a visual image of a cow, captured by an on-farm system, could be used to evaluate body conformation for genetic purposes; 2) should all bulls entering A.I. have their DNA profile expanded so that their genomic indexes are 95% REL; 3) which animals/families/breeding lines in the population are the most desired for fertility, health, and immunity; and 4) how will animals that are the result of gene editing or other means of adding genes be documented and recognized within the breed.
  2. Business Approach
    Breeds need to consider how matters of volume discounting; value pricing and other common business practices will be addressed. It is more than likely that average herd size will more than double over the next decade. Duplication of services provided by producer directed organizations and the sharing of similar service will continue to be a matter that Boards of Directors will need to consider as costs are likely to outpace income for breed organizations.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The Bullvine is positive about breed organizations where breed boards keep up with the times and ensure that the breed services are relevant, appropriately priced and supported. The dairy cow will be improved to provide farmers with efficient converters of non-human foods to human foods that consumers will buy. Breed organizations need to be visionary, bold and dynamic about their role and the services they provide. Otherwise, the world of dairying will pass them by.



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Getting More from Your Rumination and Activity Monitoring Devices

Have you ever bought a new piece of equipment only to get less than 50% of what the sales person ‘promised’ it would provide? It is both sad and negative for agriculture when farmers get oversold on new technology. But, let’s be positive! Have you ever invested in new technology and got more than your money’s worth?  The Bullvine recently read about such a situation. It came to our attention via a series of scientific reports in the Journal of Dairy Science (JDS Vol. 99 No. 9, 2016) where a study was done at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York about the use of automated health-monitoring system (AHMS).

Study Hypothesis

By knowing the details from an automated health-monitoring system (AHMS), the researchers wanted to determine if, beyond heats (activity) and rumen health (rumination), predictions could be made on the presence of metabolic and digestive disorders including displaced abomasum, ketosis, indigestion, mastitis, and metritis.

Cornell Study

Researchers decided that one more research farm study was not what dairy farmers needed or wanted to hear about. So, they found a 1100 cow free stall commercial dairy where management and experienced workers were willing to take the time and effort to record digestive and health disorders. Farm workers were present 24 hours per day and went about their work without knowing what data the AHMS was capturing. This provided for the researches to have unbiased, independent data from two sources to use in their analysis. Cows were fitted with a neck-mounted electronic rumination and activity monitoring tag and rumination time and physical activity information was recorded from 21 days before expected calving until at least 80 days after calving. The study covered a year-long period with recording of performance in the parlor of this 3x herd. The herd’s 305-day performance was 13,036 kgs. (28,725 lbs), and it’s TMR diets were standards for New York State. Pre-calving heifers and cows were housed separately. For a month after calving all cows were housed together and from then on cows were grouped by lactation number.

Study Synopsis

The rumination and activity details were continually captured and uploaded to the central processor every two hours. The digestive and health disorder data, both observed and suspected, came from the workers’ recordings. The information from both sources was used to develop a dynamic ‘health index score’ (HIS).  Researchers created alert levels for the HIS when metabolic and/or digestive problems might be suspected. The researchers then tested these HIS alert levels against the herd’s people making a clinical diagnosis of one of the five disorders. Exact protocols were followed, and disorder descriptions were clearly defined. Blood was drawn, and testing was done on groups of animals in order to augment and verify the clinical diagnosis, as determined by the herd’s people.

End Objective

The end objective, from using the HIS, was to be able to predict, using activity and rumination data, a problem before it would have been clinically diagnosed. Knowing one day ahead is a start but knowing the possibility of a problem up to 3-5 days ahead has the potential to be a game-changer for managing to avoid metabolic and digestive disorders.

Health Disorder Incidence

A review of the scientific literature shows the following incidences of and facts about metabolic and digestive disorders:

  • Disease frequency (% of all disorders): Mastitis 35-45%; Metritis 12-15%; Retained Placenta 7-10%; Displaced Abomasum 4-6% and Ketosis 3-5%.
  • The majority of health and digestive diseases occur in the first month of lactation
  • The frequency of mastitis and high SCC increases with cow age
  • Milk Fever (4-5%), not included in this study, rarely occurs in first lactation and incidence is variable between herds.

Definitely, the disorders in this Cornell study are prevalent enough (70% of all disorders) that any avoidance of them could significantly impact the bottom line of farms.

Study Results

The key findings from the study are the rate of detection of a disorder and the days in advance that the HIS would have detected a possible disorder as compared to the farm staff making a clinical diagnosis. An interesting fact for this herd was that 58% of the cows had at least one of the five disorders and 42% had none. 70% of cows with a disorder had one, and 30% had more than one disorder.

Table 1 Study Disorders – Incidence, Occurance, Prediction Accuracy and Prediction before Diagnosis

Mastitis and metritis events occurred in 44% of the cows. However, the accuracy of prediction for these two was the lowest of the disorders. The half day ahead of clinical diagnosis for mastitis, lower that for three of the other disorders, is not surprising considering this was a well-managed herd, milked 3x daily.  Interesting to note was that for E Coli mastitis the accuracy of prediction was 81%, much higher than for overall mastitis at 58%. All disorders, except for mastitis, occurred very early in lactation. The results are very encouraging for the detection of the metabolic disorders, considering that they are much harder for herds people to detect than mastitis or sub-clinical metritis.

Is It Worth Knowing?

The short answer on whether or not to use the AHMS to monitor for metabolic and digestive disorders is yes. 

Greater ROI

Without doing a full simulation on extending the use made of an AHMS to included monitoring for health disorders has yet to be documented on a financial basis. Some facts that every herd manager knows to be true include:

  • Having a single health disorder can cost from $250 – $500 per incidence in treatment costs and lost income, all the way to early culling and even the death on-farm of the animal
  • Saleable milk is lost during the disorder, and the total lactation yield is decreased
  • Drugs are costly, and the drug bill can mount up depending on the disorder, and
  • It takes extra labor to care for sick animals.

However, those are only the start of the ways in which having your AHMS predict a disorder can pay back dividends. Here are points to include when considering the ROI of an AHMS:

  • The AHMS works 24 hours every day, takes no holidays and requires no weekly wage.
  • The AHMS can, at least partially, eliminate the need for staff to be continually monitoring dry, fresh and breeding pens. It could likely decrease the size of the workforce, or it could permit staff to put more effort into another area of the farming enterprise.
  • Experienced herds persons know that early detection of any abnormal condition can be a major advantage when it comes to minimizing severity or in increased speed of recovery.
  • As well as providing herd manager with information to catch heats and improve pregnancy rates, catching even 50% of the metabolic and digestive disorders before they get serious can add $200+ per cow per year to net yearly profit for the entire herd. That’s significant!
  • For information purposes, it should be noted that an AHMS cost is from $ $150-$175 USD per animal (collars + data system).

The Bullvine Bottom Line

This study shows that the information from an AHMS can reliably be used to predict metabolic and digestive disorders before they occur.  More information to enhance a herd’s management level and the bottom line is something progressive managers are always on the lookout for. Herd managers can thereby use all the tools, intuition, observation and data, to take their herd to higher profit.



Leading producers are always looking for ways to better monitor their animals.  The focus on developing solid SOPs for identifying sick cows has also resulted in increased lock up times.   What would be the value of knowing a cow was sick 1-2 days before you can see it? Dairies now can have precision animal monitoring that can integrate their SOP’s and provide imitate results for both health and reproduction.

Join Dr. Julio Giordano, Cornell University DVM, M.S., Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Animal Science on Tuesday, April 18th, 2017 at 12 noon EST as we will be discussing their research using the ai24™/SCR HRLD technology and the exciting findings that will impact your business.
Click here to sign up for this free webinar.


Are You Really Sure You Are Using The Correct Breeding Index For Your Herd?

Usually, the Bullvine does not come back quickly to a topic just covered. But when specifically asked to add further light on a topic, we leap at the opportunity to add clarity with further information. After publishing the article “Which Breeding Index is right for you? we received questions and comments from readers and Facebook friends that stimulated us to dig deeper.

Readers’ Questions

  1. Can you provide analysis on Jerseys, as they are gaining in popularity?
  2. What about comparisons of bull index groupings for Canadian sires?
  3. How significant are the differences between the bull index categories?
  4. I live in the UK and use both US and Canadian sires, I would be interested in knowing if I can use TPI and LPI and NM$ and Pro$ interchangeably?

These are all excellent questions?

Study Premise

Let’s recall the premise of the original article. Our premise was “the average of a group of bulls, selected using a particular total merit index, will be what a breeder can expect to obtain in the genetic merit of their herd when that certain index is used over a period.”

Of course, a breeder will pick and choose sires and will not use all the sires in any grouping. Therefore the results obtained can and will differ from the average. However, the average will be a very good indication of the results from using any particular total merit index.

Total Merit Indexes Studied

Some dairy cattle breeders follow only one breeding strategy, others use more than one strategy in their herd, but almost all breeders use the facts and figures to help them achieve their goals and objectives.

To assist breeders, we choose four total merit indexes to compare expected results:

  1. Conformation/ Type Index (when selection is based on type only)
  2. Production Indexes (Fat + Protein Yield, as 70% of milk goes into milk products)
  3. Breed recommended Total Merit Indexes (TPI, JPI, LPI, …)
  4. Economically Weighted Total Merit Indexes (NM$, CM$, Pro$, …)

Sire Average Index Comparisons

The tables that follow are the average proofs for the top active US and Canadian Holstein and Jersey proven sires, with semen available for sale, as ranked and published in December 2016. Table 1 is a replication of the table contained in our first article. The number color coding is: red = lowest/worst; and blue = highest/best. The scale of and range in proofs depends on the base used for the publication of proofs.

Table 1 Average Proof for Top Twenty Active US Proven Holstein Sires (Dec’16)

Table 2 Average Proof for Top Ten Active US Proven Jersey Sires (Dec’16)

Table 3 Average Proof For Top Twenty Active Canadian Holstein Sires (Dec’16)

Table 4 Average Proof For Top Ten Active Canadian Proven Jersey Sires (Dec’16)


The Take Home Messages on Indexes

Holstein Sires: The highest sires for breed and economic indexes came out superior most often. Highest production sires did not rank lowest for traits as often as most top type sires. With management, health and longevity traits receiving the focus in 2017, NM$, CM$ and Pro$ indexes are recommended as the total merit indexes to use when doing the first sort for sires to use.

  • Jersey Sires: Since the number of Jersey sires being proven is not as large, the averages and comparisons may not be As with Holsteins, the breed and economic indexes come out on top more often. In the US JPI and CM$ are very similar. However, in Canada Pro$ is superior to LPI when it comes to the Jersey sire proof averages. The high type sires definitely are inferior for production and most important management traits. The highest production sires do not have the longevity and management traits that most commercial breeders want to have in their herds.
  • Highest Type Sires: These sires will satisfy breeders wanting to breed for the niche show market. Otherwise, breeders using high type sires will continue to quickly fall behind for production, fertility, DCE and other management traits. Significantly increased stature (and size) comes with selecting for type for both breeds in both US and Canada. Compared to other total merit indexing alternatives, when a sire’s type proof is used as the primary selection number, breeders can expect to fall behind the progress being made by breeders using the highest sires for production, breed index or economic index.
  • Highest Production Sires: No doubt about it these sires leave the most production. However, with breeders today wanting animals that are longer lived and more trouble free, these sires are only likely to be the ones of choice for breeders with extremely good management and that have the labor force that can identify problems quickly. The highest production sires were most often below average for reproduction and other management traits.
  • Highest Breed Index Sires: TPI, JPI, and LPI have stood the test of time as indexes that identify top sires. TPI and LPI put direct and indirect emphasis on traits that many commercial breeders consider as frills (i.e. stature, balance, and style). Sires that rank highest for breed indexes are usually at or near the top for all traits we studied. All Holstein and Canadian Jersey breeders wanting the little extra in type should feel confident in using their breed indexes when sorting sires. On the other hand, US Jersey breeders cannot expect as much type but more production from following JPI as their index of choice.
  • Highest Economic Index Sires: For Holstein and Jersey breeders focused on milk for their revenue source with cows that are healthy, fertile and trouble free then NM$, CM$, and Pro$ are the best ways to compare and choose sires. These indexes are at or near the top for most traits and overall come out on top as compared to the other three ranking systems that we studied. Breeders wanting to reverse the trend for larger and larger cows will find these indexes will do the best job.
  • Indexes for Young Sires: With anywhere from 50% to 70% of semen sold coming from genomically evaluated sires, the selection of sires not yet daughter proven is an important matter. The Bullvine recommends that the same rationale be used for proven or genomically evaluated sires when it comes to which total merit index to use. And as has been written and often said, for genomically evaluated sires do not ‘put all your eggs in one basket’ – in other words, use 5-20 doses from any one young sire and then move on to other young sires.
  • Overall Use of Total Merit Indexing Alternatives: Step #1 is to objectively predict the genetic merit your herd should have in three and then ten years. Their years corresponds to daughters of the sires being used just now. Step #2 is to have a plan for what you wish to achieve from your breeding program (Read more: What’s the plan? And Flukes and Pukes – What Happens When You Don’t Have a Plan) Step #3 is to then match the total merit index option to your plan. Choosing the incorrect total merit index alternative for your needs could mean that the cows in your herd in a decade are totally wrong. We have seen it where the son or daughter taking over the herd from their parents have cows that do not do a very good job for the next generation. Foresight is important. Breeding involves a considerable amount of vision.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

From this study, The Bullvine can recommend that breeders can expect similar results from using the current national US or Canadian total merit indexes. The challenge ahead will be for breeders to keep up as more total merit indexes that include new and novel traits come into use. Our best advice to progressive breeders is to work closely with a trusted genetics supplier and have them advise you when it comes to the total merit index that is best for you. For the majority of dairy farms using an economic index will fit their program best.



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Are You Breeding for the Correct Conformation to Produce the Greatest Lifetime Profit?

Are show ring standards for type relevant in most dairies? The Bullvine looks to the future and the question in 2017 is expanded to: “Are show ring standards providing relevant prototypes for the ideal conformation for the cow of the future in most dairy operations?” The Bullvine has written on this topic on numerous occasions in order to stimulate breeders to think, discuss and help influence adoption of the most scientifically correct conformation standards for their dairy operation. (Read more: What’s Needed in Type Beyond Udders, Feet, and Legs? and She Ain’t Pretty – She Just Milks That Way!) For forward-looking Bullvine readers here is some additional food for thought.

Classifier Looks to the Future

Recently the Bullvine asked Tom Byers for his thoughts on the type of cow for the future. Tom is currently a consultant to Holstein Canada. He was previously its head classifier and was instrumental in bringing type classification for all Canadian dairy breeds under one program. (Read more: TOM BYERS: “THAT’S CLASSIFIED!”) The Bullvine found his thoughts interesting on the conformation of young cows. Remember that the classification data for first calf females is the basis for conformation bull proofs and cow indexes in most countries.

Tom shared the following pictures of models developed a decade ago.

Young First Calf Heifer Model

True Type Mature Cow & Heifer Models 

Tom commented of the young cow model as follows:

  • The young cow model is not a true type but rather a model of the young cow that Holstein Canada believes has the correct conformation to grow into the mature true type model cow
  • This young cow is 22-24 months of age and 30-60 days in milk
  • She is lower in her front end than in her rump
  • She has correct body depth for her age and stage of lactation
  • Her rump angle is sloped from hips to pins
  • Her loin is very strong
  • She has depth of heel and a symmetrical shape of foot
  • Her udder is very well attached both fore and rear with a high rear attachment
  • As she ages, calves for future lactations and matures, she will be “the cow for the future

Let’s Reflect on Byer’s Comments and the Young Cow

Some points that Tom did not mention but that are obvious on the young cow model include:

  • She has enough volume of udder, length, width and depth, to carry a large volume of milk
  • She will walk straight on both fore and rear legs
  • Her thurls are placed mid-point so she can walk properly
  • Carries very good body condition
  • If she is 54-56” at the rump (135-140 cm) at 22-24 months, she will be 58-60” (145-150 cm) at maturity
  • She is long from the tip of her nose to the tip of her tail

It appears to The Bullvine that these black and white models could be painted red & white, all brown, all fawn, all black and even all brindle and they could be the model for any dairy breed. Functional correctness and longevity are desired for all breeds and for crossbreeds as well.

Breeders Look to the Future

As 99% of the cows and 99.9% of the milk produced in the future will come from profit focused production herds, let’s listen to what leading spokespersons for commercial breeders say about what they want their cows’ conformation to be:

SeaGull Bay Dairy (Idaho): In conversation with Alan Andersen, he reported that “My ideal two-year-old would probably score not more than 80-82 points because she isn’t tall enough or sharp enough to satisfy the present program. They are the ones that work hard for us and stay around for profitable lifetimes.” (Read: Charting The Course at SeaGull Bay Dairy)

North Florida Holsteins (Florida): Don Bennink states (Read: North Florida Holsteins – Aggressive, Progressive and Profitable) “Particularly in the current genomic era and with the advancements to come in knowing more about the DNA makeup of our dairy cows, breeding for conformation is putting the cart before the horse. Example: The cow with the best rump is the cow with the best calving ease (MCE), the highest fertility (DCR, CCR, HCR), the most mobility and with plenty of room for a capacious udder (length & width). We need to breed directly for the characteristics commercial breeders need rather than breeding a rump that we “think” might get us there.”

Rosy-Lane Holsteins (Wisconsin): Lloyd Holterman states that they have ceased classifying their cows. (Read: Rosy-Lane Holsteins “Don’t Follow the Herd!”) For Lloyd tall, pretty and infertile does not cut it for them any more as an essential part of their farm’s mission statement is “maintain an economically viable business unit with future potential.” Using the type classification program was not helping their farm achieve that mission. Lloyd ‘s states that their ideal cow is “A cow that calves like an Oman, has the disposition like a Shottle, breeds back like a Freddie, has high lifetime like a Ramos, has high fat and protein per lactation like a Supersire and has an immune system like an Uno. This type of cow shows that desirable genes come from around the world.”

Breeders that follow their friends on Facebook will know that Cliff Shearer (New Zealand) and Eric Silva (Oregon) routinely picture Jerseys that yield large volumes of milk solids and are able to do it entirely from grass or in a modern large herd environment. Both Cliff and Eric show their preference for functional trouble free cows that do not need to have the style, stature and blending of parts of the show winning cows.

Sire Selection Is Important

Holstein USA recently released information on sires with the most recently registered progeny – “Robust’s legacy dominates the top registrations in the USA”. In fact, six of the current top ten sires with the most newly registered Holsteins were Robust sons or grandsons. (Read more: ROBUST’S LEGACY DOMINATES THE TOP REGISTRATIONS IN THE USA) Table 1 is the profile for Robust daughters at 99% REL.

Table 1 Roylane Socra Robust 7HO10254 (Socrates x Oman x Manat x Celsius x Melwood x Secret x Mars Tony)

So today’s US Holstein breeders are aware of and are breeding for the conformation they want their herds to have in the future. Breeders are breeding for productive, healthy and long-lived cows without the need for them to be tall, large, deep rear ribbed, stylish and smoothly blended.

An interesting note is that the Andersen’s of Seagull Bay bred both Robust’s dam, SeaGull-Bay Oman Mirror, and Robust’s top son, SeaGull-Bay Supersire (Robust x Plant x Shottle x Oman x Rudy Missy) #1 NM$ and #2 TPI for proven US Holstein sires. Supersire leads with the largest number of recently registered progeny in the USA.

The Preferred Cow

Don Bennink says it this way “The preferred cow for the most profitable dairymen is the cow that gives the most milk, the most protein and the most fat per unit of body weight with the desired health traits. Negatives are too much size and cattle that are sharp and angular. Thin cattle result in: low fertility; more animals that don’t show heats; higher somatic cells counts; less disease resistance; and poor foot health”.

 In Alan Andersen’s words “Our goal is to breed elite sires and females that will benefit other breeders and commercial dairymen as well as ourselves. We like cows that excel in production of milk components (pounds of protein and fat), have quality mammary systems and are low maintenance.”.

Evaluation Standards

It incumbent upon all type classification programs when setting standards and guidelines to remember Don Bennink’s statement “We believe that the function of a seed stock producer is to produce the animal that is the most profitable for the commercial dairyman.”

For The Bullvine the young cow model shared with us by Tom Byers goes a long way toward satisfying the cow conformation needs of commercial dairy people. After thirty-fours of evaluating the conformation  of dairy cows, Byers recommends some changes: 1) calling the program Conformation Assessment; 2) discontinue assigning a final class to animals – assign only an overall point score; 3) Conformation Assessment need to first a breed improvement rather than a marketing tool; and 4) when assigning point scores to body parts consider age, stage of lactation and lactation number. For example, an 88 point Mammary would visually appear much different on a young fresh, 23-month-old, first calver compared to a mid-lactation sixth calving eight-year-old cow.

Allan Andersen shared his thoughts on the young cow model – “I quite like the model of the young Holstein cow. I would say that for me the height of rear udder is a little more extreme than necessary for functionality and less height of rear udder would probably match the shorter animal better.”

Lloyd Holterman looks at this way – “The industry needs to continue to focus on the development of the most profitable cow. The Canadian young cow model is interesting for me. In my view, it is way more practical than any of the previous models that I have seen. The first thing that I noticed is that she has more body conditioning – those cows stand up and produce better in hot weather and bounce back quicker after an illness.  The comment about foot angle perhaps needs further study and thought.  Average foot angle with slightly spread toes is where research is headed. This was certainly a shock to me when I first heard it.  And it was tough to embrace as no one wants to breed average for any trait even if it is what is optimal. Another place to optimize is size. Rosy-Lane’s target is 58 inches at the hip for mature cows with a range of 56-60 inches.”

Pictures of SeaGull-Bay Oman Mirror and the Holstein USA Ideal Cow appear below. In The Bullvine’s opinion there all many similarities amongst the pictures of Mirror, the Ideal US Holstein Cow, and the Canadian Young Cow except for the moderate height of Mirror’s rear udder attachment. Definitely, as conformation is assessed in the future, it should be a matter of Form Following Function, instead of Function Following Form.

Seagull-Bay Oman Mirror VG-86 DOM Dam of Roylane Socra Robust

Holstein USA Ideal Cow (Painted by Bonnie Mohr)

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Breeders can expect to have genetic indexes for many new and economically important traits over the next few years. The information for these indexes will come from both farm data and DNA profiles. Some of these indexes will provide a greater knowledge of the correct cow conformation to compliment high lifetime profit. It is time to leave the past perceptions about the correct conformation for cows behind and adopt the new.  The downside for breeders that stick with the past ideals for conformation is that they will be faced with their herds becoming museums that do not generate adequate breeding stock or milk revenue to remain viable.



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Which Breeding Index Is Right for You?

Have you ever let your search for which semen to buy, go beyond the individual sire level? I have been as keen as the next breeder to find individual sires that will do the best job of genetically improving cows. Proof day meant that I would read through a multitude of total merit index listings to find the sires for me. However, this year I decided to put more focus on the end results I want to achieve and use only one index when selecting my initial short list of sires. What follows are my thought processes and calculations.

Indexes – Yes or No?

For me the answer is automatic. I rely on genetic total merit indexes when choosing sires and females also. My reasoning comes down to one factor.  By using a total merit index to base my sire selection decisions, I can get 6 to 8 out of 10 sire daughters that meet or exceed my expectations. That compares to 2 to 3 out of 10 when I use raw sire daughter averages or a single trait index (i.e. milk yield or udder composite).  This means triple the number of cows that stay around for a third lactation and those are the odds worth working with. Yes, we all have read on the Milk House that some breeders are willing to throw away nine of ten daughters of a sire to get that very outstanding one for production or type. But for most of us, that is too costly an alternative.

Total Merit Indexes – Many are Available

Every dairy breeding country has its own total merit index. I have just researched and found twenty such indexes, and there is considerable range amongst them in the emphasis placed on a host of individual traits.

Globally there is often reference to five US combined trait indexes that range from indexes for only type all the way to an index focusing on cheese yield. For this article, the Bullvine has analyzed five American combined or total merit indexes for the current top twenty active proven Holstein sires. Only sires with at least 90% REL were included so that comparisons are based on proven in herd performance.

Let’s Compare the Results of Five Indexes

Averaging the results from the top twenty proven sires shows the results breeders can expect from using a single combined trait index but allows breeders to select or eliminate individual sires per their needs.

Knowing that breeders can range in their breeding goals from highest type to highest production to highest for functional traits, the Bullvine selected PTAT, Fat + Protein Yield, TPI, NM$ and CM$ as the indexes to study.

The assumption is that if breeders use an average sire of one of these five combined indexes they will get the results shown in Table 1.  Of course, no breeder uses an average sire but, if one of these indexes is used over a period, the result will closely align with the table values.

Table 1 – Average Proof for Top Twenty US Proven Holstein Sires (Dec ’16)

Trait / Index Highest Type Highest Production          TPI         NM$        CM$
          (PTAT)        (Fat + Protein Yield)      
Fat + Protein 38 135 129 127 123
Milk 479 1709 1669 1422 1418
DPR -0.8 0.9 1.4 1.9 1.8
LIV -2.5 0.5 0.6 2.3 2.1
SCS 2.91 2.94 2.91 2.89 2.89
PL 0.9 4.2 5.2 6.5 6.6
DCE 6.9 5.1 4.9 4.9 4.8
UDC 2.62 0.99 1.38 1.09 1.14
FLC 2.21 1.09 1.37 0.87 0.95
Stature 3.49 0.79 1.89 -0.01 0.28
PTAT 3.15 1.39 1.53 1.19 1.25
TPI 2108 2497 2568 2533 2539
NM$ 229 713 725 760 756
CM$ 220 729 721 776 783
Color Codes Highest / Best – Blue Lowest / Worst – Green

The Bullvine’s synopsis of the results is:

  • Highest type (PTAT) sires produce below breed average results for yields, fertility, health, longevity and daughter calving ease. For production and functional traits, the results are significantly behind other indexes. As expected the average PTAT is very high at 3.15. Note that very high type is closely associated with extremely tall Holsteins (Stature 3.49). Also, noteworthy is the -2.5 for cow Breeding for type does not equate to easier calving cows or improved cow longevity.
  • Highest production (F+P) at 135 lbs is very high with breed average values for fertility and livability and okay values for overall type (note stature is about breed average). Additionally, the values for TPI, NM$, and CM$ for this group are much higher than for the highest type sires.
  • As expected most top TPI sires can be expected to give high averages for most values. Type at almost 1.5 standard deviations above the rolling breed average would result in significant continued improvement for type including very tall Production is also high. However, fertility and cow livability are barely above average, so breeders could not expect to significantly improve these areas that are today considered to be in need of improvement in Holsteins.
  • The highest NM$ sires will produce daughters that are high or excel for all values except for type. PTAT at 1.20 is above average, but the -0.01 for stature will result in decreasing stature as today’s Holstein average proven sire stature index is likely between 0.6 and 0.8.
  • The highest CM$ sires will produce very similar results to the most top NM$ sires. So, either NM$ or CM$ could be used in selecting sires.
  • SCS do not differ amongst the five groupings.
  • UDC and FLC are at least average for all five groupings. It should be remembered that UDC and FLC indexes are not as useful as the individual linear indexes for udders and feet and legs when mating sire and cow.
  • PTAT and TPI are not the indexes to use for breeders planning to decrease stature and improve health and fertility in their herds.
  • Breeders interested in following the NM$ or CM$ approach to breeding may wish to read the Bullvine article ”She Ain’t Pretty, She Just Milks That Way.”

Beyond the US Daughter Proven Holstein Sires

The Bullvine also studied the current top 10 Canadian Holstein proven sires and top 10 US Jersey proven sires and found very similar results to the proven US Holstein sires. In Canadian Holsteins, breeders should use Pro$ as the equivalent to NM$ or CM$. In US Jerseys JPI and CM$ gave almost identical results.

For breeders interested in only using top NM$ genomically evaluated Holstein sires, our study shows there are 27 sires above 900 NM$. And inbreeding is not likely to be a problem as they are sired by eleven different sires (4 Altaspring, 4 Montross, 4 Silver, 3 Jedi, 3 Rubicon, 3 Yoder, 2 Supershot, 1 Delta, 1 Josuper, 1 Octoberfest and 1 Pety).

Other Indexes – Now Available

The Bullvine recently produced an article, “Will Genetic Evaluations Go Private?” on other total merit indexes that private breeding companies are publishing. More of these private indexes can be expected in the future. Currently, the Ideal Commercial Cow Index, ICC$ ™, is being used by some breeders and DWP$ ™ sire rankings (Read more: The Complete Guide to Understanding Zoetis’ New Wellness Traits – CLARIFIDE® Plus) have just been published since the latest official proof release in December (See complete lists at Sire Proof Central).

Only You Can Decide

There is no combined trait or total merit index that is perfect for all breeders to use when short listing sires for their herd. Some farms sell their milk to fluid processors; some sell to cheese makers, some processors make powder, and some farms bred for breeding stock sales. There are indexes to address all situations.

If a breeder is hoping to produce bulls for use in A.I. on a significant scale, then using an index that commercial dairy farmers would us is an advantage when breeding to produce breeding bulls. A high genomic value is also critical when selling bulls to A.I. 

The Bullvine recommends that all breeders have a plan (Read more: What’s the plan?) based on goals and expected results.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Knowing the desired end result, five years down the road, from a breeding program is a prerequisite to selecting sires. The majority of tomorrow’s dairy cattle breeders will need to be farm profit focused. My first-choice total merit index, for selecting sires, is now NM$.



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What’s Needed in Type Beyond Udders, Feet, and Legs?

I have recently read on Facebook and have heard over the past six months that many breeders and judges want today’s dairy cows to have more strength. Dairy Strength that is. Not pulling or pushing strength.

However, on milk production farms is more dairy strength actually what is needed?

Yes, functional udders, feet, and legs are definitely needed. But, beyond those appendages, do milk producers need any other body type traits improved or changed from what currently exists?  And if they need those traits, how do milk producers select for them?

Only 1/3 of Type Scorecard

With Udder, Feet and Legs taking up almost 2/3 of the total points in the dairy cow scorecard that leaves only about 35 points to cover everything else from the muzzle to the tail head. There are already twelve descriptive body or associated functional traits assigned by Canadian classifiers or collected by Canadian milk recording supervisors. Therefore, even for purebred breeders, let alone milk production focused dairymen, there is very little emphasis that can be placed on any single body part.

The Milk Producers Champion Cow

Here at The Bullvine we have produced articles on: a) what the milk producer, who also likes to breed for high genetic merit, needs in his ideal two-year-old (Read more: The Perfect Holstein Cow); and b) what the cows that make the most lifetime profit are like in their first lactations (Read more: She Ain’t Pretty, She Just Milks that Way). Even though we gave our ideal model index cow considerable capacity, our findings when we produced the second article were that extreme capacity was not a must have in first lactation cows.

Every breeder or enthusiast has their favorite cow.  And every milk producer can tell you exactly how their very best cow performed in their herd. No doubt everyone has their own Grand Champion in their barn. All these cows have their own strong points from head to tail, and perhaps limitations, but each is still a champion to their owner.

What Do Sire Proofs Tell Us?

CDN has studied the 4310 bulls proven in Canada between 2000 and 2015 and published the correlations between the indexes for all traits. Assuming that all milk producers want long-lived cows, the following are the correlation between the body type traits and herd life (HL). HL is the same trait as PL is in the United States.

 Body Traits Positively Associated with Herd Life

                Daughter Calving Ability (aka  MCE in USA)           +0.43    

                Body Condition Score                                                     +0.27

                Thurl Placement                                                               +0.18

                Rump Angle                                                                        +0.12


Body Traits Negatively Associated with Herd Life

                Body Depth                                                        -0.28

                Angularity                                                           -0.12

                Pin Width                                                            -0.08

Body Traits with About Zero Correlation with Herd Life

                Loin Strength                                                     +0.04

                Chest Width                                                       -0.04

                Stature                                                                0.00

                Height at Front End                                         -0.02

                Dairy Strength                                                   -0.05

From this study of fifteen years of Canadian proven sires, longevity can only be affected by selecting for daughter calving ability, body condition score and thurl width (aka rump width) and selection against deep bodies. Minor consideration can be given to proper rump angle but against too much angularity. The small negative correlation (-0.08) between pin width and length of herd life will surprise people trained in show ring judging, where it is considered to be a big positive.

Alta Genetics studying US proven sire indexes found that stature sire indexes have a -0.45 correlation with productive life (PL). That compares to a correlation between stature and herd life of 0.00 in the Canadian data. For PTAT and PL sire indexes the correlation is -0.18. All that leading to the conclusion that type traits sire indexes are not good predictors of length of productive life of their daughters.

Think Ideal For Age

Often when dairy people evaluate the body conformation (excluding udders, feet, and legs) of dairy animals, I think we fail to take into consideration age, age at first calving and number of calvings. We overlook /don’t give enough weight to the fact that the breed ideal females are usually mature cows and often younger animal’s body parts are inappropriately compared to those of the ideal.

Like the human race where teenagers, late twenties, and forty-year-olds have different body dimensions, yearlings, first, lactation and mature cows have different widths, depths, heights, and lengths. Therefore breeding for increased stature over the past half century has resulted in animals taking longer to develop total capacity.

For breeders not interested in the show ring, the ideal body structure for heifers is fast growth with good body condition, adequate width, and proper thurl placement. Once calved at 1-10 to 2-00 years they will develop into cows capable of consuming and processing large volumes of their diet. As noted above being concerned about stature, chest width and height at front end should not be a concern in having a herd, where at least half the cows reach their fourth lactation.

Let’s Talk Individual Cows

Huntsdale Shottle Crusade EX-95-3E 2*
2017 Nasco International Type & Production Award Winner at World Dairy Expo

The Bullvine writers have the good fortune to have bred the #1 Lifetime Production Cow, Huntsdale Shottle Crusade, at the 2016 World Dairy Expo. When she left Huntsdale Holsteins as an open yearling, she carried very good body condition, was average for width of body, ran downhill, had a strong loin and shallow body … definitely she was not the EX95 that WDE spectators saw in the ring. Benbie Holsteins have taken that raw heifer and developed her into an outstanding cow. She has gone from a GP84 for body as a first calver (shallow and round ribbed) to EX95 for body as a fifth calver having produced 107,000 kgs (235,000 lbs)of 4.0%F, 3.2%P milk in five lactations

The writer had the good fortune to see Glenridge Citation Roxy EX97, the Queen of the Breed, as a three-year-old at her breeder’s farm in Saskatchewan. At that time her body was slightly shallow with above average width, and she carried very good body condition.  I am sure most Holstein enthusiasts will agree that Roxy has earned her queen status from what she accomplished. Over time she developed the width and depth necessary to be a star in the barn and in the progeny she produced.

How To Select the Sires Milk Producers Need to Use

Selecting the top NM$ or Pro$ sires will get the job done 90% of the time. Don’t over complicate sire selection. When it comes to body parts, select the very top NM$ (at least 750 NM$) or Pro$ (at least $2000) Holstein sires and eliminate those below average for maternal calving ease, rump angle, thurl placement, thurl/rump width and body condition score. Definitely avoid Holstein sires that leave deeper rear ribbed daughters. Simply using Dairy Strength or Body Composite is not an accurate predictor for breeding long-lived cows.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Milk producers want neither cows that are oxen or reindeer. When it comes to body parts, there are only four to five linear body part or associated functional trait indexes that need to be considered. The conformation of today’s dairy cows is in good shape and that allows milk production focused breeders to put their attention, when selecting sires, on production, health, and fertility.   Dairy Strength is not a must include when breeding for longevity in milk production herds.



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