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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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LOCOMOTION – Are we solving the PUZZLE?

For years, we have listened to breeders, show judges and trained experts talk about the way our cows move. Each authority focusses on a different outcome: winning in the show ring; producing in the milking line or remaining healthy in the barn or pasture. To name a few. We have many pieces from a lot of sources, but we still are unable to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together to improve bovine locomotion. Are we so focused on our own piece, or even lack an interest in locomotion, that we are failing to see the big picture?

By Nature

If man had not domesticated bovines, they would still most likely have a mature size of 660-880 pounds (300 – 400 kgs) and would have been able to leap over rocks, and bushes like our deer in the wild can do. But I am thinking it is more than the larger size that has slowed down today’s bovines. Some breeds, especially, are less mobile that would be ideal.

Mankind – A Help or a Hindrances?

Perhaps there is not one answer that applies to all breeds of dairy cattle. Some have straighter and some more sickled legs. Foot structure, bone quality, and strength of pasterns vary from breed to breed.

Over a pan of more than three centuries breeders have changed the cow from only being able to feed her calf with perhaps a little extra milk for the owner’s household to being able to produce large volumes of nutritious milk that can feed many families. But at what price? Shorter lifespans? Perhaps! And now we have animals with much less ability to move, run and jump freely.

Many Experts have Opinions

Show judges a few times, at every show, will comment on how one cow moves compared to another. Their comments are usually about gait and strength of pasterns.

Classifiers have, for over ninety years, looked at feet and legs and evaluated them compared to the breed ideal. Most frequently, in the past, they would only see the cow standing in a stall. How can they know how a cow will move from only looking at form and not looking at and recording an evaluation on function? With so many parts to feet and legs evaluation and by not recording movement, it is little wonder that the heritability for feet and legs, using type classification data, is less that 10%. Knowledgeable breeders have told me that they feel the heritability of feet and legs is like udders at 30%.

Hoof trimmers mainly see only the bad feet of a herd, but they do not record that feet form information or do animal movement coding for genetic evaluation purposes. Of course, to get the full range of feet in a herd, they would also need to evaluate the good feet that they do not trim. For trimmers to go one step further and record data on locomotion may not be totally objective as the feet, just trimmed, are not likely to immediately function properly. One promising note is that Canadian hoof trimmers and CDN are currently working together on capturing data on cow’s feet as they are trimmed. By default, they will be able to identify sires and cow families that have feet problems.

Researchers, both veterinarians, and geneticists are interested in locomotion, and there have been studies, reports and videos to rate cows from excellent to poor for locomotion. But, beyond showing animal differences, little is known for breeders to use to improve the ability of their cattle, when it comes to locomotion.

It’s a Big Puzzle

Legs are large appendages that are attached mainly by muscles, ligaments, and cartilage. And while we know a considerable amount about the genetic improvement of skeletal structure, we know relatively little when it comes to the genetics of the function of feet and leg parts.    

Type classification programs observe, capture and analyze large volumes of data on leg and foot form. But not on leg function. With more and more animals housed in a non-tied format, there must be a way to also capture data on leg and foot function.

Judges appear to be paying more attention, than in the past, to dairy animal leg movement in the show ring.  Definitely, in the beef animal show rings animals are expected to be able to walk smoothly at a fast gait. However, for either dairy or beef, so few animals ever see the show ring, and those animals that make it there will have had their feet trimmed and be trained to walk unnaturally slow …. the result being that breeders cannot depend on the show ring for the evaluation of locomotion.

It is very costly to video a large number of animals moving in barns or on pastures and after that ’translate’ the results into actual sire rankings for locomotion. Perhaps someone will develop a means by which stationary or drone cameras can capture accurate mobility data. Now, that is a challenge for a scientist to develop an evaluation method. For another scientist, the challenge is to link the mobility index to the DNA and produce genomic mobility indexes.

Certainly, it is a big puzzle at this time. However, big challenges require big picture thinking.

Why Bother to Solve the Puzzle?

There are many things that “don’t” happen when locomotion is poor. In short cows that can’t or don’t walk properly don’t spend as much time foraging or at the feed bunk. They don’t come into heat or don’t mount to show heats. If they don’t move forward (i.e. have good locomotion), your dairy operation is probably slowing down or standing still too!

Recently Dr. Jeff Bewley and Associates at the University of Kentucky have documented that cows with poor mobility do not consume as much feed and lay for longer time periods. Less dry matter intake results in less production and long laying times, also exposing teat ends to more bacteria.

With over 10M dairy cows in the US and Canada and with an estimated 40% with minor to severe mobility problems even a $250 reduction in annual net income for those affected cows equates to annual losses of $1B. Additionally adding even half a lactation to every cow’s lifetime, that is going from 2.7 to 3.2 lactations, is worth billions.

Now, it is not possible to estimate what it would cost the dairy cattle industry if people outside of our industry were to stop buying our end products because the milk or milk products they consume could possibly come from lame cows.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The challenge to improve the genetic merit of dairy animal mobility cannot be ignored. It is a necessity! Resources have been allocated to less important issues. The global dairy cattle improvement industry needs to stop saying that the challenge is too big, too costly, that there is no data or there are too many unknowns. Poor animal locomotion is a puzzle that must be solved!



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Antibiotics – Good or Bad News for the Dairy Industry?

Since the beginning of time, disease and illness have been a significant challenge for both human medicine and animal agriculture. In fact, when humans and animals shared housing it was an ever present fear. The discovery of live organisms to produce products that counteract disease and illness was considered to be a miracle. However, a good thing can turn into a bad thing, if it is not properly used. Such can be the case in the use of antibiotics on dairy farms. So what can dairy farmers do about using antibiotics as they continue to produce top notch products while remaining sustainable?

Lots of Press

It seems that hardly a week goes by that we do not hear on the news, read in the press or read online where a consumer group is concerned about antibiotics in the food they eat. This fear has created a push back that challenges, “do not use a GMO to create a product or practice to benefit dairy farming.” But for this article let’s stick with addressing antibiotics.

To dairy folks, it often seems that the press is all bad news. But I am sure that politicians, oil industry, policing and many other sectors can all classify the press as negative and fear-mongering. For our farming industry, the challenge is what we do on-farm, how we document and how we inform consumers when it comes to antibiotic use.

Consumers and Antibiotics

There is absolutely no reason that consumers should expect anything but antibiotic free food. But they can be fed a line of bull by marketers despite the fact that checks are already in place to guarantee milk and meat products, produced on dairy farms, are antibiotic free.  In order to get consumers to buy the product they are promoting, marketers add the label “Antibiotic Free.” After that, it is a downward spiral of doubt in consumers’ minds on any products that do not say “free.”

Consumers say they trust farmers.  As dairy farmers, we must earn and maintain that trust. Until labeling regulations are revised to take the fear factor out of what the consumer reads, farmers must do all they can do to send milk off-farm that contains zero antibiotics.

It is true that over prescribed antibiotics by the medical system and antibiotics improperly disposed of, can and do contribute to polluting antibiotics in the eco-system. So both dairy farmers and consumers must follow appropriate procedures when it comes to antibiotics. Antibiotic residue must be eliminated.

Dairy Industry Approach

For years the dairy industry has been silent about the pristine product milk is.  Well, our industry can not be silent anymore. On-farm quality assurance programs, which include antibiotic usage monitoring, have been implemented in a few countries but have been slow to develop and be implemented in many high volume milk countries. Having such programs will allow the dairy industry to go from being reactive to proactive on all quality matters including antibiotic usage.

A big challenge for the dairy industry is that consumers expect milk to be cheap and high quality. Part of our industry’s consumer awareness program needs to make it known that safe food can only come from healthy animals. Top notch animal health programs require that properly used antibiotics must be available to treat sick animals. Having government approved antibiotics available make it possible for farmers to produce more high-quality milk per cow and thereby keeping the cost of milk in the stores at a reasonable price. Every dairy farmer knows that sick and low producing cows do not make for maximum profit.

On an individual farmer basis, we must learn to speak up, talk to consumers and support industry initiatives when it comes consumer awareness. One individual comes to mind on a producer who does a great job. That is Carrie Mess and her blog ‘Dairy Carrie’ (Read more: Dairy Carrie – Diary of a City Kid Gone Country). As well as being a full-time farmer she time and again takes time from her full schedule to explain all the practices in place on-farm to guarantee quality.

Another thing that would help is if all sectors, farmers, processors, marketers, and regulators would work cooperatively to guarantee quality to consumers. Too often we blame our fellow industry stakeholders for not doing their job. Well, folks we are on in this boat together.

On-Farm Practices

As mentioned above, there needs to be organized quality assurance programs in every region that produces milk that goes to processors and enters into the food chain.

Hopefully, the attitude that existed a while back that it is production as all costs push the cows to the limit and use drugs to solve any problems is fast being replaced by responsible production of quality milk.

Like anything else that happens on a dairy farm it involves, genetics, nutrition, environment and management, when it comes to minimizing antibiotic use and ensuring no milk or meat leaves the farm that contains antibiotics. Now you are likely asking why the mention of meat. Well, we mention that because animals are sold to the meat industry from dropped bull calves all the way to cull cows and all those need to be antibiotic free, just like the milk that is shipped.

And it is not enough to simply follow all the proper practices when it comes to using antibiotics. Exact records must be kept for all animals in the herd. Not just the milking cows. But the calves, heifers, steers, dry cows, …. yep, every last animal. (Read more: Dairy Farmers: In God We Trust All Others Bring Data)

Genetics Can Help

This would not be a Bullvine article if we did not include something about genetics.

Some tips when it comes to using genetics to minimize antibiotic use include:

  • Totally avoid using sires rated 3.00 or higher for SCC
  • Avoid using sires whose daughters are slow milkers or leak milk
  • Eliminate from your herd cow families that have SCC’s over 3.00
  • Avoid sires that have low daughter fertility ratings as such animals tend to require more drug
  • Avoid using sires whose daughters become stressed and thin 40-100 days after calving
  • Avoid using sires whose daughters tend to have feet problems or susceptibility to foot diseases.
  • Select sires with positive ratings for liveability, wellness, immunity, mastitis resistance and mobility

Every AI stud has many bulls that leave daughters that have minimal disease and thereby do not require less administration of antibiotics.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The attitude of not caring about excessive use of antibiotics on-farm does not cut it anymore. Animal wellness is critical and five years from now it will be even more important. Yes, progress has been made on most farms in recent years. As producers, we must own the challenge of minimizing the use and not sending off-farm antibiotics. If we can do that consumers will be able to say “Thanks, Dairy – Antibiotics Is Not an Issue



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Dairy Farmers: In God We Trust All Others Bring Data

Time was when cow sense, memory, and notes on a calendar were enough to manage a milk production or breeding dairy cattle farm and a farm could be reasonably successful. Well, that time is behind us. In any successful business records on financials, actions, transactions, events and working with suppliers are necessary. Bankers need more than a handshake. Government programs must have facts. For the future, profitable dairy farms will need details electronically stored on all animal and farm systems.

The Past is the Past

I often hear people mention the good old days and less details. That no long holds water. If you aren’t using an electronic on-farm data system already, it is now time to join the 21st century.

There! That’s all this article will mention about the past. As Bullvine readers know, we are all about building toward successful futures.

Invest to Benefit

It is not new that a business must invest in technology to gain the benefits. On a strictly cost-benefit basis and considering the proportion of costs on a dairy farm, the areas with the opportunity for cost savings are feed (50% of costs), labor (15%) and replacement rearing (13%).

However, even that way of thinking may be outdated, as it does not consider the benefits of more accurate and timely decision-making or the opportunity to generate more revenue by having facts that increase the value of the products being sold.

Producers contemplating purchasing new parlors or milking stall robots are faced with both the challenge and opportunity that new technology with much more data presents. It is music to my ears when, after a few months of use, I hear herd managers tell me about how they can now make so much better decisions based on the data that their new data capture system provides.

Costs to Avoid

There are some significant cost items that having accurate information may help avoid. Those can include:

  • Every missed heat costs $100
  • Every mastitis cases cost $400
  • Every month older at first calving costs $125
  • Every hour wasted by staff costs a minimum of $20
  • Every incidence of sickness in cows or calves costs more dollars

Some may say you cannot afford to capture all the data necessary to avoid these losses. However, in fact, it could well be that dairy managers cannot afford not to have the facts.

Family Can Help

Another joy to my soul is when I see the children or young workers on a dairy farm be the leaders when it comes to using the new electronic data system on a farm.  Recently I heard a father and mother very proudly tell me that their 13 and 15-year-old daughters were, within two weeks of startup, running the programs and chasing up non-milked cows in their state-of-the-art robotic milker system. Those girls are the future for that farm.

Any System Can Work

The number of data capture systems being sold to dairy farmers is almost unlimited these days. Heat detection, current body temperature, rumination (yes/not good), resting time and, of course, milk volume are all useful and available through individual or combined systems. But planning is not about today, it is about tomorrow when if comes to managing a dairy farm.

For more Bullvine thoughts on data, systems read: Better Decision Making by Using Technology.

Think Five Years Out

When purchasing data capture systems, dairy people need to be looking into the future and what data will be required for managing a progressive herd.

Here a few things that could be useful for managers to know:

  • Individual cow component %s (fat (good fats), protein (A2), other solids)
  • Hormone levels
  • Feed intake
  • Animal mobility coding
  • Body condition score
  • Production limiting diseases (ketosis, milk fever, calf scours, pneumonia, …)
  • Animals with one day of a heat
  • Cows and heifers within 2 hours of calving

Not every dairy person will want or need all of the same added data items but it is certain that the list of possibilities will grow rapidly over the coming years.

New View on Breeding

Breeding is both art and science. The science is knowing the actual facts, and the art involves how to combine the facts.

The time when you could read the bull catalogue and then observe the cow and make a leisurely mating decision are behind us.

Just think about this. You run analysis on the performance of animals and cow families in your herd. You determine which sires work best in your farming or marketing situation. Then you find the sires that will work best for you in the coming year. After that, you order the semen. That’s making the data work for you. That’s how you use the facts and practise the art.

Use Progressive Consultants

The time is past when your vet, feed rep, accountant or banker could simply walk onto your farm and within minutes have workable answers to your problem or provide an answer to your ‘what if’ question.

You will need to have consultants that can mine your data and combine your data with that of other farms to provide you with value-added recommendations.  They will need to be results oriented and always in search of new and better ways of doing things.

While mentioning highly qualified and progressive consultants, the Bullvine recommends to dairy owners that they make their consultants aware of a great upcoming conference for researchers, educators and consultants organized by the American Dairy Science Association ( and email:

Big Data Dairy Management
November 01 – 04, 2016
Oak Brock Resort & Conference Centre, Oak Brock, IL

The co-chairs for this conference are Jeffrey Bewley (U of Kentucky) and Christina Peterson-Wolfe (Virginia Tech). They are two extremely well-qualified researchers and dairy extension persons when it comes to on-farm data systems and electronic devices. ( Watch Jeffrey Bewley’s presentation at the recent DeLaval Robotics Conference – PRECISION DAIRY TOOLS: EXPLORE THE POTENTIAL – DR JEFF BEWLEY – ROBOTICS CONFERENCE #VMSPRO2016)

The Bullvine Bottom Line

In the future, dairy managers will have continual access to their mobile phone and data devices. It will be just like wearing a watch was in the past. DHI has long had a motto that basically says “Without Data You Cannot Manage.” In the future that motto could well become, “Without Progressive and Dynamic Data You Will Not Be Farming”.



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Is there an Ideal Calving Interval (C.I.)?

A month ago I was challenged by my Facebook friend, Ian Crosbie, a keen dairy person from Benbie Holsteins, Saskatchewan Canada, with the question “Is there or should there be an ideal calving interval?”.

Well, I must admit that on first thought I would have quickly replied to Ian saying “Of course it is 12-13 months just like we have all been taught in agricultural school.”

But on second thought I question if there should be such a universal statement.

As it is beyond me to have the complete answer to the question I will bring forward some thoughts on the subject so breeders themselves can determine what calving interval best suits their dairy farming situation.

What Got Us to Wanting a 12-13 Month Calving Interval

Although not an all-inclusive list, here some factors that initially lead to 12-13 months being the recommended answer:

  • Milk cows were originally dual purpose cows, so they needed to not only produce milk but also calve on a regular, timely basis to provide replacements and beef animals.
  • In order to best utilize the regional forages and minimize the amount of forage that must be stored for Northern European winters, the dual purpose dairy cows were calved for the spring grasses, a cheap feed time. And they were dried off in winter time to minimize stored winter forage requirements.
  • Cows that did not conceive to calve the next spring were sent to slaughter in the fall and thereby their genetic impact on the breeding herd was terminated.
  • Very few cows, not in calf, could milk all winter and then increase production again when they were given spring grasses.
  • Cows produced 4,000 – 6,000 pounds in 200 to 250 days and bulls were run with the milking herd, so heat detection and timing of breeding were not issues.
  • Often milk processors paid a premium for summer milk so they could make their cheese and butter that were stored and sold in the winter when store prices were higher.

All these factors led to the cows calving in every spring being preferred.

Thoughts to Consider When Developing a Herd C.I. Plan

Through selection, feeding changes and husbandry changes dairy cattle and dairy farming has undergone significant changes. Here are factors to consider going forward:

  • USDA predicts that by 2025 confinement fed and housed cows will produce 33% more than they do today. Mature cows are predicted to produce 30,000+ pounds in 305 days.
  • In the future breeders will breed, feed and manage for daily and lifetime income over fed cost in addition to production of milk, fat, and protein yields.
  • Calving will always be the most stressful time for dairy animals
  • Ongoing research continues to show that 55 – 60 days is the ideal dry period
  • Technology will continue to replace labor on dairy farms so there will be less and less time to manage cows with problems or in times of stress.
  • Breeders will continue their current moves to breed and feed their herds for animals that carry more body condition (higher BCS) during the first 100 – 150 days of lactation.
  • Age at first calving will decrease to 18 – 20 months of age. Young first lactation cows may need to be handled separately

Have a C.I. Plan

Having a plan is always superior to taking what happens. Some choices of possible plans follow:

Milk Production Herds

  • For Moderate Management & Moderate Net Returns Herd
    • Breed heifers using AI until 14 months of age then run a young bull with heifers
    • Have voluntary waiting period of 75 days for first calvers and 50 days for later lactation cows
    • Use AI for first services and run beef bulls with first calvers over 105 days in milk and cows over 90 days in milk. Sell the crossbred calves to provide a revenue stream.
    • Plan and manage for a herd average 12.5 – 13-month calving interval
  • For Top Managed and High Net Returns Herds
    • Breed heifers using AI until 13 months of age then run a young bull with heifers
    • Have a voluntary waiting period of 150 days for first calvers and cows over 125 days in milk
    • Use AI for first three services and run high index bulls with females milking over 175 days
    • Plan and manage for a herd average 14-16 month calving interval
  • For Grazing Herds
    • Bred heifers using AI until 14 months of age then run a young bull with heifers
    • Have a voluntary waiting period of 45-50 days for all milking females
    • Use AI for milking cows under 80 days in milk after than run a bull with milkers
    • Schedule for 70 % of the herd to calve about two weeks before spring grass and two weeks after pasturing starts
    • Plan and manage for a herd average 11.5 to 5-month calving interval
  • Buy Replacement for the Herds
    • Buy in all herd replacements as first calvers
    • Have a voluntary waiting period of 75 days
    • Run a beef bull with all milkers. Sell calves for beef or beef herd replacements
    • Plan and manage for a herd average 12-13 month calving interval

Breeding Stock Herds

  • Show Herds
    • Breed heifers using AI starting at 13 months of age with some bred so they calve for the show season
    • Have a voluntary waiting period of 75 – 85 days. Time some calvings for the show season
    • Flush or IVF some top heifers and cows
    • Market both live animals and embryos
    • Use sires the have high type indexes. Be aware that some top show sires are below average for fertility and productive life
    • Skinny cows will, on average, have longer calving intervals
    • Potential buyers are seldom interested in progeny of herd bulls
    • Calving interval will be as short as 12 months and as long as 24 months for animals flushed extensively
  • Top 1-5% Total Merit Herds
    • IVF top heifers starting at nine months of age. Breed top 50% of heifers to elite genomic sires.
    • IVF or flush top first lactation and only the elite older cows
    • Implant bottom 50% of heifers and bottom 80% of milking cows.
    • Market both live animals and embryos
    • Use only top 1-5% sires, genomic or daughter proven. Natural sires will not have a place in the program
    • There will be a wide variation in calving interval within the milking herd – majority of the time it will be 13-16 months
  • Herds Selling Some Breeding Stock
    • Breed heifers starting at 11-12 months aiming for calving at 21-24 months.
    • Have a voluntary waiting period of 80 days for first lactation and 60 days for other cows
    • Sell surplus heifers and cows as herd replacements for other herds. There is not the profit in selling springing heifers that there once was. Fresh first calvers will be in There will be no demand for fresh older cows.
    • Use top 10% sires, genomic and/or daughter proven
    • Herd calving interval will range from 13-14 months

C.I. Mostly Management

C.I. encompasses all of management, genetics, nutrition and environment. But the key lies in management carrying out the plan.

On the genetic side sires below average for conception, daughter fertility, calving ease, daughter calving ease and, in the future, health traits should not be used in any herd. Any herd bulls used must be genomically tested in order to avoid any bull that will create calving problems.

Herd nutrition is important to fertility and calving interval, especially for heifers under one year of age and for females up to 150 days in milk.

At times breeders have been know to love cow families so much that they will tolerate delayed first calving and long calving intervals for family members. With raising replacements, the third largest dairy herd expense and every day beyond 60 days in dry pens costing $5 per day it is financially important that breeders not be soft on managing proactively for calving interval.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

There is not one answer to Is there an Ideal Calving Interval? Each breeder needs to decide for themselves. But make sure that the decision is made on an economic basis. Remember to include all lost revenue and costs incurred: days beyond 60 days dry; purchase of technology; labor; extra feed; and larger facilities.



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Cow Livability: Breeding for Cows That Stay in the Herd

Quite often these days a new genetic index comes along that has been produced for breeders to use in their breeding plan. This month, August 2016, the new index is one that the Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding (CDCB) is calling Cow Livability (C.LIV). For breeders wanting their cows to live for many lactations, this will be a trait of interest.

What is Cow Livability?

CDCB is defining Cow Livability (C.LIV) as a prediction of a cow’s transmitting ability (aka genetic index) to remain alive while in the milking herd.

Every extended day that a cow remains milking in the herd gives the opportunity for more herd profit from more milk revenue and lower replacement costs. Cows that can remain alive when exiting the herd generating breeding stock or beef revenue, instead of the cost associated with deadstock disposal.

Facts About the USA Dairy Herd

It is interesting to note that CDCB reports that USA cow mortality rate averages 7% each lactation and death claims 20% of the USA cows while in the milking herd. On an annual basis that death loss costs the U.S. dairy farms $800 million or approximately $90 per milking cow per year.

How is C.LIV Different than PL?

CDCB provides the following explanation. “In contrast (to C.LIV), PL predicts how long a cow is expected to remain in the milking herd before dying or being culled.”

Livability is one of the traits that make up Productive Life, and it is economically important that cows remain alive, productive and not requiring another cow to replace her.

For decades, cow termination codes have been captured from DHIA herds with 32 million cows in CDCB’s database. Based on that extensive amount of data, CDCB has calculated correlations between C.LIV and PL of 0.70. So they are, in fact, different traits and breeders can expect to see that some sires may be ranked differently for the two traits.

Other Useful Traits

Already available, for a considerable time now, for breeders to use in breeding long-lived trouble free cows have been traits like PL and SCS.  But they only partially cover the spectrum of what breeders want to know. For instance, SCS does report the expected SCC level, but it does not cover if in fact a cow is able to resist mastitis. Each mastitis flare up, even though not life threatening, costs $400 (lost revenue, treatment, added labor, lost future production, etc.)  To address that, CDN now produces a genetic index for Mastitis Resistance. It includes factors (Read more: MASTITIS RESISTANCE SELECTION: NOW A REALITY!) beyond SCC.  Furthermore, Zoetis has now developed a Dairy Wellness Profit Index (DWP$) that is a genetic estimate of a cow’s ability to avoid or resist health problems or disease. (Read More: THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO UNDERSTANDING ZOETIS’ NEW WELLNESS TRAITS – CLARIFIDE® PLUS)

CDN has recently reported a three-year release plan for health and fertility traits.  In December 2016 it will publish a metabolic disease (ketosis & displaced abomasum) resistance index, in 2017 an index for resistance to fertility disorders (metritis & retained placenta) and in 2018 a hoof health index.

Considerable research is currently under way, and it will be interesting to see if breeds and/or bloodlines within breeds have different genetic capabilities for these added indexes. Many breeders feel that they detect differences between cow families for these various auxiliary traits.

What Do the Numbers Show for C.LIV?

The following CDCB table shows the importance of having high genetic indexes for individual traits when it comes to a sire having a high NM$ index.  All traits are directly or indirectly included the NM$ except for C.LIV.  That makes the comparison of C.LIV to NM$ truly independent.

Table 1 Average Genetic Index for USA AI Bulls (born after 1999), Grouped by Percent Rank for NM$

&RK for NM$Avg NM$Milk-lbsFat - lbsProtein-lbsDPRPLC.LIV
80 to 99588104352381.35.62.1
60 to 7942394434300.93.81.4
40 to 5931061225220.42.60.9
20 to 39197432181601.40.2
0 to 19-53-164-2-2-0.8-0.8-1.1

Soures: CDCB Article ” Genetic Evaluation for Cow Livability”

It is estimated by D Norman, CDCD and J Wright and P VanRaden, AIPL-USDA that having cows at 2.1 C.LIV compared to -1.1 C.LIV would be worth an additional annual net income of $9,400 (or $38.50 per cow) in the average USA DHIA herd of 244 cows.

CDCB reports that at some time in the future that C.LIV will be included in the four NM$ indexes replacing some of the current emphasis on PL. When that change is made CDCB sees the possibility that the combination of PL (14%) and C.LIV (7%) will move from the current 19% emphasis on PL in NM$ to 21% for PL plus C.LIV

Will These Functionality Traits Be Used?

For breeders that follow the concept of breeding for type and feeding for production, these functional traits are often regarded as a ho-hum issue.

However, for breeders wanting herds of cows that cause few problems, have minimal added expenses, and that remain in the herd a lactation or two longer than cows have in the past, then these additional traits, including C.LIV, will be important, when selecting the sires to buy semen from.

It is highly unlikely that there will be even one sire that is a standout for all functional traits. In fact, that is impossible. However, knowing bull ratings for added functional traits will allow breeds to avoid using sires that are below average for the traits that breeders find relevant to their breeding plan.

 The Bullvine Bottom Line

C.LIV is the latest, but certainly not the last, genetic index that will be available for breeders to use to breed functional, commercially profitable cows. Time will tell if it is useful. But the fact remains breeders need to consider all traits for which there are genetic indexes and then make informed choices about which ones to include in their sire selection plan.




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Should You Breed for Feed Efficiency?

Feed costs account for nearly 55% of the daily cost for a milking cow. As well feed costs contribute to a significant portion of daily costs for calves, heifers, and dry cow. Daily margins are currently under severe pressure, and it is only a matter of time until breeders start asking their genetic suppliers for facts and figures on how to select for animals that are superior for converting feed into growth, milk and milk solids. Breeders are now hearing or reading claims by breeds, genetic suppliers, and even other breeders that their genetics are the best buy for feed efficiency. But is there evidence to support those claims?

The Bullvine feels it is time to collect and comment on some of the known facts and the areas where breeders can expect to see information on feed conversion efficiency.

What History Tells Us

Breeds of dairy cattle have been developed over centuries and are an adaption of bovines to the regions they originated from. Whether is was an island, country or continent, all breeds were developed mainly based on the climate, the crops available or the milk and/or meat products produced. Measurements such as feed intake were not collected on an animal by animal basis to determine which animals were the most efficient at converting what they ate into meat or milk.

So, in fact, history tells very little about any breed’s feed conversion abilities or any of their differences in ability to convert feedstuffs to meat and milk energies that humans can utilize. The data for analysis does not exist. Therefore, to date, breeding for feed conversion efficiency has been by impression or at best by indirect selection using other documented traits.

Feed Efficiency – What is It?

Michael VandeHaar from Michigan State and his five associates (from U of Wisconsin, Iowa State, MSU and Wageningen UR) have produced a very complete and forward-looking paper called ‘Harnessing the genetics of the modern dairy cow to continue improvements in feed efficiency.’ They published it in the Journal of Dairy Science in April 2016 (JDS 99:4941-4954). Some summary excerpts from that paper follow.

“Feed efficiency is a complex trait for which no single definition is adequate. Generally, feed efficiency describes units of product output per unit of feed input, with units being mass, energy, protein or economic value. For dairy cattle, the primary product is milk, but the energy or value of tissue captured cannot be neglected. Losses or gains of body tissue can result in misleading values of feed efficiency if the only product considered is milk. Feed efficiency should be considered over the lifetime of a cow and include all feed used as a calf, growing heifer and dry cow and all products including milk, meat, and calves.”

There is much to consider in the previous paragraph, but VandeHaar also adds “In addition, we should consider that feed efficiency is more complicated than just feed and product. At the farm level, economic efficiency is clearly a priority.”

More Facts about Feed Efficiency

VandeHaar and Associates also report.

  1. “Feed efficiency, as defined by the fraction of feed energy or dry matter captured in products, has more than doubled for the US dairy industry in the past 100 years.
  2. This increased feed efficiency was the result of increased milk production per cow achieved through genetic selection, nutrition, and management, with the desired goal being greater profitability.
  3. With increased milk production per cow, more feed is consumed per cow, but a greater portioned of the energy is used toward milk instead of maintenance or body growth.
  4. The dilution of maintenance has been the overwhelming driver of enhanced feed efficiency in the past, but its effect diminishes with each successive increment of production relative to body size and therefore will be less important in the future.

Predictions about the Future for Determining Feed Efficiency

VandeHaar and Associates make some interesting predictions about the future relative to feed efficiency.

  1. Research will be needed on new ways to enhance digestive and metabolic efficiency. One way to examine the variation in efficiency among animals is the measurement of residual feed intake (RFI) a measure of efficiency that is independent of the dilution of maintenance. Study on about 6000 cows by the VandeHaar team has identified that RFI is 17% heritable – so there is definitely the possibility to improve animals through genetic selection.
  2. Cows that convert more efficiently and, thereby, are potentially more profitable, will also need to be healthy, fertile and produce a product that generates high revenue.
  3. Genomic technology will help to identify the animals that have high genetic merit and therefore the animals to be used as parents in genetic improvement programs.
  4. At the farm level, nutrition and management will continue to play a major role in feed efficiency. Animal groupings and precise nutrient balancing in group TMR’s will play a role.
  5. New computer-driven technologies that consider genomics, nutrients, management, grouping and environment will be a reality.

All of these facts make us realize that much more work must be done on feed conversion efficiency before is can be applied at the farm level.

It Goes Beyond Feed

The Bullvine called on Jack Britt Ph.D. for input on the topic of feed efficiency. He is a very respected agricultural consultant and formerly a scientist, teacher, and leader at three universities.

Britt comments include:

  • The use made of the milk produced is significant. Farm gate revenue can be maximized with high solids milk for cheese production, whereas lower solids milk is likely best when the use is liquid.
  • Conversion feed efficiency must be considered along with a host of other factors, beyond genetic, nutrition and management, including methods of harvesting forages; climate and environment; animal housing; and economics
  • As yet there is not enough data to know if feed efficiency for maintenance and growth is different than feed efficiency of milk production. Therefore, selecting for RFI based on milk production may or may not result in less feed for maintenance and growth in heifers and young cows.
  • For the immediate future, producers need to focus their attention on factors they can control including profit per cow per day; feed quality; dry matter intake; cow comfort; enhanced management techniques; improved reproduction; animal health and increased production.

Some Salient Facts

In our study of this topic, The Bullvine has noted the following important facts:

  • We can not expect to have feed conversion data for all cows. Measuring exact input and outputs for individual cows is costly. There may be hope regarding estimating feed intake. Dr. Jack Bewley (Kentucky) is currently researching using remote camera technology to capture changes in feed volume in front of cows.
  • Both inputs and outputs are important. It is profit per cow, per group or per herd that drives viability and sustainability. In the immediate term, producers are advised to think and manage regarding income over feed costs (IOFC) or return over feed cost (ROF) on a per cow, per group or herd basis.
  • Breeders can expect to see various terms used to rank sires and cows for their feed conversion efficiency. The formulae for these rankings, at this point, have only limited scientific backing.
  • Large cows must produce more milk than smaller cows of the same breed to have equivalent feed efficiency.
  • Changes in body condition scores must be accounted for in estimating feed efficiency because a cow losing condition will appear to be more efficient than one gaining condition if only feed intake is measured.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Accurate genetic information on feed conversion efficiency of dairy cattle is in its early stages. Making decisions on selecting animals for this is not recommended at this time. Expect to see genomic animal ratings in the coming years but take care to consider the accuracy of those ratings. If and when there are reliable feed efficiency indexes, expect to see them included in total merit genetic indexes like NM$ and Pro$.  The answer to the question is “NO”. Breeders should continue to focus on breeding, feeding and managing for profit using the tools currently available.



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Sire Selection: Work with the best and forget the rest!

There is considerable debate among dairy cattle breeders, whether breeding is an art form or science?  With most telling you it takes a combination of both to achieve sustained success.  The question becomes how you can improve your current breeding program to go from good to great?  The answer lies in your sire selection intensity.  When you work with only the best sires you will achieve the greatest success.

Dairy cattle breeders use science and numbers every day when they go about selecting a bull to use or when they cull a female from their breeding program. The rigor and intensity of these two acts has a great bearing on the genetic progress that a herd can make. When it comes to the genetics added to or removed from a herd, the question every breeder must continually ask is – “Am I being demanding enough?”.

You have to Apply the Science or Lose Genetic Progress

In measuring genetic progress, four factors are considered: a) the superiority (or inferiority) of the animal selected (or culled); b) accuracy, on a genetic basis, of the information used; c) genetic variation for the trait under consideration, and d) the generation interval from parents to progeny.  The sum of a, b and c is divided by d to get an annual genetic gain.

The superiority of the animals used as parents is a vital factor over which a breeder has control in genetic improvement in a trait. Only using the very best sires and dams when adding females to the breeding herd will move a herd forward rapidly for the traits under consideration. This is referred to as the intensity of selection. (Read more: The Genomic Advancement Race – The Battle for Genetic Supremacy Sire vs. Dam – Which has a Greater Impact on Your Herd’s Genetic Improvement?, and Impact of Genomics on Genetic Selection and Gain)

Why You Should Care about Genetic Improvement

In the future, dairy cattle breeders will be more interested in their overall herd improvement rather than in producing one or two breed list toppers or show winners, while being satisfied with their herd being just average. The focus will be on total farm profit. The dairy cattle breeding industry is seeing this change already where breeders are following programs that use sexed semen, use only top indexing sires, use only implanted embryos from elite females, use low indexing females as recipients or mothers of beef calves and select for the future generations based on economically important traits.

A.I.’s are doing the same. Some A.I.’s are breeding to get breed topping males, and others are breeding to produce top males and top females. These breeding companies want their products to provide their customers with the opportunity to maximize profit in the era of narrowing margins, automation, guaranteed product quality and feeding a hungry world.

Where the maximum rate of genetic improvement was once thought to be 1% per year, it can now be 1.5% for some traits in both Holstein and Jersey populations.

Recent rates of genetic improvement are as follows:

Table 1 Genetic Trends in USA – Average Breeding Values (Cows)

Table 1 Genetic Trends in USA - Average Breeding Values (Cows)

Notes: 1. Data Source is CDCB
2. Years compared are the birth years for females
3. * change is postive due to method of trait expression

Table 2 Genetic Trends in Canada – Average Indexes (Cows)

Table 2 Genetic Trends in Canada - Average Indexes (Cows)

Notes: 1. Data Source is CDN
2. Years compared are the birth years for females
3. * change is positive due to the method of trait expression

Breeders are effectively using genetic information to make significant improvement and, therefore, that rate of improvement is speeding up. From studying sire usage in recent years, we know that the rates will increase even more.

Is Genetic Improvement REAL?

For those breeders who question whether genetic improvement is being made, here are five places it can be seen:

  • type in the show ring
  • a lower percent of low producing first lactation cows in herds
  • improved type animals in milk production herds
  • elite brood cows leaving not two or three but many high daughters and sons, and
  • many more top indexing unproven sires are leaving top daughters and sons.

Focus, Focus, Focus on Traits Needing Improvement

In 2021 dairy farming will be considerably advanced. The cows in the herds then will face different conditions.

Given this scenario, The Bullvine recommends that breeders consider placing their focus on three or four of the following traits.

  • Fat yield
  • Protein yield
  • Productive Life / Herd Life
  • Daughter Pregnancy Rate / Daughter Fertility
  • SCS and animal disease resistance
  • Daughter Calving Ease / Daughter Calving Ability

These are key traits in order to drive up revenue or decrease expenses and extend the average length of herd life on a per cow basis.

Readers will note that The Bullvine has not included total merit indexes (TPI, JPI, LPI, NM$, CM$ or Pro$) in its trait list. The reason for not including such indexes is that they are a sum of all traits included in them, and thereby there can be animals with high total merit indexes, but that can be deficient for traits recommended in the previous list.

When Good is NOT Good Enough

Sires used today do not have milking daughters until three years from now. Their indexes must be significant pluses today just to be average by then. For example, in North America Holstein and Jersey sires must be +30 lbs fat today to be average in 2019. For PL it would be +1.75 for a US Holstein sire and for CONF it would be over + 4 for a Canadian Holstein Sire. In general, a sire needs to be 10% – 20% above the current average for a trait in order to be just average when his daughters are in their first lactation.

But average today in three year’s time will not be good enough!

The Bullvine recommends that sires used today have at least the following indexes:

Table 3 Recommended Minimum Indexes When Selecting Proven Sires

Table 3 Recommended Minimum Indexes When Selecting Proven Sires

Pick Your Sires

The following tables contain daughter proven sires that are superior for the list of Bullvine recommended traits.

Table 4 Proven Sires That Are Superior for Bullvine Recommended Traits

USA Holsteins
USA Jerseys
Canadian Holsteins
Canadian Jerseys

Breeders should set up their own list of focus traits. On-farm profit focused breeders will focus on traits where their current herd is not genetically high. While show breeders everywhere may wish to select for Holstein cows with less stature but correct conformation as 60 inches (150 cm) may be the ideal stature in five years’ time. After viewing, on-line, the animals at the recent EU Championship Show, it appears that EU breeders have already adopted having less extremely tall Holstein cows.

Since the genomic sire lists change almost monthly, it serves only a limited purpose to provide a list of top genomic sires. The Bullvine recommends that the values in Table 3 be increased by 25% for genomic sires to help balance out for the lower accuracy of the indexes. Of course the industry standard recommendation applies, do not use only one genomic sire in a herd. It is much better to buy ten doses from each of five genomic sires than fifty doses from only one genomic sire. (Read more: 4 Steps to Faster Genetic Improvement)

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Using AVERAGE sires is not good enough especially when there exists the opportunity to have many more top animals in your herd by using sires that EXCEL. This also applies for the female side of breeding. Increasing the genetic merit levels required for animals selected as parents of the next generation will always pay big dividends.  By taking these actions and increasing your selection intensity, you will take your current breeding programs from good to great and see enduring success.



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Who needs another index?

Have you asked yourself or a fellow breeder that question? Genetic or management indexes are created for at least one reason or purpose.  It seems like every AI unit has developed their own index for one purpose or another.  Here are some Bullvine thoughts on multi-trait genetic indexes that are designed to assist breeders in genetic improvement and marketing. These indexes are usually referred to as total merit indexes.

Others Use Indexes

Read any business article and you will not get far without reading about the Dow Jones or Consumer Price indexes. Both are designed for specific purposes. They are to reflect the price trends in a selected group of companies on the NY Stock Market, or prices consumers must pay for a selected basket of goods that they usually purchase. We regularly hear whether they are trending upwards in inflationary times or down when the economy is trending negative. However, indexes do not end with the economy. Think about it – personal health indexes, student performance indexes, and equipment performance indexes all part of what we have in our daily lexicon.

Why Total Merit Indexes?

In the 1980’s, dairy cattle marketers were claiming to have the #1 bull or #1 cow in their country or the world. #1 for type, #1 for milk, or #1 for fat % improvement. Even then total animal improvement focused breeders were asking which animals put the total package together. As opposed to being single trait wonders.

In response, breeds and genetic evaluation centres saw the need for indexes that combined, on an appropriately weighted basis, the traits in need of improvement. In the United States, combined indexes like TPI, NM$ and JPI were created, and they came into wide use by breeders in their selection and marketing. In Canada, the index, created by all organizations working together, was LPI. Other country total merit indexes included BW in New Zealand, RZG in Germany, ISU in France and NVI in the Netherlands.

The principle behind all these indexes is that dairy cows are not bred with only one or two traits in mind. Some breeders indicate that having breeding indexes makes breeding dairy cattle more complicated. However, from our exposure to breeders, The Bullvine hears that having total merit indexes assists breeders who want to breed for lifetime profit or to compare animals before buying semen or embryos.

Blindly following a total merit index is not a good practice. Breeders need to know the purpose for which a total merit index is designed. BW (New Zealand) is designed for year round grazing and low body mass. JPI (American Jersey) is designed with an emphasis on milk solids production.

Breeders need to have goals and a herd breeding plan to make maximum use of total merit indexes. Readers may wish to refer to previous Bullvine articles when establishing a herd breeding plan ( Read more: What’s the plan?, 4 Steps to Faster Genetic Improvement, 8 Steps to Choosing What Sires to Use).  Breeders need to look five years into the future to decide what will be the criteria they will judge their females by. It is entirely possible if a breeder plans to operate his dairy farm business differently in the future than they have in the past, it could be time to use a different total merit index than they have utilized in the past.

Have Genetic Indexes Been Useful?

Annually CDCB and CDN publish reports showing ever increasing rates of genetic advancement for NM$ and LPI, respectively. In fact, a recent CDN article states that half of the gain in Canada can be attributed to increased genetic merit.

In the barns around the world, individual breeders are seeing gains in their cows’ ability for production, type and now SCS. When a breeder makes extensive use of sexed semen, it can be expected that 80% of a herd’s improvement can be attributed to the sires that have been used. Definitely having total merit index rankings three times a year gives breeders the opportunity to find new top sires and to eliminate bulls that may be high for one or two individual traits but in total are not able to do a complete job. Since the introduction of TPI and LPI, one of the outcomes has been that high type sires, with inferior production ability, are used very infrequently on a population basis.

Current Reality in Genetic Indexes

With many total merit indexes and many many individual trait indexes routinely published, it can be both time consuming and confusing to keep up-to-date.

Yet the fact is that the number of indexes is increasing with every index run. For example, in the past year, there have been three new trait indexes for mastitis resistance, fertility and feed efficiency. In 2015 new added total merit indexes were Pro$ (CDN) and DWP$(TM) (Zoetis), the latter being an index produced by a private company (Read more: Can you breed a healthier cow?, The Complete Guide to Understanding Zoetis’ New Wellness Traits – CLARIFIDE® Plus, Will Genetic Evaluations Go Private?)

Tomorrow’s Indexes

Every year new indexes for important traits for varying herd management systems will continue to come into the world of dairy cattle breeding. The following questions may assist breeders in deciding upon which genetic indexes to consider:

  • Is the new index designed for the way you plan to practice dairy farming?
  • Why would you not take the opportunity to use new relevant information?
  • Who can give you the most objective view of new genetic indexes?

One size does not fit all.  Not every new genetic index, total merit or individual trait, will assist a breeder in breeding an ever more profitable herd.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Are there too many indexes? Only if you don’t have a breeding plan, and you don’t make the right choice of a total merit index for your herd. It is not about the total number of genetic indexes. In the end, it’s about being selective and only using what’s best for you.



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4 Steps to Faster Genetic Improvement

I often see on Facebook or in the Milk House discussion group where a breeder shows a picture and perhaps some of the achievements of a cow or heifer and then asks Facebook friends or other Milk House members for suggestions on a sire to breed or flush her to. Personally, even though I love mating dairy animals, I do not answer these requests. This is not because I don’t have an opinion but because I seldom know what the animal’s performance or genetic facts are and, more importantly, I don’t know what the owner’s goals are.

For me, there are four important steps involved in improving an animal or a herd: 1. Measure first 2. Set goals 3. Narrowing the list of sires 4. Choosing the best mate for your cow.

Step #1: Measure First

Dairy cattle improvement long ago moved past the practice of only doing a quick visual of an animal before selecting a sire to improve one or two physical characteristics. The modern dairy animal is a complex milk producing machine that must tick many boxes to return maximum lifetime.

Until genomics arrived on the scene in 2008, the vast majority of breeders were satisfied to simply know the animal’s recorded performance in the milk pail and, if not official type classification, then at least any observed type weaknesses that the animal possessed. Over 95% of breeders used the actual performance results and not the genetic indexes for production and type traits when breeding cows.

With genomic indexes has come a rapid increase in the number of traits for which genetic indexes are available. No longer are production, SCS and type the only primary traits considered in improving the genetics of an animal or a herd.  In fact, for the majority of owners, those traits are today taking a back seat to additional traits such as reproduction, length of life, milking speed, inbreeding and age at first calving. As yet owners are still, in 2016, using the phenotypic value when measuring and not the genetic value for these new, front and center, traits.

The saying goes “you cannot improve what you do not measure”. Measurement has vastly improved and today much can be learned in the two years from conception to first breeding and the four years from conception to end of the first lactation. Today the question is, “Which traits are most worthwhile?” You have the option of considering feed conversion efficiency, haploids that affect fertility, age at first heifer estrus, protein composition, fat composition, ratings on early embryonic death and perhaps fertility in the very high producing cow. These are a few in an ever growing list.

In 2020 knowing a few basic facts will no longer be enough to succeed. By that time, the scope of what traits are measured will expand considerably. Breeders planning to have their herds remain current in the population will need to be measuring more and more traits. Services for measuring will no longer be only breeds and DHI, many new service providers are now or soon will be on the scene (Read more: WILL GENETIC EVALUATIONS GO PRIVATE?)

Step #2: Set Goals

The Bullvine regularly urges dairy breeders to have a breeding plan for the herd. (Read more: What’s the plan?, Are you a hobby farmer or a dairy business?, and Dairy Cattle Breeding Is All About Numbers). Just as frequently we hear back from our readers regarding their plans. Recent reader shares have told us about wanting to decrease the average mature stature of their Holstein cows. Other have shared that they are breeding for a totally polled or A2A2 Kappa-Casein herd. Still others want purebred Holsteins that conceive when milking heavily like they did half a century ago. By the way, keep those letters on goals flowing to us.

The point we wish to make in this article is that you will never arrive at your breeding goal if you do not have a plan to get you there. Take the time right now, perhaps while you are relaxing after first cut hay, to do a complete and realistic breeding plan for the next five years. Having a plan will mean that the next two steps, #3 Narrowing the list of sires and #4 Choosing the best mate for your cow, will be much easier and will have a much greater chance of being successful. A plan can be either a whole herd plan or for a portion of the herd. For many breeders, the plan may vary from cow family to cow family. In all cases, the plan should include the three (maximum five) traits that are to receive primary emphasis. Most A.I. companies have trained individuals who can work with owners to define the genetic goals, and thereby the plan, for the herd.

Step #3: Narrowing the List of Sires

It is no longer effective to choose sires simply from the top five TPI, LPI, NM$, Pro$, CM$, PTAT or DWPS$ sires and hope to achieve the goals set in #2 (above). “Why isn’t it possible?” you ask. A quick check shows that if your goal is to significantly improve your Holstein herd’s genetic merit for fertility, thus requiring a bull be one standard deviation about average, there are only two of the top five Pro$ sires that can do that. Choosing three of the top five means defeating your plan. And if your goal is to improve your herd for SCS, there are three of the top five proven Holstein TPI have a SCS index of over 3.00. You must zero in specifically to be successful.

Total merit indexes are an excellent guide to narrow the list of sires to be considered for use in a herd.  After narrowing your list of potential sires to the top 25 for the total merit index of your choice then eliminate all sires that are NOT significant improvers for your three primary traits.

Here are some example primary traits and minimum rating for a sire to be classified as a significant breed improver.

Table 1 Minimum Index Values for a Holstein Sire to be a Significant Improver

CDCB Evaluations CDN Evaluations
DPR 2.5 DF 106
PL 4 HL 106
UDC 2 MS 6

It does not matter how popular, how marketed or how high a sire is for TPI or LPI if he has genetic indexes that are significantly above average for your primary traits, then he’s not for you.

Achieving your genetic plan should be Job #1, when it comes to which sires to buy semen from. Two rules of thumb included: 1) semen price should not deter you (five doses of $100 semen will be quickly paid back when the one daughter gets in the milking herd); and 2) do not over buy on number of doses (with three index runs a year, there are always new top sires for your primary traits coming available.) If you don’t have the semen from former leaders in your tank, then you will not be tempted to use it.  Genetic advancement has never been as fast as it is today. We can expect it get even faster.  Don’t hold your herd back in the past.

Step #4: Choosing the Best Mating for your Cows

The Bullvine recommends that breeders find a mating program that uses genetic indexes for both sires and cows or heifers and that allows breeders to place added emphasis on their primary traits. Most A.I. companies have a mating program that can be adapted to a breeder’s genetic plan, and that can use any sire no matter what their ownership.

The objective should be to mate individual cows to one of the sires that have the superiority in your primary traits (see #3 above). It makes little sense to mate your -1.0 DPR cows to a sire that is less than +3 .0 DPR even if there is a remote possibility that you may get one daughter that wins your county show. County show winners most often can not garner extra dollars in the sales ring. But cows that are above average for DPR can stay in the herd longer and thereby achieve higher lifetime profit.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

All four of these steps are integral in being successful in achieving genetic advancement in your herd. You will have financial rewards every year and, as well, you will be rewarded by passing on a genetically superior herd to your successors or when you decide to sell your herd.



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It’s Time to Make Dairy Shows Relevant, Again

Show supporters can quote many reasons for why the time, effort and resources that they put towards exhibiting cattle are positive. At the same time, there are detractors who question why breeds and sponsors should support cattle shows. The detractors see no benefit to dairy cattle improvement from the show circuit.

What is Relevant Today?

What is seen as relevant differs over the entire spectrum of dairy cattle breeders?  Something that is relevant to one group is not as important to another.  The show competition is not about focusing on a win or lose for one of these groups over their differently focused peers.  It’s about having a showcase not only for breeders but the consuming public.  To stay relevant dairy breeders and breed associations must take the opportunity to be the kind of leaders and visionaries that advance the dairy industry. Being relevant requires that new ideas are continually being brought on board as times and circumstances change. The Bullvine offers some thoughts for dairy show organizers to consider in raising the bar for the future of the industry.

Minimum Production Required

Since type is the deciding factor in the show ring. Ways to include production in shows has been tried in numerous ways.  Over fifty years ago, The Honorable Harry Hays, Canadian Minister of Agriculture, initiated a federally financial supported program that required that cows or dams of heifers meet minimum production requirements. The program lasted for many years until a subsequent government looked for areas to reduce the federal government agriculture budget and eliminated the support. While it lasted, the program assisted with more official milk recording and breed improvement.

Just two years ago Holstein USA raised the minimum production from 125,000 lbs to 150,000 lbs for cows to be eligible for entry into Production Cow Classes at Holstein designated shows. This move reflects the increasing levels of production.

It was fascinating at the 2016 Swiss Expo to see a twenty-year-old that had produced 200,000 kgs. Back when she was a heifer she had been a class winner at the very first Swiss Expo. Now that is not a class that shows might consider, but it was interesting to see this grand matriarch paraded.

Best by Age

For perhaps two decades now, show have had an Intermediate Champion or Best Junior Cow. This category has been very well received. Could the champion categories be extended to have a Champion Calf and Champion Yearling?

Recently, at two high-quality North American Spring Shows, Junior Two Year Olds have been named Grand Champion Female. That has not been without controversy.

Often judges state that they give preference to mature females. The words often used are that ‘she has stood the test of time”.  And, by comparison, the more junior cows which have not calved as often will have their day in the bright lights when they mature.

So what is the purpose of naming the Grand Champion Female? Is it to reward age or to identify the best in the show without bias related to maturity. In fact, it may even be a question of using maturity for placings of first and second lactation cows.  It is our observation that lack of body depth in first and second lactation is not all that bad. Young cows should look like young cows.

Best by Index

The organizers of the recent Canadian National Convention Holstein show took the bull by the horns, so to speak, and introduced a class for genomically indexed heifers.  The show was organized by members of Holstein Canada from Western Canada. The concept for the class was put forward more than two years ago by Dr. David Chalack of RockyMountain Holsteins. An interesting side note is that Harry Hays and David Chalack, two show class innovators, both originate from Calgary Alberta.  The Hays and Chalack Families have been long time supporters of Canadian Holstein improvement and foreign cattle marketing. David puts it this way “Shows must be relevant to not only today but also in the future. Genomic indexes are twice as accurate as the old Parent Average Indexes. Our shows need to be leading by example in bringing out the quality of animals that will meet the future needs of all breeders”. He continues “ The show organizers considered making the requirements higher for individual parts of the LPI but in the end decided to set the LPI at a reasonable level. I was thrilled to see the interest in the class. Western Canada Holstein breeders throw the torch to shows, anywhere on the globe, to take the show ring to new heights.”

The class was truly a success. The top two placing heifers, with at least 2600 LPI, from the first five heifer classes paraded before the show judge. The Champion Index heifer was Barclay Doorman Cobra exhibited by Hamming Holsteins from British Columbia, and reserve was also exhibited by Hamming Holsteins. Winning both Champion and Reserve Index Heifer indeed gives this owner a great marketing opportunity.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

With much talk about shows becoming less and less relevant in dairy cattle improvement, it rests on the shoulders of breeds and show organizers to put in place new classes that extend the reach from type only to include all aspects of dairy cattle breeding which includes production, durability and health and fertility. The time has come for highlighting modern dairy relevance in the show ring.



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Looking Beyond The Dairy Horizon

It is hard to look beyond the horizon when a grass fire is approaching your farm buildings. The pressure of the moment keeps us narrowly focused on what is current. That’s where dairy breeders are at today. The cows who are being milked today were conceived in a time of more positive margins in dairying than exists in 2016. However, if they plan to be in business in 2025, they have to widen their perspective. Today’s successes were built on decisions made years ago. Breeders must always be looking into the future when it comes to planning for the cows that they will need to be milking in their herds in three generations. The best advice is – “Don’t look back, you’re not going that way”. So let’s look to dairying in 2025. It is only nine years away.

Global Predictions

The November 2015 World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report predicts ‘Global demand for food and agricultural products is expected to grow until 2025. Crop production will fall a bit, but the outlook for livestock production looks promising’. Farm gate milk prices are forecasted to increase especially from 2020 forward.

In 2015, the distribution of the global human population was 60% Asia, 15% Africa, 14% America (North & South) and 11% Europe. Add to that fact, 83% of the global population growth between now and 2025 will occur in developing countries of which Asia has a high proportion. In developing countries, the population is younger and in most cases there is an expanding middle class both of which will result in the higher consumption of dairy products.

Economic growth on a global basis is forecast to be 3.1% (developing countries 4.7% and developed countries 2.0%) until 2025 slightly below the long-term trend prior to the 2008 financial crisis. The range in economic growth will be Europe 1.8%, North America 2.5%, South America 2.6%, Middle East 4.0%, Asia & Oceania 4.3% (including China 5.3% and India 8.1%) and Africa 4.5%. However, percent growth must also consider the global GDP share by regions: Asia & Oceania 30%, Europe 29%, North America 25%, South America 8%, Middle East 4% and Africa 3%. Dairying should fare well from Asia’s growth potential and its relative global position in share of GDP.

All of this is positive news for dairying. However, that does also mean that there will need to be changes required at the farm level, as we’ll address later.

USDA Predictions

To better understand what is ahead for dairying details contained in the recently released USDA Long-Term Projections – February 2016 gives numbers that dairy farmers can understand and use as they plan for 2025.
Table 1: USDA Dairy Cattle Related Predictions*

Number of Cows (Millions)9.319.319.35
Milk per Cow (Pounds)22,88024,76027,405
US Milk Production (Billion pounds)213230256
Price - all milk (USA$)16.3917.2119.91
Corn (Million acres planted)889088
Corn ($ per bushel)3.653.713.75
Soybeans (Million acres planted)838281
Soybeans ($ per bushel)8.919.059.29
Milk Fat Basis

* Data source – USDA Long-Term Projections – Februrary 2016

A few predictions are noteworthy:

  • Cow numbers will remain constant
  • Production per cow and total national production will increase 20% by 2025. That’s over +2% per year. To achieve the production figure cows, on average, will need to be milked 3x.
  • Corn and soybean acres and prices per bushel will not change over the period
  • Domestic disposal of milk will increase 18% 2016 to 2025, so the USA will need to export more milk products.
  • Export of milk products have decreased in 2016 to 9 billion pounds, due to lower milk prices. However, exports but will return in 2020 to their 2014 level of 12 billion and increase to 14 billion pounds by 2025, when export will be 5.5% of production.
  • Not shown in the table – bovine meat prices are expected in 2025 to be 80% of current prices, number of dairy farmers will decrease at an increasing rate, and average US herd size could average 425 cows by 2025.

Situation 2025

Even though milk producers in many countries are currently stressed because of a perfect storm, 2025 looks promising provided they take steps to adapt their operations. The 2015-2016 perfect storm of EU quota is disappearing, a Russian embargo, China and India production increasing and the USA and NZ producers are not adjusting for the production to demand imbalance, all of which are not likely to occur again any time soon.
Milk producers in planning for 2025 should consider the following:

  • Technology
    • New technology will need to be put in place to achieve year upon year cow production increases of 2% in production. It goes without saying that technology requires more output per cow and cows per herd to be justifiable.
    • With low-cost labor disappearing in many countries, automated systems will need to be purchased.
    • On-farm management expertise will require both training and application of computerized systems. Decision-making ability and accuracy of decisions will need to be increased.
    • State-of-the-art social media will be significantly advanced from today and will become a “must use” by dairy people.
  • Output Per Farm
    • Since 1925 (when milking machines came on the scene) cows per worker has doubled every twenty-five years to where in 2025 there will 80 milk cows plus their replacement per worker.
    • Milk shipped per worker in 2025 will need to be 170% of what it is today (2016). In respect to production efficiency, dairy farming is no different from any other industry. It must always move forward.
  • Trade and Milk
    • Currently 9% of the global milk production crosses country borders. At one time, not too long ago, it was 4%. It will likely remain in the 9% range until 2025.
    • Trade Agreements are here to stay and will impact milk prices more in the future than they have in the past. Once signed all trade agreement clauses must be adhered to.
    • Expect that the agricultural policy of other countries will impact dairying in your country. It is difficult enough to compete today with producers in other countries but having to compete when a foreign government stimulates milk production, or limits imports can be impossible.
    • Currency exchange rates have a significant impact on the amount of trade and business success.
  • Revenue Generation
    • Milk producers will need to plan more for their revenue in the future than they have in the past. That could include doing their on-farm processing and selling or by joining in selling coops with other producers to ensure their incomes. Few producers can survive when they are an island onto themselves.
    • Producers have learned in 2015 -2016 that farm gate milk price stability is job #1. Cost control, although significant, ranks second to revenue generation.
    • Revenue generation from the sale of cull animals or a secondary dairy beef enterprise is not predicted to increase 2016 to 2025.
  • Consumer Demands
    • Verified high-quality safe milk will no longer be taken as a given by consumers. Eventually, producers everywhere will have to be able to verify the quality, safety and production techniques of their milk. Inferior milk will not be allowed to cross borders.
    • The corner has been turned, and low-fat milk will be discounted in price at the farm gate. Butter is back.
    • Milk that is 4.5%F and 3.1%P will give the fat needed without there being excess (unwanted) skim milk powder.

Other trends will continue. One sure thing is that the rate of change will be faster and faster with time.

What Has This Got to Do with Breeding?

The genetic merit or make-up of the 2025 cows will need to be enhanced from today. Here are a few areas:

  • Ratio Fat %: Protein % will need to be expanded from 3.9%F: 3.1%P to 4.5%F to 3.1%P.
  • Selection needs to be to maximize fat and protein yields from minimal milk volume
  • The day of the disposable cow needs to be over (5 not 2.5 lactations per cow are needed)
  • Higher pregnancy rates will be necessary (1.5 not 2.5 average services per-conception)
  • DMI from 80% forage diets needs to increase
  • Cows must be technology friendly and require minimal labor
  • Selection needs to start for resistance to production-limiting and other diseases
  • Selection for a host of new traits will be possible (Read more: Will Genetic Evaluations Go Private?)

The Bullvine recommends that breeders use commercially available mating programs where various breeding program scenarios can be run before semen is purchased. The scenarios studied should consider both programs that depend on revenue from both a) 90+% from milk sales and b) 65% milk and 25% breeding stock sales. Of course on all farm 10% of revenue comes from other sources including culled cows and calves for veal.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Granted there will always be dairy farmers that have a niche situation, and therefore, they will not be impacted in the same way as the wider population. The norm in 2025 will not be the same in every country. But there is no going back. Change will occur at an ever increasing rate. An objective plan and sound daily enterprise management will be a necessity for all who plan to be dairy farmers beyond the horizon of 2025.



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GENETICS vs. ENVIRONMENT: Do Genetics Perform Uniformly in All Environments?

In current genetic evaluations, we lump data together, nationally and internationally. It is combined into one data set where we carry out the various analyzes to arrive at genetic indexes for all animals. But is that combining correct? Are there, in fact, any genetics by environment interactions situations that need consideration when combining data?  Should genetic evaluations be run separately for grazing herds compared to barn fed and housed herds?

What Does Cow Sense Tell Us?

Cow people know that there are some sire daughter groups and some cow families that perform differently when placed in different environments.

How often have you heard knowledgeable cow persons say – “He sires good useful barn cows but not enough show ring worthy daughters to have a PTAT of 3.21.” Or. “That cow family is great provided you go to the effort of pampering them like babies.”

Some Examples Where Proofs Have Not Always Told the Story

I have seen situations where sires’ daughters do not uniformly perform according to their indexes across all environments.

Quality Ultimate sired strength and stature as well as average milk and good fat percent, but he got the knock for not being tie stall friendly and lacking in daughter mobility in Canada, where he was proven. Yet in Australia breeders have told me that his mobility was not a problem. Why? Well, in Canada in tie stall barns with little to no access to exercise for 60% of the year, Ultimate daughters did not get the exercise they needed and so his proof was accurate, he had a feet and legs limitation. But, in Australia where cattle are outside walking on the ground all year, his daughter’s feet and legs were not a problem. (Read more: Mobility – The Achilles Heel of Every Breeding Program)

Looking beyond Ultimate, each of us can think of other bulls that may not suit all breeders’ needs. I think of Roybrook Starlite whose daughters were high yielders, but they often needed some special care and close monitoring. That is not something most commercial milk producers were prepared to do. Starlite’s maternal line had been a line bred family from a herd that took superb care of their animals.

Love Them or Hate Them

Today breeders either love or hate show bull Goldwyn and the commercial breeder’s dream bull, Oman. (Read more: Why Braedale Goldwyn Wasn’t a Great Sire of Sons)

A bull’s proof is an estimate of his average daughter. In extreme situations or environments, a bull’s proof may not be an accurate prediction of his true worth. How can breeders know if a bull will work, as his proof predicts, on their farm? Very little gets a breeder more upset that having a bull not perform in accordance with his proof.

Goldwyn in large commercially run groups of cows and Oman in the show ring are not good fits for what their proofs said should have ben expected.

Cow Indexes Open To More Environmental Influence

Of course, when it comes to cow indexes there are numerous examples of cows and cow families where the indexes are not accurate in predicting how they will breed on. (Read more: Has Genomics Knocked Out Hot House Herds?)

Now with genomic information included in genetic evaluations, the accuracies of prediction for cow indexes have been doubled and, therefore, may not be quite as variable in accuracy as they were in the past. Discerning breeders know that some cow families work best in certain single environments.

Points To Ponder

When conducting genetic evaluations, assumptions are made. Most of these assumptions have been shown to enhance the resulting genetic indexes. However here are a few assumptions that may contribute to inaccuracies when the indexes are used across all dairy farming situations.

  • Including Only Partial Herd Data
    Not including all contemporaries in type classification or herd recording data, when conducting BLUP genetic evaluations, violates the BLUP assumption that all animals are handled in a similar manner within a herd. Applying the results from selected data can lead to breeders questioning the daughters they get from a sire or cow family based on their genetic indexes.
  • Combining International Data Sets
    Definition of traits, variances within the data and methods of farm operation are different country to country. Interbull includes data from many production environments from many countries when doing its index calculations. Breeders should carefully interpret the results of combined international indexes when applying them back to their own herd environment.
  • Multiple Breeding Programs Within A Herd
    BLUP genetic evaluations assumes that only one breed program, one feeding program, and one management system exists in a single herd. If that assumption is violated then genetic evaluation results, especially cow indexes, can be less accurate than reported.
  • Sires Proven on Early Release Semen
    Most breeding companies release their high genomic young sires to themselves or selected herds six to nine months before it is made available to all breeders. It is imperative that the genetic evaluation procedures used for evaluating early release sires accurately adjusts for the genetic merit of the sire’s mates and the herds where the daughters are found.
  • Cows and Technology
    With many new technologies coming to market, breeders can expect to see genetic indexes for how cows adapt or perform within a technology. One such area is how cows work in single robotic milking farms. For example, breeders need to understand what is included when a bull’s daughters are called robot ready. Is that simply rear teat placement or does it include other factors as well (i.e. udder depth, milk let down, milking temperament, etc.)?
  • Genomic Information Not Yet Universal
    Even though the global dairy cattle breeding industry is almost into the ninth year of using genomic information, the genomic information and method of including the genomic results in genetic evaluations are not universal country to country. Breeders using genomic indexes from other countries need to do their homework before buying semen or embryos from abroad.

Does This Topic Need Attention?

The short answer is YES. To constructively improve their dairy cattle, breeders need to trust the numbers they use when making breeding decisions. Differences, biases, and inaccuracies in the data must be accounted for when conducting genetic evaluations.  As milk products become more of the global diet and as dairy cow populations expand, especially into more tropical conditions, breeders will need to know which cow families and sire daughter groups will work best in which environments.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The genetic evaluations of tomorrow need to make sure that biases and inaccuracies are not created but rather eliminated when data sets are combined. The saying “Horses For Courses” comes to mind when considering bloodlines that will work better in one environment than another.



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Will Genetic Evaluations Go Private?

Dairy cattle breeders have come to rely on their genetic indexes being calculated on a national or international basis by governments or independent industry organizations. Here at The Bullvine, we often refer to CDCB, CDN, VIT, ADHIS, Breed Societies and Interbull without mentioning their credentials or neutrality because we have trust in the numbers they produce for breeders to use to genetically advance their cattle. CDCB (Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding) in the USA is the newest of these organizations, and it has grown out of the AIPL-USDA’s decision to discontinue the production trait genetic indexing service for the US dairy cattle industry.

However, on the horizon is a considerable amount of on-farm data that national evaluation centers are not using. As well there is the desire by (A.I.) breeding companies to have and use genetic indexes for traits for which there is data but which may be outside the data standards that the national centres require or for which the companies do not wish to pay the fees charged by national centers. Add to that, new national trait evaluations are very slow in their development and approval.

So The Bullvine asks “Will genetic evaluations go private?”.

Private Is Not New

Privately produced trait rating systems have been around since the early days of A.I.  Breeders wanted to know facts, so A.I. organizations produced ratings starting with sire semen fertility followed by numerous other characteristics of their bulls’ daughters. One difficulty with these organization based systems was that each had its unique method of expression. This meant that breeders had to understand and remember many rating systems. It did, however, allow A.I.’s to have something unique in their tool box.

Another alternative, though perhaps not entirely private, is the improvement industry in New Zealand where LIC captures the data, calculates the genetic indexes, samples the bulls and markets the bulls. Arms length decision making and lack of diversity in the breeding program are questioned by breeders who use NZ genetics.

Data Standards

To do national and international genetic evaluations, where large volumes of data are included, it is paramount that the data combined have commonalities in such things as number of days milked, milking frequency, lactation number and age at classification. With the requirement for standardization, it results in the process of developing new genetic indexes being a relatively long process. That does not work well in a time of rapidly changing breeder needs for additional traits or when breeding companies have unique marketing plans.

Standardization adds cost. It is only worth it if the benefits for the population exceed the costs.

What Data Is Not Standardized?

Today there is a rapidly growing volume of data uniquely collected by companies. In the past half decade, the increase in the number of automated data capture devices has been dramatic. Rumination rate, animal activity, milking frequency, milk per quarter, milk temperature, hormone levels…it is almost an endless list. (Read more: BETTER DECISION MAKING BY USING TECHNOLOGY) And the list only gets longer every month. An important note is that each company and device has its method of data capture and expressing the results.

Another factor that breeders find confusing is that, although similarly named, traits are different in the ways that they are calculated and reported. Some of these traits include feed efficiency, fertility, length of herd life, ability to transition from dry to milking and mobility. It all depends on the organization, national genetic evaluation centre, breed society, A.I. or service company, doing the evaluation.

What Additional Indexes Could There Be?

Here again, the list of genetic indexes that could be possible is endless. A few that the Bullvine has heard breeders considering or organizations planning to produce include:

  • Milk let down and minutes to milk
  • Ability of animals to adapt to equipment and systems
  • Cow rejection rate in single unit robotic systems or cow visitation rate
  • Animal fertility including ability to conceive, early embryonic death and abortion rate
  • Animal behavior and social interaction
  • Feed intake and feed conversion
  • Animal mobility
  • Calf growth, health, feed conversion, disease resistance, .., etc.
  • Embryo production during embryo transfer
  • Ability to produce show winning progeny

Yes, the genetically related list is long. And beyond genetic indexes breeders will want many management and business related details. I received a novel question a month ago when a breeder ask if it could be possible for him to separate A1A1 and A1A2 milk from A2A2 milk, at milking time, so he would be able to keep the A2A2 milk separate for sale at a higher price. That’s a business person thinking about opportunities.

What is Likely to Happen

It is very likely that private companies with on-farm data and breeding companies wanting to have additional or unique indexes will form alliances for the calculation of new genetic indexes. If they aren’t doing it already, it will happen soon. Definitely, breeding companies working with equipment and service providers would be able to use all the data from many countries.

In the absence of having industry approved indexes breeders will be faced with using various company indexes. Fully trained geneticists already work for all of the data capture, breeding, service, product and genomic evaluation companies. So it is not a matter of if, but when it will happen.

Time will tell if these new genetic indexes are accurate, useful and understood. One significant question is – “Once the move to private is started will it continue to also include the current national evaluations for production, type, health and fertility traits?”.

In short “the horse is out of the barn”, there will be widespread availability of privately calculated genetic indexes in the future.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Dairy cattle breeders can expect to see, read or hear sales reps promoting their sires based on new indexes. Is that good? The Bullvine predicts the answer is YES. Well, yes, provided that the indexes will assist breeders to improve the genetic merit of their cattle for lifetime profit.



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Are We Getting Desired Genes Into Our Cattle?

Livestock genetic improvement is all about increasing the proportion of desired genes in the animals that breeders have on their farms. Even though this process has been occurring since animals were domesticated, it has only been documented over the past couple of centuries. With the vast majority of the improvement in yield occurring in the past seventy years.

The challenge that today’s breeders must address is how they will choose to further eliminate the unwanted and increase the proportion of desired genes in our milk producing animals. This applies to all species – bovine, buffalo, goats, sheep and yes even yaks, reindeer, and camels. Today few of us think of breeding dairy animals that are specific to their environment.

Dairy cattle breeding has gone through many stages to arrive at where we are at today with top cows that can produce over 2,200 pounds (1,000 kgs) of total fat and protein in a single lactation or have near perfect conformation.

The Bullvine looks both back and ahead at selection tools.

Advancements Made In Selection

Natural selection was a start but only a small start. Since then breeders had worked to develop animals and breeds using such tools as measuring performance, selecting sons and daughters from top cows, culling bottom enders, buying the best herd sire available, inbreeding followed by outcrossing, linebreeding and sharing elite bulls amongst an ownership group.  With all of these breeders used what their eyes told them or the actual measured performance. (Read more: 6 Steps to Understanding & Managing Inbreeding in Your Herd, The Truth about Inbreeding and Stop Talking About Inbreeding…)

Significant genetic gains have occurred since WW II when breeders joined forces to jointly work to goals and geneticists analyzed the data to determine which animals had the best genetic make-up. The sampling of young sires from elite parents moved the dairy cattle breeding industry far along the journey to having cattle capable of producing over three times their previous yields. Recently an American cow is credited with 74,650 lbs of milk, 2,126 lbs of fat and 2,142 lbs of protein in 365 days. That’s almost 205 lbs (93 kgs) of milk per day for an entire year. And it seems almost every month now that we hear about cows scoring EX95 to EX97 in numerous breeds and countries.

Cloning was a tool tried, but the cost and the fact that an animal was replicated but not improved left it in the tried but of no use garbage bin. On the other side, there is sorting of semen by sex which now is nearing perfection for producing the sex of calf desired and matching unsexed semen for the ability to obtain a pregnancy.

The opportunity for improving the genetic ability of dairy cattle took a significant step forward in 2008 when genomic facts were added to the genetic evaluation process. The animal genomic information was added to the pedigree, classification and milk records resulting in genetic indexes with 60-70% accuracy where they formerly were 30-35%. Not since the change from only using visual observation to using parent, classification and milk records as the basis for decision had the accuracy of predicting genetic merit doubled.

Will Improvement Continue?

Where will the process of changing animals all end? Well, it won’t end.

The race to having a higher and higher proportion of animals with the genetic makeup that will maximize profit in tomorrow’s world will continue.

What Tools Are On The Horizon?

Already here is crossbreeding. Many breeders have been experimenting with taking genetics from top animals in pure breeds and crossing breeds. From a Holstein base, which is the case in most countries, numerous other dairy breeds are being used on a rotational or backcross basis to improve animals especially for health, fertility, longevity and other management traits. Without effective alternatives for selection from within breeds, crossbreeding schemes are likely to become more prevalent as a way to lessen the need for individual animal care, minimizing some of the added costs associated with high production and having animals that will perform in more rugged or extreme environments.

For some dairy farmers a new breed may be the answer. In New Zealand the Kiwi Breed (a combination of Holstein and Jersey) now makes up 50+% of the dairy cow population. It could be that Kiwi or some other composite breeds may come into popular support in other countries. Could it even be that in some regions of the world there is a return to dual purpose animals, breed for both milk and meat?  (Read more: Holstein vs. Jersey: Which Breed Is More Profitable?)

Gene editing as a means of changing the genetic makeup of living beings is in the popular press at this time. The February 2nd National Post described gene editing as “… using tools to precisely edit genes inside living cells”. The National Post article added “There are a few methods but the technique known as CRISPR-Cas9 is a relatively fast, cheap and simple method that many researchers are keen to try”. On the human side the possibility for ‘genetic’ cures to miscarriages, infertility, HIV, MS, sickle cell disease and many others are a great hope. On the animal side fixing the problems by gene editing at the embryo stage sounds interesting at this moment.

Breeders and breeds need to be prepared for gene editing, perhaps as early as the next decade. For breed loyalists concerned about breed purity, it could be that the edited genes could come from selecting the ‘good’ genes from within a breed. I have had breeders, mainly in topical countries, wonder if the high milk solids percentages and heat resistance of the water buffalo could be added to our dairy cows. At this time there is are only questions and speculation. However progressive breeders always have and always will look to new techniques, as they come along, to make sure our dairy animals have the best genes possible.

What Cows Could Be On The Horizon?

Do we actually know what our dairy animals will be in the future? In fact, … NO!

But we can speculate. The Bullvine has produced many articles on what the dairy cow will be in the future. (Read more: She Ain’t Pretty – She Just Milks That Way!)

 The Bullvine Bottom Line

Improving the genetics of dairy cattle will not go away or stop. The dairy cattle breeding industry needs to be open minded when it comes to the tools and techniques that will be used to make the cows of the future.



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Genomic Testing Discovers New Cow Family

When genomic testing came on the scene in 2008, it was hoped that genomic results would make possible the identification of new top cow families.  That remains a concern for the vast majority of traditional cow family breeders. However, for Alexerin Dairy, owned by the Nixon Family of Manotick Ontario it is a reality. Here is the story of their success despite not being traditional cow family breeders.

Alexerin – High Quality All the Way

Alexerin has been a well managed bottom line focused dairy for many years. Todd (son) joined Ron (father) upon graduating from agricultural college on the 45 cow tie stall purebred operation that Ron had developed converting from a high quality identified grade herd.  It has been a fast climb to the top ever since Todd and Erin joined. Today they milk 150 cows in free stalls and parlor with a 200 kgs fat quota utilizing three family members and two full-time and two-weekend female part-time employees. All herd growth, for this 45-year closed herd, has been from within and today is both Leucosis and Johnes free. As well they are strawberry foot rot free, something very few herds can claim. Farm biosecurity and conforming to the requirements for a Canadian Certified Quality Management (CQM) farm demonstrate that Alexerin is committed to producing the healthy milk products that consumers want to buy. In the past five years, Alexerin has ranked as high as #2 on Ontario DHI’s Top Managed Herd list.

(l-r) The Nixon Family, Todd and Erin with children Alexis and Harrison

(l-r) The Nixon Family, Todd and Erin with children Alexis and Harrison

The Generations Work Together

All family members are integral to the operation. Erin (Baird), Todd’s wife, Ag Business educated and a former bank commercial lending rep, reports that the incorporation of technology is ongoing at Alexerin. DC305, robotic calf feeding, automated heat detection, 3x milking, and a strict insemination program are already in place. Expanded data capture in the parlor is planned for the future.

Todd and Erin have three young children (1, 3 & 5 years old), so both grandmothers are called upon on an organized regular basis to free time up for Erin to be part of the herd and business management team.  Ron now devotes his time to machinery and crops. Todd and Erin much appreciate that Ron has handed over the leadership to them while retaining part ownership and being there to help out. Todd feels that Ron remaining involved has allowed for expansion, where total withdrawal would have required debt retirement instead of expansion.

The prefix Alexerin was chosen by Ron and Judy using the middle names of their two children, Todd Alexander, and Kylie Erin. That prefix continues to fit very well for Todd and his wife, Erin.


Alexerin – Planned and Focused

Goals and targets are in place for all areas. Sires are selected that will produce efficient barn cows. The minimum requirement for sires are high fat plus protein yields supported by functional udders and excellent mobility. Todd gives Erin credit when it comes to sires used based on an organized mating program. Currently, the sires being used are top genomic sires (80+%) and one proven sire, Brewmaster. Forage forms 70% of the TMR diets so producing high-quality forage get priority so that milk production can be maximized while maintaining healthy cows.  Calves are housed in outside super huts and fed by robotic feeders. Heifers are in free stalls. Both calf and heifer development is carefully monitored to achieve first calving by 22 months. Milk cows are housed in free stalls, and dry cows are on open dry pack. Milk quota is purchased on a continual basis.

Todd and Erin mentioned to The Bullvine that “we wake up every morning with a distinct set of goals, and since we took over we have been breeding for a certain type of cow, one that may not win in the show ring, but is more than a commercial cow – the cow with the perfect blend of style and milk”. Now that is focused.


How Genomic Testing Got Started

Obviously recognizing their progressive approach to dairy farming, Alexerin’s vet encouraged them to take part in a study of heifers to verify the genomic testing system.  It did not take much encouragement as Todd and Erin are always looking for ways to improve. The results were exciting for Alexerin as their Alexerin Oman 993 came out very high. It took awhile for the results to come out, so Oman 993 was already milking in her first lactation and bred back by the time she was identified as elite. With the goal of getting sons to enter A.I., David Eastman of Genervations contacted Alexerin and started working with Todd and Erin after Oman 993 calved for a second time Oman 993 has lived up to her genomic indexes as she is VG88 with all of her four records designated by Holstein Canada as Superior Lactations. Her latest record, calving at 5-10, was (305D) 19,503 kgs (42,985 lbs) milk 4.0%F and 3.2%P.

Alexerin Oman 993 has lived up to her genomic indexes as she is VG88 with all of her four records designated by Holstein Canada as Superior Lactations. Her latest record, calving at 5-10, was (305D) 19,503 kgs (42,985 lbs) milk 4.0%F and 3.2%P.

Alexerin Oman 993 has lived up to her genomic indexes as she is VG88 with all of her four records designated by Holstein Canada as Superior Lactations. Her latest record, calving at 5-10, was (305D) 19,503 kgs (42,985 lbs) milk 4.0%F and 3.2%P.

Hitting the Jackpot

Fast forward to November 2015. A granddaughter, Alexerin Monterey 1504, of Oman 993 topped the Sale of Stars at $170,000. Monterey 1504 has an outstanding DGV +3307 LPI, Pro$2681 and Fat + Protein 186 kgs. Going from unknown to a sale topper, the family has caught the attention of the Holstein breeding world. The owners of the buyer syndicate were impressed with the family and wanted to be in at the start of this potentially great cow family.

 Monterey 1504 topped the Sale of Stars at $170,000.

Monterey 1504 topped the Sale of Stars at $170,000.

Let’s fill in from when Oman 993’s genomic results were publishable to when this granddaughter sold.

Oman 993’s first calf (GP80) sired by Steady has two Superior Lactations as does her second calf (GP83) by Windbrook. During 993’s second lactation she was started to be flushed. So far her best flush mate has been SuperSire with four very high indexing daughters and two sons in A.I. The four Supersire daughters have projected or completed 2-year-old records that average (305D) 14,843 kgs (32,718 lbs) milk 3.7%F & 3.2%P. In actual terms, they, on average, produce 7.4 lbs of fat plus protein per day. As well on the December 2015, CDN genetic index lists Oman 993, and her Supersire daughters were rated at #1, #2 and #5 for protein, #6 for fat and #8 for milk. Given all that, maybe The Guinness Books of Records should look into recognizing the family as top in the world.

Alexerin Supersire 1334 #1 Protein Cow in August 2015-

Alexerin Supersire 1334
#1 Protein Cow in August 2015-

Today Oman 993 is the #2 Oman in the world. And it very interesting to see that her Supersire daughters have the #1 Oman, Seagull-Bay Oman Mirror, on the paternal side of their pedigree. Oman 993 is the sixth generation born from a first calf heifer, calving at 1-10, 1-09, 2-04, 1-10, 2-00 and 2-00.  That’s great heifer growth and age at first calving, and you don’t see that very often.  As well another thing you don’t see often is a family, like Oman 993’s, that consistently genomically indexes high for heel depth.  Todd does the hoof trimming for the herd and noted that he has yet to find a sole ulcer in the family.

Oman 993 can be described as every breeder’s dream. You start using a new tool, genomic testing, and you find you have a breed outlier who’s DGVs exceeds her pedigree index by an astronomical amount. Her Buckeye dam was a good herd cow with very good milk, but Oman 993 got great genes from her parents for fat and protein yield. After finding this out, it encourages you to use all improvement tools to the fullest extent. In Alexerin’s case, they went from only type classifying once in the first lactation to re-scoring all animals as they improve in type as they mature. Using all herd improvement tools to their maximum has added greatly to their dairy farm’s net value.

Alexerin Supersire 1343 dam of Alexerin Monterey 1504

Alexerin Supersire 1343 dam of Alexerin Monterey 1504

Family Well Respected

Now let’s ‘talk cow’ for a moment.

Brian Craswell, who co-managed and auctioneered the Sale of Stars, described Oman 993 as follows “I just love this family. They are outstanding barn cows. Someday this Oman may be scored Excellent, and definitely her SuperSire daughters have more points in them.” Craswell continues “Here is a family that meets the requirements of many many breeders. They have very high production and excel for fertility and functionality. All this while being housed and fed with the rest of the herd. I would love to have half my herd made up of that cow family” In other words the family members are not show winners, but they are big time winners when it comes to profitable lifetimes.  They are the kind of cows that the majority of dairy breeders want to have in their herds. Dann Brady of Ferme Blondin agrees “Alexerin used the systems available to create a cow family that works for them and is also something that many breeders are looking for.” (Read more:  FERME BLONDIN “Passion with a Purpose Builds Success”Ferme Blondin – “Built on Teamwork” – Dairy Breeder Video Interviews and 10 Tips for Purchasing Dairy Cattle Embryos

Dave Eastman, the former owner of Genervations and a partner in Vogue, thinks highly of the family. “I have been telling people about the family for a while. Alexerin has brought attention to the family by consigning top family members to the Sale of Stars. Breeders and studs visited the farm prior to the sale and saw for themselves – seeing is believing. You cannot help but be enthused when you see the family in their working clothes – give them the feed and environment – no fuss just take the money to the bank.”

Alexerin Capital Gain

Alexerin Capital Gain

The success does not stop with the sale topper. Also sold in the Sale of Stars was Alexerin Capital Gain 1488, DGV +3270 LPI, Pro$ 2384 and Fat + Protein 185 kgs.   Her dam is Alexerin Supersire 1338 a full sister to the dam of the sale topper. It could be that 1488 will also be a winner for her new owners, Vogue Cattle Co.

Will this be a New Top Family for the Breed?

Today we cannot say for sure that the Oman 993 family will continue to be a breed leader in the future. Nevertheless, the chances are that we have not heard the last from this family. At this time, Oman 993 is definitely one of a kind. Her four high indexing SuperSire daughters are now milking very well in their first lactations and classifying well. Confirming Brian Craswell’s thought “…. the SuperSires have more points in them yet”. Add to this the fact that these Supersires have many many daughters by top genomic sires including AltaSpring, Capital Gain, High Octane, Kingboy, Lottomax, Main Event, Monterey, and Pulsar. In fact, since the sale topper Monterey 1504 has seven full sisters at Alexerin and a full brother on his way to Cogent, it would seem to be for sure that the story has just begun.  It is true that the family is not backed by the many generations of Very Good and Excellent cows that more traditional breeders believe is necessary for a family to be outstanding. However, it is becoming clear that we may just be seeing the start of a cow family that 21st-century dairy breeders will consider to be their ideal.

Alexerin Oman 993 with Alexis Nixon

Alexerin Oman 993 with Alexis Nixon

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Great people, a very well-managed dairy farm, and functional high-profit lifetime cows have all come together at Alexerin Dairy. Their leading cow family burst into the limelight as a result of the decision to start genomic testing of heifers. This cow family came about as a result of many generations of identification and grading up and using plus proven sires.  The family has moved to the top of the breed status by using top genomically indexed sires in the last three generations.

IT IS A PLAN AND DREAM COME TRUE. A plan that involved using systems and information to make wise progressive decisions. The outstanding result was not expected, maybe even unusual. However, getting results from hard work, focused breeding, and a clear vision are the keys to Alexerin’s success.



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The Winds of Change Are Blowing…Hard

Services in the dairy cattle improvement industry have been gradually expanding since WW II. Three main areas have fueled that growth: (1) program participation levels; (2) usage of top sires; and (3) the evolving uses made of data. Almost every dairy producing country in the world has developed an industry organization infrastructure involving breeds, milk recording, artificial insemination, and genetic evaluation centers.

Yet, today in 2016, breeders can be divided into two groups – those who think the industry organization infrastructure of the past will continue to evolve and those who feel that significant industry organization infrastructure changes are necessary. Which of those two groups are you supporting or leading?

Current Model Livestock Improvement Model

The dairy cattle improvement industry that we have today has been built on person-to-person service that involves mandatory third party verification. These services usually include fees that are 60% – 70% used for employee wages and travel. Official registration certificates, official independent animal evaluators, official third party DHI supervisors, breed, approved A.I. technicians, …. almost everything depends on service by human hands and authentication by human eyes.

Well, that must be overseen by authorities approach is wearing thin on breeders who are required to pay for those costs. It is especially irritating to milk production focused breeders. We hear more and more breeders questioning their associations, co-ops, and societies on the reasons for having services that they no longer need and are not willing to pay for or subsidize such as registration certificates, breed marketing, hard copy print and magazines, field and club officer staff, A.I. arm service and DHI supervisor visits. For many breeders these services already considered as practices from the past.

In the future, improvement services must be based on ease, accuracy, need for the information and contribution to decision-making. A business approach for all services must prevail.

Past Growth Industry Growth

In the twentieth century investment from outside agriculture often fueled dairy improvement industry growth.  Herds like Montvic, Curtis, Carnation, Romandale and Hanover Hill in North America purchased top animals for their herds, thereby giving the initial owners financial reward for their efforts. It goes beyond that. Thousands of animals were shipped from Europe and North America to new homes abroad. That continues today but to a much lesser extent as some regions in Asia are still building their dairy herds.

Revenue from animals and semen exported, in the past, built new at both the farm and the industry levels.

Times Have Changed

The farm business model where significant revenue must come from off-farm animal and genetic sales is under considerable pressure. Well, in fact, seed stock sales are already a thing of the past for the majority of breeders in most countries. Revenue from springing heifer sales now barely covers the cost of raising them (Read more: Who Killed The Market For Good Dairy Cattle? and Is There Still Going To Be A Market For Purebred Dairy Cattle In 10 Years?). Animal improvement service providers counting on breeders garnering added off-farm income because of their services are in for big time wake-up calls. Animal and herd improvement services must return increased on-farm profit if breeders are expected to continue usage of them.

Tomorrow’s Realities for Services

There will be fast-paced advancement in all aspects of dairying. Improvement services and industry organization infrastructure will need to adjust to:

  • Big Data, where alliances between service providers exist for benefit of all
  • More in-depth DNA analysis for many more traits
  • Gene Editing where the best or new bovine genes will be prominent in breeds (Read more: Gene Editing – Is It The End of Dairy Breeding?)
  • Data captured totally by computers, cameras, drones and other on-farm equipment
  • Data source labeling for user awareness (eliminating the need for third-party verification)
  • Expanded data for wellness, disease, immunity, environment, nutrition and reproduction
  • 24-7 animal monitoring from birth to departure from the herd (24-7 means complete accuracy)
  • Consumers requiring verified nutrient content along with healthy and safe milk products
  • Additional service providers with new technologies
  • …. and much more

Possibilities for Future Infrastructure

Each year the world is a smaller place, and the pace of change is speeding up for dairy cattle improvements as it is for all aspects of our lives.  Services must be based on needs, not tradition. Here are a few ideas, challenges and opportunities that organizations will have before them as it relates to animal improvement organization infrastructure.

  • Global animal identification, parentage verification, and animal movement
  • Global dairy cattle databases for improvement services including research and development
  • International protocols for DNA analysis and indexing as well as for gene editing
  • Alliances between cooperatives and private companies for content and uses of animal information
  • Moving from total control by one organization to shared control and availability of services and data by multiple organizations
  • Disconnecting from current partners that are not prepared to change their operations and/or services
  • Organizations with proprietary services conducting traditional improvement services (i.e. genetic evaluations and linking genetic indexes to proprietary service data.)
  • Application of new technologies to reduce organization overhead costs and program service fees
  • ….. and many more

Leadership For Change

Breeders in cooperatives need to elect directors that have relevance, vision, leadership and communication skills. We’ve always done it that way or only following what was successful for a previous generation of breeders will not cut it anymore. Agents for change within and between organizations need to be supported by Boards, staff, and breeders.

What will it mean for YOU?

Depending on who you are (breeder, organization director, organization administrator, developer of new services, …., etc.) changes in industry organization infrastructure could range from very little effect to meaning a big deal for you. If you are a leader, you will be faced with or have the opportunity to lead fast-paced advancement on how organizations work with each other.

Will Our Current Dairy Improvement Infra-Structure Crumble?

No.     If long-term vision, cooperation and a what’s best for breeders’ approach are applied by organizations.

Yes.    If the procrastinators, control or don’t change breeders or organizations rule the day.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

For certainty, it is a matter of not if, but when changes in the dairy cattle improvement industry organization infrastructure occur. Attitude to advancement will shape the future for both breeders and their organizations. Breeders will need state-of-the-art animal and herd improvement services. The vision and actions of breeder and industry leaders are critical. Advancement will occur even if current organizations do not adopt and adapt the future technologies and systems.



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Is Polled Worth It?

Mention polled to dairy cattle breeders and you can get differing reactions – ‘Yes, it’s the future’, ‘No, it’s just a fad and it will die out’ or Maybe? The majority are on the fence waiting to see if breeding for polled does catch on.

Let’s work through the factors breeders face when considering the incorporation of polled into their breeding programs.

Who Decides?

Let’s start off with who should decide whether polled sires should be used in a herd.

There are many groups with many opinions.  They range from breeding companies that do not have polled genetics in their product line-up to breeding companies that have invested in developing polled sires and females. As well the question is raised by consumers. They want to know if the animals in the herds that their milk comes from suffered if they are born horned and then are dehorned.

The Bulllvine is of the opinion that it is the breeders that should decide. They are the ones who make the investment of time, energy and resources.

Significant Catch-Up by Polled

Until about five years ago the vast majority of dairy cattle breeders paid no attention to polled. Globally  few breeders breed for polled, and they regarded it to be the primary trait. They paid limited attention to selection for type and minor attention for production.  Then things changed.

Table 1 – Average Genomic Index (Dec ’15) for Top 10 North American Holstein Bulls

Birth Year Index Polled (P) Horned (H) Difference (P-H)
2015 LPI 3168 3439 -271
Pro$ 2383 2748 -365
2014 LPI 3061 3414 -353
Pro$ 2157 2685 -528
2013 LPI 2872 3291 -419
Pro$ 1872 2553 -681
2012 LPI 2772 3169 -397
Pro$ 1616 2283 -667
2011 LPI 2521 3076 -555
Average Change Per Year Ratio (P/H)
LPI 162 91 178%
Pro$ 256 155 165%

Note: Data Source – CDN files. All values listed are on Dec ’15 base. 2015 sires
are for those born and tested to Nov ’15 and will not have semen distributed.
Pro$ values not available for bulls born in 2011.

Table 1 shows that in 2011 polled Holstein bulls trailed their horned contemporaries by 555 LPI points. However, in 2015, that difference is now reduced to 271 LPI points. In large part that reduction has come about because bull breeders have bred their very best females to the top polled sires or the best polled females have been bred to elite indexing sires. Furthermore, the number of polled bulls with high indexes has increased significantly.

Other take-home messages from Table 1 include:

  • Top horned bulls improved by 91 LPI points per year from 2011 to 2015 while top polled bulls improved by 162 LPI points per year. The rate for polled is 178% of that for horned.
  • Top polled bulls started at a low Pro$ level in 2012 and have increased by 256 Pro$ points per year. The rate of improvement for Pro$ for polled bulls was 165% of that for horned bulls.
  • Within another 3-5 years, top polled sires will be almost on par with their horned contemporaries.

Why have some breeders bought into polled?

The list is likely long but include:

  • Dislike the task of dehorning
  • Want to eliminate calf stress
  • Concern about the industry’s image in the consumers’ eyes
  • Already have high genetic levels in their herd for economically important traits
  • Want to increase their breeding stock marketing opportunities

Why are many breeders choosing to wait to use polled?

Those reasons given include:

  • Genetic levels of polled animals are inferior to horned
  • Do not see polled ever being mainstream
  • Staff at dehorning time dehorn everything – polled or not.
  • Cannot see a financial benefit for polled

What about Current genetic levels?

Table 2 – Average Dec ’15 Index for Top Ten Daughter Proven Holstein Sires

USA TPI 1786 2529 -743 71%
NM$ 126 750 -624 17%
Canada LPI 2315 3072 -758 75%
Pro$ 1038 2157 -1119 48%

Table 3 – Average Dec ’15 Index for Top 10 Genomic Holstein Bulls Born in 2014

Country Index Polled (P) Horned (H) Difference (P-H) Ratio (P/H)
USA TPI 2497 2779 -282 90%
NM$ 611 906 -295 67%
Canada LPI 3061 3414 -353 90%
Pro$ 2157 2685 -528 80%

Tables 2 and 3 contain some interesting facts:

  • Daughter proven polled sires are significantly behind horned in the USA and Canada for all of TPI, LPI, NM$ and Pro$ (Table 2).
  • For genomic evaluated bulls born in 2014 (Table 3) the TPI and LPI averages for top sires, horned and polled, are considerably closer than for daughter proven sires (Table 2). Polled are 90% of horned.
  • Polled will be while a catching horned for NM$ and Pro$ as the top genomic sires are only 67% and 80% respectively of their horned year mates.

What would make it easier to universally adopt polled?

In an ideal world the following could help:

  • If there were 3-5 very high (2600+ gTPI, 3300+ gLPI, 800+ NM$ or 2400+ Pro$) indexing PP sires
  • If there were high indexing PP sires that also have low (< 7%) future inbreeding coefficients
  • If gene editing was a reality and polled could be a reality for any or all embryos

For which breeders can polled be a fit?

Breeders with a program that:

  • Group houses pre-weaned calves
  • Entirely selects sires using genomic indexes
  • Continually evaluates and adopts the next innovative step
  • Supports the expansion of dairy’s market share of the food dollar

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The decision whether to use polled sires cannot be set in stone. Considerable progress has been made in the genetic level of polled Holsteins. Within five years polled will be equal genetically to horned for the majority of economically important traits. Since quick ways to change the gene from horned to polled in an embryo are still likely some time off, the decision on the value of having polled animals still rests in breeder’s hands.



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Why Balance Breeding is No Longer Relevant

In the 1960’s “Best to Worst” for conformation and production ranking revealed that there was a wide range in all dairy breeds. There were first calf Holstein cows that lost their median suspensory ligaments at calving time. There were Jersey first calvers that did not produce even one pound of butterfat per day. Our dairy cattle have come a long way forward in the past half century.

Balanced Breeding Got Us Here

The bottom end cattle in all breeds have disappeared. Those tail-enders were still here until the early 1980’s but then the Balanced Breeding approach came into vogue. With it came the use of genetic indexes for both production and type. This meant that genetically inferior daughter proven sires were no longer available from AI companies. Young sires only entered organized sampling programs if they had superior parent averages and progressive breeders used genetic indexes in breeding, marketing, and culling. The saying “We’ve come a long way baby” now rang true. Balanced Breeding started in North America but soon became global. Today the question has changed to “Will Balanced Breeding Still Be Relevant in 2020 and Beyond?”

What is Balanced Breeding?

Originally Balanced Breeding meant that equal emphasis was placed on type and production (milk and fat present) when making a breeding decision. It followed the breeding era when breeders would place the entire emphasis on either type or production. Yes, either or, and never the twain did meet. So even a program that placed 50% emphasis on each of type and production was a significant step forward.

Balanced Breeding usually meant using sires that did an overall good job of producing above average, but not exceptional, progeny.

Total Merit Indexes Fit the Balanced Breeding Approach

In the 1990’s total merit indexes were developed by genetic evaluation centers and breed societies to bring a reasoned and balanced means of ranking both males and females. What started out as a type and production index (often called type production indexes) has now been expanded to include many traits beyond type and production. Today every dairy cattle breeding country has, at least, a couple of total merit indexes that are routinely being fine tuned as more genetic indexes come along for more traits or as research shows that revisions are needed in trait emphasis. (Read more: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT TPI AND LPI)

In fact, today it has reached the stage where there are so many total merit indexes published that bottom line focused milk producers can feel confused, dismayed or even that their genetic improvement needs are being ignored. With 20% of dairy producers producing 80% of the milk in many developed dairy countries, it is important that the genetics needed and used by milk producers not be ignored by bull breeders, female replacement breeders, and genetic markets.

Once again The Bullvine is asking, “Is the Balanced Breeding approach still relevant for milk producers?”

The Problems with Balanced Breeding

What it boils down to is that total merit indexes are a one size fits all approach. However, herds do not have the same levels of genetic merit for all traits. They do not have the same culling reasons. They do not have the same profit-loss scenarios. One size does not fit all. Add to that the fact that to improve below average cows for lowly heritable (<.10 %) traits (i.e. DPR) the sires used, in successive generations, must be very highly ranked (top 5%).  Furthermore, sires can have high TPI’s but they can be inferior for essential traits. (Read more: SHE AIN’T PRETTY – SHE JUST MILKS THAT WAY!)

Balancing gives you average, but it does not give the opportunity to rapidly genetically improve traits where a herd has a significant deficit. It is almost impossible to breed the exceptional if every breeding decision is based on getting an animal average for everything.  Balanced Breeding is least risk breeding and does not push the already exceptional to new heights. (Read more: BREEDING FOR LONGEVITY: DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE – IT’S MORE THAN JUST HIGH TYPE)

Today’s Scenario and Tomorrow’s Needs

As a result of what has been achieved through Balanced Breeding, milk producers consider udders, legs, milk and component yields and somatic cell counts to be at very acceptable levels. BUT not so for the genetic levels for fertility, animal health, disease resistance, mobility and length of herd life. In fact, they have deteriorated over the past two decades.  Today 30+% of the differences between herds for herd profit can be attributed to these lowly heritable traits.

Read any milk producer discussion blog and you will see their concerns about the genetic fall back for conception, for cows’ and heifers’ ability to resist production limiting diseases, for cows to breed back by 100 DIM, for cows to remain in the herd into their 4th+ lactation, for females that calve easily, for heifers that calve by 22 months of age and the list goes on.

Sires that can produce daughters that have the genetic ability to remain in a herd to complete their fourth lactations will increase their daughters’ lifetime profit by 33%. That is significant! (US$2,500) In US Holsteins that can be achieved by using sires that are 8.0 or higher for PL. In Jerseys the best PL sires are 6.0 or greater for PL.  In Canadian terms it means using sires that are 110 or greater for HL.

So Why Not Make It Simple? Select for High PL or HL!

Could it be as simple as using sires that rank relatively high for NM$, CM$ or Pro$ and which leave long-lived daughters? If a cow does not have good yield, functional type, good fertility, an ability to stay healthy and transition easily, she will not remain in the herd for four or more lactations.

Expressed another way – is the ability to produce for many lactation (high PL or HL) the most important trait that milk producers need to select for?

Total merit indexes are excellent tools for ranking sires according to breed society improvement strategies (i.e. TPI, JPI, LPI, PTAT or CONF) or populations outcome strategies (i.e. NM$, FM$, CM$, GM$ or Pro$) but bottom line focused milk producers need to dig deeper and find sires that will produce daughters that have the genetic ability to last an extra lactation above the herd average.

Which Are Some of the High PL Sires?

The Bullvine brings the following sires to milk producers attention. The sires in the tables below have very high PL’s or HL’s and they are positively genetically indexed for NM$ or Pro$, SCS, DPR or DF and DCE or DCA. It is quite unlikely that milk producers have ever read about the majority of these sires in a magazine ad or have ever considered using most of them.

Table 1: High Ranked Productive Life (PL) Sires in USA

11.6 gCo-op Achilles RC (1HO12267)Cabriolet x Colt P7175.52.735.16.6460.82454
10.1 gJaloa Ransom Terrific (14HO07471)Ransom x Shamrock7334.92.734.67.9670.532409
9.8 gKP-ACK AltaSousa (11HO11609)Midnight X Meteor6914.52.645.77.6571.042469
9.6 gMR Shot Dozer (151HO00696)Shotglass x Robust8182.92.556.78961.822618
9.6 gCo-op Graceton (1HO11840)Mandora x Meteor6973.82.812.86.7531.682492
9.6 gLadys-Manor Pred Latrobe (29HO17794)Predestine x Super6284.42.6556.7391.542339
9.4 pPine-Tree Warwick (29HO16315)Super x Wizard4424.42.726.36.810.582074
9.1 pDe-Su Ransom (147HO02431)Robusr x Ramos6933.
8.6 pPine-Tree Freddie Wright (7HO11123)Freddie x Wizard5955.
8.3 gDangie S-Sire Jax P RC (14HO07525)Super Sire x Colt P7072.72.694.87.3901.242496

Table 2: High Ranked Herd Life (HL) Sires in Canada

HLSire (NAAB Code)Sire StackPro$DFSCSDCAM SpeedInbrF + P (kg)CONFLPI
118 gRichmond-FD Troy BUB (1HO11648)Troy x Lithium25051102.341111048.5511783190
118 gSandy-Valley-I Plaza RC (200HO10298)Halogen x Uno22871122.2911010210.5510093111
118 gBush-Bros Miday 277 (14HO07620)Midnight x Tape24441122.571071029.0713723102
118 gSSI STL Reality (7HO13205)St Louis x Ziggy24051132.421081049.7510373082
117 gPeak Altabugatti (11HO11641)Canaro x Uno24491122.691101119.77108143272
115 gCompass-TRT Layton P (29HO17783)Long P x Robust20951102.761061027.1311592997
115 gBryhill Prde Labrinth P RC (1HO11626)Pride x Cameron19341072.881041047.0511882958
115 pCrackholm Fever (200HO05592)Goldwyn x Blitz14711052.611101016.3548122715
113 pCangen Pinkman (200HO06320)Super x Baxter22131062.641101046.08119112964
111 pMinnigan-Hills Day (1HO10458)Super x Bolton20311082.771031026.65107113048

Milk producers that milk other breeds can find top PL or HL sires for their breed by going to CDCB or CDN websites.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

It is important to recognize that progressive breeders always know that if you keep asking questions — including “Is this still relevant? – That you will find better answers! Total merit index, at best, places 10-15% emphasis on PL or HL. Yet, the analysis of on-farm financial records shows that the most successful milk producers place 30-35% emphasis on length of herd life when it comes to sire selection. No breeder aims to be average.  Balancing all traits to get an average cow will not lead to exceptional genetic and performance results.



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Could Breed Wars Be Heating Up?

Various dairy media reports, including recent Hoards Dairyman and breed journal articles, have documented differences between breeds in both performance and trends. The question remains “What factors will influence breed choice in the future?”

Tradition Has Ruled

We often hear breeders and show judges say “A good dairy cow is a good cow no matter what the color.” Is that true? Do you agree? If passion determines your answer, then you will not likely agree with the ‘anything works’ philosophy.

Breeders are usually not color blind when it comes to seed corn, haybines, barn cleaners or computers. Our forefathers were not tied to breed when they started move from dual purpose to milk production breeds in North America, one hundred years ago.

For this article, I ask that you set passion aside and consider the factors that may determine the breed of choice in the future.

The Players

Although there may be ten or a dozen dairy breeds around the globe, it basically comes down to two breeds. Holsteins and Jerseys. These two now account, in North America, for just short of 99% of purebred animals on the farm.

Table 1 Percent by Breed of Cows on DHI

1988 2013
Ayrshire 0.6 0.2
Brown Swiss 0.9 0.8
Guernsey 1.4 0.2
Holstein 91.4 89.1
Jersey 5.3 9.5
Milking Shorthorn 0.1 0.1
Red and White 0.3 0.1


So the breed of choice is between the Holstein and Jersey breeds. Why have Jerseys gained in popularity? Was the gain because of what Jerseys did or Holsteins did not do? Why have the other breeds dropped in market share? Think about that – it could be a combination of many factors.

Jersey Breed Not Standing By

Almost twenty years ago Jersey Canada had a slogan ‘a brown cow in every barn’. Moreover, during the last two-plus decades American Jersey has put considerable resources into marketing of Jersey milk and promoting payment based on the component content.

In 2014, Jersey Canada and a University of Guelph economics professor published a study report that claimed that Jersey herds can be slightly more profitable in the Canadian supply management system. Recently Hoards Dairymen published an article showing Jerseys yield $66 more profitable per cow per year in the large herd environment of California.

Holstein Breed Satisfied

While Jerseys have been aggressive about competing for market share, Holsteins have seemingly looked the other way. Holsteins have been satisfied, confident and perhaps even complacent. They are assuming Holstein dominance will prevail without the need to: 1) promote the strengths of Holsteins; and 2) remove from their breeding population animals with significant limitations (i.e. negative DPR, negative PL, lower component yields, …, etc.).

Why Crossbreeding Happened

It is estimated that 4.5% of dairy animals on DHI test in the USA are crossbreds. The proportion may be even higher in non-recorded herds. Based on the numerous reports on crossbreeding it is obvious that cross breeding came about because of limiting factors of purebreds. Even though the benefits of heterosis are short lived, one generation or two generations when a three-way crossing program is used, crossbreds have provided dairy enterprises the opportunity to increase profit in a short period.

The F1 black beauties sometimes called Hojo’s, as the Holstein x Jersey cross is known, have been popular for dairy farmers focusing their attention on fertility, component percents, younger calving age for heifers, less time spent in dry cow pens and the cost of maintaining larger body mass animals.

If there was some way for Hojo’s to breed true perhaps both Holsteins and Jerseys would be challenged for market share. That could be possible once we know more about how to use the DNA information. Time will tell.

Future Challenges for Breeds

The future of dairy farming and the genetic makeup of animals on a global basis promises to be much different than in the past. How breeds prepare genetically, beyond solids yield and productive life, will be significant in determining which breed comes out ahead.

Here are a seven change makers to think about:

  • New Breed
    Some Holstein breeders currently will not use a sire that does not have 100% North American lineage. And it is only within the last few years that Jersey Island breeders have allowed the registration of animals sired by Jersey sires from outside of Jersey Island. Are breeds so sacred that they cannot be improved upon? Perhaps purebred breeders have missed an opportunity in the past to bring new genetic material into their chosen breed. Then again could there be a move to a new composite breed in the future? It has happened in beef, why not in dairy?
  • Genomics
    Gene level study of the gene makeup of animals is here to stay. Realistically it is even more than that. It will be the driving force to moving genetics forward at a very rapid pace. (Read more: Forget Genomics – Epigenomics & Nutrigenomics are the Future) From the Holstein Canada 2014 Annual Report, it can be seen that about 8% of animals being registered were also genomically tested. That percentage is far too low given that parentage can be verified, genetic defects can be tested for, 60–70% accurate transmission patterns are available and that in the future genomic information will be used to make feeding and management decisions. Breeds need to be progressive and move the percentage genomically tested up to 50% by 2020. This is the Information Age and the breed with the facts will have the advantage.
  • Animal Nutrition
    Considerable work has begun to study the role that genetics can play in enhancing feed conversion efficiency in dairy cattle. In 2014, Holstein USA started rating bulls for FE (Feed Efficiency) which considers the extra production of a bull’s daughters less feed and maintenance costs. We can expect to learn a considerable amount about the topic of feed efficiency over the next few years. Some believe that there are breed differences but as yet that is not proven. However, if one breed shows superiority for converting feeds to milk, then it could be a big leg up for that breed.
  • Reproductive Ability
    We already know that the Jersey breed, through the bloodlines they have used, out-do Holsteins reproductively. Jerseys breed at an earlier age and have higher conception rates. The race is on. For Holsteins to identify bloodlines that are reproductively superior within the breed ….. for Jerseys, through genetic selection, to improve their already lead position. It behooves both breeds to give reproduction added attention. If they stand still then, a composite breed might ride to the lead position for reproduction.
  • Environmental Factors
    Dairypersons are familiar with information on carbon footprint, pollution, water usage, heat and cold stress, nutrient management, the cost of transporting the water in milk… etc. Although today we do not have facts and figures on animal or breed differences on these matters, our industry can expect that we will learn more about them in the future. Breed associations need to assist in the development of animal and breed information in these areas.
  • Health & Immunity
    Breeders have, for some time, had information on animals and breeds about Holsteins have the advantage in number of breed leading sires that have low SCS ratings. Immunity to disease information on sires is now being used or watched by breeders. We are in the infancy of knowing more about breeds and their ability to resist diseases, including production limiting diseases. Breeds need to be prepared to retain accurate health and immunity genetic information on their data files and, no doubt, to include them in total merit indexes.
  • Animal Maintenance
    All breeders want a cow that does not require special attention. High maintenance pampered cows must be a thing from the past. We often hear about cow families that are promoted as low However, there is usually little hard data to support the promotion. If a breed can genetically identify that their cattle require less labor and attention across a whole herd, then it would have a selling point.

Breeding Strategies

Currently, Holstein and Jersey breeding strategies are mainly limited to production and conformation. The breed, which expands its breeding strategy to include some genetic information for the factors mentioned previously, will position itself for increased market share.

One total merit index (TPI, LPI, JPI, NM$, Pro$… etc.) will not satisfy all breeders within a breed. I read with interest the comment on The Milk House by Hei-Bri Jersey (Iowa, USA) “Jersey is a breed that is two breeds within one. The show or the go. We see an enormous drop in first lactation production when using showring bulls. I think producers that buy the wrong style for their operation are the ones missing out on the true Jersey cow.” Can the same be said for Holsteins?

The Immediate Future

Predicting the future, as to breed dominance, is not a perfect science. However, the proportion of current semen sales is a good indicator.

Table 2 USA Dairy Semen Sales*

Holstein 83.50%
Jersey 12.60%
R&W / Red & RC Holstein 2.40%
European Breeds (3x) 0.60%
Brown Swiss 0.40%
All Other Breeds 0.50%

*Total sales 23.64M doses (Domestic 98.8% + Imported 1.2%)

Table 2 shows that Jerseys, at almost 13%, has the potential to grow in market share. Having said that it could be that a portion of the Jersey sexed semen sales may now be used on Holstein cows to produce crossbred females. At the very least, the increased proportion of Jersey semen sales should be taken seriously by the Holstein breed.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Today breeds are more than color markings, unbroken lineage, and tradition. Breeds in the future, on a global basis, will be about their genetic makeup and how they serve the needs of the dairy food industry.

Accurate visioning, strategic planning, research & development and effective service provision are all integral to what breeds need to do on a continual basis. If that means there will be increased competition for market share amongst breeds, so-be-it.



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Are Dairy Cattle Shows Holding Us Back?

Dairy cattle shows started out as a breed awareness tool. They then became an improvement tool. More recently they primarily function as a marketing opportunity for breeders and a training process for youth. Today many breeders are thinking that shows have gone beyond their best before date and are not serving a purpose for the vast majority of dairypersons. Let’s talk about show standards and show procedures.

Show Standards

The following standards may need revision or rethinking:

  • Stature: The show ring has moved to the stage where an animal must be extremely tall to place near the top at state, provincial or national shows. (Read more: Are Today’s Holstein Cows Too Tall? And 15 Strength Sires That Will Still Fit In Your Stalls) Often there are very high classifying cows, which are 58 to 62 inches tall, down the line that have high gTPI’s. In heifer classes the requirement for excessive stature is even more evident. From a spectator perspective, there appears to be a 25% emphasis placed on stature in the show ring that has a 5% weight in the scorecard. This over-emphasis is being challenged by many lifetime profit improvement focused breeders.
  • Mobility: Recently some judges have been placing emphasis on how an animal walks. That’s a good thing. Could we take this one step further and have judges designate the best in class for mobility, just like they do for best udder? (Read more: Mobility – The Achilles Heel of Every Breeding Program and Cow Mobility: One Step Forward or Two Steps Back?)
  • Maturity: As I listen to judges’ reasons for heifer and young cow classes I hear comments that one animal is placed over another for depth of fore or rear rib. Bullvine research (Read more: She Ain’t Pretty, She Just Milks That Way) shows that young animals do not need to have deep bodies at a young age to be long-lived and profitable. They do need good mammary systems and sound feet and legs.
  • Dairyness: It seems to me that exhibitors and judges confuse ability to produce large volumes of milk with an animal being railed off (skinny). There is a difference. Skinny cows do not have body reserves, usually do not get in calf easily, and cannot cope with hot weather, herdmate competition or other adversity. Placing a dairy cow 200+ days into lactation, and three months pregnant, down the line because she has put on some cover is not what breeders want or need. The definition of dairyness needs to be reconsidered by show judges.
  • Over Filled Udders: Yes we like to see a capacious well attached udder. But is that actually what happens? With more and more cows milked 3x or milked 4-5 times per day by robots do we need to show mature cows with 100 lbs of milk in their udders to demonstrate that they can produce a high volume of milk? On-farm the breed ideal is changing to a cow that can produce 4 pounds of milk per hour at 22 months of age or 6.5 pounds per hour at 72 months of age and be milked every eight to ten hours. Cows with over filled udders loose definition of cleavage, walk with difficulty and are under significant stress.
  • Cow Class Determination: Dairy cows exist to produce milk. It is our opinion that using age is an out-moded method to determine cow, After the first lactation classes, classes could be divided by pounds of milk already produced as follows: 1) 20,000 to 40,000; 2) 40,001 to 65,000; 3) 65,001 to 95,000; 4) 95,001 to 135,000; 5) 135,001 to 185,000; and 6) Over 185,000. Basing classes on milk produced would be a more appropriate method than birth date given the ideal of breeding for lifetime production.
  • First Lactation Classes: First lactation cows go through many stages from calving until day 305 of lactation. After calving, they have more udder depth, lack body depth, need more udder quality and are low front ended. By day 305 they will be markedly changed in all these areas. With many first lactation cows at most shows, it is the Bullvine’s opinion that having four classes would be an asset. The four groups could be determined by stage of lactation as follows; 1) Less than 75 days in milk; 2) 75 – 150 days in milk; 3) 151 – 225 days in milk; and 4) over 225 days in milk.

Show Procedures

Some ideas that may also enhance cattle shows could also include:

  • Information in Catalogs: Spectators want to know performance as well as pedigree as they assess the animals on parade. Without performance information it can be a quite boring exercise for all but the keenest. I want to know more and perhaps I can use my cell iphone to search for more details but that is costly. In today’s information age show catalogues can contain DGV’s for heifers or calving date, number of lactations and pounds of milk, fat and protein produced for Surely we are past treating spectators as mushrooms and keeping them in the dark when it comes to animals in the ring.
  • Message Delivered: Most shows have youth, domestic and foreign breeders and consumers watching. Why not have five of the 15 – 25 minutes while the class is being judged used to deliver a message about dairy farming. All shows have announcers who presently give a very limited amount of information. Why not have them deliver interesting and useful information? After all dairy farming is more that just watching a runway beauty contest. Awareness and education would be a great addition to the show.
  • More Winners: Presently beside the class winners, best bred and owned and best udder winners are awarded. Considering all the effort that breeders go to exhibit their animals, awards for mobility, milk, fat, protein, gTPI, etc would give exhibitors more opportunity to promote their animals. I fully understand that this takes more effort at entry and checking time but if exhibitors are going to the effort why not expand their marketing opportunities and, at the same time, educate and inform?
  • Milk Outs: At one-time milk outs were required for the top few of each milking class. That was abandoned due to the time needed and cows not having milk in their udders in champion parades. Milk outs have been replaced by ultra sounding of udders. The question should be asked is ultra sounding serving a worthwhile purpose? If so, why is ultra sounding not used at all shows?

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Shows and showing have remained quite static for the past twenty years during which time the breeding goals have changed significantly. With fewer and fewer exhibitors and interested, involved people watching the shows, it is time for a re-assessment. Not since the birthdays for classes were changed from January and July to September, December, March, and June and the milking senior yearling class was added have there been changes to align shows with genetic advancement. It is time that a North American across breeds task force be named and charged with the responsibility of bringing forward standards and procedures that will make shows relevant to the breeder needs for the future.



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Dairy Cattle Breeding Is All About Numbers

Dairy cattle farming has many numbers for breeders to review and weight as they go about their daily roles as manager, health care provider, bookkeeper, personnel manager, feed harvester, reproduction sequencer, animal selection or removal supervisor, ….. yes, the daily duty list is long. But in all cases, it is best to use a number when making a decision.

For this article, The Bullvine wishes to focus on the fact that science-based numbers (aka genetic indexes) are the best method to use when selecting the animals to produce the next generation.

Breeding – Is it Art or Science?

Dairy cattle breeders argue both sides of the answer to this question. Some breeders swear by a single observation, their impression or their experience (aka art) while others totally depend on science-based numbers. Let’s dig deeper.

What’s in the Number?

Breeders can use the number they can actually see, like lactation milk yield, or a cow’s milk genetic index that considers factors like age, herd mates, progeny, pedigree and now DNA analysis. The same applies to using a cow’s PTAT rather than her own classification.  It is best to consider all factors.

Can the Number be trusted?

Accuracy is paramount to success or failure in dairy cattle breeding. Making a breeding decision based a single individual observation is 20 to 25 percent accurate in predicting a cow’s progeny’s performance. Using a cow’s genetic index that includes pedigree, DNA analysis and performance will be sixty-five to seventy percent accurate.

Does the Number Mean Anything for You?

Every breeder needs to have a breeding plan (Read more: What’s the plan?) for their entire herd or an individual mating. In the plan, there needs to be the importance of individual traits. Not every trait, for which an index is available, is essential for every herd or mating. Indexes like gTPI and NM$ should be included in every plan.

Breed for Desired Outcome.

Higher Milk Revenue – Do you breed for protein yield or protein percent? Very definitely it is protein yield. It is the volume of protein that breeders are paid for. Higher protein percent is associated with less milk production.

Improving Herd Longevity – Do you select a genomic sire for his PL (Productive Life index) or how long his dam produced milk? Very definitely for his PL.  His dam’s length of life has many non-genetic factors and will have a very low heritability.

Improving Fertility – When mating a heifer do you consider her FI (Fertility Index) or the frequency with which her dam calved? Very definitely her FI.  Her dam’s calving interval has an extremely low heritability, almost zero.

Developing a High Type Herd – Do you select a sire based on PTAT or the number of show winners he produces? Very definitely his PTAT. Show herds do not use a wide spectrum of sires and do not randomly use sires, this results in potentially biased genetic evaluations on the sires they use.  Since many of the sires they are used on are not used in chimerical herds, the evaluations on these sires are biased.  When a “type” sire does cross into wide stream usage you start to see evaluations like Goldwyn’s.  Goldwyn is often noted as a great sire of show winners yet his PTAT of +1.81 and his PL of -0.5 reflects that used across the entire population he does not stand out as a significant improver.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Genetic improvement depends upon using science to improve accuracy and the completeness of decision making. The rate of genetic advancement has improved significantly over the past decade, and the pace will double again in the next decade. Breeding is about science.



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Rump – Is it Beauty or Utility?

I have often wondered why the rump in dairy animal conformation evaluation gets undue emphasis compared to the 5 % to 10% weight assigned to it on dairy cow scorecards. After years of listening to the reasons of show judges for cow classes I have determined that udder gets the most mention but coming in second during reasons is rump. Ahead of feet and legs (15% to 28% weight) and frame/capacity/dairy character (combined 20% to 40% weight). So what gives and is this added emphasis given to rump correct?

What’s Considered Ideal?

The 2009 Dairy Cow Unified Scorecard describes the ideal as follows: “Rump (5 points): Should be long and wide throughout. Pin Bones should be slightly lower than hip bones with adequate width between the pins. Thurls should be wide apart. The vulva should be nearly vertical, and the anus should not be recessed. The tail head should set slightly above and neatly between pin bones with freedom from coarseness.”

Holstein Canada’s type classification program describes the ideal as: “Rump (10%) – Ideal qualities: 1) well-sloped, wide and strongly anchored to back/vertebrae; 2) impacts position of reproductive tract to be held high within abdominal cavity; 3)improved fertility; and 4) better calving ease & healthy recovery following calving.

It’s What is Inside that Counts.

As referred to in the Holstein Canada’s type classification program description, it is what cannot be seen below the skin, not the outward appearance of the rump that is important. It is especially important for first calvers as all breeders know so well. In time, the size of the birthing canal of young Holstein females will be critical as age at first calving is reduced to eighteen or less months of age.

So where breeders, show judges and classifiers once thought in terms of what they saw, they need to think in terms of what cannot be seen about the rump that affects reproduction and birthing. The flat, boxcar Holstein rumps of the past no longer cut it. Additionally high or low pins may create problems as they were once thought to.

Why the Over Emphasis on Rump?

When I ask breeders about why they place more than 10% emphasis on rump, they comment that they do it because of tradition, because at eye level at the business end of the cow there is the rump and because there is a limited understanding of what makes for a rump structure that is conducive to problem free calvings.

What would it take for the industry to re-think rumps in the show ring and the barn?

It needs to be recognized that progressive breeders no longer see large calves at birth as a must have. This, therefore, reduces that need for emphasis on rumps. That change has helped both the dams (quicker recovery after calving) and the calves (less stress at birth).  Heifer killers need to be eliminated from all breeding programs.

Calving Ease Indexes are a Great Help

Breeders supplying information on all calvings has contributed in a major way in identifying sires and bloodlines that are below average for direct calving ease and maternal calving ease.

In researching for the Bullvine article She Ain’t Pretty, She Just Milks That Way, we found that positively rated sires for maternal calving ease are more apt to have daughters that have long careers in herds.

Possible Steps Going Forward

The Bullvine recommends the following:

  • Breeders continue to eliminate from their breeding programs sires negatively rated for calving ease and maternal calving ease,
  • Breed associations continue to publish genetic indexes for descriptive traits for rumps but not publish an overall rating for rump as it contributes to the over-emphasis.
  • More definitive research be done of the best shape and size of birthing canal,
  • Since most frame traits are moderate to high for heritability, bull dams should be measured and reported for the size/shape of their birthing canal, and
  • The approved emphasis for rumps must be applied by classifiers and show judges

The Bullvine Bottom Line

In short, the reason rump may be significant because of its role in ‘getting the cows in calf and getting the calf out’. It does not require beauty to do that. It’s about utility when it comes to the rump. Why should breeders emphasize rumps at the expense of other body parts known to have more influence on profit?



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Using Genomics as the Ticket to the Future

“Genomics has taken dairy cattle genetics to new heights.” Of course, there are breeders who agree and others who disagree with that statement. Regardless of our individual opinions, breeders definitely know more about the genetic make-up of the top animals than we did prior to 2008.

Let’s do an analysis on using and relying on genomics to achieve genetically improved dairy cattle in the future through increased accuracy, profitability, and genetic advancement.


  • allows for reducing the effects of biases found in the phenotypic data used in genetic evaluations (accuracy)
  • can be used for both parentage verification and genetic indexing (accuracy)
  • increases the accuracy of genetic indexes for young bulls and genetically elite females (accuracy)
  • provides for enhanced accuracy when culling of heifers based on genetic indexes (accuracy)
  • allows for decreasing the generation intervals (rate of genetic advancement)
  • reduces the number of young bulls that need to be sampled. Each one costs $50,000. (profitability)
  • allows breeders to focus on replicating their best genetically indexed animals or families (genetic advancement)
  • can be used for decisions beyond genetics including in health and management (profitability)
  • fits a breeding model that uses genetic indexes and yields rapid genetic gain (genetic advancement)


  • currently, not enough young females are being tested to know accurately the population average and ranges
  • adds to the cost for documenting animals
  • took some control out of the hands of breeders and breed associations
  • resulted in more friction amongst breeders
  • required that breeds incur the cost of education/awareness programs
  • does not fit a breeding model that uses show results or requires 90+% reliability for sires used


  • provides the opportunity for more on-farm profit including the need to raise fewer heifers (profitability)
  • reduces the loss that breeders incur when they get low-end heifers from low genetic merit unproven sires (profitability)
  • allows for breeders to implement new models for breeding and marketing (profitability)
  • results in a more rapid genetic improvement for both herds and breeds, at less cost (genetic advancement)
  • allows for the genetic evaluations for additional important traits (profitability and genetic advancement)
  • allows for the genetic evaluations for traits on which it is hard to capture field data (profitability and genetic improvement)
  • allows for the accuracy of comparison for animals originating from foreign sources (accuracy)
  • allows for re-structuring of or adding to services that breeders need (profitability)


The following threats are largely based on changes in the status quo.

  • devalues some animals previously considered elite and of some animals capable of winning at local shows
  • if not used wisely can result in increased levels of inbreeding
  • provides for breeders to discontinue participation in performance recording programs, yet they can make significant genetic improvement
  • could result in fewer A.I organizations and thereby potentially less choice for breeders
  • may require that a new genetic evaluation formula be developed 

Where from here?

The position taken by breeders relative to genomic information very often depends on whether they see genomics as a threat or as an opportunity. It’s time to be positive.  It’s impossible to turn back the clock. We need to stop the negativity on the topic of genomics or toward the people using that information. Breeders and industry stakeholders need to work nationally and internationally for collective benefit. With further research and development genomics will provide discerning breeders with information so they can achieve their breeding and profitability goals.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The Bullvine strongly supports using genomic information. Although it is not the only tool, it is a very constructive one for improving the total genetic merit of dairy cattle. Progressive and pro-active breeds and breeders will use and further develop this tool.


The first webinar in the series to be held on Noon (EST) Wednesday July 8th 2015, and will focus on the basics of genomics to provide producers with a better understanding of the benefits of knowing more about their heifers. Click here to reserve your seat!

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