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During this past week many of my Facebook friends have been debating on whether a third generation Excellent cow with good milk production should she be used as an ET recipient or should she be bred to produce her own calf (Discussion Part 1Part 2).  The debate started when one friend shared the picture of his Excellent cow with her latest calf – an IVF heifer from young highly rated genomically evaluated parents. Opinions weighed in from all points of view, each participant stating emphatically why their position was the one that was most correct. The majority said that, if it were their cow, they would breed her to produce her own calf. Well as I see it – that should depend on your herd’s genetic plan and how you define profitable.

Tradition Is Shifting

For quite some time, Excellent cows were few and far between. In Canada 0.2% were Excellent and in the USA it was about 1.0% Excellent.  Because of scarcity, daughters from Excellent cows would bring a very good price in leading sales. Sons, if by the right sire, were often of interest to A.I. for entry into young sire proving programs. Therefore if you owned an Excellent cow you owned a revenue generator.

Forty years ago the focus in breeding was the long lived Excellent cow with good lifetime milk production. Then the focus shifted to first or second lactation high scoring (minimum VG85), high producing and high indexing cows from respected cow families. With genomic evaluations coming on the breeding scene, high genomically evaluated heifers, three to twelve months of age, are now the sought after group. This change in focus to a 65+% reliable high indexing heifers has created a divide in breeder thinking and breeding goals.  (Read more: Is Type Classification Still Important? And Is Good Plus Good Enough?)

Take Your Pick

Today some breeders long for a return to the days when Excellent or 1st prize at a major show was all you needed to know about a cow. Other breeders are uncertain as to what they should be breeding for. Others simply state that they want cows that are less prone to being culled than in the past. Others have incorporated production and type genomic evaluations into their breeding programs. And still others are thinking in terms of using total selection indexes that put significant emphasis on health, immunity, fertility, labor efficiency and feed efficiency.  (Read more: The Truth About Type and Longevity and RF Goldwyn Hailey: Cash Cow or Cash Hog?)

Reality Check

The fact is that we now live in a new era for dairy cattle breeding.

Let’s look at some 2014 realities for Holstein breeders that did not exist in 2000:

There is no going back to former times!

Looking Forward

Type and also milk production will receive less attention in the breeding of dairy cows in the future because breeders have already made significant progress for those traits. Specific proteins, fats and solids in milk will be what consumers want in the milk products that they include in their diets.  Producers will breed for a herd of cows that return the most profit (Read more: She Ain’t Pretty – She Just Milks That Way). And yes, cows will be polled (Read more: From the Sidelines to the Headlines, Polled is Going Mainline!, Polled Dairy Genetics: The Cold Hard Facts and The 24 Polled Bulls Every Breeder Should Be Using To Accelerate the Genetic Gain in Their Herd). Excellent cows will not be a singular focus.  Perhaps I should qualify that statement. The Excellent cows of the past will not be sought after. It could well be that breeders will redefine what is required for a cow to be classified as Excellent.

Dr. Paul VanRaden, USDA-AIPL, has laid out the challenge for breeders in the future. He identified that today the best animal has a Net Merit of $1009 but knowing what we currently know about the genome, the best animal could have a Net Merit of $7515. (Read more: The Genetic “SUPER COW” – Myth vs Reality)

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Technological advancements make breeding more profitable Holsteins a reality for future breeders. Conformational correctness will be only a fraction of what we need to know about a cow relative to profitability. For the breeder of the cow in the Facebook discussion, profitability included milk in the tank while producing a calf of high genetic worth. Excellent did not matter. We cannot ignore the realities relative to consumer demands, business management and genetic improvement. If we ignore them, we do so at our own peril.



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The Truth About Type and Longevity

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

For years there has been  debate about whether show type is relevant to the commercial producer.  But more recently the deeper question is coming up that asks  if type itself in any form matters anymore.

This issue was further highlighted by our extremely popular interview with Don Bennink (Read more: North Florida Holsteins: Aggressive, Progressive and Profitable!!) where he made the following comments:

“Don feels that the current philosophy of the Holstein Association is very contrary to (profitability).”  He gives three main targets that he seeks out as profitable.  “High production with health traits and feed efficiency are our bywords.  The present classification and type evaluation system are 180 degrees away from cattle that pay the bills.  Bigger, taller, sharper doesn’t cut it.  The latest correlation of final type score with stature is .77.  Worse yet, the correlation of udder composite with stature is .59.  That means if you breed 100% for udder composite, you will increase stature at more than half the rate that you would if you bred for stature alone.”  There is only one conclusion for this dairy farmer.  “The current 88 and 89 point 2 year olds are dysfunctional for the guy making milk for a living.”

Don also highlights:

“With the current correlation of .59 between udder composite and stature, it is not unusual to see the same udder scored good on a short or medium sized heifer that is very good on a tall heifer.  No study including the ones done by Holstein show any real correlation of foot and leg composite with foot health or herd life.  Bulls with +3.00 and +4.00 type proofs have daughters that are too big and too sharp for commercial dairymen.  For this reason gTPI or TPI are essentially ignored in bull or female selection.  Net Merit $ has some value.”

The question really becomes why do we evaluate type?

The ultimate reason for evaluating type is to predict longevity.  In the Canadian LPI formula type is actually called durability.  In the US TPITM formula type elements are used to calculate longevity.  But then I ask why are we creating a composite index of other elements to help predict longevity when we actually have the data in Herd Life (CDN) and Productive Life (US)?  This makes me ask  what is the more accurate  index? An index we have created based on evaluation of many subjective parts? Or is it more accurate when derived from the actual herd data on  longevity? That data would  show exactly how long a bull’s daughters last in a herd.

When you look at the current top twenty Productive Life sires over 95% reliability in the US, you notice that only 2 sires have a PTAT over 2 points (DE-SU OBSERVER and SILDAHL JETT AIR) and as a group they average 0.65 for PTAT.  Even more alarming is that as a group they average 0.86 for UDC and 1.02 for F&L composite, two traits that are typically key in predicting longevity.   On the other hand, relating directly to longevity they all have relatively high net merit scores,  low somatic cell scores and, for the most part, are calving ease sires.   Why the disconnect?

DE-SU OBSERVER-ET16027.22.7667922.73.020.892332
HONEYCREST BOMBAY NIFTY-ET2367.22.627553-0.46-0.130.971810
POTTERS-FIELD KP LOOT-ET10047.22.6876500.081.71-0.241954
KELLERCREST BRET LANDSCAPE817.12.3685060.651.271.161838
WHITMAN O MAN AWESOME ANDY2026.92.5557540.32-0.171.212063
ZIMMERVIEW BRITT VARSITY-ET4106.82.6266680.71-0.471.552013
CLEAR-ECHO NIFTY TWIST-ET9426.82.628748-0.32-0.421.172039
KED OUTSIDE JEEVES-ET3556.82.83105151.370.971.741913
ENSENADA TABOO PLANET-ET22166.72.9867211.931.44-0.472176
GOLDEN-OAKS GUTHRIE-ET10786.72.786535-1.15-1.240.361728
DALE-PRIDE MANFRED ALFIE5196.62.966461-0.63-0.36-0.011702
LAESCHWAY JET BOWSER 2-ETN2006.52.8474551.622.031.831940
ELKENDALE DIE-CAST-ET-8726.52.7263700.681.851.991718
LAESCHWAY JET BOWSER-ET2006.52.8474551.622.031.831940
BADGER-BLUFF FANNY FREDDIE12366.42.757791.571.62.872292
CABHI AUSTIN POTTER-ET1516.42.8165200.050.410.021766
CABHI MOOSE-ET456.42.6463730.180.31.111625
SILDAHL JETT AIR-ET11186.32.6466442.882.262.912168
SPRING-RUN CAMDEN-676.22.9174330.571.790.61762
KERNDT MAXIE GOLDSTAR-ET1996.22.576449-1.28-0.61-0.961631

The Canadian story is not that much different.  When you look at the top 35 sires with CDN proofs, only 3 sires (CRACKHOLM FEVER, TRAMILDA-N ESCALADE and SILDAHL JETT AIR-ET) are over 10 for Conformation and all have relatively low SCS. In fact NORZ-HILL FORM WIZARD who is tied for the top proven Herd Life sire in Canada is -3 for conformation, -4 for feet and legs and -10 for dairy strength.  And as a group the sires average only +3 for conformation, +4 for Mammary System, +3 for Feet and Legs and -2 for dairy strength.

CRACKHOLM FEVER279762015131371172.63
NORZ-HILL FORM WIZARD-ET1914521-30-4-101172.57
TRAMILDA-N ESCALADE-ET25956931371261152.69
DUDOC BACCULUM1630-52709-1-101152.95
SILDAHL JETT AIR-ET2824129212101171142.64
BADGER-BLUFF FANNY FREDDIE29851717585-51132.74
KEYSTONE POTTER1933110014-1-41132.91
BOSS IRON ET1925-72066141132.74
RUBIS LOTUS1908-51499141132.79
JOHNIE FRANCIS1754-561-2-1-3-41132.59
BARKA FETICHE1009-1793-14-11-14-131132.47
GEN-I-BEQ ALTABUZZER2748141764801122.82
HEATHERSTONE-V MCGUIRE-ET25701417911851122.67
MICHERET INFRAROUGE25217107811-11122.66
DUDOC RADIUS2518134442601122.67
RALMA CARRIBEAN-ET250175663731122.74
SANDY-VALLEY DEPUTY-ET2424801565-31122.37
HASS-ACRES BRAVEHEART222563957411122.68
KED OUTSIDE JEEVES-ET2216580443-21122.99
SHAWNEE ALTASTRATOS-ET22091867105-41122.51
DESLACS DUSTER21341598811-21122.83
MARKWELL DUCKETT-ET2094117378-91122.71
KLASSIC BILLBOARD20336181-10-21122.68
WHITTAIL-VALLEY COOPER-ET2015461234-71122.61
BONACCUEIL LORD195469603-2-41122.64
FLEURY LOTION18839630-13-61123.11
GRASSHILL CAREW1824-12-4-1-3-41122.68
CEDARWAL TAIT1816-985040-61122.55
CANCO ARMAGEDDON1664254-8-10-7-31122.73
JACOBS EMAIL1642-1179-6-2-4-121122.65
HILLCROFT MAJESTIC1396-95242221122.61
CLAYNOOK GARNET1319-431-5-5-4-31122.89
HENKESEEN NIGHTSTORM1238-1215-2-13-41122.78

I have always been a big proponent for type classification (Read more: Is Type Classification Still Important? and Tom Byers: “That’s Classified!”).  My father ran the Canadian system for many years.  But I now find myself asking “Are we missing the mark?”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

For years I have heard commercial producers tell me that they don’t care as much about type and that it’s the seed stock breeders that are putting all the emphasis on type.  The thing is, as Don points out, “the function of a seed stock producer is to produce the animal that is the most profitable for the commercial dairyman.”   If that is the  case are we as seed stock producers missing the mark by emphasizing type sires?  In today’s free agent bull market, it is more profitable to have a sire that sells well in the commercial market than just in the pedigree market.   Should we work to have the correlation between PTAT /Conformation with Herd Life/Productive Life as high as possible, as that is the whole point in evaluating type traits?


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It seems that daily there is a new EX-95 cow somewhere in the world, or a VG-89-2yr that will never see the light of day.  While in many cases these cows deserve the recognition they receive, it also seems at times that cows are getting over scored.  However, there comes a point where the animal needs to be worthy of the score, as many breeders have expressed to us here at The Bullvine, they are getting tired of watching cows get over scored.

Over the years I have seen cows get over scored for many reasons.  The most prevalent among them have been:

  • Dispersal
    I see it often.  A breeder who has been a long-standing member of the dairy industry is selling out (typically because the next generation does not have the same passion in relation to the reward), and they decide to sell their Master Breeder herd.  Just before the sale they have a dispersal special classification.  During that time, there are reliably a few animals that get an extra point or two.  I am not trying to say this is totally a bad thing, as I do believe these long established breeders do deserve some level of recognition.  I just get concerned when I see cows that should be 92 to 93 points at best being bumped to 95 points.  When you put these animals beside other 95-point animals you will typically find significant difference in how they resemble the breed ideal.
  • Show Results
    Just because a 2-year-old won the local county show, or a cow was All-Canadian does not mean they deserve the maximum score.  There is a difference between what shines in the show ring and what should be the 89-point 2 year old in the classification system.  I have seen cows that could not even content at the Royal or Madison go 89 points that, when you break them down, should be no higher than 87 points.  Nevertheless, since she won some show, and someone got in the classifiers’ ear this does happen.
  • High Value Animals
    This is the worst one I have seen by far and the one that has the greatest impact on the breed and breed improvement.  It happens when a cow that should really be 83 points (at best) as a 2 year old gets classified 85 points, because she is one of the top index animals in the world.  Now I am sure they will get an amazing photo, but how much can you trust that?  (Read more: Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct) This is the greatest disservice the classification program can do.  These animals will now have their genetics marketed around the world. The perception of high conformation will have a greater impact than all the other biased factors combined.  Makes me think – Is Good Plus Good Enough?

All these headaches with cows being over scored reminds me of the many conversations I have had with my father, Murray Hunt, (he ran the Canadian classification program for many years) and Tom Byers, currently in charge of the classification program (Read more: Tom Byers: “That’s Classified!”).  Tom would point out to me that as a percentage there is actually just the same proportion of cows going to the extremes as their ever was.  It’s since there is more dairy cattle being classified and the power of the internet that we are seeing more of these animals. (Read more:   The Anti-Social Farmer: On The Verge of Extinction) Then Murray will add that we need classifiers to use the full range of the system in order to ensure the best results.  You see the wider the spread in scores the greater the difference in the resulting genetic evaluations.  Instead of being afraid to use the extreme scores, classifiers should actually use it more.  Both for the 89 point 2 year olds, as well as the 65-point ones.

The greater the range the more accurately the genetic evaluation system is able to identify those sires that can breed your extremes.  I think as an industry we do ourselves a disservice by having mainly a 17-point range (75-92) in final score.  In order to truly identify top animals we need to be able to spread them out as much as possible, so that we can pick the best from the rest.  It’s when we stick to the middle that we actually do the most damage to the genetic evaluation system.  When all animals are so closely scored that those animals that do sire the good ones do not rise to the top.  It’s also why classifiers should slap on the Fair-65 classification more often.  Remember classification is relative and dynamic.  A cow that might have been an 89 point 2-year-old 10 years ago might be lucky to go 85 to 87 points today.  It’s not about comparing to the past, but rather identifying the current outliers in the breed. Hence why we need to use the full range of the system.  To accurately identify the true outliers.

Now both Tom and dad would point out to me, how can you stand in a breeders barn and put a score of 65 on one of his cows and ever expect to be back there again to classify.  And I understand that. Trust me years of dad telling me stories about going into different herds and how breeders reacted to certain situations would make a great book. The bigger issues is that there is a perception challenge with using the full spectrum.  Many breeders do not want to be pay money to be told their cow is ugly. But I ask you, why do you classify in the first place?  Is it not to advance the genetics and management of your herd?  Then why do you not let the system work to it’s maximum potential?

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Type Classification has two main purposes, marketing and breed improvement.  From the marketing standpoint I can understand the benefit of over scoring some cows from time to time.  The part that worries me more is when classifiers don’t use the full range as often as possible.  Not just in overall score, but especially in the scoring of each trait as well.  The more often classifiers use the extremes the greater the breed’s rate of advancement will be.  This will help the genetic evaluation system truly identify those sires that are the best for type.  After all isn’t that why we keep score in the first place?


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Is Type Classification Still Important?

Monday, April 8th, 2013

There are many changes going on in the dairy industry these days. Producers must try to understand what programs are worth still participating in and what ones to drop. At the Bullvine we have had some producers ask, “Should I still classify my cows?” To that we say a resounding, “YES!”  The following article explains why.

First, I would be remiss if I did not disclose that my father ran the Type Classification program here in Canada for 18 years, before it passed into the very capable hands of Jay Shannon and Tom Byers. I was raised understanding type classification and how the system works.  From when Dad and the late Dalton Hodgins first started playing with the handheld units to when it was time to update the True Type Model, you could say that classification was bred into me.   For me to even have to consider whether the program has merit is a very challenging situation.  But when a breeder from California asked me the other day, “Why should I still type classify?”  this caused me to stop and think about that, as I didn’t have an instant answer for him.  So, in typical Bullvine fashion, I did some more thinking about it, a little bit of research and here is what I came up with.

Why Type Classify if you Genomic Test All Your Females?

Tom Byers said it best, in our interview a year ago. “Classification will be the conformation verification of our Genomic selected sires.” (Read more: Tom Byers – “That’s classified”).  Genomics is not a perfect science and, in order to improve the accuracy of the genomic predictions, we need a larger data set.  That means we need more daughters classified by these new genomic sires so that the geneticists can compare the genomic predictions of these sires to the actual performance of their daughters. Only then can the geneticists improve the formulations so their predictions become more accurate.  Currently you can feel about 95% confident that a sire will come within 10% of their genomic prediction. With more information, that rate of confidence will increase while the range will decrease.

It’s also important to understand how these sires work in your herd.  I cannot tell you the number of times I have seen some sires work wonders in some herds and totally fail in others. While the sire’s proof may average out over all herds, that does not mean he or his blood lines will work well in yours.  That is why you still need programs like type classification and milk recording to validate that what you see on paper (genomic tests) is what you actually get in reality.

Why Classification is More Important than Ever When Marketing Your Cattle

It used to be that when a fresh 2 year old went Very Good many breeders wanted to see her picture to see if she really was a VG 2 year old.  Often times it was felt that maybe that animal got a gift and maybe would have only been a GP84 in a different herd.  Nowadays, with the state of dairy cattle photo ethics the way it is, I actually jump back to the classification to see if the picture really resembles the animal.

When I look at the picture and the heifer looks VG87+ but yet she is only classified VG85, I wonder why.  Often I notice that animal may only be a 2 or 3 for loin strength, yet in her picture with all the “hair” added she looks closer to a 9.  This causes a drastic change to the general appearance of the animal and greatly misrepresents her rump.  That is why now, more than ever, I look at the full classification breakdown in order to get a better understanding of just what the animal looks like.

Another area I often notice is size and stature.  With so many pictures having the original background removed and often the leadsperson as well, it is hard to get an accurate reference for the exact size of the animal.  When the photographer or graphic designer is adding in the new background, they are doing so by what makes the animal look the best.  While this is considered acceptable by today’s standards, it can greatly misrepresent the size and stature of the animal. (Read more: Has Photo Enhancement Gone Too Far?).

Another area where it is impossible to get an accurate read is heel depth and angularity.  Because these animals are being cropped out of their original images, often they lose some of the depth of heal in the picture as well as their necks get accidentally cleaned up.  While I do not think most photographers do so intentionally, the programs they are using combined with photographer’s Photoshop skills often cause some of these parts to be cropped, leaving a shallower foot and a cleaner head and neck.  It is for these reasons we have recently started the Dairy Cattle Marketer’s Code of Ethics (Read more: Introducing The Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct) in order to help re-establish credibility in dairy cattle photographs.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

There is no question that the industry is changing at a very rapid rate.  For some it`s not changing fast enough. For others, it seems too fast.  While all programs need to evolve to meet the needs of the modern dairy producer, there is no question that a dynamic Type Classification program has its place.  Since genomics is not a perfect science, and some dairy cattle photographs do not tell the full story, type classification remains the one constant for identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the individual, so that we can correctively mate to help the next generation function best in the different environments we ask her to work in. This combination of science and cow sense is what will lead us into a very prosperous future.


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The udder may be a cow’s most prized physical asset, but her feet and legs literally provide the support for everything she does. How many situations with problem cows boil down to problems with their feet and legs?

In most herds foot care and hoof trimming are considered to be a very necessary event and, therefore, an expense that cannot be avoided. With this absolute in mind, we tend to march on breeding, feeding and managing cows without taking the time to consider ways to stop merely treating the symptoms we`re stuck with. Solving the problem before it becomes a health or management problem could completely avoid starting our animals off on the wrong foot. The Bullvine invites you to consider the genetics of feet and legs with us to stimulate a breeding solution for these issues.

The Heels of a Dilemma

In milk recorded herds, culling cows for feet and leg problems is #1 on the list of conformation culling reasons. In the past, udder breakdown was once the leader. However breeders have placed sufficient emphasis on improving udders that we are now to the stage where milk producers are saying they do not need to select bulls for udder traits except to avoid ones that are too deep.  It’s encouraging to know that with focus and time identified problems can be solved.

Although removal of horns may be the current hot button for people concerned about the welfare of animals, and therefore breeders are selecting for polled, there are numerous reports predicting that lame cows will be the next and much larger target.

Certainly, there are no dairypersons who are saying that feet and legs are good enough that genetic improvement for feet and legs is not needed.

Locomotion is Costing Us an Arm and a Leg

Reports show that for a cow with one temporary sore foot it reduces her annual profit by at least $100.  So what is the cost of a cow with foot construction that requires trimming 3-5 times per year, medication, less milk production, milk withdrawal, extended calving interval and premature culling? Feet and leg problems could be costing some herds $300 per cow per year.  On a one hundred cow herd that is $30,000 less profit. Significant by anyone’s standard.

A Vet Looks at the Genetics of Lameness

Gordon Atkins, DVM and a member of Holstein Canada’s Type Classification Advisory Committee, was a speaker at the recent annual meeting of the Wisconsin Holstein Association. He is not prepared to accept the fact that feet and leg heritabilities are as low as they currently appear to be.  Additionally, he shared some interesting facts about feet and legs:

  • Lameness is 88% a rear foot situation
  • That leaves only 12% for it being a front feet and leg problem
  • The outside rear claws bear the brunt of the lameness issue
  • The fact is that the rear outside claw grows faster because it is growing tissue in response to the greater pressure it endures while walking
  • Thin cows have a higher incidence of lameness
  • Thin cows mobilized fat from their bodies including the fat from the foot pad or digital cushion within the base of the heel structure. This results in less protection for the foot and heel.
  • The foot’s fatty pad can be replaced as the cow regains body condition but over time scar tissue will form when adequate fat is not present in the pads

Dr Atkins went on to highlight

  • His very telling statement followed, that being, “we need to evaluate feet and legs better”


Diagram – cross section of the foot

Diagram – Cross Section of a Bovine Foot

Let`s Go Toe to Toe with the Facts Only Please

Let’s summarize:

  • Dairy cattle have a genetic problem relative to feet and legs especially for animals not allowed to get off cement or to exercise
  • It is rear feet that are the major portion of the problem with respect to lameness

The Achilles Heel for Classifiers

The classification system scores numerous traits but there are factors in the area of feet and legs that are beyond their control.  Foot angle is not a good trait to measure because it is so variable due to foot trimming. Cattle owners have feet trimmed before classification so type classifiers do not see the animals in their natural state.  Classifiers do the best they can, given the circumstances. Add to this the fact that classifiers do not see every cow walking. Since the ability to walk is what is most important, classifiers again are at a distinct disadvantage.

Estimating heritability using classification data shows these percentages:

  • 30% for bone quality (moderate)
  • 24% for rear legs side view (moderate)
  • 13% for rear legs rear view (low)
  • 11% for foot angle (low)
  • 8% for heel depth (low)

Yes the report card is in – we need to improve the evaluation feet and legs especially for rear feet and rear legs rear view. Genetically we have bred for thin cows and thus less fat in the foot pad. The only place we collect feet and leg data for genetic purposes is in the type classification programs and there the classifier, as mentioned, is at a disadvantage. What’s left that breeds, classifiers, people doing the genetic evaluations and breeders can do?

Getting a Toehold on the Solution

A collective approach is needed:

  1. We must admit that we have a problem and that we need to find a solution to more accurately knowing the genetics of feet and legs.
  2. The problem is not limited to one country and it is more prevalent in cattle not allowed to walk on natural surfaces.
  3. Resources (people and money) must be allocated to investigation and research.

Some suggestions the Bullvine has heard on ideas to consider include:

  • observe or measure the females over their lifetime
  • evaluate the feet on calves at weaning
  • evaluate the feet on heifers at first breeding
  • measure the feet on first lactation females on their first milk recording test day (before they are trimmed)
  • compare sire’s daughter feet and legs on confined versus pastured daughters
  • compare the genomic profiles of cow families that are both desirable and undesirable for feet (and legs)

It is encouraging to see that there is one hoof trimmers’ guild that has public support for a study to collect pedigree information at the time of trimming, to complete a report of the condition of the feet before trimming and then to have the data analyzed. That could be a start.

In the Interim… Feet Forward

Research takes time and cows are bred every day, in the mean time, breeders must use the information currently available from sire indexes or proofs. It is strongly recommended that sires be highly ranked for Net Merit, TPI or LPI and higher than 1.5 FLC or +7 Feet & Legs. A recent addition to the information to consider on bulls is their Body Condition Scoring index. Bulls whose daughters do not get as thin during lactation should not drain all the fat from their foot pads.  (Some Bullvine recommended sires to use can be found at From Fantasy To Reality – Top Sires To Address Herd Culling Problems)

The Bullvine Bottom Line- “Stop “Digging in Our Heels”

What is needed is an international approach to studying dairy cattle feet, much like the approach being taken to studying feed efficiency.  Hopefully a way will be found to move feet research in dairy cattle to the DNA level. If the industry collectively has the will, there will be a way. All we need now is a champion to take the first step.


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Is Good Plus Good Enough?

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

For years GP-84-2YR was the kiss of death when it came to marketing and selling genetics.  However, along comes genomics and it seems that GP is good enough.  Nevertheless, the question it has me asking is “Is Good Plus Good Enough?”

I can still remember when Summershade Icebreak Luke, was the #1 LPI cow in Canada.  The problem was she was scored GP-83-2YR.  The A.I. companies where not sure if they should even sample bulls from her and how would they convince their members to use them in their young sire programs.  Then came along Summershade Igniter and Summershade Inquirer and A.I. companies took the chance.  While hindsight is 20/20, maybe they should have passed.  On the female side, Icebreak had 34 daughters classified and only 7 of them going VG.  We ourselves had one of those daughters Summershade Icemarti.  While she did score VG, it was not until her 2nd lactation, long past her peak marketing time.  In the past, we have purchased many daughters out of GP 83 and 84 two year olds, expecting them to go VG before our purchase calved in.  It has proven to be a risky move, but one that could have paid off big time.  On the male side Icebreak had six sons enter A.I. service but none where ever returned to service.

On the flip side, I can also remember when we first purchased into the Braedale Gypsy Grand family and many people around us had concerns about her GP-83-2YR dam.  While there was a very good reason why Moonriver never went VG, we still found ourselves having to explain things many times.  Then along came Second Cut, Baler Twine, Freelance and Goodluck and we found that changed everything.

As we all know genomics has changed the name of the game, and we now see A.I. companies sampling high genomic sires irrelevant of their score or the score of their dam.  With that in mind, I decided to take a look at the current high index dams that are NOT scored VG.  The following is what I found.

The Story in the US

In the US, there are three GP cows on the Top 25 GTPI Cows List (GP-83-or Higher).  Leading the way is BEN-AKERS PLANET LUISE26-ET, she the #3 GTPI cow and the #1 NM cow scored over 83 points.  While Luise is from the Ricecrest Luke Lisa family and has solid type numbers, her genomic values for type are actually lower than her parent average and yet she still has a son at Alta Genetics, Ben-Akers AltaRazzle.  Joining Luise on the top GTPI list at #18 is SURE-VIEW MP PLANET LEXI.  Lexi is from the M&M-Pond-Hill Leadman Luba family and is scored GP-83-2YR.  Similar to Luise, Lexi has high genomic values compared to her parent average but yet again has conformation scores that just meet expectations.  Unlike Luise, it appears to this point that Lexi does not have any sons currently in A.I..  The third member of the list is SULLY PLANET MANITOBA , this GP-83-2YR is out of the great brood cow, Sully Shottle May the former #1 GTPI and GLPI cow of the breed.  Of course May is believed to have more offspring genomic tested over 2200 & 2300 GPTI than any other cow in the breed.  Unlike the other two GP 2yr olds on the top list, Manitoba has outstanding type numbers and her genomic values are actually higher than her parent average.  It’s these outstanding values that have her with at least three sons currently in A.I., SULLY HART MERIDIAN-ET and SULLY HART MUNICH-ET at Semex, and SULLY ALTABRANDON-ET at Alta Genetics.

The Canadian Story

Much like the US list the #3 spot on the Canadian List is held by a GP-83-2YR, Benner Planet Jakova-ET.  Being a Planet from a Goldwyn, Jakova has strong parent average for type and has strong genomic values as well.  Coming from the Benner Luke Jean family, Jokava has yet to put a son into A.I.. Joining Jokova on the list is Delaberge Planet Lulu.  However, on April 25th Lulu was raised to VG-85-2YR, 244 days fresh.  Lulu comes from the Bryhill Lindy Lilly family and already has a son at Semex, DONNANDALE LUMI.  The third member on the list is Alexerin Oman 993. Of interesting note about 993 is that there are no VG dams anywhere in her pedigree, she has mostly production sires and yet her parent average for conformation is five and her genomic value is a six.  Not surprisingly, 993 does not have any sons currently in A.I.  The last member on the list is Calbrett Planet Empress.  Much like Lulu, Empress has since been moved to VG-86-2YR later in lactation.  Empress is from the WABASH-WAY EVETT dam of the popular genomic sire Genervations Eclipse and the same family as Epic and Highway.  Given the strong maternal pedigree, Empress has PA of +10 for conformation and actually exceeds that with a +12 for her direct genomic value.  Given her increase in score and strong maternal pedigree it is just a matter of time before she has sons in A.I..

The Bullvine Bottom Line

While GP-84-2YR use to be the kiss of death for many marketing and genetic programs, genomics has changed the game.  With genomics, we are seeing many GP 83 or 84 cattle used as dams that would have never been touched before.  While many will increase in score later in life, many do not, and yet that does not seem to be as big a factor.  Many A.I. companies and breeders are more concerned about their genomic values than that of their actual classification score.


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Monday, March 26th, 2012

Tom Byers, who is in charge of classification for Holstein Canada knows a lot about the differences in cattle. “The show ring cow, with the emphasis on red carpet style is more the extreme. This is exactly what she should be. When you see her at the Royal in that ring every Holstein breeder in Canada wants to own her whether he thinks he’s commercial or not . Good breeders know that. They appreciate a good cow, show ring or barn.” Having said that, Tom points out that the Canadian classification system does not reward extremes.  He goes on to point out where they are similar. “There are two things that make the show cow and the cow in barn the same, when it comes to being judged or classified. Those two things are the two most important traits – udders and feet and legs.”

Tom Byers - Ferme GilletteUDDERLY EXCELLENT

Byers has classified many amazing cows but, when it comes to udders, he tells about one cow that got him excited. “It was at Ferme Gillette and it was the old Smurf cow who is the new World Champion for Lifetime production. We were walking past her stall when I asked Louis, ‘What is that cow classified?’ He gave her a pat on the rump and she immediately got up. Faster than some two year olds I might add. When I saw that udder and felt the texture I could have stretched it from Ferme Gillette to the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa and it would have sprung right back. Looking at her spring of fore and rear rib, I knew I had to make her EX.” Classification doesn’t reward extremes but Byers can sure describe them!


Tom doesn’t really think it is necessary to have cows ready for the previously mentioned red carpet when the classifier comes. “The simple answer is ‘No!’ it’s not necessary.  But I do think it makes a difference to the Holstein member. A self satisfaction if you will. Classifiers always appreciate good housekeeping.” Having said that, he goes on, “If you mean getting up in the middle of the night to have their udders full and most times over full to present to the classifier, I would just like to quote an old colleague and mentor of mine, Don Aylsworth “Feed the cow and the udder will fill itself.” Classified information indeed!

Future of Dairy Cattle ClassificationFACING FORWARD WITH CLASSIFICATION

Dedicated to his career and the members he serves, Byers takes his customary positive approach to the future. “I think we will continue to evolve our program to meet the needs of the dairy producer. Classification is without a doubt a very important animal welfare program and by identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the individual, we can corrective mate to help the next generation take care of herself in the different environments we ask her to work in. We have always combined science and cow sense as we have made changes.”


Byers feels that “Classification will be the conformation verification of our Genomic selected sires.” He is justifiably proud of the dairy industry, “We must always remember that the world comes to Canada for its cow.  If Genomics can enhance our accuracy of genetic selection that will be a bonus! Our cow in Canada has never been better than she is today.  She is calving from 22 to 25 months of age. For the first time her udder is 5 inches above her hock and she wants to milk 40 plus liters.” That’s “Oh Canada” as sung by classifier Byers.


Tom Byers feels it has been his privilege to represent Canada domestically and internationally and to build lasting memories with his colleagues and Holstein Breeders.