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Who’s Number 1?

Friday, April 11th, 2014

It seems like everybody is claiming to have the number one sire of this that or the other thing.  The number of different sires out there claiming to be number one is scary.  There is the #1 TPI sire, or #1 TPI sire with semen available, or the #1 proven TPI sire.  The list goes on and on.  The challenge for breeders is in trying to decide who you can believe.

Everything is New and Light

Remember when the word “New” or “Light” was trendy in the promotion of consumer products?  It seemed like every company was coming out with a “New” product or a “Light” version of the double chocolate peanut butter marshmallow cookies.  There were no laws to stop them from making their claims originality and fewer calories.  Because it helped drive awareness and sales, everyone jumped on the bandwagon.  That was back in the 70`s and 80’s before there was the development of marketing ethics that helped change all that and protect consumers from  those  false or misleading marketing practices.  The problem is that this process hasn`t yet happened in the dairy genetics marketplace.

You can’t be blamed for what you don’t know for sure.  Can you?

Don’t get me wrong. I understand why a breeder gets all excited when he gets back a  genomic test  on his sire and finds out that the bull  has an astronomical TPI, LPI, or NM$.  Instantly the claim is broadcast that the bull is Number 1.  Well there are many issues with this.  First, how do you know that someone else out there did not get a higher test result on the very same day, since the full lists are only published every three months?  Also how do you know that when your results do come out on the official list that they will hold?  Many times I have seen these sires drop due to regression formulas or very recent snippet developments etcetera.  With less than 159 points (7%) seperating the top 100 gTPI sires. the differences are very minimal. Is it ethical to push the limits and make claims now and beg “forgiveness” later or not at all?  After all you can’t be blamed for what you don’t know for sure.  Can you?

Can there be three top dogs?

But then here is the bigger issue for me that happens when A. I. companies start making these claims.  And this is the one that I have seen playing out more and more often recently.  Over the past week, since the last genetic evaluation release, I have seen three different press releases come out from major A.I. companies. Each one of them claimed to have the #1 TPI sire in the world.  Doesn’t being number one mean that there are no others?  How can there be three #1 TPI sires? No one should make performance claims unless they can back them up. It’s like our competitors to have a larger readership and influence. Consistently share our numbers through Google and Facebook analytics.  But the others like to use words and “third party tools”.  If you can’t back it up with real numbers don’t say it.

Why is there a lack of accountability in the Dairy Genetics Marketplace?

This all comes back to the issue that there isn’t an enforced code of marketing ethics in the dairy genetics marketplace.  This is not a new issue.  For years we here at the Bullvine have been advocating the development of a Marketing Code of Conduct that would cover these very issues as well as other issues such as photo ethics.  (Read more: Introducing the Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct and Who’s to Blame? Why is there a lack of accountability in the Dairy Genetics Marketplace, No Cow Is Perfect – Not Even in PicturesDairy Cattle Photography – Over Exposed, Has Photo Enhancement Gone Too Far? and Dairy Cattle Photography: Do You Really Think I am That Stupid?)

Do we breed dairy cows or ostriches?

The problem is that, to date, none of the major A.I. organizations are willing to put their butts on the line to be the first.  They respond like those photographers who are so worried about losing business that they just go on doing their current practices.  This has led to distrust and producers are tuning out marketing claims and are not even bothering to look at professional daughter pictures anymore.

Lack of Leadership

As our efforts over the past year with professional livestock photographers prove, they have no desire to regulate themselves, even if it’s in their own best interest to do so in order to save their industry.  The same is true for A.I. organizations. They seem unwilling to develop and adhere to a marketing code of conduct that would bring credibility back to their marketing claims.  Then, looking at the powers that be, such as NAAB or CDCB, or CDN in Canada, they also seem to prefer to bury their heads in the sand, instead of addressing the issues at hand.  This leaves the average breeder defenseless against false or misleading claims.  The practice of inflating claims or exaggerating appearance in advertising is threatening to cloud the credibility of the entire dairy industry.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Your reputation is your organization’s greatest asset.  (Read more: In the End, All you have is your Name!)  The longer organizations such as the A.I. centers go without establishing a clear level of marketing ethics, the more they are damaging their own credibility.  You don’t have to look any further than the professional dairy cattle photography industry to see how looking the other way or ignoring the issues can harm an industry.  The time is now for the leaders in the dairy cattle genetics industry to step up and take the Bull by the horns and be the leaders that this industry needs.  In leadership who is the real #1?

To get a copy of the Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct please click here.

If you believe that there is a need for a ethical standard in marketing dairy cattle genetics please like and share this post.

Would you buy genetics from this heifer?


I would NOT!  However, it has nothing to do with her pedigree, because I don’t even know her pedigree.  The reason I would not buy genetics from this heifer is simply because I cannot trust that what I see in the picture is what I will actually get. You see this heifer, who looks for the most part to be a pretty decent heifer, actually has some major flaws that the current ethical standards of many photographers are more than willing to cover up.  The most major flaw that is blatant to the eye, when actually beside this heifer, is how weak loined she is.


Think about it. When was the last time you saw a dairy cow picture where the animal had a weak loin?  It doesn’t happen anymore.  In talking with a few photographers, they all say A) Is it really that bad? and B) ‘If I don’t do it`, breeders will not call me to take their pictures anymore.”  The answer to both these questions is “Do You Really Think I am That Stupid?”

“Is it really that bad?”

First, compare the two pictures below.  They are identical shots.  The only thing changed in the bottom picture is that she has had about 6 inches of hair added to the middle of her topline.  This is something that the show ring does not even find acceptable anymore.  Yes. I know you are going to say that this heifer is an extreme case. But also think about all the heifer pictures you see these days.  When was that last time you saw one with a weak loined animal?  Has the breed advanced so far that there is no longer an issue with loin strength?  Should all sires be ranked 7+ for loin strength?  I don’t think so.  Another question I ask is when was the last time you saw a 6+ month old calf that stands uphill?  And yet, you do see that in all their pictures that are taken these days.



“If I don’t do it breeders will not call me to take their pictures anymore.”

So I think most of you can see that it is pretty obvious how blatant this issue is.  So then why do you continue to support those that are working very hard to deceive you?  Each time you hire a photographer that finds this practice acceptable, or buy semen from a stud that supports these photographers, you are in a sense saying, “I am okay with being lied to.”

You see if a bull stud told you the sire you are using is a +18 (CDN) or +4 (US) for type but then only supplied a bull that was a +2 would, you be pissed?  But that is what you are doing when you are supporting these photographers who have no regard for ethical standards (Read more: Introducing the Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct, Dairy Cattle Photography – Over Exposed, No Cow Is Perfect – Not Even In Pictures and Has Photo Enhancement Gone Too Far?).  Yes, of course, there are some that are trying their best in the current marketplace.  (Read more: Tarred With The Same Brush).  But, as a whole, the industry is turning a blind eye to this issue.  The funny thing is it is just like drugs in baseball (Read more: The Big Bad Wolf of the Dairy Industry, Does The Dairy Genetics Industry Have A Drug Problem? and Lance Armstrong, Drugs and the Dairy Industry), you can only turn a blind eye for so long before it comes back and gives the whole industry a black eye.

Stop the Laziness

While I was taking these pictures the other day, I discovered many new issues with current photography practices.  The biggest one is just plain old laziness.  They are too lazy to do it right.  “Photoshop saved careers.” they say.  I say “Photoshop has made you lazy.”  Now many photographers are not even bothering to take the effort to put up lights anymore.  That is photography 101. Always control the light.  Otherwise the quality of the image you get is crap. These are all little things that the human eye catches but you don’t see in most of the dairy cattle photography anymore.  That is because they are just too lazy to do it right.


It Is Possible To Do It Right

Now some would say, “Hey Andrew, if you think it is that easy, show me that you can do it?”  So I did. I went to the effort to take the picture of three nice heifers that were by no means big time show heifers.  They are just good quality heifers that needed a good quality picture.  (Please note – Although I have been on the team prepping hundreds of cattle for pictures, this is only the second time in my life of me actually taking the side shots.  The last time was over 10 years ago).

Fennema Steady Amber

Fennema Windbrook Abrielle

Fennema rose Royce Danish

The interesting part was that in doing these pictures I found that I actually had to take more hair off than I had to add.  I could have done it with the clippers before the photo-shoot, but chose not to as these are also 4-H calves and they have their achievement day in two weeks’ time.  The other part I noticed is, you don’t need to jack their front ends up 2 feet and wrench their necks like a chicken.  Simply put a small block under their front legs and away you go.  So you say, “It’s easier to do it the way they are currently doing it.”  I say it’s easier to put up a couple of lights and away you go.  You get a better quality picture that the viewers can appreciate and more importantly trust.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

What I am saying is not new.  We all have known it to be true for years.  The problem is, instead of taking action to make change, we are all comfortable to sit back and be lied to.  Well guess what?  I am tired of being lied to.  I am tired of being slapped in the face every time one of the photographers thinks they are pulling a “fast one” on everyone and being lazy to boot.  Instead of compromising your ethics, I say get off your “butt” and do it right.  Because “Do You Really Think That We Are All That Stupid?”

To read more about this check out The Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct

To get a copy of the Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct please click here.

If you believe that there is a need for a ethical standard in marketing dairy cattle genetics please like and share this post.

In the End, All you have is your Name!

Friday, June 28th, 2013

The dairy industry is not a large one.  It’s also an industry that loves gossip, controversy, and the latest rumor.  So when you do something stupid it does not take long for word to get around.  And that was before there was social media.  That is why I find it so surprising   that some breeders don’t realize that the dairy industry is a pretty small pond and that the ripples reach from edge to edge.

I have had the pleasure of knowing many different characters in the industry.  Some of them carried  a reputation that was much larger than life yet,  when you got to know them, they were actually pretty good people.  Then there are others who would tell you to your face how good they are or how “honest” they are and then turn and stab you in the back the second you weren`t  looking.  The challenge is that sometimes it’s hard to tell which one is which.

Whether it’s someone who loves to party hard and be the life and soul of the party, or how you conduct yourself in business, the number one thing you have is your name.   Once tarnished,  it  takes years to rebuild.   In the dairy industry there really is no difference between your personal and professional brand.  Many young people try to think that they can do crazy things and it will not affect them later in life.  The thing is, the industry is too small for that.  There are many very talented young people that  have  kissed away potentially great careers in the dairy industry by the stupid things they did in college or university.  There are also those that  have   taken years to regain the trust of others.

Social media has taken word of mouth and put it on steroids.  What used to take weeks or even months to spread through the dairy industry, now takes just minutes online.  There is a new reality in the dairy industry.  It’s no longer what you say and do to manage your brand or good name that matters.  It’s what others are saying about you online.  From our smartphones to our tablets and computers, to interacting with family, friends, colleagues and customers, our lives – and thus our reputations – exist online.

It may sound funny but it’s true.  Since starting the Bullvine I have seen it many times.  Breeders getting ripped apart by other members of the community on Facebook and other places and they don’t even realize that it’s happening.  But thanks to things like Facebook news feeds and Twitter streams, thousands of other members of the dairy industry do see it.  It may be as simple as someone being very critical of a cow or bull. Other times it can be a blatant attack on someone’s character.  However, since the victims  are not on these different social media platforms, they are not there to defend themselves.  Moreover, others that are reading these comments assume they`re the truth.

Another area where I have seen an extreme effect is dairy cattle livestock photography.  No group as a whole has been more ripped apart in social media.  While many of them have avoided Facebook as much as possible, it has not stopped breeders from expressing their opinions.  It was the barrage on photographers that led us to develop the Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct, in order to help rebuild their reputations.(Read more: Introducing the Dairy Cattle Marketing Code of Conduct and Dairy Cattle Marketing Code of Conduct)

Now we have all been there, where someone misrepresented what they were selling or we felt that we got the raw deal in a purchase agreement.  There have been some very legendary breeders that have been able to keep things like this under wraps.  But in today’s social world, things like this can go from known by one or two people to known by thousands in a moment’s notice.  That is why in today’s industry you have to conduct yourself above board 100% of the time.  Otherwise all it takes is a few comments on places like Facebook, before the whole world knows your true character.

Every day more and more breeders are getting on Facebook.  Breeders of all ages are enjoying the many benefits of connecting with breeders from around the world.  If you want to market your cattle to the world, there is no greater more cost effective platform than Facebook.  It’s no longer optional. It’s mandatory.  But that is just the first step. You also need to become an active member of the conversation.  Not just promoting only what you want to sell, (which kills your reputation), but also joining the conversation and developing friendships and a strong online reputation. It’s funny how some breeder’s true colors  come out online.  The ones that care about building community and helping others find that their posts get promoted like wildfire.  While others, who are just in it to suck money out of others, find that they get very little response to their posts. Inevitably,  t building a credible reputation online and forming real and lasting relationships with people, pays off in substantial ways, when you find yourself the center of negative online attention.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

In the dairy industry many breeders talk a lot about their name and their reputation.  The thing is sometimes they don’t understand the difference between how they perceive themselves and how others perceive them.  It’s not what you say that builds your reputation. It’s what you do. The key thing is to understand that when you make good decisions and stand behind what you say, especially when it’s difficult, your name, who you are, and what you stand for becomes something everyone can trust.  Because, when we leave this earth, your good name is all you really have.


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Tarred With the Same Brush

Friday, May 17th, 2013

Recently I had a conversation with a dairy cattle photographer that got me thinking about the state of dairy cattle marketing and the effect it has on the marketplace.  For regular readers of The Bullvine our very publicly expressed positions on photo ethics and dairy cattle photography are very clear. (Read more: No Cow Is Perfect – Not Even in Pictures and Dairy Cattle Marketing Ethics – Do they exist?) The points made by this photographer encouraged me to think further about our approach.  “Have we tarred all photographers with the same brush?”

The Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct LOGO

There is no question that many good photographers have been tarred with the same brush as those who have a lower level of ethics.  One of the effects that has happened from this is that many breeders no longer trust the images they see.  Hence why we introduced the Dairy Cattle Marketer’s Code of Conduct (Read more: Introducing the Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct and Dairy Cattle Photography Overexposed)

This photographer I was speaking with pointed out to me that, since we have “brought this to light”, they cannot even set  foot on a farm without hearing some sort of negative comment toward photographers or  off-handed jabs about Photoshop.  The sad part is that was not my intent at all.  Certainly not for this photographer and the team she works with, as I have the utmost respect for them.

Contrary to public perception, there are photographers that do amazing work and do so ethically.  There is no question that photography is an art form.  Sure there is a science to it, but it is also a finely honed craft.  Especially dairy cattle livestock photography.  I dare anyone to just pick up the camera walk into the barn and expect that they can nail a great shot.  Getting the composition correct isn’t easy.  That one aspect really differentiates the talented ones from the average ones.

Another aspect that I have seen that really makes a difference between those photographers whose work I trust and those that I have some reservations about is their use of light.  Lighting is probably the most important aspect that I think many photographers have gotten lazy about since the introduction of Photoshop.  There are some that would rather edit or adjust during postproduction rather than take the time to get the shot correct in the first place.  With the introduction of digital photography, many photographers are now just taking the pictures of the animals in the barn and then cropping them out, adjusting them and putting them on a new background.  That is why I love to see videos such as this one below from Cybil Fisher and how they make sure they get the lighting correct so that they don’t have to do so much post production adjusting.

While Cybil and her amazing team do adjust tails, toplines and backgrounds, that is all they do.  By my standards this is acceptable.  They do exceptional work.  Some of the greatest shots over the past few years have been done by these talented women.  One of the reasons they do nail the shot so often, is that they take the time to respect the craft.  They make sure they get the composition correct.  They take the time to make sure they get the lighting correct.  They do this before they snap the shot, not after.  While for some this may sound like a little thing, for me it is a big thing.  Sure it would be just as “easy” to edit afterwards.  But in fact it’s not.  If you don’t nail the shot both in composition and in lighting, there is no ethical postproduction that is acceptable when marketing dairy cattle genetics.  Sure it works for super models, but we are not purchasing the genetics from these super models we are purchasing the clothes they wear (FYI Did you know that Gisele Bundchen made $45 million last year?  Maybe we should purchase her genetics)

The Bullvine Bottom Line

There is no doubt that we, as an industry, need to clean up our act and improve public perception.  We also need to make sure that we don’t tar all photographers with the same brush.  That is why I encourage those photographers who don’t want to be tarred with that brush to call us and let’s talk about the benefits of the Dairy Cattle Marketer’s Code of Conduct.

To get a copy of the Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct please click here.

If you believe that there is a need for a ethical standard in marketing dairy cattle genetics please like and share this post.

The art of dairy cattle photography has certainly changed over the past 15 years.  With the introduction of digital cameras and advancements in programs like Adobe Photoshop, there is no question the industry is forever changed.  The problem is, with all these changes, there has been no one to establish or regulate a code of ethics to ensure that the animal you see in pictures is the same animal you are investing in when you buy embryos, progeny or semen from them.

I cannot tell you the number of times breeders have told us that the cow they saw in the picture looked nothing like the animal in real life.  While this non-reality has become acceptable for super models, that should not be the case with dairy cattle photos.  In the fashion industry you are not buying the genetics the super model has to offer, but rather the clothing she is wearing.  That’s a key difference.  A difference that many need to remember when taking and editing dairy cattle photos.  (Read more: Dairy Cattle Marketing Ethics – Do they exist? And Business Ethics and Marketing Dairy Cattle Genetics) Sure we all want the animal to look her best but that means she still looks like herself and not some other animal all together.

The following are three techniques that many livestock photographers use that “most” would consider acceptable and yet they really do a great deal to make the animal look considerably different than her true genetic self.

Addition to Toplines

While photographers have been adding hair, foam, tape, etc. to cows’ toplines for years, programs like Photoshop make it much easier to do and even harder to detect.  (Read more: Has Photo Enhancement Gone Too Far)  The following is an example of just how much the typical picture has had added.  The light overlay (Fade) is the amount that was present in the final picture and the dark is the cow’s natural self.

topline hair add

Not a big deal some would say, but there is no question that this adds about 3-5 points on loin strength, 1-2 points on rump and drastically enhances general appearance.  It is being done so often these days that it actually catches your eye when it’s not done.  This is very much a FALSE representation of what an animal’s actually genetic potential is.

Over Exposure of Photos

To hide this type of work many photographers will over expose (brighten) the white sections of the photos or burn (darken) the black sections of an animal so the average eye cannot catch what has been done.  Here is an example of a cow that has had this one. The following is a picture comparing her topline as it appears in the final picture and  the same topline with the exposure corrected.

hair add lms

A very flat loined heifer that would have looked very common in her picture ended up looking much better.  In measuring the proportions of this animal we estimate that this animal has had 6-7 inches of “hair” added. The interesting point is that this animal is classified VG-85 and yet in her picture looks more like 88 or even 89 points.  A big difference especially in an animal that many breeders could potentially be purchasing genetics from and, more importantly, semen from her sons.

This not only makes a difference in their toplines, but also in the cleanliness of their legs and other parts.  By over or under exposing details as needed you can greatly hide their flaws.  Some photographers comment that since they didn’t “edit” the conformation of the cow, it’s acceptable.  By hiding the flaws with these techniques, they are greatly misrepresenting the animal’s natural appearance and genetic potential.


Have you ever noticed that the pictures you take with your own camera, even your phone camera, have more clarity than the ones that are taken by most professional photographers who have cameras and equipment costing thousands of dollars?  Why do you think that is?  Typically this is because of the Photoshop skills of the photographer.  To make all these “typical” edits and still maintain that level of clarity requires a great deal of skill.  Since most of the photographers are just that photographers and not graphic designers, that is an area that they have not mastered yet.  The easiest way to account for this is to reduce the clarity so that some parts of the picture are very clear and others are not.  Here is an example of the clarity of what a typical professional dairy cattle photographer’s picture should look like.  It is taken with the same level of equipment, and has only had slight color correction and no exposure adjustments to the animal.

Woodsview Excitation Tracy (udder ring)

How many professional photographers’ photos look this clear?  They should. They easily have the equipment to achieve this or even greater results.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

While there is no doubt programs like Photoshop make it so that anything is possible, should it not be the job of the photographer to make sure the image they produce is the best possible representation of that animal  and not just what they think will sell the most embryos or semen?

To read more about this check out The Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct

To get a copy of the Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct please click here.

If you believe that there is a need for a ethical standard in marketing dairy cattle genetics please like and share this post.

The call for ethics in dairy cattle marketing has never been louder. With the increased power of programs like Adobe Photoshop, the ability to edit and manipulate pictures and ads has never been easier. For this reason, the Bullvine in combination with other dairy cattle marketers is pleased to introduce The Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct.

What is the Code?

  • The Code sets out specific standards of conduct for participants in the dairy cattle marketing industry in relation to individuals, organizations and consumers and serves as a benchmark in the highest level of ethics showing to all breeders that they can buy with confidence that the images, ads, and promotional materials they are seeing are of the highest ethical standard.
  • The requirements of the Code are based on common sense and are matters of fairness and honesty. The Code not only promotes ethical behavior but also is intended to serve as a point of reference for Members to ensure they follow acceptable best practices and ethical guidelines.

The Objectives of the Code :

  • To ensure business and consumers have access to the product and service information they need to make informed accurate choices and decisions
  • To promote a culture among members of conducting their businesses fairly, honestly, ethically and in accordance with best practices; and
  • To increase business and breeder confidence in doing business with dairy cattle genetic companies and breeders.

Why Is The Code Necessary?

  • The world dairy genetics market is big business. No longer is it possible for breeders to personally see the animals they are looking to invest in. Because we now operate at a distance rather than face-to-face with fellow breeders, dairy genetics organizations and breeders must place greater emphasis on establishing breeder confidence and trust. This is especially true in dairy cattle livestock photos, where tools like Adobe Photoshop have taken the potential of digital editing and photo manipulation to completely new levels.
  • The future expansion of dairy marketing depends on the players conducting their business in a fair, honest and ethical manner in dealing with other businesses and with consumers. Only by doing so can the reputation of the industry be enhanced so that breeder demand will continue to grow.
Programs like Adobe Photoshop have made it possible for breeders to tell what is real and what is fake.

Programs like Adobe Photoshop have made it possible for breeders to tell what is real and what is fake.

To Whom Does This Code Apply?

  • Livestock Photographers
  • Graphic Designers
  • Artificial Insemination Companies
  • Dairy Cattle Genetics Companies
  • Dairy Cattle Breeders
The Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct LOGO

The Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct LOGO
Program members can use this logo to show that they uphold to the standards of this program.

What are the benefits of membership?

  • With breeder confidence in the images and ads they see at an all-time low, the ability to display to breeders that your marketing and genetics meet the highest ethical standards is a great way to reassure them that you value your relationship with them.
  • All members of this program will have the ability to place the Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct (DMCC) logo on their images and ads, showing all who view those ads/images that they can buy with confidence knowing that the decisions they make based on these ads and images meet the highest standards in the industry.
  • Members will be entitled to exclusive training. That is correct, as part of the program there will be training from some of the greatest experts in the industry today. In such areas as:
    • Photoshop and digital post production for dairy cattle marketers
    • Video and post production for dairy cattle marketers
    • Advanced photo and video capture best practices
    • Dairy cattle ad design concepts and best practices

What are the penalties for violation of the code?

For all those who sign up for the program and then do not adhere to its code of conduct the follow actions will occur:

  • Original photos must be provided upon request
  • All claims must be able to be substantiated with factual proof/documentation.
  • There will be an appeal process where said individuals/organizations can defend their case against being expelled.
  • If it is deemed that those photos/images/claims do not comply with the program, said member will be publicly expelled from the program.

Who is responsible for running the program?

  • Initially, the Bullvine and its agents will be responsible for the development and enforcement of the program for a 1 year period. After that, there will be the development of a Council for Ethical Dairy Cattle Marketing that will take over the development and encouragement of ethical practices, with the Bullvine supporting and administering the program.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

While this Code of Conduct is obviously in the early stages of development, we trust that photographers, graphic designers and other members of the dairy marketing community will take time to think about where the industry is headed and why now is the time for the establishment of best practices and ethical guidelines that help grow business for all community members.

To get a copy of the Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct please click here.

If you believe that there is a need for a ethical standard in marketing dairy cattle genetics please like and share this post.