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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