Recently I overheard two milk producers discussing a proven sire’s daughters in their herds. One producer praised the sire for his ability to raise fat yield while the other producer put down the sire because of the extra time it took his staff to treat sick calves, the need to pull the calves from the sire’s first calf heifers and that it took 3-4 services to get the sire’s daughter pregnant.
That conversation got me thinking – “Do we put enough emphasis in sire selection on the amount of staff time that a sire’s daughters may require?”
Attitude to Labor Required
In the past breeders were pleased to obtain superior production and/or conformation from a sire’s daughters and were prepared to overlook the extra labor required for a sire’s daughters.
With the increased cost for labor and the often lack of availability of skilled herdspersons to treat sick, underperforming, infertile or special needs animals, labor utilization is often front and center on a herd manager’s work agenda.
Genetics and Labor Meet
The Bullvine asks – “Is it time to address how the genetic merit of our dairy animals affects the cost of labor on the farms of tomorrow?”
Farm financial analysis shows that labor is between 14-20% of total farm costs. Reducing labor costs by 15-20% by having animals of all ages and stages that require less staff and management time could significantly impact net income, while freeing up staff time to implement enhanced procedures.
Traits the Affect Labor Required
The thirty-five traits with genetic indexes that can affect labor costs is significant and apply from birth to herd removal follow:
- Animal Health: All animal health issues on dairy farms require the attention and time of staff.
Genetic indexes include: C Scours; C Resp; C Liv; CW$; Immunity+; SCS/MAS/MR; LIV; WT$; …
- Reproduction: For some time now, dairy breeders have selected for improved reproductive performance, but it remains a high priority as it requires considerable staff time.
Genetic indexes include: DPR/FI/DF; HCC; CCR; MET; …
- Calving Time: Calving time issues can be stressful and can require an excessive amount of staff time. It continues to be a priority item for improvement on dairy farms.
Genetic indexes include: CE/CA; MCE/DCA; SSB; DSB; RP/RPL; GL; …
- Milking Time: Regardless of the degree of on-farm automations the milking process requires staff time at every milking. Factors that slow down milking time of individual or groups of cows is a staff cost.
Genetic indexes include: MSP(Milking Speed); MT(Milking Temperament); RTP(Holsteins); UD(Udder Depth); …
- Animal Locomotion: An animal’s ability to move without problems is an absolute necessity. Dealing with locomotion problems requires extra labor. Any genetic indexes currently available are at best an indirect measure of animal locomotion.
Genetic indexes include: HH(Hoof Health); FA(Foot Angle); HD(Heel Depth); LAME; …
- Metabolic Disease: When a metabolic disease occurs, extra staff is required to detect and treat.
Genetic indexes include: DA(Displace Abomasum); KET(Ketosis); MVF; MD(Metabolic Disease Composite – 3x); …
Some genetic related traits may have an indirect affect on the cost for labor. These include: PL/HL (reduced labor for replacements); PP (no dehorning); AFC (Age at First Calving – reduce labor for replacements); Sexed Semen (easier calving); Cross Breeding (correction of breed limiting traits).
Necessary to Apply Selection Pressure
Dairy cattle breeders know that to improve the genetic level of their herds, they must use superior sires. To improve quickly the sires must be significantly superior. Significantly superior sires are the ones that are in the top 5% of the breed. In statistical terms those sires are two standard deviations above average.
The traits mentioned above, the contributors to saving on labor costs are lowly heritable, not easily measured and often only identified later in an animal’s life. All of which contribute to the need for stringent sire selection in order to make herd improvement.
In Canada, CDN/Lactanet expresses traits on a scale of 100 being average, one standard deviation is 5 so two standard deviations (top 5%) is 110.
In the USA, at CDCB and with many company’s proprietary labor-saving traits, there is not a standardized method of trait expression, average is not always zero (0.0) and the standard deviation value is not published. It is difficult, if not impossible, for a milk producer to quickly know the superiority or inferiority of a sire’s rating for those traits.
No matter the source of the information, milk producers planning to improve a labor-saving trait must make sure that only truly superior sires are used.
Some Top Sires for Saving on Labor
To assist Bullvine readers to start the process of finding labor saving sires the following sires are offered:
- AltaTopShot (11HO11779) – SCS 2.67/MR 107; PL 7.4/HL 108; DPR 1.6 / DF 106; SCE 5.9% / DCA 109; DSB 3.7%; HH 108; MD 107; LIV 2.7; UD 0.0; MSP 97; #10 CW$, #50 WT$(#1 DWP$; #1NM$; #2 TPI; A2A2)
- Exactly (7HO12721) – MR 111/ SCS 2.50; DF 111/ DPR 2.9; HL 109 / PL 4.5; DCA 107 / DCE 5.2%; MD 105; HH 105; DSB 4.5%; LIV -0.9; MT 103; MSP 101; UD 3.41 (GLPI 3399; Pro$ 2097; TPI 2438; NM$ 563, A2A2)
- VJ Tir (JEDNK303616) – SCS 2.68/MR 109; DPR 4.6/DF 111; PL 6.1/HL 115; MSP 104; UD 1S (#3CM$; A2A2)
- Vivaldi (200JE07756) – DF 106 / DPR -1.9; MD 104; MR 103 / SCS 3.00; MSP 103; HL 101 / PL 2.0; CA 108; DCA 100; MT 117; UD 2D/+1.30 (#1 Pro$; #1 LPI; JPI 143; CM$ 547; A2A2)
Very noteworthy is the fact that, with 70% of A.I. services to genomic sires, milk producers can choose from many many genomic sires that have high indexes for labor-saving traits.
Facts that the Bullvine Observed
In developing this article on genetics and labor-saving traits the author observed:
- North American total merit indexes (NM$, Pro$, CM$, TPU, LPI, …) are frequently not labor-saving trait friendly. This could be because these indexes are developed from historic breeding objectives rather than for the future reality.
- Locomotion and functional feet are not well defined in genetic terms. More research is needed.
- The methods of expressing traits with respect to breed averages and levels of superiority are not easily understood or known to milk producers.
- Work needs to continue on trait definitions as more and more labor-saving traits will be captured by electronic on-farm systems. Common trait interpretation is need when data is combined when conducting genetic evaluations or when benchmarking herd performance.
Bonuses from Improving Labor Saving Traits
The bonus for dairy farmers for improving labor-saving traits will be in time saved primarily by eliminating doing the unnecessary. More time will be available to attend to other important on-farm herd functions – fresh cow temperature checking; extra health checks of calves; increased heat checking; more time for report analysis; more time for staff training; …
The Bullvine Bottom Line
With more animals per employee and the focus moving to on-farm efficiency, it is imperative that milk producers choose and use sires that are significant breed improvers for labor-saving traits.