The availability of genomic testing in dairy cattle has had a major impact on the AI industry in a short time. Reliable, accurate genomic information on bulls is shortening the generation interval, changing marketing strategies, AI companies and ideas about breeding substantially.
Before genomic testing, dairy producers typically used about 15 percent young sires in their mating program, says Roger Turner, global sales and genetic manager for Jetstream Genetics. Now those farms are using greater than 50 percent “unproven” sires – sires with no milking daughters and often the bull dam isn’t milking yet either. “When you can increase the client base that much in a short period of time by delivering the results they were hoping for, then that percentage is only going to increase,” Turner says.
With genomic testing there is no more waiting years for daughters of young sires to freshen and information to be gathered, which often changed a bull’s proof dramatically from what his pedigree predicted to what his daughters actually materialized to be. The accuracy and immediacy of genomic testing has allowed for a handful of new start-up AI companies to quickly get off the ground without the typical investment in brick and mortar facilities.
Jetstream Genetics, based in Madison and headed by Turner, is one of these small new genomic-driven AI companies. The business is owned by a board of six investors located in the Chicago area. The ownership team members have a wide variety of agricultural and non-agricultural backgrounds and business experience.
With a focus on elite genetics and the motto “moving genetics forward,” in its first year of business Jetstream is already selling semen in over 30 countries and is taking a fresh approach to domestic AI sales through an online semen ordering system in the U.S. market. “We don’t think there’s anyone that has it set up to the integrated level that we have it,” Turner says of the online order system.
Semen inventory is continually updated as bulls are collected, so the buyer knows when they place the order that semen is available. Orders go directly to the warehouse at Alta Genetics in Watertown, where the bulls are housed, and semen arrives on the farm within three days via UPS. “It’s working very well. We’ve had no complications. The system is seamless and its use is steadily growing,” Turner says.
Although online semen ordering is a new approach, the traditional approach – sales distributors – carries about 90 percent of Jetstream’s business. “People still like to do business face-to-face. Distributors will probably always play an important role in our business, especially internationally,” he says.
Also playing an important role in Jetstream’s business is maintaining an elite genetic offering and integrating traits that have risen in popularity. “With genomics, it certainly has given us a lot more opportunity to get high-level genetics and add in some interesting niche traits that we weren’t able to focus on before.” Turner says genomic testing has allowed AI companies to identify and integrate sought after traits, like polled, into their genetic offering at a higher genetic level. Before genomics, typically breeders weren’t willing to give on the genetics they had in order to gain a trait like polled or Red. Genetic testing is reliably identifying superior genetics that include those niche traits.
With no bull facilities or physical headquarters of its own, Jetstream houses its bulls at Alta Genetics’ Watertown facilities. According to Turner, Alta is a recognized leader in fertility, semen quality and bull housing, making it the right partner for Jetstream to contract with on housing and collection services.
Jetstream aims to offer 15 to 20 bulls each year. There are about 10 bulls on their current roster, including the top available type/foot and leg polled sire with Colt 45 RC and leading Observer sons, Cashcoin and Cashmoney.
While Madison is Jetstream’s chosen home base with its central location, proximity to the bulls and dairy industry gathering place during World Dairy Expo each fall, Turner actually hails from Canada. He and his wife, Brenda, moved to the Madison area last fall. Brenda works for competing AI company, Semex, and is a UW-Madison alumna, originally from northwest Wisconsin.
Turner grew up on a dairy in Ontario and spent time honing his fitting, showmanship and judging skills as a youth. He worked 17 years as a dairy cattle fitter, travelling across Canada, the U.S. and around the world working for many well-known dairy farms and at cattle sales. “I think it’s interesting that the dairy cow can take you all across the world. It’s pretty unique, really.” Turner is a well-respected showman on the halter at national and international dairy shows, as well as an accomplished dairy cattle judge.
Going to work for Alta Genetics in the early ‘90s, Turner assisted with live cattle selection, export and bull procurement. He eventually became an international sales manager, with extensive travel to Europe, Australia, Japan and other countries. “There’s never been any place that I didn’t feel safe and hospitality within the dairy industry worldwide. There are great people everywhere, great cows and great farms.”
Maintaining those good connections around the world, Turner has continued to rack up frequent flyer miles in Jetstream’s short, but fast-growing existence. “We’re really pleased with where the first year has gone with the development of systems and infrastructure. We think year two will enhance relationships and move into markets we’re not in currently, with a focus on keeping our sire portfolio fresh, strong and elite.”