For years, there has been talk about polled genetics and their advantages, but, for the most part, they remain a niche market. This has me asking if polled genetics are like unicorns. Are they living in a fantasy world?

Breeders have known about the advantages for years and yet they have not endorsed using polled genetics in any significant way. While not having to dehorn your calves has economic advantages, many breeders see that job as just part of their routine and so don’t make getting rid of it a high priority. This, despite the fact that , one mating to a polled sire results in a minimum 50% hornless calves and could be 100%, if the bull is homozygous polled. These are much quicker results than breeding to get a red calf, for instance.

Why haven’t breeders adopted polled genetics?

Like any marketplace, producers must meet the demands of the consumer. When consumers wanted hormone free milk, or organic milk, producers followed. Until it becomes a pressing issue to consumers producers will not be forced to change. At this point, despite the fact that organizations such as PETA try their best to make this an issue, it has not gained significant market awareness.

Should breeders care?

Even though consumers have not yet cried out for change, that does not mean they won’t in the future. Much like tail docking, once consumers do gain awareness, they are sure to cry foul. When developing your breeding program, it’s not only about supplying the genetics that the market needs today, but also looking to the future. Similar to breeding for higher feed conversion (to read more check out Holstein vs. Jersey: Which Breed Is More Profitable?), you need to think about where the market is heading. Concerns about animal welfare as well as employee welfare are sure to become more prevalent in the future.

Are there any polled genetics worth using?

For many years, breeding for Red and White Holstein cattle or Polled genetics meant that you had to take a “discount” on the genetics. That was because there just wasn’t the same level of genetics available, when compared to the non-polled options. However, with recent increases in popularity, as well as the ability to get a polled son from a top genomic cow, there are now some great polled genetics available to most breeders. Even the major A.I. companies have started to see the demand and are sourcing polled bulls.

How can you tell if your calf is a polled carrier?

There are no such things as Unicorns or Polled Carriers! Polled is a dominant trait. Simply put, an animal only needs one polled gene for it to be expressed. Animals with horns do not have the polled gene. When the dominant gene is present you will see the trait expressed.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

While polled genetics seem like a niche market, and you`re not sure if it is for your breeding program, you always need to keep an eye on the future. That means not only looking for what potential buyers of your genetics want, but also what future consumers will dictate. . With the growing supply of top genomic polled bulls, as well as the relative ease to achieve a polled calf, it’s becoming harder and harder for breeders to ignore polled Holsteins in their breeding programs.

To read more check out They’re Sold On Polled.