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Not to sound like a Jane Austin novel, but the pride and prejudice of purebred dairy breeder’s are leading to their own downfall.  It’s human nature for people to have pride but when that pride leads to prejudice against others that leads to trouble.  Unfortunately, pride and prejudice are preventing many purebred dairy breeders from facing the truth in the current dairy genetics industry.

Recently I wrote an article, Dairy Breeders vs. Genetic Corporations: Who are the True Master Breeders? explaining how it is only good business sense that is leading to less and less genetic sales for many dairy breeders.  Their future is not looking bright as larger genetic corporations are investing heavily in the very top 0.1% genomic animals and In Vitro Fertilization (IVF).  Their significantly greater capital is giving these genetic corporations a distinct advantage over the average breeder.  As expected, this article got diverse reactions.  They covered the  full range from those in A.I. organizations and on the industry side  that quickly acknowledge that this is happening  to those “traditional” breeders who   bury their heads in the sand and deny that it could ever happen.

It is that latter head-burying reaction that has led us to today’s situation.  You see it’s exactly because breeders have so much pride in what they do that they are not able to accept the truth.  This has led to a severe bias for the capabilities of the great breeders from the past and prejudice against the new age geneticists who arm themselves with numbers, genomic tests and formulas.  The resisters site situations from the past where breeder’s outperformed the A.I. companies with sires as Goldwyn, etc. that would have never been selected by A.I. geneticists.  However, as we have said many times before here on the Bullvine, you can always find the odd case to prove your point but you have to look at the big picture across the whole industry to see what the true trends are.  When you do that, the picture painted by the current situation, with the introduction of genomics and significant corporate dollars does not look so rosy for the breeders.

Now don’t get me wrong, pride is not a bad thing.  There is such a thing as possessing positive pride, meaning to have self-respect, confidence, honor, and integrity.  On the other hand, negative pride is defined as showing arrogant or disdainful conduct and haughtiness.  Unfortunately, I have been seeing that pride from many pedigree breeders.  They arrogantly think that the industry will survive because they are better than or smarter than someone else is.  That arrogance has led us to this situation, where top end cattle prices went from record numbers just a year ago to a place now where many high-end genomic index heifers are not selling for much more than commercial cattle.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

We are all guilty of being quick to judge something.  However, when we let that quick judgment affect our lives in a negative way, and are too proud to admit and change our prejudice, we are leading to our own downfall.  Such was the case with many dairy breeders who were too quick to write off genomics as a fad or declared that it was not going to work.  Yes, it is not a perfect science.  It is a tool that, when used correctly, can greatly accelerate the genetic advancement in your herd.  By letting prejudicial judgments and misunderstandings affect breeding programs, breeders have allowed the large A.I. companies and genetic corporations to get so far ahead that it is almost impossible to catch them or to prevent the inevitable.  While many purebred breeders have sought the wealth and esteem that comes with producing the next great sire, the tragedy of it is that their pride and prejudice could completely derail such a happy ending.  Pride and prejudice makes an enduringly successful novel because readers never lose hope that good sense will prevail in the end.  Let’s hope that in 200 years, the purebred dairy industry will look back on commercial success that survived its own too quick rush to judgment.



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For the past two years we here at the Bullvine have been warning breeders about changes that will come as a result of large A.I. companies and other genetic corporations owning top females.  The comment that many breeders come back to us with is,”I will take a “master breeder” over some geneticist any day.”  As well they say,   “If it was up to the geneticists, we would never have had sires like Goldwyn.”.  Well we here at the Bullvine decided to take a closer look to see who the true master breeder is.  Is it the Geneticist or is it the Seed Stock Breeder?

What makes a true master breeder?

For years the Master Breeder award has been one of the most coveted awards given out by breed associations.  This award is the pinnacle of success for any purebred breeder.  In Canada there have been 924 Master Breeders shields awarded since its inception in 1929.  While Holstein USA does not have a master breeder program, it does have the Elite Breeder Award, bestowed annually upon a living Holstein Association USA, Inc. member, family, partnership, or corporation who has bred outstanding animals and thereby has made a notable contribution to the advancement of the Holstein breed in the United States.  As well it designates the Herd of Excellence award which recognizes registered Holstein breeders who have bred and developed excellent herds made up of cows with superior type and production.

Except for the AltaGen herd, run by Alta Genetics, which won a Master Breeder shield in 2001, all the winners have been seed stock producers or, in the early years, government herds.  But now, with the large A.I. companies and genetic corporations entering into the ownership of top females, this could be about to change.  (Read more: Should A.I. Companies Own Females? And Why Good Business for AI Companies Can Mean Bad Business for Dairy Breeders)

Who owns the top genetics?

If you look at the top genomic index lists over the past 2 years, you will see six names consistently producing the top index animals.  The names include De-Su, S-S-I (Select Sires), EDG (Elite Dairy Genomics now managed by Sexing Technologies), Alta Genetics, ABS Global, and the Co-Op program at Genex.  Over the past year, more than 50% of the top 100 females have been owned by one of these companies.  The interesting fact is that all but one, De-Su, is either a large A.I. company or a genetic corporation.  So it is clear to see that these companies have already entered and are starting to win the race.

Now I know you are probably saying that just owning the top females does not make them a master breeder.  And I agree it doesn’t.  But what it does do is give them control of the genetic advancement race.  (Read more: The Genomic Advancement Race – The Battle for Genetic Supremacy and What the Experts Will Tell You about Who Is Winning the Genetic Improvement Race)  Sure there are some who think “Breeders can still breed a better next generation than the corporations can with all their number crunching and statistics.”  That is because many feel that the geneticists at these corporations lack one key element and that is cattle sense.  The knowledge that comes from working day in and day out with cows.  The cow sense that makes cattle breeding part art form and part science.  In my opinion, that is correct!  Unfortunately, correct or not, it doesn’t matter.  What really gives the geneticists at the large corporations the edge is the resources that are at their disposal.

It’s a question of resources, not cattle smarts

Let’s take a look at the typical seed stock producer versus the geneticist and just see who will produce that next list topper.  The seed stock producer can probably afford to flush each animal 3-4 times per year in order to produce the next generation of great ones.  Given typical ratios that would mean about 10 females a year and let’s say 10 males a year.  Therefore, that breeder would have 20 progeny to compete with against the large genetic corporations.  Now let’s look at the case for the large genetics corporations.  First of all they already own the majority of the top genomic index animals so that they are already starting ahead of the game.  But, more importantly, they can afford to flush their animals 10+ plus times a year.  This gives them at least 50 plus females and over 50 males (and possibly 100 of each) to submit to the ranks of the genomic test gods.

It’s not that they are better about making sire selections, it’s that they can afford to flush each donor cow to every possible sire thus making sure they have all their bases covered.  So yes I would not be surprised to see that the resulting ratios and consistency numbers of the Seed Stock producers end up being as good or better than that of the geneticists at the large corporations.  However, geneticists at the large corporations have much greater resources at their disposal and, therefore, can afford to keep shooting until they get it right.

Of course there are   those of you who are more discerning and say, “Let’s see who produces the better proven sires.  After all that is where you find the true measure of a master breeder,” To them I say, look at the semen sales in the world today.  More than 50% is genomic test sires.  A bull getting a good daughter proof is less and less important, when it comes to winning the genetics race.  (Read more: The End of the Daughter Proven Sire Era)

Another key factor is the significantly increased genetic reliabilities due to the introduction of genomics.  In the past these geneticists were using data that was 30-40% reliable.  Now with genomics the information is more than double that, taking what once was a scientific crapshoot, into an artful science.  (Read more: The Truth About Genomic Indexes – “show me” that they work!, Genomics – Lies, Miss-Truths and False Publications! and The Genomic Bubble Has Burst?)

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The real question isn’t really about who are the better breeders.  The real question comes down to who has the biggest pocketbook.  Since the large A.I. companies have greater financial resources than those of the seed stock producer, they can afford to invest significantly more in order to win the genetic race.  The time to have changed this situation isn’t today.  The time to do something about it was two years ago when we told breeders that these corporations owning females would spell the end of the seed stock producers.  It was a good business opportunity that was taken by the A.I. companies.  They now have a relatively cost effective source for top genetics over which they have exclusive control.  So, while the seed stock producers may be the better master breeders, unfortunately they may not be around long enough to enjoy their victory.



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