After attending the Ontario Red and White Show (Read more: 2013 Ontario Red & White Holstein Show Results) and watching the events unfold at the US Red & White Convention Sale, I find myself asking if red is still relevant in the marketplace? To answer that question I thought I would look at both sides of the argument.
The Case for Red
For years there has been growing demand around the world for Red and White Holsteins. In the US last year the largest total number of Red Holsteins were registered in history. The top selling animal for $184,000 at the Parade of Perfection Sale, OCD McCutchen Duchess-ET *RC, was a red carrier from Curr-Vale Obsrvr Delta and the second highest seller at the World Classic sale for $122,000 MS M-P Dak 4777 Pie-Red the #1 gTPI Red Animal in the USA at the time. In Europe, at the recent All-European Show in Switzerland, the top sellers were all red & white or red carrier animals.
Red Holsteins are also seeing their greatest success and popularity ever. Cows like Blondin Redman Seisme EX-96 2E and KHW Regiment Apple-Red-ET EX-95 2E are two of the most popular cows in the world today. Many descendants of Apple are winning in both the show ring and on the red index charts.
Then there are red sires like Kulp-Dale Golden PP-Red. Golden PP-Red’s first five units of semen sold for $50,000 (Read more: $10,000 a dose Polled Semen). With that came a 90-day exclusive guarantee, a unique deal struck between some very progressive thinkers. While there is no question being the highest homozygous polled bull at the time-helped drive the demand, the fact that he is red also added another desirable element to his market appeal.
The Case against Red
First let’s look at it from a milk production standpoint. While some will make the comment that their red coat helps them in the heat, in reality red coat actually has relatively low relevance to efficient milk production. Even polled that is more a consumer/animal welfare issue than it is a herd management issue, has more relevance to efficient milk production than red cattle.
Then there is the issue of genetic potency. The top R&W proven sires are almost 18% lower for genetic merit than the top black genetics available, and the top *RC are 17% lower. When it comes to young sires, the top Red or Red Carrier bulls are 9% lower than their black contemporaries are. While it does show that Red genetics are advancing at a fast rate they are still a significant distance behind. This means that red breeders have to take a substantial genetic loss in order to obtain the red gene.
Part of the reason for red’s relevance issue may be the popularity of polled (Read more: From The Sidelines To The Headlines, Polled Is Going Mainline!, Why Is Everyone So Horny For Polled?, Polled Genetics: Way Of The Future Or Passing Fad?). For years red has been one way for breeders to breed for something unique. Something that makes the animal special. Both in the barn and in the sales ring polled has gained significantly in industry popularity. While proven polled bulls are almost 23% lower in genetic merit than their horned contemporaries, genomic polled sires are 13% behind. This shows that polled genetics are actually advancing at a faster rate than red genetics.
The Bullvine Bottom Line
While it is hard to predict the future, there is no question that the demand for polled is both a good thing and a bad thing for the red and white breed. With polled being far more prevalent in red and red carrier cattle, the Red and White breed has seen significant increase in demand as a result of the increased demand for polled. That blessing can also be a curse. Since polled has now gone mainstream, many of the top polled sires are no longer red or red carriers. Contrary to polled, Red and White cattle will always have a challenge gaining traction in large commercial herds. For that reason it is destined to be a niche market.
However, after attending recent red and white events and seeing the demand for red in Europe, there is no question that while small in number, red and white breeders are some of the most passionate in the industry today.