During this past week many of my Facebook friends have been debating on whether a third generation Excellent cow with good milk production should she be used as an ET recipient or should she be bred to produce her own calf (Discussion Part 1Part 2).  The debate started when one friend shared the picture of his Excellent cow with her latest calf – an IVF heifer from young highly rated genomically evaluated parents. Opinions weighed in from all points of view, each participant stating emphatically why their position was the one that was most correct. The majority said that, if it were their cow, they would breed her to produce her own calf. Well as I see it – that should depend on your herd’s genetic plan and how you define profitable.

Tradition Is Shifting

For quite some time, Excellent cows were few and far between. In Canada 0.2% were Excellent and in the USA it was about 1.0% Excellent.  Because of scarcity, daughters from Excellent cows would bring a very good price in leading sales. Sons, if by the right sire, were often of interest to A.I. for entry into young sire proving programs. Therefore if you owned an Excellent cow you owned a revenue generator.

Forty years ago the focus in breeding was the long lived Excellent cow with good lifetime milk production. Then the focus shifted to first or second lactation high scoring (minimum VG85), high producing and high indexing cows from respected cow families. With genomic evaluations coming on the breeding scene, high genomically evaluated heifers, three to twelve months of age, are now the sought after group. This change in focus to a 65+% reliable high indexing heifers has created a divide in breeder thinking and breeding goals.  (Read more: Is Type Classification Still Important? And Is Good Plus Good Enough?)

Take Your Pick

Today some breeders long for a return to the days when Excellent or 1st prize at a major show was all you needed to know about a cow. Other breeders are uncertain as to what they should be breeding for. Others simply state that they want cows that are less prone to being culled than in the past. Others have incorporated production and type genomic evaluations into their breeding programs. And still others are thinking in terms of using total selection indexes that put significant emphasis on health, immunity, fertility, labor efficiency and feed efficiency.  (Read more: The Truth About Type and Longevity and RF Goldwyn Hailey: Cash Cow or Cash Hog?)

Reality Check

The fact is that we now live in a new era for dairy cattle breeding.

Let’s look at some 2014 realities for Holstein breeders that did not exist in 2000:

There is no going back to former times!

Looking Forward

Type and also milk production will receive less attention in the breeding of dairy cows in the future because breeders have already made significant progress for those traits. Specific proteins, fats and solids in milk will be what consumers want in the milk products that they include in their diets.  Producers will breed for a herd of cows that return the most profit (Read more: She Ain’t Pretty – She Just Milks That Way). And yes, cows will be polled (Read more: From the Sidelines to the Headlines, Polled is Going Mainline!, Polled Dairy Genetics: The Cold Hard Facts and The 24 Polled Bulls Every Breeder Should Be Using To Accelerate the Genetic Gain in Their Herd). Excellent cows will not be a singular focus.  Perhaps I should qualify that statement. The Excellent cows of the past will not be sought after. It could well be that breeders will redefine what is required for a cow to be classified as Excellent.

Dr. Paul VanRaden, USDA-AIPL, has laid out the challenge for breeders in the future. He identified that today the best animal has a Net Merit of $1009 but knowing what we currently know about the genome, the best animal could have a Net Merit of $7515. (Read more: The Genetic “SUPER COW” – Myth vs Reality)

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Technological advancements make breeding more profitable Holsteins a reality for future breeders. Conformational correctness will be only a fraction of what we need to know about a cow relative to profitability. For the breeder of the cow in the Facebook discussion, profitability included milk in the tank while producing a calf of high genetic worth. Excellent did not matter. We cannot ignore the realities relative to consumer demands, business management and genetic improvement. If we ignore them, we do so at our own peril.



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.