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Would you buy genetics from this heifer?


I would NOT!  However, it has nothing to do with her pedigree, because I don’t even know her pedigree.  The reason I would not buy genetics from this heifer is simply because I cannot trust that what I see in the picture is what I will actually get. You see this heifer, who looks for the most part to be a pretty decent heifer, actually has some major flaws that the current ethical standards of many photographers are more than willing to cover up.  The most major flaw that is blatant to the eye, when actually beside this heifer, is how weak loined she is.


Think about it. When was the last time you saw a dairy cow picture where the animal had a weak loin?  It doesn’t happen anymore.  In talking with a few photographers, they all say A) Is it really that bad? and B) ‘If I don’t do it`, breeders will not call me to take their pictures anymore.”  The answer to both these questions is “Do You Really Think I am That Stupid?”

“Is it really that bad?”

First, compare the two pictures below.  They are identical shots.  The only thing changed in the bottom picture is that she has had about 6 inches of hair added to the middle of her topline.  This is something that the show ring does not even find acceptable anymore.  Yes. I know you are going to say that this heifer is an extreme case. But also think about all the heifer pictures you see these days.  When was that last time you saw one with a weak loined animal?  Has the breed advanced so far that there is no longer an issue with loin strength?  Should all sires be ranked 7+ for loin strength?  I don’t think so.  Another question I ask is when was the last time you saw a 6+ month old calf that stands uphill?  And yet, you do see that in all their pictures that are taken these days.



“If I don’t do it breeders will not call me to take their pictures anymore.”

So I think most of you can see that it is pretty obvious how blatant this issue is.  So then why do you continue to support those that are working very hard to deceive you?  Each time you hire a photographer that finds this practice acceptable, or buy semen from a stud that supports these photographers, you are in a sense saying, “I am okay with being lied to.”

You see if a bull stud told you the sire you are using is a +18 (CDN) or +4 (US) for type but then only supplied a bull that was a +2 would, you be pissed?  But that is what you are doing when you are supporting these photographers who have no regard for ethical standards (Read more: Introducing the Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct, Dairy Cattle Photography – Over Exposed, No Cow Is Perfect – Not Even In Pictures and Has Photo Enhancement Gone Too Far?).  Yes, of course, there are some that are trying their best in the current marketplace.  (Read more: Tarred With The Same Brush).  But, as a whole, the industry is turning a blind eye to this issue.  The funny thing is it is just like drugs in baseball (Read more: The Big Bad Wolf of the Dairy Industry, Does The Dairy Genetics Industry Have A Drug Problem? and Lance Armstrong, Drugs and the Dairy Industry), you can only turn a blind eye for so long before it comes back and gives the whole industry a black eye.

Stop the Laziness

While I was taking these pictures the other day, I discovered many new issues with current photography practices.  The biggest one is just plain old laziness.  They are too lazy to do it right.  “Photoshop saved careers.” they say.  I say “Photoshop has made you lazy.”  Now many photographers are not even bothering to take the effort to put up lights anymore.  That is photography 101. Always control the light.  Otherwise the quality of the image you get is crap. These are all little things that the human eye catches but you don’t see in most of the dairy cattle photography anymore.  That is because they are just too lazy to do it right.


It Is Possible To Do It Right

Now some would say, “Hey Andrew, if you think it is that easy, show me that you can do it?”  So I did. I went to the effort to take the picture of three nice heifers that were by no means big time show heifers.  They are just good quality heifers that needed a good quality picture.  (Please note – Although I have been on the team prepping hundreds of cattle for pictures, this is only the second time in my life of me actually taking the side shots.  The last time was over 10 years ago).

Fennema Steady Amber

Fennema Windbrook Abrielle

Fennema rose Royce Danish

The interesting part was that in doing these pictures I found that I actually had to take more hair off than I had to add.  I could have done it with the clippers before the photo-shoot, but chose not to as these are also 4-H calves and they have their achievement day in two weeks’ time.  The other part I noticed is, you don’t need to jack their front ends up 2 feet and wrench their necks like a chicken.  Simply put a small block under their front legs and away you go.  So you say, “It’s easier to do it the way they are currently doing it.”  I say it’s easier to put up a couple of lights and away you go.  You get a better quality picture that the viewers can appreciate and more importantly trust.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

What I am saying is not new.  We all have known it to be true for years.  The problem is, instead of taking action to make change, we are all comfortable to sit back and be lied to.  Well guess what?  I am tired of being lied to.  I am tired of being slapped in the face every time one of the photographers thinks they are pulling a “fast one” on everyone and being lazy to boot.  Instead of compromising your ethics, I say get off your “butt” and do it right.  Because “Do You Really Think That We Are All That Stupid?”

To read more about this check out The Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct

To get a copy of the Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct please click here.

If you believe that there is a need for a ethical standard in marketing dairy cattle genetics please like and share this post.

Don’t Judge a Cow by Its Picture

Monday, September 16th, 2013

Recently the Bullvine posted a judging contest on Facebook to see how breeders would place these six animals based on their pictures alone (Read more:  Facebook image, entry form). The results were very interesting and raised the question “How well can you judge an animal from their picture?”


The animals selected, and more specifically, the pictures selected were all from photos that I have personally taken at shows.  So there was no doubt that the animals appear as they appeared in the show ring this year (Read more:  Introducing the Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct, Has Photo Enhancement Gone Too Far? and Dairy Cattle Photography – Over Exposed).

Of course we all know that No Cow is Perfect – Not Even in Pictures.  What we are trying to figure out, is if these animals would place differently with pictures as compared to how they would place if they were judged side by side.  The results were very interesting.  Most people placed the class C-F-A-D-B-E and our official placing was F-C-D-A-E-B.  F and C were a very very close placing, with only a slight split between them.  They were followed closely by A, and then there was a decent split to D.  The bottom pair of B and E could go either way.


The pictured placings were not too different, until you compare how these animals would place if you actually had them side by side.  In that case, you would see a very different result F-D-C-A-E-B.  F would take the class handily.  You see F is Valleyville Rae Lynn, and C is Desnette Alexia Roseplex.  These two cows have faced each other several times with the most recent time being at Ontario Summer Show (Read more:  Ontario Summer Show Holstein Results and The Shocking Speed of Social Media and the Dairy Industry) where Rae Lynn won the class and went on to be Intermediate and Reserve Grand Champion and Roseplex was 3rd in that class.  In the picture, Roseplex looks much deeper and more open of the rib.  In real life she may be pretty close, but there are two things that you greatly miss in the picture that you can only see in real life.  First is that Rae Lynn is just as deep and long. Since the leadsman of Roseplex is standing beside the cow instead of in front of her during this shot, we were able to crop in and so the cow appears that much larger.  The other factor that you cannot see in just a side shot compared to being able to have the cows side by side is that Rae Lynn possesses much more width throughout. She is a much longer cow (another reason the pictures look different) and has a higher and wider rear udder.

Valleyville Rae Lynn compare

Valleyville Rae Lynn
It’s interesting to see just how cropping of a picture can change the way the animal looks.


The placing of D over C is where many may start to wonder what happened.  We admit that in the pictures this is an easy placing of C over D, but if you had these in animals in the same ring at the same time, two factors would come into play.  First that D, Eastriver Gold Deb 850, is again wider of the chest, higher of the rear udder and cleaner throughout.  The second is that D would type in better with F (the class winner) and then would naturally follow her in the class.  Similar to how Raivue Sanchez Pamela did at Ontario Summer Show and hence Roseplex (C) was placed 3rd at Summer Show (Read more:  Ontario Summer Show Holstein Results).  Something that you are not able to tell when judging pictures is also the stage of lactation.  In this picture Deb 850 is fairly fresh where Roseplex is in mid lactation.

The other thing you would not realize in pictures, that you do when you see these cows, is that there is a size difference.  This comes to play in our next placing of C over A.  A, originally identified as Crater Indiana Goldwyn is actually Debeau Jasper December,  she is a very balanced dairy cow but,   with a live view, you would realize that she is not as much overall cow as the three above her.  Also her rump, slope to hooks to pins, as well as width of rear udder would limit her from placing higher in this class.

Huntshaven Deb Narobi Red It's amazing how much getting a lower perspective can change the appearance in a photograph.

Huntshaven Deb Narobi Red
It’s amazing how much getting a lower perspective can change the appearance in a photograph.

The last two cows (E and B) also bring some interest to the class and not just because they are red.  In this case, the difference is actually the quality of the picture.  In both pictures the cows are not set up perfectly or looking their best.  That was by design for this class.  You see we have better pictures of E, Huntshaven Deb Narobi Red, and B Deslacs Ritzy Greedy Red.  But what we wanted to point out here is just how animals can look very different depending on who is taking their photo.  Both these cows are much better than their pictures would indicate.  However, for me it is an easy placing putting E over B on the dairyness throughout and the quality of her fore udder.  Yes Rizty Greedy Red is a very deep opened ribbed cow, but Narobi, is cleaner of the leg, smoother of the fore udder and longer throughout.  The challenge you have with Narobi’s picture is that it is slightly over exposed here and so you cannot see her ribs as well as in Rizty Greedy Red’s picture.  We  intentionally used  a slightly darker picture of Rizty Greedy Red and a slightly over exposed picture of Narobi to prove our point about what over exposing pictures does (Read more: Dairy Cattle Photography – Over Exposed).

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Let’s sit back and think about how often we don’t get to see many of the great cows in the world in person.  Unless you are someone like Han Hopman (Read more: Han Hopman: Shooting Straight at Holstein International) or a select few that get the opportunity to get to the major shows around the world, you would never really be able to pick out exactly  how all these great cows compare to each other.  For example take Decrausaz Iron O’Kalibra *RC EX-96-SW (Read more: DECRAUSAZ IRON O’KALIBRA: Simply the Best).  Many who have seen her as well as the top cows in North America admit that she is an extremely balanced cow and that her udder is amazing, though they wonder would she be enough cow to contend with the likes of Hailey on the North American show circuit.  For those looking at both of them in pictures you could certainly go either way.  O’Kalibra takes amazing photos and it can sometimes be hard to get as good a picture of Hailey as she looks in real life.  And so the bottom line tells us it takes more than a picture to judge a cow.

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In the End, All you have is your Name!

Friday, June 28th, 2013

The dairy industry is not a large one.  It’s also an industry that loves gossip, controversy, and the latest rumor.  So when you do something stupid it does not take long for word to get around.  And that was before there was social media.  That is why I find it so surprising   that some breeders don’t realize that the dairy industry is a pretty small pond and that the ripples reach from edge to edge.

I have had the pleasure of knowing many different characters in the industry.  Some of them carried  a reputation that was much larger than life yet,  when you got to know them, they were actually pretty good people.  Then there are others who would tell you to your face how good they are or how “honest” they are and then turn and stab you in the back the second you weren`t  looking.  The challenge is that sometimes it’s hard to tell which one is which.

Whether it’s someone who loves to party hard and be the life and soul of the party, or how you conduct yourself in business, the number one thing you have is your name.   Once tarnished,  it  takes years to rebuild.   In the dairy industry there really is no difference between your personal and professional brand.  Many young people try to think that they can do crazy things and it will not affect them later in life.  The thing is, the industry is too small for that.  There are many very talented young people that  have  kissed away potentially great careers in the dairy industry by the stupid things they did in college or university.  There are also those that  have   taken years to regain the trust of others.

Social media has taken word of mouth and put it on steroids.  What used to take weeks or even months to spread through the dairy industry, now takes just minutes online.  There is a new reality in the dairy industry.  It’s no longer what you say and do to manage your brand or good name that matters.  It’s what others are saying about you online.  From our smartphones to our tablets and computers, to interacting with family, friends, colleagues and customers, our lives – and thus our reputations – exist online.

It may sound funny but it’s true.  Since starting the Bullvine I have seen it many times.  Breeders getting ripped apart by other members of the community on Facebook and other places and they don’t even realize that it’s happening.  But thanks to things like Facebook news feeds and Twitter streams, thousands of other members of the dairy industry do see it.  It may be as simple as someone being very critical of a cow or bull. Other times it can be a blatant attack on someone’s character.  However, since the victims  are not on these different social media platforms, they are not there to defend themselves.  Moreover, others that are reading these comments assume they`re the truth.

Another area where I have seen an extreme effect is dairy cattle livestock photography.  No group as a whole has been more ripped apart in social media.  While many of them have avoided Facebook as much as possible, it has not stopped breeders from expressing their opinions.  It was the barrage on photographers that led us to develop the Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct, in order to help rebuild their reputations.(Read more: Introducing the Dairy Cattle Marketing Code of Conduct and Dairy Cattle Marketing Code of Conduct)

Now we have all been there, where someone misrepresented what they were selling or we felt that we got the raw deal in a purchase agreement.  There have been some very legendary breeders that have been able to keep things like this under wraps.  But in today’s social world, things like this can go from known by one or two people to known by thousands in a moment’s notice.  That is why in today’s industry you have to conduct yourself above board 100% of the time.  Otherwise all it takes is a few comments on places like Facebook, before the whole world knows your true character.

Every day more and more breeders are getting on Facebook.  Breeders of all ages are enjoying the many benefits of connecting with breeders from around the world.  If you want to market your cattle to the world, there is no greater more cost effective platform than Facebook.  It’s no longer optional. It’s mandatory.  But that is just the first step. You also need to become an active member of the conversation.  Not just promoting only what you want to sell, (which kills your reputation), but also joining the conversation and developing friendships and a strong online reputation. It’s funny how some breeder’s true colors  come out online.  The ones that care about building community and helping others find that their posts get promoted like wildfire.  While others, who are just in it to suck money out of others, find that they get very little response to their posts. Inevitably,  t building a credible reputation online and forming real and lasting relationships with people, pays off in substantial ways, when you find yourself the center of negative online attention.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

In the dairy industry many breeders talk a lot about their name and their reputation.  The thing is sometimes they don’t understand the difference between how they perceive themselves and how others perceive them.  It’s not what you say that builds your reputation. It’s what you do. The key thing is to understand that when you make good decisions and stand behind what you say, especially when it’s difficult, your name, who you are, and what you stand for becomes something everyone can trust.  Because, when we leave this earth, your good name is all you really have.


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Tarred With the Same Brush

Friday, May 17th, 2013

Recently I had a conversation with a dairy cattle photographer that got me thinking about the state of dairy cattle marketing and the effect it has on the marketplace.  For regular readers of The Bullvine our very publicly expressed positions on photo ethics and dairy cattle photography are very clear. (Read more: No Cow Is Perfect – Not Even in Pictures and Dairy Cattle Marketing Ethics – Do they exist?) The points made by this photographer encouraged me to think further about our approach.  “Have we tarred all photographers with the same brush?”

The Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct LOGO

There is no question that many good photographers have been tarred with the same brush as those who have a lower level of ethics.  One of the effects that has happened from this is that many breeders no longer trust the images they see.  Hence why we introduced the Dairy Cattle Marketer’s Code of Conduct (Read more: Introducing the Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct and Dairy Cattle Photography Overexposed)

This photographer I was speaking with pointed out to me that, since we have “brought this to light”, they cannot even set  foot on a farm without hearing some sort of negative comment toward photographers or  off-handed jabs about Photoshop.  The sad part is that was not my intent at all.  Certainly not for this photographer and the team she works with, as I have the utmost respect for them.

Contrary to public perception, there are photographers that do amazing work and do so ethically.  There is no question that photography is an art form.  Sure there is a science to it, but it is also a finely honed craft.  Especially dairy cattle livestock photography.  I dare anyone to just pick up the camera walk into the barn and expect that they can nail a great shot.  Getting the composition correct isn’t easy.  That one aspect really differentiates the talented ones from the average ones.

Another aspect that I have seen that really makes a difference between those photographers whose work I trust and those that I have some reservations about is their use of light.  Lighting is probably the most important aspect that I think many photographers have gotten lazy about since the introduction of Photoshop.  There are some that would rather edit or adjust during postproduction rather than take the time to get the shot correct in the first place.  With the introduction of digital photography, many photographers are now just taking the pictures of the animals in the barn and then cropping them out, adjusting them and putting them on a new background.  That is why I love to see videos such as this one below from Cybil Fisher and how they make sure they get the lighting correct so that they don’t have to do so much post production adjusting.

While Cybil and her amazing team do adjust tails, toplines and backgrounds, that is all they do.  By my standards this is acceptable.  They do exceptional work.  Some of the greatest shots over the past few years have been done by these talented women.  One of the reasons they do nail the shot so often, is that they take the time to respect the craft.  They make sure they get the composition correct.  They take the time to make sure they get the lighting correct.  They do this before they snap the shot, not after.  While for some this may sound like a little thing, for me it is a big thing.  Sure it would be just as “easy” to edit afterwards.  But in fact it’s not.  If you don’t nail the shot both in composition and in lighting, there is no ethical postproduction that is acceptable when marketing dairy cattle genetics.  Sure it works for super models, but we are not purchasing the genetics from these super models we are purchasing the clothes they wear (FYI Did you know that Gisele Bundchen made $45 million last year?  Maybe we should purchase her genetics)

The Bullvine Bottom Line

There is no doubt that we, as an industry, need to clean up our act and improve public perception.  We also need to make sure that we don’t tar all photographers with the same brush.  That is why I encourage those photographers who don’t want to be tarred with that brush to call us and let’s talk about the benefits of the Dairy Cattle Marketer’s Code of Conduct.

To get a copy of the Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct please click here.

If you believe that there is a need for a ethical standard in marketing dairy cattle genetics please like and share this post.

Accountability, Wikipedia tells you that accountability is the answerability, blameworthiness, liability, acknowledgment and assumption for the resulting consequences.  Yet in the dairy genetics marketplace it seems to be a word that is seldom used, although very much required.

Dairy cattle genetics is big business.  Millions of dollars change hands every year, yet the level of accountability, in some cases, appears to be non-existent.  Once the genetics are sold who has the liability for the resulting animals?  Why are the breeders or sellers not responsible for the performance of the resulting animals?  Genomics and other tools have given us greater “confidence” in the reliability of the genetics we are investing in, so why aren`t the sellers of these genetics more responsible for the results?

Genetic Mutations

Recently there have been a couple of situations that have raised my concerns about responsibility.  The first occurred in New Zealand, about a year ago.  More than 1500 animals descended from Matrix a commercial Holstein-Friesian bull carry a genetic mutation that produces hairy, heat-intolerant, poorly lactating heifers.  The breeders affected by this problem feel the semen company did not deal openly with the problem and are being less than “cooperative” in seeking a solution for their affected members.  (Read More: New Zealand Dairy Farmers Seek Compensation For Hairy Calves).  Now this case is a very challenging one as Matrix is actually a result of a genetic mutation that occurred naturally and happens regardless of the breeding method used.  Genetic defects such as BLAD, CVM, Brachspia, Factor XI, DUMPS, CIT, and Mule Foot are all tested for and screened by the A.I. companies and as a result see very limited occurrence.  “Hairy calves” such as these ones resulting from Matrix have not been tested for and as a result it is surprising that there has been such a case.  So while it is genetically explainable and no one could have predicted this, the reaction of the company that sold and marketed Matrix, Livestock Improvement (LIC) is a concern.  They are refusing to pay any compensation as “most farmers recognize that these rare mutations are naturally occurring and simply a fact of life.” Having said that, for the future, the LIC is no longer selling Matrix semen and offers free genetic testing to identify calves with the mutation.  The question of legal and financial responsibility appears to be one that will take some time to answer in this case.


Through multiple, independent genetic tests, it has been confirmed that 7HO11781 Pine-Tree Colt SHINE-P-ET does not transmit the polled gene as previously believed.

Now not all mutations are a bad thing.  There was a time when Red & White calves where disposed of.  Today this is a “mutation” that many breeders desire.  Another mutation that is heavily sought after is polled (Read more: Polled Genetics – Way of the future or passing fad? and  They’re Sold On Polled).  In this case, the resulting polled heifers sell up to   250% higher than non-polled animals of equal genetic merit (Read more: An Insider’s Guide to What Sells at the Big Dairy Cattle Auctions).  However this highlights another story that caught my eye.  Recently Select Sires announced  that  Pine-Tree Colt SHINE-P-ET does not transmit the polled gene as previously reported  (Read More: Shine P Conflicting DNA Results for Polled Gene).  This touched off some very interesting reactions from breeders. The polled trait in dairy cattle can only be genetic tested with haplotype marker testing, which does allow for rare errors to be made.  This is quite different than actual gene testing that is available for genetic recessives like CVM or BLAD. Having said that, how did this sire make it to market without being more thoroughly screened?  The fact that once Shine-P’s non-polled status was discovered he was removed from their “Super Sire ™ lineup and no longer marketed”.  This indicates that his main genetic merit was the fact that he was a polled sire. Though I do commend Select for taking instant action and putting out a press release.  Not wanting to sweep it under the carpet they handled this well.  In such cases in the past other studs have not disclosed this information or claimed it was a case of mistaken ear tags.  Is there a test for stupidity?

Are Dairy Cattle Genetics Companies Made of Teflon?

Now both of these stories highlight some very rare occurrences, which in their own right would not have me thinking that the companies who sell dairy cattle genetics are not willing to take responsibility for the product they sell.  However they got me thinking about other issues, such as – inability to conceive, short herd life, deep udders, bad feet, poor production.  If a sire or animal is marketed to be high in these traits and the resulting animal proves to be well below expectations, exactly who is to blame?

Currently the only recourse is in not purchasing genetics from that company again.  This is an action many breeders are slow to take, as they seem to bleed the colors of their desired A.I. company.  After all, it’s hard to believe that the AI company they’re loyal to is unconcerned about unfulfilled claims.  However, should that be the case?  So should breeders suffer?

The Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct LOGO

The Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct LOGO
Program members can use this logo to show that they uphold to the standards of this program.

Marketing Accountability

Another example of this is when it comes to dairy cattle marketing.  The false representation of animals has been a hot question among many breeders and has inspired us here at the Bullvine to start the Dairy Marketers’ Code of Conduct (Read more: Introducing The Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct and Dairy Cattle Photography – Over Exposed).  The lack of accountability for the resulting genetic product is one of the biggest differences between photo retouching of super models versus dairy cattle.  You are not purchasing the super model’s genetics you are purchasing the clothes, perfume, etc. that she is wearing.  Even though you are purchasing the genetics of the animal in question, you never really know if the cow/heifer/bull actually looks like she/he does in their picture.  Hence the need for some symbol to ensure that the company marketing these genetics is willing to take responsibility for the outcome.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The genetic advancement of your herd is one of the greatest long-term investments breeders make.  If you invest thousands of dollars in something you should have a minimum level of expectation for performance?  There are no guarantees in life. Having said that, what happens when expected performance and actual performance are not even in the same stratosphere?  What if it was your tractor? Your milking equipment?  That’s right.  People justifiably get mad….. in most cases.  So why is this not the case when you invest in dairy cattle genetics?

To get a copy of the Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct please click here.

If you believe that there is a need for more accountability in marketing dairy cattle genetics please like and share this post.

Are You Breeding Purple Cows?

Monday, April 29th, 2013

Face it, the tactics that have been used for the past 50 years don’t work anymore.  The same old ads. In the same old magazine.  Advertising the same old genetics. After you’ve seen one, or two, or 10, you’ve seen them all!  Boring!  However, a Purple Cow?  Now that would be something.  Are you remarkable enough to have a Purple Cow?  In today’s day and age of in vitro fertilization, genomics and social media, you’re either remarkable or invisible.

bigpc[1]Seth Godin’s book Purple Cow: Transform Your Business By Being Remarkable is perfectly titled for dairy breeders today.  Godin’s understanding of dairy cattle is limited as represented by his comment “Cows, after you’ve seen one, or two, or 10, are boring,” but his point about needing to be remarkable, in order to stand out from the herd, is spot on.

Every day breeders come face to face with a lot of boring stuff – even a lot of the same old boring cows – but you can bet they would never forget a Purple Cow.  Now getting a Purple Cow marketing idea doesn’t happen overnight.  It’s not as if you can just wake up one morning and change your marketing to have your “Purple Cow” idea.  You need to breed for it.  You need to manage for it.  And then and only then can you market it.

The Game Changers

For years, generation after generation of consistent breeding was enough to have your genetics in demand around the world.  However, that is no longer enough thanks to in vitro fertilization (Read more: IVF: Boom or Bust for the Dairy Industry and FAST TRACK GENETICS: More Results in Less Time).  With so many breeders leveraging this technology and producing more and more cattle at the top end of the genetic scale, there has been a shift in the marketplace.  What used to be unique is becoming commonplace. In this recent spring sale season, I saw no less than three full sisters (Uno’s from the great Apple) selling at three different sales in a 1-week period.  And then of course there were still more sisters at home.  IVF has changed things so much that even at the very top end, owners of the very best genetics are having trouble differentiating their product.  Genetics that at one time would have been sale headliners, are now selling in those lull sections of the sale that minimize profits.  Combine that with the cost to produce these animals and the ROI is shrinking.  Of course IVF is a catch 22 technology.  If you don’t use it and other breeders are using it on their top genetics, you’re still left behind.

In one sense you could say Genomics has brought harmony to the world (Read more: The impact of genomics on cattle breeding and How Genomics is Killing the Dairy Cattle Breeding Industry).  No longer are cattle from different countries viewed as inferior or of lesser genetic merit.  Genomic testing has brought uniformity to the world market.  But as a result it has also brought globalization to the industry and breeders can no longer differentiate their genetics by country of origin.  This means that instead of the top 1% of the genetics in the world being in high demand, it is now the top 0.1% (Read more: An Insider’s Guide to What Sells at the Big Dairy Cattle Auctions).  Either you are at the very top of the lists or you had better find a new niche or way to differentiate your genetics (Read more: Marketing Lessons from Glen Drummond Aero Flower).

AMMON-PEACHY SHAUNA a very popular purple cow

AMMON-PEACHY SHAUNA a very popular purple cow

If you want to get your message out to the world, there is nothing better than social media.  The power of tools like Facebook to let breeders around the world know what animals you have is amazing (Read more: 7 Reasons Why Your Dairy Farm Needs To Be On Facebook and The Anti-Social Farmer: On the Verge of Extinction?).  The thing is, it still takes those animals that are the “Purple Cows” in order to be noticed.  Hailey, O’Kalibra, Missy, Happy Go Lucky and Rae Lynn are cows whose show ring successes have also caused social media success for their breeders.  On the genomic side, cows like Shauna, Lucia, and Hue have attracted a lot of attention.  Another aspect that helps pictures on Facebook go viral is the ones that comply with the Dairy Marketers Code of Conduct (Read more: Introducing the Diary Marketing Code of Conduct and Dairy Cattle Photography – Over Exposed ). However, in order to achieve this sustained viral status you first need to be unique. You need to know your niche.  You need to be a “Purple Cow.”

Valleyville Rae Lynn is certainly a Purple Cow

Valleyville Rae Lynn is certainly a Purple Cow

The Bullvine Bottom Line

In Purple Cow, Seth Godin urges you to put Purple Cow differentiation into everything you build and everything you do, to create something truly noticeable.  It’s a manifesto for dairy breeders looking to take their genetics programs to a new level.  Pretty ads, generations of VG or EX and nice cattle pictures will not pay the bills. Either you set yourself apart or you are wasting your time.  What makes you unique?  Have you found your Purple Cow breeding program or marketing idea?



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Is Type Classification Still Important?

Monday, April 8th, 2013

There are many changes going on in the dairy industry these days. Producers must try to understand what programs are worth still participating in and what ones to drop. At the Bullvine we have had some producers ask, “Should I still classify my cows?” To that we say a resounding, “YES!”  The following article explains why.

First, I would be remiss if I did not disclose that my father ran the Type Classification program here in Canada for 18 years, before it passed into the very capable hands of Jay Shannon and Tom Byers. I was raised understanding type classification and how the system works.  From when Dad and the late Dalton Hodgins first started playing with the handheld units to when it was time to update the True Type Model, you could say that classification was bred into me.   For me to even have to consider whether the program has merit is a very challenging situation.  But when a breeder from California asked me the other day, “Why should I still type classify?”  this caused me to stop and think about that, as I didn’t have an instant answer for him.  So, in typical Bullvine fashion, I did some more thinking about it, a little bit of research and here is what I came up with.

Why Type Classify if you Genomic Test All Your Females?

Tom Byers said it best, in our interview a year ago. “Classification will be the conformation verification of our Genomic selected sires.” (Read more: Tom Byers – “That’s classified”).  Genomics is not a perfect science and, in order to improve the accuracy of the genomic predictions, we need a larger data set.  That means we need more daughters classified by these new genomic sires so that the geneticists can compare the genomic predictions of these sires to the actual performance of their daughters. Only then can the geneticists improve the formulations so their predictions become more accurate.  Currently you can feel about 95% confident that a sire will come within 10% of their genomic prediction. With more information, that rate of confidence will increase while the range will decrease.

It’s also important to understand how these sires work in your herd.  I cannot tell you the number of times I have seen some sires work wonders in some herds and totally fail in others. While the sire’s proof may average out over all herds, that does not mean he or his blood lines will work well in yours.  That is why you still need programs like type classification and milk recording to validate that what you see on paper (genomic tests) is what you actually get in reality.

Why Classification is More Important than Ever When Marketing Your Cattle

It used to be that when a fresh 2 year old went Very Good many breeders wanted to see her picture to see if she really was a VG 2 year old.  Often times it was felt that maybe that animal got a gift and maybe would have only been a GP84 in a different herd.  Nowadays, with the state of dairy cattle photo ethics the way it is, I actually jump back to the classification to see if the picture really resembles the animal.

When I look at the picture and the heifer looks VG87+ but yet she is only classified VG85, I wonder why.  Often I notice that animal may only be a 2 or 3 for loin strength, yet in her picture with all the “hair” added she looks closer to a 9.  This causes a drastic change to the general appearance of the animal and greatly misrepresents her rump.  That is why now, more than ever, I look at the full classification breakdown in order to get a better understanding of just what the animal looks like.

Another area I often notice is size and stature.  With so many pictures having the original background removed and often the leadsperson as well, it is hard to get an accurate reference for the exact size of the animal.  When the photographer or graphic designer is adding in the new background, they are doing so by what makes the animal look the best.  While this is considered acceptable by today’s standards, it can greatly misrepresent the size and stature of the animal. (Read more: Has Photo Enhancement Gone Too Far?).

Another area where it is impossible to get an accurate read is heel depth and angularity.  Because these animals are being cropped out of their original images, often they lose some of the depth of heal in the picture as well as their necks get accidentally cleaned up.  While I do not think most photographers do so intentionally, the programs they are using combined with photographer’s Photoshop skills often cause some of these parts to be cropped, leaving a shallower foot and a cleaner head and neck.  It is for these reasons we have recently started the Dairy Cattle Marketer’s Code of Ethics (Read more: Introducing The Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct) in order to help re-establish credibility in dairy cattle photographs.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

There is no question that the industry is changing at a very rapid rate.  For some it`s not changing fast enough. For others, it seems too fast.  While all programs need to evolve to meet the needs of the modern dairy producer, there is no question that a dynamic Type Classification program has its place.  Since genomics is not a perfect science, and some dairy cattle photographs do not tell the full story, type classification remains the one constant for identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the individual, so that we can correctively mate to help the next generation function best in the different environments we ask her to work in. This combination of science and cow sense is what will lead us into a very prosperous future.


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The art of dairy cattle photography has certainly changed over the past 15 years.  With the introduction of digital cameras and advancements in programs like Adobe Photoshop, there is no question the industry is forever changed.  The problem is, with all these changes, there has been no one to establish or regulate a code of ethics to ensure that the animal you see in pictures is the same animal you are investing in when you buy embryos, progeny or semen from them.

I cannot tell you the number of times breeders have told us that the cow they saw in the picture looked nothing like the animal in real life.  While this non-reality has become acceptable for super models, that should not be the case with dairy cattle photos.  In the fashion industry you are not buying the genetics the super model has to offer, but rather the clothing she is wearing.  That’s a key difference.  A difference that many need to remember when taking and editing dairy cattle photos.  (Read more: Dairy Cattle Marketing Ethics – Do they exist? And Business Ethics and Marketing Dairy Cattle Genetics) Sure we all want the animal to look her best but that means she still looks like herself and not some other animal all together.

The following are three techniques that many livestock photographers use that “most” would consider acceptable and yet they really do a great deal to make the animal look considerably different than her true genetic self.

Addition to Toplines

While photographers have been adding hair, foam, tape, etc. to cows’ toplines for years, programs like Photoshop make it much easier to do and even harder to detect.  (Read more: Has Photo Enhancement Gone Too Far)  The following is an example of just how much the typical picture has had added.  The light overlay (Fade) is the amount that was present in the final picture and the dark is the cow’s natural self.

topline hair add

Not a big deal some would say, but there is no question that this adds about 3-5 points on loin strength, 1-2 points on rump and drastically enhances general appearance.  It is being done so often these days that it actually catches your eye when it’s not done.  This is very much a FALSE representation of what an animal’s actually genetic potential is.

Over Exposure of Photos

To hide this type of work many photographers will over expose (brighten) the white sections of the photos or burn (darken) the black sections of an animal so the average eye cannot catch what has been done.  Here is an example of a cow that has had this one. The following is a picture comparing her topline as it appears in the final picture and  the same topline with the exposure corrected.

hair add lms

A very flat loined heifer that would have looked very common in her picture ended up looking much better.  In measuring the proportions of this animal we estimate that this animal has had 6-7 inches of “hair” added. The interesting point is that this animal is classified VG-85 and yet in her picture looks more like 88 or even 89 points.  A big difference especially in an animal that many breeders could potentially be purchasing genetics from and, more importantly, semen from her sons.

This not only makes a difference in their toplines, but also in the cleanliness of their legs and other parts.  By over or under exposing details as needed you can greatly hide their flaws.  Some photographers comment that since they didn’t “edit” the conformation of the cow, it’s acceptable.  By hiding the flaws with these techniques, they are greatly misrepresenting the animal’s natural appearance and genetic potential.


Have you ever noticed that the pictures you take with your own camera, even your phone camera, have more clarity than the ones that are taken by most professional photographers who have cameras and equipment costing thousands of dollars?  Why do you think that is?  Typically this is because of the Photoshop skills of the photographer.  To make all these “typical” edits and still maintain that level of clarity requires a great deal of skill.  Since most of the photographers are just that photographers and not graphic designers, that is an area that they have not mastered yet.  The easiest way to account for this is to reduce the clarity so that some parts of the picture are very clear and others are not.  Here is an example of the clarity of what a typical professional dairy cattle photographer’s picture should look like.  It is taken with the same level of equipment, and has only had slight color correction and no exposure adjustments to the animal.

Woodsview Excitation Tracy (udder ring)

How many professional photographers’ photos look this clear?  They should. They easily have the equipment to achieve this or even greater results.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

While there is no doubt programs like Photoshop make it so that anything is possible, should it not be the job of the photographer to make sure the image they produce is the best possible representation of that animal  and not just what they think will sell the most embryos or semen?

To read more about this check out The Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct

To get a copy of the Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct please click here.

If you believe that there is a need for a ethical standard in marketing dairy cattle genetics please like and share this post.

The call for ethics in dairy cattle marketing has never been louder. With the increased power of programs like Adobe Photoshop, the ability to edit and manipulate pictures and ads has never been easier. For this reason, the Bullvine in combination with other dairy cattle marketers is pleased to introduce The Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct.

What is the Code?

  • The Code sets out specific standards of conduct for participants in the dairy cattle marketing industry in relation to individuals, organizations and consumers and serves as a benchmark in the highest level of ethics showing to all breeders that they can buy with confidence that the images, ads, and promotional materials they are seeing are of the highest ethical standard.
  • The requirements of the Code are based on common sense and are matters of fairness and honesty. The Code not only promotes ethical behavior but also is intended to serve as a point of reference for Members to ensure they follow acceptable best practices and ethical guidelines.

The Objectives of the Code :

  • To ensure business and consumers have access to the product and service information they need to make informed accurate choices and decisions
  • To promote a culture among members of conducting their businesses fairly, honestly, ethically and in accordance with best practices; and
  • To increase business and breeder confidence in doing business with dairy cattle genetic companies and breeders.

Why Is The Code Necessary?

  • The world dairy genetics market is big business. No longer is it possible for breeders to personally see the animals they are looking to invest in. Because we now operate at a distance rather than face-to-face with fellow breeders, dairy genetics organizations and breeders must place greater emphasis on establishing breeder confidence and trust. This is especially true in dairy cattle livestock photos, where tools like Adobe Photoshop have taken the potential of digital editing and photo manipulation to completely new levels.
  • The future expansion of dairy marketing depends on the players conducting their business in a fair, honest and ethical manner in dealing with other businesses and with consumers. Only by doing so can the reputation of the industry be enhanced so that breeder demand will continue to grow.
Programs like Adobe Photoshop have made it possible for breeders to tell what is real and what is fake.

Programs like Adobe Photoshop have made it possible for breeders to tell what is real and what is fake.

To Whom Does This Code Apply?

  • Livestock Photographers
  • Graphic Designers
  • Artificial Insemination Companies
  • Dairy Cattle Genetics Companies
  • Dairy Cattle Breeders
The Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct LOGO

The Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct LOGO
Program members can use this logo to show that they uphold to the standards of this program.

What are the benefits of membership?

  • With breeder confidence in the images and ads they see at an all-time low, the ability to display to breeders that your marketing and genetics meet the highest ethical standards is a great way to reassure them that you value your relationship with them.
  • All members of this program will have the ability to place the Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct (DMCC) logo on their images and ads, showing all who view those ads/images that they can buy with confidence knowing that the decisions they make based on these ads and images meet the highest standards in the industry.
  • Members will be entitled to exclusive training. That is correct, as part of the program there will be training from some of the greatest experts in the industry today. In such areas as:
    • Photoshop and digital post production for dairy cattle marketers
    • Video and post production for dairy cattle marketers
    • Advanced photo and video capture best practices
    • Dairy cattle ad design concepts and best practices

What are the penalties for violation of the code?

For all those who sign up for the program and then do not adhere to its code of conduct the follow actions will occur:

  • Original photos must be provided upon request
  • All claims must be able to be substantiated with factual proof/documentation.
  • There will be an appeal process where said individuals/organizations can defend their case against being expelled.
  • If it is deemed that those photos/images/claims do not comply with the program, said member will be publicly expelled from the program.

Who is responsible for running the program?

  • Initially, the Bullvine and its agents will be responsible for the development and enforcement of the program for a 1 year period. After that, there will be the development of a Council for Ethical Dairy Cattle Marketing that will take over the development and encouragement of ethical practices, with the Bullvine supporting and administering the program.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

While this Code of Conduct is obviously in the early stages of development, we trust that photographers, graphic designers and other members of the dairy marketing community will take time to think about where the industry is headed and why now is the time for the establishment of best practices and ethical guidelines that help grow business for all community members.

To get a copy of the Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct please click here.

If you believe that there is a need for a ethical standard in marketing dairy cattle genetics please like and share this post.