For almost sixty years dairy cattle breeders have relied on daughter proven sires to drive the industry forward. There was a time when over 70% of the genetic advancement depended on knowing which sires left the best daughters and using them extensively. However that era is fast coming to a close. The Bullvine sees changes in the not too distant future for both breeders and breeding companies, all of whom have built their business and breeding models around the daughter proven sire.

A Quick Look at History

Before the 1950’s unproven sires were the norm. Yes some of them may have had some limited daughter information but it was most often in a single herd and was actually just phenotypic observations (i.e. 12,500 lbs milk, 3.8%F, 5 VG & 10 GP daughters). A.I. was primarily a tool to get cows in calf without having to feed and handle a mature bull. Truth is that genetic progress, at that time, was only slightly above zero.  From the 1970’s onwards considerable progress was made, based on the use of proven sires. During that time breeders and breeding companies were more selective in which young sires were sampled, more herds were milk recorded and type classified, genetic evaluations used B.L.U.P. technologies (i.e. +1100 lbs milk, +0.25%F, PTAT +2.24) and high ranking total merit proven sires got extensive use.

New Technologies Will Turn the Tide

Now let’s deal with how new technologies will change the timing and accuracy of genetic decision making. Simply put ‘time waits for no one’ and ‘the future is in the hands of those that search out the new, decide and apply the best of the new”. That applies to all areas of dairy farming but just now let’s stick to the genetic component. Let’s focus on why daughter proven sires will become a thing of the past

Accurate and More Accurate

To date genomic genetic evaluation has resulted in a doubling of the accuracy of indexes for young animals. It will not stop there. With refined knowledge in the genome we can expect production indexes on young animals to go from 65-70% REL. to as high as 85-90%. in the next five years. As well with more on-farm data being captured and collected in Genetic Evaluation Centers we can expect the REL for productive life, type, health and fertility traits to approach 70-80%. Part of the increase in REL, from their current 50-65%, will come from more accurate field data and part from in-depth study of the genome. The end result will be that if total merit is known with 85% REL for young animals, then daughter proven bulls and older brood cows will not be used as the parents of the next generation. In short the pace of the trend of using younger and younger animals as the parents of the next generation will speed up even more.

Sexing Technology

Dairy cattle breeders are hearing that genomics is the biggest advancement in genetic improvement since the introduction of the proven sire.  Recent information on what’s ahead in sexing technology is on the brink of speeding up the rate of genetic gain. (Read more: Sexed Semen from Cool Technology to Smart Business Decision and SEXED SEMEN – At Your Service!) That does not even factor in epigenomics and nutrigenomics will hold out significant promise. (Read more: Forget Genomics – Epigenomics & Nutrigenomics are the Future) Proactive breeders will need to stay tuned to what’s ahead and be ready to adapt the breeding plans. (Read more: What’s the Plan?)

We know that young bulls do not produce large volumes of sperm per ejaculation as mature bulls do, so we’ll need to collect from extra young bulls but there will come a day when all young bull semen will be sexed. Having more young bulls being used will help to counteract inbreeding.

The changes could well go much further than that.  How much sexed semen will be needed in another fifteen years?  It could be that embryo and embryo transfer technology will advance to the stage that, once identified, the very top genetic ten to twelve month old heifers will have many oocytes collected and fertilized in vitro and then implanted into 99% of the females on a farm.

Of course exactly what will happen has yet to play out but we need to be prepared for major advances in the technologies relative to both genetics and reproduction. Regardless the use of daughter proven sires will be a thing of the past.

Maximum of 50,000 Doses Only

In the past superior proven bulls have remained active and in use well past ten years of age. They have produced, on average, 130,000 – 140,000 doses per year. In some cases they have sold more than one million doses of semen in their lifetime. Although profitable for their owners this extensive use has contributed to inbreeding and narrowing of the genetic base. The question that has always been asked ‘what do we do about too much Blackstar, Valiant or more recently Oman and Planet?’. We will not need to have that concern in the future as genetic progress will be so quick that the maximum a sire will get used in his lifetime is 50,000 doses. That does however change the value that any one sire will have. The industry savings on feed and maintenance costs beyond collecting 50,000, likely sexed, doses is significant considering the thousands of bulls that have been annually sampled around the world in the past.

It could be that 50,000 is far too high a number of doses. Take the case of Kulp-Dale Golden PP Red.  (Read more: $10,000 a dose Polled Semen and The 24 Polled Bulls Every Breeder Should Be Using To Accelerate the Genetic Gain in Their Herd) Five doses and $50,000 may be the numbers that will be attached to his contribution to changing the Holstein breed from horned to polled. Another factor to think about is that high genomically evaluated young sires are often used exclusively by breeding companies before general release and, when released, are priced at $200 to $1000 per dose. However after a few months their semen price is dropped to the $40 – $60 range. By the time they have been on the market for a year they are often down to less than $20. Why? Because their time of demand has passed. If the sire is no longer a list topper for at least one important trait he is history.

Alternatives Exist

A couple of months ago The Bullvine wrote about using all natural sires in a herd. (Read more: Natural Breeding – Could It Work For You?) These sires can quite easily have high genomic indexes. Think about it. A breeder focused on producing milk saving on labor to heat detect and inseminate his cows and heifers. Perhaps 10% of a herd’s labor cost could be saved. With robotic technology advancing quickly it could well be that the safety factor for workers by having yearling and two year old bulls around the farm may be minimized as there will be fewer workers to be exposed to the bulls. Definitely the need for daughter proven A.I. sires would be zero.

Are We Ready?

The pace of change is fast and will become faster. In a few years it could be that the only need for daughter proven sire information will be to check the accuracy of genomic indexes or to develop the formulae for indexing for new traits that breeders wish to include in their breeding programs. It could well be that breeders are more ready for the future than are some breeding co-ops and companies that have built their business model on having the vast majority of their revenue coming from daughter proven bulls. Having said that, progressive breeding companies are taking steps to control their costs and to specialize their product lines, including owning high ranking females. Daughter proven bulls will not be the focal point for those companies.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Having moved to daughter proven sires for accuracy and selection intensity reasons, we can now expect to see a move away from those sires for the reasons of speed of turning of generations and of having very accurate knowledge at the gene level. Anyone doubting these changes needs only to look at male selection in the plant, fish, poultry and pig industries. The downside for bull breeders is that their bulls will have less value. The upside for all other breeders is that they can continue to make rapid progress in breeding profitable healthy cows. Daughter proven sires were a major force in getting us to where we are but they will now be replaced by more advanced technology.


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