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Much has been written about genomic indexes since they were introduced in 2008, yet one key ingredient has been ignored. That ingredient is how can a breeder use the genomic information to analyse and plan for the future breeding of their herd? To fill that need Holstein Association USA, and Zoetis joined forced to develop the Enlight service that any Holstein producer in the USA can benefit from using.

Let’s hear about Enlight from Lindsey Worden

Lindsey is the Executive Director of Genetics Services at Holstein USA and when listening to her speak about Enlight you can hear the enthusiasm in her voice. Enthusiasm for what a breeder using Enlight can do to advance their herd. As Lindsey says, the advancement can cover more than genetics. It extends to others areas including management, reproduction, health and in the future nutrition. That is a wide scope. For U.S. dairy people interested in learning the opportunities available, go to Holstein USA’s website to learn more.

Home Dashboard

Enlight Home Dashboard


One final matter that Lindsey emphasized to The Bullvine – “Enlight is a free tool for any dairy producer who is genomic testing their Holsteins through Holstein Association USA or Zoetis, using CLARIFIDE®, a genomic testing product. Enlight is web-based, and has a direct connection to the Holstein Association USA herdbook database, so all animals in Enlight must also be in the Holstein herdbook”. It should be noted that a herd’s data contained in Enlight is proprietary to the herd owner and is not shared with others.

Worden Draws on Experience

Lindsey grew up on her family’s dairy farms in New York and New Mexico, and was active in 4-H and Holstein Junior programs, including dairy judging and showing. She followed that by studying Dairy Science and Life Science Communications at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After college, she joined Holstein Association USA. That was over eight years ago, and she has filled a number of positions of increasing responsibility at Holstein USA. Lindsey is familiar with all facets of dairying from the small breeder’s herd, to the large commercial herd, to the show scene and to the international trade in genetics. She gives major credit to her parents for giving her and her brothers the opportunity to experience life, both on and off their farms. Lindsey attends many industry events and is always eager to speak with breeders to understand their positions, their concerns and their needs, and to explain Holstein USA services.

Animal Snapshot

Enlight – Animal Snap shot


Working to Shared Benefit

In short, Enlight was developed in partnership by Zoetis and Holstein USA. They saw an opportunity to combine their collective strengths for the benefit of producers. It is novel in that a private company and a breeder not-for-profit association joined forces to provide a service, and refreshing to see that providing dairy people with a complete package is central to the service.

Excellent Uptake

Lindsey reported to The Bullvine that since July (2014) there have been over 600 herds enrolled in Enlight, and those users have genomic tested over 260,000 animals in total.

U.S. dairymen can expect to hear more about Enlight in 2015 as Holstein USA, in collaboration with Zoetis, will have this service as a focal point at meetings and in communications through out this year. It is interesting to hear the many different ways Enlight users are taking advantage of genomic information in their herds. Many begin with testing a few animals and eventually work up to testing most or all of the heifers born on their farm. Dairymen are using the information to make decisions about which animals will be parents to the next generation on the farm, making sure they are keeping and propagating the best genetics in their herds, and using the lower end genetics for recipients, or culling when they have excess animals to sell.

One important part of Enlight is that it is real-time. Enlight is refreshed every night, so whenever a dairyman registers a calf, or has new genomic or genetic information available, it can be viewed in Enlight. Since the service if free and web-based, users can run the analysis of their animal as often as they wish.

Genetic Progress Graph

Enlight – Genetic Progress Graph


Expanded Service

For dairy farmers, linking all pieces of information on their animals together is important. Sandy-Valley Farms have been using Enlight for a few months now to capture their actual and genetic information in one place, to obtain genomic information instantaneously and to download information in Excel documents. And Danae Bauer of Sandy-Valley looks forward to using Enlight even more in the future as more options and screens are added to it. (Read more : PINE-TREE MONICA PLANETA IS THE NEW GENOMIC SUPER STAR MAKER, and DANAE BAUER: CAPTURING THE PASSION)


Holstein Association USA continues to see interest in genomic testing grow each year, and with the availability of Enlight to help producers make better use of their information, and a partnership with Zoetis, that trend is only expected to continue to increase. As more breeders are exposed to how using genomic information can improve their herds, more and more will adopt the technology and find benefit in keeping track of their genetics with Enlight.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

With many dairymen already using Enlight, there are many users that Holstein USA or Zoetis can direct interested producers to in order that they can hear a fellow dairy person describe the benefits as they see them. Enlight is definitely a win – win – win for producers – breed association – private service provider.

The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


Not sure what all this hype about genomics is all about?

Want to learn what it is and what it means to your breeding program?

Download this free guide.




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Categories : Genomics

Genomic Testing – Are You Missing Out?

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

When The Bullvine mentions genomic testing to production oriented breeders, we frequently get the reaction “Oh, that’s just for herds that sell high priced animals. I focus on running a profitable milking operation. I don’t need to spend money on testing my animals.” Well, in fact, that is not an accurate assessment of the benefits available from using this tool at the present time. If you are among those not using genomics, Stop Procrastinating! It is a tool that everyone breeding their herd to improve it genetically should not be without.

Only Very Moderate Uptake – So Far

Currently, there is an 8% uptake of genomic testing of all Holstein heifer calves. The total is less in other breeds. We have barely scratched the surface.  Half a century ago, official milk recording was at the same low level. Today it is recognized as a much-needed toll both on-farm and in the national herd. Obviously the question that breeders need answers to is ‘How will I benefit from genomic testing all my heifer calves?

Known Benefits

Much has been written about benefits and opportunities available to breeders who are submitting samples for DNA testing. Those range from selecting the best mates for your females, … to parentage verification, … to how to manage your heifer herd, … to deciding which heifers to breed and which ones to cull or implant, … to polled or not polled, …to finding the genetic outlier of an individual mating, …to an aid in marketing heifers in sales.

Just recently Holstein USA and Zetas launched an exciting service called Enlight. Breeders that submit their samples to Zoetis can through Holstein USA’s website summarize and analyze their heifers for their genetic qualities. This is the first, and no doubt other breeds will establish similar services in the future. Breeding to get the genetics that work best for you and then managing them in the best way possible is definitely important.

At the industry level, genomic testing has also proven beneficial. Alta Genetics, a few years ago, working with large herds in the USA, parentage verified all young sire daughters. It was a significant step forward in accuracy of sire proofs so they could guarantee their product to their customers. Companies like Zoetis and Neogen initiated genomic testing services so they could help producers and also as complementary to their other products. A.I companies have been able to restrict their young sires sampled to only top genomically evaluated young sires, thereby saving millions for themselves by not sampling the bottom enders and millions for breeders that did not have to raise, calve in and milk the lower genetic merit daughters of the bottom end bulls. All of these benefits are leading to cost savings in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

However six years into using genomics we are only starting to reap the rewards.

Genomics Will Make the Future Brighter

Breeders often mention that they want sires to use and females in their herd that are superior to what is available today for traits that are difficult or impossible to measure. Here are some thoughts and facts that may help breeders to decide to use genomic testing so they can have animals that are even more profitable than their herd is today. It does however require that genomic testing becomes routine (Read more: Why 84% of Dairy Breeders Will Soon Be Using Genomic Sires!).


Investigation, at the farm level, is being done in beef heifers on growth rates, diets tailored to genotype, immunity to common diseases and age at first estrus. The results of those studies will be able to be applied to dairy heifers since little similar research is being conducted for dairy heifers. Already breeders can test for the genetically inferior heifers, so they do not need to be raised. Up to $500 per heifer in rearing cost could be saved by having the retained heifers calving by 22 months of age.  Remember that it is age at first estrus that is important, for which we have very limited farm data. First breeding depends on a breeding actually occurring.  With heifers genotyped and selected for first estrus significant savings will be possible.

Feed Efficiency:

Two major research projects, one in USA and The Netherlands and one in Australia and New Zealand, will identify the cows that are genetically more efficient at converting their feed to milk. Within a couple of years, we can expect to see reports relating genomic information to feed efficiency.  This type of research is costly and not currently practical at the farm level, but using research herds this investigation is well underway. Reducing feed costs by 5-10% through genetic selection would result in many millions in savings. That is likely to be crucial to the dairy cattle breeding industry as dairy competes to feed a hungry world. (Read more: Feed Efficiency: The Money Saver and 15 Strength Sires That Will Still Fit In Your Stalls)


CDCB already makes available the inbreeding level of genomically tested animals based on their genomic results. No doubt further research results will provide numbers associated with inbreeding. Think about it. In the past the inbreeding level for two full sisters, based on pedigree, has been considered the same. However, by using their genomic profiles the level of inbreeding can be much more accurately known for each sister. A recent report from CDN, for the time period 2010 to 2013, shows that inbreeding rates are increasing not decreasing. Even though breeders are aware that inbreeding is a negative to future profit, they continue using fewer sire lines. More in-depth study of presence or absence of genes that negatively affect the viability of our cattle take time. Why do we always expect someone else to take responsibility for the level and rates of inbreeding? (Read more: 6 Steps to Understanding & Managing Inbreeding in Your Herd and Stop Talking About Inbreeding…)

Disease Resistance:

The list is long on diseases that breeders want their animals to be resistant to. Many research projects are underway to relate the genotype to particular types of mastitis, respiratory diseases, wasting diseases and even production limiting diseases like milk fever. CDN and Canadian milk recording agencies have been capturing field data for a number of years now on eight production limiting diseases. In time, the relationships between genetic lines and these diseases will be better-known. So that selection can be carried out to avoid problem bloodlines. When more animals are genomically tested, and bloodlines prone to diseases are identified great steps forward will be able to be made. It takes considerably more than 8% of the population genomically tested to move breeding for disease resistance to reality. (Read more:  Genomics – Opportunity is Knocking)


Failure to get animals to show good heats, to produce good oocytes and conceive when bred is the leading frustration on most dairy farms. The role that genetics plays in that frustration is now receiving attention by many researchers and organizations. In the past, the capturing of useful data to do genetic analysis relative to reproduction has been a significant problem. The relating of genomic results to reproduction holds out considerable hope. Early embryonic death, haplotypes that negatively impact reproduction, genetic difference between animals for cystic ovaries and many more are all areas of concern for breeders. Once again both genomic and on-farm data are needed to move forward. (Read more: 10 things dairies with great reproduction do right and Are Your Genetics Wasting Feed and Labor?)


I hear breeders say “Genomic indexes are just like production indexes.” However, that is not so. There are genomic indexes for production traits, conformation traits and management traits. Genomics is a dynamic science. It is best if breeders know not only the genomic values for the animals currently in their herds but also their ancestors. To build the genomic history for a herd necessitates that testing start as soon as possible. Genomics is a tool every breeder will benefit from using no matter what their selection goals are. (Read more: Better Decision Making by Using Technology and FACT VS. FANTASY: A Realistic Approach to Sire Selection)

In Another World

Outside the world of dairy cattle but totally related to DNA analysis, there is a study just under way in the United Kingdom, where 100,000 people with cancer or rare diseases are being genotyped to better understand people’s ability to avoid or resist cancer and disease. One of the terms used in the news release was that before there was DNA profiling this work would not have been possible. Relating that back to dairy cattle, if we do not have the DNA information for animals we will be limited in our ability to eliminate deleterious genes from our cattle.

Will Genomic Testing Pay?

The question for breeders appears to have been one of cost – benefit. “What will I get for the fifty dollar cost of doing a low-density test?”  The fact is that, to date, milk producers have not taken the opportunity for more rapid genetic advancement by testing all their heifers. However, the tide is about to change. With new information coming out almost weekly on how the genetic (aka genomic) make-up of an animal relates to profitability, breeders without genomic information on their herd will not be in a position to know which sires to use or how to manage or feed their animals. Genomic testing needs to be viewed as an investment rather than a cost. Invest $50 shortly after birth to save hundreds over the cow’s lifetime.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Every journey requires that a first step be taken. The first step is that breeders submit samples for DNA analysis. Every breeder will benefit by knowing the genomics of their herd. No doubt the cost of testing will come down as more breeders participate.  Future success in dairying will require genomic testing, just as current success depends on capturing and using performance information. Are you prepared for using genomic information to assist in creating your future success in dairying?

The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


Not sure what all this hype about genomics is all about?

Want to learn what it is and what it means to your breeding program?

Download this free guide.




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.



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Recently there has been a lot of discussion about the future of the dairy breeding industry.  New technology, new information and new organizations are entering the industry at record rates.  The problem is that along with all the changes there is also concern about who is leading these changes and protecting the interests of the average breeder.  One of the ongoing battles is the one surrounding the production and publication of US genetic evaluations.  The recent development of the Council for Dairy Cattle Breeding (CDCB) has sparked a war between CDCB and Holstein USA over access to information.  Both sides are threatening to take their toys and go home.

”He who controls the information controls the world.”

Is anyone even considering the answer to the question, “Who does the information belong to?”  As we wrote back in March of 2012 the conflict is over who will have control of the information.  (Read more: Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding: Land of the Free and Home of the Brave?) Now more than 2 years later this battle is coming to a head.  Rumors suggest that Holstein USA is threatening that they won’t share type data with CDCB/USDA because they are not in support of positions and actions being taken at CDCB and are even considering producing their own genetic evaluations for production in addition to the evaluations they currently do for type.  Now let’s be clear.  Up until this point Holstein USA has cooperated fully in the exchange of data.  However, they have been very upfront about their concerns regarding material licensing agreements (MLAs) and the usage of Holstein data.

Enemy at the gates

When you consider that larger and larger corporations have now started to enter into the dairy genetics marketplace, whoever has access to the information will have the power.  If these new players get instant free access to this information, what does that mean to breeders?  I would guess that it would not be positive to seed stock producers or to those who market and sell dairy cattle genetics that has already seen significant decline in their animal values.(Read more: An Insider’s Guide to What Sells at the Big Dairy Cattle Auctions 2013, Who Killed The Market For Good Dairy Cattle? and Is There Still Going To Be A Market For Purebred Dairy Cattle In 10 Years?)  You see the big nasty label should not be applied to the AI companies but rather to multinational supply companies.  That is the enemy I think the large AI companies are most threatened by.  Not the smaller AI organizations taking market share but rather these significantly larger corporations that have the resources to squash the large AI companies like a bug.

Imperfect Track Record

Now let’s say that USDA’s recent track record leaves some questions in many breeders’ minds.  Their decision to restrict breeders’ rights to genomic test their own bulls for a period of time certainly raised the ire of many.  Now the heated debate includes the formation of CDCB comprised of Breeds, DHI and AI (each with 3 seats on the board).  There doesn’t appear to be any apparent savings and no intention to reduce the USDA budget as a result of this decision.  And with the makeup of the board, it is felt that it is controlled by NAAB and the large AI organizations.

Once again this has me asking who exactly controls the information.

Holstein USA has been very vocal about stating that they have their members’ best interests at heart.  I respect that.  However I also see the other viewpoint that points out that this is the same information that members have paid for and yet they don’t get free access to it as in other countries.  Moreover, the limited amount of information that they do get access to comes with additional charges.  In the US is costs $8US to register a calf, in Canada it costs $9 CDN to register a calf.  Considering the exchange values these are about the same expense.  Though in Canada all information is then made publicly available to all.  In the US everyone has to pay an additional $3US per animal in order to get that information. So does Holstein USA really have their members interests at heart?  Or are they driven by their own survival and pocket book?  This is why the relevance of breed associations and programs like type classification are becoming key issues for many breeders.  (Read more: What is the Role of a Dairy Cattle Breed Association? and She Ain’t Pretty – She Just Milks That Way!)

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Am I saying that I am in full support of CDCB’s actions?  No.  It seems to be heavily weighted against breeders and towards the interest of the larger AI companies.  I am most concerned that breeders have access to information.  As more and more AI companies get into owning  females and  developing  of their own bloodlines, the  very livelihood of  seed stock producers is threatened (Read more: Should A.I. Companies Own Females?, Why Good Business for AI Companies Can Mean Bad Business For Dairy Breeders, and What the Experts Won’t Tell You about the Future of the A.I. Industry).  So I understand why Holstein USA should be concerned.  The majority of the membership, and especially those at the board level, is made up of these very seed stock producers.  So if they were truly concerned about these breeders, why don’t them allow them access to all the information?  It’s not about control.  It’s about breeders’ success. Nobody wins if infighting prevents progress.



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Recently I took the opportunity to review the Canadian Breed Strategy presented by Holstein Canada.  (Read more: Holstein Canada Breed Strategy, The Bullvine Feedback) I started to ask myself, “What, exactly, is the role of a modern dairy cattle breed association?”

First of all let’s get one thing clear.  I have the Holstein Canada logo tattooed on my chest.  That was a decision that I made as a young adult in order to display my passion for two of the greatest things in the world, Holstein cattle and Canada.  So for me to take a critical look at this is something I do with passion.  The perspectives that motivate me result from personally observing both the producer side as well as the association side.  My father was head of type classification and genetic improvement at Holstein Canada for 18 years.  That background motivates my review which essentially boils down to one question.  “Are breed associations still relevant?”

Now let’s be realistic, the role of the Holstein breed associations is much different than that of the colored breed associations.  Holsteins represent 92% of the dairy cattle in North America.  So for the colored breeds focus is driven by the need for  awareness and preservation.  What is the focus of the Holstein breed associations?

Politics vs. Corporation

For me this question really begins with the fact of how you look at breed associations?  Are they similar to a government entity and therefore they are to represent the best interests of their members and function mainly in a political role?  Or are they to function similar to a corporation and work at growing the profitability of the association and its members?  For me, I would answer that it’s a little bit a both.

The Elephant in the Room

It`s time now to consider the elephant that is hiding in the corner of the room.  In North America  approximately 22% of all Holstein cattle are registered with either Holstein USA or Holstein Canada.  That means that the large majority (78%) of the Holstein cattle in North America are not registered with either breed association.  When such a large majority is not seeing the value in registration and the association programs, I have to ask, “Are Holstein associations relevant to the majority of today’s dairy producers?”

On a personal level, I see great value in purebred dairy cattle, registrations, type classification, and the many other programs.  But obviously the fact that almost 78% of the Holstein Cattle in North America are not registered tells me that the large majority do not see the value.  Why is that?

When I ask that of many the commercial producers that I chat with the answer often boils down to one comment.  “I don’t see the value in the investment.”  Most of the time this position is held by commercial producers that run their operations more like a corporation, rather than passion for a specific breed or way of life.  While many are larger operations, I get the same answer from both large and small.

Technology has changed the world

In the 1980s the value of a purebred heifer of fresh cow was far greater than that of a grade.  But in today’s marketplace, the difference in prices does not warrant the need for registration.  Also reducing the  pressure  for registrations is the fact that computerized record keeping has evolved to a state that the records available on-farm are as complete as those available from the breed associations.  This has further reduced breeder’s perception of the value of registration.

So then it comes down to the other programs that breed associations provide.  The largest of them has to be type classification.  Now let’s be clear I am a HUGE fan of type classification.  But more and more I hear producers wondering if it is really worth it.  (Read more: Is type classification still important?)  They cite things like the use of genomics as a reason that they no longer need to type classify.  Well as we all know Genomics is not a perfect (Read more: The Genomic Bubble Has Burst?, Genomics – Lies, Miss-Truths and False Publications! and How Genomics is Killing the Dairy Cattle Breeding Industry), but it is a great tool.  However, in order to improve its accuracy, the breed still requires the phenotypic data from programs like type classification and milk recording.

While we are talking about technology, why can’t we use more of this on-farm information for genetic evaluations?  Sure I have heard the concerns about accuracy of data, and the ethics of allowing producers to record their own data.  But who said that this data had to be used for female genetic evaluations?  Why can’t we include this large data set in bull genetic evaluations, so that we can greatly increase the accuracy of sire proofs?  We could even develop more management based genetic evaluations that connect more directly to the bottom line?

Who Cares About Index?

From many of the most passionate breeders in the world, I hear “mixed” comments about the index systems, like TPI, LPI, etc.  (Please note that TPI is a trademark of Holstein USA) Yet breed associations continue to focus on this as a major issue.  While there is no doubt that having a national index has done wonders for marketing and genetic advancement.  In reality every breeder should have their own index.  The best index is the one that the works hand in hand with specific management goals.  Having one National Index isn’t working.  First of all we are in a global marketplace.  Secondly, we need at least have three difference indexes.  One that represents the needs of the seed stock producer (similar to TPI or LPI).  One that represents the needs of the commercial producer (similar to NM$).  Finally one that works for those breeding for the show ring (similar to CONF or PTAT).  Only then will you start to settle this debate.

As long as we continue to try to promote one “unified” national index, it will continue to be seen as nothing more than a marketing tool.  If you really want to have a tool that is for breed advancement and not for marketing, you need to understand that every breeder’s needs are different.  And when you start to look at things from the different perspectives of all producers, and try to represent and respect each one of their individual needs, you will start to see the greatest advancement in the breed.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Really the breed strategy must come down to, “How do you make me more profitable?”  All other issues are secondary to that.  For years I have heard “Well a higher classified cow will last longer in your herd and produce more milk over their lifetime.”  Well I am sorry to tell you that the data does not always support that conclusion.  What if the cow has reproduction issues?  What if they don’t milk very hard?  All of these challenges to profitability also greatly reduce their productive life, yet they are not factored into most of the programs that breed associations currently offer.  If you really want to get a larger share of the national herd pie, you need to show the average producer the measurable effect that registered animals and the associated programs have on their bottom line.  All other issues are just smoke and mirrors that many of the politicians (Breed association board members) spend far too much time focusing on.  I want my breed association to “Show me the money!”


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Why Do We Register?

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

As long as there have been organized herd books (about one and a half centuries) there has been the question of why breeders should register their purebred animals in them. The reasons as to ‘why register’ had undergone many changes and we can expect the reasons to continue to change over time.

In the Beginning

The first herd books were in Europe and were local or regional in nature. One breeder took on the job of recording the births based on the details supplied by his fellow breeders. Documentation was provided listing the birth, parents and a description of the animal. As the systems became more organized registration numbers were allocated. Since the proportion of the cows that were registered was small compared to the unregistered and because the animals that were registered were selected they commanded a premium price. Grade breeders wanting to garner some of the increased price would purchase a registered bull for use on their grade cows. Quite often a breeder would own a bull that his neighbours could use for a fee.  Cattle were on display or exhibited at local fairs and class winners or their offspring brought a premium price.

Cattle to America

The initial animals brought to America were multi-purpose – draught, beef and milk. Their value to their owners were likely in that order of importance. The Dual Purpose Shorthorns was common and popular in the later part of the 19th Century. From about 1875 onwards breeds maintained in Europe primarily for milk production purposes were imported into North America. Again regional herd books sprung up and dairy cattle registration mirrored the systems in Europe. Purity and in Holsteins color or color pattern were key to eligibility for registry.

Improvement Introduced

Early in the 20th Century groups to measure milk production were started. In Canada in 1905 selected cows were measured for the pounds of butterfat that they could produce in a seven day period. That added value to the sons and daughters of top cows and bulls. This was followed by recording for an entire lactation using DHI clubs and DHIR (Breed recognized) in the USA and ROP in Canada. And it moved, over time, from selected animals to all cows in a herd being milk and fat recorded. The cows on these yield improvement programs were required to be registered in the herd book, which by this time had become national in scope. There was real financial value in terms of performance and animal sales from having registered cattle even though it required record keeping and verification by a third party authority.

In the 1920’s North American breeders with foresight saw the need to add longevity to their dairy cattle and they started conformation evaluation programs for registered animals. Animals with high conformation scores, authenticated by approved evaluators, commanded higher prices.

For history buffs there are numerous books (Read more: HALTER, PEN and GAVEL. That’s Just the Norm, Edward Young Morwick – Country Roads to Law Office and “The Dairy Queen” has All the Answers!) that document advancements and the spread of purebred registered animals from the late 19th to the start of the 21st Century.

What is Purity?

Mainly because of the use of A. I. which required that the bulls standing in stud be registered and their ancestors performance tested, the entire population of dairy cattle improved for their productive ability. It got to the stage where many unregistered animals were capable of matching or even exceeding the performance of some of the average or lower end registered cattle. For registered cattle to maintain their value breeders were put in the position to accept entry into the herd book of animals originating from unregistered background. They could be entered into the herd book provided proof could be shown for the use of registered sires in their pedigree.  This increased the proportion of the total dairy cattle population that were registered. These new entries into the herd book came from breeders that were using milk recording. This put in place a three tier value system. The top was high quality registered performance tested purebreds followed, in order, by graded-up cattle with performance records and then by registered purebreds that were not performance tested. The mould was broken. Simple registration of lineage no longer always meant a premium. Some breeders fought the move to include graded-up animals but in the end they were included. So it became not just registry but also performance that set an animal’s value.

Dairy Cattle Move Global

For about sixty years following WW II, dairy cattle moved first from Europe and North America and then Oceania to all regions of the globe. First bulls and then heifers moved and were used as the basis for establishing dairy cattle farming in their new homes.  However the biggest change in these countries came through the use of high quality A.I. proven sires. All these moves re-enforced the value of registered and recorded animals. Breeders in the countries of origin benefited because they had invested in registration, milk recording and type classification. As the 20th Century closed and the cost of transporting animals increased the sale of embryos began to replace live female sales.

The Pace Quickens

Nothing lasts for ever.  Starting around the turn to the 21st century and with some outbreaks of animal diseases and the move for increased food safety, disease testing became necessary and so all animals had to be permanently identified and their movement tracked. State and national data bases became necessary for all dairy animals. In Canada the purebred registry societies saw the light and expanded their databases (herd books) to include all dairy animals.  Every country has or is now establishing identification and animal tracking systems. It is not a “maybe” any longer. Farms producing milk must guarantee the health of the animals producing it. Registering animals which started as optional and a way to garner more income (cattle sales) from a dairy farm is or will soon be the law everywhere.

Time Waits for No One

So far in the 21st Century two advancements have changed the scene in a major way for the value of registration. First there was sexed semen, leading to more heifers being available. Then in 2008 genomic testing arrived. The combination of these two technologies resulted in a lowering of the premium for good quality registered recorded animals. Young full pedigreed above average conformation cows worth $4,000 to $10,000 a decade ago are now only $200 to $500 over replacement milk cow values. There is still a premium for registered and recorded females but not a farm revenue center like it once was. Only elite genomically evaluated animals garner a large premium. But it does not stop there.  Accurate evaluation (genomics) of the genetic merit of young animals has placed the premium on young superior animals at the expense of milking females.

What Does the Future Hold?

None of us can exactly predict the future for the registered recorded evaluated dairy cattle populations. We can expect the pace of change to increase. Consumers’ needs (high quality safe food) and demands (polled) will expand (Read more: MILK MARKETING: How “Got Milk?” BECAME “Got Lost” and Why the Future of the North American Dairy Industry Depends On Supply And Demand and “Got Milk” is becoming “Got More”). More and more information on the genetic make-up of animals will become available using DNA analysis. IVF will move from being only available at specialized centers to a service available on-farm. Automation and computers will be universally used. Data services will be web based covering all aspects of dairy farming.

And those items only cover what we currently know and not what will come as a result of both research and development in genetics, reproduction, health, nutrition and management. Can you see the day when cows will be monitored and recorded 24-7 and the results stored on the information ‘cloud”? Definitely every farm will need a breeding plan (Read more: What’s the plan?, Flukes and Pukes – What Happens When You Don’t Have a Plan and Are you a hobby farmer or a dairy business?). We live in exciting times.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

A century ago registration was new and novel.  Today registration is a vital first step in the information gathering process. For progressive breeders registration will continue to be an investment opportunity and not a cost.

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No two dairy breeders are exactly the same. They should not be stereotyped as one group but rather considered as a whole that when brought together is better than the sum of its parts.

This is direction we are pointed toward upon getting to know the thoughts of Holstein USA President Chuck Worden.  Chuck is descended from a diverse dairy background himself and encourages others, including his three sons, to develop their own unique dairy philosophy. “My start in dairy cattle came through my family farm, Glen Cove Farm.  My father and uncle took over their farm from their father.  They had both Holsteins and beef, Scotch Shorthorns.  In genetics they had more success in the beef than dairy.  Today all of my three brothers also have dairies and all of my three sons have returned to our dairy.”  The pride in family, uniqueness and diversity rings through every word.

Chuck and his wife, Vanessa (Picture taken at his son Wayne's wedding this past weekend)

Chuck and his wife, Vanessa
(Picture taken at his son Wayne’s wedding this past weekend)

“It’s a love of genetics that keeps all of our family in cattle.”

Chuck and his wife, Vanessa, point with pride to the dairy passion of their family.  “Without question the biggest success story of Wormont Dairy is the interest of the next generation.  All four of our children have a great passion for genetics and fine cattle. We are most proud of this.”

Wayne, Eric, Vanessa, Kate, Mark and Chuck Worden

Chuck also points back to his own father for inspiring his love of cattle. “My father’s love for cattle genetics spanned both Holstein and Scotch Shorthorns, although most of his success was in beef cattle, having bred many All Americans.  At one point he had both the International Supreme Champion (1961) and the World record Shorthorn bull at $36,000 on our farm at one time.  He also served on the American Shorthorn board and was voted “builder of the breed”.

A terrific role model for future generations of Wordens.”

Wormont Dairy: Growing and Moving

Whether it’s in New Mexico or New York, Wormont Dairy has always kept their herd evolving with the market.  “Currently we’ve got 275 cows, both Holstein and Jersey, all registered.  We’ve relocated several times from 60 cow tie stall in the 80’s and 90’s in New York to New  Mexico where we had up to 1400 cows on a dry lot and back to New York where we are currently located.” He sums up the successes of their program. “Many families, both bred and purchased, have made useable females for us to breed from.  As we’re working into genomics and marketing from them we’re finding surprises as we continue to test females.  While in New Mexico a young Outside son of Regancrest Jolt Diantha was used.  I loved the calves and bought 700 more doses of him.  While at Madison, I bought a pick out of Diantha and chose Outside as the sire.  I ended up getting a daughter from this mating.  Today Destiny stands at Ex-93 and is our favorite cow.” Looking back Chuck singles out Wormont Blackstar Dorian-ET. “She was our best cow in the 1990’s. She sold 16 sons into AI and spearheaded a family that put over 100 bulls into AI over a ten year time span.”

Solo Outside Destiny-ET  EX-93 2E  93-MS Dam: REGANCREST JOLT DIANTHA-ET VG-87 GMD DOM

Solo Outside Destiny-ET EX-93 2E 93-MS

“Stay focused on your goal!”

Focus is a recurring theme of this dedicated President and Holstein breeder.  “Whether you are in love with the showing or breeding for high genomics, you must stay focused on your goal.  Many young breeders that I visit with will jump back and forth and never reach their goals because they lose their focus.” He supports his viewpoint with perspective gained working with the Holstein Association. “The biggest challenge we face as dairyman in the US is profitability.  In tough times we’ve had to make many compromises on our dairies.  One area we’ve tried not to compromise on is genetics when buying semen.  With our breed association the biggest challenge will always be doing what’s right for members and the Holstein cow.  There is no compromise that would take the breeding decision away from the breeders.”

Chuck explains how they walk the talk at Wormont Holsteins. “Our breeding philosophy focuses on genomics as we strive to get back into a market based breeding program for diversity in income. Over 30 young high genomic sires are always on hand based on GTPI TM and uniqueness of pedigree.  We’re not on any AI exclusive list so we get new bulls as they’re available like most everyone else.” The Wormonts keep up with the changing times in their approach to marketing as well. “Although we’re in the building stages of our genomics marketing program, we use Facebook and our website,  Lindsey, our daughter, does our website and other marketing initiatives.”

Wormont Shottle Percell    VG-87    87-MS GTPI +2108    PL +5.4    DPR +2.7

Wormont Shottle Percell VG-87 87-MS
GTPI +2108 PL +5.4 DPR +2.7

Proud of People and Opportunities

Chuck Worden speaks glowingly of the experiences he has had as President of Holstein Association USA Inc. and points to the people especially.  “I am humbled by the many great breeders that I served on the HAUSA board with and now call them and their families our friends.  Two that stand out for their focus and resolve are Marvin Nunes of Ocean View and Bill Peck of Welcome, both headed our Genetic Advancement Committee and help influence the direction of our breed.  The initiatives put forth by our CEO John Meyer when he was first hired stand out to me.  He started “Complete,” our whole program that has led to increased use of many of our core programs.  His Management by Objective, MBO, way of measuring success has given HAUSA about ten years of outstanding bottom line success while saving our members money on the services they use.  It also allowed the board and staff a chance to see the success as it was accomplished.”  Speaking of services he goes on. “Field services have never been free, but all data collectors, DHIA, DRPCs and breed associations have always operated at very conservative margins.  The way they charge for services rendered has and probably will change a great deal as more and more marketing is done off of genomic predictions.  All allied industry partners will work together to fund research.”

Chuck is very proud to represent Holstein USA.  Seen here with 2011 Distinguished Leadership Award Recipient L-R: Holstein USA President Chuck Worden, Judy and Charles Iager, and Holstein USA CEO John M. Meyer

Chuck is very proud to represent Holstein USA. Seen here with 2011 Distinguished Leadership Award Recipients Judy and Charles Iager as well as Holstein USA CEO John M. Meyer

Ready to Face Challenges too!

With his commitment to American dairy breeding, Chuck doesn’t downplay the very real issues they face.  “The biggest challenge that I’ve ever focused on any board has been the work done on transfer of the service work on genetic evaluations and genomic predictions from USDA to the dairy industry.” He feels quite strongly about what is needed. “This is not something we can afford to take lightly.  It means protecting the integrity and preserving the “Gold Standard of the World” GTPI.”

Years of experience have given Chuck Worden a reasoned perspective on change. “The breeding industry is a constantly swinging pendulum.  It‘s easy to get depressed when you feel like the breed has gone too far in one direction.  I do believe the rapid rise in genomic bulls has slowed.  Many great breeders I’ve witnessed don’t let the pendulum control their breeding program.  They do make adjustment to their breeding programs to fit their marketing strategies, focus on your goals, not the popular bull of the month.”

“The challenge to any president is to do the best job of representing our members and our association.”

Although Chuck has spent a lot more of his “extra” time as Holstein President flying than pursuing his hobby of fishing, he is proud of the association he represents “The North American gene pool is the greatest, most in demand in the world.  It’s up to our breed associations to maintain the credibility of our breed by maintaining an unbiased, accurate data collector and genetic predictor.  I think we’re done a fabulous job of that.”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

No doubt family, friends and fellow dairy breeders count themselves lucky to be associated with the commitment, leadership and dedication of Chuck Worden.  There is also no doubt that he feels he has benefitted most. “I’ve got a great deal of respect for the many breeders and industry leaders I’ve gotten to know and work with over the last 15 years.  What makes the registered Holstein industry special is the uniqueness and diversity of our breeders.  I personally realize that getting involved is worth it.  I’ve gained far more than I could ever have imagined.   Our involvement does make a difference!”  To Chuck Worden, The Bullvine joins our readers in acknowledging your fine focus toward pulling uniqueness and diversity together for the benefit of the members of Holstein Association of America and say, “Thank you!”

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