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Now more than ever buying embryos may be one of the best decisions breeders can make to accelerate the rate of genetic advancement in their herds.  With the price of semen going up and the cost of embryos coming down, it  is a great time to think about buying.  In order to help you make the right decision for your herd, the Bullvine asked breeders what advice they would give to breeders who are looking to purchase embryos.  The following are the top tips that we received:

Set Your Goals

There is no question that first you must know your plan, before you invest any money into genetics, embryos, semen or live cattle.  Regardless of your situation, a well-thought-out business plan is necessary before you start spending money on genetics.  Like any other viable business, your farm is more likely to succeed when investing in embryos when your goals and strategy are part of a written business plan.  (Read more: What’s the plan?)  ” You have to know your herd, your cow and yourself before you make even one mating decision.” Points out Ari Ekstein of Quality Farms ltd. (Read more: Quality Holsteins – Well-Deserved Congratulations)  Dann Brady from Ferme Blondin shares this viewpoint  “There is a niche market for so many different breeding goals, don’t try and focus on all of them.  Find where your passion is and builds from there.”  (Read more about Ferme Blondin in our feature article FERME BLONDIN “Passion with a Purpose Builds Success”)

Take No Bull

Considering that the breeder of the embryos you are buying will probably have all the male sales accounted for, you should make sure that you purchase only female embryos.  Buy them reverse sorted female or sexed to eliminate males.  Jerry Jorgensen from Ri-Val-Re Holsteins shares “Before doing anything, set your goals.  What do you want to achieve?  Set YOUR goals and where you want to be.”  (Read more about  Jerry Jorgensen and Ri-Val-Re Holsteins in our feature articles – BREEDING RI-VAL-RE: Where Looking Good in the Stall Is Just As Important As Looking Good On Paper and $10,000 a dose Polled Semen).

KHW Regiment Apple-Red-ET EX-96 DOM  2013 HI Red Impact Cow of the Year  Res Grand Champion, Grand Int'l R&W Show 2013  Grand Champion, Grand Int'l R&W Show 2011  All-American R&W Aged Cow 2011  HI World Champion R&W Cow 2010 Unanimous All-American Jr 2-Yr-Old 2006 All-American R&W Jr 2-Yr-Old 2006 HHM All-American Jr 3-Yr-Old 2007 Nom All-American R&W 5-Yr-Old 2009

KHW Regiment Apple-Red-ET EX-96 DOM
2013 HI Red Impact Cow of the Year
Res Grand Champion, Grand Int’l R&W Show 2013
Grand Champion, Grand Int’l R&W Show 2011
All-American R&W Aged Cow 2011
HI World Champion R&W Cow 2010
Unanimous All-American Jr 2-Yr-Old 2006
All-American R&W Jr 2-Yr-Old 2006
HHM All-American Jr 3-Yr-Old 2007
Nom All-American R&W 5-Yr-Old 2009

It’s a Family Thing

If you are looking to build generations of success, it helps to purchase from cow families that have already proven themselves over multiple generations.  Jimmy Perreault of Vieux Saule Holstein highlights the need to buy from strong pedigrees, which is something they have done very successfully“ (Read more:  Vieux Saule Holstein: Rooted in Family Values).  Families like that of KHW Regiment Apple Red, Quality Charles Francisco or Thrulane James Rose, almost sell themselves.  Pierre Boulet highlights “Thrulane James Rose with all of the success that she has had, she obviously creates an enormous amount of demand for genetics from her and her daughters.”  So this leads him naturally to the most important reason Rose is unique.  “There is a whole other aspect that we have to consider with Rose and that is the publicity that she has generated for us.  A cow like her puts our name out around the globe, attracts people to our farm, and indirectly generates business for the other genetics that we offer.”  Once the word is out, it is a lot easier to share your breeding philosophy and the successes that have come from it.  (Read more: FERME PIERRE BOULET: FIRST COMES LOVE THEN COMES GENETICS)

THRULANE JAMES ROSE EX-97-2E-CAN 3* ALL-CANADIAN MATURE COW 2009,2008 ALL-AMERICAN MATURE COW 2009,2008 GRAND ROYAL 2009,2008,2006 Supreme Champion - World Dairy Expo 2008

GRAND ROYAL 2009,2008,2006
Supreme Champion – World Dairy Expo 2008

Max the Stack

Tried tested and true a cow’s/calf’s sire stack is probably one of the most reliable things you can look at.  Maxime Petitclerc of Ferme Petitclerc, highlights that it’s a must.  “Whether you are looking at high index animals or show winners, their sire stack can go a long way in predicting future breeding ability.  Pierre Boulet comments “When I like what I see, the next thing that I check is the pedigree for the family and the sire stack.  The family is obviously important because a solid family that consistently breeds well takes away a lot of risk.  At the same time, the importance of the sire stack is often disregarded.  When a cow or heifer is backed by several generations of great bulls it gives you the reassurance that there is solid, well proven genetics in her blood.”  (Read more: FERME PIERRE BOULET: FIRST COMES LOVE THEN COMES GENETICS)

Do Your Homework

It’s important to look at more than just their indexes and classification.  It’s also important to do careful homework.  One key area that we have always found important is to see how well the family flushes.  When looking to have the greatest effect on the genetic advancement of your herd, your purchases need to be very fertile.  A good “chicken” will outperform a great cow that does not flush.  Take the time to make sure that the family you are considering has the ability to flush 7+ embryos per time.  (Read more: What Comes First The Chicken Or The Egg?)

Know Your Costs

For every breeder, the return on investment is going to be different.  Depending upon availability of recipients and flush costs, your costs of production will be different.  Also, budget for about a 50% conception rate, combined with the fact that 50% of the resulting progeny will be male.  That is why it’s important to know both what your costs are going to be and what your targeted revenues are.  To help calculate your costs download our Dairy Cow Investment Calculator.

Know Your Risk Threshold

If this is your first time purchasing embryos, and especially if this is your first time implanting embryos, it’s better to purchase $200 embryos instead of $2,000 ones.  The learning curve and understanding of what it takes to get good conception rates can be very costly when spending significant amounts for the purchase of the eggs.

Know the Market

If you are planning to sell any of the resulting progeny, it will be important to have an accurate assessment of their value, so you know how much you should invest.  To learn what current market prices are check out AN INSIDER’S GUIDE TO WHAT SELLS AT THE BIG DAIRY CATTLE AUCTIONS 2013

Make the tough choices

With so much Embryo Transfer and IVF occurring on top animals and many people buying embryos from yearlings, it can be hard to determine which animal you should purchase embryos from.  Buying on genomic indexes is quite accurate, and it will become more accurate as more animals are genomically tested, and then performance tested.  It is quite simple in the end.  Buy the sister that most closely meets your needs.  To learn more read Which Full Sister Do I Buy?

Think Outside the Box

Innovative, forward thinking breeders have been and will always be the people who move dairy cattle breeding ahead.  They are not satisfied to only think within the box.  They use the approach that works for them.  That is always the best alternative.  (Read more: Investing in Dairy Cattle Genetics – Think Outside the Box).

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Purchasing embryos can be a great way to accelerate the rate of genetic advancement in your herd, without opening your herd up to potential health and other concerns.  Prices for high quality embryos are as low as they have ever been, making it one of the greatest rates of return you can get in the genetics marketplace.  By following these 10 tips, you can greatly accelerate not only your rate of genetic gain, but also you’re learning curve and ROI.



Not sure how much to spend on that great 2 year old or heifer?
Want to make sure you are investing your money wisely?
Download our Dairy Cow Investment Calculator.




Investing in dairy cattle can seem risky to many breeders.  Doing so, when prices are setting new records, can scare even the most confident among us.  However, more recently, prices have taken a downward trend and now could be the time to ask, “Am I in this for the long haul?  Or do I prefer to sit on the sidelines?”

With many sales coming up throughout North America, there are certainly going to be lots of animals to choose from.  For the first time in recent years, supply might be greater than demand.  There are two main reasons for this.  First, so many of the top cattle have been on extensive IVF programs that the owners of these cattle have way more daughters than their breeding program needs.  (Read more: FAST TRACK GENETICS: More Results in Less Time and IVF: Boom or Bust for the Dairy Industry)  Considering the significant investment that IVF requires, these breeders are looking to recoup their expenses as soon as possible.  Also typically these calves are most valuable at as young an age as possible, so that their indexes are as high relative to the rest of the breed as possible (Read more: Informed Heifer Buying – Are you fully prepared?)

The second reason that prices may be the lowest we have seen in years is that it appears that we have passed the investor bubble that funded massive investment and high prices over the past few years.  Many early investors are now realizing that there were more expenses associated with running their genetic programs than they first anticipated (i.e. IVF, recipients, feed etc.) and are starting to wonder if it was a wise investment after all.  Most were thinking their investment have a short-term 2-3 year payout and not take longer than that.  Perhaps they didn’t account for three specific things:

  1. Flush history of the animals they were purchasing.
    Even with IVF there is no comparison on the return of a family that flushes well compared to one that only produces 4-5 eggs even on IVF.  IVF may give more progeny than you would have had using traditional flush methods, but it also incurs more expense.
  2. Cost of recipients
    One area many breeders/investors do not account for when first purchasing is recipient costs.  From that purchase to, feeding and then adding on implanting expenses, the investment in recipients can often outweigh the cost of the actual donor animal.  After multiple years of flushing and then starting to flush the progeny of the original donor, these costs can skyrocket.
  3. True return on investment
    First things first.  I know many investors invested without even having a clear plan.  “They just wanted to make big money.”  In addition, thought that ROI would happen quickly.  Many perceptive and knowledgeable investors would have realized that a significant return would have to come from semen sales and not from live animal sales.  The problem with building your program around semen sales is that you first need to be in the top .1 percent of the breed and secondly it takes many years to actually see this payoff.

Having said all that, now just may be the wise time to invest.  You see the initial whoosh has passed and prices are now dropping on many great animals.  Over the past few months I have seen animals that are within the top .2 percent of the breed selling for less than $5,000, sometimes even less than $3,000. (Read more: Where did the money go?)  Many naysayers would say this is the price these animals should be selling for anyway.  Those who are willing to do their homework, invest their time and not just their money, are now able to pick up some great animals that can significantly advance their breeding programs.  Even if you have no interest in doing IVF on them, at those prices they can make their return with just traditional flushing techniques, or even just breeding them normally.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

There is no question that any marketplace is going to have its highs and lows.  It’s those with the perception to understand when the highs are and when the lows are that are going to make the most return on their investment.  In the dairy genetics marketplace there is no question we are currently entering a down period.  The thing many wise investors will realize is that it takes two years of planning in advance to know when it’s the time to invest and when it’s the time to sell.  Just now, if we look two years out, it looks pretty safe to say that prices will be higher.  That is simply market economics.  Therefore, those with the cash flow to invest in some additions to their herd may find that “Now!”  is the exactly right time for them to buy.


Not sure how much to spend on that great 2 year old or heifer?
Want to make sure you are investing your money wisely?
Download our Dairy Cow Investment Calculator.



In the heat of an auction buyers need to be well aware of the genetic merit of the animal they are bidding on. Sales managers make every effort to make sure that the numbers in the sales catalogues are accurate and complete, however there is frequently added information that potential buyers did not have when they closely reviewed the catalogue before the sale. Additionally at times buyers may not be aware if the animal in the sales ring is of elite genetic merit.

In an attempt to give buyers interested in purchasing an elite young female to add to their breeding or marketing program from future sales this fall, the Bullvine has analyzed the heifers born and registered in the herd books in North America from March 2012 to August 2013. This group of females was chosen as they are likely to be the ages of heifers that will go through sales auctions over the next two months. The information from the CDN files was used as it is the animal information that is available free of charge.

Breed Toppers

Buyers are advised to have at their fingertips the total merit indexes for the very best animals so that they can value an animal that they are considering buying. The following table lists the averages for the top twenty-five heifers.

Figure 1.0 Top Twenty-Five North American Heifers (Born March 2012 to August 2013)


Some points worthy of note from this table are: i) do not compare the Holstein and Jersey LPI values as the formulae differ; ii) the top 25 Holstein heifers are a very elite group with the DGV LPIs exceeding the gLPIs by 161 points; iii) Red Carrier Holsteins heifers have made considerable improvement in the last couple of years by the use of top BW sires on RC or Red females; iv) Polled Holsteins heifers have and are likely to continue to make rapid advancement again by the use of top horned BW sires on polled females; and v) the values listed for the Red Holstein heifers are parent averages as only two of the top twenty five heifers were genomically tested.

Use these benchmarks as you review the sales catalogues either on-line or using a hard copy of the catalogue.

Top Values

Often buyers wish to know benchmark numbers beyond the LPI value. The average index for the top five heifers for each trait in each animal category are as follows:

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Remember these are the averages for the very best five animals in the various categories.

Sires of the Heifers

Buyers often want to know the sires of the top heifers. Knowing the sires of the top twenty-five heifers gives an indication of who the competition will be when you are marketing in the future from your purchases.

Sires with more that two daughters in the various categories are listed below. Each category has twenty five heifers. The bracketed number is the number of daughters the sire has on the list.


  • Seagull-Bay Supersire (8)
  • De-Su BKM McCutchen (5)

RC Holstein

  • De-Su BKM McCutchen (6)
  • Seagull-Bay Supersire (5)
  • Mountfield SSI Dorcy Mogul (4)

Polled Holstein

  • Sea-Gull Bay Supersire (9)
  • Da-So-Burn MOM Earnhardt P (5)

Red Holstein

  • Dymentholm S Sympatico (8)
  • Curr-Vale Destined (5)
  • Tiger-Lily Ladd P-Red (5)


  • Sunset Canyon Dimension (5)
  • All Lynns Valentino Marvel (4)

Health & Fertility

In the Holstein breed many breeders are starting to place increased emphasis on the Health and Fertility rating that CDN assigns animals. The value assigned can be found by looking up the animal on the CDN website. Factors used in calculating the H&F index include: Herd Life; SCS; Daughter Fertility; Milking Speed; and some other correlated traits.

The top five Holstein heifers in the various categories had average DGV Health and Fertility ratings as follows:  Holstein 465;  RC Holstein 413;  Polled Holstein 423. Clearly an animal over 375 to 400 for H&F is at the top of the breed. An H%F value is not available for Red Holstein as so few of them are genomically tested.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

It is important to know the genetic superiority of an animal when purchasing or using them in your breeding or marketing program. It is the Bullvine’s hope that the above statistics will assist. Wise investment should give you a leg up on moving your herd forward.


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The Bullvine has produced many articles on investing in genetics using genomic information including our early article 6 Ways to invest $50,000 in Dairy Cattle Genetics. Other Bullvine articles included Craswell Common Sense – Go For the Total Package, Mapel Wood Farms – Invest in the Best Forget the Rest,  The Judge’s Choice – Investment Advice from Tim Abbott, and the Bullvine’s frequent articles on top picks in upcoming sales (Read more: Dairy Cattle Investment Advice). All these articles deal with finding and investing in the very top genetic animals.  Today these investments are usually virgin heifers. Specifically, they are the ones that everyone sees in the press, in on-line sales catalogues or on Facebook. These young females usually sell for over $20,000 to $25,000. But what does a beginning breeder do? With limited capital what options are there if you want to kick-start the genetic level of his herd or start a new cow families? You need to think outside the box.

Invest Your Time

The term ‘sweat equity’ is often used when a person takes on a project themselves rather than hiring an outside expert.  Well the sweat equity when it comes to buying top genetics is the time that you will need to invest in researching and finding animals. This is not meant to say that your time is worth little. What it does mean is that breeders, taking this approach, will need to search, search, search,…study, study, study,… and above all exercise patience until they find the right one(s).

At every sale there will be some good buys. It just takes time to do your homework to know which ones are good and which ones you will regret.

The Concept

A concept that bottom line focused beginning breeder might consider is to buy a top heifer for $6,000 or less. Flush the heifer and put embryos in your low genetic merit animals. The heifer will need to have a Net Merit of $775, a gTPI™ of 2400 or a DVG LPI of +3200.

Some folks may ask why invest in a heifer and not in embryos. Well it comes down to economics. Embryos from top cows sell for $1500 to $2000. It takes five unsexed embryos to get a live heifer. Then you must factor in that perhaps only one in four heifers will have high enough genomic numbers to be near the top and you can have $30,000 invested in getting a top daughter. It is more cost effective to buy a heifer about which you already know the genomic numbers.

So the challenge or opportunity, depending on how you look at it, is to find and buy a heifer that does not top the charts but is close to the top and that will give you progeny whose genomic indexes exceed, by a considerable amount, their parent average and that is  also an animal that does not cost an arm and a leg to buy.

Know Your Focus

As most breeders do not attend or participate in showing, the focus for breeders early in their careers will be cow families, high lifetime yields, fertility and ability to stay in the herd and not be culled. In the future that check list is likely to include feed and labor efficiency. Above all when you’re starting out establish your focus. It will change over time but searching for show genetics one week, protein yield the next week and then before the month is out five other traits is not likely to get you to where you need to be. This is especially true if you are working with only a couple of heifers at any given time. Unlike breeders with a larger program who can likely cover a number of breeding fronts at one time.

Don’t let the excitement of the sale get the better of you.  Keep your focus and know your criteria, your price may be different than someone elses, that’s ok.  You have to do what works for your plan.

Purchase Criteria

Breeding chart topping heifers and bulls can not be achieved by starting with animals that are only moderately above average (for example gTPI™ of 2000 to 2200 or gLPI of +2800 to +3000). You need to be starting with animals that are 95% Rank or higher at least for the major traits you are breeding for.  Starting any lower will mean that you are two to three generations away from having chart toppers. The Bullvine polled a number of people who have had success in topping the charts and they provided the following necessary ingredients for success:

  • Cow Families – success is much more likely if you purchase heifers from cow families that have high genomic values
  • Sire Stack – make sure the sires behind the heifer are high indexing and that the sires’ indexes compliment your objectives
  • Ability to Flush – you need to get 6+ embryos per flush and there are differences between families in how they flush (Read more: What Comes First The Chicken Or The Egg)
  • The Heifer will need to produce well, for milk fat and protein, and classify GP83 or higher in her first lactation. Eventually she will need to score VG.
  • The heifer’s genomic indexes (DGVs) will need to be within 200 for gTPI™ or 300 for gLPI of the very best heifers on the lists
  • A cow with many daughters with very high genomic indexes is a family you should be buying from
  • Likely the heifer you will be able to afford will be the third ranking full sister by a high genomic evaluated bull. It is how she will breed that will be important not that she’s third ranked.

What are the Facts

Knowing that the our readers like to see the actual facts, the Bullvine did an analysis on the top one hundred indexing heifers born and registered from January to June (inclusive) in 2013 in North America. The sources of the data for this study was CDN as it is the only source where breeders are not charged for look-ups. Here is what we found:

  • All but three of the top one hundred indexing heifers are sired by bulls with only a genomic index. Those three are sired by bulls on the top ten International gTPI™ list.
  • Females with a DGV LPI below +3200 can produce top daughters when mated to the best bulls available. The dams of the top one hundred heifers with DGV LPIs below +3200 broke out as follows: 2 have daughters in the top ten; 18 in the top fifty and 35 in the top one hundred.
  • As we would expect the top 20 heifers are a very superior group. i) All are from well known high indexing cow families. ii) All are over +3500 for their gLPI averaging + 3568; iii) Their DGV LPIs exceed their gLPIs by 338 on average.  iv) Seven are sired by Seagull-Bay Supersire, five by De-Su BKM McCutchen and eight by six other high genomic bulls. v)  These twenty heifers make the top of the list because they are exceptionally high for traits like fat yield, protein yield, herd life, SCS, daughter fertility and mammary system. vi) Worthy of note in the fact that only one  of the twenty does not have positive indexes for %F and %P.
  • One dam MISS OCD ROBST DELICIOUS-ET has seven daughters that make the top one hundred list. Her Butz-Butler Shotglass daughter tops the list at +3682 gLPI and her DGV LPI is a very high + 3909; that DVG LPI is 401 over the DVG LPI average of her parents. The Crocket-Acres Elita Family has three heifers in the top twenty.
  • One heifer, S-S-I Zeus Mae 9096-ET, stands out as far exceeding (by 640 LPI) her parents in DVG LPI. Her sire De-Su Robust Zeus 11009-ET (DVG LPI +3301) and dam S-S-I Observ Manteca 7197-ET (DGV LPI + 3020) are not list toppers in their own right but together they produced this #6 heifer.

The Short Story

It is possible to get top progeny (daughters and sons) from females that may not quite be at the top of the indexing lists, provided, you use complimentary mating (Read more: Let’s Talk Mating Strategies)  and the very best sires available on those females.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Innovative forward thinking breeders have been and will always be the people who move dairy cattle breeding ahead. They are not satisfied to only think within the box. They use the approach that work for them. That’s always the best alternative.


Not sure how much to spend on that great 2 year old or heifer?
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What’s the plan?

Monday, August 19th, 2013

Are you just starting out?  Are you growing your breeding program and needing to get bank financing?  Maybe you’re transitioning to the next generation.  Whatever your situation a well-thought-out business plan is the vehicle you need to get you there.  Like any other viable business, your farm is more likely to succeed with a written business plan.

For many the thought of taking the time to write a business plan seems too daunting.  There are so many other things that need to be done.  But that is exactly the reason you need a business plan.  With so many things that can impact your dairy operation, you need to know how to steer through the issues.  The following are just a few reasons why your farm needs a business plan:

  • To avoid big mistakes: The last thing you want to do is work on something year after year , only to realize you were doomed from the start to fail.  That is exactly what can happen to many dairy operations.  Because they don’t take the time to plan everything out, they don’t account for all the potential mistakes they could be making.  Instead, they try to “change” the plan as they go along.  The problem was there never really was a plan to start with.  Developing and sharing a business plan can help ensure that you avoid the hurdles and sprint down the right path.
  • To counterbalance your emotions: If you are like many dairy breeders you are very passionate about your ideas.  The problem is this driving passion can make you susceptible to losing sight of reality.  It’s a lot to carry on your shoulders.  There are times that you may be overwhelmed by doubt, fear, or exhaustion.  When your emotions get the best of you, having a business plan lets you step back, and take an objective look at what you are doing and why, what you know for a fact and what you are trying to figure out.
  • To make sure everyone’s on the same page: Chances are, you are not building your farm by yourself.  Ideally, you’ll have family, children, maybe even parents involved.  A business plan helps get everyone involved and heading in the same direction.  There is nothing worse than find out part way down the road that someone on the team had a different plan than you did.  When I was in University, many classmates went back to the family farm.  Now some of them were very wise and established a plan before going back to the farm.  However, others didn’t and now find themselves lost and facing an uncertain future.
  • To develop a game plan: Dairy farming is a business.  Breeders forget that at their peril.  As with any sustainable business, execution is everything.  That means you have to set priorities, establish goals, and measure performance.  You also need to identify the key questions to answer, like “What will we specialize in?”  “Will we breed for profit or personal genetic gain?” and “What is the next generation transition strategy?”  These are all things you’ll address during the business planning process.
  • To raise capital.  If you raise or borrow money—even from friends and family—you’ll need to communicate your vision in a clear, compelling way.  A good business plan will help you do just that.  A good business plan will not only make it easier for you to get the financing you require to achieve your goals, but oftentimes it will help you achieve lower financing rates, or qualify for a  larger amount of financing.

More often than not, dairy producers have a basic business plan for their farm, but they certainly don’t have a plan for their genetic programs.  They may have some basic ideas about what type of cow they want, or what are their minimum requirements for sire selection, but they haven’t sat down and developed a clear genetic program.  This means setting measureable goals from start to finish.  What sires they are going to use.  How will genetics play a role in herd profitability?  What type of cattle will be needed in two years.  You see the breeding decisions you make today, typically won’t affect your profitability until two or three years from now.  This is especially true if you are planning on selling genetics (embryos, calves, bulls…).  You need to have a very clear plan.  These ventures require a significant financial investment, and no financial investment should be made without a clear understanding of exactly what the expected return is.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Of course no plan is any good if you don’t follow it.  That doesn’t mean you cannot change the plan.  Actually, I think the plan should always be adjusting.  The marketplace is always changing.  A clear but flexible plan is exactly what you need to steer you through the good times and the bad times.  Plan on it!


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Why you should get rid of the bottom 10%

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

Before there was Donald Trump, there was Jack Welch, one of America’s greatest business leaders in history. During Jack Welch’s 20-year career as chairman and CEO of General Electric, GE’s company value rose 4000%.  That is a 200% per year growth rate.  More than 50 times that of the average company.  How did Jack do it?  He got rid of the bottom 10% of GE’s employees every year.

Such bold and committed action could also apply in dairy farming. Although most of us are so entrenched in our own operations that we cannot always be objective. But we should be objective. Managers must make the tough decisions. Are you ready to Fire the Bottom 10%?  Management choices or decisions could very well be significantly dragging down your profits.

Random Poll

So The Bullvine polled dairy producers asking them:

“In managing your dairy enterprise, if someone said to you fire the Bottom 10% in order to increase your profits what would you do?”

The following four management areas were the ones the producers identified as their top “fire the bottom” moves.

Heifer Rearing

Producers tell us that the easiest and quickest change they can make is to stop raising all their heifer calves. In the past selling springing bred heifers or recently calved in first calvers was a revenue source. Some long for those days to return. The reality is that those days in North America are not about to reoccur with increased use of sexed semen and producers finding ways to retain still profitable older cows.

One producer in expansion mode dropped his heifer numbers back and used the barn space and feed to milk more cows. He did it using the heifer sized free stalls for a group of 22-26 month old milkers. Another producer changed his program to lower feed costs using a very high forage diet for all milking females thereby needing more cows to fill his daily milk shipments. His plan is that by dropping from 75 to 65 pounds of milk per cow per day he will have less cow turnover, a shorter calving interval and more profit per cow per day of productive life. Profit per cow per day (sometimes referred to as daily return over feed costs) is a term all producers are now using extensively.

Some producers report selling all heifer calves to a heifer raiser with the option of buying back needed replacements at $200 over going market price for any of his own heifers. He is very satisfied with them and he knows their ancestry. The only limiting factor being he must take care not to cause his farm any biosecurity problems with the reintroductions. He is considering testing his reintroduction for common diseases. But still sees that new cost much outweighing the cost for feed, labour or capital costs associated with raising his own replacements.

Reproductive Performance

Producers tell us that reproduction is their biggest thief of profits. Changing reproductive performance is not easy to put in place. Steps being taken include: not breeding back cows or heifers that have a history of poor reproductive performance; milkers requiring a fourth breeding are not rebred;  purchasing heat monitoring systems; creating a group of cows 60 days in milk until confirmed pregnant or a decision is made not to rebreed and using high genomic bulls instead of AI.

Other producers have worked with specialists and redesigned their transition cow program. Many report excellent results relative to calving, no retained placentas or metritis, quick entry into the milking string and high percent of first heats post calving by 50 days in milk. They have found a savings in staff time handling problems and maintaining detailed records.

Still other producers have handed off heat checking to their AI technician with very good results. It is one less job for the milkers and animal feeders to do.

Animal Health

Producers share about the frustration with the excessive time required by a sick cow, or a lame cow or a sick calf. ‘If only we did not have to be taking an extra twenty minutes per day to deal with each animal with a health problem, besides the drugs cost  and lost milk’.

One producer shared how he has built an expensive barn and manure handling system only to find that the number of cows with feet problems has exploded. His thinking is that producers are too willing to accept lameness, feet problems, foot trimming, footbaths, loss of milk, treatment costs and other detrimental issues as a cost of doing business. To that he added that in the end he had to spend even more money to re-design his housing system and now he has sand wearing out his equipment.  He actually longed for the good old days when cows could walk on dry natural surfaces.

Few of the producers see a way clear of health problems. This suggests that, as an industry, we need to think – if what we are doing isn’t working for us we definitely need to step back from the problem and find effective approaches to handling animal health.


Producers have given this topic much consideration and many have implemented changes. The list was quite long but it often does not hurt to repeat what producers are doing. The list includes: install robotics; milking the cows less than 120 days fresh 3x; hiring out the field work to a custom operator thereby eliminating labour and capital cost; capturing more cow information at every milking in both parlour and tie stall barns, (as mentioned above) heat detection systems; training and assigning specialty jobs to staff; purchasing software programs that capture and analyze data so manager can make quick accurate decisions and the list went on. In all cases it appears that dollar cost-benefit criteria were used to base decisions on. Definitely this is an area that producers feel more comfortable with. Which is reassuring given that the average herd size is growing and wage rates are increasing.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Jack Welch earned a reputation for brutal candor in his meetings with executives. He rewarded those in the top 20% with bonuses and stock options. Sometimes as dairy breeders we are guilty of looking at our operations as a way of life and not as a business.   The hard truth is the dairy business decisions need to be based on dollars. Firing poor performers is not just good for your dairy business, it’s necessary. Where do you draw the firing line?






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Yesterday as I watched online the Rocky Mountain High sale that averaged a strong $9776, this year hosted by Rocky Mountain Holsteins and I found myself missing being there very much.  Not because there were some great cattle selling, which there was, and not because there were some great buys to be had, which there were, but rather because of the showmanship and the western hospitality.

I can still remember when my brother first went to work for Alta Genetics and had the amazing opportunity to work with Dr. David Chalack and the AltaGen program.  One of the key responsibilities he had was working on the annual sale to be held each summer in conjunction with the Calgary Stampede, which has now morphed into the Rocky Mountain High sales series.

It was there that I learned there is nothing really like western hospitality, or the show that Dr. David and the team put on.  From the line dancers dancing to the John Michael Montgomery song “sold” that opened the sale to the shootout in the middle of the sale to make sure that everyone is still alert, they really made things memorable.

It was also at that sale that we really started getting into purchasing top index cattle.  My mother and I had been given a budget of $10,000 to purchase that would be the foundation of our breeding program.  After much homework and careful consideration we purchased Summershade Icemarti, a Ricecrest Marty (thanks Ron) from the then #1 LPI cow Summershade Icebreak Luke for the ripe sum of $11,000.

Then the whole western hospitality combined with auction fever hit and we kept purchasing more.  We purchased AltaGen Mattie Jenni, Altagen Marty Shari and 2 other animals.  And it was a good thing we did.  Icemarti, did not score VG as a 2yr old, a kiss of death at that time, and she was not a prolific flusher.  So the ROI on her was not very good.  However, Mattie Jennie did score VG as a 2yr old and that combined with a show heifer we purchased at the sale from Willswick did at least manage to salvage the trip.  It was also there that we learned that you either go big or go home, and lead to us purchasing Rietben Con Carmel, a Convincer out of the now EX Rudolph sister to Freelance and Goodluck at the Royal Sale of Stars that year, who would become a top index and foundation cow for our breeding program.

For many breeders a trip to the Rocky Mountain High series sales is a highlight of their summer.  They get to see great cattle, a great show and have a great time.  With Dr. David’s strong involvement in the Calgary stampede you can bank on having a great time.

The Rocky Mountain Holsteins team, and more recently with the Morsan involvement, the RMH series of sales, has proven to have some of the best cattle in the world to offer.  It has become a mainstay on the top list of sales each year, and is always presented with no expense spared.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

I almost shed a tear watching how things are changing.  My brother is now moving to The Netherlands to be closer to the corporate executive team, my “farm” is in Vaughan Ontario and I ask myself if I will be able to make future sales.  My answer is, “Hell yes!”  The west will continue to win my heart with the great cattle sale and hold it with the rodeo, races and hospitality!



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Dairy Cattle Showing: For Ego or Profit?

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

There is no question that, for many dairy breeders, there is nothing more exciting than winning at the Royal or Madison.  Along with the fame comes the fortune.  But what happens for the other 99% of people who don’t win?  Do they make any money?  Does their need for inner self-gratification get satisfied?

There are many reasons that breeders show their cattle at the local fair, such as supporting their local community, or helping teach their children the joys of the dairy cattle community.  However, when it comes to competing at the championship, state and national level, is there really justification for the time, effort and expense?

Over the years, I have seen a few things happen when it comes to making money in the show cattle business:

  1. A breeder either “gets lucky” or “by design” breeds a great one, and, if they are fortunate enough to know what they have, they sell it for a significant profit to one of the many cattle dealers that run the roads.
  2. When it comes to buying the top animals, it really comes down to a small group of buyers.  These buyers seem to trade cattle like they are playing cards, and it’s hard to tell if money is actually being made, or is it the same money going around in circles.
  3. Unknowing breeders purchase progeny from these cattle hoping that they can breed the next great one.  (For more on this read Great Show Cows: Can They Pass It On?)

Should Dairy Cattle be more like Race Horses?

The dairy cattle industry is not like the horse racing industry that has gambling revenue to support their cause.  I can still remember in Ontario when they wanted to add slot machines to the horse racing tracks and the breeders fought it tooth and nail.  In the end it more than quadrupled there prize money and made many breeders very very rich.  Is there any way we could add betting on show results?  (Oh wait that is a can of worms we may not want to touch. Watch for it in a future Bullvine article).

In reality, the only ones that really make money at this are the small few that have a class winner at Madison or the Royal, or those that are fortunate enough to get lucky with a homebred animal that can compete at the National level.  All the rest are spending a great deal of money to support their ego.

Athletes vs. Doctors

I equate it to the same amount of money that big time sports players make.  Yes, you see these million dollar contracts for the big name athletes.  However, for every one of those there are twenty that you never heard of that spent a great deal of time and energy chasing a dream.  The scary part is that, much like in real life, the big name athletes seem to make more money than say a doctor.  They’re good at a game.  Doctor’s save lives.  The same is true at the top sales.  You see the major show cattle selling for millions of dollars and yet the top LPI or TPI cattle don’t sell for as much.  Don’t the top TPI or LPI cows drive the most profit for dairy breeders? Shouldn’t they command the highest prices?

The Bullvine Bottom Line

When investing in show cattle the big question you need to answer is why you are doing it.  Are you investing to make a huge profit?  If so I wish you luck.  However, if you are investing because you love preparing  great cattle to parade in top showcase events or love the thrill of competing against the best in the business then more  power to you.  The big thing is know your own reasons and stay within what works for your operation.  Profit. Ego. Passion.  Where do you pull into the line?



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She`s Set to AMAZE in 400 Ways. Lewisdale Eastside Gold Amaze VG 87 2YR, with BCA’s of 236-253-240, leads the field by a huge margin when it comes to producing embryos. On June 23rd, 2012 she produced her 400th embryo! These numbers are even more amazing when you consider she did it in a mere three years!

This Embryo Machine is a Bank Machine

There are a number of ways to make or save money by raising high quality Holsteins. It could be production of fat and protein. It could be milk with low somatic cells scores. It could be progeny that sell well in sales. Each of these is effective but Amaze shows the way to do it by producing embryos that convert to cash.

Eastside Lewisdale Gold Missy - Grand Champion WDE and Royal '11

Eastside Lewisdale Gold Missy – Grand Champion WDE and Royal ’11

Amaze is Surrounded by Success

Amaze is not only a prolific producer of embryos, she comes with a great pedigree and that makes the embryos very marketable. Her full sister is none other than Lewisdale Eastside Gold Missy, the Madison and Royal Supreme Champion and title holder All American and All Canadian. Her dam is Stadacona Outside Abel 26 Stars and nominated for Canadian Holstein Cow of the Year.

Amaze is Reaching for the Top

Amaze`s genetic indexes place her in the top 20% of the breed for production, top 2% for SCC and top 1% for conformation. Her Direct Genomic Values reflect her own performance with high values for conformation, feet and legs, SCC and Herd Life.

Around the World with AMAZE

Amaze embryos have been used extensively in North America and in more than 10 countries around the world including: Australia, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, France, Holland, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and UK.

Great Cows. Great Breeders. Great Future.

Great cows are bred by great cattle breeders. In Amaze`s case, she was bred by two PEI Holstein breeders, Lewisdale and Eastside. At less than four months of age she was sold to Abelaine and Sudview for whom she had a Baxter daughter that is now VG 88. Her original breeders bought her back during her first lactation. And thus began the record-breaking flushing program. The 400 embryos are from 24 flushes by 17 different sires, all of whom are high genomic bulls or bulls with high genetic conformation indexes.

Don`t Miss the AMAZE Take Home Message

Of course elite Holstein dairy cattle can enhance your farm profit margins. Using all the available tools and technology, these rewards can come by extra milk in the pail, trouble –free cows that require less labour or genetic sales around the world.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Success in the Holstein business comes in many different ways but Lewisdale Eastside Gold Amaze gives a whole new meaning to the term cash cow. There`s no business like embryo business! You can bank on it!



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By definition, being strategic requires that you look forward — identifying trends, opportunities, and threats. That’s how good drivers drive on super highways and it’s how good breeders keep moving forward too. You can choose the less risky route of staying in the parking lot but you won’t get anywhere. Here are a few ways to keep your herd moving toward the future.

Check out your blind spot

By the end of next year, even the skeptics will have to admit that genomics, smart phones and tablets are here to stay. The early adopters and best-practice breeders are using these devices. They love being able to see all incoming e-mail, social messaging, text messaging, and voice and video messaging in a single place. They`re using them as the new resource to learn about and manage almost every aspect of cattle breeding.

Traditional Marketing will Decrease.  New Marketing will skyrocket.

As dairy breeders zero in on genomics, finding the leaders, at the right price in the right location and instantly … will change the face of dairy cattle marketing.  The twice a year showcase or the every three to five years  reduction sale will gradually give way to a marketplace that is in “sell” mode 24-7 and 365 days of the year.  Sellers will move beyond single page ads, special events and the cattle ring for promotion as a whole new breed (pun intended) of niche players will be born with the intention of providing the best results from your advertising dollars.  The days of a few key players topping the markets with their well orchestrated, for-your-eyes only live marketing events will gradually give way to on line live video interviews, marketing and promotion one-on-one. Rather than the traditional “one-size-fits-all” advertising strategy, a targeted personalized approach will be required if you expect to have a reasonable chance to sell in the new marketplace.

Genomics will increase its impact by becoming more focused and data driven

Most dairy breeders recognize that genomics is a tool to improve selection. As results become more refined and defined the potential impact will have even more converts.  Global economic issues will be with us for years to come and that too will drive genomics development to target more and better ways to breed great cattle to their highest potentially in the fastest, healthiest and most economical way possible.

The Global Marketplace has attracted the Big Players

The continued growth of technology, social media, and easy communications now makes it possible a dairy breeder in China to come to your barn, see your cows and complete a sale with no middle men, expensive “tire-kicking” trips or costly international time zone, travel and financial issues.  Today it’s take-a-look and complete-the-deal. With the whole world able to look over your shoulder in your barn, big business definitely sees the potential and is ready to grab a piece of the pie.

Dairy cattle research is picking up speed

Remember the good old days (that would be 10 years ago) when we had to sit through breeder meetings and association animal meetings and hear about the difficulties of getting the right research done at the right time and at a reasonable cost?  Industry and government were supposed to be pulling together to fund research that would have an impact on more than the scientific community. Sometimes breeders were skeptical, or unaware, of the practical applications.  Remember CAAB?  Genomics has changed all that.  Now not only are the money streams more accessible and flowing, the really big players with the really big bucks are ready and willing to become the new best friends of the cattle breeding industry.

Farm Branding is the Express Lane to Success

You can no longer hope that a few expensive colour layouts in a magazine will give you the profile you’re looking for to sell those also expensive genetics that you’re investing in. Having good genetics, a great work ethic and savvy cow sense, is no longer enough to have you speeding through the rapidly expanding crowd where everybody says, “Been there. Bred that!”  The increased use of social media and digital marketing will be the new way for the cream to rise to the top.

The Buyer Experience

In the past, you knew who the “players” were and the rest didn’t blip on your radar.   Today, you’ve got one chance to make a good first impression.  You never know when someone’s phone will capture a video and or audio of your inventory (is that what she “really” looks like?) and share it around the world. You could try keeping your doors selectively  closed but that will send a message too and it could be a negative one!  You are caught between the camera and a hot place!

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Forward-looking decision-making: Although hindsight is 20/20, if you’re moving ahead you cannot spend your time looking backward at what happened in the past. The dairy business of the future is following the growth signs:  market supply and demand; new dairying technologies and genomics to name a few. This forward-looking focus will not only improve decision-making but will lead the way to a future that is built on the past but moving way faster than we ever though possible.  Keep moving on the dairy industry express lane or you could be stuck on the off-road ramp or, even worse, left in the parking lot!


Great Show Cows: Can they pass it on?

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

We see these huge sales prices for great show cows all the time. We recently saw RAINYRIDGE TALENT BARBARA EX-95 sell for $230,000 or Eastside Lewisdale Gold Missy EX-95-CAN selling in 2009 for $1.2 million . They only way to support sales prices like that are to breed great cattle from these cattle.  With that, we decided to take a closer look at how some of the great show cows from the past have done.

In our article Show Cows: All Type and NO Action?, we look at the pedigree of the current crop of show cattle.  In this article we are going to look at how some of the great show cows of the past 20 years have done on the breeding side of the equation.

Success Stories




41 Classified Daughters 21 (52%) are Excellent 19 (46%) are Very Good 8 Excellent Sons

Notable progeny:





Notable progeny:

  • STANHOPE SOVEREIGN                 EX-96-CAN    ST’07
    Gibson son at Foundation Sires
    1496 DAUS 82% GP+ 57 EX
  • WEDGWOOD LARAMIE                 EX-96-CAN    ST’08
    Lee son at Foundation Sires
    1017 DAUS 75% GP+ 10 EX



14 DAUS 100% GP+ 4 EX

Notable progeny:




26 DAUS 100% GP+  11 EX

Notable progeny:





Notable progeny:

The Bullvine Bottom Line

These five cattle are excellent examples of great show cattle that were able to pass it on.  In contrast, however, there is the great ACME STAR LILY EX-94-4YR-USA 8*, who despite being a 3 time grand champion at the Royal and probably one of the greatest show cows of all time, has been unable to pass that legacy on.  Others who have had this challenge include LAUDUC BROKER MANDY EX-96-4E-USA      5*, who despite have a great daughter- LAUDUC ASTRE MANILLE EX-CAN 6* (ALL-CANADIAN SR.2-YR 1997) – was also unable to pass it on through her sons.  This just goes to show that just because a cow may be the greatest show cow walking the planet at that moment, it does not guarantee that she will be able to pass it on.



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For years, Jersey breeders have touted their high fertility rates, calving ease, and greater milk solids than Holsteins as a viable alternative to Holstein breeders looking to increase their profits. A recent Holstein International article, Feed Conversion: Building a More Efficient Engine, adds another item to the list, feed conversion.

Jersey the More Efficient Engine

A recent research paper in the Journal for Dairy Science compared the input requirements of two different production systems, Holsteins and Jerseys to produce a given amount of cheese. In their research of over 13,000 herds spread across 45 states, Dr. Jude Capper and Dr. Roger Caddy found that it would take 109 Jerseys to produce the same amount of cheese as 100 Holsteins. What they also found was that they would have just 74% of the body mass and produce 81% of the milk volume, 80% of the Green House Gases and would only require 68% of the water and 89% of the land requirements. So in essence Jerseys would be more efficient at producing the same amount of cheese.

Jersey as Percentage of Holstein

In their article, Holstein International also points out another Dairy Science paper published last year that looked at feed intake studies for 4 breed groups: Holstein, Holstein x Jersey, Jersey x Holstein and Jersey where all cows were fed the same ration, were housed in the same type of pens and were milked together. The results found that Holstein had the highest intake and the highest production yield. However, Jersey converted a higher percentage of their intake to production than Holstein did.

Item Holstein










669 (6.8%)

599 (6.4%)

496 (5.2%)

334 (4.2%)


1,666 (27.25)

2,468 (26.5%)

2,425 (25.6%)

2,085 (26.2)


27 (0.3%)

32 (0.3%)

33 (0.3%)

21 (0.3%)


5,968 (60.8%)

6,057 (65.1%)

6,162 (65.0%)

5,259 (66.0%)

New Zealand Leading the Way

As the dairy industry moves away from focusing solely on overall production and starts to focus more on the overall profitability of their farming operations, key metrics like feed conversion are sure to gain increased importance in breeding programs. Similar to how Scandinavian countries lead the way with Health traits, countries like New Zealand are leading the way by using body weight as an indicator of feed intake and making it apart of the Breeding Worth (BW) index. Countries such as Australia have also started to incorporate weight into their national indexes by using type classification data as a predictor of body weight. While body weight in time may not be the best measure of efficiency, it is what is currently available. One of the interesting findings was that even under the New Zealand system the cows are getting larger, though at a slower than expected rate.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

It is clear that the dairy industry is moving towards producing a more profitable cow. With low heritable health traits already gaining a great deal of focus, it only makes sense that the next step will include efficiency. For many Holstein breeders this may be a wake up call that they need. In the same way that other industries first focused on overall production and then had to put more focus on efficiency, dairy producers now have to do the same. For many breeders this may mean either cross-breeding with the more efficient Jersey bloodlines or putting greater focus on efficiency in their breeding programs. Never forget for one moment that feed costs represent 55% of the inputs on a dairy operation. Efficiencies gained here can be significant. It’s no longer about who can produce the most, it is about who can produce the most with the least cost.


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