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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