For the past two years we here at the Bullvine have been warning breeders about changes that will come as a result of large A.I. companies and other genetic corporations owning top females. The comment that many breeders come back to us with is,”I will take a “master breeder” over some geneticist any day.” As well they say, “If it was up to the geneticists, we would never have had sires like Goldwyn.”. Well we here at the Bullvine decided to take a closer look to see who the true master breeder is. Is it the Geneticist or is it the Seed Stock Breeder?
What makes a true master breeder?
For years the Master Breeder award has been one of the most coveted awards given out by breed associations. This award is the pinnacle of success for any purebred breeder. In Canada there have been 924 Master Breeders shields awarded since its inception in 1929. While Holstein USA does not have a master breeder program, it does have the Elite Breeder Award, bestowed annually upon a living Holstein Association USA, Inc. member, family, partnership, or corporation who has bred outstanding animals and thereby has made a notable contribution to the advancement of the Holstein breed in the United States. As well it designates the Herd of Excellence award which recognizes registered Holstein breeders who have bred and developed excellent herds made up of cows with superior type and production.
Except for the AltaGen herd, run by Alta Genetics, which won a Master Breeder shield in 2001, all the winners have been seed stock producers or, in the early years, government herds. But now, with the large A.I. companies and genetic corporations entering into the ownership of top females, this could be about to change. (Read more: Should A.I. Companies Own Females? And Why Good Business for AI Companies Can Mean Bad Business for Dairy Breeders)
Who owns the top genetics?
If you look at the top genomic index lists over the past 2 years, you will see six names consistently producing the top index animals. The names include De-Su, S-S-I (Select Sires), EDG (Elite Dairy Genomics now managed by Sexing Technologies), Alta Genetics, ABS Global, and the Co-Op program at Genex. Over the past year, more than 50% of the top 100 females have been owned by one of these companies. The interesting fact is that all but one, De-Su, is either a large A.I. company or a genetic corporation. So it is clear to see that these companies have already entered and are starting to win the race.
Now I know you are probably saying that just owning the top females does not make them a master breeder. And I agree it doesn’t. But what it does do is give them control of the genetic advancement race. (Read more: The Genomic Advancement Race – The Battle for Genetic Supremacy and What the Experts Will Tell You about Who Is Winning the Genetic Improvement Race) Sure there are some who think “Breeders can still breed a better next generation than the corporations can with all their number crunching and statistics.” That is because many feel that the geneticists at these corporations lack one key element and that is cattle sense. The knowledge that comes from working day in and day out with cows. The cow sense that makes cattle breeding part art form and part science. In my opinion, that is correct! Unfortunately, correct or not, it doesn’t matter. What really gives the geneticists at the large corporations the edge is the resources that are at their disposal.
It’s a question of resources, not cattle smarts
Let’s take a look at the typical seed stock producer versus the geneticist and just see who will produce that next list topper. The seed stock producer can probably afford to flush each animal 3-4 times per year in order to produce the next generation of great ones. Given typical ratios that would mean about 10 females a year and let’s say 10 males a year. Therefore, that breeder would have 20 progeny to compete with against the large genetic corporations. Now let’s look at the case for the large genetics corporations. First of all they already own the majority of the top genomic index animals so that they are already starting ahead of the game. But, more importantly, they can afford to flush their animals 10+ plus times a year. This gives them at least 50 plus females and over 50 males (and possibly 100 of each) to submit to the ranks of the genomic test gods.
It’s not that they are better about making sire selections, it’s that they can afford to flush each donor cow to every possible sire thus making sure they have all their bases covered. So yes I would not be surprised to see that the resulting ratios and consistency numbers of the Seed Stock producers end up being as good or better than that of the geneticists at the large corporations. However, geneticists at the large corporations have much greater resources at their disposal and, therefore, can afford to keep shooting until they get it right.
Of course there are those of you who are more discerning and say, “Let’s see who produces the better proven sires. After all that is where you find the true measure of a master breeder,” To them I say, look at the semen sales in the world today. More than 50% is genomic test sires. A bull getting a good daughter proof is less and less important, when it comes to winning the genetics race. (Read more: The End of the Daughter Proven Sire Era)
Another key factor is the significantly increased genetic reliabilities due to the introduction of genomics. In the past these geneticists were using data that was 30-40% reliable. Now with genomics the information is more than double that, taking what once was a scientific crapshoot, into an artful science. (Read more: The Truth About Genomic Indexes – “show me” that they work!, Genomics – Lies, Miss-Truths and False Publications! and The Genomic Bubble Has Burst?)
The Bullvine Bottom Line
The real question isn’t really about who are the better breeders. The real question comes down to who has the biggest pocketbook. Since the large A.I. companies have greater financial resources than those of the seed stock producer, they can afford to invest significantly more in order to win the genetic race. The time to have changed this situation isn’t today. The time to do something about it was two years ago when we told breeders that these corporations owning females would spell the end of the seed stock producers. It was a good business opportunity that was taken by the A.I. companies. They now have a relatively cost effective source for top genetics over which they have exclusive control. So, while the seed stock producers may be the better master breeders, unfortunately they may not be around long enough to enjoy their victory.