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Are Your Genetics Wasting Feed and Labor?

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

Throughout my education and my career in livestock improvement I have heard learned people say ‘the fields of nutrition, reproduction, management and genetics are independent of each other’. As recently as last week I had a nutritionist tell me that what geneticists do is secondary to what a nutritionist can do when it comes to on-farm profit. Well today I wish to challenge that theory of no inter-relationships.

Although I do not want to get into a back-and-forth between genetics and other disciplines, the purpose for this article is to challenge our thinking and see if there are in fact ways that genetics can be complimentary to nutrition, reproduction and management. It takes all disciplines working collaboratively to enhance on-farm profits thereby providing consumers with the dairy products they wish to consume.

If a stranger walked into your facilities and told you that you are wasting 20% of the feedstuffs you produce or that 20% of your daily labor could be eliminated would you throw them off the farm? Or would you stop and listen and consider taking action? If that stranger was your genetic supplier would you continue to consider their advice or would you scoff at them saying that “the genetics you use can not reduce your costs or increase your revenue”.

The following are areas that have a genetic component to them that deserve consideration:


Heifers not calving before 24 months or cows with an extra month or two in the dry pens each lactation take feed and labor at the rate of $2 to $4 (avg $3) per day. A heifer that does not calve until 27 months and takes an extra 45 days per lactation in the dry pen has costs an unnecessary $675 by the time she starts her fourth lactation at 69 months of age. By that time that heifer should be half way thru her fourth lactation. She not only costs an extra $675 but has lost $3000 in milk and progeny revenue by 69 months of age. The dollars lost add up quickly.

Genetically consider using only sires that are well above average for DPR  +1.0 / DF 105, cull heifers and cows with below average fertility ratings either their genetic rating or actual performance, and do not use bulls or retain females that are below 100 for Body Conditioning Score. If you are buying embryos or replacement females be sure to look at the genetic fertility ratings. Making excuses for buying below average animals or embryos is false economy. Another factor that is not a genetic rating, but has a direct bearing on reproduction is Sire Conception Rating. Remember that for each 21 days (one cycle) a female is open it costs $63 and that does not consider increased semen and insemination costs.

Productive Life / Herd Life

Improving just one year of herd life, from a herd average of three to four lactations, can markedly improve the revenue a cow will generate in her lifetime. An extra 26,000 pound or 12,000 kgs per cow per lifetime also reduces the number of heifers that need to be raised or purchased.  In a 300 milking cow herd the total of added revenue and reduced heifer costs can be as much as $300 net per cow per year. As heifer rearing is no longer a major profit centre, like it once was, why incur the feed and labor costs of extra heifers?

Using sires that are at least PL +4.5 or HL 110 is strongly recommended. Females should not be retained for breeding or replacement or purchased as embryos where the cow family members do not make it to third lactation.


The volume of fat and protein produced by each cow each day is a key factor for revenue generation (Read more: Is too much water milking your profits? and 5 things you must consider when breeding for milk production). When that can be done with a lesser volume of water it means less strain on the cow and less water to transport to the milk processor. High output of components means fewer cows needing to be fed and milked to produce a given quantity of fat and protein.  If daily yields are only moderate then feed is wasted feeding too many cows. At the processor more concentrated milk means less water needs to be removed and disposed of. It is a win–win for both the producer and the processor.

To achieve high fat plus protein yields requires that the sires used need to be ranked high genetically for total solids yield. In sire proofs that equates to bulls with 90 kgs fat + protein in Canada and 75 lbs in the USA. Cows should be culled for low total fat + protein yields per day not on volume of milk produced. When purchasing embryos make sure that the genetic merit for fat + protein yield is high.

Udder Health

On a continual basis the requirement for the maximum number of somatic cells in milk is lowered. It is estimated that each case of mastitis costs at least $300 in lost production and drugs. Add to that the extra labor required and the total cost, to all dairy farmers, associated with mastitis is huge.  Sometimes we forgive cows and bulls with poor SCS rating because they have a high rating for a single other trait. That is false economy when you factor in the cost of feed, labour and lost milk revenue. We need to be paying more attention to milk quality in the future than we have in the past.

Animals above 3.00 for SCS should not be used in your breeding program. Better still would be to aim for using bulls that are 2.80 and lower for SCS.  Of note is the fact that as of December 2013 CDN will be producing sire indexes for Mastitis Resistance (Read more: Official Genetic Evaluation for Mastitis Resistance).

Calving Ease

Producers have placed emphasis on calving ease over the past decade. It is now at the point where concern relative to calving difficulty is only mentioned for first calving heifers. Labor is saved with unassisted calvings. As well the dam and calf both get off to better starts. Less drug usage and quicker breeding back of the dam add up to major dollars saved no matter what the herd size.

Bulls receive indexes for both the ease with which their calves are born and for the ease with which their daughters give birth. It is advised to not use bulls that are rated below average for both direct and maternal calving ease.

Other Factors

  • Feet and Legs: Cows without mobility problems save on labor, lost feed and lost revenue.  Use sires that are average or above average for both heel depth and rear legs rear view. Calves and heifers with feet and leg problems seldom get better with age. (Read more: Cow Mobility: One Step Forward or Two Steps Back?)
  • Feed Conversion: In all livestock there are genetic differences in the ability to convert feed to end product. As yet we do not know those genetic differences in dairy cattle but we will know them in time. (Read more: Feed Efficiency: The Money Saver and 30 Sires that will produce Feed Efficient Cows) In is a fact that big cows, producing similar volumes to a medium sized cow, can not be as efficient as they must eat feed to maintain their larger body mass. Some (New Zealand, Ireland, NMS formula,…) already have a negative weighting for body size in their total index formula In the future breeders need to be prepared to select for feed efficiency and likely re-think the ideal cow size. Stay tuned. Research is already underway on feed conversion in dairy cattle.
  • Milking Speed: Slow milking cows were once tolerated in tie stall barns even though they required more labor. Now with parlour, rotary and even robotic systems, cows that slow down the parlour process or that mean fewer cows per robot are not tolerated. Sire indexes for milking speed are available on all bulls in Canada and are often available from bull studs in other countries. Avoid using bulls that leave slow milkers.
  • Polled: Labor required and animal set backs after dehorning are negatives at the farm level. For consumers animal treatment/care is often a concern that may affect milk product consumption. Polled is not just trendy it will be the norm in the future. (Read more: Why Is Everyone So Horny For Polled?, From the Sidelines to the Headlines, Polled is Going Mainline! and Polled Genetics: Way of the Future or Passing Fad?),  Genetic tests are now available that accurate identify animals as homozygous or heterozygous for polled. With each passing month the genetic merit for top polled animals for total merit (TPI, LPI NM$,..) is increasing. Producers need to decide when they will start to breed for polled.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Every discipline is important to improving on-farm profits. Research at CDN showed that improved genetics accounted for, at least, 40% of the increase in on-farm profitability. Genetics can help reduce the two biggest on-farm cost – feed and labor.  As well it can help drive up revenue per cow. Conclusion: Genetics can save on feed and labor costs. And Genetics can help generate more profit.

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Burket Falls Holsteins: Rebels without a Horn!

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

Dave Burket receiving the Red and White Master Breeder Award from Elmer Carpenter in 2000.

With so many choices to make when facing breeding decisions, the results we achieve inevitably brand us.  For third generation dairy farm, Burket Falls Holsteins, the label “rebel” goes back to ten years after the farm transitioned from Guernseys to Holsteins in the 1950s.

Father Dave and son John Burket give us a summary of the breeding philosophy at Burket Falls Holsteins, “We have always strived to breed eye-appealing, profitable, and long living dairy cattle.  Solid cow families were always preferred over jumping on the latest breeding fad.” Some would describe it as ironic that the 80%+ naturally polled herd is right in the thick of today’s latest breeding trend. However, having focused on polled for more than 50 years, the Burket’s definitely move out of the follower column and hold top spot on the visionary list. Dave gives us a glimpse of how it all started.

The Oft Polled Tale 

“Our first polled animal was born on the farm in 1960.  That cow, Princess Fayne Houtwje, produced seven consecutive records of 1100 pounds of fat in the late 60’s and early 70’s.  It was the unique combination of no horns and high production that got our attention that we indeed had a special cow.” Princess traced back 21 generations to Holland.

All Told They’re Polled

Many things in breeding serve to focus our goals and provide a foundation for our breeding plans. For some it’s production.  For others it is show winners.  For Dave Burket who took over the farm from his father, Frank, after graduating from high school in 1950, it was that productive, horn free purchase of Princess that clarified his breeding vision. Today Burket Falls Holsteins includes approx. 500 acres of corn, alfalfa, and alfalfa/grass mix.  They still pasture quite a bit. But there ends the familiar part of their resume. For this farm located in south central Pennsylvania that started with l1 registered Holsteins now milks 100 Registered Holsteins.   The herd is 80%+ naturally polled and about 3/4 are red or red factor.”

“Do what you do best… and let someone else do the rest”

We hear the above quotation many times when seeking advice from the elite breeders in the dairy industry. Burket Falls Holsteins has followed this motto for three generations and today

Dave and John and their families are involved in executing that vision every day. “Whatever type of cattle you desire, strive to breed that kind and don’t try to appeal to all markets.” Advises Dave. He emphasizes, “The breeders who have stayed focused with a particular goal, seem to be the most successful.”

On a Roll with Polled

We all feel justified when the breeding decisions we have made bear results. Such is the case with Burket Falls Holsteins. Developing a herd of predominantly polled Holsteins has attraction national attention and international appeal. The focused approach, combined with red, has yielded animals that have competed at the national show level and produced large amounts of milk. They are sought after in the market place.  A good plan is invaluable and takes daily commitment. Additionally, Burket Falls Holsteins feels they have been fortunate in breeding good cows due to advice from a very special mentor. “Bill Weeks, the founder of aAa, (Animal Analysis Associates) has had probably the biggest impact.  We were fortunate enough to have Bill as a friend and visitor to our farm. It was Bill’s genius over 40+ years that has made the biggest impact.”

Burket Falls Elevation Sophia EX93 4E GMD DOM

Burket Falls Elevation Sophia EX93 4E GMD DOM

Polled is Gold Generation after Generation

At Burket Falls Holstein they have stayed loyal to their founding family. “We are working with descendants of Burket Falls Elevation Sophia EX93 4E GMD DOM.  They now have more than eight generations of polled from Sophia. Sophia’s lifetime production is 241,000 and 4.1% fat. She is a polled Elevation daughter that was a granddaughter of the original polled cow, Princess. Dave Burket enumerates her successes. “Sophia now has over 150 Excellent descendants in our herd alone and countless others around the world.  She is the foundation of the only “all polled” five generation, GMD DOM, all VG or EX, all over 130,000 4.0% lifetime pedigree.”  Additionally, Sophia was recently voted one of seven of Pennsylvania’s Favorite Cows by the membership of the Pennsylvania Holstein Association in recognition of their 100 Year Celebration.

Burket-Falls Sizzle-Red EX-93-2E Lifetime to date: Over 180,000m 4.2%f 3.2%p Dam: Burket-Falls Conv Saphira-RC-PC EX-92-2E EX-MS 2nd Dam: Burket-Falls PP Shine-Red-PC VG-86 3rd Dam: Burket-Falls BS Savina-ET-RC EX-91-2E GMD DOM 4th Dam: Burket-Falls Shania-Red-ET VG-85 GMD DOM 5th Dam: Burket-Falls Ca-Lil Silver-ET VG-86 GMD DOM 6th Dam: Burket-Falls Elevation Sophia EX-93-4E GMD DOM

Burket-Falls Sizzle-Red EX-93-2E
Lifetime to date: Over 180,000m 4.2%f 3.2%p
Dam: Burket-Falls Conv Saphira-RC-PC EX-92-2E EX-MS
2nd Dam: Burket-Falls PP Shine-Red-PC VG-86
3rd Dam: Burket-Falls BS Savina-ET-RC EX-91-2E GMD DOM
4th Dam: Burket-Falls Shania-Red-ET VG-85 GMD DOM
5th Dam: Burket-Falls Ca-Lil Silver-ET VG-86 GMD DOM
6th Dam: Burket-Falls Elevation Sophia EX-93-4E GMD DOM

Genomics, Polled and the Value-Added Proposition

The Burkets feel fortunate that in today’s marketplace where the spotlight is on genomics, polled is considered of “added value”.  John notes, “Genomics has made the majority of our herd worth less money.  Unless you have the very cutting edge of genomics, or the high show ring type, most registered cattle today are worth commercial price.” Although they are aware of the swing of the marketplace, they remain committed to their original vision when choosing sires. Dave confirms.” We continue to try to use the best sires available to incorporate into our polled and red breeding programs. We use many of our own polled sires, plus a few of the top genomic sires from solid maternal lines”

The Future is Polled

Looking ahead both Burkets see much that is positive in dairy breeding. “The industry has finally accepted that the future will be polled.”  John explains their reasoning “This is primarily because of the demand in the market place and prices that polled animals have been commanding.” This is gratifying for the Burket Falls Holsteins breeding program but they see that there are other challenges that polled breeding can provide answers to. “We know that the animal welfare issues are not going to go away.  As an industry, we (polled breeders) can be proactive in eliminating an undesirable routine on the farm. “Realistically Dave and John see that changes are coming in all directions. “For breeding we think some of the most beneficial aspects will be disease resistance and feed efficiency. Right today we are in the genomic bubble, but the pendulum will again swing back to a more balanced approach.”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

There are many variables beyond the control of our dairy breeding programs and, while we should definitely be aware of them, we can learn from the Burket Falls Holsteins example. “Our breeding goals have never changed. We have always strived to breed eye-appealing, profitable and long living dairy cattle. Solid cow families were always preferred over jumping on the latest breeding fad.”  With heartfelt commitment they see their vision being achieved. “We are not sure what the color of the dairy cow of the future will be…But we are sure that she will be POLLED!”

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There are many ways to get from Point A to Point B whether you’re on the asphalt highway or the genetic highway.  A genetic plan for your herd is like a GPS – it can help you reach your genetic destination faster, with fewer detours and more profit in your pocket. It really depends on picking the coordinates that mean the most to you.

Your Future Starts Now!

The time to put in place a genetic plan is now.  The bulls used will be 90% of that plan in all but the very elite genetic herds.  In those herds the emphasis will be 60% bulls and 40% females.  Remember that with a four year average generation interval in a herd, it means that the bulls selected this month will form the base of the herd you are milking in four to five years time.

The Clock is Ticking!

Next week will be bull selection time again for dairy cattle breeders.  It’s time to decide whether to stick with the same or similar bulls  or is it time to chart a new course?  Over the past few month The Bullvine has covered various breeding approaches covering the spectrum from a main focus on show winning animals such as Riverside Jerseys (Read more: Riverside Jerseys: Travelling Hearts – A Girl, A Guy and Their Jersey Love Story) to a very definite focus on functional profitable cows as selected at North Florida Holsteins (Read more: NORTH FLORIDA HOLSTEINS. Aggressive, Progressive and Profitable!!). Both these breeders have a dynamic plan and they follow it successfully.  Both have secured a profitable pinnacle but there are many who struggle in various low points in between.  We feel their struggle relates directly to herd genetics decision planning that is unfocused or not undertaken at all.

Where Has the Money Gone?

The premium for selling good quality purebreds no longer exists.  The animals that formerly sold for $4,000 to $10,000 now bring just slight over the cost of raising them.  The market for replacement cows is a fraction of what it once was.  With the use of technology such as sexed semen and better herd management practices, herds that formerly bought replacements have enough of their own.  The few they do have to sell contributes to lowering the market price for replacements.

On the bull side, indexes for young sires are now almost twice as accurate thanks to genomics.  Fewer are being sampled and incentives for young sire use or price discounting of their semen have disappeared.

Show Money is a “No Show”

There once was a market for animals that could win the county show. Today, with 4H calves being one exception, the average milk producer have discontinued exhibiting cattle. At a practical level, the large tall show type animals aren’t the best fit for modern housing facilities. The trend is that show type farms will be a much smaller portion of national herds.  Where once perhaps up to 20% of farms selected bulls based mainly on their PTAT or CONF proofs, that is likely to be one in a thousand farms within five years time.  Selecting bulls only on their type indexes will not position breeders to generate a profit from cattle sales or to have efficient milk production.

Where is the Money Now?

Cattle sales once made up 10 to 30% of revenue for purebred breeders.  Today the milk check is the key revenue source.  The embryo market does not match former cattle sale levels.  The most valuable animal on the farm is no longer the 4-5 year old brood cow but the high genomic indexing 6-8 month old heifer from a proven cow family.  Buyers want first lactation females only.  Second and later lactation females are suspected as being sold for a problem (i.e. high SCS).  Commercial breeders are speaking out for efficient more agile cows with high yields. We can expect to see the trend for high prices for the genetically elite but after that there will be little or no premium pricing.

Put Your Money Where the Bull Is

If your farm’s primary focus is profit from efficient fat and protein production, then consider using NM$ as your primary selection index.  Once you have a list of bulls over NM$ of 600 you can eliminate bulls from that list based on their inferiority for traits that you feel are important.

Using second tier bulls (gTPI below 2100, gLPI below 2500 or NM$ below 600), daughter proven or genomically tested, will not give you animals or a herd that are in demand by other breeders.  Red adds little to a breeding program unless you can generate significant income from cattle sales. It would be a wise move to start using polled bulls on a portion of your herd. (Read more: Is Polled the NEW Red?) It is false economy to use anything but the top bulls. Don’t skimp when it comes to buying the semen from the top bulls for genetically advancing your herd. Do not be swayed by a salesperson.  They are looking out primarily for their own bottom line.  It only works if it’s right for your plan.  Using the right bulls will drive up your revenue and keep costs due to genetic issues under control.

Healthy is Wealthy

Using bulls with breeding values in the bottom 60% of the population for Daughter Pregnancy Rate, Daughter Fertility, SCS, Productive Life and Herd Live (below 1.0 on USA indexes of below 105 on Canadian indexes) will mean that you are not advancing the genetic merit of your herd for these increasingly important traits as fast as your fellow breeders are.  Today more accurate predictions are available on bulls for their daughters’ longevity, SCS and fertility, using genomic indexes.  With the increasing number of animals per worker, there is less time for individual care. Genetic selection for better health and reproduction is high on the priority list.  Feet and hoof care are receiving more management attention but on the genetic side this area needs more focus. Technology, equipment and management of herds are advancing all the time and health and reproduction needs to keep up. Never forget that animal treatment and welfare are also receiving more focus. Polled is going mainline and herds with lame animals will be centered out for negative attention. (Read more: From the Sidelines to the Headlines, Polled is Going Mainline!)

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Without clear thinking, five years from now you may find you haven’t made any forward genetic progress.  Analyze your genetic program.  If certain decisions you made in the past are no longer producing profitable results, then be ruthless, and move on to something better.  Times have changed.  Have you?

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?

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There is no question that most breeders buy on instinct as much as from anything else. They do their homework on the pedigree of the animal and take a close look at the conformation , but for the most part when determining just what that animal is worth, they rely on instinct as much as anything else. In trying to put numbers to this use of instinct we took a closer look at the recent most recent major cattle sales, Genetics By Design, Sale of Stars and Genomic Prospects Sale, and tried to see what trends appeared. The following is what we found.


Average Sale Price by Type of Consignment

Segment#Avg. LPIAvg. Sale Price

We all know that cows sell for more than heifers and top picks can draw some good prices. We wanted to take a closer look at this so we broke down each group to see what trends came out.

What motivates buyers?

In looking to see what types of animals get the top prices, we looked at the results in the following segments >3000 LPI, <3000 but >2000 LPI, < 2000 LPI, R&W, Polled and show pedigree animals. The results are as follows:

Analysis by Buying Motivator

Segment#Avg. LPIAvg. Sale PricePrice/LPI Point
>2000 LPI <30001642589$16,384$6.51
<2000 LPI561637$8,879$5.42
Show Heifers or All-Canadian Pedigree522005$17,154$8.56

It is significant, to say the least, by how much top index animals outsold all other purchase motivators. Animals that had GLPI’s over 3,000 outsold all other animals by a whopping 61%. Even though they only had on average LPI’s that were about 700 points higher than the group of animals between 2000 and 3000 LPI they outsold them by almost three times. This highlights the importance of being within striking distance of the top of the list (within 10% or 300 LPI points). Anything outside of that just doesn’t get the same level of demand.

Also interesting was how much having polled adds value to an animal. Even though on average the polled consignments had a lower LPI than the 2,000-3,000 LPI group, they attracted more than double the average sales price. This indicates that many breeders are seeing and responding to the demand for polled genetics (Read more- Polled Genetics: Way of the Future or Passing Fad?). It is especially noteworthy that Polled Genetics received 39% premium per LPI point compared to Red and White animals (Read more – Is Polled the NEW Red?).

Top Index Cows Draw Top Dollars

As the chart below indicates, the closer you get to having a over 3000 LPI cow the greater the price.

Analysis of Animals Over +3000 LPI

Segment#Average LPIAverage Sale PricePrice/LPI Point
Picks273268$40,056 $12.26
Heifers503288$63,004 $19.16
Cows33426$190,000 $55.46

What this also brings to light is just by how much high index cows outsell others. This trend continues in heifers as well.

Average Sale Price of Heifers

Segment#AVG LPIAvg Sale PricePrice/LPI Point
>3000LPI503288$63,004 $19.16
>2000 LPI <30001032571$13,221 $5.35
<2000 LPI381514$7,691 $5.08

Of interesting note is how this changed with picks. Picks from current show stars and polled picks actually attract similar dollars as the top genomics animals.

Avg Sale Price of Picks

Segment#Average LPIAverage Sale PricePrice/LPI Point
>3000LPI273268$40,056 $12.26
>2000 LPI <3000332739$19,092 $6.97
R&W122000$27,542 $13.77
Polled172298$39,219 $17.07
Show Heifers or All-Canadian Pedigree61666$39,917 $23.96

Continuing a downward trend is how much less top show animals or progeny from top show animals are commanding at these sales. Top show cattle are still in demand, however, the recent sales performance would indicate that picks for cows that are showing this year command higher prices than those from years past.

Avg Sale Price of Show Animals

Segment#Average Sale Price

Looking at what sires attracted the highest prices, we see daughters of Uno, Epic and Man-O-Man come to the top. While daughters sired by the limited supply sire, Snowman, and the outcross sire, Sudan, actually don’t seem to sell as well as equivalent LPI animals. A strong market also exists for the top polled sires, Earnhardt-P and Colt-P.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

There are many additional aspects for what drives the top dollars at sales, such as flush ability (Read more – What Comes First the Chicken or The Egg?),however, as we found out in our article 6 Ways to invest $50,000 in dairy cattle genetics, the numbers clearly support that you need to GO BIG OR GO HOME, when it comes to investing in the top genetics at sales today!



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What Will The Cow of The Future Look Like?

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

Will she score 95 points? Will she produce 40,000lbs per year? Will the cow of the future be polled?  Will she produce less methane gas? In the future, consumer demand will shape everything about dairy farming, including what the dairy cow will look like.  Dairy consumption in emerging economies is rising fast.  In China alone it will triple by 2020.  As rice-paddies turn to pasture, breeder goals and ultimately the makeup of the modern dairy cow will change.

Over the past decade in North America, total milk production has increased in concert with the increased demand for dairy products from growing populations and increasing exports.  This increase in production was achieved without increasing cow numbers, which have held steady, or slightly decreased, for nearly two decades.  Production efficiency has therefore increased substantially with average production currently at 21,000 lbs. per cow per year.

While many things have contributed to the gain in production efficiency, one key area has been genetics.  One of the biggest changes in the genetics market has been the use of genomics.  Genomics has brought greatly increased reliability to estimated breeding values and is drastically decreasing the interval between generations (To read more check out The Genomic Advancement Race – The Battle for Genetic Supremacy).  The next steps will be health traits and profitability and not just the ones that we are currently evaluating.  We are getting ready to delve into better understanding of reproductive issues such as which cows are more efficient at converting feed to milk production (To read more check out Holstein vs. Jersey: Which Breed is More Profitable). Also rising on the priority list will be disease resistance (to read more check out Your Cattle Are Under Attack) and ultimately which cows are the healthiest, trouble free and most profitable.

As the revered management guru, Peter Drucker, says, “You cannot improve what you cannot measure.” Even though the dairy industry has a great system for evaluation production and conformation, there is much needed improvement in the areas of profitability and herd health.  These areas were once thought to be low heritability however, with genomics, traits such as somatic cell, and immune response can greatly impacted at the genomic level.  With Pfizer a company very focused on animal health now offering genomic testing, it’s only a matter of time before there is greater measurement in these areas.

This first steps in any effective improvement program requires accurate measurement.  While many conformation traits and overall production traits are measured intensely when you look at overall measurement of cow –by-cow profitability, there are some major gaps.  One of the biggest is accurate feed conversion metrics.  While there have been studies by breed vs. breed comparison, there is a much greater need to take this analysis to the cow by cow and ultimately the genetics evaluation level.

The other day I was talking with a human geneticist about the use of genomics and ultimately the ability for genomic manipulation of a population.  One of the key things he pointed out to me was how the dairy cattle industry really has the ability to lead the way when it comes to genomic advancements.  Not because of the ethics issues, which we will leave for another forum, but rather because the dairy industry already has such a system in place for evaluation of the progeny.  This ability to measure the exact effects of the manipulation will greatly accelerate the advancement process.

The Bottom Line

Over the years we have started to see less emphasis on stature, and increased focus on feet and legs and mammary systems.  The cow of the future, will not just be about their conformation, but rather their ability to efficiently convert feed and their resistance to disease.  With companies with the size and resources of Pfizer or their newly formed Zeotis entering the marketplace offering genomic tests, and maybe ultimately genomically modified cattle, the future may come much quicker than most breeders expect.  So what will the cow of the future look like?  We do not know exactly, but she will no doubt be the one that returns the most profit to her owners.  All this will be driven by consumer demand.
The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


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For years, there has been talk about polled genetics and their advantages, but, for the most part, they remain a niche market. This has me asking if polled genetics are like unicorns. Are they living in a fantasy world?

Breeders have known about the advantages for years and yet they have not endorsed using polled genetics in any significant way. While not having to dehorn your calves has economic advantages, many breeders see that job as just part of their routine and so don’t make getting rid of it a high priority. This, despite the fact that , one mating to a polled sire results in a minimum 50% hornless calves and could be 100%, if the bull is homozygous polled. These are much quicker results than breeding to get a red calf, for instance.

Why haven’t breeders adopted polled genetics?

Like any marketplace, producers must meet the demands of the consumer. When consumers wanted hormone free milk, or organic milk, producers followed. Until it becomes a pressing issue to consumers producers will not be forced to change. At this point, despite the fact that organizations such as PETA try their best to make this an issue, it has not gained significant market awareness.

Should breeders care?

Even though consumers have not yet cried out for change, that does not mean they won’t in the future. Much like tail docking, once consumers do gain awareness, they are sure to cry foul. When developing your breeding program, it’s not only about supplying the genetics that the market needs today, but also looking to the future. Similar to breeding for higher feed conversion (to read more check out Holstein vs. Jersey: Which Breed Is More Profitable?), you need to think about where the market is heading. Concerns about animal welfare as well as employee welfare are sure to become more prevalent in the future.

Are there any polled genetics worth using?

For many years, breeding for Red and White Holstein cattle or Polled genetics meant that you had to take a “discount” on the genetics. That was because there just wasn’t the same level of genetics available, when compared to the non-polled options. However, with recent increases in popularity, as well as the ability to get a polled son from a top genomic cow, there are now some great polled genetics available to most breeders. Even the major A.I. companies have started to see the demand and are sourcing polled bulls.

How can you tell if your calf is a polled carrier?

There are no such things as Unicorns or Polled Carriers! Polled is a dominant trait. Simply put, an animal only needs one polled gene for it to be expressed. Animals with horns do not have the polled gene. When the dominant gene is present you will see the trait expressed.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

While polled genetics seem like a niche market, and you`re not sure if it is for your breeding program, you always need to keep an eye on the future. That means not only looking for what potential buyers of your genetics want, but also what future consumers will dictate. . With the growing supply of top genomic polled bulls, as well as the relative ease to achieve a polled calf, it’s becoming harder and harder for breeders to ignore polled Holsteins in their breeding programs.

To read more check out They’re Sold On Polled.

They`re Sold On Polled!!

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

The next time dehorning rises to the top of your to do list, you might want to think about information provided by Bryan Quanbury and Roy MacGregor of Dairy Bulls Online. They are promoting polled genetics as the solution that saves labour, reduces stress and improves consumer image. What more could you ask when faced with one of the most disliked jobs on the farm?

NO Horns PLEASE! It solves problems on both sides of the fence

Consumers both on and off the farm are concerned with animal welfare issues. Good farmers always seek the best for their livestock. In Europe many details of animal treatment have become legislated. Dairybullsonline states it in easily understood terms. “Any job on your farm that you cannot do in front of a bus load of school children is a job that will not be tolerated in the very near future.” Therefore “Dehorning at conception is the cleanest, easiest, safest, and most humane way to remove horns, and because the polled gene is also a dominant trait it can be bred into existing lines quickly. With polled you see the value 50% of the time on Heterozygous bulls and 100% polled calves with bulls carrying both genes (Homozygous).”

Find Your Niche in this Un-Common Market

For Holstein breeders the market for polled cattle is relatively new, yet the challenge of the small population is a potential opportunity. “The biggest challenge without question has been the small population, however, there are breeders who would argue the rarity or scarcity of polled genetics has been its biggest marketing advantage and provides them with a niche in a crowded marketplace.” There have been many changes in the past five years with the shifting focus toward genomics. Bryan recognizes that “Bulls with genomic potential are selling briskly in the genomics market.” Having said that he notes “The best young genomic bulls are selling out!”

The Market is Hot on Polled

The market is looking closely at polled genetics for several reasons. One, as stated previously, is that animal welfare concerns are growing and the presence and power of social media is demanding transparency in regards to the animal welfare practises on our farms. Polled genetics is a proactive response to this concern. Secondly the potential is huge. Bryan points out, “Less than 1 % of the Holstein population is polled. When you factor in the prices polled females have been bringing lately and take a look at those who have been buying them you can see the market is heating up.” Everyone takes notice when there is market demand and good sale prices coming together. “Ask anyone with a polled female at or near 2000 GTPI what kind of interest they are getting, and they will all tell you everyone is trying to buy them, and the A.I and embryo interest is extreme.” These are all good indicators that the time is right for polled genetics. Roy and Bryan add two more: “Breeders are mating some of the world’s top cows to polled bulls. There is a six month waiting list for the best young genomic heterozygous polled bulls.”

Broad Market Appeal

It is just good business to know where your market is before you jump onto the latest bandwagon. Dairybullsonline see a reassuringly wide response. “All markets have expressed interest from breeders to large scale commercial operations to organic producers and European markets. There are some who are looking for an outcross alternative or for genetics with that little extra edge for embryo and A.I. interests.” Having said that the partners sum up with, “It may actually be easier to ask what markets are not pursuing polled genetics!”

Answer the Tough Questions

At this point, you might be asking yourself, “Why would I use a polled sire that is much lower genomically than non-polled sire?” The DairyBullsOnline team answers, “They are not much lower. In fact they are within one generation. The Genomic predictions on polled bulls are comparable to proven bulls. In December there are 50 Proven bulls over 2000 TPI and there were 9 Polled bulls above 2000 GTPI.” If you need more convincing, they say to consider this, “Genomics has shown polled is within one generation (9 months) of being on an equal playing field with all the top animals. Anyone that breeds their top animals say 2400 GTPI to one of those top genomic Polled bulls can instantly create polled offspring that PA’s around 2200, and the law of averages says half of these will be higher genomically than their PA. Any polled bull this high is extremely marketable. The next generation can be bred back to the very top of the gene pool creating even more marketable polled genetics.”


VENTURE GOLDWYN SOUP P, Dam of #1 & #6 TPI Polled Females

The Time is Right to De-Horn In

If you’re still sitting on the horns of this dilemma, you will be interested in the success stories that Bryan and Roy give as examples. “In 2011 16 polled females from the top of the polled list sold at public auction. They averaged over $35,000 and two polled picks averaged $40,000 At $82,000 the top seller at the 2011 World Classic was a polled female.” If that whets your appetite, here are some more great stats: “The two largest offerings of top Polled animals at auction were at Arron Doon Dispersal 2008. The herd average was $4800. The average of the 12 Polled females was $13000. The Pine-Tree 2011 Sale averaged $11,000 with 14 Polled animals averaging over $15,000.” Everyone in the market place is looking to stand out. Quanbury says, “Anyone with a female at or near 2000 GTPI today knows it’s hard to draw attention, but if you have a polled female that high both A.I and embryo contracts will be coming at you from all directions.” If that makes you want to sharpen your investment pencil, there are obviously many considerations ahead of you.


LOOKOUT PESCE MAGNA P SARAH, #2 GTPI Red Polled heifer in North America and Top Seller at World Classic 2011 Holstein Sale

Polled Genetics is as easy as 1,2,3,4

MacGregor and Quanbury list four guidelines for taking advantage of this market.

  1. Pay attention to who is buying those top polled females. Watch what they are doing.
  2. Use a polled bull on only 10% of your flushes, to create that polled female or male everybody wants.
  3. As top polled females are currently very expensive you may need to partner up and spread your risk.
  4. Start.


We know the breed will not be polled in 10 years, but we believe in 10 years bulls that transmit the recessive horn trait will be very hard to market. Today there are about a dozen polled bulls over 2000 GTPI. Next year that will double. We expect that trend to continue for some time.” Bryan Quanbury and Roy MacGregor.