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If you were to describe the perfect program to achieve top female fertility in your herd, what would it be? Would your program include heifers calving at 22 months of age and every 11-13 months thereafter until lifetime production reaches 275,000 lbs (125,000 kgs) of milk? For decades breeders have heard that they can’t breed for fertility. It’s all management and nutrition. Well that story is changing. Let’s examine how genetics can play a role in improved fertility in a herd.

The Current Scenario

The CDCB (Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding) has summarized the following current reproduction information on the current US dairy cattle.

  • Holstein cows take 2.5 breedings per conception. Jerseys take 2.2.
  • Holstein cows average 80 days in milk before they are bred. Jerseys average 77 days.
  • Average calving interval for Holstein cows that calve back is 13.8 months. Jerseys average 13.0 months.
  • Average conception rate for Holstein cows is 32%. Jerseys average 41%.
  • Average age at first calving in Holsteins is 26 months. Jerseys average 23.5 months.

These stats for Holsteins and Jerseys are provided for breeders to benchmark their herds, not to start a breed war. In five years’ time even if a Holstein herd was able to achieve the current Jersey average it will not be good enough. The three biggest factors that stand out from these stats and that are in need of correction are: 1) days to first breeding; 2) number of breedings before conception; and 3) age at first calving.

As it turns out the reproductive performance of North American dairy cows and herds reached their lowest level in 2007 and since then there has been minor genetic improvement.

Source: CDN – March 2010 – A Look at Fertility from Two perspective

Source: CDN – March 2010 – A Look at Fertility from Two perspective

Breeders Must Address Fertility

An attitude shift is needed. We must move from tolerance of fertility to awareness that genetics plays a role. Not all breeders have accepted the need for change. The Bullvine analysed the sires with the most progeny registered with Holstein US over the past two weeks and found that nine, yes nine, of the top twenty had negative genetic ratings for Daughter Pregnancy Rate (DPR). In fact two sires had significant negative ratings of -2.5 and -3.5. In addition four of the twenty had only slightly positive ratings. In total 13 of the top 20 sires were not breed improvers for DPR. That is significant!

Some breeders have paid attention to the management side of fertility and have increased their pregnancy rate by aggressive heat detection, by using professional A.I. reproduction specialists (Read more: Artificial Insemination – Is Doing It Yourself Really Saving You Money?) by installing heat detection devices or by using hormone level monitors (Read more: Better Decision Making by Using Technology). However from the latest reports from milk recording, half the herds have a pregnancy percent of less than 15%. And only 10% of herds have a pregnancy rate of 21% or more. Clearly more attention needs to be paid to getting cows and heifers pregnant.

Genetic Tools to Aid with Fertility

Daughter Pregnancy Rate (USA) and Daughter Fertility (Canada) are the primary genetic evaluation ratings to use when selecting for improved female fertility. These indexes are created using data from insemination, milk recording and type classification.

However there are eleven other genetic ratings that have some influence on reproduction. Individually they may not be significant but collectively they can contribute to reproductive problems or solutions.

  • Calving Ease – difficult births delay cows coming into heat
  • Maternal Calving Ease – normal delivery benefits – cow, calf and staff
  • SCC – cows with mastitis are less likely to conceive
  • Feet – problem cows are not mobile and do not show heats
  • Rear Legs Rear View – cows that toes out are not as mobile
  • Milk Yield – high milk yield stresses cows. Breed for high fat and protein yields on lower volumes of milk.
  • Body Condition Score – high yielding cows that retain body condition are more fertile
  • Persistency – high lactation yielding cows that have flatter lactation curves put less strain on their bodies
  • Inbreeding – inbreeding negatively affects reproduction
  • Haplotypes – information is now coming available to show that certain haploids hinder reproduction
  • Semen Conception Rate – although not a genetic rating, low fertility semen should be avoided

Those are the tools available today. We can expect that, with the current research into genomics and reproduction, there will be new ratings to assist with breeding more reproductively sound animals in the future.

Selection Matters

The Bullvine recommends that after breeders short list the sires they intend to use that they eliminate sires that do not have a DPR over 1.0  or a DF over 103. Yes, female fertility is included in TPI, NM$ and LPI but the emphasis on fertility in these total merit indexes is not high enough to result in major genetic improvement for fertility. The following lists of bulls are examples of bulls that significantly improve total merit as well as female fertility.

Table 1 Top Ranking US Sires by Daughter Pregnancy Rate

Top Ranking Sires by Daughter Pregnancy Rate

Table 2 Top Ranking CDN Sires by Daughter Fertility

Top Ranking CDN Sires by Daughter Fertility

Action Plan

It is important for both herd viability and sustainability that the following steps be followed.

  1. Do not use bulls that are genetically inferior for reproductive traits.
  2. Genomically test heifer calves. Eliminate reproductively inferior cows and heifers.
  3. Include genomic reproductive information when correctively mating females.
  4. Use heat detection devices, hormone level monitoring equipment or intensive staff heat detection.
  5. Use herd management software and herd protocols to assist with reproductive management.
  6. Ensure that animal housing and animal grouping result in healthy animals
  7. Feed cows and heifers according to their performance and reproductive needs
  8. Employ staff training and education program for reproduction.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The genetic attention starting to be given to female reproduction on dairy farms is long overdue. The first step for breeders is to include reproduction in your herd genetic improvement plan (Read more: What’s the plan?). In as little as five years, by following a progressive proactive plan, breeders will significantly reduce their losses due to reproduction.



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What comes to your mind, when you see or hear about a cow that has produced 200,000 pounds of 4.0% fat and 3.5% protein milk and is due to calve again soon? Too often as breeders we immediately look at her conformation and expound about her great feet and legs or mammary system.  Unfortunately we are missing the important questions. What proportion of her birth mates have already been culled. Why were they culled? From a profitability point of view milk producers are missing the obvious.  Culling information needs to be used for both breeding and management purposes. There’s no excuse for ignoring the statistics.

Jerseys Do It Better

Recently released American figures from milk recorded farms show that Jerseys are the best, when it comes to achieving the lowest culling percentage.

Table 1 Breed Culling Rates

1LADYS-MANOR PL SHAKIRA-ETPlanet x Shottle x Mandel Debut8724438393.49Ladys-Manor Ruby JenDe-Su Holsteins, LLC
2ROYLANE SHOT MINDY 2079-ETShottle x Oman x Manat8624097922.87CMV Melwood MindyBuschur Dairy Farms, Inc.
3LADYS-MANOR DORCY ODADorcy x Auden x Outside8623897563.06Ladys-Manor Delightful JemMy Ladys Manor Farm
4LARCREST CRIMSON-ETRamos x Shottle x Outside9123847413.15Larcrest Juror ChanelLarcrest Holsteins
5LADYS-MANOR DORCY AMIRADorcy x Planet x Goldwyn8623727682.9Ladys-Manor AutumnMy Ladys Manor Farm
6LARCREST CASE-ETSPlanet x Ramos x Shottle8623698152.68Larcrest Juror ChanelDiamond Genetics
7LARCREST CAKE-ETSuper x Shottle x Outside8623466883.09Larcrest Juror ChanelSandy-Valley Farms
8COOKIECUTTER MOM HALO-ETMan-O-Man x Goldwyn x Champion8823386563.33Snow-N Denises DelliaPhillip Wilson, Kyle M. Gett
9WEBB-VUE GABOR MYCALA-ETGabor x Baxter x Goldwyn8723306963.22Burket-Falls KL SabrinaRobert A. Webb
10CLEAR-ECHO M-O-M 2150-ETMan-O-Man x Ramos x Hershel8723206083.49Clear-Echo Hershl D-Rac 822De-Su Holsteins, LLC
11BEN-AKERS PLANET LUISE26-ETPlanet x Jose x Ramos8523198192.45Ricecrest Luke LisaDe-Su Holsteins, LLC
12STRAUSSDALE PLANET ELLAPlanet x Shottle x Spike8723107263.01Brandts Encore EdithStraussdale Holsteins LLC
13SULLY PLANET MONTANA-ETPlanet x Shottle x Oman8623026493.08Sully Shottle MayDe-Su Holsteins, LLC
14AMMON-PEACHEY SHAUNA-ETPlanet x Shottle x Oman8723027012.69Wesswood-HC Rudy MissySeagull Bay Dairy
15RICKLAND FREDDIE 3509-ETFreddie x Shottle x Outside8322986752.96Oakfield Outside BrynnGreg Rickert
16VISION-GEN SH FRD A12276-ETFreddie x Jet Stream x Outside8622986812.89Morningview Converse JudyOakfield Corners Dairy
17DE-SU 9955-ETFreddie x Boliver x Addison8522977052.48Neu-Way Patron AllieDe-Su Holsteins, LLC
18LADYS-MANOR PL SHANDRA-ETPlanet x Shottle x Mandel Debut8722857023.21Ladys-Manor Ruby JenJoel Krall & Tim Crouse
19NEWELL KRAMER 1571Kramer x Pronto x Best8322807041.66Newell 548 BestKen Newell
20MS M-P SEQUOIA LILLY-ETSequoia x Bolton x Shottle8522797342M-Pondhill Shottle LanaPond Hill Dairy
21LARCREST CHENOA-ETSPlanet x Ramos x Shottle8722776992.66Larcrest Juror ChanelLarcrest Holsteins
22LARCREST CHIMA-ETSPlanet x Ramos x Shottle8822757002.63Larcrest Juror ChanelLarcrest Holsteins
23MS WELCOME MM LULITA CRI-ETMan-O-Man x Shottle x Magna8522746343.01Welcome Blackstar LassGenesis Cooperative Herd
24SYNERGY PLANET PASSION-ETPlanet x Oman x Outside8622737022.61Walkup Bell Lou EttaSynergy Farm LLC
25PINE-TREE FREDDIE ALEXA-ETFreddie x Boliver x Zack8522736982.44Jafral Prelude PrissyPine Tree Dairy

So why are Jerseys rated as the best?  What makes them 32% better than Holsteins? As nearly as I can determine, for both male and female perspective, it comes down to one area – superior reproduction! Jersey cows have a conception rate of 42 to 48%.  This gives them a 27% lead over the Holstein conception rate of 33 to 36%.  This conception rate gap accounts for 85% of the difference in culling rates between Jerseys and Holsteins.

Hat’s off to the Jersey breed and breeders. It’s little wonder that the Jersey breed is experiencing a resurgence in commercial milk production herds.

For a considerable time, judges and classifiers have been trained to penalize cows with high pins.  However with mature Jersey cows that principle does not necessarily hold true.  Even with high pins, Jerseys still get into calf.  What I’m seeing, when I study proven and genomic bull proofs that it is much more accurate to judge reproduction by looking at Daughter Pregnancy Rate (DPR), when selecting bulls to use to improve herd genetics for fertility.

Before leaving the Jersey breed, it should be noted that the challenge for Jersey breeders is to improve their cattle for somatic cells (SCS), from an average of 2.94 compared to Holsteins at 2.80.

Stop Ignoring Culling Reports

Breeders are eternal optimists.  So we try for five, six or seven services to get a cow in calf.  We use sires that have a proof over 3.00 for SCS.  We use bulls that leave daughters with shallow heels that toe out in the rear.  Why is that? We all have read the annual reports of culling reasons?  Do we think we’ll get lucky?  Do we not respect the sire proofs?

Table 2    Culling Reasons that have a Genetic Component

1LADYS-MANOR PL SHAKIRA-ETPlanet x Shottle x Mandel Debut8724418403.65Ladys-Manor Ruby JenDe-Su Holsteins, LLC
2LADYS-MANOR DORCY ODADorcy x Auden x Outside8524077733.12Ladys-Manor Delightful JemMy Ladys Manor Farm
3ROYLANE SHOT MINDY 2079-ETShottle x Oman x Manat8524028052.66CMV Melwood MindyBuschur Dairy Farms, Inc.
4LARCREST CRIMSON-ETRamos x Shottle x Outside9123487103.1Larcrest Juror ChanelLarcrest Holsteins
5CLEAR-ECHO M-O-M 2150-ETMan-O-Man x Ramos x Hershel8723476493.52Clear-Echo Hershl D-Rac 822De-Su Holsteins, LLC
6COOKIECUTTER MOM HALO-ETMan-O-Man x Goldwyn x Champion8823346613.32Snow-N Denises DelliaPhillip Wilson, Kyle M. Gett
7SULLY PLANET MONTANA-ETPlanet x Shottle x Oman8623236573.27Sully Shottle MayDe-Su Holsteins, LLC
8BEN-AKERS PLANET LUISE26-ETPlanet x Jose x Ramos8523168122.49Ricecrest Luke LisaDe-Su Holsteins, LLC
9LARCREST CASE-ETSPlanet x Ramos x Shottle8623157552.81Larcrest Juror ChanelDiamond Genetics
10AMMON-PEACHEY SHAUNA-ETPlanet x Shottle x Oman8722996862.82Wesswood-HC Rudy MissySeagull Bay Dairy
11STRAUSSDALE PLANET ELLAPlanet x Shottle x Spike8722957033.23Brandts Encore EdithStraussdale Holsteins LLC
12LADYS-MANOR PL SHANDRA-ETPlanet x Shottle x Mandel Debut8722876963.34Ladys-Manor Ruby JenJoel Krall & Tim Crouse
13CHERRY CREST MANOMAN ROZ-ETMan-O-Man x Elegant x Outside8622846302.93Whittier-Farms Outside RozSiemers Holsteins
14RICHMOND-FD POMPEY-ETMassey x Ramos x Pippen8722817212.18Richmond-FD Ramos PoppyPine Tree Dairy
15COOKIECUTTER SS HEY 7043-ETMan-O-Man x Goldwyn x Champion8322816053.42Snow-N Denises DelliaZimmerview Dairy
16RALMA PLANET CENTURY-ETPlanet x Bolton x Durham8622736473.34Ralma Juror FaithSiemers Holsteins
17MS M-P SEQUOIA LILLY-ETSequoia x Bolton x Shottle8322717341.99M-Pondhill Shottle LanaPond Hill Dairy
18DE-SU 9955-ETFreddie x Boliver x Addison8522686842.57Neu-Way Patron AllieDe-Su Holsteins, LLC
19RMW SUPER ARIANE-ETSuper x Goldwyn x Oman8322646123.14Unicorn Chairman LynnDe-Su Holsteins, LLC
20SYNERGY PLANET PASSION-ETPlanet x Oman x Outside8622636872.7Walkup Bell Lou EttaSynergy Farm LLC
21RICHLAWN SUPER APRIL APPLESuper x Zade x Shottle8322617022.06Muranda Rudolf LilyGenesis Cooperative Herd
22JK-GOLD DORCY PASTRY-ETDorcy x Toystory x Outside8322606192.92Rabur Outside PandoraCorwin Holtz and True Farms
23DIRT-ROAD MANOMAN CAMEO-ETMan-O-Man x Goldwyn x Tugolo8622596512.55Cooks-Valley Bell CurlySteve & Amanda Killian
24MS WELCOME LATH TAMMILatham x Colby x FBI8622585782.82Clear-Echo 2635 Bol 1204Welcome-Stock Farm
25LARCREST CHIMA-ETSPlanet x Ramos x Shottle8822566732.58Larcrest Juror ChanelLarcrest Holsteins

The above culling reasons come from the cows culled in 2013 from Canadian milk recorded herds.  Where a reason was provided, 73.6% of the cows were culled for reasons associated with genetics.  The first cull should always be when you’re selecting sires.  Stop using the ones that are causing problems that you are continually culling for.  For information on what to cows that remain the longest in a herd, it is recommended that breeders read She Ain’t Pretty – She Just Milks That Way! There is a point where optimistically hoping for better results is simply foolish.

Do the Math

If we are still in doubt about the importance of considering culling in sire selection, let’s think about the dollars and cents of each of these statistics on lost dollars:

  • Every case of mastitis = -$300.
  • An extra 30 days in the dry pen, due to cows not getting in calf until the current average of 162 days in milk = -$150
  • Loss of genetics, when a top cow is culled = -$500
  • Five pounds less in average milk yield per cow per day, due to a long calving interval = -$200 per cow per year
  • Added costs and loss of production because of cows with moderate foot problems = -$400
  • Added insemination and semen cost with each insemination beyond second service =-$75.
  • Lost potential revenue from fewer calves born = -$250 (female) -$100 (male)
  • Low cull rates allow breeders to save on the cost of raising all heifers born = +$2000.
  • Low cull rates means selling excess heifers (3-24 months @ +$400 to +$2000.)

When you do the math on all of these factors, it is not hard to see how is possible to run up lost revenue and added costs that total $500 to $1000 per cow.  That’s too large a number, when you consider that a cow producing 25,000lbs. of $20 cwt milk generates $5,000 in revenue per year.  Quite simply, the math tells us that breeding to avoid culling should be a consideration in every herd’s breeding plan (Read more: What’s the plan?)

Sire Selection Steps to Minimize Culling

The goal is to maximize genetic progress, maximize profit and minimize (unreasoned) culling. The Bullvine recommends the following process for selecting sires.

  1. Consider only the top fifty proven or one hundred genomically evaluated sires based on gTPI, gLPI, NM$ or JPI (Jersey).
  2. Remove from the list any sire above 9% EFI (Effective Future Inbreeding) or above 14% for relationship.
  3. Remove from the list any Holstein sire that does not have a PL of 5.0 or HL of 108.
  4. Remove from the list any Holstein sire that does not have a DPR of 1.0 or a DF of 105.
  5. Remove from the list any Holstein sire that is not below 2.90 for SCS.
  6. For Jersey sires the minimums should be PL 1.5, HL 105, DPR 0.0 or DF 102. And maximum of 3.00 for SCS.
  7. Minimum standards for gTPI, gLPI, NM$ or JPI may be lowered for polled bulls but do not lower the minimums for Pl, DPR or SCS.
  8. As Red and RC Holstein Sires are mainly popular with show type breeders and their proofs are considerably lower, the Bullvine does not recommend that commercially focused breeders use those sires.

What`s Your Culling Blindspot?

Any discussion of culling has to consider those breeders who don’t cull enough.  Sometimes the situation arises where a breeder is most proud of the fact that it is rarely necessary to buy new animals.  The pride is in being self-sustaining.  This is all well and good as long as it doesn’t mean that you’re breeding the same problem over and over.  For want of a low culling rate the good of the entire herd could be lost.  There is no future in that.

Which brings us to the opposite problem with culling numbers.  Occasionally you will meet a breeder who reports a high (35% or more) culling rate and it’s hard not to be shocked.  However, we must always ask the second question, “Why?”  It’s the rationale behind the culling.  For example, if the high rate is because the breeder is always looking to raise only the animals that are going to live up to their genetic potential and not invest time and money in the rest, that is a plan.  That could mean that more heifers don’t make it through their first lactation. The culling number is a tool – not good or bad on its own. However, it can’t be ignored and it must work for the goals of each individual dairy operation.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Culling is a cost that must be minimized for breeders to maximize their net returns per cow per year.  The traits associated with reproduction, udder health and feet & legs need to receive much more consideration than has been occurring in the past.  Know what your herd needs from both a genetic and a management standpoint. Align your corrective mating to proactively impact your culling rates. Although the heritabilities for culling rates are low, it is surprising how much you can improve them in five years. If you don’t consider them, in those same five years could place yourself out of the market, when it comes to selling breeding stock or embryos.  Cull cows and lost money.  It`s up to you to make the connection.



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One in ten.  Those are the numbers that AI units use when they’re making matings to get the next great sire.  You see   AI companies aren’t trying to produce the 10 best sires that they   possibly can.  No. They want that one extreme top of the pack sire that outpaces all of the others.  As far as they’re concerned, the other nine sires can have their throats cut. Just because a sires is a sires of sons, does not mean he will be a good sire of daughters.

For years we have all been guilty of it.

We, the breeders, talk to the sire analysts to find out what sires they are making contract matings to.  Then we try to decide which hot new sire we will use.  For some it is because we want to see our names in lights, or sire catalogues at least, for others it’s because they want to get rich.  The thing is we have had it all wrong.  (Read more: You’re Fired: The Future of the Sire Analyst) First of all you must realize that the Sire Analysts are not all wrong.  It’s simply that they had a different breeding goal than you do.  Sire analysts and their genetic teams back at the AI units are looking to get that one sire that could change the breed.  For their purposes, they can easily afford to get nine duds if just one of those sires turns out to be a super stud.  In today’s marketplace having that winner means they don’t even need to touch the other nine.


But what does that mean for you the breeder?

You are the one left holding the bag or more accurately, left cutting the throat of the other nine sires born on your farm.  Not to mention the fact that you now have to milk the full sisters.   And furthermore, the problem becomes even more amplified, because you now have nine really expensive recipients for every sister that turns out.

Let’s plug the numbers on this.

After doing many different variations of the costs to produce these programs (Download the Bullvine Dairy Cattle Investment Calculator) we find that it costs at least $7,000 to get a calf on the ground.  So if you are having to produce 10 bulls to get the single one, that means that he’s costing you at least $70,000.  Now let’s look at the revenue side.  Sure studs will offer you open ended leases, but in order to move enough semen to get you $70,000 in commission checks, your sire would have to be a top 10 PA gTPI sire or #1 in a very popular niche, such as polled (Read more articles about Polled Dairy Cattle) or health and fertility (Read more articles about Fertility).  Anyone who has plugged the numbers in to see what it costs the average breeder to produce a top sire, knows that it just doesn’t pencil out into the black.  So it’s not surprising that we have seen many of the once very prolific sire producing breeders stop producing bulls all together.

That brings us to the female side of the equation.

Sure you can hope to get that one outlier on the female side as well.  But again where is the revenue?  It’s certainly not from selling the top females (Read more: An Insider’s Guide to What Sells at the Big Dairy Cattle Auctions 2013).  Not that you would be willing to because you need that female to produce the next generation.  So how do you make your money back?  It’s certainly not from getting enough milk out of the 9 other females to warrant the more than $100,000 it has cost you to produce those 10 females.

So what is a breeder to do?

The answer is pretty simple.  Breed for the kind of cow that makes you money.  That is the long lasting, high producing kind.  But instead of focusing on those sires that are just as likely to give you the great one as the next dud,  look for those sires that are more apt to produce consistent reliable results.  That means looking for the sires and cow families that consistently have high quality genetics generation after generation.  In truth one in ten does not make a Master Breeder even though can make for a very profitable AI company.

While bull studs are looking for those sires that produce the greatest range, meaning those that will give you the extreme high, and willing to take the risk in getting the extreme low, you need to look for the exact opposite.  You want the sire that breeds the most consistent pattern throughout their daughters.  When there is a consistent pattern to work with, then you can make that much better breeding decisions.  Most people equate reliability to consistency.  But that is not the case.  Reliability is more just the total amount of information, not how spread out their daughter population is.  Over the years there have been many great bloodlines that produce reliable results generation after generation, that the AI units typically do not work with because they are not likely going to give you a list topper.  In the past USDA and CDN made available how much variety each sires has in their daughter population for different traits, but now, you have to request such information.  This is probably the greatest information a breeder could have when trying to produce consistent results.

Without that information, you have to do two things.  First look at the pedigree and see the genomic tests to their siblings.  If they is an extreme difference between all the siblings, then you know this is more of a home run hitter instead of a hitting for average.  Second through maternal line.  Is the dam the only success stories in her family, is there a consistent pattern throughout the maternal line.  Lastly look at sire stack.  When in doubt I always go back to sire stack.  Very seldom do I have a sire the totally deviates from the tendencies of their sire stack.  Sure they will have much greater numbers, but I find that when it pattern is always the same.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

It really doesn’t matter what kind of cow you are breeding for.  Whether it’s the next World Dairy Expo Champion (Read more:  The Top 7 Sires of 2013 that will Breed the Next World Dairy Expo Champion and 7 Sires to Use in Order to Breed the Next World Dairy Expo Champion) or the Index Superstar (Read more dairy cattle mating recommendations), there is no shortcut to success.  Instead of looking for one out of the park home run hitter, you need to look for the sire and matings that are going to deliver those strong team players that hit for average.  Sires that generation after generation deliver consistent results.  So next time you make your mating decisions don’t use the hottest sire of the day or the sire that the sire analyst told you to.  Use the sires that you know will deliver those consistent results seven out of ten times, because in today’s marketplace breeders cannot afford to be cutting the throats of the also rans and losers.



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Iman, Giselle, Claudia, Hailey, Frosty, and Charity….What do they all have in common?  Besides that they are all so famous that they are recognizable by just one name, they are also famous for something else …their exceptional beauty.  In the same way that supermodels are perceived to be the “perfect” woman, great show cows are often perceived to be the “ideal” cow.  The problem is that, in the real world that may not be the case and, in fact, might be doing some breeders more harm than good.

You see, when we talk about ideal conformation of a cow, we look for many of the same things that we do in a supermodel.  We want them to be long and skinny, unblemished and perfectly proportioned.  The problem is, when you are looking for the perfect production cow, many of those traits may be detrimental to their ability to be a low maintenance, high performance animal.

The image of an ideal cow was one that was developed for a milk production system that was geared around one on one care of each animal, typically in tie stall.  In that environment, you have the ability to work extensively with each animal and the time to do whatever it takes.  The reality is that 85% of the milk that is produced these days happens in environments that are not able to give that level of individualized care.

The Bullvine Holstein Mature Model Cow

The Bullvine Holstein Mature Model Cow

Tall, long, skinny works great on the runway, but not in a commercial milk production facility.  These girls are high maintenance. They require lots of extra attention in order to look this great.  That is something that milk producers cannot afford when, in reality, they are looking for the exact opposite. (Read more: FACT VS. FANTASY: A Realistic Approach to Sire Selection and  The Perfect Holstein Cow)

The Bullvine Total Performance 2 Yr Old Cow

The Bullvine Total Performance 2 Yr Old Cow

You see each milk producer’s ideal cow will be different.  That is because their production facilities are different and, as a result, the cows that excel in those facilities will be different. (Read more: Are Today’s Holstein Cows Too Tall?) A great example of this is a robotic system versus a tie stall.  While a breeder in a tie stall environment strives for taller, longer and wider, these traits may actually cause problems for some robotic systems.  Sure you can always make the robots bigger, but what happens for those breeders who cannot afford to be continually upgrading?  Instead these producers are more concerned about teat placement, calving ease and temperament.  These traits typically do not find their way onto the radar of breeders who are looking to breed the next World Dairy Expo or Royal Grand Champion.  (Read more: Robotic Milking: More than just automation it’s a new style of herd management)

Significant differences in production environments are   the biggest reason that the gap is widening between what the typical seed stock producer considers the ideal cow and what the commercial producer’s ideal cow looks like.  .  This is occurring despite breed associations’ attempts to narrow the gap.  The reality is there are so many different requirements with each different production environment that one breeder’s definition of the ideal cow can be very different from another’s.  It also begs the question “Is there really such a thing as an ideal cow anymore?”

In fact there are many mindset differences among breeders who derive their revenue from different sources.  You see it’s understandable that producers who make a significant portion of their income from selling seed stock would be more concerned about how the animal looks.  These producers usually have qualifiers like, she has to be over 2 points for type (+10 Conformation in Canada), while many commercial producers could care less about using type as a qualifier for sire selection.  A great example of this is Don Bennink from North Florida Holsteins.  (Read more: NORTH FLORIDA HOLSTEINS. Aggressive, Progressive and Profitable!! ) Don points out that “Bulls with + 3 and + 4 type proofs have daughters that are too big and too sharp for commercial dairymen.  For this reason gTPI or TPI are essentially ignored in bull or female selection.  Net Merit $ has some value.”  The latest correlation of final type score with stature is .77.  Worse yet, the correlation of udder composite with stature is .57.  That means if you breed 100% for udder composite, you will increase stature at more than half the rate that you would if you bred for stature alone.  That is one of the reasons that Don does not even look at conformation when he is making sire selection.  Instead he chooses the following qualifiers: 60 pounds or more of protein; 5 or above for P.L.; 1 or above for DPR; 2.9 or less for SCC; 5. 8 or below for Calving Ease.  Interestingly enough when you apply  these requirements you will find that the top 30 sires that meet them  are between +1.50 and +4.00 for PTAT, have strong udders, positive feet and leg scores, and, probably,  are not as tall or  as wide chested and deep bodied as some of your typical high type sires, but they possess functional type.

Just like super skinny supermodels, when a cow is extremely underweight, it can cause many reproductive issues.  First a cow’s menstrual cycle often stops or becomes irregular when she is too skinny.  While that typically does not cause as many problems in yearlings and 2 year olds, as a cow gets older this can make it harder and harder to get them back in calf.  Not only is it harder for underweight cows to conceive, it’s also harder for them to sustain the pregnancy, as menstrual irregularities affect the uterine lining that supports a fetus.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Great show cows are like having a supermodel on your arm.  They are eye candy pure and simple.  Don’t get me wrong, I love to look at and take photos of a great show cow.  And guess what?  Showing a great show cow makes you look good as well.  It’s not just self-aggrandizement either. There’s no shame in feeling proud of breeding or exhibiting the greatest looking cow at the show.  It takes significant effort to exhibit a great show cow, so when it pays off, more power to you.  The pitfall is that these great cows are also typically high maintenance.  While that may not be an issue for your business, for most commercial producers it simply does not work!


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Let’s Talk Mating Strategies

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

Whenever two or more breeders get together they talk ‘bulls’. Which ones are you using? Why? What results are you seeing?  Do your results match what his proof says he will do? More recently talk has been about genomic indexes and if, when proven, bulls’ proof will match the genomic index. So why is this talk so important? Today half the semen being sold is from genomically evaluated bulls. And quite simply it is because 90% of the improvement in herd comes from the sires used in a herd or a population. Some may disagree saying that cow families are extremely important. However in the majority of herds a cow has one to two heifers and not all of those heifers will calve at least once in the herd. So which sires and how they are used will make the difference between genetic progress or genetic backsliding.

Before Bull Proofs

Before Bull proofs, well in fact before BLUP bull proofs, genetic progress was limited at best. Breeders used cow families to select their bulls from. often crossing cow families to get the result they wanted. In the history books we read about the successes but there were in fact more failures than successes. BLUP indexes (1970’s) were the first accurate genetic measurements available and they started the upward climb genetically. Today we take for granted that proven bulls will do what the proofs say they will do. How fortunate we are that the animal breeding industry has dedicated researchers that made the study and application of cattle breeding their careers. We no longer need to hope that the bull we choose will click with our herd. We have the facts to base our decisions on.

Mating Programs

A.I. organizations for many years now have provided services to interested breeders on which sires should be used in a herd or on which cows a sire will work best. As we all know many breeders use these services, at least as a guide, while other breeders wish to retain sire selection to their own system.

One key factor in mating programs, no matter who offers it or if a breeder has his own is what results a breeder wishes to achieve. Breeding is not simply using top ranked sires. It is about taking the cows in your herd and mating them to a sire to achieve your goals. Even the very elite sires have limitations. Doubling up their limitations with cows will the same limitations is not progress.

How Accurate

Until heifers and cows had genomic results, breeders often selected bulls based on their genetic indexes and females on their phenotypic information (yields and classification). Now with genomic values breeders know with 65-70% accuracy a female’s genetic merit and that plus their phenotypic information, if a breeder wants to use it, represent the female side. For bulls their genetic indexes are the most accurate information to use. The only difference between genomic indexes and a daughter proven bull in addition to the genomic index is the accuracy / reliability of the information 70% vs 90+%.

Corrective Mating

Breeders need to ask themselves if they want a solid herd for the traits of importance to them.  In which cases using a corrective mating strategy is likely the way to go. Most A.I. mating services are based on this strategy. You take each cow or group of cows and you determine their limiting factors. Traits like low milk yield, low %F, high SCS and weak fore attachment. The program searches for the bull or bulls that correct the limitations that the females have. By breeding this way breeders wanting a uniform herd with reasonably high genetic merit for most traits can be achieved within 5-6 generations of females.

An example of corrective mating would be if you have a typical Baxter daughter you would look for a bull that would, at least, improve %P, wide front teats and daughter fertility. Most breeders whose major income source is the milk check would be satisfied to achieve those corrections.

Complimentary Mating

There are breeders that take a different approach to improving their herd. These breeders are not so concerned about having a very uniform herd. They want to have a herd that excels for certain traits. Traits like show type, fat & protein yield and longevity.  Breeders practicing this strategy will first off select bulls that sire daughters that build upon the breeder’s priority areas. The example where we often see this practiced by breeders are those who participate in showing. They always make sure the bulls they use leave daughters with style and stature. But there are other examples. For instance breeders that have the goal of having a least half their cows complete five lactations and 125,000 lbs of milk. These breeders are willing to give up on items of lesser importance to them to achieve their big ticket traits.

An example of complementary mating would be if you have a typical Baxter daughter you would look for a bull that would build on Baxter’s genetic strengths in milk yield, fat yield, median suspensory, heel depth and herd life. Breeders planning to derive significant income from the sale of breeding stock will want to have available for sale stock that excel above average.

Plan for Improvement

So many traits and various methods of expressing indexes can make the job of reading and understanding a challenging one. The Bullvine provides the following table to show where indexes are relative to the cows in North America:


It is important to use bulls that are significant improvers if a breeder wishes to make advancement. For cows or heifers that already have high indexes it takes a significant improver bull to even holder these females at their current indexes. Remember that if a cow is -0.5 for Daughter Pregnancy Rate (in Canada 95 for Daughter Fertility) it takes using a bull that is +1.5 (110 in Canada) to even get the resulting calf to be above average.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

First know what you want to achieve from the matings in your herd. Make sure that you or your advisors base sire selection on corrective mating to limit faults. Use complimentary mating to enhance the strengths already present in your females.  Every journey has a starting point and an end point. The route to get to the end is the breeder’s choice.

The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


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

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

Download this free guide.





Sure when a mating works out you say you planned it or it was the result of a great mating decision.  But what do you say when it doesn’t work?  Most of the time you blame the sire.  In reality, you cannot leave your breeding programs to chance.  If you do you are just as likely to end up with a puke as you are to get a great one by a fluke.

No matter what your breeding goals are you need to have a plan (Read more: What’ the plan?).  Recently there has been a lot of discussion resulting from our interview with Don Bennink (Read more:  North Florida Holsteins: Aggressive, Progressive and Profitable and The Truth About Type and Longevity). Bennink does not look at type when making his mating decisions.  Instead, Don uses the following criteria when selecting what herd sires to use:

  • 60 pounds or more of protein
  • 5 or above for  PL
  • 1 or above for DPR
  • 2.9 or less for SCC
  • 8 or below for Calving Ease

While some of us may not agree with Don’s filters for which sires he uses, there is no arguing that he has a very clear plan.  A clear plan that is based on what works for the management style and profitability of his North Florida Holsteins.  .

While many breeders dream about getting a cow that looks like this

While many breeders dream about getting a cow that looks like this

The problem with many breeders’ breeding programs is that they don’t have a plan that centers around the way their farm makes money.  Think about it.  How often do you select a mating sire for the reasons you typically cull animals, as opposed to what your perceived ideal cow looks like?  Sure when it works and you get that great show cow you claim that it was planned and was a result of years of thought and that you have cattle sense.  BS to that.  Unless you set out a clear plan for your herd, then claims that these animals are a result of great “dairysense” are just bull.  Trust me I have walked through herds and asked them, what the “iffier” looking ones are sired by and more often than not they blame it on the sire not working instead of taking responsibility for not having a plan and making smart breeding decisions.

The reality is they should be breeding for something like this

The reality is they should be breeding for something like this

Sure flukes do happen.  But, even in the show ring these days, I  see less and less flukes and more and more show winners coming from generations of great breeding that have had careful thought put into exactly which  sire  to use.  For most of these herds that does mean using the high type sire that is obviously getting the job done.  But if you are like most breeders you are not making your money selling show winners.  Your money is coming from those that deliver the most milk, as efficiently as possible, and last for multiple lactations.  So tell me why don’t your sire selection filters reflect this production goal?

Now you ask me, “Andrew how do you know that we are not doing this?”  and my answer to that is pretty simple.  Most breeders are not looking at fertility and SCS  as their top two filters, and yet those are the top two reasons most cows are culled from the herd (Read more: FACT VS. FANTASY: A Realistic Approach to Sire Selection). Instead I hear comments like she needed more dairy strength as a key issue.  Did you know four out of the top five sires for dairy strength are below +1000 kg.  of milk.  And four of the five are also negative on at least protein% or fat% deviations.  So I ask you how much does dairy strength correlate to overall production?

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Don’t get me wrong there are herds that have done very well and been very profitable breeding for high type generation after generation.  Two great examples are Ferme Jacobs (Read more: Ferme Jacobs: Success Is All In The Family!) and Quality Holsteins (Read more: Quality Holsteins – Well-deserved Congratulations and Quality Cattle Look Good Every Day).  Both these herds have bred for type generation after generation and have amazing high conformation herds to visit.  But that is because they had taken a lot of time and energy to carefully plan out how they will make money and how their breeding program will map to it, instead of the other way around.  The big lesson is that instead of leaving everything to chance you need to have a plan, otherwise all you will end up with are the flukes and pukes.


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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?

Download this free guide.





Many articles and various approaches have been written over the past couple of years on how to deal with inbreeding in dairy cattle (Read more: 20 Things Every Dairy Breeder Should Know About Inbreeding and INBREEDING: Does Genomics Affect the Balancing Act?). However the herd breeding approach towards inbreeding that is best suited for individual dairymen is not a one size fits all.


Frequently the method recommended is to find out-cross sires and to use them on a herd rather than closely related or inbred sires. The Bullvine produced such a list a few months back (Read more: 12 Sires to Use in Order to Reduce Inbreeding). However totally out-cross sires are almost non-existent as very few Holstein A.I. breeding bulls do not contain, in their first three generations, a cross to, at least, one of Bolton, Blitz, Durham, Goldwyn, Oman, Planet, or Shottle.

Sires From the Past

But we should not despair. This problem has been the same challenge for the past century. In the past there were concerns about too much concentration of the Holstein bloodlines when Rudolph, Blackstar, Valiant, Elevation, Astronaut, Rockman, the Burkes and the Montvics were in their hay days. It is not new in 2013. A few years back Holstein International produced an article on the extreme focus, around the world, on Blackstar as he had a few hundred sons that were sampled in A.I. But we moved on past the Blackstar focus and outcross sires came along and saved the breed from a one sire focus.

Recent Out-Crosses

The most recent ‘heroes’ to assist with avoiding inbreeding Holsteins have been Shottle, Oman and Planet. They themselves have average to below average inbreeding percentages – 6.25%, 5.06% & 7.27% respectively. We must remember that it was not their lower inbreeding percentages that attracted breeders to them it was what their daughters could do in every breeder’s herd. They were all out-crosses when they arrived on the scene. However, they were all used heavily, perhaps too heavily. In fact it is not the bulls that are the problem. It is our over abundant use of sires on close relatives that lead to them becoming inbreeding concerns.

Why Inbreeding was Practiced in the Past

Before the era of genetic evaluations, inbreeding was employed in what was called ‘Line Breeding’. The concept was to find a family that had the attributes a breeder wanted and then to double, triple or even quadruple up the cow or bull in the pedigree of the next generations. Breeders persist in using the line breeding approach even though we now have very accurate genetic indexes. As a result we are creating an inbreeding problem for ourselves. Especially for traits like fertility, immunity, vigour and longevity. In 2013 these traits are coming to the forefront in the breeding of dairy cattle.

What is Average for Inbreeding?

In the USA inbreeding is expressed by a term called Inbreeding Coefficient, whereas in Canada it is called Inbreeding Percent. The average value for each appear to be similar with the average inbreeding in Holsteins in Canada being 5.87% in 2009.

Here are some examples of inbreeding percent that can be expected from within family matings:

  • Brother- Sister     25%
  • Half Brother – Half Sister   12.5%
  • First Cousins    6.25%
  • Second Cousins    3.13%

In other words, the average animal in the Canadian Holstein populations was almost equivalent to being the result of mating first cousins.

Sire Selection & Inbreeding

Choosing sires to minimize inbreeding is not as simple as going to or and finding the top (lowest) bull for inbreeding percentage or inbreeding coefficient. Thus eliminating from your breeding program any bull that is over average for inbreeding. You must also consider the bloodlines in your herd and the inbreeding of your females.

It can happen that a cow and a bull each have low inbreeding percents but due to being from similar bloodlines the resulting progeny are inbred. Take Goldwyn for example. His sire, James, has an inbreeding percent of 3.67%. His dam, Baler Twine’s value is 9.74%. Yet when mated because of the intense line breeding to both Grand and Aerostar, Goldwyn’s inbreeding value is 15.69%. The line breeding did allow for his genetic make-up to be homozygous at many loci. We all know how he stamps out show type. However breeders planning to line breed further with Goldwyn in the pedigree should be concerned about the definite possibility of inbreeding depression for health and fertility traits. Sire stack does not show inbreeding as accurately as inbreeding coefficient or percent does.

For breeders interested in some bulls with below average inbreeding values, The Bullvine offers the following lists. Note that we have chosen bulls with high total merit indexes and above average for Daughter Pregnancy Rate and Daughter Fertility. There is no benefit to using a sire that has a low inbreeding number yet produces daughters that have low fertility or are lacking in any of healthy fast growing calves, immune animals, SCS, Feet & Legs or Mammary System. Of course the lack of heifer information across herds could be our Achilles Heel in the not too distant future in genetically advancing our heifers.

Tables 1 – Top Sires with Lower Inbreeding Levels

NameInbreedingIndexFatProteinUDC/MSFLC/F&LSCSDPR/DFNet MeritSire Stack
USA Sires
Amighetti Numero Uno3.62456 (GPA TPI)89472.72.212.591.3836Man-O-Man x Shottle x
Co-op O-Style Oman Just4.12246 (GTPI)47561.212.112.712.4728Oman x Teamster x
Farnear-TBR-BH Cashcoin52470 (GPA TPI)78522.881.242.561.4904Observer x Goldwyn x Shottle
De-Su Observer5.52332 (GTPI)61523.020.892.760.6792Planet x Oman x BW Marshall
Canadian Sires
Regan-ALH Diplomat5.342905 (GPLI)49738102.81101327Mr Burns x Oman x Durham
UFM-DUBS AltaEsquire5.692864 (GLPI)11063142.79103466Oman x Sam x Patron
Genervations Lexor5.793291 (GPA LPI)908411142.89100652Man-O-Man x Goldwyn x Durham
Swissbec Brekem5.853227 (GPA LPI)728013102.87102641Bookem x Man-O-Man x Mr Burns
Other Sires
O-Man End-Story3.812915 (Mace LPI)8069673.13103483Oman x Besn x Luke
Bertaiola Mincio4.32927 (Mace LPI)744516113.06100460Bolton x Iron x Mtoto
Koepon AltaClassman5.293180 (Mace LPI)94738102.71103721Man-O-Man Shottle x Aerostar
KNS Reminder5.743199 (Mace LPI)106797102.86101681Sudan x Oam-O-Man x Goldwyn

The Bullvine cautions breeders using genomic sires to not use just one sire. Many of the top sires on the genomic listings have average to above average inbreeding numbers. So it is best to use many genomic sires. Many breeders wisely use from 5 to 20 doses of a genomic sire and then move to another high genomic sire.

Six Suggested Practices

  1. Avoid using any sire that has above average inbreeding numbers especially if his pedigree has similar sires to the females in your herd.
  2. After identifying sires with average to below average inbreeding numbers, make sure they are superior for traits important in your breeding program like fat yield, protein yield, feet & legs, mammary system, udder health and fertility.
  3. Use a sire’s genetic and inbreeding indexes when selecting sires and do not practise line breeding.
  4. If there is a sire that you would like to use but his inbreeding index is on the higher side then use his top two non-inbred genomics sons.
  5. Use computerized sire mating programs as they consider inbreeding when making sire recommendations.
  6. A.I. organizations should publish the inbreeding values for the sires they sample, prove and market.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Inbreeding is a consideration but not the driving force when it comes to improving the genetic merit of a dairy herd. Line breeding served its purpose in the past but now can be detrimental to lowering inbreeding in dairy cattle. By following the suggested practices you will not only be able to better understand inbreeding, you will actually accelerate you genetic advancement, by not avoiding those sires that you thought would have been a inbreeding problem.  It’s important to remember just how much effect inbreeding will have, and how does that compare to the difference in genetic merit between the sires you are choosing from.

The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


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

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

Download this free guide.





How often do you select a mating sire for the reasons you typically cull animals, as opposed to what your perceived ideal cow looks like?  Further to our discussion about what the Perfect Holstein Cow looks like we here at the Bullvine started to ask ourselves, “How often do we choose our matings based on what we think the perfect cow looks like? vs. what our true management needs are?” Far too often sire selection is based on the fantasy of breeding that next great show cow or VG-89-2YR instead of facts needed to breed that low maintenance cow that will stay in your herd for many lactations and produce high quantities of milk.  Do your sire selections overlook your management needs?

Speedy Selection. Long-Lasting Problems

Discernment is the hardest part of sire selection.  Seeing your herd for what it is and what its genetic needs are is step one.  Step two is choosing what will work for you almost three years from now when the daughters of the sires you use today will be entering the milking string.  The old adage was “breed for type and feed for production.”  But how many breeding stock animals have you sold recently based solely on conformation?  How many will you be selling in three years based on their type?  What are the revenue sources for your farm now and in the future?  If your answer is “We get our revenue from the milk cheque from as few cows as possible and with as much profit per cow as possible” then selecting for type could mean that your sire selection is out of alignment with your management needs.

How Can You Tell If You Are You Out of Sync?

One place to determine where your herd has issues is to look at the reasons for and the frequency of culling. Every cow that leaves your herd for any reason other than a profitable sale is an indicator of the issues that could be arising from sire selection that is out of alignment with what is going on in your herd.

The Bullvine found the following information on milking age females that are removed from herds:

  • Over 35% of cows in a herd are replaced annually. That is costly!
  • The top known reasons for culling or removing cows are:
    • Infertility  / reproduction                    23.1%
    • Sold for dairy purposes                       21.4%
    • Mastitis                                               13.8%
    • Feet and Legs                                        9.6%
    • Low production                                     7.6%
    • Total    75.5%
  • The other known reasons for culling or removing cows are:
    • Injury               10.0%
    • Sickness           7.0%
    • Old Age           2.4%
    • Diseases          1.8%
    • Bad Temperament      0.9%
    • Difficult Calving          0.9%
    • Conformation 0.9%
    • Slow Milker                 0.6%
    • Total    24.5%

Are You Breeding to Spend Money or Are you Breeding to Make Money?

You may be comfortable with your culling rate especially if it isn’t too far off “normal”. However when you look closely at the cows that remain in your herd how “needy” are they?  Staff time, vet calls, hoof trimming, semen, drugs, supplies, extra time in the dry cow pen and removing cows from herds before they reach maturity – these all add up to significant dollars down the drain.  Therefore, anything that can be done in sire selection to minimize these costs goes right to improving the financial bottom line.  All unbudgeted costs mean less profit. If an animal is culled early, it does not matter where she placed at the local show or that her sire was a popular bull that left fancy udders.  If he also left poor feet and low fertility, that costs you money.

A More Realistic Approach: Breed for the Bottom Line Not Just the Top Number

Often top bulls for total index are put forward to breeders for their use, without regard for the bull’s limiting factors.  The Bullvine doesn’t support that approach.  We recommendation that minimum sire selection values be set for the reasons cows are culled so that sires used in a herd don’t create new problems while the breeder tries to solve the current ones.

Here are the Bullvine we recommend the following requirements bulls should meet to be considered for use by bottom line focused breeders:

  • In Canada
    • Lifetime Profit Index   > +2000*
    • Daughter Fertility          > 100
    • Somatic Cell Score         < 2.90
    • Feet & Legs                      > +5
  • In USA
    • Total Performance Index        > 2000*
    • Daughter Pregnancy Rate          > 1.0
    • Somatic Cell Score                    < 2.90
    • Feet & Legs Composite               > 1.0

* A high minimum value has been set for both LPI and TPI to address the removal of cows for low production and so animals sold for dairy purposes can be in demand for their milk producing ability.


Every dairy breeder wants a superior herd and wants to eliminate the daily annoyances, costs and loss of valuable cows due to infertility, mastitis and feet problems and low production. Breeders should choose the best sires that correct the actual problems that they face in their herd instead of chasing a fantasy that has nothing to do with their reality.

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You’re Fired: The Future of the Sire Analyst

Friday, September 21st, 2012

Do artificial insemination companies still need to pay high priced sire analysts to run the roads being nothing more than glorified tail hair pullers?  There once was a time when the skill of the sire analysts was the biggest differentiator an A.I. company had.  However, things have changed and the question now becomes,”Is the role even needed anymore?”

I am not trying to say that the current crop of sire analysts are not as good as some of their predecessors.  What I am saying is that, with the introduction of genomics, the role of the sire analyst has all but been replaced.  Or has it?

Who shot the sire analyst?

Technology has replaced the sire analysts and genomics is the smoking gun.  Gone are the days where a sire analyst could chose to contract a cow because he had confidence in her or the breeding program.  Also gone are the days when it was the sire analyst’s job to identify which cows are the real deal and which ones are just smoke and mirrors (read The Hot House Effect on Sire Sampling and Has Genomics Knocked out Hot House Herds).

Now more than ever it’s a numbers game.  Now it isn’t who can sample the most bulls, but rather with genomics, it is simply a matter of whether the numbers add up.  There once was a time if a cow was not at least an 87+ point cow she would never even get a second look from an A.I. company.  Now we are seeing bulls being sampled from Good Plus 2yr olds or even maiden heifers (Read – Is Good Plus Good Enough?)

What is a sire analyst to do?

As A.I. companies are being forced to get lean in order to keep operation cost down, you notice fewer sire analysts running the roads.  Many new A.I. companies don’t even have people in these roles.  So what are these soon to be unemployed, self-confident analysts to do?  Well rest assured the smart ones will learn to adapt.  Moreover, the others will quickly learn Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.  It’s no longer about how great a cattle judge they are.  Today it will come down to three things:

  • How well they negotiate contracts
    the first thing I would do is train every single one of these individuals on how to become the best negotiators they can be.  The future of their A.I. companies depends on how well these front line individuals can procure top cattle and negotiate the best value deal they can.  The power has shifted and it’s no longer breeders being excited that an A.I. company is even speaking to them, it has now become a bidding war (Read Top 10 Questions to Ask Before You Sign That A.I. Contract).  I would even recommend that sires analysts get paid 100% based on the deals they negotiate.  Much like in sales those that are great will rise to the top and make a lot of money, and those that can’t will find themselves going pretty hungry.
  • How well they build relationships
    The best way to become an expert negotiator is to be able to build great relationships.  When any parties sit down to work out a deal, it comes down to who you know and trust.  All things being equal, the breeders who own the cattle with the top genomics are going to make a deal with individuals that they know and trust.  If they can’t trust you, no amount of “extras” are going to make up for the lack of it.
  • No longer an expert cattle evaluator they are now breeding advisers
    For years sire analysts have been put on pedestals as these great evaluators of cattle, and many where.  In many cases top breeders are just as smart or even smarter at doing this. Today that particular skill is not as relevant as it once was.  The evaluation part is being done by the “number crunchers” back at the office (aka the geneticists).  However, a great way for A.I. companies to get a head start on their competition is to help breeders breed the next generation of great ones.  Share the wealth of knowledge that the “number crunchers” provide with the partner herds that you are looking to sample from, so that you can become that trusted adviser that will give the edge when it becomes contract negotiation time.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Would I fire all the sire analysts?  Yes, if they can’t adapt and become relationship builders and trusted advisers who know how to negotiate a win-win deal for both sides.  The predictability and reliability that genomics has brought to the industry has taken the role of sire selection from an art form to a very calculated science.  Those sire analysts that recognize this and adapt will thrive.  Those that don’t should start polishing their resumes.


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