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Much has been written about genomic indexes since they were introduced in 2008, yet one key ingredient has been ignored. That ingredient is how can a breeder use the genomic information to analyse and plan for the future breeding of their herd? To fill that need Holstein Association USA, and Zoetis joined forced to develop the Enlight service that any Holstein producer in the USA can benefit from using.

Let’s hear about Enlight from Lindsey Worden

Lindsey is the Executive Director of Genetics Services at Holstein USA and when listening to her speak about Enlight you can hear the enthusiasm in her voice. Enthusiasm for what a breeder using Enlight can do to advance their herd. As Lindsey says, the advancement can cover more than genetics. It extends to others areas including management, reproduction, health and in the future nutrition. That is a wide scope. For U.S. dairy people interested in learning the opportunities available, go to Holstein USA’s website to learn more.

Home Dashboard

Enlight Home Dashboard


One final matter that Lindsey emphasized to The Bullvine – “Enlight is a free tool for any dairy producer who is genomic testing their Holsteins through Holstein Association USA or Zoetis, using CLARIFIDE®, a genomic testing product. Enlight is web-based, and has a direct connection to the Holstein Association USA herdbook database, so all animals in Enlight must also be in the Holstein herdbook”. It should be noted that a herd’s data contained in Enlight is proprietary to the herd owner and is not shared with others.

Worden Draws on Experience

Lindsey grew up on her family’s dairy farms in New York and New Mexico, and was active in 4-H and Holstein Junior programs, including dairy judging and showing. She followed that by studying Dairy Science and Life Science Communications at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After college, she joined Holstein Association USA. That was over eight years ago, and she has filled a number of positions of increasing responsibility at Holstein USA. Lindsey is familiar with all facets of dairying from the small breeder’s herd, to the large commercial herd, to the show scene and to the international trade in genetics. She gives major credit to her parents for giving her and her brothers the opportunity to experience life, both on and off their farms. Lindsey attends many industry events and is always eager to speak with breeders to understand their positions, their concerns and their needs, and to explain Holstein USA services.

Animal Snapshot

Enlight – Animal Snap shot


Working to Shared Benefit

In short, Enlight was developed in partnership by Zoetis and Holstein USA. They saw an opportunity to combine their collective strengths for the benefit of producers. It is novel in that a private company and a breeder not-for-profit association joined forces to provide a service, and refreshing to see that providing dairy people with a complete package is central to the service.

Excellent Uptake

Lindsey reported to The Bullvine that since July (2014) there have been over 600 herds enrolled in Enlight, and those users have genomic tested over 260,000 animals in total.

U.S. dairymen can expect to hear more about Enlight in 2015 as Holstein USA, in collaboration with Zoetis, will have this service as a focal point at meetings and in communications through out this year. It is interesting to hear the many different ways Enlight users are taking advantage of genomic information in their herds. Many begin with testing a few animals and eventually work up to testing most or all of the heifers born on their farm. Dairymen are using the information to make decisions about which animals will be parents to the next generation on the farm, making sure they are keeping and propagating the best genetics in their herds, and using the lower end genetics for recipients, or culling when they have excess animals to sell.

One important part of Enlight is that it is real-time. Enlight is refreshed every night, so whenever a dairyman registers a calf, or has new genomic or genetic information available, it can be viewed in Enlight. Since the service if free and web-based, users can run the analysis of their animal as often as they wish.

Genetic Progress Graph

Enlight – Genetic Progress Graph


Expanded Service

For dairy farmers, linking all pieces of information on their animals together is important. Sandy-Valley Farms have been using Enlight for a few months now to capture their actual and genetic information in one place, to obtain genomic information instantaneously and to download information in Excel documents. And Danae Bauer of Sandy-Valley looks forward to using Enlight even more in the future as more options and screens are added to it. (Read more : PINE-TREE MONICA PLANETA IS THE NEW GENOMIC SUPER STAR MAKER, and DANAE BAUER: CAPTURING THE PASSION)


Holstein Association USA continues to see interest in genomic testing grow each year, and with the availability of Enlight to help producers make better use of their information, and a partnership with Zoetis, that trend is only expected to continue to increase. As more breeders are exposed to how using genomic information can improve their herds, more and more will adopt the technology and find benefit in keeping track of their genetics with Enlight.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

With many dairymen already using Enlight, there are many users that Holstein USA or Zoetis can direct interested producers to in order that they can hear a fellow dairy person describe the benefits as they see them. Enlight is definitely a win – win – win for producers – breed association – private service provider.

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.





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Categories : Genomics

Genomic Testing – Are You Missing Out?

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

When The Bullvine mentions genomic testing to production oriented breeders, we frequently get the reaction “Oh, that’s just for herds that sell high priced animals. I focus on running a profitable milking operation. I don’t need to spend money on testing my animals.” Well, in fact, that is not an accurate assessment of the benefits available from using this tool at the present time. If you are among those not using genomics, Stop Procrastinating! It is a tool that everyone breeding their herd to improve it genetically should not be without.

Only Very Moderate Uptake – So Far

Currently, there is an 8% uptake of genomic testing of all Holstein heifer calves. The total is less in other breeds. We have barely scratched the surface.  Half a century ago, official milk recording was at the same low level. Today it is recognized as a much-needed toll both on-farm and in the national herd. Obviously the question that breeders need answers to is ‘How will I benefit from genomic testing all my heifer calves?

Known Benefits

Much has been written about benefits and opportunities available to breeders who are submitting samples for DNA testing. Those range from selecting the best mates for your females, … to parentage verification, … to how to manage your heifer herd, … to deciding which heifers to breed and which ones to cull or implant, … to polled or not polled, …to finding the genetic outlier of an individual mating, …to an aid in marketing heifers in sales.

Just recently Holstein USA and Zetas launched an exciting service called Enlight. Breeders that submit their samples to Zoetis can through Holstein USA’s website summarize and analyze their heifers for their genetic qualities. This is the first, and no doubt other breeds will establish similar services in the future. Breeding to get the genetics that work best for you and then managing them in the best way possible is definitely important.

At the industry level, genomic testing has also proven beneficial. Alta Genetics, a few years ago, working with large herds in the USA, parentage verified all young sire daughters. It was a significant step forward in accuracy of sire proofs so they could guarantee their product to their customers. Companies like Zoetis and Neogen initiated genomic testing services so they could help producers and also as complementary to their other products. A.I companies have been able to restrict their young sires sampled to only top genomically evaluated young sires, thereby saving millions for themselves by not sampling the bottom enders and millions for breeders that did not have to raise, calve in and milk the lower genetic merit daughters of the bottom end bulls. All of these benefits are leading to cost savings in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

However six years into using genomics we are only starting to reap the rewards.

Genomics Will Make the Future Brighter

Breeders often mention that they want sires to use and females in their herd that are superior to what is available today for traits that are difficult or impossible to measure. Here are some thoughts and facts that may help breeders to decide to use genomic testing so they can have animals that are even more profitable than their herd is today. It does however require that genomic testing becomes routine (Read more: Why 84% of Dairy Breeders Will Soon Be Using Genomic Sires!).


Investigation, at the farm level, is being done in beef heifers on growth rates, diets tailored to genotype, immunity to common diseases and age at first estrus. The results of those studies will be able to be applied to dairy heifers since little similar research is being conducted for dairy heifers. Already breeders can test for the genetically inferior heifers, so they do not need to be raised. Up to $500 per heifer in rearing cost could be saved by having the retained heifers calving by 22 months of age.  Remember that it is age at first estrus that is important, for which we have very limited farm data. First breeding depends on a breeding actually occurring.  With heifers genotyped and selected for first estrus significant savings will be possible.

Feed Efficiency:

Two major research projects, one in USA and The Netherlands and one in Australia and New Zealand, will identify the cows that are genetically more efficient at converting their feed to milk. Within a couple of years, we can expect to see reports relating genomic information to feed efficiency.  This type of research is costly and not currently practical at the farm level, but using research herds this investigation is well underway. Reducing feed costs by 5-10% through genetic selection would result in many millions in savings. That is likely to be crucial to the dairy cattle breeding industry as dairy competes to feed a hungry world. (Read more: Feed Efficiency: The Money Saver and 15 Strength Sires That Will Still Fit In Your Stalls)


CDCB already makes available the inbreeding level of genomically tested animals based on their genomic results. No doubt further research results will provide numbers associated with inbreeding. Think about it. In the past the inbreeding level for two full sisters, based on pedigree, has been considered the same. However, by using their genomic profiles the level of inbreeding can be much more accurately known for each sister. A recent report from CDN, for the time period 2010 to 2013, shows that inbreeding rates are increasing not decreasing. Even though breeders are aware that inbreeding is a negative to future profit, they continue using fewer sire lines. More in-depth study of presence or absence of genes that negatively affect the viability of our cattle take time. Why do we always expect someone else to take responsibility for the level and rates of inbreeding? (Read more: 6 Steps to Understanding & Managing Inbreeding in Your Herd and Stop Talking About Inbreeding…)

Disease Resistance:

The list is long on diseases that breeders want their animals to be resistant to. Many research projects are underway to relate the genotype to particular types of mastitis, respiratory diseases, wasting diseases and even production limiting diseases like milk fever. CDN and Canadian milk recording agencies have been capturing field data for a number of years now on eight production limiting diseases. In time, the relationships between genetic lines and these diseases will be better-known. So that selection can be carried out to avoid problem bloodlines. When more animals are genomically tested, and bloodlines prone to diseases are identified great steps forward will be able to be made. It takes considerably more than 8% of the population genomically tested to move breeding for disease resistance to reality. (Read more:  Genomics – Opportunity is Knocking)


Failure to get animals to show good heats, to produce good oocytes and conceive when bred is the leading frustration on most dairy farms. The role that genetics plays in that frustration is now receiving attention by many researchers and organizations. In the past, the capturing of useful data to do genetic analysis relative to reproduction has been a significant problem. The relating of genomic results to reproduction holds out considerable hope. Early embryonic death, haplotypes that negatively impact reproduction, genetic difference between animals for cystic ovaries and many more are all areas of concern for breeders. Once again both genomic and on-farm data are needed to move forward. (Read more: 10 things dairies with great reproduction do right and Are Your Genetics Wasting Feed and Labor?)


I hear breeders say “Genomic indexes are just like production indexes.” However, that is not so. There are genomic indexes for production traits, conformation traits and management traits. Genomics is a dynamic science. It is best if breeders know not only the genomic values for the animals currently in their herds but also their ancestors. To build the genomic history for a herd necessitates that testing start as soon as possible. Genomics is a tool every breeder will benefit from using no matter what their selection goals are. (Read more: Better Decision Making by Using Technology and FACT VS. FANTASY: A Realistic Approach to Sire Selection)

In Another World

Outside the world of dairy cattle but totally related to DNA analysis, there is a study just under way in the United Kingdom, where 100,000 people with cancer or rare diseases are being genotyped to better understand people’s ability to avoid or resist cancer and disease. One of the terms used in the news release was that before there was DNA profiling this work would not have been possible. Relating that back to dairy cattle, if we do not have the DNA information for animals we will be limited in our ability to eliminate deleterious genes from our cattle.

Will Genomic Testing Pay?

The question for breeders appears to have been one of cost – benefit. “What will I get for the fifty dollar cost of doing a low-density test?”  The fact is that, to date, milk producers have not taken the opportunity for more rapid genetic advancement by testing all their heifers. However, the tide is about to change. With new information coming out almost weekly on how the genetic (aka genomic) make-up of an animal relates to profitability, breeders without genomic information on their herd will not be in a position to know which sires to use or how to manage or feed their animals. Genomic testing needs to be viewed as an investment rather than a cost. Invest $50 shortly after birth to save hundreds over the cow’s lifetime.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Every journey requires that a first step be taken. The first step is that breeders submit samples for DNA analysis. Every breeder will benefit by knowing the genomics of their herd. No doubt the cost of testing will come down as more breeders participate.  Future success in dairying will require genomic testing, just as current success depends on capturing and using performance information. Are you prepared for using genomic information to assist in creating your future success in dairying?

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.





Costs for raising replacement heifers, like other inputs on dairy operations, have been rising continuously for more than 15 years.  Unfortunately market prices received for heifers are landing in the exact opposite direction.  Today the market value is below the rearing costs which place dairy managers between a rock and a hard place.  You can`t do without replacements but it`s costing too much to raise them. It`s all about being more economical.  Ironically the way to get more is achieved by focusing on less.

What it cost to raise a heifer from birth to fresheing

You Need Advisors Who Know “LESS”

It seems almost counter-productive to expect less from those who are experts in their field, but with the state of the market and the obligation to be profitable, everyone needs to be a specialist in the less proposition:  less feed costs, less raising time, less time to weaning, less time to breeding. Each person that you consult with or work beside on your dairy needs to have this appreciation for less: Extension Dairy specialists, nutritionists, veterinarians, geneticists and financial advisors can apply their resources to your specific situation and help you find how to make “less” your value proposition.

SIX ways to MAKE MORE with “LESS”

There are many ways to improve your heifer replacement program.  It is no surprise that prolonged challenges in this area is having the positive effect of producing specialists who have focused on solving the numerous issues that are involved. Of course, the Internet is a gold mine of ideas, examples, charts and field trials that can make your decision making more focused.  Dr. Larry Tranel and Dr. Lee Kilmer, both of Iowa State University, have provided a compendium of materials to polish up your understanding of this area (Click here). You can start by reviewing published materials or seek out on line or live seminars.

1. Don’t Raise Anything “Less” than the Best

This first step is probably the most important for long term heifer replacement success. We absolutely must get past the unwritten rule that you raise every calf that is born alive. Modern genetic tools such as sexed semen (Read more: Sexed Semen from Cool Technology to Smart Business Decision and SEXED SEMEN – At Your Service!) and genomics  (Read more: The Genomic Bubble Has Burst?, How Genomics is Killing the Dairy Cattle Breeding Industry and Genomics – Lies, Miss-Truths and False Publications!) are combining with improved management to make a positive impact on heifer raising.  Using one or all of these can mean that there are lot more heifers on the ground than are needed to replace culled cows.  There are formulae available that can determine the number of replacement heifers to expect on your operation.  They factor in variables such as herd size, calving interval, sex ratio of calves born alive, calf mortality rate and age at first calving.  Actual examples are available online. You can use the Kilmer/Tranel site previously noted or seek out one that may be more accessible to your dairy location or go to Penn State Extension. Raising extra heifers represents extra expenses for feed, labour, facilities.  This needs to be pencilled out against potential income the heifer sales might generate. (Read more:  Should you be raising your own heifers? and Herd Health, Management, Genetics and Pilot Projects: A Closer Look at ZOETIS, 8 Ways DNA PROFILING Your Whole Herd Will Improve Your Breeding Program and Genomic testing: Feeding the world with profitable cows)

Of course, once you know the exact number you are targeting it is equally important to determine which heifers are actually the best. One option is to identify the lower genetic potential calves by genomic testing and then cull the bottom 10-25% before investing dollars in raising them.  Making an informed decision can result in very significant improvements in milk and fat yield.

2. Less Feed Cost

Feed literally eats up a large portion of your dairy expense budget. It therefore is a prime target for management efficiency.  Meticulous record keeping is needed to make sure that you have good data for decision making.  This is an area which can have wide variation on inputs – due to geography, logistics or specific farm variables such as soil fertility and availability. More than in the past, managers are considering rotational grazing.  Motivated by using what is already available, reducing labor and machinery costs or some seek the better profit margins on organic milk which requires pasture-fed management of the milking herd. Other location dependent options could include using various by-product feedstuffs to reduce feeding costs.  I recall my first surprise when I learned that cookies and donuts from local factories and fast-food operations were becoming part of dairy herd rations.  It gives a whole new meaning to “milk-and-cookies”.

3. Less Confinement Feeding Could Net Profits

Intensive grazing of dairy heifers can reduce cost of labor and feed by reducing manure management and the feeding of harvested forages.  Reducing costs by grazing heifers on productive crop ground depends on management skills, yield and assumptions used. Reports of field trials are available on line.  Also reported are significant health benefits (ultimately less illness, less cost, less staff time) from rotational grazing for dairy heifers (Click here).

Weight and milk production gains with heifers raised on pasture compared to confinement have also been realized. In a study by Posner and Hedtke, 2012, (CIAS Research Brief #89), yearling heifers gained 1.97 and 1.86 pounds per day on pasture and in confinement, respectively. For ME Milk production, the first lactation heifers produced 25,328 and 23,415, pounds of milk respectively for those raised on pasture versus those raised in confinement. Thus, from reducing costs, increasing health and milk production, raising heifers on pasture makes sense.

Reducing Costs of Raising Heifers by Grazing

A significant conclusion is summed up by Dr. Tranel in “Optimizing Your Heifer Enterprise” where he points out:  “Feed costs make up the largest share of the costs to raise a calf to freshening. One method to reduce feed costs is to combine corn co-products with low quality forages. A difference of $0.23 per head per day doesn’t sound like a lot until you consider the 800 pound heifer to be the “average” size heifer in a dairy herd. Therefore, a herd of 100 cows would have about 75 heifers that could be fed this lower cost ration. In one year that is a saving of over $6,000.”

4. Less time to Weaning

Tranel and Kilmer point out the benefits of taking less time in getting replacement heifers to the weaning stage. “It typically costs $5-$6 per calf per day to raise a calf from birth to weaning. A 56 day birth-weaning period typically has an estimated $336 of expenses. If this birth-to-weaning cost is subtracted, along with the ownership cost and initial value of the heifer, the cost to raise from weaning-to-calving is $1,661.50 over 674 days or $2.47 per day for the average weight heifer.”

5. Less Time to Breeding

It isn’t unexpected that heifer replacement specialists target less time taken in getting heifers to breeding stage. “Producers should make every effort to grow heifers faster so that they reach the target weights by 13 months of age so that they can be bred.”  Getting heifers bred and calving sooner, means they will join the milk string sooner and start generating income.

6. Less Time to Calving

Management strategies targeting less time to calving are positive to many aspects of your heifer replacement program as outlined by the Iowa State Extension Specialists. “Reducing the age at first calving will have one of the greatest impacts on reducing the total costs of raising replacement dairy heifers from birth to calving. Another great impact would be that the doubling of the birthrate from birth to weaning may actually increase costs during that time frame but the milk production benefits later on far outweigh the added costs. More Holsteins calved at 23 or 24 months of age than any other age and these heifers produced more milk in their first lactation than heifers that calved at an older age. Thus there is no economic advantage to calving heifers at 26 months or older.”  The article also contained this nugget from Kilmer and Tranel: “It is important to realize that reducing the heifer raising period from 24 months to 23 months saves approximately $94 per heifer for a total cost of $2,166 per heifer raised. For a 100- cow herd raising 40 replacements each year, this savings would equal $3,760 per year.”

dairy heifer growth guidelines

Source: Optimizing Your Heifer Enterprise

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The cost of raising heifers is well above the market value they bring on today’s market. Management practices that focus wherever possible on getting MORE from LESS heifers, in LESS time and with LESS feed costs is the best way to get more out of your replacement heifer program. That also means MORE profitability for your bottom line.



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Zoetis is a global animal health company with 60 years of experience.  Zoetis, formerly Pfizer Animal Health, was a business unit within Pfizer Inc.  On February 1, 2013, Zoetis became a stand-alone animal health company.  Zoetis is a publicly traded company on the NYSE.

When DNA profiling in herds, the program at Zoetis is to get dairy producers to focus on genotyping the entire heifer group.  This allows breeders to make selection and management decisions, before investing the full cost of raising each heifer.  Depending on where breeders are located, the cost of raising a heifer ranges from $2000 to $3500 (Read more: Should you be raising your own heifers?) By testing animals at a young age, breeders can decide if they want to sell the heifer, breed her to a beef sire, use her as an embryo recipient or consider flushing her.  It’s about making accurate choices and, ultimately, profit.

Which Benefit Category Works for YOU?

  • Do you have an excess of heifers?
    DNA profiling means you can manage your heifer inventory more precisely and invest your rearing budget in the heifers that you need to keep.  Keeping control of the heifer inventory also has an indirect health benefit. Reduced numbers prevents heifer facilities from being overcrowded. A less stressful environment reduces calfhood and heifer diseases. Remember that heifer rearing is the third largest on-farm cost after labor and feed.
  • Do you use sexed semen?
    This higher priced tool can be best applied to the top 50% of heifers based on their genetic merit. Doing so is a significant step toward elevating the genetic potential of the next generation of heifers in your herd.
  • Is your herd unregistered? 
    You have the most to benefit from genomic testing because you will be going from zero genetic information to more genetic information than you could ever get from simply registering your animals. Now you can make better selection and mating decisions.
  • Is profitability your first priority?
    The top priority profitability traits for most herds are selection for milk components, with the remaining emphasis on traits that contribute to longer herd life (SCS, DF, HL, F/L and mammary).  LPI is a great index to use as a first sort in selecting the most profitable animals.

Analysis.  Assessment.  Action.

Zoetis has developed the “CLARIFIDE” program. Veterinarians are trained in understanding the basics of genomics and how this information can be integrated as part of the herd’s management program.  There are over 100 veterinarians across Canada that have been given the designation of “CLARIFIDE Accredited Veterinarian”.  Many of them underwent a multi-day training program taught by representatives from Zoetis, CDN, Holstein Canada and Semex. Today, if a local vet has not been trained through the CLARIFIDE program, but they have a client that is interested in submitting through CLARIFIDE, Zoetis will conduct training with these vets either in person or on-line.” Dr. Melodie Chan, Zoetis Business Lead and Manager Veterinary Services, concludes. “With access to this information, breeders are able to allocate their resources more effectively.  As genomic research progresses, we may even be able to consider health protocols to match each animals’ potential to respond – such as response to vaccination.”

Clarifying Genetic Potential

The goal of every dairy breeder is to identify and act upon the genetic potential of their dairy animals. “Through the CLARIFIDE program, Zoetis has worked closely with its Alliance partners.” says Dr. Chan, who outlines the benefits and potential. “By working closely with CDN, Holstein Canada and Semex, the CLARIFIDE genomic consulting program offered through Zoetis provides a truly Canadian perspective. Furthermore, this Alliance has also fostered research initiatives and collaborative funding towards projects that ultimately benefit the Canadian dairy industry. In 2012-2013 Zoetis funded genotyping of approximately 2,000 Canadian proven sires so that their offspring could be included in the genome pool.  The addition of this genetic information will aid in the predictive value of genomic testing, in particular for Canadian only traits, such as temperament and milking speed.”

ZOETIS + SEMEX + HOLSTEIN CANADA + CDN – Combined Strengths. Collaborative Approach.

Effective May 1, 2012, Zoetis (formerly Pfizer Animal Health) joined the existing alliance between the Canadian Dairy Network (CDN), the Holstein Association of Canada (Holstein Canada), and the Semex Alliance (Semex).  Dr. Chan describes the strategy. “The intent of this alliance is to foster a collaborative approach to delivering predictive genetic information to the Canadian dairy industry, to promote female genotyping and to assist Canada’s dairy producers in using genetic information to make sound management decisions and propagate desired traits. “The members of the alliance feel that by engaging in this partnership, breeders ultimately benefit from the combined strengths of each organization.”

Update on Pilot Study Results

Dr. Josh Lindenbach, Warman Saskatchewan, a Clarifide Approved Veterinarian, shared some of the economic analyses that he did with two of the Zoetis pilot-project herds.  In both herds, Dr. Lindenbach sorted the animals based on LPI and compared it to kg of BF shipped.  “In Herd #1, there was a $960 average gross profit advantage between the top 1/3 and bottom 1/3 of the herd based on LPI (48 animals genotyped).  In Herd #2, there was a $1345 average gross profit advantage between animals that had an above average LPI number vs. a below average LPI number.”


Zoetis has received the following comments from breeders and vets involved in the CLARIFIDE program:

  •  “This gives us a better way to manage the heifer inventory by knowing which ones to keep, sell or use as recips, and which ones to use sexed semen on.”
  • “Herd weaknesses were known before but now we find them younger and more accurately“
  • “We are now buying semen from bulls that address herd weaknesses as identified by genomics”
  • “More targeted use of sexed semen”
  • “We have more open discussions of breeding discussions involving both vets and AI reps, sometimes even together!”
  • “By culling my bottom end heifers, the heifers coming into the milking herd are more solid producing animals. We have higher milk production and have been able to raise the overall health level of our herd.”
  • “It’s not the top half of my herd that I ever have to worry about – it’s the bottom half.  I want to be able to know ahead of time who could potentially cause me problems and be able to manage my heifer inventory appropriately, based on this knowledge.”


There have been interesting results from three different groups from the Zoetis field trial as Dr. Chan reports. “Breeders that are in the top 10% ,from a farm management standpoint, who are excellent at raising calves and keeping them alive, have reached a plateau with their production and are looking for the “next thing” that they can improve on to help them become more profitable were the first ones to trust in genomic technology and see its value.  Dr. Chan states, “The key is to make sure you have invested fully in your calf raising program to ensure that disease issues are kept to a minimum and calves have doubled their birth weight at 56 days – then you can be assured that these heifers will reach their full genetic potential.” She continues with the benefits for two other groups.”Breeders that are sitting on excess heifers and looking at their expenses were also quick to jump on board.  For a group of Hutterite breeders that are limited to the use of natural service bulls only, genomics provided them with an opportunity to push their genetic progress by culling some of the bottom end animals and replacing them with purchased animals that ranked higher on LPI.”  Using data that CDN supplied, Dr. Chan in 2012 looked at phenotype vs. genotype.  “We took the CDN database as being “one herd” and took the raw data without adjusting for any environmental effects.  Despite that, we were still able to show a significant difference in performance, if we used genomics as a predictor for performance.”

zoetis chart

The Bullvine Bottom Line

This sounds like every breeder’s dream.  It checks off several breeder, service provider and advisor goals. “Now breeders not only know a heifer’s genetic potential early in her life but have the information to find more accurate ways to allocate resources.”  Whenever the tools advance dairy breeders` goals and profitability, that’s a win-win for everybody.


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Often I find as an industry we are guilty of living in a bubble.  While sometimes that has served us well, other times there are situations where it for sure has hurt the dairy breeding industry as a whole.  However, like all bubbles, this will have to burst in order for the industry to advance, otherwise the dairy cattle breeding industry will become irrelevant.

There is no question that the dairy breeding industry is going through times of great change.  Genomics has had a massive effect on not only how we prove bulls, but also on the sources of revenue and the focus of many breeding programs.  There has been great discussion about what the changes in April will have on the industry (Read more: How Genomics is Killing the Dairy Cattle Industry).  There are some far greater issues that many breeders need to think about.

Some Big Hitters Are Coming To the Plate

One such issue is the entry of Pfizer/Zoetis into the animal genetics game.  There is no question that companies like Pfizer have the resources and the experience to come into industries and dominate.  When you compare the size and revenue of the Animal Health market to that of the dairy cattle breeding industry, you really have to wonder why Pfizer would even bother.  There is no question that DNA testing is a very cool science, but companies like Pfizer don’t do things because they think that it is cool.  They do it because they know they can make money.

When you step back and look at this from a 50,000-foot view, I start to think, is this Pfizer wanting to come and take over dairy cattle breeding?  On the other hand, is it that Pfizer sees how they can protect their much larger revenue source, animal health?  Walk with me on this one.  If it is possible to understand genomics to such an extent that we can breed a better cow, does that not include a cow that is more resistant to disease, parasites, and bacteria? Now we’re talking about core revenue sources for Pfizer animal health, now called Zeotis.

That is why when I first saw the announcement from Pfizer in May 2012 about how Canadian Dairy Network, Holstein Canada, Pfizer Animal Health, The Semex Alliance and its owners are going to partner to support delivery of genetic services to the Canadian dairy industry it really got me thinking about is this a good thing or should we be concerned?  While the public relations side of this looked all great with the message that the alliance gives dairy producers access to new genetic testing services, I could not help but think what does this mean if Pfizer/Zoetis now has direct access to all the genomic information not only in Canada but also indirectly for the world?

Also of interest about this move was that instead of being signed by all the members of the industry it was done very selectively.  Instead of being signed by say Canadian Livestock Genetics Association it was done exclusively with the Semex Alliance.  Is there a partnership between Semex and Pfizer that we are not aware of?  Have we as an industry, or our representatives, on our behalf made decisions that we may all regret?  While I am sure from first glance this agreement looked pretty basic, I can’t help but wonder if there are much greater ramifications that have not really been thought through.

Information is Power, But who controls the information?

With these questions about genetic evaluations and genomics, you can’t help but think about the heated discussion around the Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding (CDCB) and who controls genetic evaluations in the US (Read more: Council On Dairy Cattle Breeding: Land of the Free and Home of the Brave?).  The Cooperative Agreement with the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) pertaining to the transfer of the USDA-­‐ARS dairy genetic evaluation service to the CDCB has certainly had many asking who does have control?

While the Bullvine has request several times to do an interview with CDCB officers , Ole Meland, (Chair), Jay Mattison (Vice Chair), Becky Payne (Secretary) and  Gordon Doak (Recording Secretary), we have still not yet been granted the opportunity.

No Demand Means No Market

Of course there is a much bigger issue I think every breeder needs to think about.  While in Canada most breeders are pretty immune to having to think about market demand, you only have to look at the US and Australia to see what happens when market demand goes south.  If consumers are not drinking milk, it does not take long for the industry to dry up.

Worldwide milk consumption in relation to population growth is falling.  While yes total consumption is increasing, we are not keeping pace with other beverages.

With greater international supply and less demand, it doesn’t take long to drive price and revenue down (Read more: Why the Future of the North American Dairy Industry Depends on Supply and Demand). There is no question that breeders and the industry as a whole, needs to pay greater attention to consumer demand as it will have the greatest impact on our future.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

There is no question the world is changing.  It always is and always will.  The question becomes are you ahead of the change or behind it?  If we continue to operate in a bubble or stick our heads in the sand, we will not be the ones driving our own future, but instead will be handed the scraps from the future decided by others.  That is why it is important to know who is controlling the dairy breeding industry?



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