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A Guide to Understanding How to Breed For Feed Efficiency and Fertility


Are your breeding decisions in tune with where you want your herd to be in the future? As I follow the breeder discussions on The Milk House (Read more: Introducing The Milk House – Dairy Breeder Networking on Facebook ), I see three different approaches: 1) Some breeders are asking what to breed a cow or heifer to, in order to get a show winner; 2) Some are saying that Holsteins are not the only breed and that Jerseys can also get the job done at returning a profit; and 3) The majority are saying that they want to stay with Holsteins but neither the show ring nor only filling the milk pail to overflowing suits their breeding plans for the future. This latter group want cows that, on average, stay in the herd into at least their fourth lactation, and that are efficient at converting feed to milk. They must also be fertile.

The good news for the third group of breeders is that there are two interesting new ratings that can assist them when it comes to sire selection for feed efficiency and fertility.

New Indexes for Feed Efficiency & Fertility

With the revisions to the TPI® formula (Read more: US Genetic Evaluation Changes: Are You Keeping Up?) made on December 2nd, Holstein USA added indexes for Feed Efficiency (FE) and Fertility (FI) for breeders to use when they evaluate sires for their daughters’ ability to convert feed to milk and for combining the various indexes that relate to fertility.  The weighting of these indexes in the TPI® formulae are not large – 3% for Feed Efficiency and 13% for Fertility. Breeders wishing to place more emphasis on either or both of these areas in sire selection can eliminate bulls, during their selection process, that are inferior for one or both of FE and FI.

In order to provide information, that may be useful to breeders, The Bullvine has taken the top fifty daughter proven sires on Holstein USA’s Top 100 International Bulls -December 2014 list and selected and analysed the top ten sires for both of these indexes. The top fifty gTPI® proven sires are 2210 gTPI or higher.

Feed Efficiency Index

Table 1 lists the top ten sires for Feed Efficiency (FE) as well as these sires’ indexes for other traits that breeders normally use when evaluating sires to use in their breeding programs.

Table 1 Top 10 Proven Sires for FE (Feed Efficiency) that are in top 50 gTPI

Sire and NAAB CodeFENM$*gTPI*PTATMilkFatProteinFIPLSire Stack
Average14661123520.96125869461.34.3
1. Robust177767(1)2504(2)0.99114381491.86.3Socrates x Oman x Manat
2. AltaFairway 11HO10980163643(3)2303(18)0.46145772520.54.7Planet x Oman x Morty
3. Manifold 200HO00402154575(9)2286(20)0.36144069521.93.7Oman x BW Marshall x Emory
4. Facebook 200HO03753150512(33)2366(4)1.51128180472.21.1MOM x Airraid x Shottle
5. AltaGreatest 11HO10928145619(6)2338(11)1.18210454600.55.2Planet x Bolton x BW Marshall
6. AltaPhonic 11HO10997145539(20)2262(25)0.3891469431.52.5MOM x Nifty x Lynch
7. Mogul 7HO11314142728(2)2586(1)2.84114381490.35.1Dorcy x Marsh x Bret
8. Mixer 7HO11313128543(16)2332(12)1.75897604203.6Dorcy x Marsh x Bret
9. Myrle 29HO14828128554(12)2278(21)0.697869361.13.8Lief x Encino x Oman
10. Erdman 1HO09800126631(4)2260(28)-0.5299159323.66.9Planet x Ramos x Amel

* Bracketed number is the rank within NM$ or gTPI

Robust, the #1 NM$ sire and #2 gTPI®, easily comes to the top for FE. In second place is AltaFairway. All bulls on this list are superior for their ability to sire high production daughters with their proofs averaging Milk 1258 lbs, Fat 69 lbs and Protein 46 lbs. Further study of these bulls shows that they have a variety of sire stacks, have high Productive Life (4.3) but are not outstanding for type (PTAT 0.96) or fertility (FI 1.3). The indexes of these ten sires have a better correlation between FE and NM$ than between FE and gTPI®. It should be noted that only Facebook and Erdman, on this list, are over 2.0 for FI. Breeding for feed efficiency will not automatically get improved fertility.

Fertility Index

Table 2 lists the top ten sires for Fertility Index (FI) as well as these sires’ indexes for other traits.

Table 2 Top 10 Proven Sires for FI (Fertility Index) that are in top 50 gTPI

Sire and NAAB CodeFINM$*gTPI*PTATMilkFatProteinFEPLSire Stack
Average4.450622880.455013323745.9
1. Wright 7HO11235.3631(4)2355(8)-0.194012820729.6Freddie x Wizard x Rudolph
2. Sobieski 1HO098535.1501(37)2311(15)0.443634525904.3Freddie x Lynch x Duce
3. Denim 1HO102185615(7)2356(7)-0.738955271147.3Freddie x Wizard x Mtoto
4. Freddie 1HO087844.6533(23)2349(9)0.518663328775.6Oman x Die-Hard x Metro
5. Sapporo 200HO037734.5438(82)2248(29)1.065723211435.9Jeeves x Goldwyn x Outside
6. Army 1HO096594.5338(203)2210(49)1.06-1002721742.2Jet Stream x BW Marshallx Rduolph
7. Gallon 29HO146844489(42)2245(30)0.4213803331744.9Jeeves x Goldwyn x Oman
8. Yano 1HO100854530(24)2210(50)-0.154511523647.6Planet x Bret x Manfred
9. Sherman 7HO111643.9432(93)2230(35)0.67632924823.6MOM x Shottle x Roy
10. Petrone 7HO11693.8549(13)2361(5)1.396243213477.5Super x AltaBaxter x Buckeye

* Bracketed number is the rank within NM$ or gTPI

Wright (Read more: TPI® – Do we have it all wrong?) comes to the top of this list. The first three on the list are all Freddie sons and Freddie himself is #4 on the list.  Knowing that leads to the question – Who says the fertility is not heritable or at least that there are sire lines that have daughters that are superior for fertility? The averages for these ten sires give a very clear indication that selecting for higher production is inversely related to fertility. As well, PTAT and FE are only slightly positively correlated to fertility. And that fertility (FI) has no correlation to NM$ or gTPI® for sires that are in the top 50 gTPI®.

Except for Freddie himself, breeders are not likely to recognize the names of the other nine bulls in Table 2. It is noteworthy to see that the ten sires in Table 2, on average, are high for PL (5.9). Cows that have a high genetic ability to get pregnant stay longer in herds. Commencing to select sires for FI but not at the total expense of production will be a wise decision for breeders that focus on profitability in their breeding programs.

Always Compare to the Top Sires

When making comparisons and selecting sires, it is always useful to know what the profile is for the best in the breed.  Table 3 contains the index averages for the top 10 gTPI® daughter proven and genomic sires. The genomic list is limited to sires born in 2013, as this is the group of sires that breeders are likely to be using currently or in the near future.

Table 3 Index Averages for Top 10 Proven and Genomic Sires – December 2014

 ProvenGenomic
Feed Efficiency (FE)104170
Fertility Index (FI)2.81.7
NMS595814
gTPI®23982677
Milk8781623
Fat5080
Protein3357
SCS2.82.84
Productive Life (PL)5.86.4
PTAT1.232.27
UDC1.182.03
FLC1.351.74

It goes without saying that the averages for these two top 10 sire lists are outstanding. Due to Freddie’s influence, the top 10 proven sires are very high for FI. While for FE the genomic list is far superior due to their milk, fat and protein indexes being almost double those of the proven list.

In studying these lists it did come to our attention that Mogul (#1 gTPI®) is the sire of six of the top 10 genomic sires. As well, Robust is the second sire for six of the genomic sires and Planet is the third sire for six of the genomic sires. Most breeders feel that inbreeding levels should not be ignored. Mogul, Robust and Planet are not closely related but it is always wise to check on the Expected Future Inbreeding level of a sire before purchasing semen (Read more: The Truth about Inbreeding, Twenty Things Every Dairy Breeder Should Know About Inbreeding, 6 Steps to Understanding & Managing Inbreeding in Your Herd and 12 Outcross Sires to Help Control Inbreeding).

By comparing the group average in Tables 1, 2 and 3, it can be seen that the top Fertility sires in Table 2 lag behind the other groups except for FI and PL. Also note that the Feed Efficiency sires in Table 1 are generally equal to the top 10 proven sires in Table 3. And except for fertility (FI) the genomic sires in Table 3 are the highest indexing group.

Sires to Select

The first sort of sires available should be the top fifty sires for NM$ or gTPI®.  A few bulls that may qualify for their total merit and are significant improvers for FE and FI are listed below:

Proven Sires

  • Facebook (2366 gTPI & 512 NM$)
  • Denim (2356 gTPI & 615 NM$)
  • Robust (2504 gTPI & 767 NM$)
  • Manifold (2286 gTPI & 575 NM$)
  • Altaphonic (2262 gTPI & 539 NM$)

Genomic Sires

  • Supershot (2675 gTPI & 848 NM$)
  • Rubicon (2718 gTPI & 864 NM$)
  • Hotshot (2661gTPI & 815 NM$)
  • Delta (2709 gTPI & 873 NM$)
  • Draco (2642 gTPI & 810 NM$)

Polled Sires

  • Powerball-P (2534 gTPI & 653 NM$)
  • Multitude-P (2249 gTPI & 418 NM$)
  • Ewing-P (2229 gTPI & 510 NM$)
  • Yahtzee-P (2408 gTPI & 588 NM$)
  • Ladd Man-P (2201 gTPI & 365 NM$)

Red, RC and high PTAT sires do not rank high for either feed efficiency (FE) or fertility (FI). One exception is Mogul at 2.84 PTAT who received 142 for FE however his FI is only slightly above average at 0.3.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Breeding for feed efficiency is closely related to breeding for increased production. However breeding for increased milk yield is counter-productive to increasing the genetic merit of females for reproductive traits. Based on our study of the new indexes for feed efficiency and fertility, we recommend that breeders select bulls that are over 80 pounds for fat and protein combined and that are over 1.0 for FI.


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