Archive for September 2013

World Dairy Expo 2013 Holstein Show Preview – Everything You Need To Know To Get Ready For the Show

It’s that time of year again.  That time when over 70,000 people from 95 countries make the pilgrimage to World Dairy Expo – the “Center of the Dairy Universe.”  They are here to check out more than 5 miles of trade show exhibits from over 850 companies.  Having said that, what they really come to see is the 2,500 plus head of dairy cattle that will be exhibited in eight different championship shows.  The greatest show cows from North America have already made their way to Madison for the 2013 World Dairy Expo (Day 1, Day 2, Day 3).  But wait. Things are a little different this year.  For the first time in a long time, we will not have a returning Grand Champion.  We will not have one cow that arrives at Expo having dominated all the championship shows.  What we do have is the most wide open field that we have seen in years.

The Judges

Justin BurdetteThis year’s International Holstein Show Judge is Justin Burdette.  Justin Burdette and his wife, Claire, are partners with his parents, James and Nina Burdette of Windy Knoll View Farm in Mercersburg, Pa. These are the first people he called after finding out he would be the 2013 WDE Holstein Show Judge.  Known for their outstanding breeding program, they have bred more than 150 Excellent Holsteins carrying the Windy Knoll View prefix, including two 96-point, four 95-point and twelve 94-point animals.  Their farm has won numerous Premier Breeder and Premier Exhibitor awards, including the 2006 World Dairy Expo Premier Breeder Award. Justin has served as official judge for the 2011 International Ayrshire Show, 2012 European National Holstein Show in Italy, 2012 International Red & White Show and 2013 Mexican Holstein Show in Leon.

Justin feels that an associate judge should be a person that is capable of handling the same responsibilities that he has.  He wants an associate that knows good cattle and appreciates them and, most importantly, someone that you get along well with and who has the backbone to step up and give you an honest opinion.  Those are the qualities he has found in Gus Schwartzbeck, from Union Bridge MD.  Gus Schwartzbeck owns and operates Peace and Plenty Farms LLC. with his parents, Nona and Joe, and wife, Lisa. He has judged major Holstein shows in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Ohio and Utah. Earlier this year he judged the Holsteins at the Western Spring National Show in Richmond, Utah.

Justin Burdette, the 2013 International Holstein Show Judge, would like to thank his parents and of course his wife Claire, who has been his best supporter and encourages him to judge a show whenever he has the chance, not to mention picking up a lot of the slack at home while he is gone.  Justin would also like to thank Chris Hill who gave him the opportunity a few years back to be his associate and appreciates how that has opened countless doors for him.

When asked “What is the biggest thing you want breeders to say after the show?”  Judge Burdette replied “I want the breeders and exhibitors to feel that each of their animals got the look that they deserved no matter where they placed.  It takes a countless amount of time and money to exhibit that one animal for 45 minutes and I feel everyone needs to be treated fairly.  Most importantly I want people to feel that the best animal won the class.  That’s why I feel a pattern should be set and that’s how I like to place them.”

Trading places with Justin who judged the Red & White show last year, is Michael “Air” Heath, who judged the Holstein show last year and will judge the Red & White Show this year.  Michael really needs no introduction as he has judged extensively for about 25 years at state fairs, spring shows and other notables such as the Quebec International Fall Holstein Show and the Mexican National Holstein Show. Michael judged the 2012 International Holstein Show, where his 3-inch vertical earned him the title of “Air Heath.”  Joining Michael will be Mike Berry from Albany, OR.  Mike Berry, a cattle fitter since 1992, owns a herd of 150 Holsteins and Jerseys. His judging resume includes state fairs in Utah, Maryland and Washington, as well as the Western Spring National Junior Show in Utah in 2010.

Judging the 2013 International Junior Holstein Show will be Pat Conroy of Angola, IN.  The funny thing is that, at the time Pat found out that he would be the judge he was on the phone with Justin Burdette, the 2013 Holstein Show Judge.  Pat Conroy is a full-time dairy cattle fitter who also markets purebred dairy cattle. He has fitted show cattle from coast to coast and in Canada, Mexico, Columbia, Argentina, Ecuador, Brazil, Australia, France, Germany and Switzerland. Pat’s previous judging experience includes the Kentucky State Holstein Show, California State Fair Holstein and Jersey Shows, and county shows in Pennsylvania and Minnesota.  He is also part owner of the greatest show cow outside North America Decrausaz Iron O’Kalibra (Read more:  Decrausaz Iron O’Kalibra – Simply The Best).  Pat sends a big thanks out to his wife.  “I’m gone roughly 300 days a year and she is the one who keeps things going at home so I can do what I do.”

Junior Classes

Much as they were last year, the junior classes are wide open.  Coming into last year’s show there had been one pretty dominant heifer at most of the shows.  Md-Dun-Loafin Lauth Elly was not at Expo last year because her owners were the judges.  Notables include Winright Sid Elegance (Winter Yearling), who has been Jr Champion at Ontario Spring Show and the Ontario Summer Show as well as Res. Junior Champion at Maxville Spring Show.  As well as a couple of spring yearlings ; MS LuLu Fever Legacy (Junior Champion New York Spring Show) and Cameron Ridge Atwood Beauty (Junior Champion All-American Holstein Show).  Getting a lot of attention in the springtime was Pierstein Goldchip Rockstar, when she topped the taste of Ontario Convention Sale and won her class at the Quebec Spring Show, the Midwest Spring Nationals and the Illinois State Fair.  Another animal to watch for is last year’s first place Fall Calf, Fanico Reginald Marty.

Winright Sid Elegance

Fantasy ExhibitorIntermediate Cow Classes

While heifer classes are nice, nothing compares to the cow classes.  They are the classes that will have you on the edge of your seat and will “wow” you with how amazing these cows are.  Judging by the extreme numbers of entrants already in our NEW contest, Fantasy Exhibitor © most of our readers feel the same way.

Junior 2 Year Olds

Riding a big wave into Madison, after winning the Quebec Champion Show is Belfast Goldwyn Lasenza.  The Reserve All-Canadian Summer Yearling from 2012 has calved in well and has everyone talking.  But don’t expect Lasenza to simply walk away with it.  Others to watch for include Brookview American Girl, winner at the Mid-East Summer National, and Budjon-JK Snchz Exchange, winner at NY Spring Show and North East Fall National.   Another young cow getting a lot of attention is Morsan Atwood Burka, winner at the Midwest Fall National.  There could be many surprises in this class, as many of the top heifers from last year are calving just in time for this show and have not been out to any other shows yet.

Belfast Goldwyn Lasenza

Senior 2 Year Olds

With R-E-W Happy Go Lucky, the extremely popular Milking Fall Yearling from last year, not calving back for this year’s show, this class has really opened up.  Front runners include Claquato-RH Elicit the winner at the All-American show and Duckett D Layla winner at the Western Fall National (Please note: This heifer is R&W  and may not be in the B&W show, although, given the chance to contend in the B&W show, they may just put her in the big dance).  Other cows to watch for in this class include Jacobs Duplex Anna, winner at the Quebec Championship Show,  Charwill Attic Marcy who is fresh again and who beat Go Lucky at the NY Spring Show and the much talked about Crovalley Knowledge Akika.  As in the Junior 2 year old class, there are also many headliners, such as Lafontaine Aftershock Arrie and Kingsway Sanchez Magician, that may also be at the show and could add some spice to an already tough class.

Claquato-RH Elicit

Junior 3 Year Olds

After her big Grand Champion win over RF Goldwyn Hailey at the Quebec Championship Show, Roquet Jasmine Sanchez is riding a tidal wave into World Dairy Expo.  Expectations are high on Jasmine and competition is stiff. The full sisters BVK Atwood Abrianna and BVK Atwood Andrea are going to give her every ounce of competition that she can handle and, maybe, a little more.  Others to watch for include Lookout Goldwyn Casea (winner at Ontario Summer Show),  Cityview Goldwyn Ace (winner at All-American Show) and the very popular Joleanna Gold Pourinrain.

Roquet Jasmine Sanchez

Senior 3 Year Olds

The absence of the show winning Valleyville Rae Lynn has made the Senior 3 year olds, another wide open class.  After their battle at the All-American show, the very popular Butz-Butler Gold Barbara will again have to go head to head with Cowtown Durham Grasshopper (who won at All-American) as well as her former herd mate East River Gold Deb 850 winner at the NY Spring National and the Midwest Spring National.  Also in the running will be Raivue Sanchez Pamela, who gave Rae Lynn a good run for her money at the Ontario Summer Show.  Some others to watch for in this class include Garay Alexander Destiny, Desnette Alexia Roseplex, Crater Indiana Goldwyn, Vedderlea Goldwyn Esther and Ernest-Anthony Allure.

Cowtown Durham Grasshopper and Butz-Butler Gold Barbara

4 Year olds

While many would just hand this class to last year’s Intermediate Champion and worldwide fan favorite Cookview Goldwyn Monique, there are some other cows in this class that could make things interesting.  They include Robrook Goldwyn Cameron who was All-Canadian Junior 3 year old last year, Craigcrest Rubies Gold Rejoice who is looking to regain her dominant ways of 2011 and Whittier-Farms Jasp Kinetic.  Other cows to watch for are Arethusa Jasper Velour, Dubeau Jasper December and MS Pride Gold Invite.  For those of you that are  fans of KHW Regiment Apple 3 Red, something tells me she will be in the R&W Show as she has a great chance of  being Grand in that show.  For those of you looking for a cost effective sleeper pick, for your Fantasy Exhibitor© team, check out Howardview-WG Gold Casey.  She has new ownership that is very eager to make a splash.

Cookview Goldwyn Monique

5 Year Olds

This year’s 4-year-old class could be the most wide open milking cow class of the day.  To be honest, this is the class that I have seen and heard the least about.  The two front runners in the class, Silvermaple Damion Camomile and Rosedale Lexington, have not seen a lot of action this year. It’s hard to say just which one should be the favorite coming into the show.  Both cows have been very impressive in previous years. However, without seeing them in show form this year, it’s hard to give the edge to either one.  Other cows to watch for include Rayon Dor Goldwyn Adonial, Ruann Lassiter Anna-70651 and J&K Vue Goldwyn Glamour.

6+ Years Old

You never know which cows will be in the 6+ year old class and which ones will be in the 150,000lb.  class so, for now, I am looking at them  as one class (please note Fantasy Exhibitor© participants points will be awarded as they stand in class, so it might be great to pick up a cost effective 150,000lb cow).  For me this class is Bonaccueil Maya Goldwyn’s to lose.  First off is the fact that, even though she got beat by Hailey at Quebec Championship show, this cow WOWED me at the show.  At that very moment I thought it could be her year.  Add to that the fact that Eastside Lewisdale Goldwyn Missy, the 2011 Supreme Champion, has not made the trip from Alberta and this class has really opened up.  Of course we cannot forget  last year’s winning 150,000 lb. class winner, Starbrite Lyster Lyndsay who is back again and should be hard to beat in that class. Other cows that will be worth watching for in these class include Maya’s herd mate the very popular Jacobs Goldwyn Britany, the Ontario Summer Show surprise Grand Champion Calbrett Goldwyn Layla, All-American Grand Champion Whitaker Stormatic Rae, Savage-Leigh Leona and Willowholme Goldwyn Jessica.

Bonaccueil Maya Goldwyn

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Every year you wonder if this year’s World Dairy Expo could possibly surpass last year’s show?  Every year it seems to do exactly that.  While there may not be any previous Grand Champions coming back, there will certainly be some of the best classes we have ever seen.  For me, I think it’s going to come down to two cows, Cooksview Goldwyn Monique and Bonaccueil Maya Goldwyn. I cannot choose between the two, so I am not going to try.  Well not until Friday.  After seeing them both at World Dairy Expo, I will cap off my trip by picking the one that I think should be Grand.


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The Top 7 Sires of 2013 that will Breed the Next World Dairy Expo Champion

Last year we took a lot of heat for putting a list of mostly Genomic test sires out as the bulls that would sire the next World Dairy Expo Champion (Read more: 7 Sires to Use in Order to Breed the Next World Dairy Expo Champion).  The funny thing was that, as this past year unfolded, you started seeing more and more of the sires from our list – Atwood, Bradnick, and Brokaw heifers – were winning shows at the county and championship level.  Therefore, this year we thought we would take another look at just what sires, proven or genomic, stand the best chance of siring the next show winner.


Atwood x Bolton x Shottle
Making the list for the 2nd year in a row is Dude.  Not to be confused with the Facebook sensation (He is One Ugly Dude).  Dude’s numbers are just too high to refuse.  Even if, or should I say “when”, his numbers drop, they are just too high to ignore.  This Atwood son from SONNEK BLT DOUBLE DIPPED VG-85-2YR-CAN has unbelievable genomic values for all major conformation traits, well above his expected parent averages.  Expect Dude to sire breed leading mammary system improvement and loads of dairy strength, though he will need to be protected on high pins.


Atwood x Shottle x Morty x Bellwood
Dropping  from his #2 ranking last year to #6 this year is Airlift.  Like we said last year, while the female side of this cow family may not have won any major shows, they do have generation after generation of outstanding strength, frames and feet and legs, tracing back to the same bloodlines as the great CANYON-BREEZE ALLEN.  Combine that with Atwood’s udders and you have the potential for greatness.  Expect Airlift to sire extreme feet and leg improvement as well as rumps.  For the line breeding fans out there, Airlift would make a great cross with your Goldwyns.  He brings the needed rump and dairy strength improvement many Goldwyn’s need.  However, much like Allen, you may not want to use him on cattle that are extremely straight legged.  Airlift also makes a great option for those looking to sire show-winning calves as Airlift is almost over 4 points on all major type traits outside of mammary system.


Meridian x Man-O-Man x Goldwyn
New to the list, Avalanche is a kind of a sneaky sire.  His sire Meridian and maternal grand sire Man-O-Man, don’t say show type.  However, go one generation back from that and you have the Goldwyn sister to Atwood and Aftershock, Allyndale-I Goldwyn Albany-ET VG-87-2YR-CAN 1* from the great D-Delight Durham Atlee-ET EX-92 GMD DOM.  While some might be skeptical of the Meridian part in the equation, Avalanche has a DGV of +17 for conformation and excels in udders and dairy strength.  Combine that with the great feet and legs of Man-O-Man and back it up with a Goldwyn x Atlee cross and you start to see why this sire is worth your consideration.


Goldwyn x Durham x Storm
A newcomer to our list, but a sire that should get a lot of attention, is Golden Dreams.  The reason for that is he is the full brother to Atwood.  However, he actually has higher genomic tests for all the major conformation traits than Atwood, especially in rumps, an area that if I was going to fault Atwood is an area that I would protect him on, though Golden Dreams daughters may not be as deep.  The daughter pictures I have seen have them looking pretty similar to Atwood, so if you cannot get any Atwood semen, or want to protect your mating on rumps a little more, Golden Dreams may be the option for you.


Atwood x Mac x Durham x Juror
Another returnee from last year’s list is Brokaw. The early Brokaw calves are pretty impressive.  Now he has dropped from his #1 rank from last year.  But what do you expect?  New genetics are coming out every day.  It’s only natural for a bull to drop in rank after a whole year has passed.  In Brokaw you combine the two greatest type families in the breed today.  On the paternal  side you have Atwood and his dam MD-DELIGHT DURHAM ATLEE EX-92-4YR-USA DOM GMD 2*, 2012 Golden Dam finalist and Reserve Intermediate Champion at Madison in 2005 followed by her grand dam  MS Kingstead Chief Adeen EX-94.  On the maternal side you have REGANCREST MAC BIKASA VG-87-2YR-USA who is the daughter of REGANCREST-PR BARBIE EX-92-7YR-USA DOM GMD 3*, also a 2012 Golden Dam Finalist.  Watch for Brokaw to be extremely tall and have the necessary frame, dairyness and bolted on udders to get the job done.  While his rumps may not be ideal for classification, expect them to be bang on when it comes to the show ring, demonstrating the necessary width and boxcar rumps that judges love so much.


AltaKool x Atwood x Shottle
The number one genomic type sire in the world comes in at number two on our list (CDN DGV Conformation).  As we all know there can be a big difference between a high conformation score and a sire that can sire show winners.  While Alta5G does have a high stature rating, it is his lack of body depth that has him not at the top of our list.  He will give you outstanding udders with great feet and legs.  That makes him the ideal mating for that big deep old brood cow you have that needs to be cleaned up in the legs and snugged up in the udders.  You also will need to protect him on his rump angle as he is high even for the show ring.  Like Dude, Alta5G’s numbers are just too high to not take a look at, even if it’s for limited use.


Goldwyn x Durham x Storm
Over the past year I have had the opportunity to go to many shows and see daughters from many different sires.  While Goldwyn’s still dominate in the older cow classes, if I had to choose a sire that would get the job done, outside of Goldwyn, it would be Atwood.  First you have the magic Goldwyn on Durham cross, then you add in his dam who is the exceptional MD-DELIGHT DURHAM ATLEE EX-92-4YR-USA DOM GMD 2*.  Atlee also has extreme conformation herself, winning Reserve Intermediate Champion at Madison in 2005, and going on to be named unanimous ALL-AMERICAN SR.3-YR that year.  She comes by it naturally with her grand dam being MS Kingstead Chief Adeen EX-94.  Combine that with the greatest type sire of the past half-decade, Goldwyn, and you have yourself an unbeatable show-winning package.  Atwood offers the great mammary systems his pedigree would indicate but needs to be protected for flat loins and high pins, much like his sire.  While he may not pass his sire in accomplishments, there is no question that Atwood is establishing himself as the heir apparent.

Again a Note on Goldwyn

Yes, I acknowledge that Goldwyn has been the most dominant show ring sire of the past decade.  Moreover, he has done so like no other ever before him.  But there comes a point where you have to use something on your Goldwyn’s.  That means you can either line-breed as some of the greats have done in the past and use sires like Atwood and his sons, or you can corrective mate and go with sires like Alta5G or Avalanche.

The Bottom Line

As we will see next week, everyone loves to win and, as we have already seen with our viral Fantasy Exhibitor© competition, everyone dreams of being on top at World Dairy Expo.  In reality there are only two ways to get there.  Either win the lottery or breed your way there.  Using sires like the seven above will help you achieve the latter.

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Are Today’s Holstein Cows Too Tall?

While attending a local monthly dairy cow sale this week I was approached by a young dairyman who said to me You need to write (in the Bullvine) about our dairy cows getting too tall and too narrow. This dairyman in explaining his position, that today’s cows are too extreme in stature and width, shared with me that he sees all the cows going through this monthly sale as he helps receive, pen, number and milk the cows as they are received the morning of the sale or a day or two previous to the sale. As I drove home from the sale I pondered his question.

My first recollection of thinking about the width of cows goes back to my 4H training. My three dedicated 4H leaders were three very different people. One was an educator, one a very successful farmer-milk producer and one a prominent show judge who had judged national shows in a number of breeds. The educator did not care about what a cow looked like, but did care about preparing me for life. The milk producer wanted his cows to be good converts of his high quality feed into large volumes of 4% fat milk. And the show judge wanted Holstein cows to be taller but was satisfied with the stature of the cows in the other dairy breeds. Each leader helped me in different ways and I think back now to the trend, that started half a century ago, to taller and taller Holsteins. That trend may not have had much science associated with it.

As I drove on Tuesday, my mind fast forwarded to my early days in managing Holstein Canada’s Type Classification program. (Read more: Murray Hunt: Perspective from Both Sides of the Fence) There was a requirement that a cow had to be 56 inches tall to be eligible for Excellent. By the way she also had to have calved at least three times and have an Excellent mammary system. Annually the classifiers and breeder advisory board meet and the first meeting I attended of that group discussed why Excellent cows needed to be 56 inches (140 cm) tall.  The discussion came around to a well known show cow that was excellent in every way but she only stood 55 inches at the hip. You can well imagine the points put forward. “Holsteins need to be taller so their udders clear the ground more so you can get a milking machine under her properly”. All the way to ”if she’s good enough then stature should not matter”. In the end those saying Holstein cows needed to be taller won out.

Over the past forty years I have watched the Holstein breed as heifers and cows increased in stature to the point where first lactation cows in the show ring need to be over 62 inches in stature to place at the top of the class. But with that added 8 to 10 inches in stature comes calves that are larger at birth, animals that are narrower between their front legs and first lactation cows that appear to have less width to their rump and birth channel.  Oh, yes today’s first lactation cows are capable of producing much more milk out of much wider and more tightly attached udders. The question is has the pendulum swung too far to the side of Holsteins being too tall and lacking width of body and width of rump?

Judge Michael Heath (Right) and associate David Dyment (Left)

Judge Michael Heath (Right) and associate David Dyment (Left) at the 2012 World Dairy Expo

The matter of width and stature in Holsteins was on my mind, last year, as I watched Michael Heath judge the Holsteins at World Dairy Expo (Read more: World Dairy Expo 2012 Holstein Show – A Battle for the Ages) and Callum McKinven judge the Holsteins at the Royal. Both judges (Read more: The 2012 Royal Winter Fair Holstein Show – One of the greatest stories ever told), in my opinion, placed less emphasis on stature than judges in the past have done. Both emphasised the cows that were closest to the ideal cow. Finding the tallest animals and placing them first was not their guiding force. Interesting to me is the fact that both Michael and Callum also breed and judge Jerseys that are a foot shorter in height than Holsteins but the milking machines easily attach and milk Jerseys. Which may beg the question “if Holsteins were the same size as Jerseys would that be okay?”.

Judge Callum McKinven and associate Bruce Mode discuss a tough placing

Judge Callum McKinven and associate Bruce Mode discuss a tough placing at the 2012 Royal Winter Fair

This brought my mind to thinking about Don Bennink’s (Read more: North Florida Holsteins: Aggressive, Progressive and Profitable) comment that show Jerseys can go to shows and go home to frees stall barns and do just fine yet today’s show Holsteins cannot. Is Don right? Do we need to get off the tall Holsteins bandwagon and have cows that have body mass and an ability to function in large group housing?

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The conformation scorecard for dairy cows placed 70% of the points on udders and feet and legs. With less than approximately 12-15% of the emphasis on body size why do we need mature Holstein cows that are over 60 inches at the hips? Too tall or too narrow, why don’t we let form follow function and let the cow that returns the most lifetime profit be our ideal?

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Looking to Get Ahead? You Need To Break Out of the Herd Mentality

Today’s dairy cattle breeders live in exciting times. The information and tools available are expanding at lightning fast speed. Traditional methods for improving herds and generating revenue from the sale of breeding stock have gone by the wayside. (Read more: Is There Still Going To Be A Market For Purebred Cattle In 10 Years? and Which Is Your Most Profitable Cow?) The breeding of elite animals rests in fewer hands every year.

What’s In the Future for Breeders

Until five years ago breeders limited the traits they selected for to those for which data was captured by DHI and Type Classification Programs. The future will be different.

  • Cow Efficiency Will Be Key
    With milk producers getting a smaller and smaller portion of the consumers’ dollar spent on milk, breeders need to supply breeding stock that are more efficient. Feed and labor account for about 70% of cost at the farm level. Genetic indexing for feed conversion and labor efficiency hold out great promise as areas where breeding could help. To date capturing feeding and labor data at the farm level is not happening. Some research is underway on feed efficiency. Stay tuned as researchers study these areas. However no longer will longevity be #1. Cows will need to be efficient every day of their productive lives. (Read more: North Florida Holsteins: Aggressive, Progressive and Profitable, 30 Sires that will produce Feed Efficient Cows and Feed Efficiency: The Money Saver)
  • Food Safety Will Be a Must Have
    Higher and higher demands will be put on the quality of milk coming off farms. Even moderate levels of mastitis will not be tolerated. It is very interesting to see that CDN has just announced that, effective December 2013, it will publish an Official Genetic Evaluation for Mastitis Resistance. This report is well worth the review by discerning breeders. Information like the fact that for the best sires 6% of their daughters get mastitis whereas for the worst sires 22% of their daughters get mastitis.  These evaluations will be significantly more accurate that using SCS alone. Now that’s news breeders want to hear. Additionally it is quite exciting to read that in the future CDN plans to publish genetic rankings for other disease resistance traits.
  • Island Mentality Won’t Work
    Breeding dairy cattle will be just like running any sustainable business. You need all the information and you need KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators).  Breeders will need all the details which include the relationship of a trait to all other traits when making breeding decisions.  Think about it. How much more valuable is it to know all of the performance, nutrition, rumination, estrus, body temperature, health, DNA, classification, financial and other management information. Selecting for only a few traits will become a thing of the past. On-farm data capture systems will be much more extensive in even just a few years from now and it will be stored in the cloud.  Are you ready for on-farm testing for fat, protein, CLAs, protein fractions, and hormone levels? That list will grow quickly. Breeders will need 24-7 access to data and information. Data storage systems by breed societies and DHI’s will likely be a thing of the past. (Read more: Why Dairy Farmers Need To Know Their Key Performance Indicators)
  • Get Used to Global
    The world of dairy cattle breeding has gone totally global. The current Interbull system for ranking bulls will be a thing of the past. Consider the fact that Scandinavia has had cow and heifer health data recording for many years now. Think how useful it would have been to use that data to develop genomic indexes for health traits for the world. The best animals in the world will not be limited to a few countries. Can you imagine only implanting sexed female embryos that are genomically tested and in the top 5% globally? (Read more: Who Really Has The Best Dairy Cattle Genetics In The World?)
  • Less Instinct More Facts
    We often hear about the art versus the science of breeding cattle. Well get ready for the art of applying the science. So much will be known about the genetic make-up of our animals that the breeder instinct will be replaced by programs that analyse and give recommendations to breeders.

It has Already Started

Over the past few years, the breeding of dairy cattle has gone viral.  Communication by hard copy is dying quickly. Communities of breeders around the world talk every day without even leaving their office or picking up the phone. (Read more: The Shocking Speed of Social Media and the Dairy Industry) No one owns the patent on improving dairy cattle. It is a shared opportunity taken by those who want to breed improved cattle and generate income from owning the elite. Oocyte recovery will be possible from cows and heifers no matter where they are located.  And new technology and information will be available daily or weekly not every four months as is now the case with genetic evaluation releases.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Now is the time for more global collaboration. Thinking beyond the present is a must. When it comes to breeding the ideal cow for 2020 or beyond she will need to be more complete than she has ever been before. (Read more: The Perfect Holstein Cow) If you haven’t considered one or more of the above changes you may already be in danger of falling behind.

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SEXING TECHNOLOGIES: Gender Vendors in a Changing Marketplace

Predetermined sex in offspring is the brass ring that dairy breeders seek in managing in the ever more competitive marketplace. Most definitely this control is becoming more achievable.  Sexed semen end user price has dropped to one third of the price it was when it was first introduced.

Sexing Technologies (ST) is a well known, worldwide provider of sexed semen and embryos. Juan Moreno, who is co-owner of ST with Maurice Rosenstein, outlines the business that has been built by this company.


Sexing Technologies owes its origin to a company called Genetic Resources International (GRI) which got started 22 years ago as a Custom Semen and Embryo collection facility and Genetics Exporter servicing the Southern US.  While considering expansion into the IVF world 12 years ago.  They discovered that sexed semen, although technologically possible, was not commercially available because it was consider too expensive and of lower fertility and therefore did not have commercial viability. He outlines the steps taken in forming Sexing Technologies. “The partners in the business 11 years ago went heavily into debt to obtain a license from XY Inc., additional partners came into the business and Sexing Technologies started its commercial sexed semen production 10 years ago having Select Sires as its first large commercial customer.”

AT YOUR SERVICE: The Rising Tide of Technology

“Our philosophy is to generate value for the end user.” Explains COCEO Moreno, who is excited about the growing possibilities. “High genetic level bulls are available now. For example the #1 Proven Jersey bull in the world is available in sexed semen. There is every reason for the same to be available in Holsteins. Producers are using sexed semen in both heifers and cows.  Sexed semen has become part of modern management strategies on the farm.”  Today ST sexed semen is in every day use on thousands of farms (both beef and dairy) in 15 countries around the world confirms Sexing Technologies COCEO. “ It is being produced by more than 25 bull studs. Our production is estimated at 10 million straws annually and over 30 million calves have been born.”  The ST co-owner lists five of the many services it provides to breeder customers:

  • As a commercial service we are one of the largest exporters of dairy heifers having shipped over 40,000 animals in two years.
  • We offer custom semen collection services for both conventional and sexed semen and reproductive services in Embryo Transfer and IVF.
  • We process sexed semen in Deer, Elk, Sheep, Goats and soon in Horses and Pigs.
  • We service the industry by progeny testing Holstein, Jersey and Brown Swiss bulls.


Juan speaks with both pride and humility when sharing the growth of Sexing Technologies. “ Today more than 28 families have ownership in Sexing Technologies and the ST family team of over 500 men and women proudly services an industry that feeds the world. We are very thankful to our customers and to the ST team that has provided us with the support to improve the fertility of the product and reduce the cost to the end user.”  What he feels in unique about this undertaking is that the entire team has a common goal. “We believe in team effort and being part of an industry that includes, breeders, farmers, bull studs, breed associations, testing services, researchers and others, all working for a common effort of producing in milk, a nutritious quality product, at a fair price that the end consumer can enjoy.”


Potential users of sexing technology are always hungry for advice from those who have experience. Moreno shares his viewpoint. “ The technology has changed dramatically, especially in the last 5 years. A considerable amount of resources and time has gone into developing new generations of equipment, changing procedures, media improvements and user awareness. For example in the last 5 years we have gone through 5 different new models of sperm sorters, each one an improvement on the previous one. Thus production efficiency has improved considerably and the end user has benefitted by seeing a significant price reduction in the cost for their sexed semen since ST introduced it in the market place 10 years ago.”


It’s important to use sexed semen as part of an overall management strategy on the dairy farm.  It facilitates the allocation of resources by allowing for the selection of higher quality replacement females. It allows you to significantly reduce calving difficulties. It allows for greater income  by marketing extra heifers or even introducing cross breeding with beef bulls to produce a product of a higher value in the market and, most importantly,  fertility is improving.  We are expecting the publication of several articles on large trials ran by independent researchers in different countries corroborating the improved fertility. It’s time to use it for first service in cows.”

“What`s In It For Me?”

With any leading edge tool that requires adapting to change, breeders are concerned about how it can work for them. “That is a tough question.” Asserts Juan Moreno. “Markets are always changing and unpredictable. My crystal ball has failed me many times in the past. However, I do believe that many technologies are coming together at this point” As Moreno looks to the best impact of sexing technologies, he points out 3 specifically.

  1. Sexed semen can be used to generate female only embryos 99% of buyers don’t really care about having bulls. Only bull studs care about the bulls, most breeders would like to improve their female base. Making embryos with conventional semen makes 50% of the resulting product (bulls) non marketable. Produce for the 99% not the 1%.
  2. Genomic testing allows targeting embryo production for different niche makers like higher protein, A2 milk, Show, Polled, Color, Milk, Fertility or Net Merit or TPI.
  3. New Technologies will drive the market to the selection for traits such as fertility, health, feed efficiency, robot adaptability, etc.


A full consideration of sexing technologies must not overlook InVitro Feriliaztion. Moreno provides particularly interesting statistics and suggestions for their use.

  1. 30% of the donors make 80% of the embryos. Don’t keep on trying with low embryo producers.
  2. make an assessment of the marketability or value within your own herd of the resulting offspring 24 months down the road. Don’t measure today expecting to forecast tomorrow.
  3. Producing 90%-95% females gives you a much better chance of maximizing your investment . Almost all females from top donors will have a place in your herd. Only 1% or less  of the bulls born will ever find a home. Therefore the investment does not compensate the return if you continue producing 50% bulls.


According to Juan Moreno, it’s not the technology that floods the market, it’s the users that choose to produce embryos from a higher number of donors. “I believe the success of IVF provides the opportunity to be more selective as to the genetic quality of donors being used. Technologies such as IVF provide the greatest benefit when used only on elite cattle. Maybe the excitement of Genomics has lead to a definition of “Elite” that is too relaxed.”


Moreno suggests definite steps in using IVF. “First and foremost the genetic value of the animal today and a year down the road needs to be evaluated.  The statistical possibility of that donor generating an offspring that will have market viability 18 to 24 months down the road must also be forecasted. Secondly animals must go through a very thorough schedule of vaccinations and heath testing. Donors are then placed on optimized nutritional regimens based on age and reproductive status. Thirdly reproductive examinations and evaluations on the animal are performed prior to her start in the donor program and they are continued through her life as a donor. The most important fourth step is that the animal must be evaluated after the first three aspirations to determine her ability to produce sufficient number of oocytes and embryos to compensate the investment.” Moreno concludes with a key statistic. “Breeders must always keep in mind that 30% of the donors produce 80% of the embryos.”


ST confirms that IVF results are influenced by breed, age of the donor, reproductive status of the donor, aspiration frequency, nutritional status and hormonal treatments. “We favor a more natural and conservative approach with no hormonal treatments. This approach benefits the long term well being of the animal. In Bos Indiscus breeds like Brahman we average over 7 embryos per aspiration and on Holstein cows  3.3 embryos per aspiration, dropping to 2.2 embryos in heifers. Embryo pregnancies depending on the time of the year range from 43% to 55%.”


ST has been doing IVF for more than 10 years and embryo transfer since the original company was created 20 years ago. ST operates 2 IVF labs in Brazil and 4 in the United States. Two of the US labs are operated as Research and Development laboratories which have been fundamental in testing procedures for sexed semen, leading to a series of improvements in the process that have lead to increased fertility in sexed semen.


“We dedicate a considerable amount of funds and resources to Research and Development in Animal Reproduction from heat detection devices, estrus synchronization technology, sexed semen, in vitro fertilization and genetic development programs.” reports Moreno adding that, “  A great deal of emphasis is being dedicated to genetic advancement programs researching new economically significant traits for which prior genetic pressure has not been applied.”


Once again as breeders, we are being urged to recognized that putting different technology tools together can provide advantages that they couldn’t deliver alone. Moreno says the list is long on the technologies  and we should look at in combination. “Some of the technologies have been around for a long time but they will become more relevant in the future because, when paired with new technologies, they lead to greater value.  For example: Genomics, Embryo Transfer, IVF, Sexed Semen, Robot Milkers, compliance data systems, Universal Animal Identification, Gene identification , they all have to lead to milk being produced in a more efficient manner so that dairying can be a profitable business for generations to come.”


Technology is not a tool that you can choose to do without. As is always the case with technology driven evolution those who choose to ignore it may be ignoring their own sustainable business. Sexing Technologies is on the leading edge. At the end of the dairy day, those who readily and effectively adapt to the “new world” will succeed and those who don’t won’t!


Not sure how much to spend on that great 2 year old or heifer?
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Fantasy Exhibitor – World Dairy Expo 2013

Everyone has heard of or participated in Fantasy Football, Baseball or Hockey games.  Now the Bullvine is bringing that excitement to the dairy show ring.  No longer will you simply be rooting for the favorite in each class, you will also have the added thrill of watching how your team, the show string you have selected, performs.  This added excitement is, no doubt, going to be the greatest thing to happen to the show ring since the introduction of Supreme Champion.

Contest Details

The rules are pretty simple.  You have $1,500,000 dollars to spend and you must pick an animal from each of our seven milking Holstein classes.  The animals in each class have been given dollar values based on their past performance and momentum heading into the 2013 World Dairy Expo.  (Please note this is not an actual estimated sale price value, as this fantasy value is purely based on predicted ability to win the show in relation to others in the class).

Points will be awarded as follows:

  • 1st place – 20 points
  • 2nd place – 15 points
  • 3rd place – 10 points
  • 4th place – 9 points
  • 5th place – 8 points
  • 6th place – 7 points
  • 7th place – 6 points
  • 8th place – 5 points
  • 9th place – 4 points
  • 10th place  – 3 points

There will also be bonus points as follows:

  • Intermediate Champion  – 10 points
  • Reserve Intermediate Champion – 8 points
  • Honorable Mention Intermediate Champion – 6 points
  • Senior Champion – 10 Points
  • Reserve Senior Champion – 8 points
  • Honorable Mention Senior Champion – 6 points
  • Grand Champion – 10 points
  • Reserve Grand Champion – 8 points
  • Honorable Mention Grand Champion – 6 points

Cattle Selection

Yes we know there are cows we will miss.  And yes we know there are cows on the list that may not be at the show.  We here at the Bullvine have done our best in trying to handicap each class.  We have taken some cows off of the list that we have confirmed are not attending.  But with so many top cows not hitting the shows already this season, it’s hard to tell who will be there and who will not.  For that reason and plus the fact that we have not been to every show there is, we have limited it to 12 animals to choose from in each class.  If you feel that we have underscored a cow (meaning too low a dollar value in relation to the other cows in the class), that is all the more reason to have this “great buy” in your string.  Remember that you have a   limited number of dollars to spend, so you are as much looking for the cows that offer the greatest value as you are trying to predict who will win the class.

The Deadline

The entry deadline will be midnight Thursday October 3rd.  There will also be a 2 point bonus for each day you submit your entries prior to that.  For example, if you submitted your “string” on September 23rd you would receive a 20 point bonus.  Also make sure that you don’t spend more than $1,500,000 as any exhibitor string that spends more than $1,500,000 will be removed from the competition.  Winners will be announced on Monday October 7th, 2013.

The Reward

The grand prize winner will receive a one of a kind Bullvine Fantasy Exhibitor Champion Jacket.  All ties will be broken by date of entry, if submitted on the same day, tie will be broken by total dollars spent.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

At The Bullvine we have tired of the way most magazines cover show events.  “Here is the list of the results with a few pictures.”  Boring!!!!  That is why we first introduced the Breeders Choice Awards  (Read more: The Winners of the 2012 Breeder’s Choice Awards are… and The 2012 Breeder’s Choice Awards – The Tanbark Trail Edition) and now we are pleased to introduce our Fantasy Exhibitor Game.  This is your chance to show the world your ability to pick the winners and to do it on a budget.  Anyone can pick out a favorite in each class and then say that they are the best judge of cattle (Read more: (Read more: Who’s Next? World Dairy Expo 2012 Holstein Show Preview). Judges place a whole class!  Great judges can pick that diamond in the rough, that one that is flying under the radar and that comes out on show day and surprises everyone!

Entries Now Closed!

Where did the money go?

As I was watching the Morsan 300 Sale this week (Full results here), a recurring question kept bouncing around in my head, “Where did all the money go?”

Eastside Lewisdale Gold Missy - Grand Champion WDE and Royal '11

Eastside Lewisdale Gold Missy – Grand Champion WDE and Royal ’11

What I mean is that here you have a family that pretty much funded the high-end dairy genetics marketplace since the turn of the century.  For at least the last 10 years, you would not run a sale without making sure that Morris Thalen was coming.  Morris would buy at pretty much all levels and all types of cattle.  Morsan invested in top pedigree cattle, index cattle and even unique special offer animals such as variant red and polled.  He was everyone’s dream buyer.  On top of that Morris is a great person to deal with:  very pleasant, modest and appreciative of everyone in the industry.  Therefore, that is why watching the Morsan 300 Sale raised my concerns.  Here is a family that has invested heavily and was presenting many animals with outstanding pedigrees.  Nevertheless, most of them were selling for under $4,000 and the sale averaged just over $6,023.  This is but a fraction of what the sale results would have been in the past.  Not for a minute am I suggesting any error on the part of Morsan Farms.  I actually am very impressed with the work they have done over the years (Read more:  Morsan Farms – Money Well Spent).  They have had a World Dairy Expo Grand and Supreme Champion, as well as a Red & White Champion.  They have also managed to breed high index into these cow families.  Great work by a great family.

What I do think has happened is that the industry has changed, Furthermore, Morsan themselves are great examples of this very change.  Before Morsan was a household name for winning shows and buying top cattle, they were a well-run commercial operation.  In 1998 they milked 200 commercial grade cows and today they have grown to milk 1600 to 1800 cows (80% purebred).

You see it was not the genetics market that Morris started out in.  As said previously, he actually started out in the commercial market and grew into the high-end genetics market.  I think that is something many people forget but it is key to what has happened to the industry as a whole over the past 14 years.  You see, while we watched all this money flying around at the high-end genetics sales, it was actually the evolving commercial market that was funding it.

Commercial Producers – The backbone of the high end genetics marketplace

This same phenomenon is happening in barns all around the world every day.  Commercial producers have been looking to accelerate the improvement of the cattle they milk and using high-end bulls was not doing it quickly enough.  So, with a strong US dollar and high milk price, even commercial producers were out buying better cattle.  Sure they were not buying your $100,000 show cow, but they were buying your $3,000+ fresh heifer with a nice pedigree.  In turn the breeder of that heifer was then buying your $20,000 to $30,000 dollar nice pedigree potential EX cow from some of your higher end seed stock producers. Seed stock producers would, in turn, buy your $100,000 big time show winner or high index animal.  And hence you have what I like to call the “Dairy Genetics Circle of Life.”

The problem is that this lucrative model fell apart and now the circle of life is on life support.  This isn’t because the high-end genetics market is not as good as it once was.  Genetic advancement is faster and the prices for very top animals are actually better than ever.  Genomics has brought a completely new level of breeder confidence, and bull sale prices have gone through the roof (Read more: How Much Can You Trust Genomic Young Sires?)

The problem comes at the other end of the equation.  Milk prices around the world (except in supply-managed countries like Canada) have plummeted and so has the US dollar.  This has caused the commercial market for fresh heifers to all but dry up.  Hence the rivers of cash that used to flow into the system are gone.  Commercial producer actions have caused two major changed in the marketplace.  First, years of buying these better quality cattle has greatly accelerated the genetics in their herds.  Secondly, they have become better herd managers, particularly for longevity.  No longer are their cows seen as a 1-2 year investment.  They are looking to get multiple lactations out of these animals and, as a result, this has decreased the demand for replacement animals.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

With the funding model broken, we now find those breeders that dealt in the high-end genetics marketplace having to find new business models.  Some are getting out of the high-end genetics marketplace altogether saying “It was a great ride while it lasted.”  Others are finding new markets and services aiming at commercial producers or to supply AI studs with recipients for their new genetic programs.  Then there are those who are left in limbo.  They love working with these high end cattle and want to keep pushing the envelope on genetic advancement but, more and more.  they are finding it hard to fund this passion.  They are not sure what to do now that the money is gone.

To these seed stock producers I say look for new ways to fund your model.  Is it through bull sales since female sales are a lot less than they used to be?  (Read more: Investing in Dairy Cattle Genetics – Think Outside the Box, Stop the Sale! Genomics, Chocolate and the Future of the Dairy Breeding Industry and How Genomics is Killing the Dairy Cattle Breeding Industry) Or is it through developing a product (bloodline) that you can sell directly to the commercial producer?  Any way you look at it commercial producer dollars are what fund the high-end genetics marketplace.  When the river runs dry always look at the source.  For the high end genetics marketplace the source is the commercial producer.  As the commercial producer goes so goes the rest of the industry.  Are you ready to go with the flow?


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Farm Succession: Kicking the Hornet’s Nest?

Do you freak out when you hear the words farm succession? Do your palms sweat and does your heart pound when you look toward the future?  Do you self-medicate with Tums and an entire quart of Chocolate Ice Cream? Family farm succession has the potential to be not just a nightmare but a nightmare that can result in serious anxiety, fights, financial loss, betrayal, and even litigation. The Bullvine article, “Farm Succession: Which Exit is Yours?” looked at this subject and started a considerable buzz. Today we consider how much sting this subject holds for today’s families.


Many times the decisions on how to hand down a family farm gets completely stopped at the very first questions. Which child will ultimately take over? How do you fairly divide the dairy operation when one child works day-to-day in the business and others do not? Can you maintain good family relationships with the entire brood while working closely with just one or two? Can children achieve healthy independent lives while each side has TMI (too much information) about each other’s personal lives and wallets?


Having identified that farm succession can be a hornet’s nest of complications, there is still the opportunity to manage through it without getting stung.  Here are potential stingers to avoid.

  1. STINGER #1:  “Show Me the Money”
    A family business can be a great thing, but being saddled with debt or the need to fix a mismanaged situation can be tough for those inheriting dairy operation. It is important to get a good handle on what is the real value a buyer might pay you for your business today. Both the current and the future generation need to close the gap between that number and what one side needs for retirement (realistically) and what the other side needs (realistically) to move forward.  With those numbers known (and accepted) then you have plenty of time to work on ways to build transferrable value in the dairy operation before selling it.
  2. STINGER #2: “You Have the Right to Remain Silent”
    In most families everybody feels that their voice is a given right in all matters affecting one or more family members. Sibling rivalry, bothersome brothers and the ongoing beat of sister acts is only slightly less harmful than that ever popular pastime of pitting Mom against Dad.  Regardless of the source any squabbling based on the emotional immaturity and family role playing is an immediate red flag warning that succession plans are heading for trouble. As little children we often fight back when faced with something we don’t want to do with that never effective shout “You’re Not the Boss of Me!” Then and now it merely signifies that time wasn’t taken to groom all the individuals for the job at hand. Anything said in the heat of emotion expresses far more about the shouter’s maturity level than it does about their target of wrath. Emphatic is good. A spirited discussion can be extremely productive. But if a dialogue can’t happen in a spirit of productivity, you’re better off to hold off until you’re sure that it can. Unfortunately after the first confrontation the tendency is to hold off too long!
  3. STINGER #3: “Hands-On and Hands-Out?”
    This is where potential hurt raises ugly welts. In family dairy operations there are children who expect to own the business and parents who expect to retire. Unfortunately neither position in a well-run business comes with these entitlements. They must be worked for. Having said that, there is an entire legal and financial industry set up for the purpose of transferring farms as a “gift” to children.  Now that is a huge mistake that brings with it too many stings to cover in one article.  Simply stated a family business needs “buy in” from all parties.  As well a successful business needs “work” input from all parties. As an owner of a family business, do you have rules, both financial and work, in place that your children have to follow if they join the business?  Do you have rules for lessened work load and responsibilities for those leaving?  “I am your child” or “I am the parent” is the worst possible justification. Much better is an actual record of the revenue or new revenue streams being produced or improved.  In other words, everyone involved in the succession should be able to point to what they bring to the table that will allow the dairy operation to continue successfully.
  4. STINGER #4: “You OWE Me More than This!”
    No matter when someone shouts this classic argument, it leaves little doubt that the negotiations are in trouble. Children raised on dairy farms who inherit the business can think that they are entitled to exactly the wealth and lifestyle their parents currently have. In the worst case scenarios they don’t even do the most basic math: If the farm is inherited by more than one child, by definition they will 50% or less of what Mom and Dad have. Unrealistic expectations can be powerful enough to destroy good farm operations that could otherwise continue or be sold at a decent price.
  5. STINGER #5: You Can’t Handle This!”
    Dairy farmers must decide: Does the family serve the business, or does the business serve the family? If parents take the attitude that blood is thicker than ability when choosing a successor, chances are the business won’t be around long enough to serve anybody. Even in successful family farms, it’s tough to leave entrenched emotional patterns in the parking lot.

Old attitudes and arguments surface. Parents may feel strange consulting with their children as equals. Kids fret that their bosses during childhood are still their bosses in the workplace

Different viewpoints can clash. If added to that there is perceived lack of respect or a tendency not to take (new) ideas seriously.  The roles and power struggle have to flex to meet the needs of the business.


As much as we might hope to get through farm succession discussions painlessly, it is probably unlikely that you are so well prepared that it will happen that way.  Regardless, you must still keep a sharp eye for three particular dangers that could completely derail both the succession plan and your family. These are the Buzz Cuts that are both harmful and hurtful.

  • BUZZ CUT #1: The Prince Charles Syndrome.
    Parents who treat succession plans like living wills—to be carried out only in the case of death or incapacitation—undercut  their offspring’s authority, stifle their opportunities to lead, and provoke justifiable resentment. “I will die in harness” is a declaration that makes the next generation cringe. It doesn’t matter if the work is getting done.  This divine rule will definitely prevent the next generation from developing skills that move the farm  forward. It completely cuts off the opportunity for younger family to leave their personal mark on the business that nevertheless will consume their entire working life. Self-esteem is a two way farm lane.
  • BUZZ CUT #2: Stay, stray or Grow?
    While it is valuable to learn the dairy operation from the ground up, being forever kept in low level jobs builds zero credibility with farming peers and customers. Regardless of the business you are in it is valuable to test your mettle where reviews, compensation, and feedback are not colored by family relationships. By the time succession happens you need to have the confidence and experience that is needed. Returning from outside work experiences brings the maturity and perspective gained during time away and helps all sides to appreciate each other’s strengths.
    The major goal for succession is the determination of the viability of the dairy business for the next generation… out 20 plus years. Assumptions that were prudent in planning and forecast when previous generations took over the farm are now mostly irrelevant. Unfortunately, most of those in the farm succession consulting professions such as accountants, financial planners and attorneys get stuck in the tools of legal and financial succession. Far too many family members and their advisers assume “perpetual farm viability”  and start their plans from the erroneous assumption that the next generation can simply assume business viability for another 20 years. Just because you are related and recognize that family farms require dedication to “the long haul” it still doesn’t mean that you must accept a “big hole” simply because you are the next one in line.


It is far better for everyone to determine with all the tools available whether or not there is a window of opportunity for the dairy operation or whether it has already closed. Regardless of what your dairy operation is buzzing about always try to keep it positive. A dysfunctional family farm can “sting like hell” but when a dairy succession works “everything and everyone hums right along”.

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Investing in Dairy Cattle Genetics – Think Outside the Box

The Bullvine has produced many articles on investing in genetics using genomic information including our early article 6 Ways to invest $50,000 in Dairy Cattle Genetics. Other Bullvine articles included Craswell Common Sense – Go For the Total Package, Mapel Wood Farms – Invest in the Best Forget the Rest,  The Judge’s Choice – Investment Advice from Tim Abbott, and the Bullvine’s frequent articles on top picks in upcoming sales (Read more: Dairy Cattle Investment Advice). All these articles deal with finding and investing in the very top genetic animals.  Today these investments are usually virgin heifers. Specifically, they are the ones that everyone sees in the press, in on-line sales catalogues or on Facebook. These young females usually sell for over $20,000 to $25,000. But what does a beginning breeder do? With limited capital what options are there if you want to kick-start the genetic level of his herd or start a new cow families? You need to think outside the box.

Invest Your Time

The term ‘sweat equity’ is often used when a person takes on a project themselves rather than hiring an outside expert.  Well the sweat equity when it comes to buying top genetics is the time that you will need to invest in researching and finding animals. This is not meant to say that your time is worth little. What it does mean is that breeders, taking this approach, will need to search, search, search,…study, study, study,… and above all exercise patience until they find the right one(s).

At every sale there will be some good buys. It just takes time to do your homework to know which ones are good and which ones you will regret.

The Concept

A concept that bottom line focused beginning breeder might consider is to buy a top heifer for $6,000 or less. Flush the heifer and put embryos in your low genetic merit animals. The heifer will need to have a Net Merit of $775, a gTPI™ of 2400 or a DVG LPI of +3200.

Some folks may ask why invest in a heifer and not in embryos. Well it comes down to economics. Embryos from top cows sell for $1500 to $2000. It takes five unsexed embryos to get a live heifer. Then you must factor in that perhaps only one in four heifers will have high enough genomic numbers to be near the top and you can have $30,000 invested in getting a top daughter. It is more cost effective to buy a heifer about which you already know the genomic numbers.

So the challenge or opportunity, depending on how you look at it, is to find and buy a heifer that does not top the charts but is close to the top and that will give you progeny whose genomic indexes exceed, by a considerable amount, their parent average and that is  also an animal that does not cost an arm and a leg to buy.

Know Your Focus

As most breeders do not attend or participate in showing, the focus for breeders early in their careers will be cow families, high lifetime yields, fertility and ability to stay in the herd and not be culled. In the future that check list is likely to include feed and labor efficiency. Above all when you’re starting out establish your focus. It will change over time but searching for show genetics one week, protein yield the next week and then before the month is out five other traits is not likely to get you to where you need to be. This is especially true if you are working with only a couple of heifers at any given time. Unlike breeders with a larger program who can likely cover a number of breeding fronts at one time.

Don’t let the excitement of the sale get the better of you.  Keep your focus and know your criteria, your price may be different than someone elses, that’s ok.  You have to do what works for your plan.

Purchase Criteria

Breeding chart topping heifers and bulls can not be achieved by starting with animals that are only moderately above average (for example gTPI™ of 2000 to 2200 or gLPI of +2800 to +3000). You need to be starting with animals that are 95% Rank or higher at least for the major traits you are breeding for.  Starting any lower will mean that you are two to three generations away from having chart toppers. The Bullvine polled a number of people who have had success in topping the charts and they provided the following necessary ingredients for success:

  • Cow Families – success is much more likely if you purchase heifers from cow families that have high genomic values
  • Sire Stack – make sure the sires behind the heifer are high indexing and that the sires’ indexes compliment your objectives
  • Ability to Flush – you need to get 6+ embryos per flush and there are differences between families in how they flush (Read more: What Comes First The Chicken Or The Egg)
  • The Heifer will need to produce well, for milk fat and protein, and classify GP83 or higher in her first lactation. Eventually she will need to score VG.
  • The heifer’s genomic indexes (DGVs) will need to be within 200 for gTPI™ or 300 for gLPI of the very best heifers on the lists
  • A cow with many daughters with very high genomic indexes is a family you should be buying from
  • Likely the heifer you will be able to afford will be the third ranking full sister by a high genomic evaluated bull. It is how she will breed that will be important not that she’s third ranked.

What are the Facts

Knowing that the our readers like to see the actual facts, the Bullvine did an analysis on the top one hundred indexing heifers born and registered from January to June (inclusive) in 2013 in North America. The sources of the data for this study was CDN as it is the only source where breeders are not charged for look-ups. Here is what we found:

  • All but three of the top one hundred indexing heifers are sired by bulls with only a genomic index. Those three are sired by bulls on the top ten International gTPI™ list.
  • Females with a DGV LPI below +3200 can produce top daughters when mated to the best bulls available. The dams of the top one hundred heifers with DGV LPIs below +3200 broke out as follows: 2 have daughters in the top ten; 18 in the top fifty and 35 in the top one hundred.
  • As we would expect the top 20 heifers are a very superior group. i) All are from well known high indexing cow families. ii) All are over +3500 for their gLPI averaging + 3568; iii) Their DGV LPIs exceed their gLPIs by 338 on average.  iv) Seven are sired by Seagull-Bay Supersire, five by De-Su BKM McCutchen and eight by six other high genomic bulls. v)  These twenty heifers make the top of the list because they are exceptionally high for traits like fat yield, protein yield, herd life, SCS, daughter fertility and mammary system. vi) Worthy of note in the fact that only one  of the twenty does not have positive indexes for %F and %P.
  • One dam MISS OCD ROBST DELICIOUS-ET has seven daughters that make the top one hundred list. Her Butz-Butler Shotglass daughter tops the list at +3682 gLPI and her DGV LPI is a very high + 3909; that DVG LPI is 401 over the DVG LPI average of her parents. The Crocket-Acres Elita Family has three heifers in the top twenty.
  • One heifer, S-S-I Zeus Mae 9096-ET, stands out as far exceeding (by 640 LPI) her parents in DVG LPI. Her sire De-Su Robust Zeus 11009-ET (DVG LPI +3301) and dam S-S-I Observ Manteca 7197-ET (DGV LPI + 3020) are not list toppers in their own right but together they produced this #6 heifer.

The Short Story

It is possible to get top progeny (daughters and sons) from females that may not quite be at the top of the indexing lists, provided, you use complimentary mating (Read more: Let’s Talk Mating Strategies)  and the very best sires available on those females.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Innovative forward thinking breeders have been and will always be the people who move dairy cattle breeding ahead. They are not satisfied to only think within the box. They use the approach that work for them. That’s always the best alternative.


Not sure how much to spend on that great 2 year old or heifer?
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Michele Payn-Knoper – Standing Up and Speaking Out for Agriculture!!

512[1]“When you choose to stand up for a good cause you have to believe that you can make a difference.”  Too many of us become discouraged with the negative picture of agriculture that is portrayed in the media. Even more disillusioning is the misinformation shared by friends and non-agricultural neighbors.  Thus it is refreshing and reinvigorating to meet agvocate, Michele Payn-Knoper who has the courage and commitment to read, write and speak up for agriculture.

Passion, Energy and Connections With Holsteins

Born and raised on a dairy farm in southern Michigan, Michele explains that her passion for agriculture started early. “I bought my first registered Holstein when I was nine, invested in a $7000 heifer when I was 12, and the rest is history. This agriculture agvocate, entrepreneur and farm and food connector started has shown cattle, developed Paynacres Holsteins, and judged all through 4-H and Michigan State. These dairy experiences are where Michele started seeing what activists said about agriculturists. With 12 years as a sought-after speaker and five years as “Gate to Plate”  blogger and “No More Food Fights” author, Michele still manages to keep her Holstein roots close by. “Descendants of Mobilecrest SWD Perfect-ET GMD are roaming my front yard today.”

How Michele Got the BLOG Rolling

Michele started the Gate to Plate blog to help connect farm gate to the food plate and give a voice to people who feed the world. She points to others who are active in agvocating as a source of inspiration and, in particular, The AgChat Foundation.  Initially the blog was added resource for use by Michele`s speaking audiences. Today it has evolved into materials that challenge people around the plate to connect with each other. She has been joined by many others. “Over 50 people have contributed to my blog, many of which ended up as contributors to my book No More Food Fights! I’m constantly humbled and inspired by the passion others  bring to moving the food and farm conversation closer together.”  This covers a variety of topics. “Thought leadership for the discussion around food and farm is the umbrella which guides the blog. This covers anything related to advocacy, a personal look at agriculture (such as the Lessons Learned on a Show Halter), information for dietitians, challenges for farmers, how to have the conversation, or response to misinformation that makes me mad!”

Agvocacy. Write On! Hang on! Hold On!

It isn’t surprising to hear that Michele lists “Finding enough time in the day!” as her biggest challenge. She reports that it’s tough to not drown in the information overload or get bogged down in the incredibly contentious discussions around farming. Some are very close to her heart. “My family losing our farm was unquestionably the greatest dairy challenge I’ve faced – and there are lessons in that experience I try to share with every audience I touch. And it makes me so thankful for my friends next door that house my cows and help me with our heifers.”

859223_10151728798897786_1264329335_o[1]Michele’s Message: STAND Up!  Reach Out!

If the Ag community is going to stem the tide of negative perceptions we have to take a stand urges Michele. “Ultimately, it’s about protecting your right to farm as you best see fit. Only 1.5% of the U.S. population is on a farm, so if we’re not talking about what we do – we need to understand that the conversation is happening without a firsthand farm perspective. Is it always easy? NO! One of the last pieces I added to No More Food Fights! (MPK’s new book) was a story about a downed cow. It wasn’t pretty, nor was it easy to write. However, sharing our real experiences on the farm provide people off the farm a different reference point – and makes us trustworthy. How can we expect people who are 3-4 generations removed from the farm understand robots, embryo transfer or calf care if we never share what’s happening in our barns? If we can change the reference point by offering a glimpse of what farmers really do – in advance of the next HSUS claim, we establish trust rather than operating in defense mode.”

The Agvocacy Two Step: Speak Out!  Speak UP!

When faced with a challenge that seems to put us on the defensive from the outset, Michele has an absolutely simple starting point. “Talk.” For this dynamo who has been known to get her audiences on their feet and boxing to represent the fight agriculture is in she says talking is the starting point. “It really is that simple. We have a tendency to be modest, stubborn and independent – and extraordinarily busy milking cows, putting up hay and taking care of business. However, telling your story is a business practice today! It’s all about the conversation – whether it’s having a conversation in the church parking lot, putting a photo with a quick explanation on Facebook, tweeting out some dairy goodness, talking with an elementary school classroom or visiting with an elected official.  Once you take the initial step to connect with people off the farm, spend some time listening (bite your tongue) and learn what they think about milk, animal care, and farmers. Try to connect with what’s important to them – not just shove science, facts and research in their faces – rather, relate to them as a human first.”

Michele Payn-Knoper2

Sometimes you Shake it Up! Sometimes you Shake it OFF!

It is human nature to hear the negative even when there are obviously great successes.  Despite tremendous response from agriculture, audiences and readers, there are occasions when Michele is subject to negative voices including claims that she is a paid corporate hack.  She stands proudly on her record. “Anyone who has heard me speak over the last 12 years knows how shy I am about stating my opinions, especially as it relates to agricultural advocacy (heavy sarcasm). I consider it a blessing to able to serve a cause that is much bigger than me and have learned to shake the rest off.” Unquestionably, the posts about animal rights and those that are deeply personal seem to be the most popular. However, Michele sends a special message to Bullvine readers. “I will caution your readers about evaluating influence based upon numbers only. If only five people read a post and all of them took action, I consider that to be more successful than a post that was shared 500 times. It’s not only the reach – it’s the touch of people’s heads and hearts – which in turn, incites action.” Well said.

Follow your Dream … Model your Mentors .

Michele Payn-Knoper finds inspiration for her creativity in many places and envisions conversations that could stoke the fires of her enthusiasm. “I would talk to MSU basketball coach Tom Izzo because he’s brilliant in his ability to extract leadership from people and, in turn, motivates them to work together to be the best (yes I’m a proud Spartan!). I also wouldn’t mind learning innovation from Steve Jobs or talking global agriculture with Bill Gates – or I’d like to learn to paint with water colors. Too many choices! I see life as an opportunity every day if we choose to watch, listen and learn. “

The Bullvine Bottom Line “Walk the Talk”

When it comes to daily goal setting, once again Agvocate Michele keeps focus on her personal muses. “My daughter inspires me every day to build a better future.” And then she looks to cows. “Because they keep us sane and make ice cream!” Let’s learn from Michele Payn-Knoper.  Start talking agriculture. Start talking today!

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Don’t Judge a Cow by Its Picture

Recently the Bullvine posted a judging contest on Facebook to see how breeders would place these six animals based on their pictures alone (Read more:  Facebook image, entry form). The results were very interesting and raised the question “How well can you judge an animal from their picture?”


The animals selected, and more specifically, the pictures selected were all from photos that I have personally taken at shows.  So there was no doubt that the animals appear as they appeared in the show ring this year (Read more:  Introducing the Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct, Has Photo Enhancement Gone Too Far? and Dairy Cattle Photography – Over Exposed).

Of course we all know that No Cow is Perfect – Not Even in Pictures.  What we are trying to figure out, is if these animals would place differently with pictures as compared to how they would place if they were judged side by side.  The results were very interesting.  Most people placed the class C-F-A-D-B-E and our official placing was F-C-D-A-E-B.  F and C were a very very close placing, with only a slight split between them.  They were followed closely by A, and then there was a decent split to D.  The bottom pair of B and E could go either way.


The pictured placings were not too different, until you compare how these animals would place if you actually had them side by side.  In that case, you would see a very different result F-D-C-A-E-B.  F would take the class handily.  You see F is Valleyville Rae Lynn, and C is Desnette Alexia Roseplex.  These two cows have faced each other several times with the most recent time being at Ontario Summer Show (Read more:  Ontario Summer Show Holstein Results and The Shocking Speed of Social Media and the Dairy Industry) where Rae Lynn won the class and went on to be Intermediate and Reserve Grand Champion and Roseplex was 3rd in that class.  In the picture, Roseplex looks much deeper and more open of the rib.  In real life she may be pretty close, but there are two things that you greatly miss in the picture that you can only see in real life.  First is that Rae Lynn is just as deep and long. Since the leadsman of Roseplex is standing beside the cow instead of in front of her during this shot, we were able to crop in and so the cow appears that much larger.  The other factor that you cannot see in just a side shot compared to being able to have the cows side by side is that Rae Lynn possesses much more width throughout. She is a much longer cow (another reason the pictures look different) and has a higher and wider rear udder.

Valleyville Rae Lynn compare

Valleyville Rae Lynn
It’s interesting to see just how cropping of a picture can change the way the animal looks.


The placing of D over C is where many may start to wonder what happened.  We admit that in the pictures this is an easy placing of C over D, but if you had these in animals in the same ring at the same time, two factors would come into play.  First that D, Eastriver Gold Deb 850, is again wider of the chest, higher of the rear udder and cleaner throughout.  The second is that D would type in better with F (the class winner) and then would naturally follow her in the class.  Similar to how Raivue Sanchez Pamela did at Ontario Summer Show and hence Roseplex (C) was placed 3rd at Summer Show (Read more:  Ontario Summer Show Holstein Results).  Something that you are not able to tell when judging pictures is also the stage of lactation.  In this picture Deb 850 is fairly fresh where Roseplex is in mid lactation.

The other thing you would not realize in pictures, that you do when you see these cows, is that there is a size difference.  This comes to play in our next placing of C over A.  A, originally identified as Crater Indiana Goldwyn is actually Debeau Jasper December,  she is a very balanced dairy cow but,   with a live view, you would realize that she is not as much overall cow as the three above her.  Also her rump, slope to hooks to pins, as well as width of rear udder would limit her from placing higher in this class.

Huntshaven Deb Narobi Red It's amazing how much getting a lower perspective can change the appearance in a photograph.

Huntshaven Deb Narobi Red
It’s amazing how much getting a lower perspective can change the appearance in a photograph.

The last two cows (E and B) also bring some interest to the class and not just because they are red.  In this case, the difference is actually the quality of the picture.  In both pictures the cows are not set up perfectly or looking their best.  That was by design for this class.  You see we have better pictures of E, Huntshaven Deb Narobi Red, and B Deslacs Ritzy Greedy Red.  But what we wanted to point out here is just how animals can look very different depending on who is taking their photo.  Both these cows are much better than their pictures would indicate.  However, for me it is an easy placing putting E over B on the dairyness throughout and the quality of her fore udder.  Yes Rizty Greedy Red is a very deep opened ribbed cow, but Narobi, is cleaner of the leg, smoother of the fore udder and longer throughout.  The challenge you have with Narobi’s picture is that it is slightly over exposed here and so you cannot see her ribs as well as in Rizty Greedy Red’s picture.  We  intentionally used  a slightly darker picture of Rizty Greedy Red and a slightly over exposed picture of Narobi to prove our point about what over exposing pictures does (Read more: Dairy Cattle Photography – Over Exposed).

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Let’s sit back and think about how often we don’t get to see many of the great cows in the world in person.  Unless you are someone like Han Hopman (Read more: Han Hopman: Shooting Straight at Holstein International) or a select few that get the opportunity to get to the major shows around the world, you would never really be able to pick out exactly  how all these great cows compare to each other.  For example take Decrausaz Iron O’Kalibra *RC EX-96-SW (Read more: DECRAUSAZ IRON O’KALIBRA: Simply the Best).  Many who have seen her as well as the top cows in North America admit that she is an extremely balanced cow and that her udder is amazing, though they wonder would she be enough cow to contend with the likes of Hailey on the North American show circuit.  For those looking at both of them in pictures you could certainly go either way.  O’Kalibra takes amazing photos and it can sometimes be hard to get as good a picture of Hailey as she looks in real life.  And so the bottom line tells us it takes more than a picture to judge a cow.

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Young Sire Sampling, Bacon Wrapped Turkey and the Importance of Being Random

I’ve been known to be random.  Quite random in fact.  Anyone who reads the Bullvine will find that sometimes there will be articles that seem to come out of nowhere.  This is because my mind seems wander all over the place sometimes and then all of sudden I get an idea and a thought for a new article or topic of discussion comes out of the blue.  The other day I was looking through my Facebook news stream and saw a picture of a turkey wrapped in bacon, which I shared of course because, in my unbiased opinion, there is nothing better than turkey and bacon together.  Nevertheless this is not a naturally occurring combination.  And, while delicious, it is definitely selectively controlled. This spurred the thought about the need to be random in sire sampling and how our young sire programs have gone from being random to totally controlled.

The Evolution of Genetic Evaluations

Prior to the introduction of Genomics, a young sire who was selectively sampled, say regionally, would have never been touched as breeders would have limited confidence in this sire’s ability to transmit when used in other herd environments.  That is because in order to get an accurate genetic evaluation of a young sire you needed to have young bulls sampled in many different herd environments where their daughters’ performance could be compared with contemporaries under a range of different circumstances.  This is the very foundation that our “Animal Model” is built on.

Over the years the way we look at sires has changed drastically.  First we looked at how their daughters’ average performance compared to other sires, with no regard for herd mate performance.  A method I see some old school breeders still using today.  In the 1970’s came the Modified Contemporary Comparison (MCC), which started to incorporate the performance of herd mates into evaluating sires.  This system was further improved to incorporate more information from relatives and resulted in the introduction of the full (cow and bull) Animal Model in 1989.

rate of genetic gain 60-86

It is interesting to see that if you look at the rate of genetic gain prior to 1974 (prior to the introduction of the MCC), you see that the rate has greatly increased since.


The five key factors that are considered in the animal model are:

  1. The cow’s management group
  2. The cow’s genetic merit
  3. The cow’s permanent environment
  4. The common environment of paternal-half sisters
  5. Other unexplained random environment

Where the problem lies is with that fifth factor” other unexplained random environment.”  Typically, that is meant to refer to the differences that still exist among cows’ records that haven’t been explained by other factors in the model.  In the past this was temporary as it does not affect a cow’s transmitting ability, as in the case of decline in milk yield due to mastitis flare-up.  The problem is this still assumed that everything thing was being done on a random basis with no herd and no selective sampling.

The Genomic Era – Not Random

The simplest way for the Animal Model to account for all things that cannot be explained is as a random event.  When spread over a large enough sample size, those random events will average out and we will be left with the true genetic merit of those animals we are evaluating.  That all worked just fine, prior to the introduction of genomics, when young sires where randomly sampled over many different herd environments, and a wide variety of dams with different degrees of genetic merit.  But with the introduction of genomics, no longer are young sires being sampled on just average cows.  They are now being selectively used on some of the highest genetic merit cattle in the world.  This is totally kicking that random principle out the window.

Young sires are no longer randomly sampled.  In today’s genomic age, a lot of the systems and controls are gone.  Yes, many of the sires are still offered to all breeders (well at least they say they are), but these high-ranking young sires are sold at a much higher price, and marketed much heavier.  In addition often the first release semen is only used on contract matings on extremely high index, carefully selected mates.  This results in anything but random sampling and in reality is almost the perfect method for receiving an inflated proof.  It isn’t just because of the actual mates they are being used on but also because of the care the resulting calves will receive.

Sure you can say that the Animal Model is supposed to account for this.  See bullet number 2 in factors considered by the animal model.  But is it doing so accurately?  Of even more concern is the bias resulting from the preferential treatment that offspring of the highest genomics sires receive (Read more:  Preferential Treatment – The Bull Proof Killer).  It’s only natural for these animals to receive this preferential treatment. The problem is that the Animal Model does not account for it.

This is not a new problem.  It’s just being amplified.  In the past this happened very frequently.  Just look at second country proofs of some elite daughter proven sires, Shottle, Planet, Man-O-Man, preferential treatment and selective use had these sire skyrocket to the top of the lists, only to settle back down once more random sampling occurred.  This is something we have already seen with Observer, His initial proof had him #1 in the US for TPI then once more daughters were added he settled to a respectable #8 among 99% reliable sires (Read more: Genomics at Work – August 2013).

One way this was dealt with in the past was to increase the minimum level of reliability for foreign bulls to receive domestic proofs.  In general this strategy was sufficient in the pre-genomic era, but even the centers that produce the genetic evaluations, such as CDN, are no longer finding this works in the current animal model.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

At the Bullvine we would love to say we know the solution.  The challenge is we don’t. Furthermore, I am not sure even those responsible for solving this problem have a clear grip on how to handle this.  Sure we could up the requirement for sires to receive their first proof, but is that really going to solve the problem?  What I do know is that time is of the essence. Within the next 12 months many of the sires that heavily promoted and selectively used post the introduction of genomics will be receiving progeny proofs in 2014.  If we don’t find a solution to this problem soon, we are all going to look as manufactured as bacon wrapped turkeys.

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.




Let’s Talk Mating Strategies

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.




Vieux Saule Holstein: Rooted In Family Values

The most successful family dairy operations have strong values that are deeply rooted in shared goals and memories.  Every generation looks back fondly on that special purchase, special ribbon or memorable record or classification score! These are the underpinnings of the decisions that are made every day at Vieux Saule Holsteins were the family roots have physical representation in the 100 year old willow tree that inspired the farm prefix.

The Perreault Family Farm: Around the Ring to Around the World

Lynda, Mario and Jimmy Perreault operate a 200 acre family farm in Saint-Esprit, in the Lanaudière region of Quebec.  This Master Breeder herd milks 44 cows and grows seed corn, silage corn, hay and oats. In 2009 they built a new barn.

Show Winning Inspiration

Everyone has a vision of what they would like their dairy breeding success to look like.  For Jimmy Perreault it was the first taste of success in the show ring that reinforced the passion he shares with his father, Mario who is his biggest mentor. “In 1993 I first showed Vieux Saule Prelude Josiane (great grand dam of Vieux Saule Malicieux EX, #6 TPI bull in 2008). I started in the 4H and always washed, walked and clipped heifers from our family farm back them. The dream started when in 2003 I went for the first time at Hays Classic Royal Toronto (now known as Canadian Dairy Classic) and showed Vieux Allen Dragonfly. When Dragonfly finished 2nd in a class of 91 spring yearlings, I was on a cloud. After in 2008 I went with Vieux Saule Dolman Shaina (Dolman x  Dragonfly) I finished 3rd and 5th in the open Royal show. It gave me the taste of showing and meeting people.” Today they emphasize, “We love to show at the Royal and Madison.” And, like their family generations, one success begets another one, “We export to 26 countries.”

Vieux Allen Dragonfly

The Speed of Genetic Change

Having been bitten by the show bug, Jimmy was also bitten with the passion for breeding exceptional cattle. This too presents challenges and opportunities. He recognizes that show winners have their value but to put it simply, “If you don’t have a bit of genomics, it is hard to sell.” Having said that there are challenges in changing your breeding approach.  “To adjust your breeding program quickly and see results can be time consuming. Now, with genomics, we ask ourselves, what do we choose, gLPI or gTPI? Personally I like both systems even though I still have questions. Which system will produce the cow the world would like to milk?”  If only all winners were easily identified. Jimmy looks back on his favorites. “Three bulls that I respect the most are Comestar Outside, Sandy Valley Bolton and Badger-Bluff Fanny Freddie. I love what they bring to the breed. Although very different, what I like is how they have changed the breed and the way they are consistent.”

Vieux Saule Genomics:

In 2008 when genomics arrived is when it all started for Vieux Saule. “We tested 60 offspring in the Dragonfly family and we were surprised at the high results and consistent offspring. Dragonfly had 4 daughters by Toystory 2 went 85 2yr and 2 86 2yr we didn’t know which one to flush so we flushed them all.”

Hail to Haley

Genomics is still a new learning curve for many and that also happened for Vieux Saule. “The one that tested higher wasn’t the fanciest one but we discovered that she was our hidden card in 2013. Her name is Toystory Haley she starts her legacy with one 86 2yr Freddie, one 85 2yr Freddie,  one Man o Man (at Bryhill),one Freddie and super are 83. We expect two 86 2yr next week (2 other Freddies). Haley has more than 200 embryos produced sold in 11 countries and has 7 Bulls in AI. She transmits her health trait very strongly. Now we work with her daughters to make numbers and show ring. Freddie Isabella NC finished fourth junior 2 at Rive Nord Show 2013. She has daughters by Shamrock, Freddie, Super, Sid, Atwood in the barn we can count 56 females!!

Hurrah for Halia

Jimmy emphasizes that Halia VG 87 2yr must not be left out of the success story. “This beautiful Bolton daughter transmits genomics on both side of the border. So far she has one 86 2yr Bogart, 2VG Freddies, one 83 Freddie. We expect 3 more VG x Freddie next week.  Halia sold for 72 000 in the Sale of Stars in 2009. Her offspring sold very well last year now the third generation from Halia are well known all around the globe with August new sensation Vieux Saule Flame (Uno x Freddie Felicia). One of our favorite bull is out of Freddie Cynthia her Mogul son is Vieux Saule Madden over 3450 DGV +15Conf 16MS 114 HL (was 2434 GTPI in April) no Goldwyn, no Shottle, no Planet and no Man o Man which is very rare these days. Madden is born in November. His Brother x Lexor (Vieuxsaule Cynique) is at GenerVations over 3300DGV +15 conf +16 MS and 400health and fertility


GPA LPI 2973 DGV 2991 GTPI 2286
Her son Vieuxsaule Flame is the #1 GTPI Genomic Young Sire at + 2561

Seeing Red at Vieux Saule

On the Red side Vieux Saule has sold 2 Red bulls Vieux Saule Lucas Red (Shaquille x Salto Rouquine Ex 91- 1*) and Vieux Saule Toppi (Mr Top x Salto Rouquine Ex 91- 1*) same family as Prelude Josian and Vieux Saule Malicieux. Vieux Saule Toppi is very popular +16conf +16 MS DGV and Red (August proof).  Toppi sold to Browndale sires.  Jimmy points out that they also have a notable red carrier cow. “One cow that we put a lot of emphasis on is Vieux Saule Destry Dreamy RC  VG 87 2yr 88MS she is 2024GTPI and 2.84Type + she is the #1 GLPI and Type Destry in Canada.”


Vieuxsoule Salto Rouquine Ex 91- 1* Dam of Toppi at Browndale Sires

Vieuxsoule Salto Rouquine Ex 91- 1*
Dam of Toppi at Browndale Sires

Moving with the Times

Polled is coming at Vieux Saule we have a Dolo P brother to Flame that will be tested in September. We have several pregnancies x Venture Freddie Maria P RC #5GLPI polled cow in Canada (around 1900GTPI). Her Red and polled Ladd daughter is at 2180GTPI and over 2800 GLPI.” Sometimes the most special attributes a cow can have are because of what she is missing. “We love her. She has no Lawnboy, Colt, Magna, Mitey, Goldwyn, Man o Man, Planet or Shottle in her pedigree.”

While they firmly move with the marketplace of today, they also look ahead to the future. “We work currently with Freddie daughters from Haley and Halia and also Lexor daughters out of Freddie Cynthia. Later we will work with Day x Seagull Bay Planet Pauline and Determine and Shan x Freddie Felicia.”

At Vieux Saule the main bull lineup is as follows:Vieux Saule Toppi, O Style, Long P, Vieux Saule Madden, Vieux Saule Flame, Atwood, Aftershock, Goldwyn, Sid and Destry

As they look toward the future Jimmy sees changes in the marketplace. “    I see less players for genomics but more competition probably more investors and I see also that all breeders in the world will play an important role and the AI will have to adjust to buy those superstar bulls.”

Planning: Based on Parents, Partnerships and Programs

“We have partnerships and investors and we try to diversify our revenue streams by providing good cow families that are outcross or different. We work both the show side and genomics.” This family operation is entering its third generation and Jimmy gives credit to his father Mario for his support and encouragement. “My dad is the one who had the biggest influence on me. He challenged me every day. He let me buy sell and he let me travel in Europe and US so I could learn from the best ambassadors of the breed.” Jimmy also learns from the advice of others in the breeding business. “Several AI persons, mainly from Semex, Genex, ABS and TAG, have helped me make decisions.”  For those new to the industry he advises, “Listen to the mentors.  Analyze your options. Then make it happen.” But he cautions that staying grounded is important. “Most of all, even if you finish first at the Royal or breed that great bull, always stay simple and be yourself.”

The You Tube Point of View

Vieux Saule put videos on YouTube. When their videos hit more than 40,000 visits, Jimmy reports with classic understatement. “That is pretty cool I think.” Cool indeed. When considering Vieux Saule achievements he goes back to their vision. “Our show successes with genomics combined have been quite an accomplishment I think.” Jimmy sums it up his personal feelings this way. “To have Mary Sol at 14 years of age in December and 12 Year old Dragonfly watching their progenies having success is pretty exciting.”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The pace of change is a challenge for everyone but Jimmy Perreault shares his best Vieux Saule advice.”Try to be in the show market and Genomics and make room for family values even though this world moves fast and makes less and less time for family farms. I still believe Family is first and Cows second, but it is a drug and it’s hard to walk away from it — even for the new generation.” Whether it’s cow families or farm families, at Vieux Saule the family tree is the focus that keeps them successfully rooted and growing their dairy business.

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All-American Dairy Show: To Go or Not To Go?

This week there is a great dairy event going on in Harrisburg Pennsylvania.  It is the 50th All-American Dairy Show and I find myself wondering whether it is worth going or not?

The Cattle

When I am deciding if it is worth going to the show, I first look at what cattle are going to be there.  There have been times I have driven 10 hours just to go to a small show because I knew that show would have some great cattle.  There are other times that I have not gone to a show that was under an hour’s drive away.

all-american Supreme 2012

Supreme Champion entries during the 2012 All-American Dairy Show in Harrisburg, pictured from left to right: Brown Swiss entry Dublin-Hills Treats exhibited by Kyle Barton, Copake Falls, N.Y.; Red & White entry MS Glad Ray Morefun -Red exhibited by Jarrod Duepengiesser of Nunda, N.Y.; Milking Shorthorn entry Mi-Sans Acres O Lust-ET exhibited by Mark Riley of Williamsfield, Ohio.; owner Gene Iager; Jersey entry Cascadia Iatola Puzzle exhibited by Emily Thornburg, Pleasant Plain, Ohio; Ayrshire entry Sunny Acres Rattler’s Kacie exhibited by Andrew Evans of Georgetown, N.Y.; Guernsey entry Walnut Ridge Russ Noper exhibited by Kaitlin G. Moser of Middletown, Del.; and Holstein entry Savage-Leigh Leona-ET exhibited by Chip Savage of Copake Falls, N.Y. (Photo by All-American Dairy Show)

This week in Harrisburg there will be five breed shows as well as junior shows and showmanship classes.  It will be a great event to get to see many breeders.  But for me it’s not the numbers it’s the quality.  And while the All-American Show carries a title that would have you think that it is fully representative of cattle across the US, unfortunately due to it’s location and timing, less than a month from World Dairy Expo, many breeders have to choose between the two shows, and except for Jersey’s many of the other breed shows are missing the headliners that will go on to be All-American.

In talking with the owners and cattlemen responsible for looking after the headliners for World Dairy Expo, they all admit that they would love to go to the show this week.  It’s a great show that the Pennsylvania department of agriculture does a great job supporting.  However, there comes a point that you just cannot take these great cows to many more shows.  By the time you hit the county, state and spring shows you have already put a fair bit of strain on these animals.  To add another whole show, that for most requires a long ride, may be too much for these cows that still need to look their best less than a month later at World Dairy Expo.  Though if you happen to be judging at World Dairy Expo and have an All-American nomination level animal, this show becomes very important.

2012 All-American grand

The Reserve Grand and Senior Holstein Champion is Witaker Stormatic Rae owned by Craig Walton and Gene Iager, Iager is at the halter. Savage-Leigh Leona-ET was the 2012 Grand Champion and Senior Champion Holstein exhibited by Christopher and Isha Savage, pictured with sons Chase and Connor. Holding the Champion Banner is Pennsylvania Alternate Dairy Princess, Deidra Bollinger. (Photo by All-American Dairy Show)

Having said that, there is one headliner that I know is going to the show, Butz-Butler Gold Barbara EX-92.  Gold Barbara, the unanimous All-American and All-Canadian in 2013, has calved again and is now owned by Kueffner Holsteins, St. Jacobs, Dr. Matt Iager and River Valley Dairy.  (Read more:  Sold- All-Canadian & Unanimous All-American Senior 2 year old from 2012 to Keuffner, St. Jacobs, Dr. Matt Iager and River Valley)  Here is a cow that from reports I have heard since she calved may be worth the trip in her own right.


Butz-Butler Gold Barbara EX-92 (Max)
(Goldwyn x Regancrest Brasilia EX-92 x PR Barbie EX-92 x Brina EX-92)
All-Canadian & Unanimous All-American Senior 2 Year Old 2012
1st Senior 2 Year Old & HM Intermediate Champion Royal Winter Fair 2012
1st Senior 2 Year Old WDE 2012
Reserve Intermediate Champion WDE 2012

The Coverage

In this digital age, it’s amazing the coverage we get on all events.  With many publications desperate for content, the All-American show is a great opportunity to cover all audiences.  With all the major breeders and juniors there, there is certainly a strong readership among seed stock producers who would be interested in the results.

Supreme Champion lineup for the 10th annual Premier National Jr. Events at the 2013 All-American Dairy Show in Harrisburg. (L-R): Pennsylvania FFA President Christopher Toevs; Agriculture Secretary George Greig; Red & White Grand Champion and exhibitor Cyrus Conrad of Sharon Springs, N.Y.; Milking Shorthorn Grand Champion and exhibitor Treven Andrews, Mansfield, Pa.; Jersey Grand Champion and exhibitor Patrick Youse, Ridgely, Md.; Supreme Champion, the Holstein, and exhibitor Chase Savage, Union Bridge, Md.; Grand Champion Guernsey and exhibitor Marshall Overholt, Big Prarie, Ohio; Grand Champion Brown Swiss and exhibitor Jesse Hargrave, Heuvelton, N.Y.; Grand Champion Ayrshire and exhibitor Jordan Helsley, Roaring Spring, Pa.; PA Dairy Princess Maria Jo Noble, Gillette, Bradford Co.; and Maryland FFA Vice-President Maegan Olson. (Photo by All-American Dairy Show)

Supreme Champion lineup for the 10th annual Premier National Jr. Events at the 2013 All-American Dairy Show in Harrisburg. (L-R): Pennsylvania FFA President Christopher Toevs; Agriculture Secretary George Greig; Red & White Grand Champion and exhibitor Cyrus Conrad of Sharon Springs, N.Y.; Milking Shorthorn Grand Champion and exhibitor Treven Andrews, Mansfield, Pa.; Jersey Grand Champion and exhibitor Patrick Youse, Ridgely, Md.; Supreme Champion, the Holstein, and exhibitor Chase Savage, Union Bridge, Md.; Grand Champion Guernsey and exhibitor Marshall Overholt, Big Prarie, Ohio; Grand Champion Brown Swiss and exhibitor Jesse Hargrave, Heuvelton, N.Y.; Grand Champion Ayrshire and exhibitor Jordan Helsley, Roaring Spring, Pa.; PA Dairy Princess Maria Jo Noble, Gillette, Bradford Co.; and Maryland FFA Vice-President Maegan Olson. (Photo by All-American Dairy Show)

Even the show itself does a great job of covering the show.  There have been 24 press releases put out by the Pennsylvania department of agriculture since the last show.  In addition, they also offer a webcast of the show starting tomorrow.  Certainly great additional coverage for those that are not able to make the drive.  I do think these digital mediums affect the attendance at the shows, but they also increase the overall reach of the events, by reaching out to the whole world.  (Read more: Who is going to the show?  Why attendance is down at the dairy cattle shows).

The Bullvine Bottom Line

It truly is a perplexing decision.  I am sure there will many great breeders to chat with, and, with Barbara and the many other cattle that will be there.  There will undoubtedly be some great cattle to see.  However, with many of the headliners not there and such a long drive, it has us thinking about not attending…Stay tuned for our final decision.

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Mistyglen Take Two: “Siblings and Robots Inc.”

Each new dairy generation adds a chapter to the “home farm’ story.  Mistyglen Holsteins, a 42 head tie stall herd, was started by Murray and Betty Pettit in Elgin County, near Belmont, Ontario. Today the 265 acre dairy farm is run by their children Suzanne and Tom. The brother sister dairy operation not only continues the Pettit family story, they’ve got it documented as well! Although it isn’t showing on Reality TV or at your local cinema (yet), Mistyglen has had the foresight to capture their story for posterity in YouTube clips and pictures!

mistyglen new

Sibling Makeover at Mistyglen: Responsibility and Review

The move from one generation to another on any farm is something that presents a lot of challenges – personal, logistical and financial.  For the Pettit’s each step was given careful consideration and obviously began long before the two offspring came home after finishing their educations. Suzanne picks up the story, “When we graduated from Ridgetown College in 1999, we began the process of assuming responsibility for day-to-day operations.”

mistyglen old new insideResponsibility and then Review were the first priorities.

“Simply put, we were out of room.  Dry cows were being forced to stay in a small barn with anything from yearlings on up.  Making quota in the summer without swinging cows was difficult on pasture, dealing with the heat and the environment.  After returning from college, we added a high moisture corn Harvestore and a silo for haylage but dry hay/pasture in the summer and corn silage comprised most of our feed.” These changes and others brought them to the same conclusion. “Although we made many changes in feed and management, we had reached the maximum potential of that system.”

From Family Ties to Robots in the Family

It’s one thing to know that change is needed.  It’s another thing entirely to know how to carry it out. The Pettits were thorough. “We looked at everything.  Initially, we thought about expanding the existing tie stall barn.  Taking into account the expense of having to alter our manure management, and the fact we’d still be limited in our feeding options, it didn’t make financial sense to add on to the old barn.  We then considered building a new tie stall and visited several in the area.  Although that was appealing to us for the ability to see and interact personally with the animals, it seemed like we wouldn’t be taking a step forward.  Then we thought about a parlor, but having been involved in tie-stalls all our lives, it wasn’t an attractive option.”  Both Pettits are open about their learning curve. “Robotic milking was something we mocked early on in the process, but as we began exploring and researching, we found it held a lot of positive attributes for our particular situation.”

mistyglen robot 1

Siblings Push the Robotic Button

When it comes to pushing each other`s buttons, Suzanne and Tom have taken it to a whole new non-sibling-rivalry level.  The buttons they push are robotic. “On May 15, 2012, we started milking in a 70 ft by 240 ft, 3-row freestall barn with a DeLaval VMS robot.  It is a free traffic system, with 67 freestalls, and box stall space for dry cows and calving pens.  It is cross ventilated with climate controlling curtains, three 24 foot fans, automated alley scrapers, a hanging brush and a built-in footbath.  The stalls have Legend mats and are covered with chopped straw.  The old tie stall barn has been converted into heifer pens.”

Pettit’s Choice Awards

Before committing to the exact robotic system they would use, Suzanne and Tom did their homework.  “Given our size, we only required a single robot, so Lely and DeLaval were our main options at the time.  We went to Open Houses and then did a tour of several DeLaval units.  We eventually decided on the DeLaval because a) our tie stall equipment had been handled by Norwell Dairy Systems as well and we were very happy with their service, and b) it was possible (at the time) to purchase a used model that was fully upgradable.  The robot met our needs for a number of reasons.  Tom’s wife Kris works full-time and with two young daughters (Madison, 8 and Kadie, 5), he wanted more freedom to attend their activities that inevitably occurred during milking.  We were also intrigued by the prospect of getting more milkings per day and the potential increased production.”

The next generation at Mistyglen showing at Aylmer Fair

The next generation at Mistyglen showing at Aylmer Fair

Mistyglen Gives A Whole New Meaning to “It’s Show Time”

It’s easier than you would think for people interested in the Mistyglen robotic experience to see the “big picture” so to speak. Not only are they using technology to milk their cows they use it to talk about them. “Social media has played an interesting role in our development.” says Suzanne and goes on to explain. “We created a Facebook page mainly to have a place to track the progress of construction of the barn for our own purposes, and found that many people were curious about our plans and the changes we were making.  It’s a great way to interact with other breeders and people who are in the same position we were in a couple years ago, and we’re happy to assist anyone looking for advice or ideas.  We documented the building process in pictures from the ground up so anyone can scroll through our old albums.  While we’re not famous for our cows (yet), we have created a much greater following than we would have anticipated and it’s a fun aspect of the journey.”

Robotics Zoom In on Production

At the end of the day everyone wants to know how robotics actually perform for Mistyglen. Suzanne reports. “Numerically, the changes have been astounding.  Our BCA in May 2012 was 213-202-214 with a standard milk of 32.6 kg. 15 months later, we are now at 246-292-251 with a standard milk of 40.1 kg.  Our pregnancy rate has increased, I believe due to activity monitoring and the consistency in environment and diet.  The cows are generally less stressed milking an average of 2.7 times/day.  During the hottest week of this summer, our cows actually climbed a kg/cow.  With the ventilation and big fans, the heat of summer is now a non-factor.”

mistyglen robot 2

Mistyglen Feed and Feedback

Change is an ongoing phenomenon at Mistyglen says these dairy managers. “The other major change we were able to make was to switch to a TMR.  We now know our cows are getting a much more balanced and consistent feed, which has helped production tremendously.  We added an OCC (online cell counter) to our robot and it is a tool we recommend.  Knowing SCCs after every milking is very useful and allows us to be proactive about mastitis and possible sickness.”

The Sibling Outlook at Mistyglen

Of course, it’s clear that the status quo will never be the option of choice for these two. Suzanne outlines their aspirations.  “Our goal is to eventually reach Master Breeder status.  It’s still a ways off but we are slowly developing some homebred cow families.  We generally breed for type first, preferring cows with good width and depth of rib, strong udder attachments and good mobility with an increasing eye on health traits.” Tom rounds out the current picture. “Very little has changed in our breeding philosophy since making the move.  We pay more attention to Rear Teat Placement and Teat Length, but other than that, criteria remains quite similar.

Mistyglen Jetta Blockbuster and Mistyglen Kweens Throne, the morning they both moved to EX-4E.

Mistyglen Jetta Blockbuster and Mistyglen Kweens Throne, the morning they both moved to EX-4E.

Moo-Vie Stars from Mistyglen

Of course, the real stars of any dairy story are the cows. Suzanne talks of favorites. “Probably the best cow we’ve ever bred is Mistyglen Jetta Blockbuster (EX-92-4E).  Tom Byers made her our first ever Excellent in May 2009.  She was recently raised to 92 points and was the 2nd place mature cow in this year’s Elgin County Breeder’s Cup.  Her sire, Cityview Blockbuster, is a Leduc son of the great Shoremar S Alicia (EX-97) that we used as a young sire.  While he didn’t return to service, he left us with a beautiful foundation cow.  Jetta has daughters by “Dempsey”, “Throne”, “ReDesign” and “Marino”, as well as “Goldwyn” embryos due in the fall.  She is nearing 70000 kgs for lifetime production and is bred back to “Dorcy”.”

Siblings Stick Together to Make a Difference

Youth is on their side and the Pettits keep a balanced eye on the future. “Being 35 and 33, we feel our career is just getting started, but the shift from tie-stalls to robotics, and the growing divide between “commercial” dairymen and “breeders” has been evident over the last 15 years.  We are trying to enjoy the best of both worlds.”. “In the dairy industry, we aspire to the consistency of herds like Quality and Ebyholme (Read more: Quality Holsteins – Well-deserved Congratulations, Quality Cattle Look Good Every Day  and Ebyholme – The End of an Era) To carry out that process, Suzanne and Tom have purchased foundation animals from both these herds with a view to achieving Mistyglen’s goals. “There is still room in this industry for breeding long-lasting, true breeding families that can produce in any environment.”

Pettits See the Future – Precision Management

With their picture- documentary recording their experience of converting to robotics, the Pettits are enthusiastic about the future of this technology. “Robotics is going to continue to expand and be integrated into more milking systems.  Advancements like the Herd Navigator will continue to increase the amount of information available to a producer as farming becomes less and less physically demanding and more about management.” Both Suzanne and Tom enthusiastically encourage others go this route. “If you are considering a robot, talk to as many robotic farmers as you can and get out there and see different barns.  Robots seem to be most effective in new construction, so look carefully at your barn design and ensure it fits your needs now and in the future.  Be aware of the costs of operation and the potential pitfalls.  If you think because you have a robot you can ignore your cows, DO NOT get a robot.  Management is crucial to success with this technology.”

Making Moos, Moves and Movies – Show and Tell!

From camera updates, to regular robotic monitoring the Pettits find that things are clicking right along at Mistyglen. “Jumping into this transition to robotic milking may be our greatest accomplishment (so far) because we believe it will lead us to many of our goals.  It was a great financial risk, but one that is slowly but surely paying off.  We are purchasing quota every month, and we will eventually have this barn at capacity of 55-60 cows.”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The final cut of Mistyglen story is far in the future for these enthusiastic dairy producers. “There is still much room for improvement in production, and many tweaks to be made to increase feed efficiency and visits to the robot, and breeding goals to accomplish.”  Nevertheless, for Suzanne and Tom Pettit Mistyglen is always ready for, “Lights, camera, action!”

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Stop the Sale! Genomics, Chocolate and the Future of the Dairy Breeding Industry

“This cow is being stolen!” cries out Horace Backus, from the auctioneer’s box at the US National Convention sale.  ‘A beautiful Jasper daughter with such a magnificent pedigree gets such a low offer – that is pure robbery!” adds Backus.  Pounding his fists onto the podium, Backus has a point, since they are getting less than $5,000 for a very productive cow and moments earlier a very young calf sired by a genomic young sire sold for over $20,000.  Here you have an animal already proving her profitability versus a calf that has nothing more to show for herself then a simple little test?  I ask you ”Does the marketplace have it all wrong?”

Last week I was at our local county show (Read more: For Love of the Ring) and was talking with Doug Brown, owner of Browndale Specialty Sires.  I have known Doug for over 30 years and have huge respect for him.  One point that Doug made was related to the fact that at BSS they have 3 bulls in the top 100 LPI.  This is a huge success for a breeding program that samples just a handful of bulls every year.  And yet the conundrum, Doug says, is that they would be lucky if the three sires sold as much semen as the latest hot genomic sire.  Again here we have a well proven and profitable commodity being outsold by a relatively unknown entity.

Can you have too much of a good thing?

Is genomics kind of like chocolate?  Sure it’s great in small amounts when used correctly and it’s a great antioxidant.  However regularly over-indulging in chocolate can result in significant weight gain, sugar complications and kidney problems from the high potassium.

Now anyone who has read the Bullvine with any regularity knows that we are strong proponents of genomics (Read more: Genomics at Work – August 2013, Genomics: Think Big Not Small and Stop Pissing On Genomics).  But have we started to take things too far?  We hear breeders starting to question if they should register their cattle anymore?  (Read more: Why Do We Register?) Should we type classify anymore?  (Read more: Is Type Classification Still Important?  And Over-Scored and Over-Rated – Are we helping or hurting the dairy classification system?) and Should we only use Genomic Young Sires when making mating decisions?  (Read more: How Much Can You Trust Genomic Young Sires? and Genomic Young Sires vs. Daughter Proven Sires: Which one is best for reliable genetic gain?) Have we overused a good thing?

Many times I have had the opportunity to talk with Ari Eckstein of Quality Holsteins (Read more: Quality Holsteins – Well-deserved Congratulations  and Quality Cattle Look Good Every Day) and Ari has always reminded me that “Yes Andrew!”  genomics is a useful tool and at Quality they do use high genomic test type sires, However, he reminds us   “There is still a need to look at all the tools available when making breeding decisions that will result in generation after generation of proven cow families.”  At Quality they use genomics kind of like a great pastry chef uses chocolate.  It’s not the only thing tool they use and they use it as one ingredient.  In other words, genomics should be only one part of many factors used to make complete a great breeding recipe.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

I think many breeders have emptied the kitchen cupboards and thrown out all the other ingredients, or tools, that they used to use when making their breeding and purchasing decisions and now are only using one.  Even the likes of dark chocolate or Alba white truffles ($9,300 per kilo) are only great when they are used to enhance the tasting experience.  Great breeding decisions come when we stop using just one tool and find the best way to apply specific strengths to specific goals.  . When it comes to better breeding and the tools you use, genomics shouldn’t be the only one you use or be used as an all-in-one but it is definitely one to be reckoned with! Genomics for chocolate.  Now that’s sweet!!

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.




Farm Succession: Which Exit Is Yours?

Handing down the family farm is not a simple event like hosting a twilight meeting or an occasional herd reduction sale.  No.  Farm succession is a journey that happens over time. Putting that time in, sooner rather than later, is an investment that could not only save your dairy farm legacy but your family relationships as well.

A Head Start Now Prevents Heart Break Later!

Unfortunately passing on the farm business is not something you can practice like training calves, improving milking procedures or modifying your feeding program.  Most of us will be involved in this hand-off only twice – and at that — it will be from opposite sides of the bargaining table: coming in and going out! While each position provides a learning experience, it isn’t likely something you will do often enough to become good at it. In fact, each trip to this turning point loads each of us down with baggage which may or may not have an effect on whether the farm moves from “A” to “B” without upsets.

Having said that, we could all sit around the living room and discuss grapevine tales of the horrors, nightmares (and occasional successes) of families who have tried handing off their dairy business to the next in line.  The reason we don’t have as many successes to bandy about is because the very fact that the successes were probably handled seamlessly makes them less of a community talking point.

The passion for dairy farming can start at a young age, but with out a good succession plan, that passion can quickly be lost.

The passion for dairy farming can start at a young age, but with out a good succession plan, that passion can quickly be lost.

Un-Spoken EQUALS Un-Successful

It only makes sense that something a family has felt passionate about doing for more than two generations is going to be a passionate issue when it comes to discussing successful succession. It’s the successful part that is the crunch. When you look at the timeline of a dairy farmer – he or she quite often will have invested forty or more years in the business.  A gold watch and a farewell dinner aren’t going to cut it, when it’s time to make changes at the top. Long before the fond farewells the family has to talk – not only about who’s in charge and when — but about expectations for income both pre and post “retirement” and the realistic sustainability of the dairy operation.  Get talking.  And use the word retirement often. I can’t imagine any dairy farmer who ever accepts full retirement.  While some of the perks (travel, hobbies) beckon, they never really see themselves retired!  And therein lies the rub!

Dairy Farming is a Living Legacy

If you were the one who taught your offspring how to properly hook on the milking machine, along with a thousand other chores that they struggled with at first, you may be reluctant to get out of the driver’s seat for this young upstart.  But that’s exactly what you have to plan for.  If you’re going to be that one dairy farmer in ten that sees grandchildren take over your farm, you’ve got to be able to step aside and let the next generation learn – and fail — and learn some more! Don’t leave the planning until it’s too late to meet the needs of those depending on the business. (Read more: What’s the plan?, Flukes and Pukes – What Happens When You Don’t Have a Plan and Are you a hobby farmer or a dairy business?) When it comes to expectations about your dairy farm legacy both sides have to be open and up front about what they’re hoping and dreaming about.  If you assume that one generation will just fall into place — as it did in the past — you’re setting yourself up for that ass-of-you-and-me situation.


In order for your legacy to continue you need to feed that passion, and good succession plan can help you do that.

LATE Expectations!

You can’t just decide one afternoon that you’re ready to quit dairying. If you’re lucky, any decisions about farm succession will not be forced upon you by illness, financial pressures or any of the numerous dysfunctions that introduce cracks into the apparently firm foundations of the family farm business. We all recognize that maintenance is key whether it’s farm buildings, fields or dairy cattle … but we live in denial when it comes to realistic assessments of physical ability, revenue streams and long-term financial planning.

Start Early to Celebrate the Strengths of Your Particular Family

For years you have both benefited from the economies of scale and shared passion that are more beneficial than each family member owning their own operation.  After all, that’s one of the reasons you’re in this situation to begin with.  Likewise, there are all the benefits of the dairy lifestyle that have made your family memories rich.  Favourite cattle, records achieved, shared work ethic and the ups and downs of a business affected by the vagaries of weather, markets and politics. And you can’t overlook the benefits of being your own boss, or the boss’s kid, 24-7! Seriously.  The time to plan for the future is before you NEED to!


Who’s The Boss?

The most familiar cog in the wheel of farm turnover happens when those at the front aren’t ready for change.  Speaking personally, I will always be of sound mind and body and therefore planning ahead is redundant in my particular situation.  Of course, there are those who are quite convinced that they are the only ones who could run their particular dairy operation. Making all the decisions, doesn’t prepare you or your successor for the future. No wonder our “kids” (even though they too are middle-aged) are considering mandatory retirement as an option.  Our fear is that these upstarts aren’t willing to put in the 70 hour workweeks that we did. “Our heels are dug in.”  “Our minds are made up.”  “Don’t try to confuse us with facts!” It’s hard to tell which generation is talking isn’t it?

Share the Health BEFORE You Siphon the Wealth

There are two occasions in the business lifetime of a dairy operation that are challenging. The first is at setting up and the second is when it’s time to transition down.  Unfortunately, when it comes to farm succession these two often contrary events are happening simultaneously for those involved.  It stands to reason that these changes and the acceptance of them can be difficult. Both sides perceive the other as suddenly unreasonable. Too few families looked ahead while they are in the smooth middle years where everything was chugging along and made plans for ways to keep the farm providing the lifestyle to which everybody had become accustomed or at least comfortable with.


The Time to Get “Buy In” Is BEFORE You Have to “Sell Out”!

Even more frustrating is the situation, becoming more familiar today, where the dairy farm is not at its highest performance level.  Financial constraints may be throwing the entire future of the operation into question and here comes one or more family members looking for a deserved break. Advance planning would provide a way to get money out of the dairy operation without causing cash flow problems. The goal should be to use a combination of methods, insurance, wages and share purchases to name a few, to provide for those who are transitioning out, without creating a huge debt load for the next generation.  The goal is for the family to continue to embrace the future in a way that is achievable and sustainable.

It's never too early to start your succession plan.

It’s never too early to start your succession plan.

The Bullvine Bottom Line – Don’t Leave Trust in the Dust

At the end of the day, the family is more important than the money.  If everyone involved keeps their eyes on maintaining the relationships, everything else will fall into place.  There are many advisors, consultants and financial planners that can assist you. Their help is valuable but getting them up to speed is another challenge in an already challenging situation. All in all, when it comes to planning your dairy legacy you can always recognize success. A successful succession plan saves THE FARM AND THE FAMILY!

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Why Do We Register?

As long as there have been organized herd books (about one and a half centuries) there has been the question of why breeders should register their purebred animals in them. The reasons as to ‘why register’ had undergone many changes and we can expect the reasons to continue to change over time.

In the Beginning

The first herd books were in Europe and were local or regional in nature. One breeder took on the job of recording the births based on the details supplied by his fellow breeders. Documentation was provided listing the birth, parents and a description of the animal. As the systems became more organized registration numbers were allocated. Since the proportion of the cows that were registered was small compared to the unregistered and because the animals that were registered were selected they commanded a premium price. Grade breeders wanting to garner some of the increased price would purchase a registered bull for use on their grade cows. Quite often a breeder would own a bull that his neighbours could use for a fee.  Cattle were on display or exhibited at local fairs and class winners or their offspring brought a premium price.

Cattle to America

The initial animals brought to America were multi-purpose – draught, beef and milk. Their value to their owners were likely in that order of importance. The Dual Purpose Shorthorns was common and popular in the later part of the 19th Century. From about 1875 onwards breeds maintained in Europe primarily for milk production purposes were imported into North America. Again regional herd books sprung up and dairy cattle registration mirrored the systems in Europe. Purity and in Holsteins color or color pattern were key to eligibility for registry.

Improvement Introduced

Early in the 20th Century groups to measure milk production were started. In Canada in 1905 selected cows were measured for the pounds of butterfat that they could produce in a seven day period. That added value to the sons and daughters of top cows and bulls. This was followed by recording for an entire lactation using DHI clubs and DHIR (Breed recognized) in the USA and ROP in Canada. And it moved, over time, from selected animals to all cows in a herd being milk and fat recorded. The cows on these yield improvement programs were required to be registered in the herd book, which by this time had become national in scope. There was real financial value in terms of performance and animal sales from having registered cattle even though it required record keeping and verification by a third party authority.

In the 1920’s North American breeders with foresight saw the need to add longevity to their dairy cattle and they started conformation evaluation programs for registered animals. Animals with high conformation scores, authenticated by approved evaluators, commanded higher prices.

For history buffs there are numerous books (Read more: HALTER, PEN and GAVEL. That’s Just the Norm, Edward Young Morwick – Country Roads to Law Office and “The Dairy Queen” has All the Answers!) that document advancements and the spread of purebred registered animals from the late 19th to the start of the 21st Century.

What is Purity?

Mainly because of the use of A. I. which required that the bulls standing in stud be registered and their ancestors performance tested, the entire population of dairy cattle improved for their productive ability. It got to the stage where many unregistered animals were capable of matching or even exceeding the performance of some of the average or lower end registered cattle. For registered cattle to maintain their value breeders were put in the position to accept entry into the herd book of animals originating from unregistered background. They could be entered into the herd book provided proof could be shown for the use of registered sires in their pedigree.  This increased the proportion of the total dairy cattle population that were registered. These new entries into the herd book came from breeders that were using milk recording. This put in place a three tier value system. The top was high quality registered performance tested purebreds followed, in order, by graded-up cattle with performance records and then by registered purebreds that were not performance tested. The mould was broken. Simple registration of lineage no longer always meant a premium. Some breeders fought the move to include graded-up animals but in the end they were included. So it became not just registry but also performance that set an animal’s value.

Dairy Cattle Move Global

For about sixty years following WW II, dairy cattle moved first from Europe and North America and then Oceania to all regions of the globe. First bulls and then heifers moved and were used as the basis for establishing dairy cattle farming in their new homes.  However the biggest change in these countries came through the use of high quality A.I. proven sires. All these moves re-enforced the value of registered and recorded animals. Breeders in the countries of origin benefited because they had invested in registration, milk recording and type classification. As the 20th Century closed and the cost of transporting animals increased the sale of embryos began to replace live female sales.

The Pace Quickens

Nothing lasts for ever.  Starting around the turn to the 21st century and with some outbreaks of animal diseases and the move for increased food safety, disease testing became necessary and so all animals had to be permanently identified and their movement tracked. State and national data bases became necessary for all dairy animals. In Canada the purebred registry societies saw the light and expanded their databases (herd books) to include all dairy animals.  Every country has or is now establishing identification and animal tracking systems. It is not a “maybe” any longer. Farms producing milk must guarantee the health of the animals producing it. Registering animals which started as optional and a way to garner more income (cattle sales) from a dairy farm is or will soon be the law everywhere.

Time Waits for No One

So far in the 21st Century two advancements have changed the scene in a major way for the value of registration. First there was sexed semen, leading to more heifers being available. Then in 2008 genomic testing arrived. The combination of these two technologies resulted in a lowering of the premium for good quality registered recorded animals. Young full pedigreed above average conformation cows worth $4,000 to $10,000 a decade ago are now only $200 to $500 over replacement milk cow values. There is still a premium for registered and recorded females but not a farm revenue center like it once was. Only elite genomically evaluated animals garner a large premium. But it does not stop there.  Accurate evaluation (genomics) of the genetic merit of young animals has placed the premium on young superior animals at the expense of milking females.

What Does the Future Hold?

None of us can exactly predict the future for the registered recorded evaluated dairy cattle populations. We can expect the pace of change to increase. Consumers’ needs (high quality safe food) and demands (polled) will expand (Read more: MILK MARKETING: How “Got Milk?” BECAME “Got Lost” and Why the Future of the North American Dairy Industry Depends On Supply And Demand and “Got Milk” is becoming “Got More”). More and more information on the genetic make-up of animals will become available using DNA analysis. IVF will move from being only available at specialized centers to a service available on-farm. Automation and computers will be universally used. Data services will be web based covering all aspects of dairy farming.

And those items only cover what we currently know and not what will come as a result of both research and development in genetics, reproduction, health, nutrition and management. Can you see the day when cows will be monitored and recorded 24-7 and the results stored on the information ‘cloud”? Definitely every farm will need a breeding plan (Read more: What’s the plan?, Flukes and Pukes – What Happens When You Don’t Have a Plan and Are you a hobby farmer or a dairy business?). We live in exciting times.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

A century ago registration was new and novel.  Today registration is a vital first step in the information gathering process. For progressive breeders registration will continue to be an investment opportunity and not a cost.

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Burket Falls Holsteins: Rebels without a Horn!

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

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

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

The Oft Polled Tale 

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

All Told They’re Polled

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

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

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

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

On a Roll with Polled

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

Burket Falls Elevation Sophia EX93 4E GMD DOM

Burket Falls Elevation Sophia EX93 4E GMD DOM

Polled is Gold Generation after Generation

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

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

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

Genomics, Polled and the Value-Added Proposition

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

The Future is Polled

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

The Bullvine Bottom Line

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

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Are you a hobby farmer or a dairy business?

I have heard it said many times that farming is a way of life.  I get that.  Nevertheless,  I don’t think enough dairy farmers understand  that dairy farming is also a business NOT A HOBBY FARM.

There is no question that dairy farming is all about passion.  Why else would they tie up all the equity they have in the world on an investment that provides what many would consider limited returns.  Think about it, if you’re in dairy farming for the money, you would be better to purchase a McDonald’s franchise.  The return on investment would be higher and the work hours shorter.

This past weekend the dairy industry lost a great member, Ken Rose of Rosayre Ayrshires (Read more: Ken Rose – Rosayre Ayrshires – Passed Away) at the age of 50.  Ken was one of the most passionate breeders I have ever met in my life.  He was also a great cattleman, exhibiting many prize winning Ayrshires.  Yes, I said Ayrshires. That breed that for many are  considered to be for “Hobbyists.”  That got me thinking, “Is it a hobby or is it a business?”

The Difference between Dairy Breeders and Dairy Businesses

Over the years I have met countless passionate dairy breeders but I have met far fewer great businessmen.  Many times there is a big difference between the two.  Just because you have a Master Breeder herd does not mean that you run a great business.  Also just because you milk 1,000 head,  does not mean you have  rivers of cash.  Passion doesn’t make payroll and profits.

The difference between those who are good breeders and those who are great business people starts with a mindset.  While there is no question most will work hard, it’s those that think hard about their business that are the ones who get ahead.  They are willing to take personal responsibility for the success of their business.  They don’t blame it on the weather,  milk price or the dog. They think things through ahead of time and have a plan (Read more: What’s the plan?) about exactly  how they are going to make a good margin.

Do You Have A Sound Financial Plan?

No I am not asking how  you think you are going to make money.  I am asking do you have a detailed budget plan about  how you are going to grow sales and cut costs?  In my work with many technology start ups, this is what makes the difference between those that thrive and those that dive.  It’s not who has the best idea or who is the most charismatic leader.  It’s those that have a well thought out plan.  Sounds simple and  it’s true.  The same is goes for many dairy breeders.  Those that thrive are not the ones that get the most publicity, spend the most money, or breed the best cows. It’s the ones the have a sound plan that thrive the most.  Sure all of those other things can help, but they are just part of the plan not the whole plan itself.

The Importance of a Plan

As a dairy breeder it is very tempting to neglect planning altogether, especially if you are the only person in the business. After all, planning can be a time consuming process, when there is so much work to be done.  But there is no question that the benefits of  good planning will far outweigh any of the work that you are currently doing.

The great thing about a business plan is that it can provide a reference point for you to return to at any point.  Just looking at a plan and seeing how far you have come is a great motivational tool. It can help you determine whether you have drifted too far away from your original vision and whether you need to get back on track  again.  It’s also important to review the plan from time to time. As circumstances change,  your plan needs to change with it.

Writing a business plan will also help you to think more analytically.  It will help you to see correlations between the different parts of your business.  Perhaps decreasing the cost of a particular process will affect your overall profit margin.  Maybe it will reveal that increasing  your investment in your breeding program can actually decrease your cost of production.

The value of a business plan  cannot be overstated. Putting ideas and concepts down on paper is invaluable and the act of researching and compiling data about your dairy business (notice I did not say farm) and the current market you operate in, will prove to be very useful in the years to come.

The 10 Steps to Working Smarter Not Harder

  1. Assess everything that needs to be done.
    Before you plunge into something headfirst, remember that enthusiasm needs to be tempered with wisdom. Look over every aspect of the job and allow yourself ample “pondering time” so that you can be sure that every detail is accomplished on time and accurately.
  2. Make an outline.
    Whether it’s in your head or on paper, you should have a checklist in mind and follow it in order. You don’t want to repeat steps, duplicate the efforts of others, make mistakes or forget anything.
  3. Learn to say no.
    Avoid over-scheduling yourself and be realistic about what you can accomplish in a single day. Sometimes you just have to cut yourself off because there is almost always something that could be done.
  4. Limit your goals.
    Try to avoid multi-tasking because you often get less done since your brain is switching back and forth between tasks. Pick one thing to work on and put your best effort into that until it is accomplished.
  5. Consider your materials.
    Don’t take shortcuts on the quality of your materials. Cheap materials or tools are harder to work with because they aren’t as sturdy or nice. Trying to save a few bucks, but spending an extra hour or two because those cheap things didn’t install properly doesn’t make any sense.
  6. Evaluate your methods.
    You want them to be as efficient as possible. Do your work when you have no distractions surrounding you. Try to do things in  batches rather than one at a time. You want your efficiency to be maximized as much as possible.
  7. Delegate to the right people at the right times.
    Often  the difference between a hobby farm and a dairy business comes down to the team.  Make sure your team is well-ordered. If one person is faster, put him or her on the part of your task that will take longest. If one person is more skilled and accurate, put him or her on the part of the task that is most critical.
  8. Be flexible.
    Your day will not always go as planned. Be open to trying new methods and doing new things.
  9. Rest.
    You should ideally be getting eight hours of sleep every night. You can certainly pull continuous 12 hour farm days, but it’s not sustainable. After a certain point, your body becomes tired and your mind wears down, leading to more frequent lapses in concentration and careless mistakes.
  10. Recognize the point of ‘diminishing returns.’
    The above steps do not imply that you should work yourself to the point of exhaustion. You need to protect your health and the integrity of your business. Constantly working yourself to a frazzle  makes you prone to mistakes. When you’re so tired that you realize it’s taking you twice or three times longer to do a job than normal, you need to call it a day. Rest at least a few hours and come back fresher, so that you can be strong at the end of the job. Learn how to power nap.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Being a great dairy business is not about who works harder it’s about who works smarter.  The difference between being a hobby farmer and a dairy business, is not who has thought of a better strategy, it’s  who has a sound business plan to implement  that strategy.

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