Archive for March 2015

Master Breeder’s are not Home Run Hitters

Whenever I talk with breeders about what sires they are using or how they make their breeding decisions, it quite often seems like they are trying to hit a home run with every mating.  However, as professional baseball players have shown us, more often than not, you fly out instead of hitting the home run.

It seems to be that most breeders want to get that perfect calf with every mating they make.  The problem is that no one is breeding from the perfect cow or has access to the perfect sire.  Yet they seem to think it is possible to produce the perfect calf. Which we know does not even exist in pictures. (Read more: The Perfect Holstein Cow and No Cow Is Perfect – Not Even in Pictures)

When I started looking through some of the mating decisions behind some of the most legendary animals in the history of the Holstein breed, one thing became abundantly clear.  Great impact sires and dams are made over generations, not simply after one mating. When I looked at these pedigrees, what I noticed is that the breeders had crafted them over 2 or 3 generations.  They used what I like to call “constructor” bulls instead of balanced sires generation after generation.  One generation they would use a sire with a significant impact on production and then they would follow that with a sire who offered high type improvement.

Even  Peter Heffering, and Ken Travina, owners of the great Hanover Hill Holstein herd, used this strategy extensively. (Read more: Hanover Hill Holsteins: Peter Heffering 1931-2012)  In Hanover Hill pedigrees, you will see production sires like Southwind being used and then followed with type sires like Starbuck.  They were working at building a pedigree instead of crossing their fingers for a home run.

I am a big Toronto Blue Jays fan. One thing I have noticed over recent years is that, while the Jays are usually near the top of the league in home runs, they are not winning the most games in a season.  That is because they are often hitting the home runs when there is no one on base.  In the past, they have had a lineup of batters who would either hit a home run or strike out.  They were not able to get batters on base and have those sustained run production innings.  In order to achieve that and win more games, they need to have more batters who can get on base.  Batters who can do certain things well, like bunting, stealing, hitting doubles etc., that make for big innings when an opposition pitcher is struggling.

The same applies for the breeders that I see trying to breed for the home run animal every time.  Instead of trying to swing for the fences, they should rather look to improve only a few key aspects of each mating and then come back with the next generation and look to improve the other areas that are needed.

No sire is the perfect sire. No sire can enhance every trait significantly.  That is why you cannot hit a home run with every mating.  Instead, you need to look at the 2-3 traits that need the greatest improvement and use a sire that improves those traits. Then in the next generation look to improve the next most important 2-3 traits.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

You cannot improve every area with every mating.  In order to achieve maximum genetic gain over the long haul, you are far better to look to improve the 2 or 3 key areas with each generation, then build on that.  This is what is called constructing a pedigree.  It is something some of the greatest breeders in history were masters at and that many modern breeders have forgotten about.  Often we get so  arrogant about the current status of genetic offerings, we believe that we can try to  hit a home run every time, instead of trying to get that bunt single that starts a big rally.


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“News Flash: Dairy Industry Mistreats Their Animals” ANOTHER BLACK EYE? Or could this be THE KNOCKOUT PUNCH?

Thus begins yet another round in the battle between public perception and livestock raising. As I reviewed the NYTIMES article (Read more: U.S. Research Lab Lets Livestock Suffer in Quest for Profit), I couldn’t help but wonder if this was yet another black eye or, as I feared, would this atrocity deliver the knockout punch to dairy industry credibility? (Read more: Dairy Cattle Abuse Video – A black eye for the dairy industry)

This time the Good Guys are Bad

Unfortunately the latest headlines shouted out that a well-respected organization was the guilty party.  Immediately we in the industry blush with embarrassment.  But wait.  What is it about human nature that makes us think that the bigger the good reputation, the more likely the allegations are true? Or for that matter not true?  The real question is “When did we put ourselves in the position of Judge and assume that what we read in black and white truly is a black or white representation of the truth?”

With every new black eye, the dairy and the general public has been softened up. Each new punch requires that we go on the defence.  Somewhere inside you start to assume that eventually the challenge will be so formidable that defence becomes impossible. In this most recent case, the facts as presented accuse not only MARC but every veterinarian, supplier, consultant who entered their facility. Indeed, if the allegations are true, everyone failed at the most basic level to carry out their responsibility to protect and respect animal life.

Is this More of the Same?

I usually don’t have a problem giving a little room to those who criticize the dairy industry from an outside position. After all, it could be that they don’t have all the facts.  However, when I read that MARC, a well-respected research facility was the defendant, I didn’t give them room for doubt or the assumption of innocence until proven guilty. I rapidly searched the Internet.  I poured over reams of comments condemning what had been supposedly seen and reported.  And then… I was significantly influenced to the negative, when a Senator stepping in and demanded a review — with a stringently short timetable.

It wasn’t until my mind was made up that I asked the second question:  “Is there another side to this story!”

Why was I hesitating? Was it because of the presumed stature of MARC that I was prepared, “For the bigger they are, the harder they fall”?  It is always bad when journalists, amateur videographers and sleuths set out to find and expose mistreatment of animals. So what flipped my “guilty” switch, when it was researchers and veterinarians being accused as perpetrators? Why did I allow my trust to be so swiftly shaken to the core?

I agreed wholeheartedly with Dan Murphy, who wrote an opinion piece about MARC’s questionable research for Drovers CattleNetwork, concluding “There is a line that must be drawn between research that produces beneficial results in terms of yield and efficiency, and projects that are conducted without the necessary regard for the health and welfare of the livestock involved.”

It is long past time for the entire industry to step up and admit their failure.

We can’t become spectators when our peers put the whole industry into a negative spotlight. If we expect the industry to continue into the future we can’t pull the childish excuse, “They did it.  Not me!” We aren’t prepared for respected organizations to succumb to unethical behavior.  The headlines blared: “U.S. Research Lab Lets Livestock Suffer in Quest for Profit / Animal Welfare at Risk in Experiments for Meat Industry.” That was followed up with an editorial that claimed “Farming Science, Without the Conscience.”

Which is worse?  Getting a Black Eye? Or Turning a Blind Eye?

There can be no justification for animal mistreatment.  The ends do not justify the means. As more and more questions are raised, one perspective is particularly upsetting. “Have the best-of-the-best in the science of modern animal agriculture became so tone deaf in their search for a better cow/pig/sheep that they ignored their better voices and intentionally tortured animals in a vain and misguided attempt to reach their goals?”

Don’t Assign Blame.  Find Solutions!

As the media headlines grow ever more provocative, more shocking, and more attention grabbing, there is the temptation to blame them, if not for lying, at the very least for exaggerating.  The truth is, the media is doing they’re doing their job.  They are doing what they are paid to do.  If our response is simply to wish that the attention would go away, it means that we are less than passive in dealing with these blows to our credibility.

It’s time to step up as an industry … all up and down the line … and demand that those we support with our dollars, advocacy and trust are accountable for the way they manage the animals in their care.

Sixty Days to Judgment – from the Top

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack called for an immediate investigation to be completed in 60 days.  But even this unprecedented speed could prove to be too little too late. Once again, laying blame and seeing that “heads will roll” does not address a problem that is a symptom of an entire industry that prefers to have a black eye, if it allows us to turn a blind eye to effective action.

Still, inquiring minds will want to know how much of the report was true. Could any of it be merely misconstrued observations by an untrained eye? Had MARC, in search of a better and more efficient animal, really crossed the line?  Surely things have not gotten so out of hand that the goals of higher production, higher birth rates and the drive for more, more and more, has gone too far and has now put at risk, not only the dairy cattle, but the entire dairy industry?

One of the most scathing statements made in the accusatory articles arose from the point that the scientists were trying to make animals more productive to better feed the world. The question was posed, “Do people really want that if it means a decrease in animal welfare?”

By now you have probably sensed that my first accusatory position has been somewhat changed.  If you’re reading The Bullvine, you are absolutely allowed to assume that my lifelong pro-dairy bias could be rising to the top. I will accept criticism of the bias but that does not mean an acceptance of animal mistreatment. The Bullvine holds ourselves and the industry to a standard of animal care that always seeks out the highest standards.  But are we too easily accepting o slow progress toward raising those standards higher?

It was an opinion posted by (Matthew J Cherni, MS, DVM February 13th, 2015  ) that made me question my rapid rush to judgement against MARC.  It gives us much to think about:

I was privy to the interview techniques used by Michael Moss, author of the New York Times article. Michael Moss was brought to my home, and introduced as a friend of someone I had worked with during much of my career at the USMARC. After a half an hour, to maybe as much as an hour of talking to Michael Moss I asked him what he did for a living, and he told me. I probably escaped being misquoted, or taken out of context like others referenced in the article only because after learning why he was visiting with me, I told him: “You do not have my permission to quote me, or use my name.” He protested, and I repeated my statement.

I spent a career (September, 1978-June, 2012) working as the sheep operations manager at the USMARC. I know, in many cases from firsthand knowledge prior to June, 2012, the accusations of animal mistreatment/abuse described in Mr. Moss’s article, and Dr. Jim Keen’s interview are without merit. Unfortunately for the sake of truth, it is not possible to prove something did not occur. I believe this story is the result of an unscrupulous HSUS/PETA sympathetic reporter being willingly fed false accusations by (a) disgruntled former employee(s), and a willingness by the reporter to misquote, take statements out of context, and exaggerate occurrences to support the accusations. Unfortunately, it is the people/consumers and livestock of America, and world who will suffer the most in the future if this article affects funding, or activities at the USMARC.”

People make mistakes. Accidents happen. We all understand that. But how do you make allowances for shortcomings of supposedly well-trained, highly motivated and industry respected individuals and organizations? We don’t.  While many are anxiously awaiting the report demanded by Secretary Vilsack, it’s time to stop leaving the judgment calls to someone else.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Wherever we are on the spectrum, we must take responsible action. And that has got to include responsible reporting as well.



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Are You Making the Most of Genomic Information?

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

Let’s hear about Enlight from Lindsey Worden

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

Home Dashboard

Enlight Home Dashboard


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

Worden Draws on Experience

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

Animal Snapshot

Enlight – Animal Snap shot


Working to Shared Benefit

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

Excellent Uptake

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

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

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

Genetic Progress Graph

Enlight – Genetic Progress Graph


Expanded Service

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


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

The Bullvine Bottom Line

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

The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


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

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

Download this free guide.




Gen-Com Holsteins – Dairy Breeder Video Interviews

In a rare opportunity the Bullvine sits down with Mario Comtois of Gen-Com Holsteins to discuss their success, their team, and the two great cows they work with RF GOLDWYN HAILEY and CHARWILL ATTIC MARCY.

Watch this video and find out, what makes Hailey and Marcy so special and the members of the team that do just a great job keeping these and all the cows at Gen-Com looking so great.


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Master Breeder Killed in Triple Homicide

Technologies like IVF and Sexed Semen and ownership of genetic rights and females by AI companies have killed the dairy cattle breeding industry.  More specifically they have taken things to such a level that the days of the average individual breeder being able to make a little money from selling genetic stock are long dead.

It was first believed that when the exclusive use of genomic information by AI units was going to be lifted (April 2014) that dairy breeders who owned top sires were going to cash in.  And while it did happen, it was very short lived.  As we predicted here at The Bullvine, these AI units needed to control their costs of sire acquisition and so the majority of them went out and started buying their own females.  All except Semex, (Read more: Should A.I. Companies Own Females?, Why Good Business for A.I. Companies Can Mean Bad Business For Dairy Breeders )

Now there are those who believed that, if these had been the only changes, that breeders would have been able to compete, as history had many instances where breeders were able to out perform the geneticists at the AI companies.

IVF not Genomics – the Original Killer

The biggest difference this time is that dairy breeders and genetics are not playing on a level playing field.  Technologies like IVF have significantly changed the game.  When this whole rat race started, breeders and AI companies alike took advantage of extensive IVF work to accelerate their rate of genetic gain.  But more accurately, that allowed them to cover up their mistakes.  You see IVF does not make you a better breeder, but rather, gives you more chances to make mistakes.  Instead of only being able to select 3 or 4 crosses on a cow a year and get about 10-18 progeny from your top animals, IVF allows companies to make selections every 2 weeks, or up to 26 crosses a year, resulting in hundreds of progeny a year.  The challenge with this is that it’s a very costly expense and breeders, as a result of low royalty prices on sires and next to no genetic female sales, cannot afford to IVF their top animals as much as AI companies who stand to make significantly more from the sale of semen.

There is also the fact that many seed stock breeders could not control the cost of their recipient programs.  The biggest expense in any IVF program is not the drug or flushing costs but rather the costs of the buying and raising recipients. That is what makes or breaks most flushing programs.  Large herds can keep their costs down, since they have a couple thousand recipients around, whereas smaller programs have to purchase and rely on the sale of fresh heifers in order to have enough recipients available.

Who has the Rights?

One of the changes that many breeders did not think about is the fact that AI and genetics companies would own the rights to the early release semen.

In the past, this semen was not seen as a premium item.  Once it became in much demand, for a short period, it was sold at a significant premium price.  But the AI companies got wise to the fact that it was more advantageous to use this semen for their own programs than to sell it at any price.  So as a result what you see is that all AI units now use their top sires for their own exclusive contract matings or on their females, months before other breeders can even get access to the semen.  This results in a 2-6 month advantage for the AI companies.

Also, many AI companies have started forcing breeders to sign a contract that, in order to get this advantage, breeders have had to give exclusive rights for the resulting animals to the AI company.  This means that in order to use the semen, you cannot even get the advantage for yourself. The company you are buying the semen from is forcing you to sell the resulting progeny to them.  Some companies are even going as far as to only sell sexed semen from their sires, meaning that the breeders will only get females from these matings and will not get a chart topper sire.

A Whole New Game Changer

Recently I have watched many AI companies make some significant moves and purchase companies that are outside their core offerings.  When I first saw this, I asked myself ….  Why?  Why would this company go out and buy a company in a whole different field than what they specialize in.  While first glance tells you that they are looking to gain more revenue from each relationship they currently have, there is also something else that catches my eye.  In reading some of the most recent technological advances in IVF technology, I start to find that the age of the donor at which they are successfully starting to recover oocytes is getting drastically younger.  Sure it only makes sense! Since a female is born with a set number of oocytes. If you can advance the instruments and drug program, it’s not surprising that they can start this process younger and younger.  The challenge becomes as this technology becomes more and more exclusive to the large genetics companies, who can either afford or own the technology, this means that all others are going to fall farther and farther behind.  Think about how much quicker our rate of genetic gain is, as a result of the introduction of genomics. If a select few companies can now start flushing animals as early as 1 month of age, or about 1 year ahead of others, they will receive that much of an advantage over everyone else.  This also explains why these companies have been so aggressive at buying top females so that they can have the seed stock needed to start this process. Now that they have the technology and the base animals,  there is nothing stopping them from passing all others.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Over the past few years, The Bullvine has begged and pleaded with breeders to not sell females to the AI companies as it would lead to their own downfall.  Then we tried to open their eyes to the fact that technologies like IVF and Sexed Semen were going to limit their options, instead of significantly enhance their revenue streams.  Now, as we are well past the time to do anything, the average seed stock breeding program is living on life support.  Looking for those few chances to get a breath of air while drowning in a battle they cannot win. Instead, we are watching a triple homicide of the dairy cattle breeding industry. Shortly we will be exactly like the swine and maize industries, where only a few global companies own the top genetics.


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Ferme Blondin – “Built on Teamwork” – Dairy Breeder Video Interviews

Ferme Blondin excels in breeding, showing and selling exceptional dairy cattle. In this video Simon Lalande, 7th generation dairy farmer in St. Placide Quebec and his team speaks about how they have achieved their success, their genetic programs, their passion for great dairy cattle and what they are most excited about for 2015.  (Read more: FERME BLONDIN “Passion with a Purpose Builds Success”)


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A “Global” Twist on “Eat Local”

With two of our three children living outside of Canada, we have been a sounding board for the challenges of trying to eat locally, when you have emigrated from your native country.  For those who went to the US, the changes were small …. Missing Smarties and Tim Horton’s.  Moving to The Netherlands meant not only new and different food, but unrecognizable labels and a foreign language to navigate. Easily recognized brands no longer pointed the way to the ingredients required for home cooking or favorite comfort foods.

This kind of international adaptation is no longer the exception to the rule as the next generations build their career histories and experienced dairy people expand their resumes with jobs farther afield.  Today most who started out on a dairy farm in a small, somewhat isolated rural village have had the opportunity to travel, study and consult in countries beyond the borders of their homeland. This ever moving, international consumer segment, affects everything, not the least of which is producing dairy products to meet local tastes.

Impact of Immigration on North American Food Markets

Most of the North American population growth of the past 20 years is due to immigration. Canada’s annual growth rate in 2011/2012 (+1.1%) exceeded that of other industrialized countries including the United States (+0.7%), Italy (+0.3%) and France (+0.5%). This growth represents a new and growing segment of the food consuming market and opportunities for dairy producers. In the US sales directly from the farm can adapt products more easily than in Canada where increasing the supply managed market means growing a consumer segment. Taking a closer look at the Canadian immigration situation shows that since 2001 most of Canada’s population growth was due to immigration. In 2011, it accounted for 67 percent, according to Statistics Canada, which projects that growth could rely almost entirely on immigration in the future. By 2017, the agency projects one out of every five people could be a visible minority. This raises the question, “How do immigrants fit into or even have the opportunity to buy into the “buy local” proposition?

What’s Missing in Local Markets? How to Find the Taste of Home?

It’s human nature to look for what’s familiar. Amid change, stress and the daily demands of work and family, everyone seeks the comfort of food that is familiar.  While young children in a new country may adapt more quickly to eating the same as their contemporaries, research shows that parents “want something that tastes like home.” If they can’t find those familiar dairy products, their diet switches away from dairy.

Who’s Got Milk?

From the dairy production side, the problem basically comes down to the fact that, without a consumer for the dairy products we produce, the industry is not sustainable. Overlooking the dairy preferences of the immigrant market is short-sighted in planning for the next generation of dairy producers. While great strides are made in genetics, genomics, and dairy management, it will all be pointless if there is no one drinking milk. And yet the questions must be asked, “Who lobbies for milk consumption?” (Read more:  MILK MARKETING: How “Got Milk?” BECAME “Got Lost” and “Got Milk” is becoming “Got More”)

Ethnic Specialist Finds Markets Could Be Hiding in Plain Sight

Sometimes the markets are not as far away or as difficult to supply as we might imagine. Nissim Avraham is an Israeli-born ethnic market specialist for the Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO). You might ask, “What is an ethnic market specialist?” Basically, Avraham looks for markets – some hiding in plain sight — in Canada’s immigrant population. While working on a project for his M.B.A. at the University of Guelph, his research looked into demand for dairy products for the Middle Eastern community in the Toronto area. Following a presentation to Canadian dairy farmers the first question was, “Why don’t they make their own?” For Avraham, the answer was to point out that there was an enormous opportunity there. “At the time, the Middle Eastern opportunity had a value of 10 million liters (4 million lbs.) of milk in the Toronto area alone.”  From this opening dialog, Avraham got an interview with DFO, and a new job focused on filling demand for the eleven Middle Eastern, South Asian and Chinese populations in Ontario. Today, he’s a popular guy throughout the Canadian provinces, and his successful practices in Ontario are being replicated elsewhere.

Lost in Translation of the Supermarket Aisle

It could be as simple as an added sign or label. Living in a country where every food product has both French and English (explanations), it doesn’t seem problematic to me to let a particular consuming segment clearly understand the dairy products being offered. However, as my immigrant children will tell you, it can be frustrating and time-consuming to try to find products you want in a foreign, to you, supermarket. Looking for familiar dairy products could make a quick shopping trip into a morning or afternoon of hide and seek. One such example is Paneer.

“We have newcomers from Asia shopping for the first time looking for Paneer. They’re vegetarians who drink full-fat milk, eat yogurt, want a higher-fat butter, and would consume nearly double the dairy products in a year that a native North American would. They couldn’t find Paneer in the market, except a cheap version.” Avraham points out that “Paneer is actually pressed ricotta.” Avraham helped an Italian cheesemaker create and label a more traditional Paneer, which quickly took 30% market share in those markets.

Since that first big success, the calls just keep coming. Avraham now consults with dairy processors in other Canadian provinces,  convincing them that rather than making another version of an existing product, they can go after a market already waiting for them.

Targeting, not Changing, Ethnic Markets

Avraham thinks targeting ethnic markets with specific products is something more countries should look into, including the United States.  “Sure, I can advertise a mozzarella or cheddar to different ethnic groups,” Avraham said. “But why would you go there? You think you’re going to change 5,000 years of Chinese tradition? It’s the first generation that we can target with these products.

Certification Clarity

While it may be difficult to find the familiar, it is also challenging when moving to a new culture to find foods that are important to different religions. When the requirements are understood, labels with particular types of certifications provide a shortcut for consumers who would otherwise have to read an often-complicated ingredient list to see whether they can consume products to conform to their religious preferences. Both sides experienced a learning curve. Processors were not familiar with Halal certification, but Avraham describes it as “Kosher-light”, meaning if you fit Kosher certification — a designation many Ontario processors were already comfortable with — you also fit Halal.

Trade Hurdles

Avraham knows Canadian processors who have orders for their ethnic products in the U.S. However, between exporting tariffs and the higher cost of Canadian milk, trying to fill that market from north of the U.S. border is nearly impossible. Of course, it means that there is potential waiting to be realized by American dairy entrepreneurs who merely have to tap into local ethnic demand.

Niche Markets

Developing markets is something of a Catch 22 situation.  Do you invest millions of dollars in developing a new product?  Millions of dollars converting generations of taste buds to an unfamiliar product. Or take the small step route of modifying products to be more aligned with the new immigrant locals.  In the latter case, there is already identifiable models to build from…the popularity is guaranteed. The challenge is making the match that “tastes like home”. While these modified niche markets will never be huge, they do represent an opportunity.  In the Canadian supply management program, it represent more milk that can be made by dairy farmers.

Growing Local Markets

The 62-year old specialist, Nissim Avraham, has been tagged as the ethnic market milkman.  A more fitting title might be market matchmaker, as he brings together distributors, eager to buy, with processors, who need a little coaching in product presentation. Success stories continue to grow:

  • With Avraham’s encouragement, Ontario processors are now making butter ghee, a type of clarified butter; lassi, a fruit-flavoured yogurt drink; and dahi yogurt, a market that has grown from 200,000 to more than two million litres per year.
  • There are now about 25 Ontario cheese and yogurt makers with halal certification.

2.2% Growth

In Ontario, products that Avraham helped introduce are now worth 2.2% of the market.  Not huge. But a start.  It’s the incremental growth that says it’s worthwhile in the modern dairy market. The hardest part is having the decision makers recognize the opportunity.

The Bullvine Bottom Line – Eating locally!  Together!!

Regardless of the culture you were born in, trading recipes and eating homegrown and locally grown foods is not only healthy but also an excellent way to build community. Shopping, sharing and eating together creates connections that are good for everyone involved. We may not recognize the opportunities an ethnic market specialist points out but, if the dairy industry doesn’t open itself up to these new markets, we could go from “Got Milk!” to “Not Milk!”


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Donald Dubois – Always a Champion

Everyone loves to win. Some more than others.  There are those who work hard every day to come out on top.  Donald Dubois was one of those people.  From cattle fitting, to showing to judging.  Donald excelled in every aspect Unfortunately, the man who worked with so many champions and was himself a great champion in life, lost his battle to cancer this week.

Donald  and his wife France Lemieux

Donald and his wife France Lemieux

For the past few years, Donald has fought  the biggest fight of his life…cancer.  Always a great fighter and competitor, Donald did not give up the fight easily.  Knowing the prognosis was not good, he nevertheless accepted the honor of judging the 2015 Royal Winter Fair Holstein show. He knew that it would be a challenge for him.   He performed his duties with class and to the highest quality.  That is the signature style that Donald brought to everything he set his mind to.  This courageous champion,  even went on to  judge the Italian National Open show in February, even though his health was failing him.  Donald was not going to go down without a fight.

Donald Royal

With the  news of Donald’s, his colleagues and friends expressed  homage to Donald’s ability and legacy on social media. Brian Carscadden, who started out as a competitor when he led and fitted against Donald and had the honor of judging many cows that Donald was leading, said “There was nobody better at uddering a cow without the use of electricity, ice or modern medicine. In a sense, Donald  raised the stakes and made everyone around him better, including myself.” “As the years went by Donald  quickly became the most sought after leadsman of this decade. I personally had the honour to award him many red and blue ribbons, as well as multiple rosettes for animals he owned and/or led. As a judge, it was always a pleasure to see Donald leading a good one because you could be assured that his animal would look the part, regardless of what set of eyes or cameras were watching. He was a true “student of the game” and exuded laser focus in everything he did! ““This past November, Donald was able to fulfill a dream by judging the Royal and did so in style – he raised the stakes once again! He moved around the ring with grace and professionalism and spoke (in his second  language) clearly, accurately and with conviction. He asked me when he left the Royal ring if I was proud of him? I replied “Of course, but I am more proud to call you a friend!”


Mark Rueth, another one of Donald’s greatest competitors also grew to be a friend,  added “Some people are just winners!! No doubt the show industry is a sport and every team needs a leader and quarterback to lead the team to success.” “Donald  always comes out on top. Over the years I’ve watched him and competed against him and he was always a winner. Nine  out of ten times  he would beat you, whether  it was clipping, showing or judging. He was always successful. He never let cancer define who he was. He continued to fight and show and judge and live with his family until the last days. People can live a hundred years and never accomplish as much as Donald has in his shortened life. As Brady would make that late game-winning drive, how many times did we see Donald standing in second place and at the last minute get the pull into first place. “


Donald was one of the guys I loved chatting with.  His eyes lit up with  excitement for great cows.  He loved the dairy industry and especially loved great cattle and the people who work with them.  Donald was born a Holstein enthusiast. His education and training centered around the Holstein cow. He developed a Love to Lead a Winner and got the very best out of every animal he led. He had a very keen Eye for cattle that most closely resembled the True Type., He placed them the way he saw them and backed up his placing with very sound reasons. Husband, Father, Son, Brother, Partner, Employee and friend to thousands. The World is a Better Place because of Donald Dubois.


Donald was a world-class cattle judge, with over 15 years of experience. He judged many prestigious shows in Quebec, Ontario, United States, the Dominican Republic, Belgium, Brazil, Italy, and Portugal. He also served as judge at The Royal Winter Fair several times. Donald had a great eye for cattle, owning many All-American and All-Canadians in partnerships such as Blondin Lyster Beauty, Lacoulée Justine Goldwyn, Tri-Koebel Aspen Jolly and Humqui Irma Goldwyn. More recently, he co-raised Liberty PGA Damion Lazzie, All-American 2009, as well as Belfontaine Drake Starlette, first Intermediate Calf at the 2010 Holstein Québec Spring Show.


Donald  is survived by his wife France Lemieux, his children  Carl (Lysanne), Audrey-Ann Brunelle (Alex) and Anthony; his parents, Anita Dion and Jacques Dubois; his in-laws, the late Aline Giasson and Joseph-Arthur Lemieux (Julie Cloutier). He  is  survived by his siblings, Rolland (Christiane), Caroline (Yves), Isabelle (Daniel) and Frédéric; his nephews and nieces, Jean-Philippe (Jessica), Roxanne, Marc-André (Joelle) Kevin, Maxime and Rosalie; his brothers-in-law Peter and Bernard (Sonia); and nieces, Danae and Maelle and several other relatives and friends.


The Bullvine Bottom Line

I feel that Brian Carscadden’s comments say it best “Donald Dubois, you have blazed a trail that few will ever repeat. You were taken from us way too soon and, unfortunately, you weren’t finished yet! Rest assured that your legacy will drive us to blaze our own trails in this great industry as France and your family proudly watch on. Rest in Peace my friend – you will be missed but never forgotten!”


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Arm Chair Quarterbacks, Monday Night Football and Tuesday Morning Genomics

If you were the coach of an NFL football team, would you  select your players based solely on  looking at them or would you want to see their performance statistics, in order to decide how to assemble the best team possible?  That is the question that Don Bennink (Read more: NORTH FLORIDA HOLSTEINS. Aggressive, Progressive and Profitable!!) asked at the recent genomics conference.  (Read more. Genetics in the Age of Genomics – Seminar Recordings and Recap) While it’s a pretty simple question, it may forever change the way you make your mating decisions.

For generations, we have all been taught to look at a cow the same way, and that’s the way we continue to teach the next generation to look at dairy cows today.  But just because that is the way it has always been done, does not mean that we have been doing it correctly.  We all start out learning the parts of the dairy cow and have learned the same way as we always have on how to evaluate cows.  In fact, one major publication did seven editions in a row about how to evaluate cows, and each one presented the same way it’s been done for generations.  It doesn’t seem to matter that evaluating type or conformation has been proven not to be the most accurate way to determine longevity (Read more: She ain’t pretty she just milks that way).

For years, it has been assumed that, if a cow had “high type” and lots of production, she was the perfect cow.  But we all know that perfect cows don’t always exist (Read more: The Perfect Holstein Cow).   Nevertheless, we have bred for these two key areas: high type and lots of production.  We totally disregarded that we did not make substantial gains in profitability.  And, furthermore, herd life actually decreased, even though we all bought into to the theory that a high type cow is a long lasting cow.  Unfortunately, actual performance data shows that, as we bred for this the cows were actually lasting less time than before.   In fact mortality rates increased; conception decreased and the number of lactations that most cows lasted decreased.

Through the years, the use of high production and low fertility bulls has actually decreased overall herd conception rates.  Don points out that when he “first started milking cows, and AI was in it’s infancy, farmers up and down the road, had a 60% conception rate. Today people brag if they have a 30% conception rate.”  Don also points out that in 1996, 93.4% of the calves that were born in the US lived, (i.e.  a 6.4% stillborn rate). In 2002, the stillborn rate increased to 11% (i.e. 89% lived) and by 2007, 14% of the dairy calves died at birth. It’s only in more recent years that the industry has acknowledged this trend and has started to put more emphasis on conception and the significant impact it has on profitability.  The reason for this is we put so much emphasis on a two-year-old production that we were killing reproduction.  That is because cows that get back in calf regularly drop in production because they have to use some of their energy to support the development of their calves.  So the sires that gave the maximum amount of milk were also the sires who had the lowest conception rates.  We all know that a cow that is milking hard is the hardest cow to get back in calf.  No matter what their conformation.

The thing is that we have the systems and technology to make the changes we need to make for the future.  As Don points out, we don’t need to go to the 125-year old technology of type evaluation to solve this problem.  Instead of having to use theory to predict longevity, we can actually measure productive life through the actual length in months that cows last in herds compared to their herd mates. We don’t need type evaluation to guess who will last longer; we have the actual information. We have the ability to see just which cows will last longer, not from trying to figure out what type trait links best to longevity.  We have actual longevity data, SCS, fertility, conception, still births, etc.

We are all armchair quarterbacks.  We are all willing to second guess the mating decisions of others after the fact. The challenge is that, with the technology we have available today, we don’t have to do as much second guessing as in the past.  Tools like genomics and new performance data such as DPR, Still Birth Rate, and Productive Life tell us everything we need to make an informed decision.  Don asks, “Can you just pick the perfect team by just looking at your players? Or would it  help to know which players have drug issues, which ones will end up in jail, which ones will last a full season, and which quarterbacks can actually complete a pass, or know how many sacks your linebackers have made in the past.  As a coach, you want all this data to choose your team.  Well we are not coaches we are dairy farmers, and we make our money milking cows. Don’t you want that data on your animals? Or are you just going to keep looking at them and think that you can guess which ones could perform?”

In today’s day and age, we not only have traits that are more directly connected to longevity than type evaluation, we also have genomic testing that can more accurately predict  what sires and cows will last longer. Every Tuesday we now receive genomic predictions on animals.  We don’t need  to wait till  for a quarterly classification visit, that may or may not catch a cow on her best day, to evaluate what we think from  looking at her is the probability that she will last more lactations.  We can actually get much more accurate data at a younger age on how long she will stay in the herd.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Sometimes it can be hard to change the way we have always played the game.  When something has been done for generations, there will always be those who are resistant to change.  However, the industry has changed and the amount of information available today to make mating decisions is light years ahead of what it was just a few years ago.  The game is changing, and you need to change what you base your breeding decisions on. .  The best coaches and quarterbacks make their decisions based on performance data, not on hypothesis. Genomics has helped take away the guessing game.  We can now know at a very young age, what the genetic potential of that calf is.  We can make better decisions faster.  In the past art and practical knowledge was what drove mating decisions.  However, today’s breeding world calls for a different approach.  It takes a level of focus and commitment, and it’s a business.  It is just like football, where the coaches now use all the information possible to decide what players to put on the field and how to use those players for the big game on Monday nights.  Tools like genomics have changed the game forever.

The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


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Genetics in the Age of Genomics – Seminar Recordings and Recap

Butlerview, Butler Feller Sales, Jetstream Genetics, Accelerated Genetics and Holstein World combined to put on an outstanding seminar on the current state of dairy cattle breeding.  Titled “Genetics in the Age of Genomics” and held at the beautiful Kierland Weston in Scottsdale Arizona, the seminar consisted of many of the top minds from around the world.  There where speakers from Research, A.I., and producers who combined managed over 30,000 milking cows.

  1. IMG_1541Welcome – Jeff Butler -Butlerview

    Jeff Butler, of Butlerview and Butler Fellers sales welcomes everyone to the Genetics in the Age of Genomics Conference in Scottsdale Arizona. Jeff and his team have brought together some of the greatest minds from across North America to share there thoughts about where the state of the dairy cattle genetics marketplace. Jeff also shares that Ed Fellers a key member of the team is unable to attend.  It was Ed who first introduced Jeff to genomics, telling him that it is Genomics that was going to change the breed.  Then a few weeks later Ed called Jeff and said “You are not going to believe this, but I own part of this bull and he is going to be a great genomic bull”.  His name was Atwood.  Atwood had 5 brothers and he was the last one, everyone else had been in there and taken all the other ones.  But this thing called “genomics” said that Atwood was going to be the best one of them all. In fact Atwood was the first genomic sire the Butler used. And they had some of the first Atwood calves on the ground.  It just so happens that two of them are named Adrianna, and Abrianna.  So as a result of these two early success stories and how Atwood was doing, and how genomics impacted the decisions to use Atwood Jeff was convinced on genomics.  While the old way was working ok, this “new way” was doing away better.(Read more: BUTLERVIEW: The Goals are Simple. The Genetics are Exceptional. and Exciting Times for Butlerview)Listen to how Jeff explains how dairy cattle genetics will help the dairy industry feed the world.

  2. IMG_1551Joao Durr – CEO of the Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding – Update on U.S. Genetic Evaluations: What’s to come?

    Joao Durr shares with us how CDCB operates, some of the major initiatives that they have coming up and how the US genetic evaluation system works as far as an operational sense.  Joao Durr brings a truly international perspective to the world of genetic evaluations having a background that involves many of the top dairy breeding countries as well as working at INTERBUL.

  3. IMG_1592Brian Van Doormal – GM Canadian Dairy Network – Profitable Genetics in Canada: What are your priorities?

    Brian Van Doormal has been the GM of the Canadian Dairy Network since its inception 20 years ago.  Brian highlights how CDN and other industry partners work together to help accelerate the Canadian dairy genetics industry.  Brian also shares with us some of the great work they have been doing to more accurately evaluate profitability, as well as identifying herd and daughter bias in genetics evaluations. (Read more: CANADIAN BULL PROOFS – You’ve Got to Prove It to Use It!)

  4. IMG_1604Dr. Dan Weigel, Zoetis – Genomics and the Commercial Dairyman

    Dr Weigel shares just how genomic testing has changed, but then also how much genomic testing can help all type of dairy operations.  Dr Weigel is able to bring an interesting perspective to the science of genomic testing, but also is a breeder of dairy cattle and able to put the science in a language that all dairy breeders can understand.  One of the key areas the Dr Wiegel shares is just how much performance difference producers can expect, especially based on how well managed their herds are.  During his presentation also makes it interactive for those in attendance, polling the audience about many of the key questions. (Read more: Herd Health, Management, Genetics and Pilot Projects: A Closer Look at ZOETIS)

  5. Breeder Panel Discussion – Our Options for the Future

    The panel consists of: John Andersen, Double A Dairy (JOHN ANDERSEN – COMMERCIAL and PEDIGREE – Building a Field of Dreams); Greg Andersen, Seagull Bay Dairy (“Breeding for Efficient Production and a Healthy Herd” with Greg Andersen from Seagull Bay – 2014 Holstein USA Distinguished Young Holstein Breeder); Greg Coyne, Coyne Farms; Don Bennink, North Florida Holsteins (NORTH FLORIDA HOLSTEINS. Aggressive, Progressive and Profitable!!). These 4 breeders represent over 30,000 milking cows, and all are invested in genetics and genomics.  This panel that is not afraid to share their thoughts about inbreeding, classification and the type of animals that commercial breeders are actually looking for.

  6. IMG_1629Dr George Wiggans – Research Leader, AIPL/ARS/USDA – Genomics and Where it Can Take Us

    Dr Wigeons shares with everyone the latest stats around inbreeding and genetic advancement. Dr George Wiggans from USDA shared with the group at the Genetics in Age of Genomics Conference that if you look at the top 100 bulls from 2012 (Dec 2012 NM$ compared to Dec 2014 NM$) the results are 94% accurate.

  7. AI Panel Discussion – Where Will the Bulls Come From?

    A great cross section of sire analysts from many of the top companies, including: Brian Carscadden – Semex Alliance; Paul Trapp – ABS Global; Lloyd Simon – Industry consultant; Ryan Weigal – Accelerated Genetics; Dan Bauer – Genex CRI & Jon Schefers – Alta Genetics. These gentlemen discuss inbreeding, polled, their selection process as well as where the industry is headed.

  8. The International Perspective Panel Discussion

    IMG_1702IMG_1704 IMG_1703
    To bring some international prospective to the discussion there is Jan DeVries – AI Total; Declan Patten – Australia; Paul Hunt – Alta Genetics.  These gentlemen represent not only many different countries but also many different roles in the industry.  From the COO of one of the largest AI companies, to a very successful entrepreneur to global dairy marketing expert.

  9. Dr. Tom Lawlor – Executive Director of Research & Development Holstein Association USA

    Dr Lawler shares with everyone some of the latest developments at HUSA, as well as an in-depth look into the state of inbreeding, herd profitability, and GTPI’s ability to predict actual profitability.



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Show Heifer Ages – About as accurate as my horoscope

It seems like a question that comes up every February 28th, May 31st, August 31st, and November 30th among dairy breeders around the world. Since we launched The Milk House, it certainly seems to be a question of great debate. The problem is …. Is the question, in fact, irrelevant?

How big an issue is it?

The fact of the matter is that, no matter what date you choose, there will always be those who choose to “test” the system. There will be those who think they need to get the edge and register that February 28th heifer as a March 1st calf. The problem is those that really want to test the system are pushing even further and further. Now anyone who has worked with dairy calves knows that 1 or 2 days is not going to make a significant difference in the size of an animal. In order to actually see a noticeable difference, you would need to push the limits by at least 2-3 weeks. So when you talk about how much this has to be done, in order to get a true advantage, we are talking about a significant amount of time. Otherwise, you are just looking for a heifer being in the start of another class instead of at the end of the class before. While not nothing, it is certainly not that big deal that some make it out to be. The much bigger issue is those heifers that seem to get lost for weeks and weeks on end.

Any time you see a heifer with a March 1st, June 1st, September 1st, or December 1st birthday, there will always be those that suspect that the heifer is actually much older than that. Especially if she is well grown for her age. The thing that I caution is that with so much embryo transfer work and breeders using timed A.I. they are setting up their programs for calves to be born at the first of these months. Sure there will be those that come a little early, but given that the program is set up for these calving dates, the calves that come “naturally” early will usually be a little smaller because they did not have as long a gestation in their mother/recipient. And for the ones that got lost for a few days, well the relative advantage is not as big as you think, as we described earlier. In looking at the show results from last year’s World Dairy Expo and Royal Winter Fair, only a small percent were born on the 1st of the month.

Sure there will be heifers that look a little bigger for their age or squeak into a younger class. But the financial benefits are nominal. For if you are selling the heifer as a show heifer, sure size is a part of it. But if you again look at last year’s Expo and Royal results, in pretty much every class it was not the largest animal that won the class, but rather the most correct. And I advise those looking to purchase a calf for a 4-H member that you are always best to go with the most correct heifer versus the largest heifer. Not only will they be a much easier heifer to show for the 4-Her but they will also have the greatest chance of making the best cow.

How Do You Catch?

Over the years, there has been great discussion on how to catch these date of birth cheaters. There have been record audits by breed associations. Talk of judging age by teeth analysis. There have even been those that claim that they can tell the age of a heifer by looking at her tail. While all of those ways have their merits, well maybe not the tail analysis, ultimately they have not been successful. The big reason for this is that, unless you are on each farm each day, there is no actual way to judge. And all other measures are cost prohibitive. More recently there has been talk about using a lottery system. Two weeks before the nation’s first spring show, the dates for calf and heifer calves could be established using two bowls filled with numbered ping pong balls. The first bowl will have 12 balls (1 to 12) and the second bowl 31 balls (1 to 31). The ball drawn from the first bowl would represent the month, the second bowl would indicate the day. If 2 and 14 were drawn, classes could begin on February 14 and every three months thereafter . . . May 14, August 14 and November 14 . . . for both calves and heifers. If 29, 30 or 31 are drawn for months without those dates, simply draw again. Though that is counter productive as how would you compare one class from one year to the next.  In order to get an age range large enough to actually mean something the variance from one year to the next in actual age for each class would have to be too large, also, in theory, you could end up with classes that have calves being born in a 2-3 day time frame. Note: For those that think the robotic milking systems and new on-farm herd management programs will make it harder to cheat, there is still the simple switch to full sisters born from different recipients, one that came a little earlier for one from a later date. There will always be a way.

The Great Equalizer

In looking at the winners of the cow classes from this past year’s Expo and Royal you will find that none were born on the 1st of the month. That is because by the time these animals reach the age of maturity any advantage they have had from being born earlier it long since gone.

A bigger reason why you see certain herds always having heifers at the top of the classes at the big shows is the management they provide their heifers. If you talk to and watch any of the herds that consistently have the winning cows, as well as heifers, they will tell you it’s a 365 day a year job that starts the day the heifer is born. These herds are treating their heifers the same as a well-tuned athlete is treated. They are getting the ultimate nutrition and management. They are getting lots of exercise and worked with on a daily basis. Not expecting significant results by just pulling the animals off the rough pasture or a TMR ration just before the show.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

While there will always be those who cheat the system, trying to find that “edge” that they think will bring them fame and fortune in the show ring. History has shown that just does not happen. While there are certainly a few dollars here and there, but at what expense? There will always be those that doubt the age of a heifer, but how relevant an issue is it? It’s not like these animals are going to be used as bull mothers at A.I. centers. The big thing to remember is when buying a heifer, always go for the most correct heifer you can find. Conformation correctness will most certainly offer the greatest long-term return on your investment, and don’t waste your money, or lower your ethics for something that will not even make a difference.


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8 Things You MUST Know About The BLV Virus

Bovine Leukemia Virus Is Even More of a Threat Than Previously Considered

There are many areas to keep on top of when dealing with the health of your dairy herd.  Some are immediate and obvious (lameness, injury).  Others are recurring (mastitis, contagious diseases, assistance with calving).  And some, although undetectable, are continually attacking the health and productivity of your cattle. This last area is one that needs more consideration.

“Out of sight out of mind” only works until the negative effects mount up.  And, with so many of the more visible problems heading your “to do” list, you might prefer to “let sleeping dogs (or diseases) lie.”  After all, just keep your fingers crossed and hope the unseen and active problems remain that way. However, with dwindling margins, no dairy herd manager can afford to wait for a health crisis to make itself known — especially if it could have been prevented or, at least, downgraded to something less devastating than the death of a productive animal.

Bovine Leukemia virus is a case in point for a disease that is not being dealt with effectively.

Prevalence of BLV

When it comes to statistics, we are often comfortable with 10 to 15% or even 20%.  In the case of Bovine Leukemia Virus the stats are much higher. In the USA, recent surveys estimate that 44% of dairy cattle have BLV. This is very high compared to many places in the world. European countries, Australia and New Zealand have eradication programs in place that have led to negligible rates of BLV infection. In Canada there is the CHAH program but very few use it. In the USA there are voluntary control programs in place but, combined with the increasing incidence that occurs with increasing herd size and increasing age of cattle,  it is obvious that BLV is a continuing problem.

BLV Has Been Beneath the Radar

Bovine Leukosis Virus (BLV) is a retroviral infection that causes leukemia in cattle by targeting white blood cells and causing them to grow uncontrollably. The virus is transferred from cow to cow by BLV-laden white blood cells found in blood, saliva, semen and milk. The vast majority of BLV-infected cattle do not present with outward clinical signs. Only 5% will develop malignant tumors or lymphosarcomas. While approximately 30% of infected animals will have abnormally high white blood cell counts, only the most severe cases of BLV will exhibit enlarged lymph nodes, weight loss, loss of appetite, infertility and decreased milk production. That is why BLV stays off the priority radar of dairy managers.

Does BLV Alter the Immune System Response to Other Diseases?

It’s bad enough to have cattle affected by a virus but the idea that having that virus could also compromise their entire immune system is a problematic scenario. If that is indeed a possibility, then it is dangerous to be accepting of BLV in the belief that the small (5%) group does not represent a major health issue. Instead there is the  rising spectre of infectious diseases and mastitis pathogens which could be gaining a foothold in herds.

Operational Procedures Spread BLV

There are many health issues which are beyond the control and, to some extent, the management of dairy operators.  However, in the case of Bovine Leukemia Virus, there are definite causes and controls that can be handled by farm personnel.  The most obvious areas to consider are any equipment or procedure that expose animals to contaminated blood.

  • used needles
  • unsterilized equipment
  • multiuse rectal sleeves
  • biting insects
  • tattooing
  • rectal palpations
  • dehorning

These seven are all contributors to the tumor growing, lymph node swelling that comes with Bovine Leukemia Virus (BLV). There is also evidence to suggest that BLV-infected dams may transmit the virus to offspring via infected blood, colostrum or placental transfer.

Management and Control of BLV

To ignore or underestimate the problem of BLV is to risk your dairy herd. Dr. Lew Strickland DVM, MS, DACT Bovine at the University of Tennessee suggests a management list that includes the following:

  • Test all cattle entering the herd for BLV, and isolate them for 30 to 60 days. Test again at the end of the isolation period.
  • Implement annual testing.
  • If your herd is infected with BLV, maintain 2 herds; clean and infected.
  • Perform all veterinary procedures on BLV-positive cows last.
  • Use individual sterile needles for transdermal injection or blood collection.
  • Visit to learn how to properly dispose of used sharps
  • Disinfect all equipment between animals.
  • Wash and rinse instruments in warm water, then submerge in an appropriate disinfectant.
  • Use electric dehorners, or disinfect dehorning equipment between animals.
  • Replace examination gloves and sleeves between animals.
  • Use milk replacer to feed preweaned calves.
  • Heat-treat or pasteurize colostrum.
  • 140º for 30 minutes will kill BLV without damaging IgG antibodies.
  • Use BLV-seronegative recipients for embryo transfer.
  • Reduce numbers of biting insects.

What Damage Results from BLV – Transmission?

BLV presents multiple implications for your dairy herd.

  • Tumors of the abomasum may lead to signs of cranial abdominal pain, melena (digested blood in feces), or abomasal outflow obstruction.
  • Pelvic limb paresis progressing to paralysis can occur in animals with spinal lesions.
  • Tumors in the eye socket cause protrusion of the globe, resulting in exposure keratitis,
  • Tumors of the heart may be mild and undetectable clinically, or may cause arrhythmias, murmurs, or heart failure.
  • Uterine lesions may lead to reproductive failure or abortion.

Once infected with BLV, cattle become lifetime carriers, since there are no vaccines or treatments that can eliminate the infection.

Numerous Negative Effects of BLV

The appearance of lymphomas in BLV-infected dairy cows has a direct economic impact on the industry, due to increased replacement costs, loss of income from condemned carcasses of cull cows and the inability to export cattle, semen and em­bryos to countries that maintain BLV control programs. Other losses may include reduced re­productive efficiency and decreased milk production. Beyond these obvious impacts there is the effect (not fully known) on the immune system of infected cattle. Because of BLV they have reduced ability to fend off other infectious diseases.

BLV Negatively Affects Immune Function and Vaccine Efficacy

One epidemiologist has reported a significant association between BLV infection and the occurrence of both clinical and subclinical mastitis. BLV-infected herds have also been found to have a higher risk of hoof problems, gastroenteritis, pneumonia, and culling when compared with BLV-free herds

One area of investigation that has received very little attention is the potential impact of BLV status and altered immune function on vaccine efficacy. Vaccine trials have been performed in attempts to vaccinate against BLV with some promising results. However, there are limited published reports on how cows may respond to non-BLV related immunization protocols based on BLV status. Unfortunately, the impact of BLV status on other vaccine programs has not been investigated.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Whereas the observational studies do not necessarily prove that BLV causes other illnesses, the potential impact on the ability of cows to resist the development of health disorders is worth a closer examination. It is time to speed up the research and data collection.  Control and eliminate the BLV problem before the battle for dairy health is lost without a fight.


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