Archive for March 2020

The Bullvine Battle of the Champions – North American Edition – Round 1

Since we started the Bullvine over 8 years ago we have had the opportunity to see some of the greatest moments on the Tanbark trail around the world.  In honour of that, we have launched the Bullvine Battle of the Champions to determine just who was the greatest Champion at World Dairy Expo or The Royal in the past 8 years.  Simply cast your vote here or on our Facebook page to determine just who was the greatest.

Coronashow 2020 – New Online Dairy Spring Show

With all the major North American Spring shows pretty much being cancelled due to the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic, the Bullvine is launching a contest for all those locked down spring show enthusiasts that are suffering from the show bug.

There will be two junior classes (heifers and yearlings) and two cow classes (Intermediate and Senior). The competition is open to all breeds.

Entries will be now be accepted until July 31st  at midnight. Each individual animal entry must consist of the following 2 components:

  1. Online form to be submitted with animal and owner details – below
  2. Video content or photos of the animal, as outlined below.  Once the animal has been pictured or the video completed, please submit via We Transfer to This platform will ensure maximum clarity of the video or photos, allowing the Judge to effectively view and place your animal.

Both video/photo and entry form must be submitted for the entry to be considered. Please ensure adequate lighting for the video, to allow the judges to fully view and appreciate your animal in its entirety. In the video/photos please ensure that we can see both sides of the animal walking, including close-up and farther back, so as to the see the animal fully and view mobility adequately; Full views of each side of the animal while stopped; view of the animal’s front end and rear end, in full depth and capturing the full animal.  For cow classes please include video/pictures of a close-up view of the fore udder on both sides of the animal. As well as close-up and far back rear views of the cow, both stopped and walking, to ensure rear udder, legs, and rump are fully visible for the judges.   Completed videos should be between 1-3 minutes in length. It is not required, although it is encouraged within the constraints of social distancing, to have toplines done or for animals to be show­ prepped. Any cows considered to be over-uddered will be disqualified.  If you are just submitting photos please include: 2 (two) complete body profile pictures, ensuring full views of EACH SIDE of the animal; 2 (two) close-up, side-view udder shots, to capture EACH SIDE of the fore-udder. 1 rear-view shot, capturing rear udder, legs, and rump.

Finalists will be selected by our panel of official judges and winners will be selected by online polls on Facebook, Twitter, and combined with judges scores.  Prizes to be announced shortly.


Coronashow 2020
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Ways For Kids To Be Up-On-The-Farm During Coronavirus

Necessity became the Mother-of-Invention when my grandchildren moved further away from the farm than an easy drop-in distance. That’s when we inaugurated Granny Camp.  It was tremendously successful and gave me many ideas to share with friends and families with kids home on the farm during the Coronavirus.

How to Start “Kids Camp on the Farm”

Make a schedule.  Adults and children should plan together and modify a schedule and then post it.  This is important because after a few days the boss position will be challenged.  However, if it there is an agreed upon schedule that becomes the responsibility target, those issues can be avoided with “Let’s check the schedule.” Just a note.  Variations of Kids Camp on the Farm can become Kids Camp in the City.

Set Up a “How Far We Have Come” Corner

At first it will seem that progress and fun are not too significant.  I still urge you to collect results into a box, a basket or posting area (fridge door, bulletin board, walls).

Every day needs a physical representation of the Kids-Camp program:

  • A picture
  • A piece of art
  • Something to eat
  • Something to watch. Find programs that lift family spirits.
  • Keep school skills growing. Create a dairy math problem. Dairy because that makes it unique. Perhaps a “Milkhouse Math Problem”.
  • Keep school skills growing. Create a “Dairy Diary Journal”
  • “Would you rather” feed calves or feed barn cats? Would you rather helps kids humorously identify their farm favorite chores, games, animals and things.
  • Delve into creation of Dairy Farm Sound FX. This could be a creative way to take 26 days to alphabetize sounds on the farm. For instance, day number three might include calves, cows and coyotes.
  • Set up your own Good News Station. Do real or imagined interviews of farm owners, farm family or staff on the farm. Bring out things that make them unique, hardworking and friendly. Lift everyone up with positive feedback.
  • Create a TV ad for drinking milk, supporting farmers or keeping your farm work place clean. Empower kids to have input and to contribute actively.

We Can Lift Each Other by “SEEING A BRIGHTER LIGHT”

Put Christmas Lights up on your barn or along a fence. Of course, we don’t want to put additional strain on the system, so decide at a Camp Meeting how to schedule a recurring “Bright Lite” for an half hour to an hour once a day.  This brings a learning opportunity for everyone as we discuss issues of community responsibility, community cheer and responsible managing of difficult situations.

Farmers Have Always Found a Way.  Let’s Look at “THEN AND NOW”

Scavenger hunts have always been fun on the farm.  Of course, make sure clean hands, gloves and discussion sets everyone up for safety. This could be a written list, if that keeps hands cleaner.  Perhaps you could do two scavenger hunts.  (1) Find 20 things that would have been on a farm 100 years ago and are basically unchanged on your farm today.  (2) Find 20 things that a farmer in 1920 would never have seen on his or her farm. This kind of looking back and hoping ahead could expand over the days at home into Farm Equipment – Then and Now.  Farm Crops – Then and Now.  

“This is Not the Time to Turn Screen Time into Screen Time!”

These unusual times give us an opportunity to rewind home disciplinary and conflict situations that may have moved beyond our control.  Admittedly, I am not a grandparent who has a less-is-better attitude toward TV and screen time. I have learned a lot from patient grandchildren who “help” me adapt to this change. I do request that manners are respected at meal time or during specially scheduled activities.  Having said that, I feel it is hypocritical to withdraw screen privileges from the children, when I myself use and enjoy electronic media for learning, research and entertainment. 

“Speak Up on the Farm”

A wonderful part of confinement to a farm situation is the opportunity to interact with animals. When our contact with friends is dramatically reduced, we can use the barn animals – cows, dogs, cats and others — as an audience for improving our public speaking skills.  For instance, we could set up a judging panel: perhaps three transition cows.  If the kid numbers support it, there could be reporters to take pictures and post headlines. One idea might be to determine the entertainment value by the attention span of the chosen audience. 

“The Farm Act” Expands Entertainment on the Farm

We have been moved by scenes of singers and musicians singing from their balconies in cities that have asked for social distancing during Covid-19. In the past my grandchildren have entertained all of us with some very creative show biz opportunities that can be found in the barn:

  • Big Bale BoogiE
  • Hay Mow Acrobatics  
  • Wagon Wheel Parade (riding mowers)
  • Milk Pail Rhythm BanD
  • Heavy Metal Rhythm Band (farm tools)

“Honk if You LOVE Dairy”

As essential services continue, the farm may still have visitors coming in and out of the lane. Respecting the health of everyone, this will mean keeping a healthy distance.  Having said that, creative signs might invite new ways to show support:

“Honk if your happy.”

“Wave to us.  We are on the Porch”  

“We are Glad to See You” …. And then ring the farm bell.  

 “Start Your Own MILK MUSEUM”

Keep your kids engaged by using their strengths and talents to focus on the positive side of life on the farm.

  • Have tickets.
  • Create advertising
  • Make shoe box models.

The last example could be up scaled into a soap box derby. Create farm-cars.

“Go Beyond Pin the Tail on the Donkey!”

Stand in a section of the barn and only using your sense of hearing, identify what is going on behind your back.  Farm (and city) mothers are disqualified from this game because we all know they have eyes in the back of their heads.

“Kids in the Kitchen”

If you have never turned your meal planning, creativity and presentation to your kids, this is a delightful way to upgrade the family eating experience.  Perhaps you will encourage farm-only menus.  Or the Morning Milk Smoothie Challenge.  The opportunities and family benefits are exponential to the amount of shared selecting, creating and judging.  Dairy desserts could see the development of family favorite recipes.

“Kids and the COYOTE CAMPFIRE!”

One of the first successes we shared at Granny Camp happened on those evenings when everyone gathered after sunset around a camp fire.  We were working with small children who were not all comfortable with the darkness and sounds of a rural farm.  That soon changed as we began to look forward to the three-part experience:

  1. Howling at the moon. Everyone joins in.
  2. Listening for the echoes.
  3. Share stories past and present and dreamed of.


We are well into the changed conditions resulting from Covid-19.  As grandparents, our challenge is the very restricted travel between the US and Canada.  Our personal adjustment has been to move away from face to face contact and to find creative and safe ways to keep our connection to our isolated kids-and-calves loved ones.  Every day will not be perfect. Changed routines bring new issues and anxieties.  Let’s find ways to use farm ingenuity to help the whole family to stay UP ON THE FARM.




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April 2020: Genetic Base Change

The base for U.S. genetic evaluations will be updated, effective with the April 7, 2020, triannual evaluations.

The genetic bases to which (most) dairy traits are expressed in the United States have been updated every five years since 1980. With the base change, users of genetic evaluations may become aware that the standards they set for choosing service bulls or valuing females in the past may no longer meet the genetic quality to remain competitive, due to genetic progress.

Since 1980, some have suggested that the base should be updated more often. A few have lobbied for a fixed base, or one that’s never updated. The reasoning for the latter is that if the best bulls are chosen, the magnitude of the numbers are not particularly important and all evaluations are comparable regardless of when published.

For the last base change in 2015, the average predicted transmitting abilities (PTA) of cows born in 2010 were set to zero. Progress continued to be made for most traits, as shown by Table 1 with the PTAs of cows born in 2015. These milking cows born in 2015 define the new base. With the April evaluations, their PTAs will be set back to zero. Stated differently, the averages in Table 1 will be subtracted from the current PTAs of all animals. These are the changes in PTAs expected in April.

Because gains were made across five years for most traits, most of these PTAs will be lowered by the amount shown. However, if the trends were unfavorable, the PTAs will generally increase. The exceptions can be for somatic cell score (SCS) and the four calving traits which may do the opposite because lower values are preferable for these traits. The average PTAs in the table are the differences in transmitting ability for animals over the five-year period. A note of caution, these will not be the exact changes coming because all will be recalculated before the April 2020 run using more complete and current data. Any updates in the traits’ variation will also cause these approximations to vary from the estimates presented.

Key progress points demonstrated in Table 1 include:

  • Favorable gains are shown for 81 of the 102 traits (excluding conformation), while 18 were
  • The most important traits (all lifetime merit indexes) showed genetic improvement for all the breeds; the largest gains were for Holsteins, Jerseys and Ayrshires. Thus, the merit indexes for all breeds will be lowered in
  • Genetic gains were made in all three yield traits (milk, fat, protein) for all breeds. Gains were particularly impressive forHolsteins and Jerseys; so the base change will reduce PTA milk for these breeds by about 492 and 524 pounds,
  • PTAs for fat and protein will be adjusted down by about 18 to 25
  • Changes in PTAs for somatic cell score (SCS) will be small (-.01 to +.02) for all breeds except Holsteins which will increase by 0.08 due to their progress in lowering
  • PTAs for productive life will be reduced by about 0.6 to 9 months for Guernseys, Holsteins, Jerseys and Milking Shorthorn due to increasing their genetic capacity for longer life.
  • Unfortunately, 13 of the 18 fertility estimates showed unfavorable changes over the five years; only Holsteins improved for all three
  • PTAs for cow livability, launched in August 2016, improved for three of the six breeds (0.74 for Holsteins).
  • Resistance against diseases in Holsteins improved for five of the six
  • PTAs increased for 80 of the 90 breed conformation traits, which indicates that selection has been for the higher scores. In most cases this probably was desirable, but in others, perhaps not. The 10 traits with PTAs that did not increase were ones that had an intermediate
Caution: These will not be the precise changes applied in April, because all will be recalculated before the April 2020 run using more complete and current data.


Table 1. Difference in predicted transmitting abilities (PTAs) of cows born in 2015 compared to those born in 2010. PTAs will decrease by these amounts to implement the 2020 genetic base change1.

Revisions made 2.21.2020 affect the genetic base numbers for Holstein conformation traits, reflecting revised Holstein Association USA requirements to determine which cows born in 2015 met criteria for inclusion.

Trait Units AY



Brown Swiss








M. Shorthorn

Milk Pounds 182 214 150 492 524 36
Fat Pounds 6 8 6 24 25 2
Protein Pounds 6 8 4 18 20 2
Somatic cell score (SCS) Log base 2 units -.01 .00 .00 -.08 .00 .02
Productive life Months .12 .24 .90 1.86 1.54 .63
Daughter pregnancy rate % -.47 -.62 -.12 .24 -.99 -.53
Heifer conception rate % -.45 -.24 .04 .50 .44 -.20
Cow conception rate % -.50 -.74 -.17 .38 -.90 -.50
Early first calving Days 1.1 0.5 0.5 1.5 1.4 0.0
Gestation length2 Days -.29 -.03 -.04 -.35 .30 .26
Cow livability % -.28 -.28 .01 .74 .08 -.06
Displaced abomasum % ̶ ̶ ̶ .21 ̶ ̶
Ketosis % ̶ ̶ ̶ .20 ̶ ̶
Mastitis % ̶ ̶ ̶ .60 ̶ ̶
Metritis % ̶ ̶ ̶ .34 ̶ ̶
Milk fever % ̶ ̶ ̶ -.06 ̶ ̶
Retained Placenta % ̶ ̶ ̶ .05 ̶ ̶
Service sire calv. difficulty2 % ̶ -0.3 ̶ -0.4 ̶ ̶
Daughter calv. difficulty2 % ̶ -0.6 ̶ -1.9 ̶ ̶
Service sire stillbirth2 % ̶ ̶ ̶ -0.3 ̶ ̶
Daughter stillbirth2 % ̶ ̶ ̶ -1.6 ̶ ̶
Final Score Points 0.5 0.4 0.4 .76 0.7 0.1
Stature Points 0.7 0.6 0.1 .47 0.5 0.2
Strength Points 0.3 0.2 0.0 .20 0.0 0.0
Dairy form Points 0.3 0.3 0.1 .38 0.4 0.2
Foot angle Points 0.1 0.1 0.2 .50 0.1 0.0
Feet and leg score   ̶ ̶ ̶ .54 ̶ ̶
Rear legs-side view Points -0.2 0.1 -0.1 -.02 0.0 0.0
Rear legs-rear view   ̶ ̶ ̶ .49 ̶ ̶
Body depth   ̶ ̶ ̶ .14 ̶ ̶
Rump angle Points -0.1 0.0 -0.1 -.02 0.4 -0.1
Rump width Points 0.4 0.1 0.1 .36 0.1 0.1
Fore udder attachment Points 0.4 0.3 0.5 1.01 0.7 0.2
Rear udder height Points 0.4 0.3 0.4 1.20 0.6 0.1
Rear udder width Points 0.4 0.3 0.3 1.16 0.2 0.1
Udder depth Points 0.3 0.2 0.3 .84 0.9 0.2
Udder cleft Points 0.3 0.1 0.2 .54 0.1 0.0
Front teat placement Points 0.2 0.3 0.4 .52 0.3 0.1
Rear teat placement   ̶ ̶ ̶ .49 ̶ ̶
Teat length Points 0.2 -0.2 -0.1 -.27 0.0 -0.2
Body weight composite   ̶ ̶ ̶ .15 ̶ ̶
Feet and leg composite   ̶ ̶ ̶ .49 ̶ ̶
Udder composite   ̶ ̶ ̶ .85 ̶ ̶
Lifetime Net Merit Dollars 121 60 77 231 191 45
Lifetime Cheese Merit Dollars 123 63 77 239 196 45
Lifetime Fluid Merit Dollars 117 56 78 219 179 42
Lifetime Grazing Merit Dollars 108 38 62 207 142 25

1 These estimates are traditional genetic predictions prior to modification with genomic data. Positive PTA will be lowered by this amount to satisfy the new base. Conversely, a negative value means the PTA will be raised by this amount. Estimates can change as additional records are added and trait variation is included. The red color for a number indicates there was a loss for that trait between 2010 and 2015. The “ ̶ ” means a genetic evaluation is not calculated for the trait in this breed.

2Completed information for this trait is not available yet for 2015, so it is replaced by the most recent annual average available.

P erformance Differences Attributed to Genetic and Environmental Changes

The PTAs in Table 1 represent only half the genetic change achieved, as each animal only transmits half of their genes to their offspring. Table 2 shows the total changes in performance between cows born in 2015 and 2010 and an indication of how much of the changes were attributed to genetics and environment.

Key points:

  • For the milk traits, all breeds but Guernsey revealed a positive contribution from both
  • Genetic gain for somatic cell score (SCS) was made for three breeds, and Holsteins improved by 17.

Two breeds were unchanged, and Milking Shorthorn increased by 0.05.

  • Environmental trends for SCS and productive life (PL) generally were
  • Environmental trends for daughter pregnancy rate (DPR) and cow conception rate (CCR) were
  • For heifer conception rate (HCR), environmental trends were negative for Holsteins, Jerseys and Milking Shorthorn.
  • All six breeds showed reduced age at first calving (AFC), particularly via the environment (10 to 26 days).

Genetics reduced age at first calving up to three days.

  • Phenotypic reductions in gestation length for Holsteins and Jerseys seemed surprising, especially since the genetic component for Holsteins decreased while Jerseys
  • Phenotypic changes for resistance to the six health disorders introduced in April 2018 were all

Table 2. Differences in actual (phenotypic) performance between cows born in 2015 and those born in 2010 attributed to genetic (BV=breeding value1) and environmental changes.

Trait Partitioned Change AY



Brown Swiss








M. Shorthorn

Milk (pounds) Phenotypic 696 435 123 1077 1535 259
  Genetic (BV) 363 427 301 984 1049 71
  Environmental 333 8 -178 93 486 188
Fat (pounds) Phenotypic 48 27 25 71 93 34
  Genetic (BV) 13 17 13 47 51 4
  Environmental 35 10 12 24 42 30
Protein (pounds) Phenotypic 27 24 14 49 70 13
  Genetic (BV) 12 15 8 36 39 3
  Environmental 15 9 6 13 31 10
SCS (Log base 2 units) Phenotypic .08 -.03 .00 -.06 .13 .12
  Genetic (BV) -.02 .00 -.01 -.17 .00 .05
  Environmental .10 -.03 .01 .11 .13 .07
Productive life (months) Phenotypic -2.25 -.84 -.13 2.66 -.72 -.16
  Genetic (BV) .24 .47 1.81 3.73 3.07 1.26
  Environmental -2.49 -1.31 -1.94 -1.07 -3.79 -1.42
Daughter pregnancy rate Phenotypic 1.3 0.3 -0.2 2.9 -0.6 -0.4
  Genetic (BV) -.94 -1.25 -.23 .49 -1.98 -1.06
  Environmental 2.24 1.55 .03 2.41 1.38 .66
Heifer conception rate % Phenotypic 1.0 -0.1 0.9 -0.7 -4.3 -2.4
  Genetic (BV) -.90 -.47 .08 .99 .88 -.40
  Environmental 1.90 .37 .82 -1.69 -5.18 -2.00
Cow conception rate % Phenotypic 1.5 -0.4 1.3 4.4 -1.3 2.3
  Genetic (BV) -1.01 -1.47 -.34 .77 -1.81 -.99
  Environmental 2.51 1.07 1.64 3.63 .51 3.29
Early first calving (days) Phenotypic 26.2 18.3 10.6 26.6 28.8 10.8
  Genetic (BV) 2.2 1.0 0.9 3.0 2.8 0.0
  Environmental 24.0 17.4 9.7 23.6 26.0 10.8


  Phenotypic .18 .75 .11 -1.24 -.80 .09
  Genetic (BV) -.58 -.06 -.08 -.70 .60 .52
  Environmental .76 .81 .19 -.54 -1.40 -.43
Cow livability % Phenotypic .64 -.17 -.37 .19 -.47 -1.00
  Genetic (BV) -.55 -.56 .02 1.49 .15 -.12
  Environmental 1.19 .39 -.39 -1.30 -.62 -.88
Displaced abomasum % Phenotypic ̶ ̶ ̶ .10 ̶ ̶
  Genetic (BV) ̶ ̶ ̶ .42 ̶ ̶
  Environmental ̶ ̶ ̶ -.32 ̶ ̶
Ketosis % Phenotypic ̶ ̶ ̶ .31 ̶ ̶
  Genetic (BV) ̶ ̶ ̶ .39 ̶ ̶
  Environmental ̶ ̶ ̶ -.08 ̶ ̶
Mastitis % Phenotypic ̶ ̶ ̶ .83 ̶ ̶
  Genetic (BV) ̶ ̶ ̶ 1.20 ̶ ̶
  Environmental ̶ ̶ ̶ -.37 ̶ ̶
Metritis % Phenotypic ̶ ̶ ̶ 1.09 ̶ ̶
  Genetic (BV) ̶ ̶ ̶ .68 ̶ ̶
  Environmental ̶ ̶ ̶ .41 ̶ ̶
Milk fever % Phenotypic ̶ ̶ ̶ .11 ̶  
  Genetic (BV) ̶ ̶ ̶ -.12 ̶ ̶
  Environmental ̶ ̶ ̶ .23 ̶ ̶
Retained placenta % Phenotypic ̶ ̶ ̶ .29 ̶ ̶
  Genetic (BV) ̶ ̶ ̶ .10 ̶ ̶
  Environmental ̶ ̶ ̶ .19 ̶ ̶
Service sire calv. difficulty Genetic (BV) ̶ -0.6 ̶ -0.8 ̶ ̶
Daughter calv. difficulty %2 Genetic (BV) ̶ -1.2 ̶ -3.8 ̶ ̶
Service sire stillbirth %2 Genetic (BV) ̶ ̶ ̶ -0.6 ̶ ̶
Daughter stillbirth %2 Genetic (BV) ̶ ̶ ̶ -3.2 ̶ ̶
Lifetime net merit ($$) Genetic (BV) 242 120 154 462 382 90
Lifetime cheese merit ($$) Genetic (BV) 246 126 154 478 392 90
Lifetime fluid merit ($$) Genetic (BV) 234 112 156 438 358 84
Lifetime grazing merit ($$) Genetic (BV) 216 76 124 414 284 50

 1 These changes are based on traditional genetic predictions prior to modification with genomic data. An “ ̶ ” means a genetic evaluation is not provided for the trait in that breed. A red number indicates there was no phenotypic improvement between 2010 and 2015, but instead apparent deterioration for the trait.

2Completed information for 2015 not available yet, so it is replaced with the most recent annual average available.

Impact of Genomics

The genomic revolution initiated in 2008 brought an increase in the rate of genetic improvement, primarily due to a reduction in the generation interval. A small portion of genomic benefits would have been revealed in the previous base change for cows born in 2010, but the current update will reflect all benefits from genomics a chieved from 2010 to 2015.

Key points:

  • For illustration, 150% would indicate 50% more gain was made than in the previous five-year
  • Use of genomics is responsible for the accelerated gains for milk traits shown in Table 3 for Brown Swiss, Holsteins and Jerseys, but genomics were not available for Guernseys until 2016. Ayrshires and Milking Shorthorn – having limited use of genomics – show smaller gains in milk traits than during the previous five-year
  • The benefits of genomics for productive life (PL) were impressive for Holsteins and
  • The Guernsey, Holstein and Jersey breeds showed larger gains (43 to 100% more) in the lifetime merit indexes for this base update, than they did during the previous

Table 3. Relative size in percentage of the 2020 genetic base changes1 compared to the base changes five years earlier (2015).

Trait Ayrshire Brown


Guernsey Holstein Jersey Milking


Milk 68 103 124 147 141 13
Fat 72 131 108 162 142 20
Protein 80 107 89 164 150 18
SCS 200 B A 189 A AB
Productive life 26 63 102 207 252 142
Daughter pregnancy rate AB AB AB A AB AB
Heifer conception rate AB AB A 550 677 AB
Cow conception rate AB AB AB A AB AB
Cow livability AB AB A 120 29 AB
Sire calving ease2 ̶ A ̶ 80 ̶ ̶
Daughter calving ease2 ̶ 75 ̶ 100 ̶ ̶
Sire stillbirth2 ̶ ̶ ̶ 38 ̶ ̶
Daughter stillbirth2 ̶ ̶ ̶ 200 ̶ ̶
Lifetime net merit 43 92 145 164 152 58
Lifetime cheese merit 43 94 140 166 153 58
Lifetime fluid merit 43 95 153 162 147 55
Lifetime grazing merit 40 73 200 174 143 47

1 These approximations are based on the traditional genetic predictions prior to modification with genomic data. Cells showing an A indicate there was no gain between 2005 and 2010 (instead a loss) so the ratio of gain is undefined. Cells with a B indicate there was no gain between 2010 and 2015. The ( – ) means that a genetic evaluation is not provided for the trait in that breed.

2Completed information for 2015 not available yet, so replaced with the most recent annual average available.

Percentage of Change Attributed to Genetics

To answer the question of what is contributing to the phenotypic improvement being made in dairy production traits, Table 4 was derived from the information in Table 2 for traits that have had evaluations initiated since 2008. The genetic contribution averaged 45% but was greater (averaged 69%) for the three traits with the greatest emphasis in net merit index (NM$) and for Holsteins (71%), the breed with the largest population.

Table 4. Percentage of the change in phenotype attributed to genetics for cows born in 2015 compared to those born in 2010 for traits with published evaluations initiated before 20101.

Trait Emphasis in Net Merit (%) AY



Brown Swiss








M. Shorthorn

Milk -1 52 98 100 91 68 27
Fat 27 27 63 52 66 55 12
Protein 17 44 62 57 73 56 23
SCS -4 100 0 100 100 0 0
Productive life 12 100 100 100 100 100 100
Daughter preg. rate 7 0 0 0 17 0 0
Heifer conception rate 1 0 0 9 100 100 0
Cow conception rate 2 0 0 0 18 0 0

1 These changes are based on the traditional genetic predictions prior to modification with genomic data. A “0” indicates there was no genetic improvement in five years. A “100” in red indicates there was genetic improvement and the phenotypic change was unfavorable. A “100” in black indicates that the genetic improvement exceeded the phenotypic change. See for the previous base change report from December 2014.

When the base is changed every five years, most PTAs are lowered – and the standard deviations (SD) are also updated. In mostcases, the variation increases. Yield and SCS records are adjusted for variance within herd and year to keep the same SD as the base year using SD ratios shown in Table 5.

Table 5. Ratio of trait SD for base cows born in 2015 vs. those in 2010. The PTAs will be expanded (or contracted) by these ratios.

Traits Ayrshire Brown


Guernsey Holstein Jersey Milking


Milk, Fat, Protein 1.069 0.998 1.106 1.056 1.090 1.046
SCS 0.957 0.987 0.970 0.963 0.925 1.039


Table 6. Ratio of trait SD for base cows born in 2015 compared to Holsteins. The PTAs will be expanded (or contracted) by these ratios.

Trait Ayrshire Brown


Guernsey Holstein Jersey Milking


Milk, Fat, Protein 1.09 1.12 1.06 1.00 1.02 1.34
SCS 1.10 1.05 1.11 1.00 1.05 1.32


The Bottom Line

Advocates for improving sustainability and eliminating world hunger should be amazed to see the changes in productivity in U.S. dairy.

Greenhouse gases are being reduced per unit of product because of greater production per animal. We are seeing significant changes in the animals’ appearance and health as well.

Since we’re approaching another base change, this may be a good time to remind dairy producers to adopt genetic selection strategies that could virtually eliminate any complacency of decisions between base changes. For example, if selection is based on standards like percentiles (recalculated every run) or by simply selecting the top-ranked bulls on an economic index of their choice, forward progress would occur, devoid of any delays.

You CAN Strengthen Your Dairy Herd Immune Status – Healthier Herd. More Milk. Healthier Herd. More Profit.

The Health of Your Dairy Herd Is Always Under Attack

Over the past 6 decades, advances in disease control and dairy productivity have required that professionals repeatedly shift their focus to a broader perspective and expand the array of methodologies used. Thus, we have made the leap from the sick individual, to disease control and eradication in groups, to the health and productivity of cows on a dairy, to the health and productivity of a nation’s herd.

The Immune System is Sneaky and Dangerous

Immune Response is a powerful force which impacts the entire dairy herd both positively and negatively every single day. While diseased cows are visible, the immunity challenged cow or calf may sneak under the radar of casual observation. You need to identify these four situations before they take down your herd and your profitability.

  1. Clinical diseases. mastitis, lameness, milk fever, retained placenta, or displaced abomasum.
  2. Subclinical diseases. These diseases require screening tests, fecal culture or ELISA for diagnosis – ketosis, mastitis, acidosis, and laminitis.
  3. Sporadic or endemic infectious diseases.
  4. Diseases that have serious consequences for public health. 


Stop reading. 

If your answer was “No!”, do something right now to change your answer to “Yes!”  

If your herd is not meeting your health and production goals, you have an immunity problem.

As with any proactive plan, the first step is always accurate identification.

However, we let ourselves off far too easily!

FIVE Signs That Your Herd Immunity is Under Attack

If an animal ticks 3 of the following 5 boxes. You must act.

Here are five signs:

  • Increased culling. How much has it risen?What is your new target? Assign dates.
  • Reduced milk or protein yield. Identify the amounts.Benchmark the next step.
  • Increased adult cow mortality. How did this happen?What causes are identified? 
  • Reduced reproductive efficiency. Is complacency taking over?
  • Reduced longevity

So, if one cow ticks three of the five boxes, culling is the next step.  There can be no “heart” ticks. Emotional decision making can have a disastrous effect on the herd.

Do you have a sick animal that is not responding to treatment?

This is a threat to the health of other animals.  Do something about it right NOW.  

You Must Accept That Genetics is the Front Line for Building Up Immune Response

“When all else is equal, the question that differentiates between two cows on your dairy is, ‘how strong is their immune system?  How able are they going to be to respond to that challenge?  Because no matter how well managed a dairy is, every cow is going to encounter both bacterial and viral pathogens almost every day on a dairy farm,” says Dr. Steven Larmer, Senior Manager, Genomics Program (Immunity+). The immune response is heritable at 30%.  This means there is huge potential to positively impact disease incidence simply though genetic selection.

8 Steps to Strengthen Dairy Immune Response.  One Day at a Time. Every Day.

Dairy cows are under constant attack from metabolic and infectious diseases. A strong immune system defends against pathogens that cows come into contact with when stressed by events such as calving, lactation and extreme temperature changes. Take steps to prevent infections, reduce the cost of treatments and boost milk production and fertility:  

  • Proactively supplement nutrition during gestation, calving and transition.
  • Monitor body temperature and rumen activity during the first 7 days after calving
  • Manage extreme temperatures to reduce the negative effects.
  • Observe incidents of cows not performing as expected.
  • Collect feed samples for nutrient analysis

Nutrition Supports Immunity: Quality Counts. Supplementation Counts.

When the feed you provide your herd does not provide everything that is needed to meet 100% of each animal’s needs, you should provide quality supplementation.

  • Dairy herd health and production cannot be achieved by feeding inadequate amounts of minerals, vitamins, energy and protein. These exact requirements are challenging to provide. Collect data. Consult with those who can provide answers
  • Monitoring of feed consumption is necessary to assess changes due to weather conditions. Transfer of this knowledge into farm practice is difficult mainly because climatic conditions are considerably more variable than those monitored in laboratories.
  • Feed managers must also be aware of the changes in forage quality that results from the influence of summer temperatures.
  • Work with your nutritionist to identify how reduced feed intake or reduced forage quality is affecting the components of the milk that is produced.
  • Collect feed samples for nutrient analysis. Assess pasture conditions.  

Manage Water for Herd Health

Water is an essential nutrient. When ranking the elements needed for nourishment, water follows only oxygen in importance. However, many times water quality gets overlooked and does not receive the attention that other aspects of the ration receive. Pollutants, dangerous microorganisms and some minerals can affect the production and health of the cow. To check for contaminants, water quality should be evaluated several times a year for coliforms, proper pH levels, minerals, nitrates and nitrites, and total bacteria. 

You Can’t Build Profitable Herd Health on Promises Alone

In herd health, as in human health, it is possible to provide too little supplementation or too much. In the current marketplace, you must place your trust in the honesty of feed and nutrition providers. Of course you want to hear that your feed is going to increase your herd health and your profitability.  However, if delivery of the promised product is slow or non-existent that paper promise is worthless. Don’t get caught in the middle of competing businesses, where you could be susceptible to lowest price wins.  Your profits are built not only on delivery of the product to the farm but upon delivery of results when used. More research and data collection is needed about the quantity of minerals and vitamins consumed, the quantity available (absorbed) and the quantity needed by cows under different situations.

Managing the Dairy Cow Rumen for Better Herd Health

The primary goal is to prevent ruminal acidosis.  It is necessary therefore to use a combination of improved nutrition and good management practices. Although continuous ruminal pH measurements provide reliable results in research settings, consistent results and high costs for on-farm sensors preclude their application on most farms.   

  • The most practical indirect markers for a decline in ruminal pH are the observation of chewing and feeding activities, as well as the monitoring of milk, faecal and blood variables. Here again, specificity and precision of these measurements, limits diagnosis.
  • Monitor portion sizes and ensure the amount of feed consumed is neither excessive or inadequate.
  • Add long fiber particle to boost saliva production.
  • Reduce the volume of easily fermented grains or carbohydrate consumed in each meal.

Manage Dairy Cleanliness for Better Herd Health

Housing does not have to expensive but it does need to be built in ways that allow for maintenance of hygienic conditions and easy access by staff for efficient cleaning and feeding.

  • Ensure that all pens are as clean as possible. Use a strong disinfectant. Let fresh air ventilate each pen.
  • Cattle produce large amounts of manure and urine. If it is not dealt with in a timely and proper manner, it becomes a source of disease for both humans and livestock and also impacts the production of clean milk.
  • It isn’t often that dairy producers adequately consider the nutrient content of manure when it is applied to fields. Few individuals test the soil on any regular basis. Producers most often apply manure to the land because it is available. You can change this now.
  • Contaminated hands are the biggest risk in spreading biological/bacteria. They can also carry microbes to other sites, equipment and staff.
  • Have farm workers who are handling these animals wash their hands, change their clothing and clean their footwear before working with other animals on the farm.

Any piece of equipment or inanimate object that touches your cows can become a carrier of disease.

What system do you have in place to prevent this from happening?

Watch Out for Immunity Headlines and Scare Tactics

Vaccines for animal diseases are nothing new thanks to Louis Pasteur in 1879. What is new are headlines and trends that are leading pet owners to refuse vaccines. This means that although some eradicated diseases (i.e. Rabies in the U.K.) are on the rise.  Allowing vaccine preventable disease to decimate food animals would not only be a severe hit to the economy, it would threaten food security all around the world wherever these animals are a source of protein. 

The HEALTH Focus Has Shifted to Prevention

Perhaps the single biggest advance in dairy health in the last 25 years has been the paradigm shift to focus on disease prevention, rather than treatment. Great progress has been made in understanding the biology of energy metabolism and immune function dairy cows in transition, the time at which the majority of disease occurs.


The dairy focus today rests mainly on the production system until the milk truck leaves the farm. The next challenge will be to broaden the perspective once again, this time to encompass the entire food system, including issues of food safety, product development, environmental issues, consumer demands, food supply and security, and the role of the dairy industry in society as a whole.



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