Archive for May 2020

Break the Mold – Shape Your Future Through Sire Selection

Dairy farmers use a total merit index (including – TPI, NM$, JPI, CM$, LPI, Pro$, DWP$, …) as their primary tool when selecting sires that they will purchase semen from. Using such indexes equates to what is commonly referred to as following a “balanced” breeding program. Balanced because the emphasis placed on the traits included in the index are proportional to the historic economic importance of the trait or balanced because the relative equal emphasis is placed on conformation and production traits with a lesser emphasis on auxiliary traits.

It is time to go beyond total merit indexes when selecting sires.

Total Merit Indexes – Too Many Masters?

Expecting total merit indexes to serve the past, present and future is an impossible situation. The past positions the ancestors in the pedigree. The present positions an animal relative to its current market worth. That leaves the future taking third place, when it comes to having progressive total merit indexes.

Animal improvement is about creating future generations. Having traits and appropriate future weightings in total merit indexes need to have higher priority for the future of dairying to be relevant.

A new concept for total merit indexes, when used to predict the future, is the need for them to be outcome-based considering both direct and correlated responses for the traits included. (For more information about outcome-based total merit indexing, read about Pro$ at

Another weakness usually overlooked in total merit indexes is that recently developed genetic traits indexes (i.e. A2A2) are not included.

The primary reason total merit indexes are developed and published is not for breed societies animal ranking lists, bull breeders, breeding company marketers, or embryo and animal marketers … total merit indexes are for dairy farmers, who generate over 90% of their income from milk sales and who use genetics to minimize on-farm costs!

Animals for 2025+

In the past couple of years, there has been a dramatic shift in the genetic attributes that sires’ daughters must possess.  The emphasis in the past was on milk volume, average milk component percentages, breed ideal conformation and a limited number of auxiliary traits.  Dairy farmers are now seeing genetic indexes, produced by genetic evaluation centers and breeding companies, for additional traits. Traits that will either generate more income, reduce costs (i.e. feed, labor, herd replacements, etc.) or do both simultaneously.

 One example of a trait that has had a dramatic shift in emphasis is stature. Many dairy people are saying that they want mature cows that are 5+ inches ( 12.5+ cms) shorter in order to have animals that are longer lived, require less labor, are healthier, are more fertile, are more resistant to disease, are able to consume more dry matter, … yet are able to produce more fat and protein volumes each day.

This author’s current read is that dairy farmers have increased their demands for expanded genetic sire information before they purchase semen. For almost 75% of the doses purchased the decision is based on genomic indexes. The shift has been made and not all total merit indexes are now futuristic enough. Breeders now want to know the outcomes they can expect for the sires they use not just the weights applied to the traits in the total merit indexes.

Just last week the author had a conversation with an eager young dairyperson asking why breeding companies do not produce and publish more genetic information on what their sires’ daughters are capable of from birth to first calving,

It is a new era for what must be known about a sire’s genetic abilities for an expanded array of traits.

What’s Not in Current Total Merit Indexes

All total merit indexes are different in the traits included. However, here are eleven of the areas where additional trait information may be of benefit by increasing revenue or reducing expenses.

As you read these, consider which ones would make a dramatic difference to your specific situation.

These traits are not presently included in most of the current total merit indexes.

  • Significantly Positive Deviation for % Fat (Reasons: lower cost associated with storing, transporting and processing less water; consumers now buying based on full fat; and less milk volume demands on milking cows to produce high fat yield.)
  • Casein Composition (Reasons: consumers want A2A2 milk; and processors get higher cheese yields from BB milk.)
  • Optimal Animal Health (Reasons: every farmer wants cow wellness [WT$]; heifer wellness [CW$]; disease resistance [MDR & MR]; and immunity[I+].)
  • Genetic Ability for Nutrition Matters (Reasons: feed conversion efficiency [FE & EcoFeed]; optimal dry matter intake; maximization of income over feed costs [IOFC].)
  • Functional Feet & Legs (Reasons: hoof health [HH]; hoof growth; and locomotion)
  • Heifer Performance (Reasons: calf vigor; weight gain; growth pattern; age to first calving [AFC].)
  • Milking Parlor Performance (Reasons: milk let-down; milking speed [MS]; milking temperament [MT].)
  • Reproduction (Reasons: age at first heat; embryo viability; metritis; retained placenta; hormone levels post calving.)
  • Transition Time (Reasons: ability to perform without problems in transition and fresh pens.)
  • Environments (Reasons: ability to perform at an optimal level in cold, temperate and hot climates; performance in confined or pasture situations; robot/parlor ready.)
  • Labor Costs (Read Bullvine article – “Don’t Waste Time! Choose Sires that Save on Labor”)

Decide on the Additional Trait Information that You Need

The Bullvine recommends the dairy farmers identify three to five traits that are important to their farming operations but that are not currently included in the total merit index that they use when selecting sires.

How to Consider Additional Traits when Selecting Sires

First off, shortlist the sires that meet and exceed your minimum requirements for traits that are included in the total merit index (i.e. 70 lbs. fat yield, PL 4.5, DPR 2.5, above average mastitis resistance, ..etc.). For dairy farmers not sure which is their preferred total merit index, The Bullvine recommends using NM$, CM$, JPI or Pro$.

Secondly, using your shortlist of sires, check each sire to make sure they are significantly above breed average for the three to five additional traits that you identified above and that are not included in your preferred total merit index. Do not purchase semen from the sires on your shortlist that are below average for your additional important traits. (i.e. If a sire’s daughters are below average for resistance to metabolic diseases do not purchase his semen.)

The Bullvine surveyed the top twenty Holstein and Jersey sires in all the major total merit indexes and found very few sires that were significantly above average for all current and new novel traits. So, dairy cattle breeders will need to do extra homework when selecting sires. More than simply ranking, buying and using sires based on total merit index.

Sire Selection Assistance

Breeding companies have staff members that can assist dairy farmers in identifying if a sire is superior or inferior for all traits. Breeding companies want dairy farmers to be successful. They can also offer programs in which farm breeding goals are established and mating recommendations are provided. 

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Future dairy cattle genetic improvement is more than production and conformation. Breeders need to determine the additional areas in need of improvement in their herd.

The best scenario is to use only sires that are significant improvers (i.e. 70+%RK) for the health, milk composition, feed conversion, fertility and body functioning traits that need improvement in a herd.

The tried and true method applies – identify the traits in need of improvement in your herd. Only buy and use sires that are superior for those traits.



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.






The entire world has dealt with restrictions because of the COVID 19 pandemic. People are now facing the “new normal” for living their lives. The outcomes of COVID 19 are many and include distancing, hygiene, isolating, operating from home (work, education, meetings, childcare, socializing, communicating, telemedicine, …) and more.

Is life changed forever? Is it time to realize and re-organize for tomorrow’s success? Time will tell. Of course, the immediate challenge also includes how to move forward with business, employment and social interaction. We must develop strategies and practices for the human population to establish robust and dynamic immunity programs.

Professor & Author Brene Brown Puts Going Forward This Way (April 20, 2020)

We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.”

Only One Alternative – Plan and Move Forward

The dairy farming industry, like all of agriculture, needs to take what has been learned from COVID 19 to produce safe healthy food for a changed world.

The Bullvine offers some ideas for readers to consider as they adapt. It amounts to engaging opportunities in the new reality.

Agriculture Has Always Implemented

Challenges taken. Opportunities met.

The dairy and agricultural industries have always taken the opportunity to move to new levels of excellence. Four advancements include: 1) doubling of global milk production in past thirty years; 2) North American dairy cows now produce three times as much milk as they did seventy years ago; 3) the genetic ability of dairy cows for production and conformation are 20% higher than they were twenty years ago; and 4) each US farmer now feeds 200 people where seventy years ago it was 16 people fed per farmer.

Dairy farming and the dairy cattle improvement industry have made significant progress in the past decade. Butterfat is now a positive. Yet milk production exceeds demand in many countries. Resulting is depressed farm gate prices. 

Opportunity Themes for Dairying

The Bullvine offers six Opportunity Themes for dairy farmers, their advisors and service providers to use in planning and execution in the future. The pace of change will be fast. Based on what is currently being published and talked about on how healthy food will regain in importance to consumers. And knowing that dairy farmers’ history of turning on and producing more milk there will continue be tight on-farm margins in the coming years. The following six opportunities will need to be applied to all areas on-farm and in the entire industry. Of course, opportunities always require investment to yield a positive outcome.

  1. Revenue Generation – Income is the major driver of all businesses and for dairy’s future it will be closely associated with marketing and consumer needs, demands and preferences. Just think of the opportunities for dairy of setting and achieving the goal of 10% increased sales of enhanced fluid milks (to children, athletes, seniors, …) and 10% increased sales of milk solids products (which may well include alignment with other food producers and processors). In the end only with increased revenue will all dairy industry stakeholders be viable.
  2. Efficiencies – An efficient operation is the second biggest factor that determines success. On a total operation basis, it includes improving efficiencies in both variable and fixed costs on farm, in processing and in wholesale-retail. Without continually improving efficiency there is not sustainability.
  3. Value-Added – If any device, decision, service or approach does not enhance the bottom line, lifestyle or the overall operation success then it is a negative not a positive.
  4. Virtual– COVID 19 has shown that the world is now virtual. All sectors of the dairy industry must adopt and adapt. Perhaps not exclusively but the WWW provides an excellent means for communication, information sourcing, education and training, banking, marketing, ordering supplies, shopping, … etc.
  5. Business Relationships – Farmers working collectively has been a significant factor in the past success of dairy farming. That will continue in the future, but close mutually beneficial relationships must be expanded to include the milk processors and retailers as well as input suppliers.
  6. Practices – In order to guarantee food quality, safety and traceability, the practices and protocols on-farm, in transport, in processing and in delivery to retailers will be required to be documented and available to both other stakeholders and consumers. Accepting accountability for how milk is produced, handled, processed and delivered is the way forward.

Be Ready for More Industry Changes

Dairying must be ready for even more changes in the 2020’s.  The pace of change will be accelerated. Those who hold back or oppose will be left behind. Some changes could include:

  • Sire Selection – With already 70+% of dairy sires used being genomically evaluated and with perhaps 40%-60% bred beef, the use of daughter proven sires (dairy or beef) is likely to be discontinued. When, not if, the reliabilities for genomic indexes reaches 85% for production and 75% for health traits, turning generations will be much more important the accuracy of indexes. Breeding companies’ programs would be significantly changed.
  • Animals with the Best Genes Regardless of Breed– Dairy farmers have favored one of about six breeds of cattle. Down the road there will be a need for a super breed that is a combination of the best genes available. CDCB now produces crossbred genetic indexes. Will those crossbreds be the new breed? Or will the super breed come about because of science and invention? It is not an if or a why but a how and a when.
  • Data Services – With added technology on-farm comes new data for even more accurate decision making. Past practices of third-party eyes, official designation and international approved devices and practices will become less important and less used when dairy farmers are running their businesses based on daily, even second by second, data capture. Who ‘owns’ the data will not be nearly as important as having integrated data systems that yield the most accurate information. The organizations, public or private, providing information or advice to dairy farms will change to an integrated data approach or they will exit the industry.
  • Eliminating Services – Could the day come when it is more cost, performance and herd improvement effective to individually genomically test all replacement heifer calves at birth, cull the low indexers, allocate animals to groups according to their indexes and only monitor groups of animals for performance? Thereby reducing the costs associated with some of the current improvement services that are based on data being captured on every animal.
  • Milk Leaving the Farm – The importance of fat and protein content of milk due to genetics, nutrition and management will be increased. Both lactose (fed back to animals) and water will be removed at the farm level for revenue generation, cost savings and business alignment reasons.
  • Vertical Integration – Other livestock industries have systems whereby there are alignments from the farm all the way to the sale of product. Dairy could well be the next where 100,000 cow groupings align from the inputs all the way to the sale at the grocery store.
  • Meetings – All decisions beyond the farm will be made without leaving the farm office. On farm decisions and instructions will be virtual.
  • One Health – with over 70% of diseases in humans originating from animals, dairy farming can expect to see animal health linked more closely with human health. Expect more regulation.
  • Food Security – Citizens and governments are quickly becoming more concerned about their ability to domestically source their food and to insure viable domestic agriculture. Countries and agricultural industries that produce more than their domestic needs will need to find ways to prices product for domestic use separate from product that is exported.

Of course, these nine are just a start to the long list of changes that the dairy industry may address and implement. The take-home message is be ready for challenges, opportunities and changes.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Looking to the future always involves the unknown, opportunities and changes. The changes will challenge history, norms and beliefs but the end result must be viable and sustainable if dairy businesses are to survive.

COVID 19 put the world on pause. During this pause everyone associated with the dairy industry has a responsibility to take the time to find the Opportunities to Create the Future.



Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.





Send this to a friend