Archive for May 2023

Riverdane Ex Rosabel – Bred to Be Great

Riverdane Ex Rosabel recently scored EX97 points for her UK breeders and owners, Riverdane Holsteins. Photos: Jane Steel.

Riverdane Holsteins have now been involved in four EX97 classifications – including their latest and first homebred individual – a great granddaughter of global household name Thrulane James Rose EX97-2E-CAN 3*.

The classification result comes as her UK breeders, Mark and Susan Nutsford, along with their daughter, Jodie, start turning their attention towards their “Theatre of Dreams” sale in northwest England on Saturday, August 19.

Riverdane milk 200-head (and run 650 in total, including young stock), in addition to Celltech Embryo Transfer in the heart of Cheshire, 20 miles out of Manchester. They milk 100 of their high-production Holsteins through two robots, with the balance being milked through a 20/20 herringbone parlour. They farm 182 hectares (450 acres, mostly grass, maize and whole crop wheat). They have also been a part of a fourth EX97, who now calls Willsbro Holsteins home.

Riverdane Holsteins will sell 150 lots along with select embryo packages at their farm on August 19. This is the first time a public offering of this size has been offered from Riverdane and it has been packaged in a two-day event that promises to bring the European industry together. Graphic design: Hayley Boyd, Signature Graphics.

EX ROSABEL is nine years old with seven calvings and nine calves (courtesy of two sets of twins) behind her. She has a continuing lifetime production of 95,446kg of milk with a 4.5% fat percentage (May 2023). Nominated as an All-Britain finalist as a two-year-old, EX ROSABEL has been a popular addition in Riverdane’s show team her entire career. Several of her descendants will sell on August 19 in an offering that will catalogue 150-head – the biggest offering Riverdane has ever put forward.


US cowman Mike Deaver (pictured) was the judge who first elevated Thrulane James Rose to Grand Champion Holstein at the RWF in 2006. Photo: Dianna Malcolm.

Mark Nutsford said he had chased the family since first seeing James Rose storm the biggest shows in North America between 2006 and 2009.

= In 2008 Thrulane James Rose continued on to be Supreme Champion at both the World Dairy Expo (pictured) and the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. The popular entry was also All-Canadian and All-American Mature Cow in 2008 and 2009. Photo: Dianna Malcolm.

Mark said James Rose’s udder was the first thing that drew him to her in 2006 when US cowman and judge Mike Deaver first pulled the trigger on her career despite rich company at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair (RWF) in Toronto.

At the time, Mike commented as he juggled the five-year-old’s promise against the reigning back-to-back champion, Quality BC Frantisco (who was 14 months fresh) and some other high profile expensive exponents of the breed that did not lighten the responsibility, nor the public pressure.

“Well…the trick to this job is finding how to get along with new friends and how to keep your old ones,” he told the crowd at the time.

“There is a lot of great cows out here and a lot of famous cows. It’s not easy, but I like pretty girls that look like they’re ready to work and don’t want to complain about it.”

Thrulane James Rose EX97-2E-CAN 3* (pictured at WDE in 2008) now has a great granddaughter who shares the same classification score. Photo: Dianna Malcolm.

With that, he put James Rose through to her first Grand Champion. At the time, she had passed from her Mennonite breeder (who was going to beef her because she wasn’t in calf) through Scott Brethet and Beni Faulmner (Mt Elgin Dairy Farms, Guelph) to Pierre Boulet, who took the chance on her being short-bred. A true rag to riches story.

In 2008 James Rose continued on to be Supreme Champion at both the World Dairy Expo (WDE) and the RWF (she was also Grand Champion Holstein at the RWF in 2006, 2008, and 2009). The year she took WDE’s Supreme title in 2008 she had to beat Quality-Ridge Stormi Hazel in a show which also included a record number of more than 2600 animals under judge Brian Carscadden (who walked 23km that day judging them).


By the time Mark saw Rose again at the WDE in 2008, she had become his healthy obsession.

“For sure, she’s the best cow I’ve ever seen in my life,” Mark said. “And, I haven’t missed many Madisons in the last 25 years, I can promise you.

“I was literally blown away by her frame that year. You could have got a wheelbarrow between her front legs, you really could. I couldn’t believe a cow could develop so much in the two years since I first saw her. In 2006 I couldn’t believe how good her udder was, but once she came together with her frame, she was incredible.”

He told Pierre Boulet that year that he “had to have embryos from her”. Although, the contract was signed, Rose never made those embryos.


However, Riverdane did secure eggs from James Rose’s Dundee daughter through Jamie Wood (Hays Genetics International, Ontario).

Mark and Susan Nutsford with their Grand Champion of the 2021 UK Dairy Day, Riverdane Absolute Springsteen and (left) Holstein UK’s Chairman Elect Wallace Gregg. Photograph: Richard Hodgson.

When Riverdane got an exciting Goldwyn daughter on the ground in the UK their “Rosabel” family was on the way. RIVERDANE GOLDEN ROSABEL-ET VG87 was only two points off being a max-scored two-year-old, and Mark remembers her as “a goodun”. However, after complications from a twisted caecum, they lost her on her second calf.

She did leave the chance of a legacy though – in her Explode daughter, RIVERDANE EX ROSABEL-ET.


It includes a double-up of Goldwyn, thanks to Goldwyn siring Shoremar James in addition to EX ROSEABEL’S dam.

Mark says what he loves about EX ROSABEL is her pedigree, and how that translates.

“ROSABEL has got very, very few faults, she’s so naturally open, dairy, clean-boned and she’s got that unusual combination of strength and silk. It starts at her muzzle, and it goes right the way through her,” he said.

Mark Nutsford (Riverdane Holsteins) appeared to absorb the pressure with ease when he judged the 2019 All-European Championship in Belgium. Photo: Zosia Hunt, The Bullvine.


He says James Rose was born in a herd that classified only their two-year-olds. It explains the fifth and six dams’ GP classification scores, and James Rose’s ability to shine.

“I remember back in the day when the All-American and All-Canadian two-year-old was Dupasquier Starb Winnie,” Mark said. “She was 83 points when she won those titles. If you had a GP two-year-old then, it was a helluva good heifer. It puts those scores into perspective.”

Mark says knowing that, meant there were no surprises for him in this family’s achievement.

“I know greatness doesn’t come from nowhere. It’s always got to be in that pedigree. If you look at the sire stack, they were all geat sires every one of them, and all from good cow families.

“James Rose wasn’t an accident. She was bred to be great. And, if you add Dundee x Goldwyn – a magic cross – and Explode, who was the No. 1 GTPI sire in America at the time (and who stayed up there for a long, long time), it brought us to this point where we’ve been able to breed an EX 97-point family matriarch at our farm with great milk and fertility.”

The rest of Riverdane’s classification results will follow this story…

Stay with Riverdane’s FB page as it starts to drill down into the sale offerings, and the events that promise to be well worth the trip to Cheshire on August 19.


Maternal Lineage



D2: PIERSTEIN DUNDEE ROSABEL-ET VG88 (x Regancrest Dundee)

D3: THRULANE JAMES ROSE BRC EX97 (x Shoremar James)

D4: THRULANE ROXY LEE BRC VG87 (x Comestar Lee)

D5: THRULANE LEADER ROSENA GP81 (x Comestar Leader)

D6: THRULANE PRELUDE ROSE GP81 (x Ronnybrook Prelude)


The EX97 cows that have called Riverdane home:

  1. Bassingthorpe Leader Dilys 10 EX97 – sold as an eight-year-old to Willsbro Holsteins
  2. Applevue Rudy Mattia EX97
  3. Bressingham Raider Pansy 2 EX97

Written by Dianna Malcolm, Mud Media

Sale logo – Hayley Boyd, Signature Graphics

5 Steps To Maximize Your Dairy Cattle Breeding Program

To maximize your dairy cattle breeding program, there are several key steps you can take:

Step 1: Set clear breeding goals

Identify the specific traits you want to improve in your herd, such as milk yield, fertility, or disease resistance. These goals will guide your breeding decisions and help you select the best cows and bulls for your program. Setting clear goals is important for maximizing your dairy cattle breeding program. Here are some steps you can follow to set clear goals:

  1. Identify your priorities: Start by identifying your priorities, such as milk production, genetics, health, or temperament.
  2. Define your breeding objectives: Once you have identified your priorities, define your breeding objectives. For example, if milk production is a priority, your breeding objective might be to increase milk yield while maintaining or improving other traits such as fertility or disease resistance.
  3. Use data to inform your decisions: Use data from your herd, such as milk yield records, health records, and pedigree information to inform your breeding decisions.
  4. Select the right bulls: Use proven bulls that are genetically superior for the traits you want to improve in your herd.
  5. Implement a breeding program: Develop a breeding program that includes a clear plan for selecting sires and managing the genetic diversity in your herd.
  6. Monitor progress: Monitor the progress of your breeding program by regularly measuring and analyzing performance data.
  7. Make adjustments as needed: Adjust your breeding program as needed to ensure you are meeting your goals and making progress towards your objectives.

Remember, setting clear goals and implementing a well-designed breeding program takes time and effort, but can result in significant improvements in your herd’s performance over time.

Step 2: Use the best genetics available

Invest in high-quality genetics from reputable breeders, and use artificial insemination to access the best bulls in the industry. Consider using genomic testing to identify the best animals for breeding, and prioritize animals with strong genetic merit. Using the best genetics available is essential for maximizing your dairy cattle breeding program. Here are some steps you can take to use the best genetics available:

  1. Identify the traits you want to improve: Identify the traits that are most important for your herd, such as milk production, fertility, or disease resistance.
  2. Select high-quality sires: Use high-quality sires with superior genetics for the traits you want to improve. Look for sires that are proven through genetic evaluations, have high breeding values, and come from a reputable breeding program.
  3. Use artificial insemination (AI): AI allows you to use sires from all over the world, giving you access to the best genetics available. Use AI to breed your cows with the highest quality sires.
  4. Monitor performance data: Monitor the performance of your herd and record data on traits that are important for your breeding objectives. This data can help you make informed breeding decisions and track progress over time.
  5. Consider genomic testing: Genomic testing can provide information on the genetic potential of individual animals. This information can help you make more informed breeding decisions and select animals with the highest genetic potential.
  6. Implement a breeding program: Develop a breeding program that includes a clear plan for selecting sires and managing genetic diversity in your herd. Use a combination of natural breeding and AI to achieve your breeding objectives.
  7. Continuously evaluate and adjust: Continuously evaluate the performance of your breeding program and make adjustments as needed to ensure you are making progress towards your breeding objectives.

By using the best genetics available and implementing a well-designed breeding program, you can maximize the performance of your dairy cattle and achieve your breeding objectives over time.

Step 3: Maintain detailed records

Keep accurate and up-to-date records on the performance and traits of each animal in your herd, including milk yield, calving intervals, and health status. This will help you make informed breeding decisions and track the progress of your program over time.  Maintaining detailed records is essential for maximizing your dairy cattle breeding program. Here are some steps you can take to maintain detailed records:

  1. Identify the important data points: Identify the data points that are important for your breeding objectives, such as milk production, fertility, health, and genetic information.
  2. Use a herd management software: Use a herd management software to record and manage data efficiently. Many software options are available that can help you track important data points and make informed breeding decisions.
  3. Develop a record-keeping system: Develop a system for recording data consistently, such as using a standardized format and maintaining records in a centralized location.
  4. Record data regularly: Record data on a regular basis, such as daily, weekly, or monthly, depending on the data point. This will ensure that you have accurate and up-to-date information to inform your breeding decisions.
  5. Analyze data: Analyze data regularly to identify trends and patterns in your herd’s performance. This analysis can help you make informed decisions about breeding, management, and health.
  6. Use data to make informed decisions: Use the data you collect to make informed breeding decisions, such as selecting sires, culling animals, or adjusting management practices.
  7. Continuously evaluate and adjust: Continuously evaluate the performance of your breeding program and adjust your record-keeping system as needed to ensure you are collecting the most relevant data and using it to achieve your breeding objectives.

By maintaining detailed records, you can make informed decisions that maximize the performance of your dairy cattle breeding program.

Step 4: Practice proper herd management

Ensure that your animals are well-fed, healthy, and have access to clean water and comfortable housing. Practice good reproductive management, including timely breeding and proper heat detection, to maximize breeding success.  Here are some steps you can take to practice proper herd management:

  1. Provide good nutrition: Provide your cattle with a balanced diet that meets their nutritional needs. Consult with a nutritionist to ensure that your feed program is optimized for your herd.
  2. Maintain herd health: Develop a herd health program that includes regular vaccinations, parasite control, and preventative care. Monitor your herd for signs of illness or disease and take appropriate measures to treat and prevent the spread of disease.
  3. Manage reproduction: Implement a reproductive management program that includes regular estrus detection, artificial insemination, and pregnancy diagnosis. Monitor the reproductive performance of your herd and adjust your program as needed to optimize breeding success.
  4. Practice good environmental management: Maintain a clean and comfortable environment for your cattle that is free from excess moisture, temperature extremes, and other stressors.
  5. Provide adequate space: Provide your cattle with adequate space to move and access feed and water. Overcrowding can lead to stress, illness, and reduced productivity.

Step 5: Continuously evaluate and improve

Regularly assess the performance and traits of your herd, and make adjustments to your breeding program as needed. Stay up-to-date on new technologies and industry trends, and be willing to adapt your program to changing circumstances. Here are 5 steps you can take to continuously evaluate and improve your program:

  1. Set clear goals: Establish clear goals for your breeding program and regularly assess whether you are making progress towards those goals. This will help you identify areas where you need to focus your attention and make adjustments.
  2. Collect and analyze data: Collect and analyze data regularly to monitor the performance of your herd and track progress towards your breeding objectives. Use this data to identify areas for improvement and make informed breeding decisions.
  3. Seek expert advice: Seek expert advice from veterinarians, nutritionists, and other industry professionals to ensure that you are following best practices and implementing effective strategies.
  4. Continuously educate yourself: Stay up-to-date on the latest research and best practices in dairy cattle breeding by attending conferences, reading industry publications, and networking with other breeders.
  5. Adjust your program as needed: Continuously evaluate the performance of your breeding program and make adjustments as needed to improve efficiency, increase productivity, and achieve your breeding objectives.

By continuously evaluating and improving your breeding program, you can stay on track towards your goals and maximize the performance of your dairy cattle herd.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

By following these steps, you can maximize the success of your dairy cattle breeding program and produce a high-quality, productive, and healthy herd.

Challenges in the western dairy industry

There are several challenges facing the western dairy industry, including:

  1. Low Milk Prices: Low milk prices are a major challenge facing the western dairy industry. Milk prices are influenced by a complex set of factors, including global supply and demand, government policies, and consumer preferences.

    One of the main reasons for the low milk prices in the western dairy industry is oversupply. Dairy farmers have been expanding their operations and increasing their milk production, which has led to an oversupply of milk. This oversupply, combined with a reduction in demand, has resulted in a surplus of milk and a decline in milk prices.

    Another factor contributing to low milk prices is increased competition from other dairy-producing countries. Countries like New Zealand and Australia have been increasing their milk production and exporting to global markets, which has put pressure on the western dairy industry.

    Low milk prices have significant implications for dairy farmers, who often operate on thin profit margins. They may struggle to cover the costs of production, and many may be forced to sell their farms or exit the industry altogether. The economic impact can also be felt by rural communities and local businesses that rely on the dairy industry.

    To address this challenge, dairy farmers in the western region are exploring new market opportunities, including specialty dairy products and exports to new markets. Some are also investing in new technologies and practices that can improve efficiency and reduce costs. Additionally, there are ongoing efforts to support the industry through government programs and policies aimed at stabilizing milk prices and increasing demand.

  2. Climate Change: The western region is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, including droughts, heatwaves, wildfires, and extreme weather events. These impacts can affect the availability and quality of feed and water, increase the risk of animal diseases, and reduce milk production.

    Droughts are a significant concern for dairy farmers in the western region, as they can lead to water scarcity and reduced forage production. This can increase the cost of feed and lead to lower milk production. Heatwaves can also be a problem, as high temperatures can stress cows and reduce their milk production. In addition, extreme weather events like floods, storms, and wildfires can damage infrastructure and disrupt supply chains.

    Climate change can also have indirect impacts on the western dairy industry. For example, changes in weather patterns can lead to new pests and diseases that affect cattle health and productivity. In addition, climate change can affect consumer behavior and preferences, leading to changes in demand for dairy products.

    To address the challenge of climate change, many dairy farmers in the western region are implementing sustainable practices, such as water conservation, soil health management, and energy efficiency. They are also exploring new feed sources and breeding strategies that can help cattle adapt to changing climatic conditions. Government agencies and industry associations are also providing resources and support for farmers to help them prepare for and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

  3. Labor Shortages: Many dairy farms in the region rely on migrant labor, particularly from Latin America, to perform essential tasks such as milking cows, feeding animals, and maintaining equipment. However, changes in immigration policies, increased enforcement, and other factors have made it difficult for farmers to secure the labor they need.

    There are several reasons for the labor shortages in the western dairy industry. One factor is the tightening of immigration policies in the United States, which has made it more difficult for migrant workers to obtain visas or work permits. In addition, the political climate surrounding immigration has created uncertainty and fear among migrant workers, leading many to avoid working in the dairy industry.

    Another factor is the low wages and poor working conditions in the dairy industry. Many dairy workers are paid low wages and are not provided with benefits or protections, such as health insurance or workers’ compensation. These conditions can make it difficult to attract and retain workers, particularly in a tight labor market.

    To address the challenge of labor shortages, dairy farmers in the western region are exploring new strategies for recruiting and retaining workers. Some are offering higher wages and benefits, while others are investing in housing and other amenities to make the work environment more attractive. In addition, there are ongoing efforts to reform immigration policies and create a path to legal status for undocumented workers. Government agencies and industry associations are also providing resources and support to help farmers navigate the labor market and find the workers they need.

  4. Environmental Regulations: Dairy farming can have significant environmental impacts, including air and water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and habitat destruction. To address these impacts, federal and state agencies have developed a range of regulations and policies aimed at reducing environmental harm and promoting sustainable practices.

    Some of the specific environmental regulations affecting the western dairy industry include:

    1. Clean Water Act: The Clean Water Act regulates discharges of pollutants into the nation’s waters, including from animal feeding operations like dairy farms. Dairy farmers must obtain permits and follow specific management practices to reduce the risk of water pollution.
    2. Clean Air Act: The Clean Air Act regulates air emissions from a range of sources, including animal feeding operations. Dairy farmers may need to comply with regulations related to emissions of ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and other pollutants.
    3. Endangered Species Act: The Endangered Species Act protects endangered and threatened species and their habitats. Dairy farming can impact habitat for species like the California red-legged frog, the Western snowy plover, and other wildlife.
    4. Resource Conservation and Recovery Act: The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act regulates the disposal of hazardous waste, including waste from dairy operations. Dairy farmers must follow specific procedures for managing waste and preventing environmental harm.

    Complying with these regulations can be challenging for dairy farmers, particularly small operators who may not have the resources to invest in costly infrastructure or management practices. In addition, regulations can create uncertainty and can make it difficult for farmers to plan for the future.

    To address the challenge of environmental regulations, dairy farmers in the western region are implementing sustainable practices and investing in new technologies that can reduce their environmental impact. They are also working with government agencies and industry associations to develop practical solutions that balance environmental protection with economic viability.

  5. Animal Welfare Concerns: Dairy farming involves the care and management of large numbers of animals, and ensuring their well-being is essential for both ethical and economic reasons. However, there are growing concerns about the welfare of dairy cows in the United States, including issues related to confinement, access to pasture, and use of antibiotics and hormones.

    One of the main animal welfare concerns in the western dairy industry is the practice of confinement dairy farming. Many dairy cows are kept in confined spaces, such as feedlots and barns, for long periods of time, which can lead to health problems and stress. Some animal welfare advocates argue that cows should have access to pasture and be allowed to engage in natural behaviors, such as grazing and socializing.

    Another issue is the use of antibiotics and hormones in dairy farming. Antibiotics are commonly used to treat and prevent disease in dairy cows, but overuse can lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Hormones are also used to increase milk production, but concerns have been raised about their impact on animal health and the safety of milk products.

    To address these animal welfare concerns, many dairy farmers in the western region are adopting new practices and technologies aimed at improving animal care and well-being. These include providing cows with access to pasture, improving herd health management, and reducing the use of antibiotics and hormones. In addition, industry associations and government agencies are working to develop and promote animal welfare standards and guidelines that can help farmers improve their practices and meet consumer demand for ethically produced dairy products.

  6. Competition from Plant-Based Alternatives: Consumers are increasingly interested in plant-based alternatives to dairy products, driven by concerns about animal welfare, environmental sustainability, and health. This trend has led to the development of a range of plant-based dairy alternatives, such as soy milk, almond milk, and oat milk, which are now widely available in grocery stores and restaurants.

    The rise of plant-based alternatives presents a challenge for the western dairy industry, which has traditionally dominated the milk and dairy market. Dairy farmers may face declining demand for their products, leading to lower prices and reduced profitability. In addition, plant-based alternatives may erode the perception of dairy as a healthy and wholesome food, potentially damaging the industry’s reputation and market position.

    To address this challenge, dairy farmers in the western region are exploring new strategies for promoting the benefits of dairy products and responding to consumer demand for plant-based alternatives. Some farmers are investing in new technologies and production methods to improve the sustainability and animal welfare of their operations, while others are working to create new dairy-based products that meet changing consumer preferences. In addition, industry associations and government agencies are working to promote the health and nutritional benefits of dairy products and provide information to consumers about the environmental impact of different food choices.

  7. Trade Uncertainty: The United States is a major producer and exporter of dairy products, with many western states producing large quantities of milk for domestic and international markets. However, trade tensions and uncertainty can create volatility in global markets, affecting demand for U.S. dairy products and prices received by farmers.

    One of the main sources of trade uncertainty for the western dairy industry is the ongoing trade dispute between the United States and China. China is a major importer of U.S. dairy products, but the imposition of tariffs and other trade restrictions has led to a decline in exports and increased competition from other global suppliers.

    In addition, uncertainty surrounding trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) can create challenges for the western dairy industry. These agreements provide important market access for U.S. dairy products, but changes to trade policy can create uncertainty and disrupt trade flows.

    To address the challenge of trade uncertainty, the western dairy industry is working to promote open trade policies and advocate for the benefits of free and fair trade. Industry associations are also working to develop new markets and promote U.S. dairy products abroad, while farmers are investing in new technologies and production methods to increase efficiency and competitiveness. In addition, government agencies are providing support and assistance to help farmers navigate changing market conditions and develop new export opportunities.

Should we monitor the number of ovarian follicles in our heifers and cows?

Before answering this question, we need to understand how follicles are formed and what they do. Follicles are the final stage in which germ cells (oocytes or “eggs”) reside before they are ovulated for fertilization by sperm. There is a long history of cattle research in this area, and one of the most important findings was by B.H. Erickson in 1966 (Figure 1). He found that the greatest number of germ cells in ovaries occurred during the fetal stage. At the peak, there were more than 2.5 million germ cells in the ovaries of fetuses. The number of germ cells or follicles then declines throughout life. Importantly, heifers and cows with more ultrasound detectable follicles stay in herds longer. Herd life is a key component of profitability.

Figure 1. Number of germ cells in bovine fetuses during gestation.

Follicle development.

Germ cells are the foundational cells that develop into follicles. A germ cell is an oocyte or egg that will eventually be surrounded by other cells to form a microscopic follicle that will continue to grow until it can be monitored by modern ultrasound devices. As shown in Figure 1, most of the germ cells are depleted before the calf is born, but the newborn calf will still have up to hundreds of thousands of follicles for its future.

Small batches of follicles grow regularly in waves during the late fetal stage, and this continues throughout the heifer or cow’s life. Before puberty, it is possible to aspirate oocytes from the follicles of young heifers, and these can be fertilized in vitro to produce embryos that are then transferred into recipients that have reached puberty.

Once a heifer reaches puberty, generally one follicle will ovulate an unfertilized egg into the oviduct about 24 to 30 hours after onset of estrus. If mated or inseminated, most of these newly released oocytes will be fertilized.

In cyclic heifers and cows, batches of follicles develop to detectable sizes in waves that occur 2 or 3 times during each estrous cycle. Longer estrous cycles are more likely to have 3 waves and shorter cycles are more likely to have 2 waves. One can monitor these waves by daily or twice-daily ultrasound detection, and if the animal is monitored several times daily it is easy to monitor the dominant follicle, which will surpass its cohorts in size before it ovulates.

Postpartum cows that are not yet cycling may show irregular patterns of follicle growth. The ovaries may be “small and smooth” without recurring sizable follicles, or there may be a large persistent follicle that is not accompanied by several normal-sized follicles. This is influenced by postpartum uterine function as well as energy balance.

Why does the number of follicles matter?

If one uses ultrasound technologies to monitor the number of follicles on both ovaries of heifers and cows, it will be found that there is about a 7-fold difference among animals. Nevertheless, the number for each animal is highly repeatable (0.95) .

Various research studies have provided evidence that heifers or cows with more ultrasound-detected follicles will stay in the herd longer. Cattle with more follicles respond better to superovulation or oocyte retrieval.

Would monitoring the number of follicles lead to more fertile longer-lived cattle?

Maybe it is time to start monitoring follicle numbers in heifers and cows to determine if there is a genetic basis for the different patterns we see. Heifers with lower numbers of follicles may have lower reproductive life in the herd.

Like any new monitoring technology, there must be some standard practices so that data from different herds are comparable. Monitoring follicle numbers may be easier than one might think. Multiple studies with beef cattle have shown that heifers can be monitored by using ultrasound technologies to count the number of follicles, and this does not have to be done on a specific day of an estrous cycle. This makes it much simpler to collect data at any time once a heifer reaches about 12-14 months of age.

From a practical standpoint, it would be beneficial if we could identify heifers that are more likely to stay in the cow herd longer by monitoring the number of follicles present when these heifers are 12 to 14 months of age. It is too early to know whether this would be valuable in most herds until we have data from many herds across many locations.

The process may be simple. Heifers would be screened by ultrasound evaluation of their ovaries at about 12 to 14 months of age, around the time they are reaching puberty. Subsequently, it would be necessary to correlate the number of follicles counted with important traits such as milk yield, conception rates and herd life. This opportunity, like many others in our dairy selection programs, will only become useful if we find meaningful relationships that are related to herd life and profitability.




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Selecting The Sires of Tomorrow’s to Get the Best Herd Replacements

The entire dairy cattle improvement industry is involved as new data points are captured and analyzed and the information is provided back to the farm level for both genetic and management purposes.

The challenge that presents for each herd genetic manager is to determine which sire information and sires need to be used starting today to produce tomorrow’s heifer and milking herds.

Sire Selection is Important and Challenging

Using top-ranked sires is and will continue to be important. It is a known fact that over ninety per cent of a herd’s genetic advancement is the result of sires used to produce the sire stacks of a herd’s females.

The on-farm decisions are no longer as simple as which breed to own and making breeding decisions based on phenotypic sire daughter averages and female phenotypes. Dairy farmers realize that sires that leave average or below average performance in their daughters are not the best choices.

Refining Sire Genetic Indexing

The global dairy cattle breeding industry is working on research and development to identify sires which have the important heritable traits for maximizing tomorrow’s milk checks and minimizing on-farm costs of production. This work is not a new initiative but the rate of change in traits with data points, in the importance of traits and in identifying superior parents is ever increasing.

What is the Scope of Future Dairy Cattle Breeding?

Until the present time in dairy cattle breeding the major focus has been on the milking cows. That has already started to change. It will continue to expand to cover both milk composition and meat production.

Breeding will include all animal lifecycle stages, starting at conception. Data definition, data accuracy, trait heritabilities and economic values will continue to be key components in male and female genetic indexing. We can expect the scope and rate of change in dairy cattle breeding information to speed up. This is called dynamic progress.

Future Breeding Themes in Sire Selection

Dairy farmers recognize that the process of genetically improving their animals is dynamic. The Bullvine offers the following four sire selection themes for the consideration of our readers:

Theme #1 – Sire Selection for Revenue Generation 

Milk composition has become a key determining factor in the size of every milk check. Ways to maximize future revenue via sire selection decisions can include shipping only A2A2 beta casein milk, shipping only BB kappa casein milk and shipping high %Fat milk.

Other revenue sources can include beef animal sales and breeding stock or genetic sales. Profit margins for these sources will depend on marketing of the product, customer availability or preference and cost-control.

Theme #2 – Sire Selection for Production and Efficiency 

Increased on-farm profit from sire selection for increased production and efficiencies will be an even more integral part of every herd’s and the dairy industry’s future success. Animal genetic indexing associated with feed conversion and methane reduction will gain in accuracy and use in the next few years.

Theme #3 – Sire Selection for Functionality and Longevity

With automated data capture occurring for more functional traits dairy farmers will be able to select sires that improve heifer performance, reduce cow cull rates and extend average female lifetimes. In a few years there will be sire indexes available for genetically improving feet, locomotion, parlor performance and heifer performance.

Theme #4 – Sire Selection for Health and Fertility

Many traits are now genetically evaluated for both health and fertility traits, but dairy farmers can expect genetic indexes for more traits coming from new data capture systems. On the health side the data will be beneficial at both the farm level and at the consumer satisfaction level.

Sire Selection Step #1 – Getting in the Ball Park

From the top 25 Jersey to 100 Holstein sires on the total merit index lists (TMI’s) select 10-20 sires for closer examination. Include in the list only sires that are breed improvers (60-99%RK) for at least three of the four above themes.

Some notes:

Sires selected can be either daughter proven or genomic.

National or company TMI’s are designed to improve a dairy cow population. However individual herds may see benefit from using a customized TMI.

Sire Selection Step #2 – Fine Tune the Selection

Narrow down the list of sires from Step #1, ensuring there is at least one breed leading sire for each theme and then purchase semen from either or both proven and genomic evaluated sires. Sires should be mated to females according to their breeding theme strength(s) and their mates breeding theme limitations(s).

Some notes:

  • The number of sires from which semen is purchased will vary by herd size. Larger herds should purchase more sires, especially genomic sires. That will spread the risk.
  • Some dairy farmers may choose after purchasing sires to randomly mate their females.
  • Make semen purchase decisions based on cost-benefit, not lowest cost. Semen cost is only 1% of dairy farm expenses.

It is Best to Rank Sires Relative to Their Peers

A sire’s genetic index number is not informative on where a sire ranks amongst his peers. The index number does not tell what the population average or range in animal index values are for a trait.

Productive Life (PL) for USA sires, born 2015-2022, average (50% rank) 2.8 in Holsteins and 1.7 in Jerseys. Note those averages are not zero. For PL to be significantly improved in USA dairy cattle sires should be more than 84%RK. That means that a sire’s PL’s need to be greater than 4.7 (proven) and 5.9 (genomic) for Holsteins and 3.5 (proven) and 5.1 (genomic) for Jerseys.

Functional traits published by Lactanet must be 105 for a sire to have an 83%RK for a trait. Sires rate 115 and higher are 99%RK.

Analysis of the Current Top TMI Sires for %RK

Tables 1 and 2 contain twenty-seven breed leading sires (April 2023) for Holstein and Jersey breeds and their %RK’s for four currently genetically indexed major categories/traits and three milk composition assessments.

Table 1 Breed Leading Holstein Sires %RK for Breeding Themes

Rank in Population (April ’23) for Breeding Themes

Sire(NAAB Code) Industry Leadership Production    Fertility     Longevity Conformation   Beta Casein Kappa Casein % Fat Change                Sire Stack              
Holstein – Canada – Lactanet                  
Alligator(200HO10593)     #5Tie CONF & #8 LPI     65 %RK     77 %RK     83 %RK     99 %RK     A1A2     AE      zero Kingboy x McCutchen x Observer
Lambda (551HO03379) #2 LPI & #5 tie CONF     78 %RK     70 %RK     98 %RK     99 %RK     A1A2     BB      zero Delta x Uno x Snowman
Master (799HO00016)     #1 tie CONF       11 %RK     08 %RK     17 %RK     99 %RK     A1A2     n/a      – Avalanche x Doorman x Goldwyn
PUNCH* (200HO12619)     #1 gPro$       99 %RK     91 %RK     92 %RK     88 %RK     A2A2     BB      +++ Ranger Red x AltaZazzle x Yoda
Pursuit (200HO11186)     #2 Pro$ & #5 LPI     95 %RK     44 %RK     83 %RK     91 %RK     A1A2     AA      ++ Imax x Profit x Supersire
RANGER RED(200HO07956)      #1 Red gLPI       94 %RK     91 %RK     98 %RK     96 %RK     A1A2     BB      ++ Rubels x Salvatore x Rubicon
Sidekick (200HO10992)     #1 tie CONF       13 %RK     48 %RK     72 %RK     99 %RK     A2A2     AB      +++ Abbott x McCutchen x Lavanguard
Unix (20003913)     Highly Used       13 %RK     37 %RK     55 %RK     96 %RK     A1A1     BE      Uno x Domain x Goldwyn
Zard (200HO12711)      #1 gLPI       99 %RK     38 %RK     94 %RK     99 %RK     A2A2     BB      ++ Ranger Red x Cockpit x Helix
Holstein – United States – CDCB                  
Captain (551HO04119)     #1 TPI, #3 NM$ & #3 CM$     99 %RK     89 %RK     88 %RK     65 %RK     A2A2     AA      ++ Charl x Sabre x Shamrock
Frost Bite (7HO15821) #1gDWP$, #6gNM$, #6gCM$     99 %RK     99 %RK     97 %RK     25 %RK     A2A2     AB      + Granada x Lionel x Samuri
King Doc (250HO12961)    Highly Used & PTAT 3.23     60 %RK     18 %RK     58 %RK     99 %RK     A1A2     BB      zero Kingboy x Mack x Snowman
Lockstep (001HO16537)     #1 gNM$ & #1 gCM$     99 %RK     77 %RK     96 %RK     30 %RK     A1A2     AB      +++ GreyCup x Stealth x Positive
Lionel (7HO14454) #1NM$&CM$, #2TPI&DWP$     99 %RK     36 %RK     65 %RK     46 %RK      A2A2     AA      + Frazzled x Montross x Supersire
Luster-P (7HO14160)     #1 P TPI & PTAT 2.83     81 %RK     57 %RK     64 %RK     99 %RK     A2A2     AB      + Zipit-P x Kingboy x Supersire
Myriad-P (29HO20620)     #1 P gTPI       99 %RK     94 %RK     62 %RK       59 %RK     A1A2     AE      +++ Mendel-P x Luster-P x Achiever
Parfect (7HO15085)     #3 TPI & PTAT 2.71     95 %RK     77 %RK      80 %RK     96 %RK     A2A2     BB      ++ Renegade x Lambda x Denver
Thorson(551HO04520)   #2 gNM$, #2 gCM$, #3 gTPI      99 %RK     80 %RK     57 %RK     42 %RK     A2A2     AB      +++ Cowen x Charl x Director


* Punch has an identical twin with exactly the same indexes
%Fat – +++/++ significant improver, + improver, zero no improvement, -/– lowers %Fat
Color – (Red) theme <60%RK and daughters will be average or below average
         – (Black) theme 60-83%RK and daughters will be above average
       – (Blue) theme 84-99%RK and daughters will be significantly above average
Data Sources – CDCB and Lactanet files, reports and publications – April 2023

Table 2 Breed Leading Jersey Sires %RK for Breeding Themes

Rank in Population (April ’23) for Breeding Themes

              Health &     Potential for Increased Revenue  
Sire(NAAB Code) Industry Leadership Production    Fertility     Longevity Conformation   Beta Casein Kappa Casein % Fat Change                Sire Stack              
Jersey – North America                  
Chatham (7JE01789)     #1 CM$ & #2 JPI     99 %RK     99 %RK     92 %RK     70 %RK      A2A2     BB      Enzo x Lemonhead x Pharoah
Chief (200JE10034) #1Pro$, #2LPI, #2CM$, #4JPI     99 %RK     60 %RK     80 %RK     89 %RK     A2A2     BB      – Checkmate x Chrome x Fastrack
CINNAMON (200JE01422)     #1 gLPI       99 %RK     97 %RK     87 %RK     91 %RK     A2A2     BB      zero Machoman x Got Maid x Cord
Schooner (29JE04426)     #1 gJPI & #5 gCM$     99 %RK     50 %RK     56 %RK     53 %RK     A2A2     BB      zero  Thrasher x Completely x Marlo
TheBoss (200JE01334)     #1gCM$       98 %RK     97 %RK     95 %RK     68 %RK     A1A2     BB      + Got Maid x Chief x Viceroy
Thrasher (7JE01758)     #1 JPI & #3 CM$     99 %RK     99 %RK     87 %RK     50 %RK     A2A2     BB      — Pilgrim x Viceroy x Soleil
Victorious (7JE05032)     #1 CONF       41 %RK     60 %rRK     83 %RK     99 %RK     A2A2     BB      + Barnabas x Iatola x Duaiseoir
VIVALDI (200JE07756)     #1 LPI & #2 Pro$     97 %RK     71 %RK     85 %RK     99 %RK     A2A2     n/a      ++++ Lix x Implus x Paramont
Wichita (200JE01343)    #1 gPro$       99 %RK     21 %RK     38 %RK     81 %RK     A2A2     AB      Sinatra x Dancer x Tarheel
%Fat – ++++ significant improver, + improver, zero no I,improvement, –/- lowers %Fat
Color – (Red) theme <60%RK and daughters will be average or below average
       – (Black) theme 60-83 %RK and daughters will be above average
         – (Blue) theme 84-99 %RK and daughters will be significantly above average
Data Sources – CDCB and Lactanet files, reports and publications – April 2023

Some takeaway points from Tables 1 and 2 are:

  • All the sires in the table are breed leaders for one or more TMI or trait indexes.
  • %RK is a good and quick tool to position a sire’s indexes in the national herd for its breed.
  • It is a high standard but only two Holstein and two Jersey sires of the twenty-seven are improvers or leave the desired milk components for all seven categories in the tables.
  • 85% of the sires are breed improvers for production. It is the other categories that require focused consideration when selecting sires. 37.5% of the time in the six other categories the sire is not an improver or desired for milk composition.
  • A TMI index is a good first sort for selecting sires, but it is necessary to dig deeper and identify a sire’s strengths and limitations.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Dairy farmers should be prepared to select and use sires based on new functional, health and performance trait indexes once those indexes become available.

It is recommended that dairy farmers have a plan for which traits need genetic improvement in their herd.

Use all the genetic facts when making sire selection decisions, including if a sire is below average for a trait.

The saying – Select the Best (>83%RK) and Ignore the Rest (<60%RK) – should be practised when selecting sires.



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