Holstein Canada Female Registrations Trending Higher….Genetically

This article addresses recent animal genetic improvement for purebred Canadian Holsteins. To do that The Bullvine studied the sires used to produce females registered at Holstein Canada for the years 2021, 2022 and 2023. Thus, covering inseminations from early 2020 to early 2023.

Overview of the Study Results

Studying all the sires that produced female registrations would be a time-consuming task. Therefore, the study was limited to the thirty sires per year with the most female registrations. The following is a summary of the overall details found for the top ninety places for the three-year time period.

  • Many sires were in the top thirty for female registrations for more than one year. This resulted in only 53 individual sires (24 daughter-proven and 29 genomic) producing 238,306 female registrations (2021-2023) of which 36.4% of the females were sired by genomic sires. A relatively large number of genomic sires being on the most used sire lists was not expected as the recommendation to breeders is not to over-use genomic sires in order to spread risk. Nevertheless, Canadian Holstein breeders obviously have faith in genomic indexing. Three genomic sires with the most registered daughters attained 5th place (3147gLPI, A2A2) in 2021, 3rd place(3346gLPI, Pp) in 2022 and 5th place (3675gLPI, A2A2) in 2023.
  • All 53 sires were Beta Casein evaluated and, on a proportional female registration basis, 45% were sired by A2A2 sires, 45% by A1A2 sires and 10% by A1A1 sires. The 29 genomic sires were 63% A2A2, 28% A1A2 and 9% Breeders are rapidly taking up using Beta Casein test results when selecting sires. In all years, the proven sires with the most registered daughters were all A2A2.
  • 19% of the female registrations were sired by BB kappa casein sires*, 4% by PP polled (/POS) sires, 11% by Pp polled (/POC) sires, 3.4% by red (/RW) sires and 4.4% by red carrier (/RDC) sires. This study of the most used sires may underrepresent the usage of polled and red Holstein sires in Canada. [* All the sires did not have a kappa casein profile in the national database so beyond the BB category a percentage could not be determined.]
  • Significant improvement occurred on a weighted average LPI per registration over the three-year time period for both proven and genomic sires in the study group. The percentile ranks for the LPI’s of the study group sires were – proven sires were 70%RK LPI in 2021, 81%RK LPI in 2022 and 88%RK LPI in 2023 while genomic sires were 76%RK LPI in 2021, 90%RK LPI in 2022 and 97%RK LPI in 2023. The increases were due to an increased emphasis being placed in sire selection on health, fertility and functional traits.

Analysis of Sires Used

Daughter Proven Sires were used for their specific attributes in genetic improvement. The 24 sires averaged +9 CONF with high mammary system and stature indexes, averaged 95+% index accuracy and their daughters often had showring appeal. All were well-known proven sires for their owners. However over 40% of the time these sires had one or more deficiencies in fertility, milking speed, mastitis resistance, milk volume, or %Fat. Any of these deficiencies can negatively impact the HL index for a sire. As well for 30% of these sires, their high positive indexes for type (CONF based of first lactations only) and stature were not uniformly good predictors of longevity. As well the Feet and Leg indexes of these proven sires did not show a consistent pattern in predicting longevity, yet hoof health, depth of heel and rear legs rear view were useful predictors of higher HL indexes.

Genomic Sires were used to address future Holstein breed needs. These 29 sires had a different genetic index profile pattern than did the proven sires. They were not as highly indexed for CONF or stature, but their indexes were superior to the proven sires for %Fat, milk solids yield, Herd Life, Mastitis Resistance, Teat Length (they added length), Milking Speed, Daughter Calving Ability, Feed Efficiency and Beta Casein profile. The current genomic sires will greatly assist breeders with their plans for healthy, efficient and functional animals. A review of the most used genomic sires indicates that 90% of them had been selected by breeders based on their genetic merit rather than on their pedigree popularity.

Predictions for Breed Outcomes and Further Research Needed

Outcomes that Canadian Holstein breeders can expect by using breed leading sires over the next decade will include.

  • There will be increased fat and protein yields, increased %Fat and a prevalence of A2A2
  • There will be increased animal functionality and efficiency for many traits including foot health, locomotion, parlor traits, feed conversion and reduced labor per animal. Cows will be of moderate stature.
  • There will be increased animal longevity to an average of four lactations or 4,500 kgs of fat and protein per lifetime.
  • There will be increased animal health and welfare (including polled). Resulting in a positive impact on margins and consumer confidence.
  • Animals will be monitored, recorded and managed 24/7. The data in national databases will be paramount for benchmarking, evaluating and creating the future for farm, animal and industry success.

Further Genetic Research is needed in the following areas.

  • Feet: The jury is out on the most desired foot. Much more in-depth research is needed.
  • Transition / Fertility: The genetic factors associated with the time from pre-calving until when a successful pregnancy post calving is achieved need to be studied and then indexed genetically.
  • Body Size: The optimum body measurements are currently a topic being discussed. Objective study is needed for the best definitions for how body parts affect profitability.
  • Calf and Heifer Performance: There is much that has yet to be determined on calf and heifer performance and genetic traits as they affect an animal’s lifetime productivity and profitability.
  • Revised Total Merit Indexes: Most of tomorrow’s dairy farmers will select sires that produce productive, efficient, functional, fertile, trouble-free daughters. There are economically important traits not yet included in national or stakeholder total merit indexes.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Canadian Holstein Breeders are constructively using genetic information in selecting sires. Given that 90% of a herd’s genetic improvement comes from sires, breeders need to have an open and proactive approach to the genetic merit of the sires they purchase and use. Returning a profit will always be important when selecting sires. Select the best and ignore the rest.

Notes: 1) The Bullvine thanks Holstein Canada for providing the list of sires with the most registered daughters, and 2) The Dec ’23 Lactanet genetic indexes were used for the calculations.



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Growing The Farm Business – The Loewith Family Way

Every business owner must decide how to create their future in the industry that will exist in five or more years or decide when to exit the industry. Dairy farming is no different when the time for decision arrives.

Loewith Family Growth Decisions

Joe and Minna Loewith purchased the home farm west of Hamilton Ontario in 1947 and started dairy farming (Summitholm Holsteins) with fifteen cows.  They increased their herd size over many years. Their sons Carl and Dave joined the operation in the 1970’s and grandson Ben joined the operation in 1999. Daily production quota has been added on a continual basis. Major facility and herd expansions have occurred in 1981, 1999 and 2014. Significant growth has also occurred in animal and farm productivity, always employing start-of-the-art technology and farming practices along with elite animal breeding, feeding and management practices. The overall focus has always been efficient milk production. Summitholm Holsteins was awarded the Holstein Canada’s Master Breeder Shield in 2002.

Dave Loewith puts it – “If you aren’t improving and growing your business, then you are falling behind.”

Carl Loewith adds – “Critical to our advancement has been the dedication of our staff, the expertise provided by the team of people who service our farm and the researchers who report new facts and practices.”

Around 2018 the Loewith’s took stock of the limited land available to them to expand their farming operation with more and more houses and estate properties being built in their immediate area. They considered the challenges of where and when to spread manure and doing field work with noisy equipment in their rural-urban area often operating late at night or on weekends. They noted the growing consumer trend of wanting to buy direct from the farm. After they objectively assessed their family’s skill sets, they started to consider if their next expansion should be to initiate selling direct to consumers, instead of their pattern of expanding herd size. The family’s decision was to diversify and add to their operation an on-farm milk processing dairy and store, which will be described later in more detail.

Summitholm Holsteins facilities (circa 2018) where 470 milking cows currently average 44.8 kgs/day (3x), 4.55%F, 3.23%P, [for 50.2 kgs or 110.6# Standard Milk], 133 SCC and Calving Interval 13.0 months. 51% of the cows are in 3rd+ lactation. The average life-time milk produced of cows currently in the herd is 38,000 kgs (83,750#).  During the past year, the Involuntary Cull Rate was 14%. and the life-time milk production of the cows leaving the herd was 58,300 kgs (128,500#). For sure a model dairy herd for Canada. Summitholm Holsteins is well known as a Lactanet Top Ten Managed Herd (having been #1 Ontario Herd seven times) that annually hosts many industry tours both domestic and foreign.

Every Business Needs a Mission Statement

Summitholm Holstein’s Mission Statement, posted in the viewing area of its milking parlor, covers five key areas well worth being included in any progressive dairy farm’s business plan – product, animals, staff/people, environment and community.

Jennifer Howe-Loewith reports that this farm mission statement will be adapted to the new company, Summit Station Dairy and Creamery.

Summit Station Comes Alive

The owners of Summit Station Dairy & Creamery, Jennifer (wife), Ben (husband), Dave (uncle) and Carl (father, absent) are pictured, on a busy farming and construction day in late June 2023, outside the newly constructed building that houses the milk processing plant and store. The building’s exterior emulates the late 1800’s Summit Train Station, demolished about 1955 when the train line was removed. That station was located two hundred meters from the new modern dairy-creamery-store building which overlooks the Summit Bog, an environmentally sensitive but beautiful area in West Hamilton.

One spark for the Loewith Family on its journey to Summit Station Dairy and Creamery was the annual Farm Public Open House held in late December at Summitholm Holsteins in cooperation with the Wentworth County Milk Producers. For over a decade, the local dairy farmers have been running this event which has seen thousands of people visit Summitholm barns and see a milking. The public always raved about the tours and experience. This annual event has raised the profile of both the Loewith Family farm and the value of supporting local food producers.

Ben Loewith is trained in business management and is experienced in working in topflight business companies. He described for the author the SWOT (Strengths/Weakness/Opportunities/Threats) Analysis that the family went through, starting four years ago, to arrive at a detailed plan, financing, engagement of advisors, licensing, hiring contractors, purchasing the state-of-the-art equipment, etc. Research, in preparation for establishing Summit Station Dairy and Creamery, showed that 15,000 cars per workday pass by on the highway adjacent to the farm and dairy. The dairy-creamery and store are the Loewith Family’s solution to growing their operation, taking advantage of their proximity to 600,000 Hamiltonians and more and more consumers wanting to buy local. Of course, as expected, extensive work was required in multiple areas including – legal, health & safety, regulation, zoning, utility services, data systems, training, etc. for Summit Station to take shape..

Valentina, a fabricated model cow, will be used to promote and identify Summit Station Dairy and Creamery both on site and at off-site locations. Her color marking are an exact replicated of a cow currently milking at Summitholm Holsteins, including the perfect black heart. Marketing and communications will be virtual. Selling onsite and at offsite markets will be handled by family and staff trained to support the benefits of Summit Station Dairy and Creamery product quality, the value of dairy products to health and nutrition and the promotion of the dairy industry.

Some areas of Summit Station Dairy and Creamery’s operation that will interest Bullvine readers include:

  • Milk products that will be sold include various milks, curds and yogurts. Jennifer reports that “the Loewith Family knows fluid milk, so that was an obvious product. However, Dairy Farmers of Ontario allocation of milk to processors and its milk pricing somewhat dictated what other products the Summit Station Store could sell, at start-up.’ Hard cheeses will be sold in the store and will come from selected independent cheese makers.
  • A home delivery system will start in September 2023. Ordering and payment will be handled electronically. All deliveries will be made by family members in dairy owned vans. Delivery will not be outsourced. The Loewith Family feels that it is important to be able to tell and assure customers that the family controls every step – from the field to their door.
  • The dairy will use about 10% of Summitholm Holsteins’ production. Milk must be inspected and approved before being moved from the farm tank to the dairy. The process in Ontario requires that the farm’s milk must be sold to Dairy Farmers of Ontario and then bought back by the on-farm dairy at about 133% of the farm gate price.
  • The on-farm store will have its grand opening on Canadian Thanksgiving Weekend, October 7-9, 2023.

Milk sales will be by using returnable, reusable glass bottles. At start-up two customized vans will make weekly deliveries to customers and for the return of empties.

How Will Summit Station Dairy Affect Summitholm Holsteins?

Ben and Dave do not see the dairy affecting the farm operation in a major way except that there will be a milk holding tank specifically for milk that will be transferred to the dairy.  The milk going into that tank will only come from A2A2 beta casein cows, although, at first, there are no plans for the milk to be sold as certified “a2”.

The breeding program for the Summitholm herd will continue to focus on high lifetime milk solids production. Holstein sires will all be genomically evaluated and highly ranked for milk solids production, longevity, functionality, health and efficiency traits. Sires will not necessarily be required to be A2A2 beta casein or BB kappa casein. All Holstein heifers are genomically tested and are bred Holstein sexed. Above average younger cows are bred conventional Holstein and older and below average milking cows. As well as problem breeders, are bred beef (Limousin). All male and beef calves are sold to a single veal operation. Even though there are now fewer Holstein heifers born and raised at Summitholm Holsteins, a sizable portion are sold to other farms that line up to purchase well reared, productive and long-lived animals.

The Loewith Family Companies Going Forward

Ben and Jennifer are now the leaders of the owner-management team for the farm and the dairy. With Carl and Dave officially retired from milking cows, Ben is in charge of both the farm and the dairy. Knowing the scope involved with launching and running a public-facing business, Jennifer stepped away from her media career to join the family business as Summit Station’s General Manager. Data, facts, science, ROI and best practices will continue to form the basis for decisions. That model has been well practiced and taught by Dave and Carl. Dairy, store and farm staff will total over fifty by the end of 2023 and will be composed of family, trained specialists and local hires. The Loewith’s are well known in their community and the dairy industry for employing, training and retaining their staff.

There are some additional projects currently in process or planned. A solar field that, by early 2024, will supply 80% of the energy required by the farm and dairy. Weekend farm tours and agriculture education events are upcoming. Also planned is a covered outdoor community market area featuring partnering with local farming entrepreneurs. Of course, there will be more initiatives once Ben and Jennifer have the dairy operational.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The Bullvine congratulates the Loewith Family on their foresight and for the progress in growing their businesses.They are creating an expanded business model that will ensure a future place for Loewith family members. Joe and Minna stimulated Dave and Carl to grow and develop Summitholm Holsteins. Now Dave and Carl have stimulated and supported Ben and Jennifer, who no doubt will do the same for future Loewith generations.

The Bullvine challenges our farmer-readers to take time to consider developing a business model for moving their dairy farm into the future. Standing still is a highly unlikely choice for success!

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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Do Feet and Leg Indices Really Help Improve Mobility and Reduce Lameness?

Every dairy herd manager is well-aware of the negative effects that lameness and impaired mobility have on the bottom line. These negatives occur in the growing pen, in the milk pail, in poorer conception, and in extended days in the dry pen. Genetic progress has been made in some feet and leg areas. However, to this day, there is not an easily applied genetic-based selection formula that helps achieve a long-lived animal with healthy feet and excellent locomotion for dairy animals.

What Causes Lameness and Mobility Problems?

There are many causes for why dairy cattle suffer from lameness and impaired mobility – due to sub-par farm facilities and practices, diseases, genetics, nutrition, …etc.

To date, the focus for avoiding lameness has been on management. Regular hoof care, foot baths, animal exercise, and environment adjustments are front of mind for herd managers to minimize lame and immobile animals. As well, most farms have adopted feeding programs so that diets are balanced and do not contribute to problems.

How Do Dairy Farmers See the Genetic Improvement of Their Animals for Feet and Locomotion?

Farmers recently surveyed in the Alberta Lameness Reduction Initiative study reported that they primarily rely on their hoof trimmers and veterinarians for the hoof care of their animals. It is as if improvement through genetic selection is not considered possible. Some dairy farmers have moved to crossbreeding to improve the feet and mobility of their animals.

Clearly, farmers, at least in confined housing environments, have accepted that they must incur the added costs associated with frequently trimming all animals’ feet and the premature culling of problem animals. Currently, many Holstein farmers are also expressing concern over a recent increasing prevalence of cows with straight rear legs (side view) often also involving the lack of flex in rear leg joints (spastic paresis).

The bottom line, from a genetic perspective, is that farmers do not know which sires or bloodlines to use to genetically improve their animals’ feet and locomotion.

Does the Cost of Lameness Justify More Attention?

Both North American and European dairy industry officials estimate that every case of lameness in milking cows costs between $300 and $500 in lost net lactation income. That figure does not include the lost income for the cows that do not exhibit lameness but are not performing 100% in milk production. Nor does it include the increased replacement costs due to premature culling. Managers also must add on the lost opportunities and costs associated with calves, heifers and dry cows that are lame.

The short answer is that, with half the cows having at least one lameness case of their lifetime, lameness and impaired locomotion cost the global dairy industry big time in performance and profits as well as a negative consumer image for the industry.

Common Terms Are Not Used

Universal terms are not used throughout the dairy cattle world when it comes to defining problems associated with feet and animal movement.

ICAR uses the terms lameness and locomotion with data definitions for each. ICAR recommends that they be evaluated independently. Yet in many countries, including USA, Oceana and Nordic Countries, mobility is the term used instead of locomotion. In some cases, mobility may also be considered to cover both feet and an animal’s ability to move properly.

For this article, we will not be concerned with which terms are used but rather the steps needed to genetically index and then breed animals that are superior for their feet and their locomotion.

Is it Possible to Genetically Improve Lowly Heritable Traits like Feet and Locomotion?

Where once it was considered impossible to improve traits for which the heritability is low or for which there was no data, now much has changed. It started many years ago with the capture of data for genetic defects followed by calving ease, conception rates, udder health, … plus many more. What it took to move to eliminating these negative attributes was to implement methods of data capture either by farmer observations or laboratory analysis. Once there was an adequate amount of data, genetic evaluations were conducted. Then genetic indexes were used in animal selection with positive outcomes.

Traditional Thinking for Genetically Improving Feet and Locomotion

Having breed ideals, evaluating animals compared to those ideals, and producing genetic indexes for the ideal form for feet and legs has not stopped the downward slide in the genetic merit of animals for feet and locomotion. In the USA, the genetic correlation between Feet & Leg Composite (FLC) and longevity (PL) is zero (+0.08). In Canada, only the feet and leg descriptive traits heel depth and rear legs rear view have even a low moderate positive genetic correlation (+0.30 & +0.21) with longevity (HL). Genetically evaluating feet and legs solely on body form (type classification) should not take the entire blame that genetic improvement for feet and locomotion has not occurred. Without accurate genetic information for feet and locomotion, sires with inferior parents have not been excluded from entry into A.I.

Breeding to Avoid Hoof Disease Has Started

Data for foot diseases has recently been captured and forwarded by hoof trimmers to genetic evaluation centers which have produced Holstein sire genetic indexes for Hoof Health in Canada and Nordic Countries. (Read Bullvine’s “Put Your Best Foot Forward.”)  Therefore, the process for having more useful genetic indexes for breeding healthy feet is started.

Recently published Cornell research findings from New York dairy farms shows that cows that become thin after calving are more prone to feet problems due to the loss of fat cushioning in their feet. The condition is known as loss of digital cushion thickness. Could it be that bulls that sire cows that are able to retain body condition, while early in lactation and producing heavily, are genetically superior for avoiding hoof health problems?

How Feet and Legs Function Now Drawing Attention

Currently, studies are underway in numerous universities, companies, and countries to capture lameness and locomotion data using cameras/devices/owner reporting. There are two uses for the data – on-farm animal management and conducting genetic evaluations. Of course, as with any system where genetic indexes are produced, all animals in a herd must be monitored and reported to achieve high genetic prediction accuracy. The extent of the traits evaluated varies from study to study and includes a degree of lameness, distribution of weight to each limb, back carriage, length of stride, ease of movement, … etc. One study currently underway is a survey by Lactanet on crampiness (inherited periodic spasticity) in dairy animals.

Dairy farmers can expect to see reports from these studies for both feet and locomotion in the next couple of years. The challenge then for dairy farmers will be how to interpret and use the sire indexes for the many different traits.

A Total Approach Is Need to Genetically Address Lameness and Lack of Proper Locomotion

The time has come for the silos between organizations and disciplines to come down. Silos when it comes to analyzing and combining all the data for feet and locomotion to arrive at identifying both superior and inferior animals. The scope of that data must include body parts, health/disease and the functioning of body parts. This data could also be captured and reported to genetic evaluation centers for heifers and genomic sires.

One study currently underway that combines all data areas is being led by CDCB and includes farmers, hoof trimmers, an electronic animal monitoring company and geneticists. A full description of the study can be found at  The study has put in place a total data framework for feet and locomotion covering data from the farm to the genomic profiles.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

With dairy cattle breeding expanding to include health, animal care and efficiencies, the opportunity exists for all stakeholders in the milk production industry to address and support research and development on genetically improving the feet and locomotion of today’s dairy cattle.

Ultimately dairy farmers and the entire dairy cattle industry can be the winners. Lame animals and animals with inferior locomotion are dysfunctional.  The desirable genes exist in dairy cattle, it is a matter of identifying the superior animals for genetically avoiding lameness and locomotion problems.



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How Milk Producers Can Breed Problem Free Dairy Cows

Increasing output has been the dominant theme in dairy cattle improvement for decades. Average cow milk production has been doubled and redoubled in the past century by dairy farmers applying the new information on genetics, nutrition and management. However, as every dairy farmer knows, more and more is not always better. One dairy friend recently mentioned to me that “it is not the sprint but the marathon that dairy cows need to be bred for. There needs to be much more emphasis placed on reducing the costs of animal turnover. Also, on capturing extensive facts on daily cow events and body functions and eliminating animals that cannot function without individual care. Breeding for the disposable labor-intensive cow needs to be a thing of the past”.

A major but achievable challenge going forward on the breeding side of the dairy animal equation will be to capture new field data and turning it into genetic indexes for traits that are currently holding animals back from achieving even more profitable lifetime performance.

Current On-Farm Animal Problems Traits Without a Genetic Solution

A short list of animal problems that can be genetically improved include: foot growth and disease; animal mobility; animal resistance to health-related diseases; calf and heifer health and growth; cow fertility while in the peak of lactation; and cow transition from non-milking to milking. These problems have been considered as having too low a heritability or lack data. It has been necessary for dairy farmers to address those animal problems from a nutrition or management approach rather than genetically. With the current rapid progress in on-farm data capture, there will be new data relative to animal problems and we should expect to see genetic indexes for these and other animal related problems.

Animal Problems Traits with Genetic Indexes

Many traits that create problem animals now have genetic indexes available because farmers supplied the data and geneticists developed genetic indexes. These traits include: udder conformation; difficult calvings; udder health; milking speed; infertility; metabolic diseases; and genetic defects. Industry collaboration from the farm to the labs got the job done.

Problem Free Animals will be Even More Important in the Future

Predictions abound on what the dairy cattle industry will be at the farm level in the future. Without going into extensive detail on those predictions, some of the predictions that will benefit from more attention being given to breeding problem free animals include:

  • Farm labor will be costly and it will be replaced by machines, likely to where there will be double (even triple) the current number of animals per farm worker.
  • Consumers will demand to know details, including animal welfare, before they buy livestock products (milk and meat).
  • Dairy farms will operate on narrower margins and matters holding back higher and higher performance will not be tolerated.
  • Animals will be required to perform in large group, in totally monitored environments and in some parts of the world where dairy animals graze on non-prime land. and
  • Achieving at least an extra lactation on every cow, which first calves earlier, which requires less labor and which works well in an automated system will form the backbone of every viability and sustainability farm.

Start by Assessing the Current Herd Animal Problems

In the past most often herds have primarily focused sire and female replacement selection on one or both of production and conformation indexes. That is fine but those improvements have come at the expense of deteriorations in fertility, foot health, mobility, overall animal health and disease resistance. Add to that that monitoring of and genetic improvement of calves and heifers for problem traits have not been addressed.

Time well spent for all herds would be to assess their herds’ current genetic status and future needs when it comes to additional cow, calf and heifer traits that could lower animal related problems. Every dollar saved in cost can go directly to an increase in the bottom line.

Choosing a Genetic Route for Decreasing Animal Problems

Progress in decreasing problem traits will not be fast as inseminations made in 2021/2022 will only significantly impact the future herd when the cows conceived now form 50% of the miking herd in 2027/2028 and 75% of the herd’s milk production in 2030/2031. All traits cannot be improved simultaneously – select the 2-4 animal problem traits needing the focus.

Improving lowly heritable animal problem traits can be done by two routes –by selection within a breed or through crossbreeding. Either route will work provided superior sires are used. Crossbreeding will be quicker but usually focuses on sequences of breeds used and not on sire genetic merit. Selection within breed will maintain breed purity and will be permanent. It usually takes the use of superior sires for more than two successive generations to see major improvement for lowly heritable traits.

The result will be healthy growthy early calving (19-21 months) replacement females and long-lived (5+ lactations) healthy fertile non-labor-intensive cows.

How to Know Which Sires are Superior

It is important for sire selection decision makers to know which animal problem indexes correspond to superior, average and inferior sires.

With every index run CDCB ( publishes on its website breed and sire group means and standard deviations for all indexed animal (including problem) traits. Average is not always 0.0.

Superior sires for PL are above 5.0 for proven Holstein sires and above 4.0 for proven Jersey sires. Average PL for proven sires in both breeds is approximately 2.0. Superior genomics Holstein sires are at least 6.0 for PL. For most other animal problem traits their average index is close to 0.0 and superior sires are above 1.0 to 2.0.

At Lactanet ( ) superior sires are rated above 105, average sires are 100 and inferior sires are 99 and lower for functional and health traits.

Other countries evaluate sires for animal problem traits. The Nordic Genetic Evaluation Center and CRV (The Netherlands) have published sire indexes for animal problem traits for many years. Details on their systems and sire profiles are available on their websites.

Suggestions on How to Select Sires for Animal Problem Traits

It must be stated that perfect sires that will significantly improve each and every trait do not exist. Definitely, semen from sires that are below average for any economically important traits including for animal problem traits should not be purchased.

The following is a suggested five step process for milk producers to use to narrow down the available sire ranking lists.

Steps to Arrive at Sires to be Used

Step #1             Identify Top Genomic Sires (60%-70% of AI services)

From the top 100 Holstein / 50 Jersey sire listings for gNM$, gCM$, gPro$, gTPI, gLPI, gJPI or gDWP$, select 15-30 sires that fit the herd’s breeding plan for revenue generating traits (milk, fat, protein, %F, caseins,…). Remember that because genomic indexes having lower reliabilities it is recommended not to over-use any one genomic sire. If genomic sires are not used, ignore Step #1.

Step #2             Identify Top Daughter Proven Sires (30% to 40% of AI services)

From the top 50 Holstein / 20 Jersey sire listings for NM$, CM$, Pro$, TPI, LPI, JPI or DWP$, select 10-15 sires that fit the herd’s breeding plan for revenue generating traits (milk, fat, protein, %F, %P, caseins, …). If daughter proven sires are not used, ignore Step #2

Elimination of Sires for Step #1 and Step #2 Lists

  • Sires that do not significantly improve their daughters for longevity (PL/HL) are not recommended for use in milk production focused herds. It is a proven fact that older cows produce more profit on both a lactation and lifetime basis.
  • Additionally sires that improve their daughters for calving at an earlier age (EFC) reduce rearing costs and give the opportunity for animals to achieve a positive lifetime profit earlier in their life.
  • Not all high Total Merit Index sires significantly improve longevity and/or early first calving.

Step #3             Remove Sires that Do Not Significantly Improve Longevity and Early First Calving

Remove from the Step #1 (genomic) sire list all sires that are below PL 6.0 or HL 106 and EFC 4.0 for Holsteins and PL 5.0 or HL 105 and EFC 3.0 for Jerseys.

Remove from the Step #2 (proven) sire list all sires that are below PL 5.0 or HL 105 and EFC 2.5 for Holsteins and PL 4.0 and HL 105 and EFC 2.5 for Jerseys.

Step #4             Remove from the Step #3 lists sires that are Below Average for Animal Problem Traits

Sires in Step #3 Lists that are below average for problem traits needing improvement in a herd should be removed from consideration for purchasing semen. Currently indexed animal problem traits include DPR/DF, SCS, HH, DCE/DCA, MDR’s, BCS and LIV/HLV.

Step #5             Purchase and Use Semen

Sires remaining on the herd list at the end of Step #4 will leave superior daughters for production, body functions, reproduction, health and are more animal problem free. Mating sires to females can be by complimentary mating or random mating. Remember matings made in 2021/2022 are for females that will be milking in a herd in 2027 to 2030.

Upcoming CDCB Webinar on Mobility

Bullvine readers may be interested in taking part in a webinar hosted by CDCB – Improving Cow Mobility Through Genetics– Wednesday October 20, 2-4 pm Eastern Time. Speakers will cover reducing lesion related lameness, hoof health and lameness, digital scoring for lameness, plus a researcher-industry-producer roundtable on improving mobility. Register for the CDCB webinar at Questions may be directed to Amy te Plate-Church at

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The rate of genetic improvement in dairy cattle breeding is currently very good and will be even faster for dairy farmers that use current and future genetic indexes for animal problems.

Dairy farmers and their advisors must be open-minded in sire selection and include traits that will reduce animals with problems.

On an industry basis it is time to capture more data from animals with problems, to calculate genetic indexes for more of the animal related problems and to use those indexes to produce animals that are even more profitable.




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Feed Efficiency Indexes – Which One Will You Use?

Today farmers are focusing on maximizing net returns, productivity, efficient use of inputs and resources, and keeping costs under control. Environmental responsibility and producing what buyers need and will pay for also affect outcomes. With all these pressures farmers are aware that feed costs are seventy percent of the variable on-farm costs. As a result, income over feed costs (IOFC) is being more closely monitored and used by dairy farmers and their advisors.

Dairy Farmers Know that Feed Costs are Important

Dairy farmers easily report the production of each of their cows but not individual cow feed intakes. To do that takes constant monitoring and manually it would be a costly and time-consuming process. It would be too costly to justify the savings in the cost of production. It is not that dairy farmers are not interested in knowing the differences between their cows in feed conversion efficiencies. As with other important traits, if sires could be ranked by their daughter’s ability at converting feed to milk, then genetic improvement should be possible. Remember that 90% of the possible genetic improvement in dairy cattle can be achieved by using the highest-ranked sires.

Where Feed Efficiency Genetic Indexing Got Started

In 2015 Australian researchers and genetic evaluators commenced publishing sire rankings for their daughters’ feed efficiency and they called the trait Feed Saved. This has been followed by many other countries and some breeding companies conducting research and developing systems to rank sires for feed conversion efficiency. The initial investigations utilized feed intake, milk production, and body weight changes from research study cows. Since then, data from commercial herd cows has been captured and used to add to the analysis to identify sire daughter differences in their ability to convert feed into milk, all the time accounting for levels of milk production (Energy Corrected Milk) and body weight and changes in body weight.

Feed Efficiency Genetic Indexes are Coming into Vogue

Today, in 2021, dairy farmers in seven countries have access to sire indexes for feed efficiency. Indexes for females are also being published by some countries. However, a major challenge is that with many different indexes being published, farmers have questions including – what are the indexes based on and which one to use when selecting sires for their herd and when mating females?

There are essentially two methods of expressing animal feed efficiency indexes. These will be explained in the following two sections.

Base Indexing for Feed Efficiency

The basis for determining differences between milking cows in metabolic feed conversion efficiency compares differences between cows in feed consumed (Dry Matter Intake) and milk produced (ECM), while factoring in a cow’s requirements for body maintenance and level of production. The term used to describe the number arrived at is Residual Feed Intake (RFI). It is measured in mid-lactation and is the residual between what a cow is expected to consume to produce and maintain her body compared to what she actually consumes. Cows consuming less than expected are the ones given positive ratings for feed efficiency and conversely, cows consuming more than expected receive negative ratings. In heifers, the comparisons between animals are based on feed consumption and growth.

Expanded Indexing for Feed Efficiency

Farmers know that feeding animals on dairy farms goes beyond what happens within any given cow’s body. On herd and animal population bases many other things are affected when there is – less land used to grow feeds – less feed harvested – less greenhouse gas emission – less manure produced – as well as other factors impacting the environment. Both farmers and society gain by having more feed efficient animals.

Australian researchers coined the term Feed Saved for the combination of RFI plus the less feed required for body maintenance by smaller cows. Some other countries and some breeding companies are following the Australian lead and are producing sire indexes based on Feed Saved

Feed Efficiency Indexes Dairy Cattle Breeders Will See

Currently, many feed efficiency indexes are published and promoted for use by dairy cattle breeders.  A partial list follows:

National Feed Efficiency Indexes

  • United States – CDCB calculates and commenced (Dec 2020) publishing RFI indexes for sires. Effective in August 2021, animal Feed Saved indexes will be included in the NM$, CM$, FM$ and GM$. For many years body weight has already been included in some USA total merit indexes. The data set used to establish Feed Saved base numbers includes past and present national and international Holstein research study cows. An average animal will receive a rating slightly above zero in lifetime dollar savings based on the Feed Saved formula.
  • Canada – Lactanet calculates and publishes feed efficiency indexes based on RFI animal indexes. Lactanet describes their feed efficiency indexes as – “The overall aim for Lactanet’s ‘Feed Efficiency’ rating is selection for cows that use less feed at the same level of production and body size after the peak of lactation and is not aimed at reducing maintenance requirements by lowering body weight”. The data set used to calculate the Lactanet RFI indexes are the same international data set used by CDCB. An average animal will receive a rating of 100 for ‘Feed Efficiency’.
  • The Netherlands – CRV calculates and in 2020 started publishing animal feed efficiency indexes based on the Feed Saved formula. CRV bases the calculations on a data set of over 7,000 cows including over 2,500 cows on twenty commercial farms.
  • Nordic Countries – Nordic Cattle Genetic Evaluation (NCGE) calculates and publishes animal feed efficiency indexes using its own program called Saved Feed. Saved Feed is different than Feed Saved and its formula is based on combining NCGE breeding values for body maintenance and metabolic efficiency.
  • Australia – DataGene calculates and publishes animal feed efficiency indexes based on the Feed Saved formula.

Other countries, primarily from Western Europe, are studying and developing national feed efficiency indexes which will soon be available for dairy farmers to see and use.

Company Feed Efficiency Indexes

  • Sexing Technologies– STgen has allocated considerable resources to monitoring thousands of animals in its herds for feed conversion efficiency. It started by monitoring heifers for consumption and performance, followed by monitoring those heifers as milking cows. Its calculations are based on RFI independent of body size and performance. The program is called EcoFeed and an average sire for feed efficiency is rated 100.
  • Select Sires Inc – SSI rates sires according to FeedPRO which “optimizes selection for increased production and moderate body size while maintaining body condition score and daughter fertility. This rating designates sires with the genetics to improve income over feed costs and maintain health and reproductive traits”.
  • Viking Genetics – Viking Genetics works closely with NCGE including providing cameras that daily capture individual heifer and cow feed consumptions and other animal events for Holsteins, Jersey and Red Dairy Cattle.
  • Holstein Association USA – US Holstein calculates and publishes its FE$ index for animals. FE$ has been based on the added cost of maintenance for larger animals and the value of an animal’s genetic merit for fat and protein over added feed costs for the extra production. Effective April 2021 an animal’s genetic merit for Feed Save was included in the FE$ formula. FE$ forms part of the TPI formula and top-ranking sires receive a FE$ value of 250 and above.

Heritability, Correlations, and Reliability for Residual Feed Indexes

  • Heritability – All sources calculate the heritability of RFI to be moderate (0.14 to 0.25), like the heritability for production traits. Using RFI indexes, animals can be improved for feed efficiency through selection.
  • Correlations to Other Traits – The correlation of RFI to other traits have been universally found to be very low (most ranging between -0.10 to 0.10). To improve RFI, it must be selected independent of other traits.
  • Reliability – Because of the current limited number of animals for which there is total basic RFI information, the reliability of animal genetic indexes for RFI and Feed Saved are low (below 50% REL). Until there is much more animal data for RFI calculations (genomic and daughter proven indexes), caution should be practiced when selecting animals based solely on RFI or Feed Saved.

Why Include Body Weight when Indexing for Feed Efficiency?

Dairy farmers are modifying the importance they place on stature. Currently, some farmers are yet to be convinced that the bodyweight of milking cows needs to be decreased. Recent research has found that the 2001 NRC published energy requirements for body maintenance underestimate the actual requirement by 50%. Thus, body weight is more important in the cost of feed to produce milk than previously considered to be the case. Approximately 70% of the emphasis on Feed Saved is for the feed required to maintain an animal’s body weight. Additionally, body size and weight affect areas beyond feed for milking cows including – stall sizes, need to revamp facilities for larger animals, extra feed to grow animals larger to first calving, higher feed costs during the dry period, … to name a few. Farmers can expect to see more studies conducted by researchers and organizations on determining optimum body size and weight.

What About Breed Differences in Feed Efficiency?

As yet, there is not adequate animal feed intake and performance data to accurately compare breeds for feed efficiency.  So far there are only feed efficiency indexes for Holsteins.

Which Feed Efficiency Index is the Best One?

It is too early in having feed efficiency indexes available to know if any one of the indexes is more accurate than the others. And if any indexes rank animals in a similar manner.

Feed Efficiency Indexes Will Be Included in Total Merit Indexes (TMI’s)

In August 2021 Feed Saved will be added to the NM$ total merit index. Adding Feed Saved to NM$ will cause re-visions to trait emphasis. The emphasis for traits in NM$ will be: Production (M/F/P) 48%; Productive Life 16%; Feed Saved 13%; Cow Health & Livability 8%; Reproduction & Calving 8%; Type 4%; and Heifer Traits (EFC & CLIV, both new to NM$) 2%. With the multiple enhancements to NM$, there will be a wider range in NM$ indexes. The very top Holstein sires will have values of $1,200 and higher.

Dairy farmers concerned about a possible reduction in cow body weight by adding Feed Saved to NM$ should be aware that leading USA geneticists estimate that the current trait weightings in NM$ will result in mature cows weighing 52 lbs. less a decade from now. The weighting for Feed Saved in TPI is predicted to hold or slightly lower cow weight.

Feed efficiency is included in Australian and Nordic TMI’s. Other countries will likely soon include feed efficiency indexes in their national TMI’s.

Include Feed Efficiency Indexes When Doing Your Sire Selection

Herds breeding to increase the IOFC for their milking cows should avoid using sires that are below average for feed efficiency. It is preferable to only use sires that are in the top 25-35% for feed efficiency.

The Bullvine recommends that dairy farmers first shortlist sires of interest to them based on a TMI index (NM$, CM$, TPI, LPI, Pro$, … etc.). Then eliminate the sires that are not above average for feed efficiency.

What will be the Benefits of having Feed Efficiency Indexes?

The potential benefits, as reported by various organizations, include:

  1. CDCB estimates that implementing Feed Saved will improve US dairy farm profitability by US$ 8M per year.
  2. CRV predicts that the top 25% of the cows for feed efficiency in a herd will produce 0.4-0.5 kgs more milk per day on the same feed as the 25% lowest cows for feed efficiency.
  3. Viking Genetics has calculated that the difference in feed consumption between the most and least feed efficient cows in a herd to be one ton of dry matter consumed per 305-day lactation for animals giving the same amount of milk.
  4. STgen research shows that high rated heifers for feed efficiency consume 24% less feed per day with equal performance (growth and health).
  5. By using top ranked sires for F+P, RFI/Feed Saved and PL, within two generations a farm will be able to produce 10-20% more milk for the same feed costs;  and
  6. Of course, beyond the efficiencies at the cow level there are the savings at the herd, industry, and society levels.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

With feed efficiency indexes breeders now have a new tool in their genetic toolbox that can be used to improve farm profit.

Dairy farmers should acquaint themselves with the details and benefits of breeding their herds for feed efficiency (Feed Saved) and their animals for feed conversion efficiency (RFI).

The breeding of dairy cattle is in ‘Change Mode’. Where once large higher producing cows was the goal, the concept of doing more with less and breeding for efficiency and maximizing net returns are now the goal of proactive progressive dairy farmers.




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Learn from The Best Herds – What Programs and Strategies Do They Use to Maximize Performance

Dairy Farmers gauge their practices and performance by comparing their herds to those of fellow farmers. In Canada one way to compare dairy herds that participate in Lactanet’s recording, testing and management services, is the annual Herd Management Score Report.

Herd Management Formula

The six criteria in this herd comparison formula are: Milk Value (50% of weighting); Udder Health (15%); Calving Interval (10%); Longevity (10%); Herd Efficiency (10%); and Age at First Calving (5%).

On seeing the results published by Lactanet early in 2021, The Bullvine asked – “So what is known about the results for top herds, especially their genetics, the improvement services top herds employ and what are top herds planning for future years?”

Top Herds Surveyed

To dig deeper, The Bullvine conducted a phone survey of twelve, top 0.5%, herds. The herds surveyed, from across Canada, were the top herds by breed (Holstein, Jersey & Ayrshire), the top herds by region (W Canada, Ontario, Quebec & E Canada), the top organic herd and four additional herds selected at random from the top ten Canadian managed dairy herds.

How Do Top Herds Perform?

As would be expected these top twelve herds on average performed at extremely high levels (Table 1).

Table 1 -Top Managed Herds (12x) Performance

Criteria   Holstein(8x) Other Breeds/Organic(4x)
Average Number of Cows   116 64
Kgs Fat / Cow / Day   1.81 (4.0#) 1.52 (3.35#)
Kgs Protein / Cow / Day   1.47 (3.24#) 1.12 (2.47#)
Average SCC   115,000 154,000
Age at First Calving (months)   22.6 22.4
Average Calving Interval (months)   12.8 12.4
Longevity (% cows in 3rd+ lactation)   52 50
Herd Efficiency (% of herd in milk)   87 86
Animal Housing  Free Stalls 5 1
  Packs 1 0
  Tie Stalls 2 3
Milking Frequency 2X 3 3
  3X 3 1
  Robot 2 0

The Canadian milk supply managed system is based on a herd’s daily production of kgs of fat. As a result, daily fat yield per cow per day is on the minds of farmers in all aspects of their dairy enterprise – genetics, nutrition and management. The daily fat and protein production per cow for the twelve herds are exceptional. Payment to farmers for the milk they ship is based on fat, protein and other solids volumes. Therefore, having high protein yields per cow per day, is also important.

Milk Sales have a 50% weighting in the Management Score formula. It is not surprising that the very top herds stand out for daily production of fat and protein.

With ninety milking cows being the average dairy herd size in Canada, it is noteworthy that the Holstein herds combine superior performance with the ability to take advantage of the economies of scale. Both of which significantly contribute to herd profitability. Additionally, two categories where all twelve herds stand out are Calving Interval and Age at First Calving.

Which Programs and Services Do Top Herds Use?

Dairy farmers rely on programs and services to achieve superior performance. Table 2 shows the usage rate for a multitude of programs and services for the twelve herds surveyed.

Table 2 – Programs & Services Used by Top Mananged Herds

Percent of Herds Using      
100% Lactanet Services (recordin, testing, management),  A.I., TMR, Herd Health (including ultra sounding),    
  Animal Identification & Traceability   Automated Milker Take-Off
80-99% Beef Semen on low cows Sexed Semen on Heifers  
  Transition Cow Program Various Herd Management Softwares  
  Multiple Herd & Farm Advisory Services    
60 – 79% Type Classification Electronic Activity and Rumination Monitoring  
  Various Apps – monitoring events, performance,…    
Also mentioned Genomic Testing, Use Only Genomic / Proven Sires, Ovsynch/CIDR,     

Some additional interesting facts reported during the phone surveys include:

  • 50% of the farms have a family member employed off-farm in the agricultural industry (veterinarians, veterinary technicians, cheese/ice cream store owner, chicken broiler farm owner, salespersons – seeds, equipment, farm supplies, …)
  • 75% of the farms have a family member elected to serve their community or agriculture – municipal councilors, directors of local, provincial and national farmer organizations and directors of agricultural industry advisory service organizations.
  • These farms often share farming machinery with neighbors. One herd has a neighbor that prepares and delivers their TMR to their herd.

Traits Top Herds Select For

 Sire selection was always mentioned by survey participants as being especially important.  Whereas cow families and awareness of female lineage were not considered in decision making by most farms. 80% of the farms reported using sexed semen on heifers. Beef semen is used on all the farms for 30% to 70% of the inseminations for milking cows. The survey did not ask if the farm had decreased the number of heifers being raised but many responders volunteered, that with sexed semen, they are now using fewer A.I. services to dairy sires.

The traits important in sire selection for these top herds are listed in Table 3.

Table 3 – Traits Top Managed Herds Use in Sire Selection

Percent Usage by Herds    
100% Fat Yield & Fat %  
80-99% Milk Yield Protein Yield & Protein %
  Health Traits (including SCC)  
  Feet & Legs Longevity
60-79% Udders Fertility Traits
Also Mentioned Milking Speed, Chest Width, Overall Type, a2a2,   

These herds have high production, yet the owners still place their primary trait emphasis on milk yield and milk components. Only three herds mentioned that they select for overall conformation. Some herd owners commented that their herds were not in need of improvement in final score and calving ease.

For these twelve herds their model cows are productive, healthy, mobile, require minimal labor and are efficient converters. Many responders reported that they do not use sire mating services and that after selecting sires that will improve their herd, they use the sires randomly.

Where Top Herds Are Headed

The responders to the survey were very forthcoming in their plans for the future. Some of the plans shared include:

  • Owners plan to buy additional daily fat production quota and to bring family members into their operations. Quality of life, including time for family, was mentioned as being important.
  • Some owners mentioned that they had conducted genomic testing on animals some years back, but they did not see benefit so stopped testing. It is interesting that some are now returning to genomic testing calves as they can see future benefit for both genetic improvement and improving management.
  • Many owners reported planning to improve their calves, heifers, dry cows and fresh cow programs and facilities now that they have outstanding performance in their milking herds.
  • Most owners mentioned plans to purchase new on-farm technology in order to have the most accurate and best data in order to make improved decisions.
  • Individually owners reported considering ways to generate increased revenue or to reduce costs, including producing specialty milk (organic, a2a2, … etc.), having more cash crops, starting new livestock enterprises (i.e. broilers) and decreasing feed costs.
  • A couple of responders commented that attention needs to be given by the dairy industry to producing milk the processors can make into products consumers will buy and implementing on-farm practices that consumers see as necessary in order for them to buy milk products.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The survey of the very top managed Canadian dairy herds clarifies information that every dairy farmer can use. Discerning on-farm service providers – data capture services, business/financial advisors, nutrition programs, genetic programs, animal welfare/housing, environmental programs – can use the information from these top farmers to improve the services they provide.

It all comes down to dairy farm productivity, efficiencies and sustainability. It was very encouraging for The Bullvine to interact with twelve very progressive dairy farmers. These twelve top managed herds have both a vision and a plan for their farms and herds. They have achieved superior performance, yet they are planning to be even better dairy farmers in the future..

The Bullvine thanks Harley Nicholson for his generous time and commitment in conducting the surveys. Special thanks goes to the herd owners for their participation and for sharing their futuristic approaches for dairying in Canada.



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Today’s High-Ranking Sires Are Not All Equal

Going forward dairy farms will be more automated, larger and more business and systems (field to consumer) based. On the animal side dairy cattle breeding will be focused on productivity, efficiency, health, reproduction, welfare and the milk consumer will demand. An informative document looking to dairying in the future is the USDA-Economic Research Service July 2020 Report (#274) – Consolidation in U.S. Dairy Farming.  It is recommended reading for all dairy farmers. It accurately reports many past changes and predicts future changes in dairy farming.

No Time to Waste in Planning Breeding

Breeding decision in 2021 will result in female calves bring born in 2021-2022. By 2025 those calves will be the major part of milking herds. There is no time to waste in deciding on the elite sires that will produce the cows dairy farmers will need in 2025 and beyond.

Where have Past Total Merit Indexes (TMI’s) Landed Dairy Breeders?

TMI’s came on the dairy cattle breeding scene over thirty years ago for the purpose encourage breeding for more than a single trait – yield or conformation.

Fast forward to today and we see promotion, buying and using focused on one number – the TMI. So, like thirty years ago, the breeding industry is focused on a single value. It is all about being #1 without regard for the fact that even the #1 sire will have performance limiting traits.

The objective of North American TMI’s (NM$, CM$, TPI, JPI, LPI, Pro$, …) has been to increase lifetime performance and they have assisted breeders in increasing genetic merit for milk, fat and protein yields and improved mammary systems … However, the result has often been animals genetically deficient in longevity, fertility, health, disease resistance or mobility.

Tomorrow’s Breeding Strategies Must Be Big Picture

Cattle breeding is about producing improved animals that will be productive, efficient, environmentally friendly, healthy, fertile, consumer friendly … in the future. Yet TMI’s, the key industry strategic planning tool, are based on history and an incomplete list of future important traits. So, are TMI’s a breeding tool for breeders or a marketing tool for sire owners?

It is time to find ways to help tomorrow’s dairy farmers use genetic indexes to position their herds genetically for business success. The fact that more and more data for an expanding number of traits has been and will continue to be captured, analyzed and reported for genetic improvement purposes is no small part of what must be addressed.

Is weighting and combining the multitude of traits into a single number/index the route to follow? And one genetic number to cover all farming scenarios, herds and cows – now that seems like an impossibility.

Current Top Ranked Sires Have Limiting Factors

A study of the top 20 Holstein and 10 Jersey (Dec’20) proven sires in six widely used North American public or breed TMI’s (NM$, CM$, TPI, JPI, LPI & Pro$) shows 60-70% of the functional trait sire indexes for this group of sires are only average* or below average for seven important functional traits.

 A high TMI ranking is not the final answer on whether a sire should be used for a mating or for a herd’s genetic improvement.

A synopsis of our findings shows:

  • 40% of sires did not have a single functional trait for which they are an improver*
  • For only 5% of all the sire ratings are elite improvers*
  • Only 10% of the sires had improver* ratings for five of the seven functional traits
  • Only 1% of the sires have improver* or elite* ratings for all seven functional traits
  • Below average ratings occurred more often for fertility traits compared to longevity and udder health traits
  • Holstein sires had a higher occurrence of below average ratings for fertility than other traits
  • Jersey sires had a higher occurrence of below average ratings for udder health than other traits

The facts tell the truth – most sires at the top of North American TMI index listings have a deficit of improver* or elite* indexes for important functional traits.

*Proof levels to designate average, improver and elite can be founding in The Bullvine article “Don’t Ignore Selection Intensity When Selecting Sires!”

An Overview of Functional Traits**

Currently there are genetic indexes for over twenty functional traits – body part functions, fitness, health, disease resistance and welfare. Data capture organizations and genetic evaluation centers have done a very good job of collecting the data and providing useful reports and indexes to dairy farmers for functional traits. Dairy cattle breeders have used functional trait indexes information to greatly improve udder health and calving ease. Yet sire genetic indexes for daughter longevity and daughter conception rates are not used by all dairy farmers to an equal level when purchasing semen.

Here are eight new (in 2018-2020) functional traits that provide dairy farmers the opportunity to position their herds for the future:

Performance Traits

  • Milking Speed (MS) – Speed of through-put through parlors/stall robots is particularly important for labor utilization and number of cows that can be milked through a facility. MS genetic indexes are produced but are rarely included in TMI’s.
  • Early First Calving (EFC) – This index predicts the months saved or extended to first calving. Each month amounts to $100/month saved or added to heifers rearing costs. CDCB will be adding EFC to the NM$ and CM$ formulas.

Health Traits

  • Livability – ‘LIV’ is closely correlated to longevity (PL or HL). It is important that milking cows be able to overcome setbacks. Heifer Livability (HLV) indexes were published for the first time in December. LIV and HLV are not included in all TMI indexes.
  • Hoof Health (HH) – The health of animals’ feet is important in herd management, milk production, staff’s time-use, treatment costs, … and thereby to profit. For a complete report on HH read “Put Your Best Foot Forward”. As yet, HH indexes are not included in North American TMI’s.
  • Metabolic Disease Resistance – Lactanet produces a combined index (MDR) for metabolic diseases while CDCB produces individual trait indexes for milk fever (MF), displaced abomasum (DAB) and ketosis (KET). None of these indexes are, as yet, included in North American TMI’s.

Reproduction Traits

  • Haplotypes – Each breed has haplotypes that negatively affect fertility. It is not necessary to eliminate sires that carry haplotypes as breeding companies screen out sires that are carriers for haplotypes. No need to include them in TMI’s.
  • Post Calving Disorders – Genetic indexes are published for various disorders including retain placenta (RP), cystic ovaries (CO) and metritis (MET). All need to be avoided to achieve high reproductive performance. These are not included in TMI’s.

Efficiency Trait

  • Feed Saved (FS) – CDCB introduced, in December, the genetic index FS which ranks sires by the relative feed cost ($) for a standardized production level of their daughters compared to the breed average. This index has already been produced or will soon be produced in other countries. CDCB plans to include FS in NM$ and CM$ in April 2021. Lactanet is studying sire indexing for feed efficiency. Dairy farmers can expect to read more about sire genetic indexing for daughter feed conversion efficiency. In time feed efficiency will be included in most TMI’s.

Dairy farmers will see other indexes and designations that also rate sires for daughter feed conversion efficiency including EcoFeed (StGen), FE (Holstein USA) and breeding company listings.

Dairy breeders can expect to see genetic indexes for additional functional traits in the future. Indexes for traits such as – Johnes resistance, heifer growth, labor efficiency, animal mobility, …etc.

Identifying and Monitoring Herds for Functional Traits

With so many functional traits it is almost impossible to have a herd that does not have at least one trait for which the herd has a problem or is below breed average.

Two methods exist to identify and monitor herds for functional traits: 1) genomic test all replacement females; or 2) choose 3 -4 functional traits for the herd and then average the indexes for the nearest three nearest sires. Alternative #1 will be more costly and more accurate but it does provide a more complete herd picture for both breeding and managing purposes.

Including Functional Traits in Sire Selection

The Bullvine offers a three-step method to include function traits in sire selection:

  • Step #1
    Set a minimum value for the TMI you prefer to use (i.e. Holstein NM$ 650, DWP$ 500 or ProS 2,500 / Jersey CM$ 400 or Pro$ 1,500). Only consider sires above those minimums.
  • Step # 2
    From the sires identified in step #1, eliminate all sires that are below the proven sire average for all three of: PL (Holstein 2.3 / Jersey 1.8), DPR (Holstein 0.0 / Jersey 0.0) and SCS (Holstein >2.91 / Jersey >2.99). For Canadian indexed animals eliminate sires below 102 for any of HL, DF and MR.
  • Step #3
    Beyond those first two elimination steps, decisions on which sires to buy or use should be based of herd goals or functional traits needing improvement in the herd.

Breeding companies have trained specialists who can assist dairy farmers in evaluating their herds and moving to selecting sires for functional traits.

North American Sires with the “GOODS” for Functional Traits

Table 1 contains some of the current elite North Animal sires for functional traits.

Table 1: North American Sires with Elite Functional Trait Indexes (Dec ’20)

* Sires are listed in order of PL
** Feed Saved and A1/A2 are included for information purposes.
Coding: Blue – improver; Black – average; & Red – below average.

Benefits of Selecting Sires and Culling Herds for Functional Traits

Dairy farmers in the Nordic Countries have been culling their herds and selecting sires for functional traits since 1978. The result has been improved fertility, less sickness, less disease, less lameness, lower herd turn-over and more profit.

After putting a focus on selecting for key functional traits for two generations (5-7 years), North American dairy farmers can achieve as reduction in expense per cow per year of $300.  For a 500 cow herd that is $150,000 per year – a very worthwhile achievement. And, that can be done without spending more for semen.

The Bullvine Bottom Line.

Dairy farmers are continually fine tuning their farming and cattle breeding programs. Where once genetic selection was focused on production and conformation, genetic indexes are available or will increasingly become available to select for traits that support digging deeper into reducing the costs associated with feed required, reproduction, animal health and welfare, body functions and rearing herd replacements.

Planning for both animal and herd futures takes vision and goals. The Bullvine encourages all dairy cattle breeders to expand their use of genetic indexes. As sires account for over 90% of a herd’s genetic improvement, refining and focusing sire selection to include more economically important traits will be a wise business decision. May breeders have much success using the genetic indexes for functional traits.




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Is Increased Revenue from Breeding for Cheese Milk Possible?

For a business to be successful, it must be continually searching for new revenue sources. Profitable sales of extra breeding stock are now decimated for most North American dairy farms. The average farm gate milk price is challenged to be able to cover all costs on many farms. For these reasons dairy farmers need to be searching for ways to increase revenue using genetics. If your farm fits or will fit this scenario within the next five years – what are you considering for increasing revenue per cwt of milk shipped?

Is Increased Revenue from Cheese Milk Possible?

The Bullvine sees some dairy farmers increasing revenue by producing specialized milk for cheese production. Other farms see this as too much effort, not possible, not viable, not sustainable or having the opinion that milk processors will not pay a premium for milk from herds where all cows are superior (BB) for Kappa Casein.

Although not directly related to milk for cheese production, the other important casein (Beta Casein) also has the potential for increasing the farm gate milk price.

Kappa Casein – What is the Story?

The Bullvine published an article on breeding for Kappa Casein three years ago – (Read: Breeding for Kappa Casein to Increase Cheese Yield.)

A synopsis of key points reported in that article include:

  • There are three prevalent alleles for Kappa Casein – A, B and E.
  • Milk from BB cows clots 25% faster and produces cheese twice as firm as compared to milk from AA cows.
  • Milk from BB cows produces 10% more cheese than milk from AA cows.
  • Milk from AB cows is about midway between BB & AA cows for clotting, quality and volume.
  • Milk from EE cows does not clot and is not suitable for cheese making.
  • Milk for AE cows is usually considered unsuitable by cheese makers.
  • Milk from BE cows is slightly less desirable compared to AA cows.
  • Milk from EE and AE cows, with impaired clotting properties, is not improved by mixing it with an equal amount of well-clotting milk from BB and AB cows.

This provides dairy farmers with the information necessary to move a total BB herd of cows.

Kappa Casein Situation on North American Dairy Farms – 2020

The Bullvine studied both the current North American cows and sire populations and found the following:

Table 1 – Kappa Casein (KCN) Allele Frequency Based on Breed Registrations */**/**

  KCN Allele            A             B             E 
Breed Society      
Holstein – Canada (2019-2020) 43% 37% 20%
Jersey – Canada (2019-2020) 9% 91% 0%
Jersey – USA (2018-2019) 6% 94% 0%

* Based on Sire Allele Profiles for 20 sires with Most Daughters (weighted by # of daughters)
** In USA approximately 15% of dairy animals are registered with breed societies / in Canada – 80+%.
*** Data supplied by Holstein Canada, Jersey Canada and US Jersey.

On average the Jersey female population is superior to the Holstein population for having the B allele. The occurrence of the E allele is almost non-existent in Jersey herds. So, currently, Jersey herds can be composed entirely of BB females and are thereby able to guarantee that BB milk from their herds can be used to make cheese. Achieving all BB cows in Holstein herds will take extensive testing and culling.

Table 2:  Kappa Casein (KCN) Allele Frequency Based on Dec 2020 Sire Listings */**/***

    KCN Allele            A             B             E 
Sire Grouping        
USA Sires   Genomic 29% 66% 5%
    Proven 36% 52% 12%
Canadian Sires Genomic 25% 71% 4%
    Proven 41% 39% 20%
USA Sires   Genomic 7% 93% 0%
    Proven 11% 89% 0%
Canadian Sires Genomic 10% 90% 0%
    Proven 13% 87% 0%

* Based on Sire Allele Profiles for top 20 sires on national and breed total merit indexes
** Calculated as raw averages for the twenty sires as sire usage rates are not available.

The superiority of top Jersey sires for having the B allele can be seen in Table 2. It is encouraging for dairy cattle breeders wanting to use BB Holstein sires to see that A.I. (aka breeding companies) organizations have moved to selecting and marketing sires with B alleles in their breeding programs. A.I.’s genomic Holstein sires have significantly more B and fewer E alleles in their group compared to proven sires.

The exact details for current top North American proven Holstein sires are that there are 3 EE, 9 AE and 18 BE sires being marketed to dairy farms. For top genomic sires there are zero EE, zero AE sires and only 9 BE sires being sold to dairy farms. With genomic sires being used extensively (up to 70%), the conversion to all BB and AB Holstein females would be possible within a few years.

In 2021 top Jersey sires in North America are 90% BB with most of the remainder being AB. Just three of the sires are AA.

Buy and Use Only BB Sires

Even though breeding companies are leading in eliminating the E allele and minimizing the A allele, sire allele profiles do not always appear in sire promotional materials. Dairy Farmers wanting to move to a BB herd will need to work in collaboration with their semen suppliers and purchase only BB sires.

BB Sires Suggestions for Breeders to Consider

The Bullvine searched the top North American sire listings for BB sires. A sample of the Holstein and Jersey sires currently being marketed are listed in Tables 3 and 4.

TABLE 3:  Sample of North American Dec 2020 High Ranking Holstein Sires* with BB Kappa Casein Profiles

Sire NAAB Code  KCN/ P (#) P % / CM$  P Yield REL PL/SCS/DPR UD/DCA/HH        TMI              BCN      Sire Stack
Ricochet 250HO15321    BB / 68   0.04 / 761 77%  4.5/2.89/0.9 1S / 110 / 106    gPro$ +3405       A2A2 Renegrade x Resolve x Josuper
AltaTopShot 11HO11779    BB / 62   0.05 / 757 99%  5.5/2.78/-0.7 4D / 108 / 107    #1 DWP$        A2A2 Supershot x AltaEmbassy x Robust
Extra-P 7HO15349    BB / 61   0.05 / 735 77%  3.8/2.95/-0.5   0/ 113 / 103    #6 P gTPI        A1A2 Renegade x Charley x Josuper
Jarvis 551HO04305    BB / 57   0.13 / 864 76%   6.4/2.88/1.5   1S / 112 /102    #10 gTPI        A2A2 Decisive x Charl x Director
AltaZazzle 11HO15036    BB / 56   0.08 / 907 78%   5.7/2.79/0.4   4S / 110 /108    #1 gDWP$        A1A2 Marius x AltaTopShot x Silver
Tennessee 29HO19580    BB / 55   0.04 / 1002 77%  6.1/2.85/-0.6  1D / 109 /104     #1 gCM$        A2A2 Heroic x Achiever x Bookem
Medley 29HO18343    BB / 50   0.05 / 775 98%   5.9/2.84/0.9  2D / 108 /106     #3 CM$         A2A2 Yoder x Balisto x Oman
Nipit-PP-RC 724HO02005    BB / 50   0.11 / 592 77%   1.6/3.06/-0.4  8S / 103 /104    #1 PP gTPI         A2A2 Hotspot-P x Splendid-P x Powerball-P
Lambda 551HO03379    BB / 48   0.03 / 554 98%   4.1/2.81/0.0  7S / 101 /104     #1 LPI         A1A2 Delta x Uno x Snowman
AltaFlashBack  11HO15202    BB / 46   0.11 / 668 77%   4.5/2.75/0.3  7S / 106 / 103    gLPI 3675         A2A2 Positive x AltaRobson x Silver
Mainstreet 200HO11999    BB / 40   0.08 / 840 76%   7.4/2.68/2.4  5S / 112 / 105    gPro$ +3639         A1A2 Robert x Positive x Jedi
Ranger-Red 200HO07956    BB / 39   0.05 / 788 76%   7.1/2.65/0.4  4S / 107 / 104    #1Red gPro$         A1A2 Rubels-Red x Salvatore-RC x Rubicon
Totem 250HO13531    BB / 34   0.04 / 603 92%  3.6/2.63/0.3  4S / 101 / 110    #1 Pro$         A1A2 Millington x Jacey x Sudan
Achiever 29HO18296    BB / 26   0.07 / 840 98%  5.0/2.78/-0.7   0 / 109 / 105    #1 CM$         A2A2 Yoder x AltaEmbassy x Robust

* Sires are high ranking sires on various listings and are listed in order of their CDCB Protein Yield Index (#/lbs.)
Abbreviations: KCN – kappa casein; UD – udder depth; DCA – daughter calving ability; HH – hoof health; TMI – ranking on another total merit index; BCN – beta casein.

Most of the Holstein sires in Table 3 are breed toppers for various total merit indexes. These sires are above average for all currently marketed sires for: Protein, %P; PL, SCS; DCA and HH. There is a variety of sire stacks. One caution, DPR’s for these sires are average. Over half the sires in Table 3 are A2A2.

Table 4: Sample of North American Dec 2020 High Ranking Jersey Sires* with BB Kappa Casein Profiles

Sire NAAB Code KCN / P (#) P % / CM$  P Yield REL  PL/SCS/DPR  UD/DCA/HD         TMI              BCN          Sire Stack   
Succession{6} 7JE01716     BB / 55   0.02 / 498 77%  4.7/2.82/-1.3   1D / 105 / -11      JPI 127         A1A2 Got Maid {5} x Harris {4} x Hilario
Orbicularis 97JE00203     BB / 47   0.10 / 541 72%  4.6/2.67/1.1  1D / 104 / -14      JPI 156         A2A2 Obsidian-P x Listowel-P x Hilario
Jalapeno 551JE01829     BB / 44   0.05 / 532 74%  5.2/2.83/0.0  0 / 106 / -8      JPI 143        A2A2 Jiggy {6} x Listowel-P x Monument
Archie {5} 507JE01769     BB / 43   0.05 / 585 77%  3.9/2.76/0.5  1S / 104 / -8      JPI 149        A2A2 Maldini {6} x Bancroft x Visionary
Spiral 200JE01248     BB / 43   0.03 / 518 74%  4.9/2.90/-1.0  4D / 103 / -5   Pro$ + 2594        A2A2 Chief {6} x Viceroy x Genominator
Latitude 200JE01264     BB / 42   0.15 / 602 76%  4.6/2.89/0.1  2D / 103 / -11   Pro$ +3030        A2A2 Mighty x Charmer x Hilario
Tucker {6} 507JE01816     BB / 41   0.05 / 612 73%  4.6/2.93/0.7   0 / 103 / -7      JPI 156        A2A2 Daniel {5} x World Cup {4} x Jammer {4}
Sugar Daddy 551JE01798     BB / 41   0.10 / 580 74%  4.0/2.81/-0.7  1D / 102 / -4      JPI 137        A2A2 Jiggy {6} x Chrome x Dimension
AltaSasso{4} 11JE07161     BB / 41   0.10 / 579 72%  3.8/3.01/0.2  5S / 103 / -9      JPI 140        A2A2 Zinc {5} x Deluca {3} x Mario {2}
Federer-P 97JE00202     BB / 30   0.11 / 542 74%   5.4/2.85/0.7  3D / 102 / -8      JPI 143        A2A2 Iroquois-P x AltaBlitz x Holmer

* Sires are high ranking genomically evaluated and are listed in order of their CDCB Protein Yield Index (lbs.)
Abbreviations: KCN – kappa casein; UD – udder depth; DCA – daughter calving ability; HD – heal depth; TMI – supplementary total merit index; BCN – beta casein.

The Jersey sires in Table 4 have high ratings for production and functional traits as well as for CM$ and Pro$. Nine of the ten Jersey sires are A2A2. Sire stacks are not dominated by common sires.

If there are EE, AE, BE or A1A1 sires in the farm semen tank that do not form an integral part of a herd’s breeding plan it would be best to consider dumping that semen.

Further Considerations when Breeding for Kappa Casein

Consider the following:

  1. To be eligible for a Kappa Casein premium all milk in a shipment must be from only BB cows. The same applies for Beta Casein – all milk from A2A2 cows.
  2. Kappa Casein and Beta Casein ratings for sires are not included in total merit index calculations – so selection for these caseins will need to be an initial or final edit at time of semen purchase.
  3. Genomic testing of herd replacements for Kappa and Beta Casein profiles and subsequently removing EE, AE, BE and A1A1 animals will speed up achieving elite status for females in a herd.
  4. Farms with on-farm processing with only BB & A2A2 milk will have the ability to brand their product(s).
  5. The question ‘will processors pay more for BB and/or A2A2 milk?’ is likely to take time to arrive at an answer. Definitely, working relationships, guarantees and closer collaboration between farmers and processors will be required in the future.
  6. The cost for conducting a progressive breeding program for Kappa Casein and Beta Casein will not increase current semen costs but there will be costs for genomic testing of female replacements.

Include a Timeline Moving to Elite Casein Status

For farms planning to specialize and not to focus on a generic, least cost and high-volume basis, a decision by the end of 2021 on only selecting sires that are BB and A2A2 would be advantageous. For most herds, it will take 4-6 years of using only BB and A2A2 sires, genomic testing replacement females and culling EE, AE, BE and A1A1 heifers and milking cows to be positioned to ship premium eligible milk.

Delaying the Decision on Breeding for Caseins– Yes/No?

By now Bullvine readers should be asking themselves:

1) What will our farm’s plan be for shipping premium eligible milk?  and

2) When should our farm start breeding for Kappa Casein (BB) and Beta Casein (A2A2)?

The Bullvine Bottom Line

A decision on breeding for a BB (Kappa Casein) and A2A2 (Beta Casein) herd is an opportunity to grow revenue.

The tools to breed for the most desired alleles for both Kappa Casein and Beta Casein are currently available to be used in both sire and female selection.

 For many dairy farmers including caseins in their breeding program may seem like a chicken and egg situation – why start until you know if processors will pay a premium for Kappa Casein &/or Beta Casein? However, breeders need to remember that being prepared comes before being able to reap the rewards.




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Put Your Best Foot Forward

Feet have increasingly become a problem on most dairy farms that have their animals spending their time walking and standing on cement surfaces. Without genetics indexes to identify superior sires for problem-free high functioning feet dairy herd owners have had to rely on hoof trimming, veterinary care, specialized diets and having calves, heifers and dry cows spend time off the cement.

Do Not Ignore Foot Problems in Dairy Cattle

The realities about feet include:

  1. Lameness in dairy cattle is most often associated with hoof related disease or growth issues.
  2. Almost half (Lactanet reports 46%) of dairy cows will experience a foot problem in their lifetime.
  3. Diseases in the feet of dairy cattle are now the leading cause of animal functional problems since dairy farmers have the means to effectively select superior sires for other functional problems. Accurate genetic indexes exist for – mastitis resistance, fertility, calving ease, daughter calving ease, milking speed and metabolic disease resistance.
  4. Data for dairy cattle foot problems has not been universally defined or captured by milk recording services or herd management software. No data means that there can be no genetic indexes.

What Has Been Used to Genetically Improve Feet and Mobility?

Type classifiers evaluate and report on foot angle, heel depth and foot shape and then genetic evaluation centers produce genetic indexes. However, genetic progress for those traits has been very slow or not at all. Why is that? One reason is because routinely, before the classification visit, herd managers trim their cows’ hooves. So, the classifiers record what they see but what they see is not the natural form.

Classifiers evaluate the form of the feet but what herd owners want to know is how the feet are functioning. Only a few classification programs capture information on a cow’s mobility but genetic indexes for mobility are not produced.

Published genetic correlations between classification programs’ foot measurements and dairy animal longevity are zero or low.  So, knowing the form of feet has not proven to be beneficial to improving feet and mobility in order to increase animal longevity.

Are Black Hooves Stronger?

A theory sometimes put forward is that black hooves do not have the problems with excessive growth, lack of heel depth and presence of hoof diseases that non-black hooves have. Breeds with black hooves, Brown Swiss and usually Jerseys, may require less trimming but they are not free of abnormal hoof growth or foot diseases.

Some Holstein herds went to crossbreeding to get black hooves along with other attributes but, given the genetic improvement in Holsteins for mastitis resistance, fertility and now general animal health and the lower production of crossbreds, those herds have mostly returned to using Holstein sires.

Recurring Foot Disease – Small Problems with Big Impact 

The fact is that hoof and foot disease problems impact almost everything. Studies and field evidence from around the world report the areas impacted as: increased care/labor; increased medical-related costs; lowered fertility; decreased production; increased discarded milk; increase hoof trimming; increased culling; decreased longevity; … and the list goes on. The message is obvious – hooves/feet need much genetic improvement attention.

The Cost of Foot Problems Can Cripple a Herd

The United States reports list that the cost of foot problems per cow per year range from $100 to up to $400 (herds with more severe foot and mobility problems). In a 500-cow milking herd with moderate problems that can be US$ 1.25M to 1.5M in lost net returns. Wow – that cuts deep into profit and may even eliminate any ROI.

Reports from Nordic Countries list similar values to the US reports for cost per cow per year. The extensive Nordic study reports list the hoof disease order, form most to least occurrence, as: sole ulcer; dermatitis – digital/ interdigital/verrucose; heel horn erosion; sole haemorrhage; white line/double sole; and interdigital hyperplasia. As well claw abnormalities are reported.

Those numbers are for milking cows – and – besides cows there are cost and lost opportunities to increase performance in heifers.

These costs tell us that disease in dairy animal’s feet need attention. Immediate attention.

Hoof Health Genetic Indexing to the Rescue

Viking Genetics saw the need to study hoof disease (2003) and later (2011) to publish their first Hoof Health indexes. The data collected came from hoof trimmers and herd health recording that was captured in milk recording herds. The field evidence shows that the genetic correlation between the Hoof Health index and other traits are: longevity 38%; general health 25%; fertility 23%; calving ease 21%; udder health 11% and NTH (the Nordic total merit index) 35%. Sires with HH breeding values of 110 will have 9%- 35% less hoof disease incidences depending on the disease. For sires with HH breeding values of 120 the reduced incidences are from 18% to 76%.

 From 2014 to 2017 Lactanet collected field hoof trimmer reports and in 2018 commenced issuing sire Hoof Health indexes. The hoof disease incidence in Canada was – 16.9% digital dermatitis; 8.5% sole ulcer; 7.4% sole haemorrhage; 4.7% white line lesion; 2.9% to 1.3% for heel horn erosion, interdigital dermatitis, interdigital hyperplasia and sole ulcer. The genetic correlations for Hoof Health and other traits include longevity 49%; heel depth 47%; production 42%; feet & legs composite 35%; and rear legs rear view 21%. Average rated (EBV100) sires for Hoof Health are predicted to have 83% of daughters with healthy feet while top-rated (EBV115) are predicted to have 95+% healthy daughters.

United States dairy farmers need to know that CDCB has organized numerous industry partnerships that will develop a hoof health data pipeline from US dairy herds. This is to conduct genetic evaluations and expand management tools. The industry partners include: hoof trimmers; government; researchers; herd recording; and Lactanet (Canada). A comprehensive workshop was held in Sept 2020 where all partners signed on. US dairy herds can expect to receive Hoof Health sire indexes in the future.

Take-Home Information to Get Started on Genetically Improving Feet

It will be interesting to see how hoof health and lameness data will be captured in the future, even electronically through snap shots and continuous monitoring for both herd management and genetic purposes.

Current useful information relative to genetically improving hooves and feet includes:

  • Viking Genetics and Lactanet now include genetic indexes for hoof health (HH) in their animal reports and group listings.
  • HH is a component in NTH (the Viking Genetics total merit index). HOWEVER, HH is not currently included in North American total merit indexes. North American cattle breeders who want to use the HH index in their sire selection decisions need to use that index independent of other indexes.
  • Animal improvement for HH can only be achieved by using sires that have a superior HH index of 110+ (Viking Genetics) and 105+ (Lactanet).
  • Reliabilities (% REL) for HH are not as high as for other functional traits – daughter proven sires (max 70-75% REL) and genomic evaluated sires (max 55-60% REL). More reporting and accurate farm recording of hoof and feet problems is needed to increase reliabilities.
  • Correlations for five key functional trait indexes are moderate to moderately high compared to the Canadian longevity index (HL) as follows – hoof health (46%), mastitis resistance (62%), daughter fertility (51%), daughter calving ability (54%) and metabolic disease resistance (33%).

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Having HH sire indexes adds an exciting new tool for breeders to use to genetically improve the hooves, feet and mobility of their animals.

          Start genetically improving the health of hooves and feet in your herd.

                             Select and use top rated sires for HH.



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Don’t Ignore Selection Intensity When Selecting Sires!

Only top-ranked sires should be good enough to be used in a herd’s breeding program. However, too frequently, this is not the case, when it comes to economically important functional traits. This is not because dairy cattle breeders do not consider functional traits to be important. Often it is because of not understanding the method of expressing functional trait genetic indexes. Or it might be because of a lack of awareness of current breed averages for functional traits. In some cases, it might be because of the lack of awareness of the index level needed for a sire to be an elite transmitter for a functional trait.

Know What Factors Govern Genetic Advancement

There are four components that make up the formula for determining the annual rate of genetic improvement in a herd or a breeding population. Three of the components are: 1. Accuracy of the genetic index (aka REL); 2. The amount of true genetic variability for a trait (something breeders cannot influence); and 3. generation interval (time between parents and progeny).

To calculate the annual rate of improvement the numerator (accuracy x selection intensity [see below] x genetic variability) is divided by the denominator (time in years between progeny and the average age of the parents). The accuracy or ‘REL’ can vary from 20-35% (Parent Average) to 60-75% (Genomic) to 95-99% (Progeny Proven). Generational Interval can vary from 2-3 years for animals with genomic parents to 7+ years for progeny of older and proven parents. It is a breeder’s choice if they choose lower accuracy and rapid generation turnover (using genomic indexed parents) or high accuracy and slow generation turnover (using progeny proven parents).

Selection Intensity (%RK) Matters

The fourth component in measuring the rate of genetic improvement is the intensity of selection (as expressed by %RK). It is the degree of superiority breeders require for a trait when selecting / mating parents.

Aim For Guaranteed Genetic Advancement

Sires with breed average genetic indexes (45%RK to 55%RK) should not be expected by breeders to produce a group of progeny that are superior in a trait.

To be assured of advancing a herd for a trait, the sires used must be at least +1 standard deviation (67%RK) for the trait. For more guaranteed improvement, sires used should be +2 standard deviations (95%RK).

Apply Selection Intensity to Longevity (PL USA or HL CAN)

There are many functional traits for which data is captured on dairy farms and then transmitted to national animal/herd databases. A particularly important functional trait, Longevity (PL/HL), has been selected for this article to explain selection intensity. Tables 1 and 2 contains trait averages and index values needed for improvement for twelve traits.

Most dairy farmers want as many as possible of their cows to live to produce into fourth and later lactations. The extra months that cows remain in a herd reduces the number of replacements needed and gives added lifetime production. Sires with a high PL usually achieve that higher rating because of a combination of above-average ratings for daughter fertility, livability, disease resistance and health. This is the reason why PL is a particularly important number to look at and compare when selecting sires.

It is important to note that the average PL for active proven US Holstein sires is not zero as many may expect it to be. It is +2.3. Therefore, any proven Holstein sire below +2.3 is not a breed improver for PL. For active proven US Jersey sires the average PL is +1.8.

It must be noted that those are just the averages. To be breed improvers and to be elite breed improvers the Holstein PL’s need to be +4.5 (Improver) and +6.7 (Elite). For Jersey sires those values are +3.8 (Improver) and +5.8 (Elite).

For the other US dairy breeds the PL’s values for Average, Improver and Elite proven sires are: Ayrshire — +1.3/+4.3/+7.3; Brown Swiss — +0.7/+3.5/+5.2; Guernsey — +0.6/+2.3/+4.0; Milking Shorthorn — +0.4/+2.1/+3.5; and Red & White — -1.1/+0.9/+ 2.9.

Genomic Sires Should Have Even Higher PL’s

The PL values for marketed US genomic sires are considerably higher than for proven sires. Similar, to the situation for most other traits, breeders should require higher values for genomic sires to allow for some degree of over-estimation. The Average, Improver and Elite PL values genomic sires can be found in Table 2 and are 50+% higher than for active proven sires.

Canada Publishes Functional Traits Indexes Differently Than The US

Canada publishes functional trait index on a scale where the population average is 100 with a standard deviation of 5. The average for functional traits for active Canadian proven sires is estimated to be in the range of 100 to 103.  The values for Improvers and Elite can be expected to be 106 and 111 for daughter-proven sires and even higher for sires with only genomic indexes. In short, when reviewing a Canadian indexed sire, if his index for a functional trait is less than 103, he is quite likely below breed average. Worthy of note is the fact that Lactanet/CDN publishes %RK’s for all sire indexes that are not published on the ‘100’ scale.

Pertinent US Index Levels for Twelve US Traits

Tables 1 and 2 show that there is a considerable variation between traits in Average, Improver and Elite index values for twelve important US dairy cattle traits.

 Average indexes for active proven sires (Table 1) are available on The CDCB site, yet when The Bullvine surveyed dairy farmers, few knew those averages. There were also few who knew the values for Improvers (67%RK) and Elite (95%RK) … an unfortunate situation.

Table 1: Index Levels (August 2020) For Active Daughter Proven US Sires

  Holstein (562 sires) Jersey (123 sires)
Trait Average* Improver**    Elite*** Average* Improver**    Elite***
Productive Life (months) 2.3 4.5 6.7 1.8 3.8 5.8
Somatic Cell Score 2.91 2.75 2.59 2.99 2.86 2.73
Daus Preg Rate -0.3 1.3 2.9 -0.2 1.8 3.8
Sire Calving Ease**** 2.5 1.9 1.3             n/a             n/a             n/a
Daus Calving Ease**** 3.2 2.5 1.8             n/a             n/a             n/a
Milk Fever 0 0.1 2.2 0.1 0.2 0.3
Ketosis 0.8 1.5 2.2 0 0.4 0.8
Milk (lbs.) 692 1526 2360 225 999 1773
Fat (lbs.) 37 72 107 23 53 83
Protein (lbs.) 26 50 74 15 39 63
NM$ 325 592 859 203 387 571
CM$ 336 610 884 217 409 601

* Average – index average for all sires
** Improver – minimum index level needed for a sire to be 67%RK (+1 Standard Deviation)
*** Elite – minimum index level needed for a sire to be 95%RK (+2 Standard Deviations)
**** The publication scale for SCE and DCE changed in August 2020. Numbers are for both proven and genomic sires.

Given that almost 70% of dairy semen sales are for genomic evaluated sires, it is important that Average, Improver and Elite index values be known and used. Table 2 provides those genomic index levels for 3,002 Holstein and 437 Jersey sires.

Table 2: Index Levels (August 2020) For Marketed Genomically Evaluated US Sires

Trait Average* Improver**    Elite*** Average* Improver**    Elite***
Productive Life (months) 3.9 5.9 7.9 3.2 4.7 6.2
Somatic Cell Score 2.84 2.71 2.57 2.92 2.81 2.71
Daus Preg Rate 0.2 1.5 2.8 0.3 2.9 4.5
Sire Calving Ease**** 2.5 1.9 1.3             n/a              n/a             n/a
Daus Calving Ease**** 3.2 2.5 1.8             n/a              n/a             n/a
Milk Fever 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.1 0.2 0.3
Ketosis 1.3 1.8 2.3 0 0.3 0.6
Milk (lbs.) 868 1459 2010 383 1032 1681
Fat (lbs.) 58 85 112 33 55 77
Protein (lbs.) 38 55 72 23 41 59
NM$ 527 736 945 326 572 718
CM$ 549 765 984 347 600 753

* Average – index average for all sires
** Improver – minimum index level needed for a sire to be 67%RK (+1 Standard Deviation)
*** Elite – minimum index level needed for a sire to be 95%RK (+2 Standard Deviations)
**** The publication scale for SCE and DCE changed in August 2020. Numbers are for both proven and genomic sires.

In Reality – Genetic Improvement Depends on Using Top Sires

The practice of only using the best sires for the important traits is a key factor in advancing an animal, a herd and a population. Using average rated sires will result in the cow family and the herd quickly falling behind. Using top genetics is paramount for dairy farmers to stay viable, competitive and sustainable.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The intensity applied to selecting and using the best sires really does matter. The %RK of a sire’s trait index is a quick way of knowing where the sire ranks in the population for the trait. The age-old genetic improvement advice always holds true – Use the Best. Ignore the Rest.

Step #1 is to prioritize the traits a female or herd needs. Step #2 is to only purchase semen or embryos that will advance your animal or herd.  Step #3, when mating cows and heifers, use Improver or Elite sires for traits where the female is not above average.  Breeding is a numbers business. Use the numbers to your advantage.



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Should You Share Your Data?

Have you heard a dairy farmer say … “It is my data! … Why should I share my data? … Just so that someone else can make money from my data! … It costs me to generate my data! … What are you going to pay me for my data?”  In dairy cattle genetic improvement, these comments are often aimed at A.I. organizations or breeding companies who have access to but do not pay, as they once did, for the use of breeders’ individual animal and herd performance data.

Where is this ‘Pay Me’ Approach Coming From?

Breeders today see that their futures are threatened when it comes to revenue from their breeding stock sales. They have much less (if any) income, as a percent of total revenue, from animal and embryos sales than they had thirty years ago. No one is beating down their doors for open heifers, springing bred heifers or quality second calvers. They still participate in type classification and DHI programs, but their officially documented animal data is not being asked for. Grade females with documentation fetch as many dollars from sales agents as do purebreds. High herd performance averages (BAA, milk/fat/protein yield averages, …) do not bring buyers to farms seeking surplus animals.

Why Participate in Animal Improvement Programs?

So, breeders are saying why spend the money to participate in industry offered breed improvement programs?  These breeders know full well that they need the data for their on-farm use but question if organizations beyond their farm gate have the right to use their data without paying for it.

Nothing remains the same forever. At the farm level, animal and herd data once used to generate revenue now has the primary use of helping to keep costs under control.

But … what is the big picture of this matter?

The Data Focus is Now Value Added

The profitable cow for most dairy farmers has evolved or is evolving to a healthy, long-lived, efficient converter, high fat and protein producing cow.  As well, dairy farmers are making extensive use of sexed semen, breeding the low-end females to beef semen and buying systems and technology that enhance herd management and help cut costs.

Every piece of data, old and new, must provide a return on the investment … It must have a value added at the farm of origin level. It is no longer just how much milk, fat or protein or if she classified above breed average.   It is – does she do that and more – calved without difficulty at 22 months of age, conceives on 1st or 2nd service, does not get sick, does not have feet/hoof problems and remains in the herd to at least 72 months of age (completes 4 lactations). The ideal cow needs to be much more genetically and performance wise than she was even ten years ago.

Value Added Answers New Questions

Even though the focus in the press and social media is on the genomics for young animals, breeders want and need to have the profitable lifetime cow. That requires that on-farm finances need to be given a much higher priority for inclusion in data captured and reported than they have been up until now. Without including the dollars and cents relative to a trait – do the trait genetic indexes have worthwhile value?

It goes even further. Some old beliefs may not hold their perceived value. Do wide bodied cows consume more feed? Will a2a2 animals generate more revenue in the future? Are there bloodlines or breeds that are more profitable at converting feed than other bloodlines or breeds?

Viability and Sustainability are High Priority

We need to dig much deeper using more data points so cows, dairy farms and the industry can be viable and sustainable.  More production is not always better. The fact is we talk value added but we are not using the data to actually determine if it is adding value. The dairy cattle improvement industry needs expanded thinking when it comes to using all data.

How Did the Dairy Cattle Improvement Industry Get to this Point with Data?

Many often blame the introduction of genomics as the reason that breeders are unable to get back some return for sharing their data.

With the introduction of genomic sire indexes, A.I. stopped paying incentive dollars to breeders that sampled young sires. Payment in return for breeders’ data that was used to daughter prove the young sires. It so happened that, at the same time, semen prices for proven sires dropped and semen sales volume for proven sires went from 80% to 30% of the market. And so, the money was not there for A.I. to continue their young sire incentive programs.

Dramatic Expansion in Data

In this past decade progressive dairy farmers have been purchasing more tools to evaluate their herds in order to improve their herd management practices. Breeds did not change the services they provided while milk recording expanded their scope of services. New entrepreneurial service providers entered the dairy cattle improvement industry and many more services and technologies were offered to dairy farms. The result is that there has been a dramatic expansion in data and data points for cows and herds.

Who Analyzes the data?

Yet in many cases the increased data points are not linked. Dairy farmers must sort through all the data and draw their own conclusions and make decisions based solely on their herd’s data. Of course, all data capture costs money so dairy farms have incurred more expense and yet are having to link the data on their own. No wonder dairy farmers are saying, “It is my data I paid for it all. How do I get a return on my data investment? My data has a value beyond my farm. Am I seeing benefit from my data used by organizations?”

Has the dairy improvement industry not kept up with farmers’ needs when it comes to linking, analyzing and providing information for animal and herd advancement? Likely, that is partially true.  But all is not lost. Organizations are now seeing the need to link all data points to provide more complete answers for dairy farmers.

Everyone Benefits from Sharing Data

When a farm’s data is not available for others everyone looses … original farm … other farms … service providers … the industry.

Here is a partial list of the benefits of shared data for farms and for the industry:

  • Benchmarking
    Broadly based guideposts for animals and herds have been and will continue to be integral for farms to be able to improve. Industry databases containing large volumes of animal and herd data are needed to develop the guideposts.
  • Accuracy of Prediction and Forecasting
    Broad based animal and herd data is needed to know performance and trends. As well as for all stakeholders to predict and plan.
  • Research and Development
    Innovation is critical for any industry to progress. Extensive data along with both public and private funding are needed for research and development.
  • Genetic Advancement
    Large comprehensive databases are needed to expand the economically important traits for which dairy cattle are genetically evaluated. CDN/Lactanet research has shown that half of the progress in on-farm profitability comes about because of the genetic improvement of animals.
  • Product Guarantees
    Databases that include monitoring of location of production, of production methodology, of product identification and of product movement are important for consumers to know that the food they buy meets standards, is safe and wholesome. In the future producers, processors and marketers will be required to guarantee their products
  • Results of Industry Collaboration and Initiatives
    Dairy farmers have been asking for their service organizations to expand and link the services offered. Elimination of duplication, sharing of services and efficiencies within services are important to dairy farmers. To achieve all these animal, herd and farm data is necessary.
  • New Technology and Systems
    The rate of implementation of technology and new systems is occurring at a break-neck speed. The result is more and new information to manage by and for more effective use of labor and feeds. Past animal and herd data are paramount to create the new equipment and management softwares for not only milk cows but also for calves, heifers, dry cows and farm and industry systems.

It is Check-In Time for How the Dairy Industry Deals with Data

Shared data will be the foundation on which the dairy industry will build its future viability and sustainability.

All industries (auto, medical, energy, …etc.) are changing their approach to who has access to individual organizations’ data. It is not who owns or controls the data, – it is who uses the data to implement new.

No person, service provider or industry can exist as an island onto themselves.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

All farm data needs to be used on the farm of origin and in the industry. Sharing data is not a “no way” – it is a definitely “yes do for success”. Opportunity is out there for farms that share their data but, in return, there must be ways to improve income, efficiencies, cost cutting, management improvements, and more. Sharing dairy data is sound business.




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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.



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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.



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Watch Out – Breed Societies are on a Course to Crash and Burn

Have breed society members become too complacent? Have they lost hope? Do they even care about their own futures?

The Bullvine knows and understands that with the current global health crisis and the associated food supply disruptions that there is much on dairy breed society members’ minds about immediate survival and future business. 

The outlook for dairy cattle farmer-breeders is often negative. On the Milk House Group and on Facebook there are comments about how breeding companies (formerly called A.I. companies) are taking over from farmer-breeders by running their own breeding herds, by having their breeding lines proprietary to themselves and by producing their own genetic evaluations.

The Bullvine wonders how breeders feel about this because we see that breed society members are not asking more of their breed organizations. More to keep them in the breeding scene. More to help breeders generate revenue from the sale of breeding stock (breed societies once did that). More action to demonstrate a ‘go-to-it’ organization as members plan for the future of their farms. More focused on the future and not repeating the past.

We here at The Bullvine care about helping dairy cattle farmer-breeders to be successful … but … do breeders themselves care?

Is It Too Late for Breed Members and Breeds?

It should never be too late. However, nothing will change in breed societies, if breed members do not act collectively and demand results.

What Can Breed Members and Breed Societies Do?

Here is a partial list of things that breed members and breed societies could do to start down the road to a successful tomorrow:


Future Dairy Farming

  • Take time to acquaint themselves with where dairy farming will be in their region in 5 years’ time. Dairy farms will, on average, be double their current size and have considerably more technology.
  • Reach out to neighbors that milk cows but do not register to find out their future service and genetic needs.

Expectations of Director

  • Elect only progressive dynamic breed society directors. Boards only need to meet virtually for 3-4 hours per month so that busy directors are not taken away from their farms for days at a time. Insist that boards of directors are doing accurate visioning, setting priorities, updating policies and programs, overseeing finances and virtually reporting to breed members.

Animal Data

  • Lead by example and genomically test all their breeding animals. Then use the genomic information in all herd improvement and service purposes – genetics, nutrition and management.
  • Promote maximum data capture from breed members entire herd (cows and heifers) and ensure that all animal data reaches the national data base so that it can be used for benchmarking, genetic evaluation, research and development purposes.

Breed Genes

  • Be open to supporting ways of introducing new superior bovine genes into their breed. 


Breed Priorities

  • Breed purity, pretty animals and protection of animal owners’ investment must take the back seat. The front seat will be value-added services including those that related to a) animal health, welfare, feed conversion, functionality and heifer performance; and b) financial details on both a daily and lifetime basis.
  • Work with breed members, all dairy farmers and industry stakeholders to research and determine breed strengths, limitations and opportunities.

Work with Others

  • Takedown the walls and align, merge or collaborate with DHI’s, breeding companies, herd software providers, herd device providers, genetic evaluation centres, genomic testing organizations, cooperative milk marketing organizations, animal research centers, extension education and youth development. The farmers own the data, not the breed societies or other services that capture animal data.
  • Staff and data systems are costly items. Only one national dairy animal database is needed.

Breed Services

  • Leave behind the verified, control and only official data source approach. The future will depend on serving the needs of breed members, milk producers and industry partners. This includes governments.
  • Move all breed-related services for heifers and cows into the virtual information and service age.
  • Expect that funding breed societies based on registrations, genomic testing and animal transfers not to be acceptable to dairy farmers. Breeds must address the need to work with industry partners on animal traceability services (the combination of animal id, location and movement) in order to guarantee products to consumers.

Animal Data

  • Support that all animal-related information is publishable provided the data source is identified. Farmers will decide if any or all the animal information is useful to them.

Breed Operations

  • Modernize the breed’s purposes, roles, organizational infrastructure and operations.

Breed Genes

  • Takedown the barriers by expanding the gene composition of the breed.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Dairy cattle breed societies are in the process of moving from being on life-support to becoming museums.

Without new value-added services, society members will do their voting with their chequebooks. Dairy farmers have been heard to say – “I no longer get value from registration, type classification and historic data files”. So, they will quietly stop registering, having the classifier visit and requesting performance pedigrees.

Is there an opportunity for breed societies to exist in the future? Yes … but only if they change. Performance efficiency, satisfying the consumer, viability and sustainability are today’s prime drivers of that change.

Now is the Moment of Truth. Breed societies have only two options … change or fold!



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Are Sire Ranking Indexes Out of Date?

Modern cattle breeding is about creating the future not the past. The dairy cattle breeding industry has reached the stage where yield and ideal conformation should no longer collectively receive the majority of the weighting in total merit indexes? In our current indexes the weights assigned to traits are based on historic happenings. The Bullvine asks the dairy cattle breeding industry to re-consider what is needed in future total merit indexes for milk production focused herds.

Why Consider Changes Now?

Here are five reasons triggering the need for change:

  • Daughters of the sires used in 2020 will form over half the national milking herd in 2025. On-farm financial margins will remain under significant pressure. There will need to be more required producer guarantees in many areas including animal health, animal welfare, production practices and food safety.
  • It is predicted that increased consumer demand for milk products will come from higher fat content, A2A2, BB and other speciality products.
  • In 2025, nowhere near 60% of the cull cows will be removed for production and type reasons. Yet, those two areas account for over 60% of the trait emphasis in today’s total merit indexes.
  • Herd replacements account for 16% of dairy herd costs yet calf and heifer traits are not included in national total merit indexes.
  • Dairy farmers and dairy organizations are now placing their emphasis on efficiencies, viability and sustainability, not on high production and type.

Genetics must take these matters into consideration and do its part in creating dairy’s sustainable future.

US Dairy Genetics Report Card on Genetic Progress

CDCB has published the base changes (“April 2020: Genetic Base Changes”) that will occur at the time of the publication of the April 2020 genetic indexes. A synopsis the US genetic progress and implications for the future include:

  • Farmers have used superior sires which has resulted in very significant progress in milk, fat and protein yields in Holsteins and Jerseys (approximately 93% of the national herd).
  • Only Holsteins have improved (very slightly) in fertility.
  • Improvement has been made in PL, yet no improvement has been made in SCS and LIV.
  • Holsteins have made minor improvement in metabolic diseases.
  • Final type scores increased for all breeds (+0.10 to +0.76). Most type traits have improved especially udder traits. Short teat length is a problem, especially in Holsteins.
  • Stature for all breeds continues to increase even though it is widely agreed that there is a need for less stature.
  • NM$ increased for all breeds. Holsteins and Jerseys increased $231 and$191, respectively, for females born in 2015 compared to 2010.

The genetic advancement pattern in Canada is similar to that in the US. Canadian base adjustments occur annually.

In order to assist dairy farmers to adapt to the April base changes and to quickly know the genetic superiority or inferiority of animals, CDCB, Lactanet/CDN, breeding companies, breeds and other improvement organizations need to more widely publish %RK (percentile rank) or use the technique of an average rating being 100 for a trait.

In summary, the genetic merit of dairy animals has improved significantly with the use by breeders of the current total merit indexes (NM$, CM$, JPI, Pro$, TPI, LPI, …). The challenge before the industry is to develop and implement enhanced total merit indexes that will guide animal selection according to future needs.

Determine Where Your Herd Stands Genetically

For herds genomically testing all their breeding animals, they will know the genetic level for all traits and will be able to use the health, fertility and functionality ratings, when mating the heifers and cows.

Herd owners that are not DNA testing the females they are using to produce the next generation can obtain an approximate level of the females’ genetic merit by averaging the merit of the three nearest sires. An example could be a Holstein sire stack of – Delta x Supersire x AltaIota – this sire stack shows superiority for production, above average for conformation, but in the bottom one-third of the Holstein population for health and fertility. So, herds with that sire stack would benefit by using top of the breed sires for health and fertility.

For Jerseys, a sire stack of Harris x Valentino x Iatola would have production but not health, fertility or longevity. For the sire stack of Vivaldi x Joel x Tequila there is type and A2A2 but not production, longevity or mastitis resistance.

A study of the top twenty-five Holstein sires with the most daughters registered with USHolstein in the first half of March 2020 averaged: TPI – 91%RK; NM$ – 85%RK; PL – 66%RK; SCS – 69%RK; and DPR – 37%RK. This shows that purebred Holstein breeders are using TPI and NM$, but are not as concerned about survival, health and fertility when selecting sires. Of these top twenty-five Holstein sires 72% were A2A2, 32% were daughter proven and 6% transmitted the polled gene.

What’s Holding Back Dairy Cattle Genetic Improvement

Some factors holding back the genetic evaluations for health, fertility and functionality traits include:

  • An industry attitude appears to persist that having production and type data is all that is needed.
  • Milking cow health, fertility and functionality data may be captured on-farm, but it is not forwarded to or is not usable at the national central database.
  • Calf and heifer data are not captured, forwarded to or stored at the national central databases.
  • Financial herd data is not matched with performance data for all animals (birth until herd removal) and used in management and genetic evaluations.
  • Future farm revenue needs to include the economic value of fat, protein and other solids and for novel traits – A2A2, BB, … etc. Processor and consumer input needs to be included in determining revenue generation associated with traits. For some dairy farms, now using beef sires, attention will need to be given to growth and health of young stock.
  • Only a relatively small proportion of animals have their samples submitted for DNA profiling which limits accuracy for management and genetic improvement. Additionally, it limits industry research and development.
  • When it comes to sire selection, dairy farmers too often use sires that are below average for health and fertility traits. It is a known fact that increased yield is negatively correlated with fertility. There are sires that can improve both simultaneously.

If on-farm data does not reach the national central databases for health, fertility and functionality, dairy farmers can expect to see breeding companies collaborating with cooperating automated herds to capture more of the details. The breeding companies will then develop their own proprietary genetic indexes for ranking their sires.

Bullvine’s Suggested Trait Emphasis

In addition to adding genetic indexes for traits associated with health, labour and revenue, The Bullvine recommends revisions to weightings in future total merit indexes. For discussion purposes, the following areas and emphasizes are provided:

  • Revenue 30% – Based on ECM (Energy Corrected Milk), A2A2, BB, Meat Sales, Novel Products, …
  • Durability 20% – Including survival, functionality (mobility, milking ability, calving, …), …
  • Efficiencies 20% – Including feed conversion, heifer growth, % of lifetime spent milking, …
  • Health & Fertility 30% – Including reproduction, metabolic diseases, immunity, animal health/welfare, …

Selection Methods Dairymen Can Use Now to Increase Emphasis on Health, Fertility and Functionality

The Bullvine has three suggestion on what dairy farmers can do to put more emphasis on traits beyond production and type:

  1. Select Sires Using DWP$ – At the time of every sire proof release Zoetis publishes DWP$ (overall index), WT$ (cow wellness) and CW$ (calf wellness). Using DWP$ instead of NM$ dairymen can expect 80% of the improvement in production and conformation, but 110% for the improvement in fertility and 200% for the improvement in health.
  2. Select Jersey Sires Using JPI(2020) – In April 2020 USJeresy will publish a revised JPI for all animals that places trait emphasis as follows: Production 49%; Type 20%; Fertility 14%; Health 9%; and Survival 8%.
  3. Modify Selection Using a Current Total Merit Index – In the various sire listings there will be high ranking sires that should not be purchased and used as some of the top sires will not be significant breed improvers for health, fertility and functionality traits. Most breeding companies publish sire lists for their top health, fertility, immunity, robot ready, etc.

Worthy of note is the fact that Holstein and now Jersey breeders have sire indexes for health information on metabolic diseases published by CDCB, Lactanet/CDN and breeding companies.

Dairy Farmers Need to Voice Their Genetic Needs

All dairy farmers need to be making known their future genetic needs when it comes to the genetic merit of their cattle for health, fertility and functionality traits. The industry including breeding companies, bull-breeders, genetic evaluation centers, on-farm data capture organizations and breeds needs to listen and to revised total merit indexes.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The time has arrived where dairy cattle owners need to have more animal genetic information for health, fertility, functionality and survival traits. As well, predictions need to be made on how revenue will be generated from dairy herds in the future and the effect those revenue sources will have on genetic indexing. Now is the time to include the entire lifetime of animals, covering both revenue and costs, in total merit indexes. Now is the time to create new total merit indexes that best serve milk production focused farms. Now is the time!



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NEEDED – More Heifer Data

For far too long the dairy industry has neglected to capture and transmit to a central data base calf and heifer data. It is time to do a full-scope analysis of what is needed for the genetic improvement of calves and heifers. The result will be dairy farmers with calves and heifers that will positively contribute to long-lived productive trouble-free cows and profitable dairy herds.

Setting the Scene – The Cost

Herd replacement costs range from 15-20% of total herd costs. Every dairy worker knows that a sick calf can take an exorbitant amount of time. Is that calf sick because of genetics, nutrition or environment? Calves and heifers are important when it comes to herd profitability. And currently, we know only a limited amount genetically when it comes to the best calves and heifers.

Even More Perspective – Time is Money

Currently, the average number of lactations per cow in the North American herds is about 2.8 lactations. This means that the time prior to first calving equates to 45% of a female’s lifetime. When and if the average was 4.0 lactations for an average milking cow’s productive life it would be 32% of time spent pre first calving. If knowing more about heifer genetic merit for additional traits would add even half a lactation to a cow’s lifetime – that would be significant.

Heifers – A Cost or An Investment?

Most often when reporting on calves and heifers, the number provided is the cost to first calving. Currently the cost is estimated to be $2,200 (US) to $2,400 (US).

Yet costs are only a part of the financial equation. Important, but seldom mentioned, is that calves and heifers are an investment. Maximizing heifer ROI in today’s dairy economy is a must do.

The question becomes what can be done in next 2-5 of years in capturing and analyzing heifer data to maximize their ROI?

Current Heifer Genetic Indexes Are A Good Start

For some time now breeders have had genetic indexes on some traits that affect calves and heifers including: (sire) calving ease; daughter calving ease; sire stillbirths; daughter stillbirths; and genetic defects/haploids. These have been developed due to the need to primarily to avoid the death of calves are the time of birth. Recently CDCB has added a trait called EFC (early first calving). Yet these do not address the heifer rearing challenges associated with growth rate, feed conversion efficiency, health, immunity and morbidity.

Although the heritability for these traits is quite low, considerable progress has been made from when the majority of Holsteins could be a problem calving for the first time.  Results included the possibility of a dead calf or a calf that was a ‘poor doer’ that did not reach its genetic potential. Sire calving ease (CE & CA) has received the primary attention. Even though daughter calving ease (DCE & DCA) has been reported it is unfortunate that it has not been given more attention in sire selection. Hard first calvings can severely hold back first calvers from achieving peak production and in quick breeding back.

Breeders have available to them sire rankings for calf related health indexes calculated and published by Zoetis. Table 1 reports the top proven Holstein sires for: overall calf health (CW$); calf respiratory problems (C RESP); calf scour problems (C SCOURS) and calf livability (C LIV). There are many genomically evaluated sires that have even higher indexes for CW$.

Table 1 – Highest Ranked US Proven Holsteins Sires for CW* (Dec ’19)

Rank / Sire   C RESP** C SCOURS    C LIV        CW$
1. Frazzled (7HO12788) 110 105 109 63
2. Petrone (7HO11169) 106 105 109 53
3. Megaman (7HO13302) 107 108 106 51
4. Winston (7HO13326) 102 105 111 50
5T. AltaCraig (11HO11749) 108 105 106 46
5T. CashFlow (534HO00033) 105 102 110 46
7. AltaCR (11HO11434) 112 101 105 42
8T. Atwood (7HO10506) 108 109 102 40
8T. Rev-Me-Up-Red (566HO01231) 107 104 106 40
10T. AltaTopShot (11HO11779) 111 104 103 39
10T. Diamondback (7HO12587) 104 108 105 39

Notes: * Date Source –; ** 100 is the average rating for sires.

The Immunity Plus program (Semex) reports that the sires, designated as Immunity+, show 4-8% superiority for many heifer and cow performance limiting health related diseases.

Other Young Stock Genetic Indexes

The Angus Breed has an extensive program that capture data and produces genetic indexes for growth (birth, weaning and yearling), feed conversion, fertility, carcass, functional conformation, health, and temperament. It has been a key factor in Angus having an excellent branding program.

As early as the 1960’s, Norway was performance testing all dairy bulls, entering its young sire sampling programs, for growth, fertility, health and hoof growth.  The young sires were initially selected based on the parents’ milk production ability but only the top half of the sires based on their own performance had semen collected and were sampled to determine their daughters’ performance.  This screening continues in the present day in Viking Genetics cattle improvement programs.

A recent study in New Zealand reported on the benefits of high fertility male and female lines compared to low fertility lines. High fertility lines reached heifer puberty 21 days earlier and 55 lbs. lighter than low fertility lines. High fertility line females in first and second lactations had 30% more pregnancies six weeks after first breeding than low fertility lines. This research supports the moves by many A.I. not to return to proven service low fertility sires even though their total merit indexes may be high.

New Traits for Calves and Heifers

The potential list is long. Every dairy farmer will have 1 to 3 performance traits they wish to improve in their calves and heifers. Which traits would add to the profitability of your herd? Calves that resist disease? Calves that grow faster? Calves with more functional feet? Heifers that have their first heat at a younger age?

It would be beneficial if young A.I. sires could also be evaluated before semen is sold for their own ability to grow and resist disease. Genomic indexing will be important when adding new heifer traits. Almost every A.I. company is working on some trait to genetically improve calves and heifers.

New Technology Will Provide Usable data

Currently there are automated calf feeding devices that have considerable information for calves from birth to weaning. We can expect to have many new monitoring devices, cameras and management softwares in use on-farm in the near future. There will be data that will have significant benefit for management at the farm level and improvement in the industry. The data for new traits will need to be uniformly defined and it needs to get to the central data system.

Organizations Must Act

The way forward will require data captured on-farm, the data transmitted to the national data bases and then analyzed and reported for benchmarking and genetic advancement purposes. If this process is not part of the national system, then the calf and heifer data systems will be taken on by breeding companies in order to support their services and products.

Animal improvement organizations are procrastinating in moving this matter forward. Why is that? This inaction should not continue.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The dairy cattle improvement industry must expand the focus from primarily the milking herd to all animals covering from birth to removal from the herd. And as the dairy herd expands to be a larger portion of the meat production industry, the data needs to be more than just milk production focused.

Breeders, milk producers and industry organizations need to insist that the matter of monitoring and sharing of calf and heifer data be given a much higher priority in research and development.



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STOP WASTING TIME! Choose Sires that Save on Labor

Recently I overheard two milk producers discussing a proven sire’s daughters in their herds. One producer praised the sire for his ability to raise fat yield while the other producer put down the sire because of the extra time it took his staff to treat sick calves, the need to pull the calves from the sire’s first calf heifers and that it took 3-4 services to get the sire’s daughter pregnant.

That conversation got me thinking – “Do we put enough emphasis in sire selection on the amount of staff time that a sire’s daughters may require?”

Attitude to Labor Required

In the past breeders were pleased to obtain superior production and/or conformation from a sire’s daughters and were prepared to overlook the extra labor required for a sire’s daughters.

With the increased cost for labor and the often lack of availability of skilled herdspersons to treat sick, underperforming, infertile or special needs animals, labor utilization is often front and center on a herd manager’s work agenda.

Genetics and Labor Meet

The Bullvine asks – “Is it time to address how the genetic merit of our dairy animals affects the cost of labor on the farms of tomorrow?

Farm financial analysis shows that labor is between 14-20% of total farm costs. Reducing labor costs by 15-20% by having animals of all ages and stages that require less staff and management time could significantly impact net income, while freeing up staff time to implement enhanced procedures.

Traits the Affect Labor Required

The thirty-five traits with genetic indexes that can affect labor costs is significant and apply from birth to herd removal follow:

Direct Affect:

  1. Animal Health: All animal health issues on dairy farms require the attention and time of staff.

Genetic indexes include: C Scours; C Resp; C Liv; CW$; Immunity+; SCS/MAS/MR; LIV; WT$; …

  1. Reproduction: For some time now, dairy breeders have selected for improved reproductive performance, but it remains a high priority as it requires considerable staff time.

Genetic indexes include: DPR/FI/DF; HCC; CCR; MET; …

  1. Calving Time: Calving time issues can be stressful and can require an excessive amount of staff time. It continues to be a priority item for improvement on dairy farms.

Genetic indexes include: CE/CA; MCE/DCA; SSB; DSB; RP/RPL; GL; …

  1. Milking Time: Regardless of the degree of on-farm automations the milking process requires staff time at every milking. Factors that slow down milking time of individual or groups of cows is a staff cost.

Genetic indexes include: MSP(Milking Speed); MT(Milking Temperament); RTP(Holsteins); UD(Udder Depth); …

  1. Animal Locomotion: An animal’s ability to move without problems is an absolute necessity. Dealing with locomotion problems requires extra labor. Any genetic indexes currently available are at best an indirect measure of animal locomotion.

Genetic indexes include: HH(Hoof Health); FA(Foot Angle); HD(Heel Depth); LAME; …

  1. Metabolic Disease: When a metabolic disease occurs, extra staff is required to detect and treat.

Genetic indexes include: DA(Displace Abomasum); KET(Ketosis); MVF; MD(Metabolic Disease Composite – 3x); …

Indirect Affect

Some genetic related traits may have an indirect affect on the cost for labor. These include: PL/HL (reduced labor for replacements); PP (no dehorning); AFC (Age at First Calving – reduce labor for replacements); Sexed Semen (easier calving); Cross Breeding (correction of breed limiting traits).

Necessary to Apply Selection Pressure

Dairy cattle breeders know that to improve the genetic level of their herds, they must use superior sires. To improve quickly the sires must be significantly superior.  Significantly superior sires are the ones that are in the top 5% of the breed. In statistical terms those sires are two standard deviations above average.

The traits mentioned above, the contributors to saving on labor costs are lowly heritable, not easily measured and often only identified later in an animal’s life. All of which contribute to the need for stringent sire selection in order to make herd improvement.

In Canada, CDN/Lactanet expresses traits on a scale of 100 being average, one standard deviation is 5 so two standard deviations (top 5%) is 110.

In the USA, at CDCB and with many company’s proprietary labor-saving traits, there is not a standardized method of trait expression, average is not always zero (0.0) and the standard deviation value is not published. It is difficult, if not impossible, for a milk producer to quickly know the superiority or inferiority of a sire’s rating for those traits.

No matter the source of the information, milk producers planning to improve a labor-saving trait must make sure that only truly superior sires are used.

Some Top Sires for Saving on Labor

To assist Bullvine readers to start the process of finding labor saving sires the following sires are offered:

  • AltaTopShot (11HO11779) – SCS 2.67/MR 107; PL 7.4/HL 108; DPR 1.6 / DF 106; SCE 5.9% / DCA 109; DSB 3.7%; HH 108; MD 107; LIV 2.7; UD 0.0; MSP 97; #10 CW$, #50 WT$(#1 DWP$; #1NM$; #2 TPI; A2A2)
  • Exactly (7HO12721) – MR 111/ SCS 2.50; DF 111/ DPR 2.9; HL 109 / PL 4.5; DCA 107 / DCE 5.2%; MD 105; HH 105; DSB 4.5%; LIV -0.9; MT 103; MSP 101; UD 3.41 (GLPI 3399; Pro$ 2097; TPI 2438; NM$ 563, A2A2)
  • VJ Tir (JEDNK303616) – SCS 2.68/MR 109; DPR 4.6/DF 111; PL 6.1/HL 115; MSP 104; UD 1S (#3CM$; A2A2)
  • Vivaldi (200JE07756) – DF 106 / DPR -1.9; MD 104; MR 103 / SCS 3.00; MSP 103; HL 101 / PL 2.0; CA 108; DCA 100; MT 117; UD 2D/+1.30                                                   (#1 Pro$; #1 LPI; JPI 143; CM$ 547; A2A2)

Very noteworthy is the fact that, with 70% of A.I. services to genomic sires, milk producers can choose from many many genomic sires that have high indexes for labor-saving traits. 

Facts that the Bullvine Observed

In developing this article on genetics and labor-saving traits the author observed:

  • North American total merit indexes (NM$, Pro$, CM$, TPU, LPI, …) are frequently not labor-saving trait friendly. This could be because these indexes are developed from historic breeding objectives rather than for the future reality.
  • Locomotion and functional feet are not well defined in genetic terms. More research is needed.
  • The methods of expressing traits with respect to breed averages and levels of superiority are not easily understood or known to milk producers.
  • Work needs to continue on trait definitions as more and more labor-saving traits will be captured by electronic on-farm systems. Common trait interpretation is need when data is combined when conducting genetic evaluations or when benchmarking herd performance.

Bonuses from Improving Labor Saving Traits

The bonus for dairy farmers for improving labor-saving traits will be in time saved primarily by eliminating doing the unnecessary. More time will be available to attend to other important on-farm herd functions – fresh cow temperature checking; extra health checks of calves; increased heat checking; more time for report analysis; more time for staff training; …

The Bullvine Bottom Line

With more animals per employee and the focus moving to on-farm efficiency, it is imperative that milk producers choose and use sires that are significant breed improvers for labor-saving traits.



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Tomorrow’s Dairy Cattle Genetic Evaluations Must Consider Environments

Have you ever wondered why some sires’ daughters perform better in some herds or environments than they do in others?  I have.  The current sire indexing system may rank two sires as being of equal genetic merit, yet their daughters may perform differently in the individual tie stall barns of cold Minnesota compared to the 400+ cow groupings in the heat and humidity of a Florida cow shed.  The system assumes that there are not performance expression differences due to environment.

Geneticists do not know enough about what happens on farm

It is a known fact that our geneticists do not have enough details about the animals’ health events, ability to perform in large groups, differing nutritional programs within a herd, calf-heifer disease and many other matters when processing the genetic evaluations to produce genetic indexes. Without the details, geneticists can only assume all animals in a herd are treated equally. We all know that this not the case.

Other Livestock have similar Challenges

Recently I read an interesting presentation (EPDs only one part of the genetic selection formula, 2018 Canadian Beef Breeds Council’s Technical Forum) by P J Budler of Modern Ova Trends on beef cattle genetic indexing. He cautioned about using EPDs (Estimated Predicted Differences aka genetic indexes) without also considering nutrition, herd management, animal health, forage program, animal marketing program, record keeping, human capital and farm finances.  His article also made mention about breed performance differences that depend on environment. His example was fertile Black Angus cows that are great at raising calves in the sometimes harsh cold of the Upper Plains of the United States and Western Canadian Provinces but put them in a hot semi-tropical environment and they do not graze, stand in ponds and they do not breed back.  My summation of Budler’s presentation is – a) environment, management and nutrition play a role in an animal’s expression of its genetic make-up and b) sires need to be proven in the environment in which their future daughters will perform.

Plant scientists in genetically evaluating varieties of corn, need to know the length of the growing season, heat units, soil type, tillage program, nutrient program, plant population, spray program and more in order to make accurate predictions on a variety’s ability to perform. The extent of the data captured from corn test plots is huge.

Likewise, it is a fact that livestock genetics do not work independent of nutrition, animal health, animal care, animal management and the environment.

Assuming can lead to Errors

Budler’s presentation got me thinking. Does the dairy cattle breeding industry make too many assumptions about animal treatment equality, when we do our genetic evaluations?

We have super super computers and very advanced methods to statistically analyze data, but we have not expanded the data forwarded to genetic evaluation labs.

Every Bullvine reader can think of a long list of factors beyond genetics that can affect an animal’s performance and for which geneticists do not have data available for inclusion when they do their analysis.  This list includes all the things that happen from birth to removal from the herd. Some things like calf morbidity, calf growth, hoof trimming, disease occurrence and animal grouping are not known. And yes, each one on its own may be minor in its affect but in total they lead to errors being made, when it comes to genetically ranking animals in the population. 

More Data Can Help

I often hear dairy people say – but that trait has a low heritability so we should not pay much attention to an index until the reliability of prediction is over 90%.

We need to ask – if we could have more data for the animals could the prediction accuracies be increased?

Feet, as currently scored by classifiers, has a low heritability.  Could the heritability for feet be increased if the geneticists knew details about calf hoof growth, housing environment of calves, heifers and cows, how recent was the last hoof trimming, have the feet ever been trimmed and has the animal ever been lame?

For more and more milking cows we electronically have observations from every milking (90 data points per month), the nearest weather station can provide the weather for the each day, in-barn monitors capture extensive information, … yet, the dairy cattle improvement industry (breeders and organizations) persist in using one milking or one day’s observations per month to calculate milk yields and ignore data from in-barn monitoring systems. In addition, animal performance beyond milk cows is non-existent in our central data bases.

There are never too many known facts when it comes to making accurate genetic index predictions and information available for managing a dairy herd.

The Goal in Genetic Evaluations

The goal in genetic evaluations is to accurately predict an animal’s ability to transmit a trait relative to other animals in the population.  Of course, ability can be both positive and negative.

Every breeder’s goal is to have the perfect animal for a trait and for that animal to transmit that perfection to the next generation. Perfection is not achieved by making decisions based on averages.

More Data Points affect all Aspects of a Dairy Herd

  1. As mentioned above having more animal, herd and farm data will enhance herd nutrition and management. In fact, those two disciplines will determine 75% of herd profit.
  2. Bullvine readers continuously learn about new on-farm monitoring devices. The data they supply should be included in the national data base if it can assist in improving herd profit.
  3. Dairy farmers will experience even tighter financial margins in the future. Data points that contribute to increased profit are a “must have” in the national data base.
  4. With more and more cloud or on-farm animal / herd management softwares in use, some farmers are talking about discontinuing to use DHI and breed services. If that is done it stops data from being available for benchmarking and for enhancing improvement services.
  5. It is highly unlikely that sires will ever be sampled and proven randomly across all herd environments scenarios. So, having more data points will assist in genetic index accuracy, especially for low heritability traits.
  6. More data especially feed efficiency, animal health, animal fertility, calves and heifers will assist in increasing the reliabilities of genomic indexes. Even to 90+% REL within the next decade.

Something to think about

Determining an animal’s lifetime profit is a marathon that starts at birth and ends when the animal leaves the herd. The performance and events focus in the past has been the lactations of the milking cows, thereby the industry has been missing the data from significant parts of each animal’s life.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

It is time for breeders and their representatives on committees and boards to think to the future and the need to use more on-farm data.

The accuracy and number of traits included in genetic evaluations and on-farm performance reporting can be significantly increased by having more on-farm data reach the central national data bases. Use it, not waste it!




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Does Your Sire Selection Need an Overhaul?

When was the last time you changed the traits on which you base your sire selection?  Was it this year or a decade ago?  Today’s dairy cattle are much different than what they were even three generations ago. Today there are many new genetic indexes that could be well worth your investigation.

Be Progressive – Identify Your Herd’s Limitations

Recently when speaking with two production focused herds, I heard the following on their genetic improvement needs.  Here is what they told me.

Herd #1

This Holstein and crossbred herd and is housed in two groups (mature and 1st/early 2nd lactation cows) and are milked by two robot stall milkers. The owner focuses his time on TMR preparation and feeding and caring for the 100-110 milking cows, dry cows, heifers and calves. Cows average 86 lbs. (39 kgs) of 4.2%F and 3.3%P with SCC 105,000 and pregnancy rate is 40%. The annual replacement rate is 28%. Heifers calve at 22-23 months, and cows are not rebred until they are 100 days in milk or are past their peak and are gaining back weight. All field and cropping work is hired out. The owner is considering purchasing an automated calf feeder. He gives credit to the data from his robot milker system for helping him to be a much better dairy farmer. His sire selection has been primarily based on the LPI sire index and calving ease (CA) for heifers. He uses 20% (sexed) proven, 40% genomic, 10% Brown Swiss and 30% beef sires. He still uses DHI but is contemplating not classifying as, as he says, “I do not sell breeding stock, classifiers do not do a good job of evaluating my feet and locomotion issues in my herd and, with robotic milking, udders are not a stressed”.

The owner manages the herd by himself with some relief help for times he needs to be away especially for family events, but he says he is continually tired from having to deal with herd health issues, equipment maintenance and heat checking. He stated that he does not have enough time to manage and plan. He feels that the sires that he has been using are not leaving what he calls trouble-free long-lived tough cows and his calves require too much attention, due to illness. He reached out to me to discuss sire indexes for functional traits including Immunity+.  “I feel that I need to improve the genetics in my herd for fitness and health traits.” He wants to be ready for when his son comes home from college, at which time they will add a third robot.

Herd #2

This 1000 milking cow (2x) Holstein herd is going through an ownership transition from parents to agricultural college-educated children – daughter (the next farm business manager) and son-in-law (manager for the herd and the cropping). The daughter contacted me via The Milk House to discuss sires they should be using and on-farm data systems that will provide them with the information they need to manage. They are planning to install a new milking parlor in about three years. An automated calf feeding system was installed six months ago, and they are very pleased with the reduction in calf diseases and excellent calf growth to weaning. This new calf program pleases the daughter a great deal as calves are her speciality and she wants to start her own family soon. Her parents are supportive and happy to have the farm continue in the family.

The daughter reported that “Dad always said he bred for high PTAT (show type) and fed for production”. In her words “that philosophy just won’t work for us in the future”. First calvers too often have at least some calving difficulty, resulting in both dam and calf getting off to a poor start. The herd is 70% first and second lactation cows, average production is 73 lbs. (33 kgs) 3.6%F and 2.9%P, SCC 200,000 and pregnancy rate 18%. Sires used have been 80% proven (PTAT >2.75) from popular cow families and 20% genomic from show cow families. The annual replacement rate is over 40% – it takes all the heifers born to replace the culls.

Her thoughts on the herd’s past genetic selection program included: 1) no selection for female fertility; 2) cows are large requiring more maintenance and are not mobile enough; 3) little attention has been paid to fat and protein yield, SCC and persistency of production; 4) too many animals are being culled at a young age; and 5) heifers first calving at 25-26 months is adding $300 per heifer in rearing costs.

“Yep, Dad liked a ‘good-looking cow’ so he could sell purebred breeding stock – but – that’s not happening any longer. Dad is not opposed to change and says it’s in my hands now”. Her husband calculates that it takes one extra staff member just to trim feet, care for metabolic / production limiting diseases problems, assisting with problem calvings and to medicate sick animals. In summary, this wife-husband team are planning for changes including a significant change in the breeding program.

Opportunity Exists to Select Sires Differently

It was great being able to address sire selection for these two progressive thinking dairy farms knowing over 90% of the genetic progress that can be made in a herd comes from the sires used.

With about 85-88% of the on-farm cost being associated with feeding (50-58%), replacements (14-17%), labor (14-17%) and veterinary/medications (2-6%) it comes down to selecting sires that can assist in reducing the costs for these four areas. There are function-fertility-fitness-health trait genetic indexes that can be selected for, and that will assist with helping to reduce on-farm costs and thereby to increase profit.

Herd #2 needs to give attention to revenue generation by selecting for fat and protein yields and component percentage.

 Traits Milk Producers Should Consider Beyond Production and Type

The following six groupings are ranked by this author’s order of importance for tomorrow’s North American dairy cattle populations. The function-fertility-fitness-health genetic indexes that apply to each category are listed. There are both public indexes and company proprietary indexes.

  1. Longevity – Cows that remain in the herd for five or more lactations are the most profitable. Sires PL Productive Life indexes should be >5.0 and HL – Herd Life should be >105 to genetically add to a herd’s longevity. In 2019 CDCB produced a new sire indexes Early First Calving (EFC) which breeders will be able to use to shorten the time to first calving.
  2. Animal Health – Many health genetic indexes currently exist, and more will be added in the future for breeders to use to change away from no genetic attention on health. It started with SCS, which is now being called Mastitis Resistance, others include Immunity+, (Cow) Wellness Traits$, Calf Wellness$, Wellness Pro, Hoof Health, Metabolic Disease Resistance, …etc. All helpful genetic tools to help breeders identify sires that should not be used.
  3. Fertility – Much attention has been and continues to be focused on genetically improving fertility. If possible, breeders should not use sires that are below average for fertility traits. Indexes include: DPR (select >2.0), DF (select >103), FI (select >0.0), CCR, HCR, BCS, Fertility Pro, Superior Settlers, …etc. Progress has been made in the population average genetic merit for fertility, but the selection of superior sires must be continued.
  4. Efficiencies – Presently, the attention is on feed conversion efficiency. Currently available are a direct measure index EcoFeed and indirectly calculated indexes FE and Feed Pro. CDCB and CDN/Lactanet are concluding their research so they can publish feed efficiency indexes in 2020. Although not being used at the genetic level producers and their feed advisors are making much use of Income Over Feed C … Expect to see genetic efficiency indexes in other areas – labor (animals not requiring human attention).
  5. Calving – Genetic indexes relating to calving time were started over forty years ago, and the genetic progress has been significant. Ratings include CA$ (CE + MCE), CA, DCA, Stillbirths, Gestation Length, identification of lethal recessives (Haploids), …etc. It is important to note that any matters negatively impacting calving can result in poor subsequent performance for both dam and calf and calf morbidity.
  6. Milking – Milking occurs 2 to 4 times per day, so anything affecting milking is important. Genetic indexes exist for Milking Speed, Milking Temperament (aka inter-action with the parlor environment), Robot Ready, Robot Pro, …etc.

Genomic evaluations have greatly assisted with increasing the accuracy of the indexes for these traits. The Canadian indexes are published on the 100 scale and a standard deviation of 5. US indexes are published on numerous scales and average is not always 0.00. Breeders using US indexes can look up details on the CDCB site for index averages and ranges.

It is essential for breeders to be aware that the heritability’s for these traits are low and accuracies for the indexes are lower than for production and some type traits. To make genetic improvement in a function-fertility-fitness-health trait, it must be selected for on a continual basis.

How to Select Sires

Just as there are no perfect sires, there is no perfect index that will place the correct emphasis on functions, fertility, fitness and health for an individual farm’s breeding program.

Table 1 shows the trait emphasis for North American Holsteins in the major total merit indexes. The variation is considerable, which provides the answer as to why sires rank differently from index to index. The trait emphasis is not published for Pro$ as it is based on an outcome-based cow profit approach.

Table 1 Trait Emphasis for North American Total Merit Indexes

           TPI          NM$       DWP$           LPI
Production 46% 45% 34% Production 40%
Conformation 26% 15% 10% Durability* 40%
Function/Fertility/ 28% 40% 56% Health / Fertility 20%

* The Durability portion of the LPI index contains both function and conformation traits

Relying solely on any one of the total merit indexes to rank the sires according to an individual breeder’s needs for function-fertility-fitness-health trait improvement is not a wise decision.

The Bullvine recommends that a breeder select the total merit index that suits their needs. Then eliminate the sires from the list that are not above average for the 3 or 4 function-fertility-fitness-health traits most in need of improvement in the herd. This will result in a list of sires best suited for the herd.

Note: 1) This list will vary from herd to herd depending herd genetic needs and plans; 2) Likely 70% of the top 100 sires on the total merit index will be eliminated; and 3) In developing the herd needs remember to account for weaknesses of sires used in the past – i.e. DPR (<0.00), PL (>2.0), CW$(<-10).

Star Function, Fitness, Fertility and Health Sires

A list of top sires (based on Aug 2019 indexes) follows:

  • Frazzled (7HO12788)            #1 DWP$, #4 TPI, #5 NM$ and high for F+P, PL, SCS/MS, LIV, MET, GL & EFC
  • Rubicon (151HO00681)          #3 TPI, #7 NM$ and high for F+P, PL, LIV, SCS, FLC, DCE, DSB
  • Rowdy (29HO17947)             #1 NM$, #5 TPI and high for F+P (200 lbs.), PL, LIV, DCE, DSB
  • Enzo (29HO18016)                 #12 TPI, top 50 NM$ and high for PL, SCS, DPR, LIV, UDC
  • Rio (7HO13866)                      A2A2, 2673 TPI, 799 NM$ and high for PL, SCS, DPR, LIV, UDC, DCE, DSB (Genomic)
  • Porter (200HO10532)            #2 LPI, #12Pro$ and high for F+P (yield & %), HL, HH, DF, DCA, Mammary, F&L
  • Detour (513HO03091)           #2 Pro$, #3 LPI and high for F+P, HL, HH, Milking Speed, DCA
  • Brewmaster (250HO01009)  A2A2, #11 LPI, #13 Pro$, #1 F% and high for F, HL, Persistency, DCA, R, F&L
  • AltaGlow (11HO15023)        A2A2, 3123 Pro$, 3639 LPI and high for F+P, HL, HH, Persistency, DF, CA, DCA (Genomic)
  • Almamater (200HO11665)   A2A2, 3629 LPI, 2744 Pro$ and F+P, HL, MasRes, MET, HH, DF, M Speed, DCA (Genomic)

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Total Merit Indexes do a very good job of ranking sires for overall genetic merit. However, breeders need to search deeper when it comes to finding sires that stand out from the pack for function-fertility- fitness-health traits.

Progressive breeders need to determine where their herd needs improvement for traits beyond production and type. Then they should use the best sires for improving function-fertility-fitness-health traits in order to have the genetics in their herds that will assist in reducing their farm’s cost of production.




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Dairy Breeders – Changing Times Require Changing Ways

It is happening all the time! Bullvine readers and Milk House members have been commenting that the dairy cattle breeding industry has changed too much for them.

How Much Change is Too Much?

As far back as 1980, the daughter performance-proven sire (95+% REL) had replaced the brood cow (15-25% REL) as the most important animal in the breeding population.

Today fewer and fewer dairy females from higher PTAT/CONF or show families command high prices.

But most difficult of all for some dairy people is the fact that dairy breeding companies (formerly called A.I. companies) have responded to the need for change by developing their own male and female breeding lines to provide the genetics their customers demand.

Should Dairies – Even Yours – Resist Change?

If you have survived any length of time in the dairy cattle industry, you can probably point to the ways you have made strides forward in the genetic merit of your herd. It may have been in production. It may have been for overall type.

You can probably also name changes that are now arriving on your doorstep that are problematic for you. Changes in your herd’s genetic merit for fertility and longevity may be a problem for you. Or perhaps you struggle with changes in your herd’s health, functionality, and welfare traits.

Today we have sexed semen being widely used and genomic testing available but not universally used. Yet, we have merely scratched the surface when it comes to what advancements new technology will bring and what the DNA of an animal will tell us.

When you add in the very public problems that consumers are having with dairy farming, you begin to feel that change has you between a rock and a hard place.

Some dairies resist change so successfully that by the time they recognize the need for change, making any change at all is much harder to achieve.

Dairying, as Usual, is Giving Way to Constant Change

The reality is that the future in dairy cattle breeding and farming will not be the present or the past. Here are some facts to set the scene for future breeders:

  • Changing Numbers
    The trend to 5%/year fewer farms due to economies of scale, limited labor, cost of technology, and increased production will continue. More and more herds will link together for milk processing, custom farming, feed storage and preparation, input purchasing, labor utilization, animal rearing/handling, etc. purposes. In some cases, expect to see 100,000 cows in a single linkage. Some estimates predict 6,000 North American farms will produce 90+% of the milk within 15-20 years.
    Who will your farm be partnering with?
  • Changing Economics
    On-farm margins are tight. Surplus breeding stock sales cannot be expected to provide a profit over rearing costs. Genetics must contribute to increased revenue, improved efficiencies, and reduced costs. Economic improvement cannot be left up to feeding and management only.
    What are the strategies for your farm to address narrow margins?
  • Changing Milk Marketing
    Milks with unique composition and high quality receive the premium at the farm gate. Farms are finding it advantageous to work in unison with processors and other farmers in order to balance milk supply with the demand for milk products. Breeding cattle for unique milks is an opportunity for the breeding industry.
    Is your farm in a position to obtain a premium farm gate milk price?
  • Changing Technology
    It is increasingly costly to employ staff to milk, feed, care for sick animals, and record the data for feeding, breeding, management and business purposes. New technologies are replacing farm labor and provide the opportunity for improving herd and farm management. Animals must be able to perform with less individual worker involvement and attention and thrive in large groups.
    All new technologies appear to be great … but …which ones are a fit for your farm. Choose carefully!
  • Changing Data
    Decisions based on data, including genetic information and indexes, are increasingly crucial in dairy farming. Herds are expanding the data captured for their own use and for use by their advisors, service providers, and animal/product marketers. Progressive dairy people tell us that they benefit by having access to data from other farms for benchmarking purposes.
    Make data king on your farm for you to be both profitable and sustainable.
  • Changing Herd Service Industry
    Farms are deciding which services they need to use based on the cost to benefit ratio of the service rather than tradition or loyalty.  Not all current service and data suppliers will survive the next ten years.
    Without the profitable sale of breeding stock and the requirement for breed purity being important, breed societies are investigating aligning with other organizations. Herd recording services are capturing data and monitor animals, birth to herd removal, for many more factors. Cloud-based systems are becoming the norm.
    International genetic companies with aggressive breeding programs, owning both males and females, are here to stay. They may or may not provide insemination services, but most will provide services is genetics sales (semen and embryos), data capture, genotyping, herd management advice, on-farm systems, genetic evaluations, … and more. Some of their products, services, indexes, and information are proprietary. Dairy people are deciding if and how they use private services and information.
    Evaluate your services and your service providers and only retain the ones that positively impact your operation or your bottom line.
  • Changing Farmer-Breeder Role
    The role of the individual independent farmer-breeder and the need for third-party verified data are faced with change. The fact is, they have already started to change.
    If your farm plans to be at the forefront of the dairy cattle breeding industry, are you making the necessary changes? Is your heart, or are the facts, your data and your analysis guiding your decisions?

Genetic Opportunities Must Reactivate and Rejuvenate the Dairy Breeding Industry

The production and type in dairy cattle have been greatly improved, but fertility, functionality and animal health have suffered. These and other new traits provide opportunities for breeders to produce animals with increased genetic merit.

Genetic suppliers, companies or individuals, need to consider addressing the following:

  1. Improved animal longevity and livability through breeding for fertility, functionality, health and disease resistance. Breeders should aim to increase PL/HL by 60 lifetime days per generation.
  2. With feed being 52-57% of total herd costs improving feed conversion efficiency for growth and milk production will be necessary. Breeders should aim to improve feed conversion by 5% per generation.
  3. As milk revenue is 87-93% of farm revenue, breeding for increased fat and protein yield will continue to be necessary. Breeders should aim only to use sires that are in the top 20% of the population for both fat and protein yield.
  4. For efficient milk processing, a correct balance of fat to protein to other solids is necessary to meet consumption demands. 4.3-4.5% fat and 3.4-3.6% protein is what is currently needed to produce the products consumers buy. Breeders should aim to breed for milk with a balance of 1Fat:2SNF.
  5. Animal conformation has been improved to the point that the functioning of feet & legs and udders and the trouble-free birthing of calves need to receive the attention once placed on ideal conformation. Many breeding companies have already shifted the emphasis, and independent breeders will need to also change their focus with respect to animal conformation.
  6. Lines of cattle will be needed globally to meet housing needs, to adapt to new technologies and varying environmental needs. (Read more: Can We Create Holstein Blood Lines to Feed The World?) Breeders should consider including new traits in their selection programs (beta-casein, kappa casein, hoof health, immunity, disease resistance, heat tolerance, slick gene, epigenetics, nutrigenetics, …etc.).

A vision based on both reality and desired outcome is fundamental to be a successful breeder. Unlocking the power of new data will be a necessity. Dairy breeders and companies supplying the animal genetics must be working ahead of the genetic needs curve to stay in the game.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Individuals that choose the blame game for why the farmer-breeder’s role has been negatively affected by breeding companies are focused on the past and not the future.

Breeders and genetic suppliers must lead are measuring new traits and putting the appropriate emphasis on all traits. CDN research has shown that genetics can contribute about 50% of the on-farm gains in margins.

Moving forward using the results from both the farm and the lab is the only way to guarantee the dairy cattle breeding industry.




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Dairy Improvement Services: Which ones are worth investing in?

As the saying goes … ‘Nothing is as constant as change’.  Today in the dairy farming industry, the world over, owners and managers face a change in the data services they use, which data pieces are important to them and who has access to their data. This article will focus on factors milk production focused farms need to assess when it comes to the use of dairy cattle improvement programs and services.

Herds of The Future

Currently, the average US dairy herd size is 250+ milking cows (in 37,000 herds) and 90+ in Canada (in 10,500 herds). Those averages have been increasing and will increase faster as labor availability diminishes, technology is applied, and margins per cow remain narrow.

Recent USDA analysis has shown that in the US 2000+ cow herds have a 20% lower daily cost per cow as compared to herds with 100-200 cows – “on a per hundredweight basis, large farms face 12% lower feed costs, 20% lower operating costs, and 45% lower allocated overhead than smaller operations” (Ben Laine, dairy analyst for Rabobank). Twenty per cent savings is huge – so we can expect to see larger herds. Presently 55% of US milking cows are in herds of 1000+ cows.

Double the current average herd size may not be the answer. The USDA study also shows only 4-5% savings in daily cow cost for 500 cow herds compared to 100-200 cow herds.

Canadian herds are currently considering how they address the loss of market share to foreign milk products, the payback on purchasing technology and the size of quota holding for their operation.

Milk producers in both the US and Canada need data on which to base their planning and management.

It’s a Changed Business Model

Only milk with unique content (A2A2, BB … etc.) will demand a significantly higher future farm gate price.

For most farms, the market for surplus heifers and cows no longer exists.  A profit centre, often 10% but up to 50% of farm revenue, has disappeared.

With sexed semen, only the top 60% of females need to be bred dairy to produce herd replacements. The remaining animals including low fertility animals can be breed to beef sires.

Dairy farms will sell both milk and meat. The meat revenue will be from beef-dairy cross animals born on the farm.

Dairy farm managers will need to focus on ways to increase revenue while keeping costs under control.

In short, generalization is gone, and specialization and focus must be practiced – in order to have a positive bottom line.

Future On-Farm Focus

These three areas of dairy farming will be added to milk producer planning in the future:

  • Producing to consumer demands/needs.
  • Efficiencies will supplant production, type, cattle shows and high records.
  • A total business approach must be considered – from the soil to the consumers’ tables.

Improvement Services for Milk Producers to Invest In

The following are areas for milk producers to consider when enrolling or investing in improvement services in the future:

  • Virtual Management Service will be Very Important

All farms, no matter the size or country, will need an animal, herd and farm information to plan, manage, feed and breed their operations. Progressive farms will not stop animal and herd recording. They need the data. They may, however, discontinue traditional DHI and herdbook recording and go to global cloud-based data systems that are linked to their on-farm electronic data capture systems.

  • Genotyping Service will be Very Important

Herd replacements females need to be genotyped. To identify: 1. Accurate parentage; 2. Animals that can be culled and not raised based on production, longevity, functionality; reproductive fitness and resistance to disease genetic results; 3. Desired protein (beta and kappa caseins) genotypes, as well as other ingredients in milk; and 4. For optimal mating decisions.

  • Private vs Cooperative Service will not matter

Traditional animal and herd recording systems have been provided by cooperative type organizations. However, that is changing. Private organisations are now providing parentage verification, data capture, new trait evaluations plus indexing and testing for a host of other things with more services promised.  So, where once it was the domain of cooperatives to provided trusted information, it now comes down to the trust that producers put in the information provided by whomever.

  • Animal Traceability Service will, in time, be Important

Being able to guarantee product by having an effective and accurate animal traceability system in place exists in many countries. It will come to North America. There are three components to animal traceability: premise identification; electronic identification; and tracking of animal movement. In most areas, North America has the first two, however not the third one. All livestock owners will require a service whereby an animal’s location and movement can be known. Farm biosecurity, including records, will also be a necessity.

  • Animal Purity will not be necessary

Animal purity in milk production herds will not add revenue for the milk shipped or reduce on-farm costs. Milk producers need to breed for the gene make-up in their animals, not purity.

  • Third-Party Verification will not be necessary

Milk producers need to be focused on their farm and its profitability but do not require third-party verification of the data on their farms.

The Future for Improvement Services

Milk production focused farms will decide on a cost: benefit basis which improvement services or programs they will use. Not all the current services will survive either entirely or in their current format.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Herds will be fewer and larger. Consumers, efficiencies and a total farm approach will need to be added to what is important in animal, herd and farm improvement services.

The future scope, options and services in improvement programs offered to milk producers will need to be different from the past or present services. Milk producers will participate according to their plans and needs.




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Ideal Rump Structure – Does It Actually Matter?

Classifiers and show judges evaluate and compare cow body parts for their structure according to the breed conformation scorecard and breed ideals. Yet, yield and profit focused breeders and A.I. are now selecting based on the proven science of the functionality of body parts. This Bullvine article addresses the documented facts on Holstein cows’ rumps. Which rump traits need to be left behind? Which rump related trait indexes need to be used in over ninety percent of dairy herds when selecting and mating sires?

Source: Holstein Canada

What Do Breed Ideal Rumps Look Like?

Both US and Canadian Holstein Breeds describe the ideal rumps as being long, wide, pins slightly lower than hips, neither anus or tailhead recessed, freedom from coarseness, etc. … so as to have rumps that facilitate easier calvings and that assist with improved cow fertility, healthy recovery after calving and increased cow longevity. 

But do those descriptions hold up, when it comes to what happens in the field?

Additionally, which is the correct emphasis on the rump – US at 5 point out of 100 or Canada at 12 points? In the showring it is the author’s observation that judges often place more than 20 points on the rump when giving reasons for their class placings.

The Evolution of Holstein Rumps

Very old cow pictures often show cows that were very, even extremely, sloped from hips to pins. Somewhat like what we see in today’s native wild deer populations.

By the early to mid-twentieth century the desired rump was wide, pins level with hips and tail heads between the pin bones on cows of about 53” – 55” in stature.

Then it was decided that Holstein cows needed to be taller. Much taller by the 1980’s. This tallness and the popular bloodlines seem to have brought with them narrower animals, narrower rumps or smaller pelvis openings and more difficult birthing. An added negative was that breeders wanted larger calves, feeling that larger birth size lead to larger mature animals. In fact, that is not universally the case.

Thank goodness reason is winning out for moderated stature and what size healthy calves need to be.

What Do Results Say About Today’s Ideal Rumps?

Published Canadian (CDN) genetic correlations provide information on rump traits that dairy breeders need to be aware of. These results are based on 4,182 Holstein sires proven between 2003 and 2018.

The genetic correlations to longevity (Herd Life) by the classified traits are: rump angle (0.12), pin width (-0.08), loin strength (0.04), thurl placement (0.18) and overall rump (0.15).

The genetic correlations to fertility (Daughter Fertility) by classified traits are: rump angle (0.04), pin width (-0.06), loin strength (-0.10), thurl placement (0.06) and overall rump (-0.01).

Remember that the breed societies say the ideal rumps lead to improved longevity and fertility – but with those low correlations it just isn’t so.

The conclusion this author draws is that the rump traits, as captured by the type classification programs, do not contribute positively to either longevity or fertility in Canadian Holsteins. Correlations using US data do not appear to be available on the www.

How Important Are Rumps?

How often in a cow’s lifetime can rump structure be a limiting factor?

Consider a cow that first calves at 23 months and completes four lactations and is removed from the herd at 75 months of age. Put on a functioning basis, this means she calves on four days (0.002% of her days), walks on her feet and legs for 2280 days (100% of her days), milks for 1430 days (62.7% of her days) and is dry for 150 days (6.5% of her days).

Draw your own conclusions. However for this author rump structure ranks far far behind feet and legs (foot structure, rear-legs-rear-view, flex of hock and mobility) and mammary system (depth, cleft, teat placement and attachments) when it comes to deserving attention when selecting sires to be used in herds that focus on profitably producing milk solids.

What Really Counts in Rumps?

Rumps that function best allow for quick, easy births, fast recovery of the mother and a healthy calf with minimal stress. For the dam side of this, it is best measured by farmer supplied measurements on her calving ease – Daughter Calving Ease (USA) and Daughter Calving Ability (CAN). For the calf side of this the sire’s calving ease is important – Calving Ease (USA) and Calving Ability (CAN). In the USA, CA$’s are published for animals which combines information on both calving ease and stillbirths.

The Canadian correlations for proven sires, for the study referred to above, are as follows: for longevity (Herd Life) with sire calving ability (0.25) and daughter calving ability (0.43); and for fertility (Daughter Fertility) with sire calving ability (0.14) and daughter calving ability (0.40).

By a considerable amount (2x to 10x) daughter calving ability is a superior index to all the classified rump traits in predicting longevity and fertility in Canadian Holsteins. Although farm captured data does not exist for calf health at one week of age, it is likely that daughter calving ability is at least moderately correlated to calf health and wellbeing.

Why the Fixation with Rumps?

The short answer may have two parts:

1) Tradition – when other more accurate measures were not available, then visual observation of the exterior was the best tool available; and

2) Sight line and proximity – breeders’, classifiers’ and show judges’ eyes, when viewed from the rear of an animal, are at the same level at the rump.

Take Home Messages

  1. Daughter Calving Ease (DCE or DCA) is the best predictor that currently exists for the best rumps.
  2. Holsteins are improving for Daughter Calving Ease, but breeders will be well rewarded for continuing to use sires that are rated above average for CA$, DCE or DCA.
  3. The bull Oman was a great help for the Holstein breed being able to reduce calving difficulties.
  4. AI. organizations publish CE’s and DCE’s for their sires and most no longer sample or market sires that leave calves that are born with difficulty.
  5. Sire rump type indexes are not good predictors of daughter calving ease.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Current Holstein breed ideals and standards for rump structure and the emphasis placed on rumps in the type classification programs are only of quite limited value for most herds. Outside rump appearance bears little value in predicting calving ease, longevity and fertility.

Conformation evaluations need to include the functioning of the body part and not simply the appearance. Rumps could be a good place for breeds to start in revamping their type classification programs in order to remain relevant to tomorrow dairy farmers’ needs.




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Specialty Milk EQUALS Money Everyday!

Milk lost some of its unique identity over sixty years ago! When bulk on-farm pickup rolled in the lane differentiation was sacrificed for one truck convenience. Premium milk for fat content or other specific composition no longer reached the processor’s door. 

Guernsey Gold, could no longer be sold for its high carotene content as milk from Guernseys became  simply part of the load of milk from all dairy herds in an area.  Back then milk was primarily considered as a liquid drink and the need for keeping unique milks identified separately was given no importance.

“Set Yourself Apart or Be Set Aside”

The market and the consumer have both evolved. Today consumers want to know that what they are purchasing will have a positive effect on themselves and their families. Meeting these changed needs means that producers, of generic milk, will have a very narrow profit window. The choices for success, for those producers, have dwindled down to a small list:

  1. Size up so that you profit from economies of scale
  2. Use technology to minimize labor and to assist management practices.
  3. Fine tune feed preparation, feed composition and feed delivery to cut costs or differentiate.
  4. Breed beyond production and conformation to produce value-added milk.

Milk’s future value (2025+) will be highly dependent on its solid’s makeup or methods of production. Over 80% of milk, once processed, will end up in solid form. The dairy industry needs to re-think the way milk is bred for, fed for, transported and processed. However, as we all know, changing those factors does not happen suddenly. With future needs for milk and its solids in mind, The Bullvine promotes for consideration, discussion, planning and production, milk that will be used for solids, new and specialty purposes.

“Analyze What You Are Producing Or Paralyze Your Profits”

Every week at The Bullvine we join our dairy industry peers in thinking, writing and talking about the future of dairy farming.  As a milk producer, you live it every day.

A recent US study reported that the reason almost 85% dairy operations will go out of business will be because of one or a combination of poor management, lack of application of the economies of scale and/or not keeping up with the times in consumer demands.

Productivity and profit will be key contributors to on-farm success.  Most often dairy farmers think and talk about cost reduction but even more critical than squeezing every last penny out of costs is the revenue generated by the milk that leaves the farm. The dairy industry, farm to fork, has evolved. Keeping up with change is not a choice.  It is a necessity.

 “Want More Money!  Provide More Processor Value”

The first rule for the processor of a product is that the value of the product to the consumer rules the day. For most dairy farms their immediate consumer is the processor.

 If the value that the processor can derive out of the milk that leaves your farm is the base product price, then expect the current approximately $15-16(US) per cwt to continue.  Below the true on-farm COP.

The value of milk will be set by consumers not by dairy farms.

  • Only if the processor can make higher valued products from milk received can farms expected to get a 10% to 30% higher farm gate price.
  • Only for a limited number of dairy farms that self-process, will producers be the price setters.

Tomorrow’s Consumers’ Demands

As we move forward healthy low-cost grocery store foods will continue to be demanded by consumers and governments will continue to support and demand cheap food. Only foods that meet specific health, nutritional or lifestyle needs will be able to be priced higher than the base in-store price.

New products made from milk are being sought out all the time.. Groceries can be ordered on-line and delivered just in time to people living in developed countries. Milk products need to fit into that evolving model.

Where is Your Milk Value Added?

How many of these can you check “Yes” to when your milk leaves the farm gate?

Fat % composition or processing

  • -full fat milk ,
  • unique butters,
  • specialty cheeses,
  • unpasteurized or unique milks

Protein Composition

  • beta casein (A2 allele),
  • kappa casein (B allele)


  • organic
  • forage (grass) fed
  • carbon footprint reduced


  • totally traceable,
  • animal health and welfare (including dehorning),
  • favorable animal environments,
  • clean water source,
  • farm with pristine industry image,
  • grown locally,
  • milk haulage pooling for differentiated milk,
  • data management system to support verification,
  • DNA testing for breeding, culling, feeding and marketing …

Denying the need to add a unique feature to the milk that leaves a farm will mean the farm is not keeping up with the times. Consumers buy on features not just on basic nutritional need.

“Value Added Indexes are Here.  Use them.  Develop Them. Ask for More.”

The following are some genetic factors/ indexes that will help milk processors derive more income from the milk producers ship. Most of these have become available during this century and farmers can expect more of these value-added indexes to become available in the future.

  • Fat %
  • Casein composition – A2A2, BB
  • Reproduction – conception, calving ease, embryonic survival, haploid avoidance, …
  • Polled and sound functional feet
  • Health – DW$, CW$, Immunity+, Feet/Heel/Mobility, combined health trait indexes (CDCB/CDN), …

Producers who do not use this information are continuing to hitch their futures to horse and buggy days instead of going modern and meeting consumer demands. There are many sires, reasonably (semen) priced, with high NM$ (over $800) or Pro$ (over $2000), that have the consumer demanded characteristics and are above breed average for all traits or indexes. There is absolutely no need to use sires not in the top 25% of the breed for all economically important traits.

Is it Too Late or Are You Too Tired?

NO, not too late, … but … it is time to stop the procrastination in expanding trait selection. Delaying or denying the inclusion of value-added traits in sire or embryo selection will result in the milk shipped being of less value to processors. 

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Shipping milk off farm that milk processors can sell at an increased price (to build their margins) will be very important to the future viability and sustainability of dairy farms.  Producers, when selecting their future genetics, need to move past what has governed their past selection practices and think first of consumer needs and demands.




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ATTENTION:  Dairy Farmer Cooperatives – Align, Merge or Die!

For the last century dairy farmers have successfully joined together for mutual benefit and, as a result, that joining has facilitated very significant improvement in all aspects of dairying. However, whether today’s farmer cooperatives recognize or admit it, working together in dairying in the form of cooperatives, associations, societies and alliances is currently under challenge. Challenges, especially on value-added and effectiveness will come from competitors offering enhanced, expanded and linked services for dairy farms. Tomorrow’s farms will list quite different priorities in services needed. These different priorities and the rapidly changing dairy economy mean that cooperatives will need to adjust their services in order to stay relevant.

This Bullvine article is a call-to-action for farmer cooperative organizations to address the future and to work with other organizations for the benefit of farms and members. Cooperatives that primarily focus on their organization’s past success will be recorded in the history books as a tool no longer used.

Is Your Organizations Involved?

Every organization that has a dairy producer board of directors that sets policy provides direction oversees finances and serves dairy farms is subject to the challenges. Farmer organizations were established when there were seven to ten times more farms than those currently shipping milk. Most cooperatives started as a specific service or as regional groups. Over time they have grown the size of the areas serviced but have not necessarily expanded the scope and effectiveness of the services provided.

Tomorrow’s dairy farmers need their cooperatives to remove duplication, eliminate ineffective programs and to increase the effectiveness of services retained. Often cooperatives are slow to critically evaluate and improve or eliminate member services.

These challenges must be addressed by all cooperatives – breeds, herd/milk recording, artificial insemination, milk and genetic marketing, input buying groups, milk transport, farm supplies, data/genetic analysis and any other cooperative seeking to a share of time and money from dairy farms.  

Is Your Cooperative Ahead of the Challenges or Falling Behind?

We are talking about CHANGE. Dairy farming is no longer characterized by labour-intensive, stand-alone enterprises with less than 100 cows. Today’s dairies and those that survive into the future will be specialized in scope and programs. Narrow margins mean that farms and their service organizations must focus on increased efficiency and effectiveness. In general, consumers want cheap food of high quality. For processors and stores that means listening to and not telling customers what they will get and what they will pay. Consumers will set the standards and the products. Tomorrow’s new consumers will live in Africa and Asia, as that is where population growth will occur.

Farmer cooperatives once had a single focus and ‘life was fine’. Breeds registered animals and may have assisted with animal marketing. DHI’s milk recorded the cows and details to manage by. A.I. sampled bulls and inseminated females. Milk marketing cooperatives bargained for price. Data centres analyzed and reported. In the past, farmer cooperatives provided most of the services needed on-farm except for animal health, equipment and financial services. In improvement cooperatives, the technology was not advanced. Reasonably priced labour accounted for 60-70% of total costs. Travel was relatively inexpensive, and farms were not demanding in the scope of information they wanted to know. (Read about future data needs at  Owner Collected Data: The Future of the Dairy Industry) Government services filled in where cooperatives did not provide.

Yesterday Is Gone

But that was yesterday and yesterday is gone! The technical and legal reasons as to why cooperatives were started no longer exist. Tomorrow’s farms will buy and use services based on value-added and/or cost-benefit.

The Changing Scope of Tomorrow’s Services

Dairy farms will require an extensive array of linked services all the way from inputs to the point of sale of product. In some cases, farms will be very large and will be vertically integrated from the soil to the consumer.

Overall, farm performance and profit will be more important than purity and individual animal performance. Services will cover all animals on the far, not just milking cows. Feed conversion, animal health and welfare and future consumer product buying decisions will be added to selection and improvement programs. Technology will replace labour and will greatly enhance decision making. Specific nutrients in feed will be integral to feeding regimes.  In total, dairy farming will be all-encompassing, and the services used on-farm will be markedly different. So will the sources that win the privilege of providing what is needed.

Private Companies Will Take on Whatever Services Cooperatives Ignore

Where once farmer cooperatives were the primary providers of service, private providers have filled in when farmer needs expanded, and services became more sophisticated.  A need was seen and answered.

Private or Cooperatives – Improvement Will Occur

On-farm improvement, profit and success will take place no matter whether the service provider is a cooperative or a private company. Current cooperatives that have stood still and not increased scope or benefits to their services will be left behind.

What are Progressive Cooperatives Doing?

Progressive cooperatives have expanded their scope of services or joined forces with other cooperatives or private companies to provide a more complete scope of services.  A.I. organizations have done extensive combining and expanding over the past fifty years. Breed societies have been the sector most determined not to join with others. With herd recording falling in between the other two.

The need to combine is not new to 2019. Cooperatives have been joining and expanding services for quite some time. The global list is long – LIC (NZ), Select Sires (US), CRV (NL & BE), Semex (CA), Viking Genetics (Scandinavia), Milk Marketing Board (UK, later disbanded by the government), Fonterra (Oceania), … and many more.

Recent examples of combining/aligning include URUS (US cooperative CRI and NL private Koepon Holdings); and Lactanet (effective June 01, CDN, Valacta and CanWest DHI will be combined in CA).

At present, there are farmer boards or trade associations planning their futures where they may be part of a combined or aligned organization.

Is it too Late for Some Cooperatives?

Yes, the time is up for farmer cooperatives which are standing still on providing and implementing value-added services. Other organizations, some of them global, are expanding to compete with the services that the standstill cooperatives have provided.

Many services are going private company or global. Where once farmers felt it necessary that their country have its own national cooperative services. It won’t be long until there are discussions on having an international animal registry, herd recording and genetic evaluation services? Already there are proprietary company genetic indexes.

Is Your Cooperative Ready for Vertical Integration?

In the future, vertically integrated farming companies will provide all their own on-farm services and may outsource for new progressive value-added services.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The tradition of farmer cooperatives has been to stick with their tried and true limited scope of services. For them, change or die is written on the wall. Their choices include: immediately provide much more value to users; combine with partners to save costs and add value; or close the doors and save their members the expense.

 By the time farmers discontinue the use of their cooperative’s services, it will be too late for those organizations to be able to take items of value to another organization.

Dairy farmers wanting to see their farmer-owned cooperatives continue need to stop being silent and demand dynamic progressive action by their leaders.

No matter the outcome on who provides on-farm services, the positive outcome is that dairy farms will be well served in the future.

Owner Collected Data: The Future of the Dairy Industry

Traditionally, in dairy cattle breeding, it has been a rule that only third party captured and verified data had been allowed to be published. By extension, anything less than that is considered second rate and must not be published. Is that the way for the future? The Bullvine is laying all the cards on the table so tomorrow’s dairy people can see both from the past and to the future.

What’s Behind Us?

Over the past 150 years, investors put their dollars down and imported dairy breeds into their countries. To protect their investments, they started their own breed societies to record and verify lineage. DHI’s were started to authenticate yield and % Fat and for management purposes. Independent expert conformation evaluators were hired to compare animals to a visual ideal. All these steps were used to confirm that the animals were what their owners claimed them to be in most countries, that has been the basis for publishing performance and genetic information for commercial purposes.

Minimum accuracy levels of at least 80% REL, were required for listing sire daughter proofs until genomic indexing came on stream a decade ago. DHIR cow records were considered to be accurate, only requiring monthly DHI supervisor visit results being used in the calculations of lactation totals. Owner recorded production records were not considered unbiased and publishable. The functionality of a cow was determined by breed society conformation scoring.

Everyone Benefited

Breeders that have been marketing breeding stock received financial benefit by having publishable information to document the animals they were selling. Breed societies gained memberships and business because cattle owners wanted to be part of the selling crowd. DHI’s benefited through dairy farmers participating in their programs. A.I. benefited because dairy farmers could trust the published information on their sires. Researchers benefited because they had reliable data to analyze. Genetic evaluation centres helped by knowing the data they used could be depended upon as accurate and third-party verified. Internationally standards were developed for all forms of dairy cattle data and rules and regulations were adhered to. Dairy farmers benefited because they had information to breed, feed, manage and perhaps market their animals. Moreover, so dairy cattle genetic and actual performance advancement occurred at a slow to moderate rate.

Past Data Collection will not take your Dairy into the Future

Dairy folks have been trained to require 90+% accuracy when making sire selection decisions. However, the fact is that the last 5-10% in accuracy for a few traits is too costly for what it adds in improving overall herd profitability. Having expanded information from many more observations including health, reproductive, efficiency and functional traits that directly influence bottom line profit far out-weigh the last ten per cent inaccuracy for any single trait.  Furthermore, beyond genetics, the expanded animal data will be very valuable for nutrition, management and business purposes.

Dairy Data Isn’t the Destination

For many dairy people, who are comfortable with the past, the future with automated systems looks frightening. Yet for many progressive dairy people wanting to advance and to be viable and sustainable, they realize that the future provides opportunities when it comes to animal information and how to use it.

The following are some Factors that will mark the Turning Point in Data Collection:

  • Animal parentage will be determined using a sample supplied to a DNA lab. Tomorrow’s breeders will target the gene composition of their animals – much more than breed purity.
  • Only the genetically elite purebred females will be selling for more than their value as milk producers. The days of $3000+ for above average bred heifers are behind us.
  • The most accurate lactation information for a cow will be the on-farm computer captured weights and compositions from every milking during a lactation. Soon there will be routinely calibrated devices accurately to measure %fat, %protein and udder health, with more measurements to come, at the parlour level. A cow measured 100 to 900 times in a lactation will have more accurate information than from 4-8 supervised test day samples run through an internationally certified lab. Since all cows in a herd will have data captured using the same device, within-herd comparisons will be accurate.
  • Dairy managers will require more milking cow information on health, feed conversion/feed intake, stress factors, rumination, mobility, reproduction, and more. They will want the information instantaneously with all on-farm data capture systems linked, combined and modelled in order to feed, breed and manage in real time.
  • Dairy managers will also want on-farm data capture and analysis systems that include calves, heifers and dry cows.
  • Herds will be mated on an animal group basis, determined by genetic merit, instead of animal phenotype. Epigenetics and nutrigenetics information will be used when making mating decisions.
  • Genomic indexes will increase in accuracy, to 80%-90% REL, within the next decade provided there is phenotypic data captured on-farm and shared to central databases for analysis.
  • 95+% of the sires used will be genomically evaluated, and their sexed semen will produce 95+% female offspring. There will be no need to keep sires in stud after 50,000 doses have been frozen.
  • The availability of more and more on-farm economically relevant data will far out-weigh the value of third-party verified data on a limited number of traits for 95+% of dairy farms.
  • Plan for the rate of change and animal improvement to be even faster in the future.
  • Tomorrow’s dairy operators will require all the data, from the field to the fork, to be successful.

Are There Steps to Get to the Future?      

The short answer is yes. However, it will require proactive and dynamic decisions by the dairy industry:

  1. Dairy people will decide for themselves what individual dairy animal data and information they will consider, trust and use.
  2. Individual animal data/information, when published, will be labelled as to the data source.
  3. On-line apps will be used for sourcing, comparing and benchmarking data and information.
  4. Computer software-based learning technologies will provide herd managers with comprehensive and forecasting models, so dairy enterprise plans and strategies can be achieved.
  5. Dairy cattle owners will focus their genetic improvement planning on their herd’s economically important needs.
  6. Private company proprietary genetic indexes are here to stay. Companies will need to be able to show relevance and accuracy for their indexes.

Time and technology will wait for no person. You will either be with or ahead of change, or you will quickly finish behind the pack.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

‘The bend in the road is not the end of the road unless you fail to make the turn.’

Past measures that were in place to protect the innocent from wrong information have served the dairy improvement industry well. However, the future will use animal data and information much differently.

Dairy people, their advisors and service providers, are already in the Age of Data Super Power. The volume of data will increase exponentially. The large volume of data points for many more factors will lead to high overall accuracy and facilitate dairy farm success.

Organizations and breeders that stick with the past will remain in the past. In the future individuals and organizations that implement new procedures, new technology, new systems and new disclosure and accountability protocols will be the leaders.




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Doing Dairy-Beef Ian Crosbie’s Way

Every dairy farmer is also a beef producer – even more, today than in the past. How so? Today there is considerably less demand for springing bred or newly calved heifers. Also, we must factor in sexed semen, and more effective on-farm cattle management and dairy farms are being advised to breed from 30% to 50% of their lower producing or lower profit cows and heifers to beef sires. The Bullvine wishes to share with you how one innovative dairyman, Ian Crosbie owner of Benbie Holsteins from Saskatchewan Canada, approached this profit opportunity. 

The Usual Approaches to Dairy-Beef         

New born male calves are quite variable in price going from no value, even a negative value when sold at sales barns, to over $150 depending on breed, time of year and number of calves on the market. With less demand in North America for milk-fed veal calves, even choice new born Holstein calves are not bringing the returns they once did.

Some farms have always bred a portion of their animals to beef sires to garner higher dropped calf prices. But that has not been a widespread practice.

Today with the extensive use of sexed semen on the top females in a herd and the surplus of fresh first calvers, dairy farms are looking to find a way to generate revenue from the lower end of their herds by producing animals that will enter the meat trade. Therefore they use beef sires on a portion of their herd. In some cases, they are even breeding all females beef and buying all their replacement milkers on the depressed price market for newly calved females.

Dairy-Beef Not All Roses

Dairy farms that retain all their half beef animals and grow them out for meat find no problem with growing them. They have the feed and the facilities, but when it comes time to send them to market, they face packer buyer price discrimination against part dairy animals in the live animal auction ring.  Breaking even or no profit on raising these animals for the meat market was not what the dairy farms had as their objective.

If selling their half beef dropped calves at the farm or at auction, dairy farms can obtain from 2x to 3x the price for a dairy calf, so most farms take that route for marketing their dairy-beef calves.

Setting the Benbie Scene

Benbie Holsteins, a high genetic high performance 160 milking cow Holstein family farm, has for a few years been breeding a portion of their lower end females to Angus sires.

Ian explains his decisions to investigate in using more beef sires as follows: “There are multiple reasons that breeding the dairy herd to beef semen made sense for us at Benbie Holsteins. The main reason for beginning breeding a portion of our herd to beef semen was to try to control how many replacement two-year-olds we were calving in. And from which genetics we were getting our replacements. It’s no secret that over a ten-year period extra replacements are typically sold for less than the cost of raising them. Sexed semen has added to the problem of surplus dairy heifers, and we did not want to overstock or further invest in our heifer facilities for replacements that were undervalued.”

Ian continued in his explanation: “We focus heavily on our top end genetics in the Holstein herd and through genomic testing, performance testing, ET, IVF and sexed semen we can genetically optimize our next generation of replacement females. Being located in Saskatchewan, we have good demand from beef producers for cross-bred Angus/Holstein calves, especially during calving season where those calves can bring up to $500 as drop calves.”

Ian Did His Homework

“After researching and learning about the Wagyu breed, mainly through YouTube, I became very interested in producing Wagyu/Holstein cross beef.  This has led to the launch of Saskatchewan Snow Beef in 2018.”

When asked ‘Why Wagyu?’ Ian’s response was: “Wagyu beef is the best money can buy, plain and simple. The breed is world renowned for its ability to deposit fat (marbling) throughout the muscling of the animal — the intense marbling results in a juicy, tender steak.  The ‘Canadian Prime’ grade for beef is the highest standard. Approximately 1-2% of all Canadian beef is graded Prime. The Wagyu breed will reach at least Prime over 80% of the time due to their superior marbling ability.  Wagyu crosses well with Holsteins. Calving ability is second to none; we have yet to assist a calving. And coming from two intensely bred parent lines the cross offspring have hybrid vigour. We have found the resulting calves to be extremely aggressive and healthy.”

Ian Received Great Advice

Ian himself is a great contributor in the dairy cattle industry; however, in this endeavour, he sought out and got valuable advice from Wagyu industry people. He credits Ken Kurosawatsu and Kevin Hayden of Wagyu Sekai, Puslinch Ontario for helping him get started and selling him full-blood Wagyu semen.  Ian found that a specialized diet is needed to finish the animals before slaughter and for that advice, he gives credit to Dr Jimmy Horner from Texas. Ian’s comments on his advisors include “seek out experts and follow their advice; it has been a key to our success”.

Benbie’s Production Routine

For the first 18 months of life, Benbie’s Wagyu/Holstein crosses are raised with their dairy animals. After that, they are separated and feed the specialized diet until they are finished at 28 months of age. There are approximately a dozen animals in the finishing pen at any given time. Although that number is not large, it must be remembered that Snow Beef has been in operation for just over a year and it easily fits into Benbie Holsteins without requiring extra labour and facilities. Benbie Holsteins now breeds 35% of its females to beef – 50% to Wagyu and 50% to Angus – so, Snow Beef will grow in size. Ian added: “Working with a good butcher is necessary. Shane Oram of Westbridgeford Meats has worked with us to get the cutting and wrapping done in a way to get the most value out of each carcass.”

Marketing Does Make A Difference

Coming from the milk production industry where producers seldom get involved in selling milk, Ian reports that he did considerable work on detailing his Wagyu meat’s attributes and finding customers for his product. Ian reports: “There is a lot of education that is needed to convince the general public to purchase beef at a premium price.  Selling directly to high-end restaurants in my province was always my business plan. And although those restaurants appreciate the quality and taste, margins are very tight in that industry so convincing them to pay a premium for the meat has been challenging.” Snow Beef is working with two high-end restaurants in Regina.

To support his marketing Ian is now participating in ‘Verified Beef Plus’, a program to document that the meat Snow Beef sells meets high standards for animal health and welfare.

It’s Results that Count

Ian shared with The Bullvine some of the dollars and cents side for Snow Beef so far. “Expenses for feeding to 28 months of age are definitely higher than that for springing heifers, but there are none of the heat detection, breeding and calving expenses that go with dairy heifers. All expenses in the per animal costs are about $4,500 to get the meat in the deep freezer.”

“Raising to 28 months results in extra marbling and high levels of Oleic Acid in the meat. That has a direct positive impact on the beef’s palatability and has shown to decrease levels of LDL cholesterol.”

“When finished properly the best cuts of Snow Beef (8-10% of hanging carcass) retails for $45/lbs. Margins per animal to date for Snow Beef far exceed margins for raising surplus dairy heifers, which for most dairy farmers is now a negative number.” Snow Beef only sells Prime grading meat under its label. And since it is early on in this initiative, Snow Beef is not stating exact extra profit numbers. But be assured there is considerable extra profit.

Every New Venture will have Pros and Cons

In researching for this article, The Bullvine was reminded of some facts:

  • Starting a dairy beef enterprise will not be a fit for all dairy farms.
  • A realistic business plan, including specialized marketing, can be a key to realizing a profit.
  • Tomorrow’s consumers will pay more for organic and grass-fed and for a product with total traceability and documentation.
  • Hair colour will not change meat quality, but coat colour is a factor for live animal buyers.
  • Feed costs may be saved for the growing but not finishing phase by utilizing lower quality feed or refused feedstuffs left over from the milking herd.
  • Feed and labour are the key expenses, but as with every enterprise, exact records are a necessity.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The effort and energy expended most often determines the degree of success. Thank you to Ian Crosbie for sharing his approach to creating an additional profit centre on their farm. As with all new ventures adding dairy-beef to a farm requires both a production plan and a marketing plan.



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How Jersey Breeders Can Take Over The Holstein World

Jersey cattle have many attributes. As more and more of the uses for dairy cows’ milk are based on the solids portion, the Jersey gene pool and its ability to perform well in all environments and efficiently produce high solids milk becomes an alternative sought after by performance-oriented herds.

Currently, in the United States 23% of milk goes for fluid uses and 77% for solid uses. The future trend will be to 80+% solids uses.

With this opportunity available to Jersey cattle, The Bullvine is offering an overview of what steps could be taken by Jersey supporters and milk processors to increase Jerseys’ market share in the dairy industry.

Jersey Goals – Realistic and Profit-Driven

National statistics show that Jersey cattle represent almost 10% of US dairy cows and 5% of Canadian.  Currently, at auction and in private sales, Jersey females are in demand as herd replacements. Milk producers see the merit of milking Jerseys. In North America, with over 9.3M dairy cows in the United States and .93 M in Canada, doubling the current proportions of Jersey genes would result in over 19% Jerseys in North America.

The next decade will be very important for Jerseys.  2030 is only three to four female generations away and a unified proactive progressive expansion plan is needed to achieve an increased Jersey market share.

Ten Steps to Jersey Success

This paper is intended to provide a big picture view and to initiate discussion.  Bullvine readers will, no doubt, be able to add steps and actions that can add to a dynamic growth in Jerseys.

It is Necessary to Work Together

  1. Create Stable to Table Alliances
    Research and innovation are the keys to Jersey’s future success. A way must to be found to bring all areas that touch Jerseys, from crops to consumer, into an over-arching alliance. Where such a structure to be in place, Jersey stakeholders would be able to source the funds for research needed to drive innovation.
    At the retail end, consumers will buy quality foods. Tomorrow’s consumers are today’s millennials and their children. A Jersey milk product line would have appeal for consumers wanting variety and quality.
    Some programs have been started in North America to expand the presence of Jerseys. However, a program is needed that includes as many stakeholders as possible.  A program that does not wait for everyone to buy-in and participates. Visionary leadership is needed. Immediately.
    No breeder or organization serving farms with Jerseys is independent onto themselves.  Collectively working together can be to everyone’s benefit.
  2. Data Central
    Jersey animal data currently exists in many databases all the way from the farm to central national systems for animals and from farm to the consumer for milk products. All Jersey animal and farm data need to reach data central. Without centralization recommendations on genetics, nutrition and management are too often siloed recommendations.
    Industries that are successful in the future will depend on research having one-stop access to all the data. 

    Applying Science is the Key

  3. Use Technologies
    Genomic Testing: After a decade of genomic testing being available to Jersey owners, uptake remains low.  The age of breeders using appearance, perception, instinct and only phenotypic data for analysis is in the past for dairy cattle. Nevertheless, many Jersey animal owners don’t see the benefit of genomically testing all female calves. However, one route to get started on getting answers would be for A.I. to genomically test and capture all relevant animal lifetime and herd data on the first 300 daughters for all sires for which semen is collected.
    Sexed Semen: To expand the Jersey population, 90% of A.I. Jersey services need to be using sexed semen. This would assist in supplying the surplus replacement animals needed for expansion. Breeding Jersey could be more profitable than breeding a portion of a Jersey herd to beef. Other dairy breeds could be bred to high genetic Jersey sires to produce healthy, fertile crossbreds (i.e. HoJo’s).
    Precision Dairying:  Many companies serving dairy farms have established precision dairying initiatives. In the next few years, farms systems and equipment will become available by which farms can profit from applying new technologies and systems.
  1. Turn Generations
    In less than ten years genomic indexes will be over 80% reliable. The fast-moving trend is for young animals to be the parents of the next generation and genomic sires should be used 90+% of the time. New traits, especially many health and wellness related traits, that positively influence profitability will have genetic indexes. Older animals will, in most cases, not be evaluated for the new traits. If Jersey owners need any examples of where rapid turnover of generations have been very successful, they need look no further than the poultry, swine and crop growing industries.

    Add to an Already Solid Foundation
  1. Breed for Key Profit Traits
    An entire article could be written on which traits are or are not important for the future. Successful selection must be driven on which economically important traits milk producers need. The future success of Jersey breeding will be achieved from putting the overall focus on driving up farm and other stakeholder revenue and lowering or keeping costs under control.
    Jersey breeding could be a world leader if there were four lines:

    1. high lifetime energy corrected milk,
    2. high component percentages,
    3. productive grazing animals,  and
    4. animals suitable for the sub-tropics.Future Jersey breeding should be about performance and business success not about breed purity.
  1. Capture Heifer Data
    The economics and science of heifer rearing remain in its infancy.  Dairy managers need to know how the costs and benefits associated with genetics, feeding, management and performance from birth to first calving affect the bottom line and, thus, the performance in the milking herd.
    It is possible that Jersey stakeholders working collectively on heifer performance could improve not only animal lifetime profit but perhaps as far as what consumers are willing to buy in the grocery store.
    Adding full scope heifer data to milking cow data would put Jersey owners on a rising trajectory to becoming the gene pool of choice.

    Apply Information for Success
  1. Jersey Improvement Clubs
    People sharing information with their peers is an effective means of learning and applying facts, figures and science.
    Dairy farm finance clubs and income over feed costs clubs have been popular with dairy herd owners. Today these clubs can meet face-to-face or through on-line communities. Clubs for Jersey herd managers and Jersey youth can serve from training on the basics all the way to advanced dairying. The focus and priorities can be set by the members and work best when led by trained facilitators
    The Dairy Industry is More Than Cows and Farms
  1. Field to Consumer Approach
    As mentioned above, successful dairying goes all the way from the soil that grows the crops to the consumer purchasing and eating the food produced. Jerseys are but one of the many parts to the total equation that comprises dairying. In the end, it all comes down to the profit and success of the stakeholders. In the past, the model followed has been based on individual and organizational goals, preferences and focus. In the future, modelling will be more expansive and inclusive. Systems with Jerseys as the animals in the model could well be with us in the next half-decade. Remember what the consumer will buy will be the benchmark for every successful model.
  1. Guarantee the Product. Put Customer Trust First.
    Consumers of all products want a guarantee that their purchase is what it is sold as and that it can be backed up with facts. This practice will soon be mainstream. Jersey stakeholders would be well served to proactively participate in programs that ensure that the consumer knows and can rely on Jersey sourced products they buy meeting the product claims.

     Jerseys Fit Everywhere

  1. Go Global with Alliances
    Dairy cattle exist on every continent and in a multitude of production environments. Jerseys have already shown that they perform well in sub-tropical environments. Could they do even better there if the Slick Gene was incorporated into a line of Jersey cattle? A universal theme could be healthy productive animals, healthy nutritious food, healthy stakeholder bank accounts.
    With the next 2 Billion people on this planet predicted to be residents of Asia and Africa, Jersey cattle should not miss the opportunity to perform in those environments.
    Jersey alliances must cross borders.
    The United States and Canada need to initiate expanded collaboration and to lead the way to Jerseys achieving a 20% market share.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Are performance-oriented Jersey people ready to take the leap to the future? It requires thinking and acting beyond the cow and farm. It requires forming alliances at every step of the food chain. Two immediate challenges for Jerseys to increase market share are leadership and stakeholder support.

The Jersey Cow is ready. Are Jersey people on board for what can be an exciting, successful and sustainable future? If so, then tell others.

It only takes a spark to get a fire going!



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US Dairy Industry Vision and Leadership – Video Presentation from the 2019 National DHIA Annual Meeting

The Bullvine’s geneticist and dairy improvement specialist, Murray Hunt, was invited by National (USA) DHIA to speak to its annual meeting on the topic of what he sees as the future in US dairy data and information from the farm to the national dairy database. He chose as the title for his presentation “Industry Vision and Leadership – A view based on need and opportunities”. Bullvine readers are encouraged to listen to Murray’s presentation and to provide feedback.

Four Steps to a Workable Herd Genetic Improvement Plan for Profit Focused Milk Producers

Dairy herd managers often express the view that reading bull books or searching for bulls on the Internet is not their forte. They are rightly focused on making a profit from harvesting quality feeds and converting them into wholesome milk.

The genetic data seems overwhelming. “So many sire numbers! Which ones are of most importance? How does a milk producer use them? What does a herd genetic audit look like? How can I make a workable breeding plan? Who can help me?” In this article, The Bullvine will attempt to address these concerns.

Steps to a Successful Solution

Here are four steps to success:

  1. Select an effective helper.
  2. Narrow your focus.
  3. Complete a genetic herd audit.
  4. Implement an action plan.

Who Can Help You?

A.I. companies have trained staff who are available to work with dairymen to conduct a herd genetic audit and develop a plan for which sires to buy and how to use those sires. In today’s genetics industry typically speaking 70% of the sires will have genomic indexes and 30% will be daughter proven sires. Reputable A.I. companies and semen salespeople want dairymen to be successful. They do not first want to make a sale for their own short-term gain. The first audit is to find the partner who has milk producer success as their #1 priority.

Are There Too Many Genetic Indexes?

Over fifty indexes are available for all sires.  Yes – too many for milk producers. Very few, if any, dairy breeders use all the genetic indexes. For milk production focused dairymen, most of the indexes can be set aside as they are of limited financial significance. 

No Focus No Improvement                              

After these two initial sorts, focus comes into the picture. Once a herd genetic audit is completed (we’ll cover that later in this article) a milk producer needs to narrow down the traits that need the most improvement on their farm. The Bullvine’s recommendation is that, for milk producers, that list should not exceed nine traits. Genetic improvement research has shown that going beyond 7-9 primary traits when selecting sires results in minimal, if any, genetic advancement for a herd.

Table 1 – Primary Selection Traits for Milk Producers

Table 1 contains The Bullvine’s suggested list for the 9 primary traits. This table also contains alternatives to the primary nine for milk producers to consider.

Category Trait Trait Label Alternate Traits
Production Fat Yield Fat FE*, EcoFeed**, %F
  Protein Yield Protein FE*, EcoFeed**, %P
Function Productive Life PL HL***, LIV
  Udder Depth UD UDC*, MS***, Teat Place & Length*, Udder Attach*
  Rear Legs Rear View RLRV Foot Angle*, FLC*, RLSV*, F&L***, Heel Depth***
  Daus Calving Ability DCE CA$, DCA***, Thurl Width*
Fertility Daus Preg Rate DPR FI*, DF***, HCR, CCR
Health Somatic Cell SCS WT$****, HLH$, Mastitis & Metabolic Disease Resistance***
  Calf Wellness CW$**** Immunity+*****, 

Notes: Data Source for all values/traits is CDCB/AIPL except where otherwise noted
* US Holstein
** STgen 
*** CDN
**** Zoetis
***** Semex

How to Do Your Herd’s Genetic Audit

Before conducting the audit all information on the animals in the herd should be sourced from breeds, herd recording agencies (DHI’s), genetic evaluation centres (CDCB/CDN) and DNA testing labs.

An audit can be either by year of birth of the females in the herd or by category of the females – calves, yearlings, 1st lactation, 2nd lactation and 3rd+ lactation. Either way works.  Using the latter sorting method, by categories, sorts by current life stage which is normally how dairymen think of their animals.

There are five indexing combinations that can be used to do the herd genetic audit:

  • Parent Averages Indexes;
  • Combined Parent Averages & Performance Indexes;
  • Genomic Indexes;
  • Combined Genomic & Performance Indexes; and
  • Three Nearest Sire Average Index.

The method to use depends on what information is available for the herd. #4 will be the most accurate method. However, very few milk producers are doing genomic testing so that eliminates methods #3 and #4. Most progressive milk producers measure the performance of their animals so method #2 would be available. For milk producers that do not do performance (milk) recording then method #5 will be the method to use. Females that are to be culled or that are being bred beef can be excluded from the audit as they will not be contributing to the genetics in the herd in the future.

Table 2 – Sample Herd Genetic Audit Report

Table 2 gives an example of what might be the herd genetic audit for a milk producer’s herd for the traits that The Bullvine has selected.

Female’s Average Genetic Indexes
Animal Group            Fat      Protein            PL    U Depth         RLRV           DCE          DPR          SCS           CW$
Calves 22 18 1.1 0.26 0.01 6.6 0.4 2.81 -17
Yearlings 18 14 0.2 0.31 0.09 6.9 0.1 2.86 -25
1st Lactation 12 9 1.1 0.27 -0.11 6.7 -1.1 2.91 -22
2nd Lactation 8 5 -0.9 0.19 -0.08 7.1 -1.4 2.99 -24
3rd + Lactation -1 0 -1.4 0.05 -0.22 6.9 -1.6 3.11 -26
Approx. Breed AVG 21 17   0.8 0.5       -12
Desired Value               3.5 +                < 5          3.5 +        < 2.80  

Note: For DCE and SCS a lower numbered is the desired

The Bullvine’s assessment of this example is that the herd has used sires that increased the herd’s genetic merit for fat, protein and SCS but not for the other traits.

Make and Use A Herd Genetic Plan

  • Goals are always an important part of any plan. Using Table 2 our example milk producer, working independently or with an advisor can set goals for the traits to be improved. In this example, the function and fertility categories need significant improvement. Reaching a herd average of PL +5.0, UD +1.25, RLRV +0.75, DCE 4.5, DPR +3.5 and CW$ 30 in 5 years is possible. It would be advisable to increase Fat to +50lbs. and Protein to +40lbs. as part of the plan. SCS could be improved but it is not necessary unless the milk processor would pay a premium for low somatic cell milk.
  • Sire selection will be the key to making genetic improvement in a milk production focused herd. 85-90% of the genetic improvement will come by using superior sires. The money invested in buying sexed semen from top sires will pay for itself many times over in five years.  Using sexed semen on all heifers and the top half of the milking herd will allow for adequate herd replacements. Extra replacement heifers cost $2,500 to raise but are only likely to bring $1,800 as newly calved first lactation cows so why raise them and take the $700 loss? The bottom half of the milk cows can be bred to beef sires and the calves can be sold at birth or raised for meat sales.
  • Buy semen from only elite sires for the traits to be improved as determined from the herd’s genetic audit. The initial sort for sires to use should be to sires that have a minimum index for NM$ or Pro$. Good minimum index values are: Genomic Holstein NM$ +800 (Pro$ 1800); Proven Holstein NM$ +700 (Pro$ 1600); Genomic Jersey NM$ +650 (Pro$ 1500); and Proven Jersey NM$ +575 (Pro$ 1300). Milk producers who sell to specialty processors or cheese makers should also consider selecting sires that are A2A2 Beta Casein and BB Kappa Casein. 

Table 3 – Sire Selection Levels for Milk Producers

Table 3 is a guide for milk producers to use when selecting sires for the nine traits in Table 1.

A. Initial Sire Sort – Minimum NM$ or Pro$*
      Min. NM$   Min. Pro$
  Holstein Genomic 800   2500
    Proven 700   2300
  Jersey Genomic 650   1500
    Proven 575   1300
B. Second Sire Sort – Recommended Minimum Sire Genetic Indexes**
  Average Proven Sire Indexes for Sires that Meet Initial Sort Criteria
Trait US Hol US Jer Trait CAN Hol CAN Jer
Fat       81 lbs.       74 lbs. Fat        76 kgs        57 kgs
Protein       58 lbs.       54 lbs. Protein        73 kgs        45 kgs
PL 5.1 4.6 HL 106 102
U Depth 0.88 1.5 U Depth 103 100
RLRV 0.61 FootAngle 0.6 RLRV 103 100
DCE 4.3   DCA 105 104
DPR 1.5 -0.01 DF 104 102
SCS 2.83 2.91 MastitisResist 104 104
CW$ -12        

* Sires below these levels should be eliminated from milk producers semen purchase lists

** Sires not meeting these levels should not be used more than 25% of the time

Remember before finally deciding to buy an individual sire, a check should be done to ensure that a sire is not below average for production, functional, fertility or health indexes traits.

Why Bother with a Herd Genetic Audit?

Every Milk producer has heard other dairy people question the value of genetic information and using only superior sires. The reason often given is that it is performance, not genetics that fills the bulk tank. That is a behind-the-times way of thinking. CDN studies have shown 50% of the productivity gains being made in Canadian dairy cattle comes as a result of genetics. Even if 33% of the productivity gains are genetic, 33% are nutritional and 33% are management, improving genetic merit of a herd is important. If a herd’s genetic level is not improved the herd will fall behind other herds and the dairyman will be at a disadvantage in the efficiencies that higher genetics bring with them.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Genetic improvement is important to all dairy farmers, no matter the focus on their farm. First comes a genetic audit of the present herd, then a plan for traits most in need of genetic improvement and then the use of sires that will achieve the herd’s genetic goals. Genetic improvement is permanent. Don’t delay. Don’t fall behind.




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The Jersey Future is Now

Last year I had the opportunity to contact an energetic 27-year-old dairyman who has enthusiastically selected the Jersey breed for his dairy operation. Listening to Tyler Hendriks of Seaforth Ontario as he talks about the dairy industry and Jersey breeding made me excited about the future possibilities for Jerseys.

Young Mind – Fresh Start

After college in 2011, Tyler bought his retiring uncle Gerard’s milking herd and quota holdings. He rented his uncles 100 acre farm and milked in a tie-stall barn. Within two years he had added in half his father’s quota holdings. His grandparents had immigrated to Canada from The Netherlands, working factory jobs and dairy farming part-time. Eventually, Tyler’s father and uncle took over and divided the operation into two average sized neighboring tie stall farms. Tyler’s parents had farmed with a mixed breed herd however Tyler saw breeds differently and swapped out the Holsteins for an established Jersey herd. In his own words, Tyler commented on his bold start saying, ‘actually being responsible both for the management and labor in a tie stall barn was a big wake-up call for a guy just out of college’.

While attending college Tyler had formed strong friendships which he maintains with other young dairymen who represent other types of focus including an organic and grazing herd, a large herd with high performance and a large herd including high genomics and embryo marketing. All those herds have Holsteins but after doing much research and study Tyler determined his goal of total concept from field to milk sales could be best realized by farming with Jerseys.

Family Foundations     

Tyler has the total support of his family – Emily, his parents and sisters, Brittney and Kylie. Noteworthy is the fact that Tyler’s parents gave him the opportunity to immediately be the dairy leader. Tyler and his wife Emily, who also grew up on a dairy farm and is a bank ag specialist, were married in 2016. They have a six-month son, Liam. Tyler gives much credit to Emily on the financial side as well as being willing and able to step in when needed for work or fine-tuning plans. Family time with Liam and off-farm time are important to Tyler and Emily. They both participate in CrossFit as a way to get off the farm and be active in their community.

Taking the Leap

In 2014, Tyler switched to a total Jersey herd when he combined the quota holdings of his uncle and half of his father’s quota for a total of 130 kgs of fat per day. At that time his herd was housed in a tie stall barn. In 2016 a new tunnel ventilated sand stall barn and double eight rapid exit parlor were built. This reduced the labor requirement and gave Tyler more opportunity to manage the milking herd at an elevated level. The Jersey herd came a whole herd, but Tyler found it necessary to cull especially on a production basis. His herd additions have been elite genetic heifers as they left the Progenesis Program. Currently (Jan ’19) the 93 Jersey cows are milked 3x with a daily average of 1.55 kgs (3.42 lbs.)F, 1.20 kgs (2.65 lbs.)P and 39.5 kg (87 lbs.) Energy Corrected Milk. SCC is 120,000 SCC, Pregnancy Rate is 30% and average days open is a remarkable 88 days. One important metric for Tyler is that his herd produces 2 kgs of Energy Corrected Milk for every 1 kg of Dry Matter consumed.

The calves are in hutches and fed 2x and weaned at 75 days. Younger heifers are housed in an old pig barn renovated by Tyler and Emily. Older heifers are housed in an older cow barn.

Tyler milks at two of the three milkings each day usually with his father or sisters. He employs a night milker and along with family this allows for family time, for harvesting to continue, for vacation time and for when he has meetings to attend.

Tyler quickly told me that his most important and ongoing mentor has been his father. To this day they usually have time during milkings to share, discuss and even, as Tyler says, to disagree. He was reluctant to start naming mentors as he has had and continues to have many. He values highly what he has learned from veterinarian Dr. Ray Reynen, when Tyler assisted him doing herd health visits to other farms, and also values the advice given to him by nutritionist Jesse Flanagan and his neighboring dairy farmers.

Fieldwork and cropping on 800 acres is on a shared basis between Tyler, his father, and his uncle. All forages are grown on the farm and they are stored in horizontal silos. High-quality corn silage is important as it forms 65% of the milking cow diet.

The Future is Information, Data Gathering and Improving Results

Tyler spends considerable time every day, except on the busiest harvest days, studying reports from Dairy Comp 305, searching the Internet for information and ideas, communicating on Facebook and participating in online webinars.  He shared that at times he may feel slightly guilty for all the time at the screen. However, in the big picture, there is little doubt that the hours spent are yielding great returns to Hendriks Dairies.

To date, Hendriks Dairies does not have parlor ID but that plus many other tools are on Tyler’s consideration list. All will be evaluated on a cost-benefit basis on his Jersey farm.

I did ask Tyler – “Why Jerseys?”. His quick and progressive thinking mind came right back at me with “Well, Why Not? … Feed efficiency, smaller more docile cow who isn’t so hard on herself in a commercial environment, lower age at first calving, less health events, less animal labor per unit of output, high fertility, … do I need to give your more reasons?”.

Other Young Dairy People Also Interested in Jerseys

One year ago, The Bullvine produced articles on the very progressive Suntor Holsteins (Read more: Suntor Holsteins – New Baby, New Robot, New Perspective and Suntor Holsteins – Breeding Goals Revisited. Kevin and Amanda Sundborg, Master Breeders and owners of ‘Lightening’ nominated for Holstein Canada’s Cow of the Year (2019) have added a few Jerseys to their robotic farm. Why? Partially we have learned that it is because of Kevin’s friendship with Eric Silva (Sunset Canyon Jerseys, Oregon, US) and mostly because of seeing how productive, efficient, trouble-free and fertile the Jerseys are at Sunset Canyon. Are Jerseys the future at Suntor? Time will tell.

The Future is Officially Here

Tyler shared with me some interesting thoughts that I feel we all need to consider:

  • It is facts and on-farm performance that should be the basis for all decisions
  • Look down the road to how milk will be priced in 5-10 years at the farm gate
  • The future pricing of milk will be for the solids not the fluid portion
  • High fat milk should be transported and processed separately
  • Jerseys can be 20+% of the national herd, provided Jersey breeders focus on productivity
  • Much can be learned by studying very successful Jersey farms in the US
  • Jerseys can work very well on automated farms – 3x or stall robots
  • Dairying with Jerseys in the future will be about much more than average first lactation score and the show ring. The Ontario Jersey Benchmarking Service (Troew Nutrition – Jersey Ontario) is excellent for bottom-line focused breeders to compare their herd to other herds.
  • More progressive Jersey thinkers need to be involved in farmer organizations
  • Lifestyle and family are very important, take time for both
  • Kevin Sundborg sees it as a total farm operation when he considers which breed suits best. It is the efficient use of all resources – facilities, land available, land value, topography, heat units, manure disposal, phosphorous run-off, investment in machinery, labor required and many more.

More thoughts on future Jersey breeding, heifers, feeding and managing from both Hendriks and Suntor Farms will be covered in a future article.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Future Jersey dairy farmers can follow the examples of Tyler and Emily or Kevin and Amanda’s models for including Jerseys. It isn’t absolutely necessary to copy the program of others or to maintain a farm’s tradition. Always look for new ideas and ways to farm successfully. The keys to future dairying will be data and information, thinking of and implementing ways to use it to increase revenue per unit of input, control costs and farm each day to maximize profit. The future is now for innovative dairy farmers. Move forward. Be Awesome.    



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Improving Dairy Cow Feed Efficiency Begins with….

Frequently dairy producers are being encouraged to implement ways and means to improve the efficiency with which their cows and herds convert their feed into milk. For herd feeding and management, some solutions already exist yet for accurate genetic indexing the answers are yet to be found. The Bullvine has written about feed efficiency in the past (read more: Should You Breed for Feed Efficiency?, A Guide to Understanding How to Breed For Feed Efficiency and Fertility  and Feed Efficiency: The Money Saver), however, let’s further consider both the facts and the challenges.

The Growing Power of Small Wins

In the past 25 years, the matter of feed efficiency has gone from giving cows a “least cost” balanced diet and accepting the resulting milk production to monitoring both feed intake and milk production to arrive at maximum net profit per day.  Why? This is in a major part because the cost of production now, 50-60% of which is feed costs, is much higher relative to farm gate milk price than 25 years ago. Yes, the margins on dairy farms, the world over, are much narrower and the cost of feed is therefore under scrutiny. So even a slight gain of $0.25 to $0.50 on Income Over Feed Costs (IOFC) per cow per day can make the difference between a farm staying in business or exiting the industry. With most other items in the cost of producing milk increasing every year, it leaves feed cost as the target for change.

The challenge of cost savings is not the only matter producers face when it comes to feed.  Consumers want access to certifiable information on how the cows were fed to make the milk. Organic. Were human edible feedstuffs used? What ingredients were added? The list is expanding. Where producers once ignored customers questions on feedstuffs, there will need to be accurate records of feeds and feeding methods.

Past Progress Not a Stop Sign

Before we continue, it must be noted that US dairy farmers have put in place many improvements over the past seventy-five years. Comparing 1944 to today, cows produce much more milk per year (443%). As well as modern milk production requires 23% of the feed, 35% of the water and 10% of the land to produce a gallon of milk than was required in 1944. All impressive numbers.

The reality is, that like in many businesses, dairy farming will need to continue to operate on tight margins, all the time with more monitoring and the need to a guaranteed product.

Establishing Milestones to Feed Efficiency Improvement

There are two aspect to monitor feed efficiency – the herd and the cow.

  • Herd Analysis Through Data Collection
    Working with their nutritionist, dairy farmers can now monitor and specifically manage their herds, strings and pens for feed costs by recording feed inputs and milk output. There are programs that also consider the effects of a feeding program on udder health, fertility, animal health and more. For pasture-based herds, it is only the concentrates feed that can be closely monitored. My experience in working with dairy herd improvement clubs, producers can increase their income over feed costs anywhere from $0.50 to $2.00 per cow per day by fine-tuning both the nutrition program and the management program. $150 to $600 more net per cow per year – that’s well worth the extra work and effort.
  • Animal Analysis Through Genetic Ranking
    On the genetic side of the improvement equation, it is not possible to currently sort or rank animals for feed efficiency. It is costly to capture individual cow feed intake. The Bullvine article, “The Genetics of Feed Efficiency in Dairy – Where are we at?”, published in May 2018, covers in detail the current global studies to establish genetic ranks for sires and the approximations for Feed Efficiency sire rankings that A.I. organizations are currently producing.  As well, most national total merit indexes, including NM$, TPI, LPI and ProS, include in their formulae a discounting factor for cow maintenance. This is an attempt to, for equal production performance, reward smaller to moderate-sized cows relative to larger cows. It is noteworthy that LPI considers Dairy Strength, an approximation of size, as a positive in its formula not a negative. Within, especially the Holstein breed, there is a   trend around the world to favouring moderate stature and medium-sized cows.
    Achieving national sire genetic rankings, for all proven sires based on 100+ daughters for Feed Efficiency, are years away due to the cost of data capture and the variation in data capture systems. At the present time, some breeding companies (A.I.) and an increasing number of precision dairy companies are extensively studying the capture of individual cow feed intakes and matching that with production performance and genomic information. They will be producing genomic indexes for feed efficiency. Within a few years, breeders can expect to see company genomic indexes for feed efficiency in the 55-70% reliability range.
    USDA (Beltsville) researchers have studied heifer and milking cow feed efficiency and found that on a genetic basis for equivalent performance $0.21/day can be saved in heifer feeding costs and $0.23/day can be saved in cow feeding costs. The number of animals in the study are limited but it does give hope to having genetic indexes for animals in their ability to convert feed to meat or milk. The USDA numbers are in the same range as feed cost savings published in literature explaining STgen’s EcoFeed® sire ratings. In time dairy managers will be able to choose between sires of equal genetic merit for production where one sires whose daughters cost $0.20 more or less in feed costs per day.

Start by Improving Selection Criteria  

At the herd, string and pen level dairy managers need to work with their nutritional staff or advisors to routinely record feed inputs and milk production. Then calculate the Income Over Feed Costs. Always keep in mind that the Income Over feed Costs number is not the total answer as animal health and fertility are very important for a dairy farm to be successful.

At the sire selection level, dairy managers should consider the feed efficiency values that are published by A.I. As mentioned above, many national total merit indexes already factor in the cost associated with cow maintenance. As yet, the reliabilities for feed efficiency genetic ratings are only in the 45-55% range but they are a good start. Expect within a few years to see genomic sire and heifer indexes for feed efficiency. Our best advice, at this time, is to use the published feed efficiency numbers for animals as a supplementary piece of information. Total merit, production, health and fertility genetic indexes should remain the primary sire selection criteria.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Feed conversion efficiency is important now. It will be even more important in the future.  Dairymen need to record feed intake and using it for herd feeding and management purposes.  As sire genetic indexes for daughter feed efficiency become available to eliminate the use of sires that do not rank in the top 25% for feed efficiency.




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Forget the past, dairy cows in the future will look very different…or will they?

Often a story begins with looking back-back to the good old days. Have you recently heard a dairy cattle breeder speak or write about how cows used to last until they were ten years old and that today cows are one lactation wonders? Should Bullvine readers accept this perception as fact? Especially knowing that breeding dairy cattle is about creating a superior cow for the future? Let’s think this one through.

Unique Comparison to 1960

Holsteins with the genetic merit of the 1960s have been maintained for study and comparison purposes at a University of Minnesota research station.  The photo below shows the physical appearance of cows from back then.

This cow from the U of M Morris Research Dairy is a living representation of genetics from the 1960s.

Compared to present day US Holsteins the cows from the 1960s were shorter, beefier, had udders that deepened quickly with age and they produced half as much milk (35 pounds per day from first calving to herd removal). Heifers calved for the first time at 27-28 months of age and a significant percentage of first calvers were culled after difficult calving or for low production or physical problems including undesirable udders. Also, twice as many calves died before weaning as happens today. By comparison to today, there were fewer genetic indexes and they were less accurate. The theory of comparisons that utilized BLUP had yet to be developed by Dr Charlie Henderson at Cornell.

The fact is those good old days of the 1960s were not actually that great. Breeders lamenting for those years are selectively remembering that only the top 10-20% of first lactation Holsteins excelled and those breeders are not remembering that 20-30% of cows one month into their first lactation had health issues, low milk, low-fat test, deep udders or weak median suspensory ligaments.  Over half the first lactation cows classified Good or lower in Canada in 1965.  Breeders thought in terms of their best animals and not what their herd average was.

Globalization of Single Purpose Dairy Cows Has Occurred

It is not just in North America where the dairy cow has changed.  Dual purpose cows have gone by the way and single purpose dairy cows have become the desired milk cows in “dairy” countries.

The picture below of the President of the German Holstein Association holding two cow models shows how fifty years of selective breeding has changed German Holsteins.

The next two pictures are pictures I took of a prize winner and a class line-up at the 1976 World Holstein-Friesian Conference Show held at Stoneleigh England. ‘Holsteinization’ of the Black and Whites were just underway in 1976 in the UK and the judge at that show was still looking for the dual-purpose cow.

Other breeds have also experienced significant changes in the ideal conformation of their cows.

The Present-Day Mature Cow

Below is a barn shot of a ten-year-old Holstein cow that checks many boxes for today’s dairy cattle breeders.

  Riverdown Baxter Marina,  VG-2yr/5E,   7 lactations  97,512 kgs 4.3%F 3.4%P
                    (Sire Stack – Baxter x Goldwyn x Lee x Lindy x Prelude x Inspiration)

Marina first calved at 2-02 and in the next eight and a half years (3060 days) of her life, she averaged 70 lbs. of milk per day. That’s 70 lbs. for every day – milking days plus dry days. It is interesting to note that Marina was just slightly above the average milk yield to her herdmates throughout her productive life while excelling in fat % and protein %.

As a young cow Marina ranked top 10% for her genetic indexes, however, today she falls to the top 50% level, due mainly to the very rapid genetic improvement that the Holstein breed has made in the past decade. As ever, time marches on.

In today’s purebred dairy breeder circles, much discussion can be heard on whether the ideal cow is the great old cow, like Marina, or the productive, low maintenance first to third lactation cow. However, it is A.I. studs and their commercial dairy breeder customers that are now driving the overall genetic progress and for which traits. But that is in 2019 terms. What about the ideal dairy cow for the future?

Tomorrow’s Cow

In a recent Milk House post about the cow of the future, which was commented on by almost sixty group members, there was equal support for wanting cows to remain much as they currently are and for wanting cows to be more – more functional, fertile, healthy, efficient converters and to be evaluated on a daily net profit basis. So, that would appear to say in breeders’ mind that the jury is still out on future selection criteria for both sires and cows. However, as dairy farming continues to evolve into a finer and finer tuned business with average herds size, in the US, moving towards 500 milking cows we can expect significant changes in the traits breeders include in their animal selection programs.

The first question that traditional breeders will ask about the cow of the future is – ‘What will the cow of the future look like?” The Bullvine sees that body form will not be as important as it has been in the past for purebred breeders. Breeders have enhanced the body form of dairy cattle as much as is possible using visual evaluation. In the future, it will be body part functions that will determine the body form for commercial cows. So, breed ideal or true type models will not be used by over 95% of future herd owners, as each owner will have their own ideal.  Final score and body parts genetic indexes will not be used. And descriptive scoring will be the primary conformation indexes (udder depth, teat placement, legs rear view, thurl width and hoof form) used in sire selection and mating programs. It is entirely possible that the conformation data will be captured using photo imaging. (Read more: Are You Breeding for the Correct Conformation to Produce the Greatest Lifetime Profit?, Does The Current Conformation Evaluation System Work for Commercial Breeders? and She Ain’t Pretty – She Just Milks That Way!)

Dr Jack Britt, Professor Emeritus, North Carolina State University along with a group of associate researchers and ag extension specialists have done extensive work on predicting what the dairy industry, globally but primarily in the US, will be like 50 years from now. Dr Britt has presented the group’s predictions many times over the past two years, including at the 2018 World Dairy Expo in Madison Wisconsin. They are predicting that in twenty years US cows will average over 40,000 lbs. milk per year and in fifty years over 55,000 lbs.  One slide from his presentation is shown below for traits and processes that will be commonplace.

– Future Dairy Cow Selection Criteria and Processes as seen by Dr Jack H Britt

Dr Britt has other slides that show: 1) that seven countries (US, India, China, Brazil, Germany, Russia and France) produce 50% of the global milk and twenty countries produce 75%; 2) that with global warming dairy cows will change from an animal that functions best in temperate climates to be heat tolerant; 3) that increased technology and epigenetics will be commonplace; and 4) that there will be enhanced ways of feeding the rumen microbes.

The fact is that dairy farming, including the genetic side, will undergo major changes in the next ten, twenty and fifty years

The Bullvine Bottom Line

For sure yesterday’s cows got us here… Definitely, tomorrow’s cows will be different.

In the future cows will function trouble free for many years in large groups on automated farms. They will live in a multitude of environments and will need to be able to produce a high volume of milk solids. They will efficiently covert non-human food to milk. And genetic selection will turn on net returns over a lifetime and how body parts function most effectively.



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Reality Check – Is Balanced Breeding Working?

‘Balanced Breeding’ has been promoted and followed in dairy cattle breeding for at least the past forty years. It is when the important traits that breeders desire to improve are combined in what is called a total merit index. All the traits in the index are weighted according to their relative importance for the breed but not for individual breeders. An example could be applying a weighting of 5% for SCS in an index and expecting that all bulls in the top hundred for that index will be improvers for mastitis resistance. On average, there is increased total genetic merit but not an increase for all trait in the index.

Reality Check Time

Here’s the question The Bullvine puts to you – “Is using total merit indexing (aka balanced breeding) the best way to select and mate animals to achieve maximum genetic gain for profit? It could very well be that using balanced breeding gives breeders false hopes of improving all traits in the total merit index.

Check the Facts

If you say it isn’t so, then do this quick check. How many top (25x) daughter-proven US Holstein sires are above 2.90 for SCS and less than 2.0 for DPR? The truth is that that number is higher than you might guess it to be. For TPI there are seventeen (68%), for DWP$ there are sixteen (64%) and for NM$ there are twenty-two (88%) sires that are higher for SCC and lower for DPR than those levels. The Bullvine chose those levels because they are the index values needed to improve a herd that is average for mastitis resistance and fertility.

Furthermore, it is not just US Holstein sires or US total merit indexes. 80% of the top ten LPI Canadian proven Jersey sires, 60% of top ten Pro$ Canadian proven Jersey sires, 80% of top ten LPI Canadian proven Holstein sires and 100% of the top ten Pro$ Canadian Holstein sires are not rated as significant breed improvers for resistance to mastitis and daughter fertility.

The truth is that, by using a high-ranking sire based on North American total merit indexes, a breeder can only in about 30% of the time expect to achieve meaningful improvement in resistance to mastitis and female fertility.

What does Genetic Theory Tell Us?

When practicing single trait selection, breeders can expect to make 100% of the possible genetic gains from a given sire mated to a given dam. Table 1 shows the possible gain for each trait as the number of traits selected for is increased.

Table 1 – Expected Genetic Response

# of Traits Selected For Average % of Genetic Gain Achieved for Each Trait
1 100%
2 71%
3 58%
4 50%
5 45%
6 41%
9 33%
12 29%
16 25%

Of course, the genetic gain achieved is also a function of the merit of the parents. A sire needs to be 1 Standard Deviation above the breed mean (67%RK) before his progeny will exhibit improvement when he is mated to average females.  If a female in the top 1% of the breed (99%RK) for a trait is mated to a 67%RK sire their progeny will be 83%RK. Some breeders mistakenly feel that if they mate their 99%RK cow to a slightly above average sire (60%RK) that the progeny will retain the breed leading genetic merit of the dam. It just isn’t so.

Total merit indexes usually contain a dozen or more traits and as can be seen from Table 1, on average, for each of twelve traits the maximum gain possible will be 29% of what would be possible if single trait selection was practiced for each trait.

Bulls of the Past

Total merit indexes were partially implemented so there could be one ranking system for animals in a breed. Before there were total merit indexes marketers were all claiming to have the #1 sire – albeit they may have been #1 for type or production but not #1 overall.

Before total merit indexes, sires were known for what they did best – Marquis (type), Bell (milk yield), Fond Matt (udders), Sheik (% Fat), Rudolph (calving and fertility), Duncan Lester (production), Gemini (type), etc. Most often a sire’s weaknesses were ignored by breeders. So total merit indexes were good as they positioned a sire in the breed according to a combination of his strengths and weaknesses.

Dairy Cattle Breeding in 2025

2025 is less than three generations of cattle into the future. Profitable cows then will need to yield more lifetime profit that our cows do now. How will that come about? It will be by having cows that generate more revenue and decrease some costs. For farms that produce 95% of the milk, cows will generate more revenue by the uniqueness of the milk (i.e. %F, A2A2, BB, … etc.) and by reducing costs by having superior genetic indexes for traits like feed efficiency, productive life, disease resistance, fertility, mobility and milk ability.

Future Focused Selection

Selecting for the six cost reducing indexes mentioned above will slow genetic progress to 41% (see Table 1) of what is possible. The best route for a breeder to follow is to identify the three limiting traits in the herd and to select primarily for those three traits. That way the herd would make 40% more genetic improvement for those traits.

A.I. centers are already doing this when selecting the sire that they mate to a bull dam. They identify the dam’s three most limiting traits and find the bull that does the best job of improving those three traits.  They are having excellent success at producing top young sires using this method of breeding. A.I. sire analysts may use a total merit index (i.e. TPI, NM$, JPI, …etc.) to narrow down the list of sires to be considered but they require that a service sire for the bull dam be outstanding (95+%RK) for the dam’s limiting traits.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Breeding for a balance for a host of traits, some of which do not need to be significantly improved in a herd, is not the way of the future. To maximize the rate of genetic improvement in a herd, breeders will need to identify their 3 most limiting traits and then find and use the best sires for those three traits. In the future, focused breeding on the traits needed to maximize a herd’s future profit rather that a balance of traits will lead the way.




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STOP Limiting Dairy Progress – START Looking After Heifer Data

How often have you heard that the post-weaning heifers are the most ignored, yes even neglected, animals on a dairy farm? From birth and until weaning, calves are fed and observed two or more times per day by humans and now increasingly by specialized machines …  so, there can be on-farm records maintained either in hard copy or electronically. However, no matter how extensive the on-farm heifer records, much of the health, growth, sexual maturity, mobility and vaccination records never make it to the central national database. 

We have Created the Impasse

Somewhere back in time, the dairy farming industry decided that cows and their information was important but that heifers were not important. Of course, that is not the case on all farms, but as an industry, we have not monitored and analyzed the performance of pre-producing animals in the way it occurs in the swine and poultry industries and partially in the beef, sheep and fish industries.

Why? Perhaps there is not a right answer to that question. Likely it has something to do with milk production being over 90% of the revenue from dairy herds. However, the more important question is how much is the dairy cattle industry missing out on increased on-farm profits by not performance recording and genetic indexing for heifer traits?

Times are Changing. Why Aren’t We?

It used to be that 52% of births were females and on average 90+% of heifers survived to first calving. In the past, it took $500 to feed and $800 total to raise a heifer to calving and fresh heifers sold for $1,500 to $2,500. So, raising all heifers meant that concern about heifer rearing costs and age at first calving did not significantly affect a farm’s bottom line.

Those days are history.

Today, with sexed (female) semen, 90+% of births are heifers and, as well, 95+% of heifers get to their first calving. It now costs $2,000+ to rear a heifer to calve at 24 months of age, and fresh heifers sell from $800 to $2000 depending on demand, pedigree and genetic merit. Where it was once a profit centre, rearing all heifers is now a losing proposition.

However, the important consideration is what will the best future program be for producing and rearing heifers as herd replacements? Dairy producers can avail themselves to heifer software management programs but, without a central producer owned database system, there will not be publicly available research, development, benchmarking and genetic analysis for heifer traits.

Think of the Possibilities

What would you like to know about your calves and heifers in the future for management, nutrition and genetic purposes? Some, but by no means all, items could be:

  • Temperature, rumination, respiration, …
  • Growth, …
  • Immunity (including colostrum transfer and vaccination effectiveness), …
  • Feed intake, feed efficiency, visits for feeding, magnet effectiveness, …
  • Mobility, gate, stance, hoof care, …
  • First heat, stage of estrus cycle, pregnancy, …
  • Data to support guaranteed food safety, …

Some of these may be possible now; others will require new technology or devices. Most likely we will only get the heifer details if the data is captured electronically. Of course, the additional data points will be added to what is already known for animals on pedigree, DNA profile, …etc.

What is Currently Available? Is it enough?

Calf and heifer software management systems and devices are currently available, but some are stand-alone or not linked to an on-farm system.

A.I. and private companies have seen the need for more facts on calves and heifers and are producing private proprietary indexes for sires on immunity, disease resistance, feed conversion efficiency, wellness and other non-traditional traits. However, those indexes are just scratching the surface on what needs to be known.

Do We Have the Will to Change?

Ideally, all facts and figures must be in one data system on a farm that can be transferred to the national dairy data system that already stores the milk cow data. Until we have this calf and heifer data stored in the national dairy databases, it will not be possible to know their effect on and relationship with performance, economics and genetics.

A supplementary thought could be that if we knew more facts about young bulls destined for A.I. would we be able to more accurately know if they should enter A.I. or not?

The need is there. Yet … 1) will dairymen see that need and capture and transmit the data? and 2) will data centres do the analysis and provide the services in the areas of farm management and genetic evaluation?

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The dairy improvement industry must move beyond thinking that dairy cattle monitoring and improvement is only about milk cows. Extensive data for all heifer traits and characteristics are needed from conception all the way to herd removal. The average female spends sixty months in a herd. Twenty months or 33% of an animal’s lifetime, is being ignored.

 The extent of this untapped opportunity to take the dairy cattle industry forward in viability and sustainability is significant. Is extensive calf and heifer data needed in the central data system? The answer to that question is – YES!




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Should Farms Be Shipping 4.5% Fat Milk?

Dairy farmers, like all business owners, must continually be addressing financial viability and sustainability in both the immediate and longer term.  Revenue generation is an extremely important aspect of finances.   On dairy enterprises over 90+% of revenue comes down to the milk shipped. Today The Bullvine would like readers to think about the proportions of components in the milk they will ship off-farm in five years’ time.

Setting the Scene

A considerable number of factors come into play when planning the composition of milk and milk revenue. Some factors relate to genetics, some to feeding and some to management. Here are some with a bearing on both future genetics and revenue.

  • Fat is Becoming King – Reports from almost all dairy countries are showing high demand by consumers for butterfat. This demand is now reflected in the increased value of fat on farmer’s milk checks in some countries. This increasing trend for full-fat milk products for healthy living is predicted to continue and even to increase.
  • Excess Powder Yes protein level is important in cheese production but the move of the last almost half-century of increasing protein per cent and narrowing the percentage gap between fat and protein in cow’s milk has no doubt contributed to it taking more volume of milk to get the needed fat and thereby leaving more remaining solids to produce powder products.
  • Eating vs Drinking Milk The proportional use of milk in the US is now 75% solid and 25% fluid. In developing countries, especially in Asia and Africa where the future population growth will occur, the per cent of milk that is consumed in the solid form will be even higher. High per cent butterfat milk will be in demand everywhere.
  • Feeding the Rumen Ruminant diets are being fine-tuned for ingredients and feed preparation so that forages will form a very high per cent of the total. Feeding strategies to achieve high butterfat per cent will be common.
  • Cost of Moving, Storing and Removing Water High-fat content milk will save considerable energy and cost per unit of solids as it relates to cooling on-farm, transportation to processing, storing at processing and removal of water and disposal of whey liquids by processors. Costs saved can positively impact farm gate price.
  • Savings on Farm – High-fat cows provide the opportunity to save some on the stress of high-volume yields in the areas of cow health and reproduction. Although the genetic relationship of functional traits with % fat may not be high, every little bit will help to increase cow profit per lifetime.

These and other factors will contribute to what the composition of milk needs to be in the future.

The Ideal Milk of the Future

Currently, in North America, the average component per cent for milk leaving farms is 3.9% fat and 3.3% total protein. It should be noted that the current move to measure true protein will reduce the total protein per cent by 0.19% to 3.1% true protein. There has been a slow but gradual annual genetic increase of 0.02% fat and 0.01% total protein in the past decade. So, in five years if selection pressure on % fat and % protein remain unchanged, we can expect milk coming off the farm to be 4% fat and 3.15% true protein.

Based on the demand for butterfat and future milk uses and products, experts have estimated that in the future milk shipped from farm needs to 4.5% fat and 3.2% true protein by 2025. So, a revised strategy on sire selection will be needed higher % fat, hold % protein and continued improvement in production, functionality, feed conversion and animal health.

What About Switching Up Breeds?

In recent years the Jersey breed has seen a resurgence doubling to about 10% in the US and 5% in Canada. So, is it simply increasing Jerseys to 40% of the national herds to achieve a higher % fat? A complicating factor would be that Jerseys have in recent years been selecting for increased volume of milk at the expense of % fat. The fact is that there would need to be a movement to selecting for higher % fat in all breeds.

A scenario to reach 4.5 % fat for all milk shipped could be: 73% Holsteins at 4.25% fat; 23% Jerseys at 5.3% fat; 3.5% crossbreds at 4.5% fat; and 0.5% other breeds at 4.5% fat.  If breed percentages were to be 78% Holstein, 20% Jersey and 2% others, then Holsteins would need to average 4.30% fat.

Some will question Holsteins at 4.25% fat. It is a fact that the famous Montvic Holstein herd, dispersed over 76 years ago, had a herd over 4.1% fat and today there are many Holstein herds averaging at or over 4.0 % fat. The genes for higher % fat are there! The detour in the 1970s – 1980s to selecting against % fat and for % protein in Holsteins, in hindsight, was an error.

Not Simply Higher % Fat

There needs to be a higher % fat but not higher % protein. Since the correlation between selecting for % fat and % protein is 60-70%, using higher % fat sires will also get high % protein. Carrying on selecting for increases in both % fat and % protein would leave added surplus powder. No producer wants a future of what currently exists: low global farm gate prices – prices below the cost of production.

Which Sire Ranking Index Would Be Best?           

The following tables compare the results of analyzing the top US and Canadian proven sires for four selection programs with the overall objective to increase % fat, hold % protein and increase total genetic merit. The proven sires studied were the top twenty marketed Holsteins and top ten marketed Jerseys for the sire ranking indexes of % fat, fat yield, breed selection index and net merit ($).

Table 1 – Average Sire Proof* for US Proven Sires for Four Selection Programs

  Holstein (20x) Jersey (10x)
  (Selection For) (Selection For)
Trait     % Fat  Fat Yield      TPI        NM$      % Fat  Fat Yield      JPI      NM$
Milk 830 1761 1634 1775 -307 1462 1598 1282
Fat Yield 91 101 81 91 43 90 75 85
% Fat 0.22 0.13 0.07 0.09 0.29 0.11 -0.01 0.12
Protein Yield 46 61 62 60 10 62 61 57
% Protein 0.08 0.03 0.04 0.02 0.09 0.05 0.02 0.05
Productive Life 4.5 4.4 5.3 5.4 1.2 1.7 3.3 3.1
SCS 2.85 2.83 2.81 2.85 3.02 2.95 2.83 2.93
DPR  1.2 0.2 2.1 1.4 -1 -2.3 -1.1 -1.5
Udder Depth 1.04 0.76 1.2 0.78 0.9 0.2 1.1 1.1
RL Rear View 1.18 0.75 1.08 0.69                 na                 na              na                 na
NM$ 777 834 826 859 243 574 580 598
TPI(H) / JPI(J) 2576 2624 2696 2658 69 168 183 179

* US Sire Proofs are expressed in Estimated Transmitting Ability. Proofs from August 2018.

Table 2 – Average Sire Proof* For Canadian Proven Sires for Four Selection Programs

  Holstein (20x) Jersey (10x)
  (Selection For) (Selection For)
Trait     % Fat  Fat Yield        LPI          Pro$      % Fat  Fat Yield         LPI         Pro$
Milk 782 1401 1496 1807 395 738 1095 1081
Fat Yield 88 107 85 82 84 98 82 71
% Fat 0.52 0.48 0.26 0.13 0.87 0.81 0.36 0.22
Protein Yield 54 63 64 71 39 47 53 49
% Protein 0.24 0.14 0.11 0.09 0.34 0.26 0.16 0.11
HerdLife 105 103 104 106 100 98 101 102
SCS 2.75 2.89 2.76 2.69 2.96 3.03 2.9 2.83
Daus Fertility 102 103 104 103 101 100 103 104
Udder Depth             5s 0             4s             4s              1d             3d             1s 0
RL Rear View 7 4 6 3 -4 -5 0 -2
Pro$ 2148 2120 2356 2473 1157 1205 1633 1712
LPI 3082 2956 3190 3141 1803 1824 1969 1954

* Canadian Sire Proofs are expressed in Estimated Breeding Values (= 2 x ETA’s). Proofs from August 2018.

The fact is that selecting sires based on the four programs summarized in Tables 1 and 2 will not get the needed result of high %F, increased fat yield and a hold on %P. In all cases, the %P is too high or too high compared to the %F and would result in expanding the volume of protein/powder not holding it. Therefore, if following a program does not do it, then breeders will need to do it by their individual sire selections. Of course, there is the possibility that the formulae for national selection indexes could be revised to select for a widening gap between %F and %P, but that would take research and resources and, in the meantime, breeders are not preparing for what will be needed in 2025.

Bulls That Would ‘Ring the Bell’

Forward-looking breeders will need to use sires that give high % fat improvement, minimal % protein improvement and continued improvement in other important traits. There will be a very limited number of such sires available. Most sires will not widen the gap between % fat and % protein.

From a search of current top proven sires, here are five sires that give the high % fat, high-fat yield, hold % protein and that are breed average or above for other major traits.

                Brewmaster (CA EBV’s)      +0.78 %F,            +132 kgs Fat                       +0.11 %P

                Megatron (CA EBV’s)           +0.75 %F              +122 kgs Fat                       +0.17 %P

                Mookie (US ETA’s)                +0.39 %F              +106 lbs Fat                        +0.09 %P

                Mackenzie (US ETA’s)          +0.32 %F              + 96 lbs Fat                         +0.13 %P

                Rubicon (US ETA’s)               +0.26 %F              +120 lbs Fat                        +0.06 %P


The Bullvine Bottom Line

The decision on the need to widen the gap from 0.8% to 1.3% between % fat and % protein needs discussion in all markets – local and global. The sooner there an industry-wide position on what is needed in the future for milk component percentages, the sooner breeders will be able to get on with making the necessary changes in their genetic selections.




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Leadership & Vision: A View from the Sidelines – The 2018 Dairy Cattle Improvement Industry Forum

The Bullvine’s Murray Hunt was one of the presenters at The 2018 Dairy Cattle Improvement Industry Forum and the 23rd Annual General Meeting of CDN. Watch at Murray discusses Industry Leadership & Vision: A View from the Sidelines and ask the question: “Are we varnishing the past or building the future?”




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Dairy Cattle Genetics: Are we breeding cows for the correct environment?

What does a bull’s daughter profile reveal? A description of how the daughters are expected to perform in an intensive barn-housed environment. That works for temperate climates where there is winter, machinery for harvesting forages and cheap fossil fuels. However, what about areas, where only grasses can be grown? Are today’s dairy genetics suited for heat, new bugs and grazing?

The World is Changing

Our dairy cows, developed in north central Europe, operate best in temperatures -20C to +22C ( -5F to 72F). In the 21st century, there are many new factors at play as we breed cows for a variety of environments. Some of these factors include:

  • Climate Change: Predictions are that North America will be 5F warmer by 2050. Dairy cows, like humans, will need to be able to operate optimally at higher temperatures. It will be a significant added cost to keep cows cool for more than half the year. Heat resistance in cattle will be an important characteristic in the future.
  • Land Use: Around the world land for cities is gobbling up vegetable, grains and fruit lands. In turn those crops will push forages for livestock on to land only suitable for grasses or pasture.
  • Regions of Population Increase: The next 2B people, bringing the world to 9B, will be in Asia. Dairy cows there will need to be able to pasture the hillsides and floodplains.
  • Diseases / Insects Resistance: Hot climate and non-temperate climate diseases and insects will add stress to a cow’s life.
  • Fossil Fuel Usage, Machinery and Technology: All of these will become costlier. This will have a significant effect on farms without high cow/heifer numbers. The current trend to replace the cost of labor with technology will continue. Many producers will have cows harvest the forage instead of machinery doing it.
  • Consumer Opinion / Support: The world is no longer about farmers producing food and consumers accepting what is in the store. Consumers are making their needs and requirements known and, in the future, will put many more stipulations on the food they buy. Sure, the milk will be wholesome, but animal welfare, use of drugs on animals, feeds fed to cows, natural environments and many more items will be dictated by consumer understanding. The customer is always right, and they will only buy products that meet their specifications.

As with all things, it comes down to economics. The need to include and the relative importance of these and other factors in genetic indexing and breeding schemes will take time to become a reality. Cows will need to take care of their needs by themselves as much as possible. That also includes nutrition, health, welfare, … and intelligent robots everywhere.

Breeding Must be Ready

Our one-size-fits-all dairy cows are not ready for coping with and prospering under some of the above and other factors. It will take planning and implementation for dairy cattle breeders to be ready with adapted breeds or blood lines. It is hard to look long term when the current cost of production (COP) is not being exceeded by farm gate price in many dairy countries, but the future COP on dairy farms must be addressed by both progressive breeders and breeding organization. First come the ideas, then the research, then the development and finally the application.

A Breeding Goal – A Cow that Manages to Her Own Needs.

We already are breeding for the cow that, on her own, visits the milking machine. Now can we breed the cow that harvests her forage, resists diseases and infections and does it at optimal levels when the thermometer reads 90+F (32+C). Oh yes and she needs to do all that and get back in calf within 80-100 days after her previous calving.

Currently we do not have farm data to use in developing genomic ratings for sires and cows for their ability to forage and exist in tomorrow’s hotter world. So, it will be some time before we can rate and select animals genetically for the traits associated with grazing and a warmer planet.

Some genetic matters that are being worked on include: Slick hair gene, where animals with that gene cope better in hot climates; Tick resistance has yet to be successfully introduced into dairy cattle; Fertility (cow and heifer) is presently receiving much research study; Calf livability and scour resistance is being worked on but with only very limited farm data it is almost impossible to genetically rank sires for these matters.  Without devices that attach to cows it is not possible to measure intake for pastured animals. Information on feed conversion efficiency genetic indexing for animals consuming harvested forages was covered by the Bullvine (reference) but that is for machine harvested forage not for grazing animals.

Information Currently Available to Breeders

Health and wellness genetic ratings have become available for milk cows in the past 3-4 years and for calves and heifer in the past year. More health and disease will be added in the future.

That still leaves research into which sires are genetically the best in terms of heat resistance and forage intake from pasture.

Regarding the ability to cope with tropical temperatures relatively little new information has been found to help breeders. Some breeders rely on their understanding of added body capacity for lungs, solid red color, crossbreeding (i.e. using the Gyr breed from India) and raising heifers at higher altitudes to develop larger lungs. There are no sire indexes for breeders to use. Research needs to be done and field data captured so that more is known on the genetics of dairy cattle coping with tropical conditions.

On the matter of which sires produce daughters more suited to grazing, there are currently three indexes provided by organizations. These indexes are:

  • GM$ (Grazing Merit is published by CDCB) – it includes the same traits as NM$ (Net Merit) but puts 253% as much emphasis on fertility, 85% as much emphasis on production traits and 59% as much emphasis on PL and LIV as NM$ does. The AIPL-USDA research shows that grazed cows need to calve annually, do not need to produce as much fat and protein volume and have fewer longevity and livability problems as compared to housed cows. As in NM$, higher milk volume, higher SCS and higher body weight all receive a negative weighting in GM$. The trait emphasis for GM$(2018) follows:


GM$ = 38% Yield* + 24.5% Fertility* + 16% Type* + 13.5% PL/LIV/Health* + 3.5% SCS + 4.5% CA*

                (* indicates that a number of traits are combined to create the category.  Calving Ability is 4 traits related to calving.)

Table 1: Top Ranking US Holstein Sires for GM$ (Grazing Merit)

Daughter Proven Sires   Genomic Sires
        GM$ NAAB Code Name           GM$ NAAB Code Name
893 203HO1468 Delta   1016 551HO3529 Charl
880 29HO17553 Josuper   990 11HO12174 AltaExplosion
874 7HO12600 Modesty   975 11HO12157 AltaLawson
827 151HO0681 Rubicon   972 29HO18611 Skywalker
827 151HO1602 Director   947 29HO18682 Colorado
815 1HO10396 Cabriolet   939 29HO18693 Crimson
797 7HO12266 Yoder   935 1HO13404 Samsung
787 7HO12021 Ponder   932 29HO18708 Kenobi
785 1HO11327 Gatekeeper 932 29HO18296 Achiever
783 7HO13250 Jedi   916 29HO18633 Roxbury
  • GrazingPRO(Published by Select Sires Inc.) – SSI designates their sires as GrazingPRO™ based in their GM$ rating and requiring that the DPR is >+3.0, Stature is <+0.5, Fat% is positive and Protein% is positive.
  • GrazingPro™ (Published by Semex) – Semex designates their sires as GrazingPro™ and thereby Pasture Perfect for sires that will maximize component yield and put a focus on health and reproductive traits to ensure highly profitable, long-lasting animals with limited problems. These sires will also produce easier calvings and darker colored calves.
  • Outside of North America both Ireland and New Zealand prove their sires on grass-based feeding systems so their EBI (Ireland) and BW (New Zealand) indexes rank sires with consideration of grazing.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Dairy cattle being fed on grazing systems and living in warmer and warmer climates will be part of our industry’s future. To date there is only limited genetic information, based on assumed trait emphasis, available for breeders to use if they choose to graze their cattle or farm in regions having heat and humidity. Research and genetic evaluation centers need to address these topics.



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Milk Battles: The Red, White and Blues Continue

NAFTA renegotiations are front page news in the United States and Canada. From the dairy industry perspective, it appears that these talks are all about blaming and shaming the other side. Everyone dependent on the dairy industry recognizes that current viability and long-term sustainability are on the line.  Should they stay in the industry or pursue another occupation? What side are you on? If your side is declared the winner, what difference will it make to how you manage your dairy operation or how the dairy supply is managed? “

“It’s the Law”

Import laws only seem right if they support what you believe in. Both countries have import tariffs on foreign milk coming into their country. Canadian import laws have not contained details on the importation of difiltered milk.  Difiltered milk is allowed for the enhancement of the protein level in cheese and some yogurts in Canada. However, in the US, such enhancement has not been permitted.

“The Market Is Always Right”

American processors saw and took an opportunity to sell difiltered milk to Canadian cheese makers. Canadian producers were frustrated that the importation of this US product was taking what they considered to be their market. In 2017 Canadian producer organizations established an ingredient class of milk (Class 7) that they priced so their processers would buy Canadian milk. US producer associations thought that Canada made a hasty decision and were upset with the lack of notice. Currently the US is considering asking WTO for a ruling on if Canada is subsidizing the skim milk powder, made from the Class 7 milk, on the world market.

“Do We Want Governments to Legislate Dairy Financial Success?”

Through the US Farm Bill and other means, milk production in the US is indirectly financially supported by US governments. In Canada there is a dairy producer – government agreement (aka supply management) to make sure that domestic milk supply does not exceed the domestic demand. Also included in this producer-government agreement are milk pricing according to cost of production and level of importation. Part of the agreement includes that the Canadian government does not financially support its supply management industries. These differing methods of industry-government involvement and roles are front and center in NAFTA renegotiations.  The question is – Is there a level playing field? Canadian consumers totally pay for their milk in the store Americans consumers pay in the store and also through their taxes dollars that are allocated to farm support and subsidy programs.

“Overproduction is the Biggest Threat to the Dairy Industry”

Presently there is an excess of milk product in the world. This has resulted in low world prices which depresses the farm gate milk price in countries that base their domestic price according to the world price. The current total US milk production is over 115% of the US consumer demand. Milk presently leaves American farms at well below the cost of production. US producer organizations and governments are working hard to export the surplus, but the low world price means both low returns and added expense for the US. When there is an over-supply of milk, dairy farmers are price takers instead of price setters.

“We Only Want the Rules that We Put in Place. We will Ignore Yours”

What’s best? Regulated or unregulated production?  Each system has their benefits and limitations.

Through a producer association – government agreement, since 1971 The Canadian farm supply of milk has matched the consumer demand. The producer associations allocate daily quotas to producers, buy the milk from the producers and sell the milk to the processors. This quota system has provided stability for Canadian dairy producers.

The US has an unregulated system of producing milk. Producers have agreements with their processor. In times of surplus production, processors have three options: they may not pick up the milk; they can pick up and dump the milk; or, in the most drastic situation, a processor can terminate producer contracts. The US has used whole herd buy-outs, government purchase of product and risk insurance programs in times when there have been surplus milk leaving the farms. But none of these vehicles have been long term solutions in providing stability for producers. American dairy producers repeat the cycle every 5-7 years – from boom to selling below the cost of production to bust.

“Can We At Least Agree to Disagree?”

Today the world is awash with talks and negotiations on trade.  The trend had been for multi-country agreements. However, currently US President Trump is favoring bi-lateral (country to county) agreements. Questions abound about trade agreements. Are they reciprocal? Are they free? Are they fair? They are never just about milk products only. They are complicated business dealings between countries. And, of course, every country wants the best for their industries and their citizens. US and Canadian milk producers are pawns in the ongoing NAFTA renegotiations. Even though dairy producers may want a win-win, the reality is win a little lose a little is the more likely outcome. If President Trump had not removed (just after his inauguration) the US from the TPP agreement it would have allowed US milk more access to the Canadian market. Canadian milk producers have recently given up over 6.5% of their domestic market share, when Canada signed on to the CET (EU) and CPTTP (Pacific) trade agreements.

“Which Side Are YOU On?”

Dairy producers in both countries have lobbied their politicians so that they can receive support or be the winner. Even though his reasons may not be totally based on producers’ livelihoods, President Trump did stand up for the loss of processor contracts by a few American producers. Likewise, Prime Minister Trudeau has stood by the Canadian supply management system. Asking politicians to solve industry challenges is not always the best route to follow to achieve the optimum long-term solution for dairy producers.

“Misinformation Hurts Everyone”

Both economists and journalists continually study, survey and publish reports comparing the price of fluid milk in stores in the US and Canada.  But fluid milk is, at most, only 40% of the milk products that consumers buy. In Wisconsin 90% of the milk is marketed as cheese. Seldom are in-store cheese prices compared.  In the US, fluid milk is sold as ‘BST free’ and as ‘unknown’ if BST was given to the cows to increase their production. In Canada BST is not allowed to be used. In using and quoting the comparison of milk products prices in the store, great care should be taken to use accurate facts and to compare equals.

“Milk Production Isn’t Only Based on Border Lines”

The United States and Canada are neighbors, are each other’s largest trading partners and have the longest unprotected border in the world. Sometimes these three facts are lost in the milk mud-slinging.

The US produces twelve times the volume of milk that Canada does. 4% of the US farms produce 50% of the US milk. The top ten (20%) volume states (CA/WI/ID/NY/PA/TX/MI/MN/NM/WA) produce 74% of the US milk and have 64% of the US cows. There are 9.3M cows in 40,000 herds with an average herd size of 234 cows producing 22,500 lbs. per cow.  The smallest 25 (50%) volume states produce 5% of the US milk. From 2006 to 2015, 33% of the herds exited the US industry and the total volume of milk shipped increased 20%.

In Canada, two (20%) provinces (QC/ON) produce 75% of the milk and have 69% of the Canadian cows. There are 0.94M cows in 10,800 herds with an average herd size of 87 cows producing 19,500 lbs. per cow. The smallest 5 (50%) volume provinces produce 5% of the Canadian milk. From 2006 to 2015, 30% of the herds exited the Canadian industry and the total quota allocations increased by 20%.

When comparing the United States and Canada, milk production or human population, remember that the US is ten times larger than Canada. Ten times the cows. Ten times the consumers.

“The Daily Push and Pull of Dairying”

No matter whither the US or Canada, we’re looking for dairy farm sustainability. It has always been and always will be a moving target determined strongly by farm gate milk price and feed costs. Farms that can drive up revenue and keep costs under control will be the viable and sustainable ones.  Farm ownership and/or farm size do not automatically determine success.

“Can We Identify Where the Front Lines are Currently Located?”

Just now the political rhetoric, the political climate and trade talks are garnering much attention and energy of dairy producers.  It is The Bullvine’s opinion that producers need to put the focus on four areas.

  1. “Too Many Generals. Shrinking Troops”
    Producers have almost as many producer-directed organizations representing them now as they had when there were four or five times as many producers.  With so many it easily becomes a divide and conquer win for processors and politicians. Processors want volume and politicians listen to the loudest noise and count votes. Continuing with local or state/provincial or regional milk selling organizations will continue to stack the deck against dairy producers.  Dairy producers need more clout than they have had in the past in price setting.
  1. “Dairy Beyond Borders”
    In today’s connected world many items know no borders. Anything that is generic to all producers, processors and retailers needs to be addressed collectively. These can include – consumer awareness and education, food safety, animal welfare and healthy living promotion. In other industries today, the business model is based on mutual benefit. The dairy industry’s future is not one sided or about ’the art of the deal’.  Trade talks and agreements are here to stay. The production sector of the dairy industry needs to change from reactive to proactive, when it comes to milk promotion, increasing milk’s share of the food dollar and trade in milk products.
  1. “It’s Time for US Dairy Downsizing”
    The US dairy production industry needs to develop ways to: reduce production by 8% immediately; assist farmers faced with bankruptcies, challenged mental health or re-training; change regulations to allow the use of skim milk in the production of new or fortified food products; move to a production-marketing system whereby supply closely matches domestic and foreign demand for milk; and rethink the level of tariffs necessary. 
  1. “It’s Time for Canadian Dairy Modernization”
    The Canadian dairy production industry needs to implement: a revised system for pricing ingredient milk; consider ways to revise, or at least refine, the supply management system; find further ways for new farmers to be included in quota ownership; refine its milk pricing model; and rethink the level of tariffs necessary.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

There is no need for the United States and Canada to battle about milk. The current situation is a race to the bottom. It should be a climb to sustainability for dairy producers on both sides of the 49th parallel.

Success for US and Canadian dairy producers will come when progressive, dynamic producers support and lead the necessary changes to have milk supply match the demand. Producer-leaders will need to be visionary and able to bring groups with diverse positions to a mutual benefit.




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The Future Value of Genomic Testing

Is it likely that genomic testing will be more valued by North American, European and Oceana Holstein breeders, in ten years’ time? Looking ahead and planning is a good start to achieving profitable genetic goals for a herd and population. Let’s explore some thoughts and ideas about the future use of genomic testing in dairy cattle for herds focused on productivity and profit.

Current Scenario

The Annual Reports from the breeds show 6% (2017) of Canadian and 30% (2016) and 40% (20170of American Holsteins identified were genomically tested. Given those percentages, it shows that the majority of breeders with Holsteins do not value the information. For the other breeds the percentages are lower and, in some cases, almost non-existent. Given that the majority of American dairy animals are not identified with breed societies the use of genomic testing is very low.

If you or your family plan to be in the dairy business in a decade and proactively improving more than others do, when it comes to breeding superior cattle, will be a leg up. Moreover, when your children come home from college they will have the latest facts on genes and the DNA composition for the herd. With a herd genomically tested those children will be ready to hit the ground running when applying their knowledge to their chosen breeding program.

Currently There Are Seven BAD Reasons for Not Choosing Genomic Testing

This article does not plan to dwell on the past and the negatives however some positions are important to correct.

  1. Yes, the $38 to $45 seems costly but that only equates to three weeks raising cost for a heifer. Culling 5% of the heifers, the lowest ones, at 3 months of age will save twice the costs of testing. Culling the lowest 10% will save four times the cost.
  2. There is not the demand for surplus heifers that existed twenty years ago. Sexed semen, much improved heifer rearing and the rearing cost of $2,500 per heifer means that herd replacement programs, which are 15%-20% of total costs on dairy farms, are important to achieving a successful bottom line.
  3. It is true that, on average, the results of genomic testing may not differ greatly from parent average for total genetic merit (TPI, LPI, NM$, Pro$, JPI,..etc.). However, for 90% of the animals tested there be two, if not more, traits that are significantly different and that information will be very useful when making heifer mating decisions.
  4. It is true that when breeding for show ring type, genomically testing may not be of great help. But, when breeding for correct conformation, genomically testing is relatively (60-70%) accurate. Remember that less than 0.1% of heifers ever see the show ring in their lifetime.
  5. Although genomic testing results are most often quoted or promoted for heifers based on their total merit indexes (i.e. TPI or NM$), it is the component traits of the total merit indexes that are important when making breeding decisions. Component traits include yields, health, fertility, longevity, conformation and functional traits. The use and awareness of genomic indexes for all economically important traits would, today, be greatly enhanced, if breeds were to monthly provide top animal lists for all traits not just for TPI, LPI or JPI.
  6. Genomic indexes have been accepted for males as 70% of sires used have genomic but not proven sire indexes. Yet the female side of a mating is equally important to the male side so genomic testing of females should be equally important. Holstein USA is congratulated for initiating and providing genomic testing service programs in cooperation with its partners that are gaining in acceptance but they have yet to reach 40% usage by members.
  7. Breeders often mention that genomic testing is only for elite herds. However, that is just not true. For herds of average genetic merit, the opportunity to dramatically shift the herd average upwards is a definite possibility.

Which Is It – Cost or Benefit?

Most often genomic testing is regarded by breeders as an added cost. But what about the opportunity for added benefits that become available from having added information?

Here are some suggestions on how the $45 charge could be allocated to opportunities for benefits:

  • 100% Parent Verification                                                                      $5
  • Culling or Using as Recips the Lowest 10% of Indexed Heifers                 $20
  • Improved Accuracy for All Matings in a Female’s Lifetime                      $15
  • Building Larger, More Accurate Female Population Data Base                $5

Viewed that way the $45 presents valuable opportunities. The benefit approach is a return on investment. If the testing could be done for $25 it would be a giant step forward.

Nine Future Opportunities from Genomic Testing

The following list is by no means all-inclusive, but it is a start to some of the areas where genomic testing will most likely be used in the future. Our previously published article on epigenetics and nutrigenetics delved into some areas also (Read more: Forget Genomics – Epigenomics & Nutrigenomics are the Future and Epigenetics will be a Driver for Future Successful Dairying).

  1. Milk Products: Differences between animals in the fats and proteins they produce are sure to increase or decrease the value of the milk a cow produces. A2 milk has already caught consumer’s attention.
  2. Longer Animal Lifetimes: The surface has just been scratched on identifying animals that live longer and, thereby, produce higher lifetime profits.
  3. Disease Resistance: Animal diseases will be with the world for all time, so animals with immunity or that are capable of resisting diseases will be in demand.
  4. Feed Conversion: read our recent article on feed efficiency (Read more: The Genetics of Feed Efficiency in Dairy – Where are we at?,Should You Breed for Feed Efficiency?, and A Guide to Understanding How to Breed For Feed Efficiency and Fertility)
  5. Environmental Issues: Our dairy cows are temperate climate animals yet they are raised in hot humid areas and with global warming, animals will need the slickgeneor be able to live and produce in increasingly warmer climates.
  6. Less Labor and Automation: With less individual care and with more cow-machine interactions our dairy cattle will need to be able to operate effectively with machines.
  7. Herd Replacements: 15-18% of total herd costs are associated with rearing replacements. Yet few herds capture complete heifer data that can be used for determining the genetic traits on heifers. Through genomic testing it should be able to know more about calf disease resistance/immunity, growth, feed conversion, age at first heat and many more traits.
  8. Animal Mobility: Lack of mobility and lameness are major on-farm and animal welfare issues. By genomic testing and animal monitoring, it should be possible to identify the most mobile animals.
  9. Cow Fertility: The corner has been turned through analyzing farm reproduction data and associating it with genomic results. Great advances in cow fertility have been made in the past decade. Expect more improvement from further use of genomic information, especially as it relates to animals under stress.

Genomic evaluations are now going global. On June 1stInterbull, on June 1st, announced the launch of GenoEx-PSE as a service to internationally rate animals, based on genomic information. As well, we may see new breeds being developed that take the best genes from various breeds, as determined by genomic results. This could lead to developing animals that meet specific needs, environments, agriculture practices and response to new diseases. Breeders themselves or A.I. breeding companies will use genomic results to breed the best dairy cattle for the future. Genomic testing will be a must do in the same way that feed ingredient balancing, vaccination, continual animal monitoring and customer milk product guarantees are.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

If a breeder has not been genomically testing their herd, the time to start is now.  Every breed society can advise on the services available. Genomic testing needs to be viewed as an investment rather than a cost.

One reason people resist change is because they focus on what they have to give up instead of what they have to gain. (Rick Godwin)



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