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Smoking is good for you…and other facts dairy breeders should know

lucky_20679[2]In the 1920’s and 30’s cigarette companies not only denied the health risks of smoking, they actually promoted them as a good thing, by putting up testimonials and stats about doctors who smoked. During the 1920s, Lucky Strike was the dominant cigarette brand. This brand, made by American Tobacco Company, was the first to use the image of a physician in its advertisements. “20,679 physicians say Luckies are less irritating,” its ads proclaimed.  Of course many years later we are well aware of the health risks (480,000 people die prematurely each year in the US, due to smoking or being exposed to smoke). It’s flashbacks to this false advertising experience that dairy breeders are referencing when they distrust the use of genomics in dairy cattle breeding.   They feel that it’s just the AI companies “forcing” genomics down their throats, in the same way that  the tobacco companies “forced” smoking down the throats of millions, by using the weight of doctors’ credibility.

camels_doctors_whiteshirt[1]For a long time, physicians were the authority on health. Patients trusted their doctor’s education and expertise and, for the most part, followed their advice. When health concerns about cigarettes began to receive public attention in the 1930s, tobacco companies took preemptive action. They capitalised on people’s trust of physicians, to quell concerns about the dangers of smoking. Thus was born the use of doctors in cigarette advertisements. Executives at tobacco companies knew they had to take action to suppress the public’s fears about tobacco products.

When genomics was first introduced to the dairy cattle breeding world, it was controlled by the major artificial insemination companies.  According to some breeders they “hammered” the benefits of genomics down their throats and left breeders almost no choice but to use high index genomic sires, as there were limited other options.  The ironic thing is that high praise for the product is about where the similarities between the Tobacco industry and the dairy breeder world part ways.


Unlike cigarettes that were eventually exposed for their many alarming health risks despite the early endorsement, genomics had the opposite reaction – distrust. At the time, almost daily I was reading warnings in other “leading” dairy publications against using genomic sires.  This pandered to the old school mentality that fosters breeder concern about using Genomics.  Instead of basing their comments on facts, they used hearsay, conjecture and outright fear mongering to defend their negative comments. (Read more: The Genomic Bubble Has Burst?)

The facts are pretty clear.  Genomics increases young sires’ reliability by 30% and 1st crop proven sires by 5%.  In effect, that says that a young sire with a 50K genomic test and a proven sire will now have reliability comparable to an early 1st crop proven sire pre-genomics.  This would indicate that, if you were willing to trust a 1st crop proof prior to the introduction of Genomics, you should now be ready to trust a genomic young sire from a  proven sire as their reliabilities are very comparable.  Furthermore,  genetics marketing is also supporting this.  Genomic young sires are set to outsell proven sires because most breeders are confident in the numbers and are making sound breeding decisions based on them.  As we mentioned in our article Genomics – Lies, Miss-Truths and False Publications, genomically evaluated bulls with 65% reliable gLPIs, breeders can expect 95% of the time that their official proof will be within 400 LPI points (within about 10-15%). (Please note that this figure reflects the change in the CDN system). Yes, genomic young sires do, on average, drop below their original predicted values but, they are, on average, still higher than the current proven sires that they are competing with.

The interesting part is that, while promoting smoking was a “cash cow” for the Tobacco industry, the increased use of genomic young sires has actually caused problems for the AI companies, even though  genomic sires now account for 50% of semen sales. This led me to propose that genomics will soon be used by 84% of dairy breeders in the world. (Read more: Why 84% of Dairy Breeders Will Soon Be Using Genomic Sires!)  This is actually scary news for most AI companies.  That is because the average genomic young sire produces about 20,000 doses of semen a year.  That is about 10 to 20% of the semen production of a healthy proven sire.  This means that instead of housing 1 proven sire, these companies now have to house four to nine extra young sires, in order to produce the same amount of semen.  So while genomics was first expected to help these companies save money on bull housing, it has actually resulted in them having to increase their housing expenses.

Here at the Bullvine we think the facts about genomics speak for themselves:

  1. Genomics is a Tool
    On a daily basis, it drives me nuts to see the number of breeders who refer to Genomics as a selection tool.  Genomics increases the reliability of individual traits and indexes.  That’s it.  The term “Genomics” is misused by many. They should be referring to “High Index” sires, meaning list toppers on the gTPI, gLPI, and other lists.  This may seem like a minor thing.  I am even guilty of it myself, from time to time.  However, it’s really an enormous error when you consider it from a breeder viewpoint.  Over the past week, I looked at more than 100 comments about Genomics from naysayers.  Every single one of them would have been more accurate if they had used the term “High Index” actually than Genomics.  Most of the reservations against Genomics have more to do with reservations about the use of high index sires.  The debate between selecting for “High Index” or “Proven” pedigrees will go on for years to come.  The point that many miss is that Genomics is a tool that can help both strategies.  Since Genomics helps increase the accuracy of the indexes, it will help both approaches excel into the future.
  2. The Numbers Don’t Lie
    It’s always easy to quote a case-by-case example and find a few cases that help support a point of view.  However, it takes consideration of the full spectrum to get a truly accurate assessment of how any program or any tool is working.  This means that we can be 95% sure that the current top gLPI sire, RH Superman (gLPI of +3473), will be higher than +3000 LPI, once he has his official progeny proven index. That prediction is over 90% reliable, and that would make him among the top 3 active proven sires in Canada.  In the US, sires like Delta (gTPI of +2691) will end up over +2300 gTPI placing him in the top 20.  (Editor’s note: Prior to the regression to bring high genomic young sires closer to proven sires, sires like Extreme and Alta1stclass would have actually been higher than the current top proven sire).  Yes, genomic young sires do on average drop below their original predicted values, but, they are on average still higher than the proven sires of that time.
  3. Falling Numbers are not an Indicator of System Failure
    Whether it’s young sires’ indexes dropping or semen prices going down, neither of these two events accurately predict the value of Genomics.  You see Genomics is new to the industry and, with anything that is new, there is a period of figuring out how the “new world” will work.  During that period, aggressive breeders and semen companies have sought to maximize revenues for themselves and the breeders they represent.  This has meant testing the market to see exactly what should be the maximum revenue price for each animal or dose of semen.  Simple economics teaches us that we need to test to find the point that maximizes revenue.  That is either by selling at high prices and reduced quantities or selling at a medium prices and increasing quantities.  Both are sound strategies. At times, due to exclusivity and extremely unique genetics, young sire semen has sold for up to  $10,000 a dose and, with the removal of the exclusivity and with other sires coming out after the fact, that semen is now available at a significantly reduced price.  (Read more: $10,000 a dose Polled Semen).  The breeder who purchased this semen, Ri-Val-Re Holsteins from Michigan, actually made out very well with his investment, as he had a clear plan with the use of IVF to maximize his return.  (Read more:   Breeding R-Val-Re: Where looking good in the stall is just as important as looking good on paper) It has also led to other attempts and premium pricing or pricing models.  This is not a failure of the system.  This is progressive individuals trying to discover how the new system is going to work.  Does it always return maximum profits?….No.  However, does it help those individuals understand the new market and how they can operate to maximize efficiency in the future?  ….Yes.  Just because you are not able to justify these prices for your breeding program goals, does not mean that it will not work for others.  The important thing is for you to understand your personal dairy genetic plan and goals and make sure you are constantly evaluating and improving them.  (Read more: What’s the plan?). It is interesting to note that since the introduction of Genomics, the rate of genetic advancement has more than doubled.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.  Today more breeders can make more sound decisions. The industry, as a whole, is benefiting.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Unlike cigarettes, where there is certainly no question left about the health risks of smoking, genomics and cigarettes are not interchangeable.  There is significant proof that genomics does, in fact, provide good “health” for your dairy breeding program.  To genomic detractors, I ask you “Where is your smoking gun”? Where is your proof that genomics does not work?

The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


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