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3 Lessons Dairy Breeders can learn from Major League Baseball

It’s in the air!  Spring shows are starting.  In some regions cows are getting outside for the first time in months.  Most importantly, in major league baseball, spring training is over and it’s time to start the games that really matter. Every year Opening Day is marked with great anticipation by baseball fans.  You can smell the hot dogs cooking on the grill and the feel of the leather glove in your hands.  It’s baseball time baby.  Now I bet you are wondering what dairy breeders can learn from baseball?  Well here are three lessons dairy breeders can learn from professional baseball.

Lesson #1: Moneyball

The book and movie (starring Brad Pitt) Moneyball tells the story of how Billy Beane, GM for the Oakland A’s, used statistical analysis to find players who were undervalued by other teams.  The movie was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture.  It made over $100 million. Billy Beane forever changed the way major league baseball teams look at assembling their teams.  No longer is it about your gut feel.  You need Jedi senses in order to develop winners.  .

In modern major league baseball, managers now play the percentages.  They usually go with what has a higher likelihood of success. So left-handed hitters bat against right-handed pitchers and vice versa.  Certain individuals will be in the lineup against certain pitchers because of their record against that pitcher. Fielders shift to cover the hitting tendencies of batters (like the famous Jim Thome shift).  Does this mean right-handed batters can’t hit against right-handed pitchers?  No.  Does it mean batters always hit to the same location or that the past will always repeat itself?  Certainly not.

In dairy cattle breeding, when we talk numbers, that means Genomics.  Genomics has greatly changed the way many breeders go about sire selection.  (Read more:  The Dairy Breeders Guide to Genomics, Genomics: Think Big Not Small and The Truth About Genomic Indexes – “Show Me” They Work! )  By knowing your breeding goals, understanding the genetics you have in your herd, and leveraging the power of genomics, breeders can greatly accelerate their genetic programs, and more importantly increase the efficiency. (link 30 efficient sires)

Does this guarantee 100% results?  Does this mean you are going to have the next World Dairy Expo Champion (Read more:  7 Sires to Use in Order to Breed the Next World Dairy Expo Champion) or top genomic sire (Read more: The Top 12 Holstein Genomic Young Sires to Use for Maximum Genetic Gain)?  No.  Genomics does not guarantee 100% results.  But percentages do play out.  For consistency and overall greatest rate of genetic advancement it’s best to follow the greatest reliabilities and leverage genomics to have the greatest probability of success (Read more: Genomic Young Sires vs. Daughter Proven Sires: Which one is best for reliable genetic gain).

Lesson #2: You’ve got to master the basics

In baseball the teams that win the championships are not always the ones who have the highest payroll, or the biggest names, instead it the ones who have mastered the basics and can do so consistently.  Advancing the base runner (hit, sacrifice or bunt), throwing to the correct base to get the lead runner out, backing up every throw and not throwing the ball away and getting the leadoff batter out, these are all the little things that contribute greatly to the success of major league baseball teams.

The same is true for your breeding program.  Using the greatest sires in the world, on the most expensive females in the world does not guarantee success.  You still need to master the basics of dairy farming in order to make success happen.  Producing high-quality forage, producing high-quality milk (SCC <100,000), raising healthy calves and healthy cows is pivotal to any breeder program.  Without mastering these basics all the genetics in the world will not make you a winner.  Think about it. How many traits are highly heritable and how many are heavily management dependent?  (Read more: The Genomic Advancement Race – The Battle for Genetic Supremacy)

Lesson #3: You need a good manager

Bob Melvin was named 212 AL Manager of the Year.

Just like having players that do the basics well, it’s important to have a good manager.  Often a good manager is the reason professional baseball players are willing to do the basics well.  A good manager is able to step back, assess the team that he/she has and then leverages player strengths and protects or improves their weaknesses.  Some dairy breeders think of their breeding programs as an art form and do not give it the level of analysis and business management it requires.  The best dairy farmers and breeders take the time to step back and ask themselves “What areas in my operation need more management?”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

As in baseball, success in dairy breeding does not happen overnight.  It’s a long season in baseball and you have to be patient.  You can’t make all the necessary changes right away.  It takes years to build a championship team.  The same is true for a successful breeding program. It takes the right moves and an attitude of continuous improvement.  There will be setbacks and there will be lean times, but keep working at building a competitive business.  Don’t be discouraged. Don’t get impatient.  Never be complacent.  In baseball it’s three strikes and you are out.  In dairy breeding it depends on Moneyball, Mastery and Management. Fail at these three basics and there is no question your breeding program will strike out.


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