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8 Steps to Choosing What Sires to Use

Selecting sires for use in a herd can take many approaches. In all cases, it depends on the goals of the owner. Furthermore,  any bull can be both a saint and the worst sire to ever have semen frozen. For instance, for show oriented breeders, Goldwyn is a saint, and they are still using Goldwyn semen or purchasing Goldwyn daughters or embryos.  Yet for some breeders participating in The Milk House, Goldwyn or Goldwyn in the pedigree is to be avoided, in a significant way, due to his daughters’ inability to compete in group housing with other top sires when it comes to milk yield and lack of body condition at the time of breeding. The opposite can be said for Oman bloodlines. Show breeders avoid them. Milk production focused herds regard him almost as a recent Holstein breed saviour, when it comes contributing to herd profit. Tuesday December 2nd in the United States, when there is a base re-adjustment for all genetic evaluations, will be a good time for all breeders, no matter what they focus their sire selection on, to re-evaluate the bulls or the breeding plan that they use in their herds.

Where is Your Focus?

Not every breeder has a focus or has taken the time to think through the attributes needed by the cows that they plan to work with five to ten years in the future. Why talk about cows five to ten years from now? Well, that is because breeding strategy decisions made today will take five years before they become the majority of the cows a herd is made up of. So the first question you need to answer before you pick up the phone or send an email to your semen supplier on December 2nd is “What genetics in my herd will provide me with the most profit in the future?”

What are Your Choices?

It comes down to three overall indexes:

  1. Bottom Line Farming – Net Merit $
  2. Balanced Approach – TPI™
  3. Show Type – PTAT, with added emphasis on Stature and Rump

Both NM$ and TPI™ have been revised effective with this December 2nd index release. NM$ has increased the emphasis on production to where production traits receive almost half the emphasis (Read more: The New Net Merit Formula – The Winners & The Losers and US Genetic Evaluation Changes: Are You Keeping Up?) Breeders can expect the Dec ’14 NM$ values to be between 130 and 150 lower than in the August ’14 genetic evaluation run due to the base adjustments. TPI™ has also increased the emphasis on production and developed a Fertility Index that includes conception rates. For breeders wishing to know more about the revised TPI™ Holstein USA has placed on YouTube a Webinar lead by Dr. Tom Lawlor (Holstein USA Webinar: December 2014 TPI™ & Base Change). Breeders not wanting to increase the stature of their cows will be interested in Dr. Lawlor’s comments on TPI™ now moderating the emphasis on stature. When looking at the TPI™ values on December 2nd, breeders need to be aware that bulls above 2138 TPI™ are the ones that are the real breed improvers. The webinar does an excellent job of outlining the changes and reasons for the changes in TPI™.

What about Other Considerations?

There are numerous other genetic indexes or genetic approaches that breeders may wish to use when selecting sires. Included in the list are Fluid Merit $ and Cheese Merit $, produced by CDCB / USDA-AIPL, and they will be joined by a new Grazing Merit $ Index. Full details on GM$ can be found on CDCB’s website. Other genetic based indexes are issued by breeding organizations, and they place different  degrees of emphasis on traits than do NM$ or TPI™. Non-genetic index approaches to rating sires exist and, for those ratings, breeders do not need to acquaint themselves with the formula or base change that will occur on December 2nd.

8 Steps to Choosing Sires to Use

  1. Select a website where you can find all the facts on all sires. That site can be a breed association, an A.I. organization or an information site for the latest proof information. Breeders wishing information for sires outside the USA can go to their national organizations. The focus for this article is the sires in the USA as that is where the base and new ranking formula changes are being made.
  1. Decide if you want proven or genomic sires or a combination of both. Many breeders have taken strong positions on which approach to use. Open minded breeders will look at both lists and balance accuracy and superiority in making their choices.
  1. Identify the top 10 to 30 sires for NM$, TPI™ or PTAT. Do not be concerned about other attributes or deficiencies that sires may have. This first sort is to get the overall breed leaders. Using the best there is should be the goal of all breeders and milk producers. Other breeds have other indexes that are their overall total merit index comparable to TPI™.
  1. From the top 10 to 30 listings, eliminate bulls with deficiencies you consider important. Be certain that your deficiencies are truly important to your breeding plan. Fertility and health should be on every breeder’s list.
  1. Breeders wanting Polled in all breeds and Red in Holsteins will need to be prepared to sacrifice some NM$, TPI™ or PTAT to get their list. Other factors, such as Inbreeding Level (Read more: The Truth About Inbreeding, 12 Outcross Sires to Help Control Inbreeding, Stop Talking About Inbreeding) may also factor into decisions. However, always be aware that the more restrictions that are placed on sires means that the sires chosen for use will not be genetically advancing your herd as fast as other breeder’s herds.
  1. Price of semen, unless over $100, should not be a sort criteria. Some breeders will not agree with this, but given that semen costs are less than 1% of a farm’s expenses and that a blend price of less than $50 is possible, the focus should be on genetic merit not on cost of semen.
  1. If A.I organization loyalty is important, be sure not to sacrifice genetic improvement for loyalty. I. organizations want their customers to be successful and achieve their goals.
  1. Breeding advisors or A.I. technicians need to recommend or use the sires that meet the herd’s genetic needs. Often herd owners leave the sire selection entirely to their advisor or technicians. In which case there needs to be a defined and documented plan for what the herd owner wants for his farm. (Read more: Flukes and Pukes – What Happens When You Don’t Have a Plan, Are you a hobby farmer or a dairy business? and What’s the plan?).

Who will Win?

Breeders who follow closely the breed toppers will have anticipation for which sires will top the lists come December 2nd. Will Mogul’s daughter proven proof place him ahead of Facebook who strongly came to the top of the gTPI™ list in August? Will there be a sire to go ahead of Robust on the NM$ list?  Of course, breeders can expect to see new sires at or near the top of the genomic lists. Tuesday has the promise for many new sires for breeders to choose from.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

In the end, the winners will be the breeders that use the elite sires and correctively mate them to the females in their herds. Remember to select sires for their strengths and not eliminate them for minor deficiencies.


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