How often do you select a mating sire for the reasons you typically cull animals, as opposed to what your perceived ideal cow looks like? Further to our discussion about what the Perfect Holstein Cow looks like we here at the Bullvine started to ask ourselves, “How often do we choose our matings based on what we think the perfect cow looks like? vs. what our true management needs are?” Far too often sire selection is based on the fantasy of breeding that next great show cow or VG-89-2YR instead of facts needed to breed that low maintenance cow that will stay in your herd for many lactations and produce high quantities of milk. Do your sire selections overlook your management needs?
Speedy Selection. Long-Lasting Problems
Discernment is the hardest part of sire selection. Seeing your herd for what it is and what its genetic needs are is step one. Step two is choosing what will work for you almost three years from now when the daughters of the sires you use today will be entering the milking string. The old adage was “breed for type and feed for production.” But how many breeding stock animals have you sold recently based solely on conformation? How many will you be selling in three years based on their type? What are the revenue sources for your farm now and in the future? If your answer is “We get our revenue from the milk cheque from as few cows as possible and with as much profit per cow as possible” then selecting for type could mean that your sire selection is out of alignment with your management needs.
How Can You Tell If You Are You Out of Sync?
One place to determine where your herd has issues is to look at the reasons for and the frequency of culling. Every cow that leaves your herd for any reason other than a profitable sale is an indicator of the issues that could be arising from sire selection that is out of alignment with what is going on in your herd.
The Bullvine found the following information on milking age females that are removed from herds:
- Over 35% of cows in a herd are replaced annually. That is costly!
- The top known reasons for culling or removing cows are:
- Infertility / reproduction 23.1%
- Sold for dairy purposes 21.4%
- Mastitis 13.8%
- Feet and Legs 9.6%
- Low production 7.6%
- Total 75.5%
- The other known reasons for culling or removing cows are:
- Injury 10.0%
- Sickness 7.0%
- Old Age 2.4%
- Diseases 1.8%
- Bad Temperament 0.9%
- Difficult Calving 0.9%
- Conformation 0.9%
- Slow Milker 0.6%
- Total 24.5%
Are You Breeding to Spend Money or Are you Breeding to Make Money?
You may be comfortable with your culling rate especially if it isn’t too far off “normal”. However when you look closely at the cows that remain in your herd how “needy” are they? Staff time, vet calls, hoof trimming, semen, drugs, supplies, extra time in the dry cow pen and removing cows from herds before they reach maturity – these all add up to significant dollars down the drain. Therefore, anything that can be done in sire selection to minimize these costs goes right to improving the financial bottom line. All unbudgeted costs mean less profit. If an animal is culled early, it does not matter where she placed at the local show or that her sire was a popular bull that left fancy udders. If he also left poor feet and low fertility, that costs you money.
A More Realistic Approach: Breed for the Bottom Line Not Just the Top Number
Often top bulls for total index are put forward to breeders for their use, without regard for the bull’s limiting factors. The Bullvine doesn’t support that approach. We recommendation that minimum sire selection values be set for the reasons cows are culled so that sires used in a herd don’t create new problems while the breeder tries to solve the current ones.
Here are the Bullvine we recommend the following requirements bulls should meet to be considered for use by bottom line focused breeders:
- In Canada
- Lifetime Profit Index > +2000*
- Daughter Fertility > 100
- Somatic Cell Score < 2.90
- Feet & Legs > +5
- In USA
- Total Performance Index > 2000*
- Daughter Pregnancy Rate > 1.0
- Somatic Cell Score < 2.90
- Feet & Legs Composite > 1.0
* A high minimum value has been set for both LPI and TPI to address the removal of cows for low production and so animals sold for dairy purposes can be in demand for their milk producing ability.
THE BULLVINE BOTTOM LINE
Every dairy breeder wants a superior herd and wants to eliminate the daily annoyances, costs and loss of valuable cows due to infertility, mastitis and feet problems and low production. Breeders should choose the best sires that correct the actual problems that they face in their herd instead of chasing a fantasy that has nothing to do with their reality.
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Dont know where you found your numbers Andrew, But here are last years for Canada http://www.dairyinfo.gc.ca/pdf/genetics-cull_e.pdf
We where actually using US numbers. But much appreciated to have the CDN numbers. Still relatively the same reasons.
Could you please provide this reference, Andrew? I was able to find the
USDA-AIPL data for the 9 major culling reasons, but not the breakdown
for the “other” category. I really enjoyed the topic of this article, but one area not mentioned was on-farm mortality. For US herds in 2007-2008, USDA reported that for Holsteins leaving the farm, 18% did so on the rendering truck. I would argue that these on-farm deaths are a much bigger profit issue than other culling reasons, because at least the dairyman is getting a salvage value for animals sold.
Why would you set high cutoffs for LPI and TPI to address low producing cows and milk producing ability of animals sold for dairy sales? Wouldn’t it make more sense to set direct cutoffs for Milk Production or CFP to address these things?
Great question Lynsay and one that we went back and forth on for a little bit. The ultimate answer was that since you can use sires that have high or low production depending on how much components they have, sett the bar on production alone, or composite protein and fat would actually eliminate some very beneficial sires. So in the end we decided to go with a composite metric (LPI or TPI) to help account for this.
The bottom line for me is this: With the available AI bull population there is absolutely no reason to be using a sire that throws bad udders( wide front teats,weak suspension,etc.),poor feet and legs,high scc,low production, low components, or anything else you can’t stand in a cow. My selection process starts with high net merit ( 500 or better),then I eliminate those with the traits I despise. What I end up with is above average looking cows that milk and hang in there for multiple lactations