Archive for A.I. Industry

Why 84% of Dairy Breeders Will Soon Be Using Genomic Sires!

There are certainly breeders who are not fans of Genomics and the heavy use of high index genomic young sires. Yet genomic sires now account for 50% of semen sales. That leads me to propose that genomics will soon be used by 84% of the breeders in the world.

330px-Diffusion_of_ideas.svg[1]The reason for this has nothing to do with the merits of genomic sires versus proven sires. Rather it has to do with the historical patterns of adoption of new technologies.  The theory behind this is called the Diffusion of Innovations.  According to this theory, consumers differ in their readiness and willingness to adopt new technology.  There are the innovators (2.5 percent of the population), the early adopters (13.5 percent), the early majority (34 percent), the late majority (34 percent), and the laggards (16 percent), who are also the people who still don’t have cell phones or who are not on Facebook.

As far as genomics goes, we have seen that it has followed this same pattern.  When genomics was introduced, there was a small percentage of breeders who were so excited about the technology, or technology in general, which started using genomic sires instantly.  These were the innovators in the dairy breeding marketplace.  Since the information was not publically available and held by the A.I. centers, this uptake was very restricted.  Then came the public introduction of genomics and the early adopters started using it.    For a little while after that genomics seemed to stall.  While there was 16% of the marketplace that was excited about Genomics and the possibilities that it held, the majority of breeders were not convinced.  They had skepticism about whether genomics would work and if they should be using this new technology in their breeding programs.  Regardless, the momentum started to grow.

Malcolm Gladwell describes this point, after early adoption, as “The Tipping Point” in his titled bestselling book of the same name.  It’s at this point that it is determined whether something will spread like wildfire or sputter and fade into oblivion.  Gladwell’s central argument is that there are actually a number of patterns and factors that are at play. They have an effect in virtually every influential trend, ranging from the spread of communicable diseases to the unprecedented popularity of a particular children’s television show. If you analyze the evolution of any significant phenomenon, Gladwell suggests, you will find that the processes involved are strikingly similar. Based on his in-depth research spanning a number of different fields, industries, and scholarly disciplines, Gladwell identifies three key factors that each play a role in determining whether a particular trend will “tip” into wide-scale popularity or fade. He calls them the Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor, and the Power of Context.

The following is a closer look at each of these concepts and how they apply to what we have seen in the adoption of Genomics in the Dairy Breeding Industry:

  • The Law of the Few
    Before the tipping point can be reached, a few key types of people must champion an idea, concept, or product, Gladwell describes these key types as Connectors, Salesmen and Mavens. If individuals representing all three of these groups endorse and advocate a new idea, it is much more likely that it will tip into exponential success.  Regarding the use of genomics in the dairy breeding industry, these roles were filled by the large A.I. companies, their salespeople as respected high index breeders.
  • The Stickiness Factor
    This refers to the unique quality that compels a phenomenon to “stick” in the minds of the public and then influences their future behavior. Gladwell defines the Stickiness Factor as the quality that compels people to pay close, sustained attention to a product, concept, or idea. In the dairy industry use of genomics, this was the allure of significantly more accurate genetic evaluations for young animals combined with the ability to dramatically accelerate breeding programs.
  • The Power of Context
    This is enormously important in determining whether a particular phenomenon will tip into widespread popularity. Even minute changes in the environment can play a significant role in the likelihood of a given concept attaining the tipping point. If the environment or historical moment in which a trend is introduced is not right, it is not as likely that the tipping point will be attained. Clearly, in order for a trend to tip into massive popularity, large numbers of people need to embrace it. However, Gladwell points out that certain groups can often be uniquely helpful in achieving the tipping point.  For genomics, commercial dairy producers were that group.   When they started to adopt the use of genomic young sires that marked the point at which genomics fulfilled the three concepts and crossed the tipping point.

After the use of genomic young sires crossed the tipping point, the rate of adoption accelerated to the point where the limiting challenge was not consumer demand, but rather the ability of A.I. companies to supply the semen.   Because young sires produce far less semen than mature proven sires, it is hard for A.I. companies to meet demand.  This has actually led to an increase in the number of young sires being sampled compared to the number that was forecast when genomics was first introduced.   A.I. companies have had to sample more sires than predicted in order to meet the growing demand.  It has also led to a much shorter active use life span for sires than in the past.

The Polled Story

In looking at the three tipping point factors, when applied to the dairy industry, you can see why some trends may not have been adopted as quickly.  An example of this is the use of polled sires.  Polled sires have been around for years but have failed to gain significant traction until recently.  (Read more: Polled Dairy Genetics: The Cold Hard Facts, From the Sidelines to the Headlines, Polled is Going Mainline! and Why Is Everyone So Horny For Polled?) That is because while polled certainly has the concept of the Law of the Few, it has not had the Power of Context.  While there have been significant gains in quality of the polled sires available, adoption will not pass that tipping point until it meets the third concept that Gladwell highlights, which is the Power of Context.  Until there is significant consumer demand that dairy cattle not be dehorned, the use of polled sires will not pass the tipping point.  While there will certainly be polled sires in the top 10 genomic sires within 2-3 years, and proven sires in 5-6 years, polled semen will not account for more than 16% market share until it develops the Power of Context (consumer demand for animal treatment) needed to cross the tipping point.  It’s for that reason that I think that widespread polled semen use will not really take off until 10-12 years from now.  Until then, it will be the domain of the innovators and the early adopters and stay below 16% market share.  In fact, I would argue that it has just recently crossed over in the past couple of years from the innovators to now include the early adopters.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Throughout history, there have been many excellent examples of products or technologies that have failed for a variety of reasons.  Genomics met resistance similar what was faced by artificial insemination in the early days. However, currently genomic usage has crossed the tipping point. It is now inevitable that soon 84% of the dairy breeding industry will be using genomic sires.

The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


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Say Goodbye to Small A.I.

The dairy genetics marketplace is becoming a “big” deal.  The introduction of genomics has changed the game for many Artificial Insemination companies.  While it was first thought that this would provide opportunities for the smaller A.I. companies, in the end it may be what puts them out of business.

Hearing rumors from semen salesmen is nothing new.  Almost as old as Artificial Insemination itself, semen salesmen have been a great source for the latest industry news and gossip.  Unfortunately, the “hottest” news lately has been the rumors about who is going bankrupt or what big A.I. company is purchasing what small A.I. company.  While there is no question that often the rumors have a way of getting blown out of proportion, more often than not there is some level of truth at the heart of the story.  That seems to be the case with the rumors about smaller A.I. companies.

Cash is King

While many thought that breeder’s ability to test their own sires would allow for more not fewer A.I. companies, the results have proven to be the exact opposite.  As was pointed out over two years ago, that is happening because the key issues in the A.I. world are distribution, cost of production and the cost of sire acquisition.  (Read more: Why the Ability for Breeders to Test Their Own Bulls Will NOT Change the World).  These three areas have been the most significant challenges for many smaller A.I. companies.  Most have had to invest large amounts of capital, while trying to compete with the larger A.I. companies in each of these areas.  As a result, three of the five hottest small A.I. companies now find their futures under a cloud.  Some are having cash flow challenges and others have become acquisition targets of the large A.I. companies.

As a small A.I. company, the challenges are real.  You need to be able to have a large enough distribution network that you can compete but, at the same time, you must keep your overhead low enough that you can stay afloat.  This is really what has separated those smaller A.I. companies that are still viable from the ones that are having trouble.  Two examples of this viability are St. Jacobs ABC and  Both companies have taken very different approaches.  St. Jacobs ABC has leveraged a mutually beneficial relationship with Genus/ABS Global, where they leverage the distribution power of Genus/ABS to get their semen exposed to the world.  This partnership is also beneficial for Genus/ABS Global as they then get an extremely strong brand in the high type market segment that is an area they typically do not focus as heavily on. has taken a different route.  Not having a large A.I. company to partner with, they too have focused on keeping overhead as low as possible and on choosing a niche to focus on.  While St. Jacobs has focused heavily on bulls from top show families, currently has the strongest polled sire line-up in the world.  (Read more: Stud Wars: Episode II – April 2014).

Both strategies are pretty impressive for companies with only three employees each.  Therein lies the key factor.  Both of these companies have intentionally stayed small while leveraging technology ( and relationships (St. Jacobs ABC did so in order to get greater distribution).  When we look at the smaller A.I. companies that are at the heart of the rumors these days, this is one of the key differentiators.  The ones that are finding their futures in jeopardy are the ones that have significant overhead invested in sales staff and marketing.  The cost of having sales staff on the road is not cheap and, if this is your distribution model, it can be very challenging to maintain cash flow.  (Read more: Are There Too Many Semen Salesmen Coming In The Lane?)  These are two key areas where tools like social media and the Internet can help keep operating costs down.  (Read more: Dairy Cattle Marketing).

Are we headed to a Oligopoly?

As the ability for large A.I. companies to differentiate themselves from each other becomes increasingly difficult,   we are noticing that more and more they are looking at new ways to do so.  For some of these companies, this may come from the acquisition of smaller niche market A.I. companies.  As the large A.I. companies start to see   these smaller competitors struggling, it opens up an opportunity for them.  They can come in and cost effectively acquire the smaller company’s unique product offering and, in some cases, the sales force as well.  In so doing, they are able to fill a gap of their own.  Larger A.I. companies are finding it harder to differentiate their genetic products and need to ensure that they can offer the greatest value to their customers.  (Read more: What the Experts Won’t Tell You about the Future of the A.I. Industry and A Wake-up Call to All A.I. Companies)

This is not the first time we have seen this large-swallowing-small scenario in the agriculture industry.  The plant seed industry provides a telling example.  Where once there were many medium sized competitors now there are only a few very large ones.  Interestingly it was technology, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) that changed the plant seed industry, in the same way that Genomics has changed the dairy breeding industry.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

I am sure that observing the coming changes will set off alarms for some breeders as to what the future holds.  Less competition typically means higher prices and less selection.  However, in this case these decisions are smart ones as far as the large A.I. companies are concerned.  As noted they have very limited ways to differentiate themselves and they need to use their large distribution networks and cash flow/reserves in order maintain their position in the marketplace.  (Read more: Why Good Business for A.I. Companies Can Mean Bad Business for Dairy Breeders)  Genomics has changed the game, not just from a technology standpoint but also from an A.I. company operations standpoint.  Get ready.  Over the next 2-3 years, we will more than likely say goodbye to at least half of the smaller A.I. companies that are in the world today.



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Fortune Favors the Bold – Four A.I. Companies that are Taking On the World

top13of2013In an industry where a few major players dominate the world market, it can be very intimidating for new participants about to enter the marketplace.  I can still remember working with David Eastman and Albert Cormier when they launched GenerVations.  At that time, there was no such thing as genomics, and even though we had the #1 LPI sire, Champion, we still took a lot of heat about the reliability of his proof.  However, I learned then, as I know now, fortune favors the bold.

Fast forward 12 years and things have significantly changed.  Genomics has leveled the playing field.  Any company can market their genetics with the same level of confidence as those of the large A.I. companies.  For years everyone has talked about how, in 2013, the A.I. industry would change drastically when new players enter the sire sampling market, as a result of breeders being able to sample their own bulls.  However, the reality is changes have already started.  Since the introduction of Genomics back in 2008, there have been four significant players enter the A.I. business:  AI Total, DairyBullsOnline, Jetstream Genetics and Trans-America Genetics (TAG).  They have all made a significant impact on the A.I. industry in a short period of time.  Each has gone about their strategy in a different way but each has had their own level of success.

The AI Total Story

Since partnering with AI Service Zuid-West Friesland (A company that provides insemination services for Dutch dairy farmers) in 2010 Jan De Vries and the AI Total team have been very aggressive.  Many years in the embryo business (Diamond Genetics and Eurogenes) have provided them with a base of marketing operations that has served them well (Read more: EUROGENES: You Love It.  They List It!).  Looking to service the producer market, AI Total looks to produce productive, functional, healthy and sustainable cows.  For De Vries this means looking at sires that excel in traits such as calving ease and DPR, while not being too large in size for the environments in which they are housed.

At the moment AI Total owns about 15 to 20 bulls that are housed in Europe, and carry sires from GenerVations, Jetstream Genetics and others.  A highlight of their current lineup is Hood MOM Emmet, the Man-O-Man son from Tramilda-N Baxter Emily VG-2yr, the dam of the popular North American sire Epic.  His 2nd dam is Wabash-Way Evett-ET (VG-86, 2y) who is a Shottle daughter, out of Crockett-Acres Elita-ET (VG-87 DOM 2*) and followed by nine VG or EX dams.  Emmett sires cows that are not too big, transmit favorable components and have strong fitness traits.  These are all heavily sought after by producers around the world.

In an industry that requires bold moves to be successful, De Vries and his team are not afraid to make them.  By working in many different aspects of the dairy genetics marketplace, Diamond Genetics/Eurogenes and AI Total are able to stay ahead and be trendsetters instead of followers.

The DairyBullsOnline Story

Starting out in the R&W market but getting sold on polled, Bryan Quanbury and Roy MacGregor have been extremely aggressive in developing DairyBullsOnline (Read more:  They’re Sold Polled).  They are promoting polled genetics as the solution that saves labor, reduces stress and improves consumer image.  “We know the breed will not be polled in 10 years, but we believe in 10 years bulls that transmit the recessive horn trait will be very hard to market.  Today there are about a dozen polled bulls over 2000 GTPI.  Next year that will double.  We expect that trend to continue for some time.”  Bryan Quanbury and Roy MacGregor.

By leveraging technology both on the web through its marketing and social media platforms as well as by using technology for shipping semen internationally DairyBullsOnline is able to operate at much higher efficiency.  This enables them to pass benefits back to the producers and breeders that they source their genetics from (Read more: A Wake-Up Call to All-A.I. Companies).

Despite what they lack in market share, they are able to attract unique genetics through offering seed stock breeders a much higher royalty percentage.  A great example of this is the sale of Kulp-Dale Golden PP-Red semen for $10,000 a dose, where the proceeds went straight to the breeder (Read more:  $10,000 a Dose Polled Semen).

MacGregor and Quanbury have not been afraid to blaze their own trial.  Not worrying what others would say about them, they have had a clear vision and have executed their plan very effectively.  They knew polled before polled was cool.  Being trend setters has it’s rewards, as anyone looking to get into polled in a significant way will certainly have to take a serious look at DairyBullsOnline and the trend setting moves they are making.

The Jetstream Genetics Story

With the arrival of Genomics, Jeff Butler and the ownership team at Jetstream, saw the opportunity for small AI-organizations that focus on top genomic genetics.  Having already heavily invested in some of the top genomics females in the world for his Butlerview operations, Butler already had a source of some of the most elite genetics in the world (Read more: Exciting Times For Butlerview).

Established in April 2012, theirs is the shortest story of these four bold, world-changing companies.  Nevertheless it has certainly been a very eventful one fourteen months.  Roger Turner, Sales and Genetic Manager for Jetstream Genetics, reports that it has exceeded expectations (Read more: Turner Moving Genetics Forward at Jetstream).

At the moment, Jetstream has about 15 bulls that are housed in Wisconsin.  Turner, a 15-year veteran in the AI industry, expects that number to increase by about 15 bulls per year.  A highlight of the Jetstream lineup are the Cash brothers, Farnear Cashcoin and Cashmoney, sired by the now popular proven sire Observer from MS Chassity Goldwyn Cash VG87 2yr, who is out of the 2012 Golden Dam Finalist Regancrest S Chassity EX-92 (Read more:  Regancrest S Chassity – 2012 Golden Dam Finalist).  Other popular sires include Colt 45 RC who is the top available type polled sire in the world.

Similar to AI Total and Diamond Genetics, Jetstream and Butlerview partner to be a complete genetics company.  In the Butlerview program, there are some of the most well-known cattle in the world, including the extremely popular show cows REW Happy Go Lucky and Cookview Goldwyn Monique.  Jeff Butler is definitely not afraid to make bold moves.  He has put his money where his mouth is and is blazing new trails in the dairy cattle genetics marketplace.  A clear example of this is how Jetstream is leading the way in online semen ordering (Read more: New sires available on easy to use Jetstream online order system).

The TAG Story

Of the four new AI companies profiled here, Trans-America Genetics (TAG) is certainly the oldest of the group, with their first sires already receiving official daughter proofs.  The road has been an interesting one for Patrice Simard and the TAG team.  Since starting TAG with Alan Bryson almost 5 years ago, there have been ups and downs, but the hard work is starting to provide dividends for all involved in the journey

Indeed the highlight has to be the success of Ronalee Toystory Domain.  Domain is the Toystory son that was among the top Genomic sires in the world for a long time and has now successfully transitioned into one of the top daughter proven sires.  This achievement is very important for a young AI company as breeders watch to see how their genetic programs turn out.  Success like this has positively helped TAG grow in the international marketplace (Read more: TAG Continues to Grow on the International Scene).

Talking about genetic programs, TAG is another company that has the complete genetics marketplace covered.  However, unlike the others, TAG does it all under one brand and has been well-rewarded from the great publicity this has received.  Many of their Genomic Giants Sales rank at the top of the yearly sales lists (Read more:  The 2013 Genomic Giant Sale was a Giant Success!).

Aggressive and energetic does not begin to describe the team at TAG.  They have had to weather the trials and tribulations of starting a business and investing your heart and soul into it, but the rewards are starting to pay off as the TAG brand is catching the eye of breeders around the world.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Starting an AI company is not an easy task.  It takes years before you receive your first daughter proven sire, and distribution can prove to be a nightmare. Add to that the fact that you`re under a microscope as everyone is judged each move you make.  In order to get ahead, you have to be bold and aggressive. Anything else will result in failure.  Fortunately, for these four AI companies, their progressive moves are turning heads and putting good fortune boldly in their path.


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CANADIAN BULL PROOFS – You’ve Got to Prove It to Use It!

No one likes paying upfront fees for anything.  After all, what’s the point of paying for something you haven’t received yet?  But there are some situations where paying upfront totally makes sense. Getting genetic information is one of those times.  You give up your money first and it translates into rewards later.

The Pieces are Put Together to Pull Together

Twenty years ago in Canada the dairy industry was faced with a challenge.  Government said it would fund research and development but not genetic evaluation services.  The goal was to shrink the cost and size of government.  The industry said these reports are valuable so we are going to have to get involved and that is what happened.

logo_cdn2_0[2]Canadian Dairy Network (CDN) was established in May 1995.  General Manager, Brian Van Doormaal, has been with CDN since its inception and summarizes the general details. “CDN is governed by a Board of Directors that primarily consists of breeders who are elected as representatives from four categories of member organizations, namely Breed Associations, DHI Agencies, A.I. organizations and Dairy Farmers of Canada.

The Canadian Dairy Network provides five major services:

  • Genetic Evaluation Services
  • Research and Development Projects
  • Industry Standards
  • Maintains the National Dairy Data Base
  • Operates the Data Exchange amongst the industry partners

It`s Fully Integrated and Always Moving

In the simplest terms, all the relevant information is shared by those who contribute.  Examples are:  Breed pedigrees go to CDN; CDN shares them with everyone who is a partner; DHI records go to CDN and are shared with partners.  These and more types of information are available to all users at all times via the Internet.  Everything can be found at the CDN website AT NO CHARGE for lookups.

The Dollar Division

Van Doormaal updates the funding process behind CDN. “All activities of CDN are financed by the industry organizations that are its members and for this reason the CDN Board of Directors has established an equitable service fee structure.” He further breaks out the pay structure. “80% is paid by AI and 20% by breed associations and milk recording provide their information at no charge to CDN.”

FEES: Fearsome Hurdle or Forward Thinking?

When there is a 79% cost increase (effective April 2013), there are going to be questions. Namely, “How did CDN determine the cost of $7500 to prove a bull in Canada?”  Previously the fee was $4200. The same fee has been set on a per bull basis for privately owned genotyped bulls, starting April 2013.  CDN does not have any other fees so this is an all-inclusive rate that gives the bull owners access to various services associated with genetic and genomic evaluations.”

Van Doormaal further clarifies. “With the arrival of genomic evaluations in 2009, operational costs have risen due to increased staffing needs and computer power while the number of young bulls with semen released in Canada each year has almost halved.”  Obviously, the plan is three-fold:  provide more research; more development and, at the same time, cover costs into the future.

Everybody Pays!

Van Doormaal stresses that, “In one way or another, all people and organizations will be paying fees to receive genetic and genomic evaluation services from CDN for bulls. While the mechanism for paying differs for breeders compared to A.I. organizations that are members of CDN, the level of payment is equivalent.  On the female side, no fees are applied on an animal basis since the breed associations contribute to funding CDN activities on behalf of their members.”

Brian Van Doormaal, CDN Speaking at the 2012 China-Canada Dairy Conference

Brian Van Doormaal, CDN
Speaking at the 2012 China-Canada Dairy Conference

What’s Up in Other Countries?

Van Doormaal knows the international scene and explains, “While there are other countries like Canada for which the genetic evaluation services are financed completely by industry stakeholders, as opposed to government, each country inevitably ends up with its own funding formula and mechanism.” He speaks of the American situation.  “In the US, the mechanism proposed for financing its genetic and genomic evaluation services includes some level of fee applied to every male and female for which a genomic evaluation is to be calculated.”

Proving Your Own Bull

When asked about advice for breeders looking to prove their own sires, Van Doormaal urges. “Genotyping young bull calves shortly after birth makes as much sense for breeders as the genotyping of their newborn heifers.  Once the genomic evaluations are available to the breeder, better decisions can be made about the bull’s future.  Owners (AI or breeders) of bulls with outstanding results can then pay the CDN fee to make results official and have the young bull ranked among others available in Canada.”

LPI Formula Changing

Van Doormaal reports “The LPI for Holsteins in Canada currently has a range in values of approximately -3000 to +3000, which is three times bigger than the TPI in the United States and over 50 times bigger than national indexes used in most other countries.

The CDN Board of Directors decided, after consulting all stakeholders, that the LPI scale should be halved.  To achieve this objective while maintaining the current level of LPI values for the highest progeny proven bulls, it was decided to add a “constant” value to the LPI formula in a manner similar to what the United States has done for years with its TPI formula. Conversion from current LPI values to the proposed new scale is simply done by dividing the current LPI in half and then adding the constant of 1700.”

LPI Formula Give and Take

Another adjustment Van Doormaal expects to happen to the LPI formula relates to the specific traits included and the relative emphasis placed on each.  Analysis of various options and discussion will proceed through 2013 with a likely implementation of an updated formula in April 2014. Based on feedback received from a cross-section of breeders, there seems to be a general interest to increase the overall emphasis on longevity, fertility and disease resistance in the formula. Of course, once the emphasis is increased on some traits, there also has to be other traits losing emphasis.

Future CDN Genetic Evaluation Evolution

In December 2012, CDN introduced Body Condition Score as a newly evaluated trait for all breeds, which can be used as an indicator for fertility, disease resistance and longevity.  The release in December 2013 will include the first official genetic evaluations for Mastitis Resistance in all breeds which should be followed by Resistance to Metabolic Disorders in 2014.  Other traits on the planning horizon within the next five years include desirable fatty acids and other components of milk, hoof health and feed efficiency.

Changing Gears for Genomics

Van Doormaal provides updates resulting from the introduction of Genomics. “Prior to 2009, CDN had six different genetic evaluation systems, which were run monthly to evaluate over 60 traits including production, type, longevity, female fertility, calving performance and milking speed/temperament. With the arrival of genomics, a new system was developed and implemented, which estimates Direct Genomic Values (DGVs) for all traits and combines them with traditional evaluations to produce the published genomic evaluations.  This new system is also run monthly and also required the establishment of a national database to process and store all genotypes, which now totals over 310,000 across all breeds. Operationally, these new services that are highly valued by the industry organizations and breeders, have required additional geneticists and new web site development as well as investments in advanced computer equipment and processing power.”

CDN: Providing Global Genetics and Genomics

Looking to the future, Van Doormaal gives an overview. “The era of genomics is still in its embryonic stages.  It is difficult to predict the extent to which it will continue to impact the dairy cattle industry over the next 10 or 20 years.  One thing for certain is that the world of genetics will continue to shrink at an increasing rate since it is so easy to collect DNA from any animal in the world and assess its genomic evaluation on numerous country scales.”

CDN:  Fine-Tuning

CDN will dedicate much time and effort in the coming years to fine-tuning existing traditional genetic evaluation systems and methods for estimating genomic evaluations. Van Doormaal is realistic about the possibilities. “The shift towards a higher market share held by genomic young sires compared to progeny proven sires will likely experience some pendulum swings, eventually reaching stabilized proportions as breeders and industry gain experience in the coming year.”

After 25 years working and educating in the Canadian proving system, Van Doormaal is proud of the achievements. “We are fortunate in Canada to have many geneticists and research scientists who realize that the ‘practice’ of genetic selection and mating is not the same as the ‘science’.  Both sides need to continue to respect and listen to the knowledge and experience of the other. The most progress is made by incorporating the ‘science’ of genetic improvement into a solid, practical breeding program.”


Recognizing the potential of responding to changes in the industry, in technology and from science, CDN is focused on the future on behalf of breeders.




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Semen Prices Are Never Too High

Many cattle breeders may be under-spending on semen. They have the mistaken idea that not spending is providing savings. What they are failing to consider is that short term savings could be causing expenses in the longer term.  While the old adage “It takes money to make money.” seems cynical, there are times when it simply means there is good cause for loosening the purse strings.

Heifer Costs TODAY

A check of dairy heifer rearing costs for North America reveals a range between $1900 and $2200. For today’s discussion, let’s assume that that is the cost to produce an average proven sire daughter. It takes five doses of semen to get a heifer calf (including repeat services and a ratio of 50% bulls and 50% heifers). Therefore the cost to get a higher quality heifer is $ 2000 + 5 times the extra semen dose costs. That is the simple math and the simple answer is “Yes!” It costs more and the numbers could range, on average, from $25 to $50 extra per female bred per year.

What’s it WORTH to YOU?

It would be wonderful if you could dial in a one-size fits all answer to the complicated business of dairy cattle breeding. Since we can’t, we have to constantly analyze our business and the marketplace. Each dairy herd ultimately has to make semen buying decisions based on the answers to questions such as these ones:

  • Where are the genetics of your herd at today?
  • Where do you want your herd genetics to be in the future?
  • What financial or logistics issues affect your sire choices (i.e. herd size; availability of semen)?
  • What market are you targeting as your revenue stream (sales of milk, embryos or breeding stock?)

A Closer Look at SEMEN

Looking at recent economic studies we found that, on average, North American producers spend about 1.5% of their annual expenses on AI costs. On average that is $76 per cow per year and that does not include the on-farm labour costs for herds that inseminate their own animals. If, upon reading this, you are happy with where you fit in relation to the average, let’s remember “Being average today means that you will be behind tomorrow!”

At The Bullvine we are interested in which sires get used.  We obtained the semen price lists for six major North American AI studs.  Each organization has different product lines and their pricing strategies and customer focus groups also differ.

Our next study was to determine average semen prices, depending on a bull’s merit. For each organization we determined a weighted average semen price and compared categories of bulls to that average. The following chart shows how much extra you would have to spend on semen cost to get the targeted results. (See below)

What’s the DIFFERENCE?

Targeted Results Extra Semen Cost per Dose
Average Proven Sire on Price Listings $ 0
Sexed Semen  + $19
Proven Sires  
Over 2200 TPI and PTAT >2   or  2500 LPI and CONF >+10 + $22
Over 2000 TPI and PTAT >1 or  2000 LPI and  CONF >+5 $0
Other bulls -$21
Net Merit > +$600  + $10
Unproven Sires
Genomics        TPI > 2200 or LPI > +2500 + $ 18
Genomics        TPI < 1800 or LPI < +2000 –  $ 11
Net Merit > + $750 + $ 12

Since neither Red nor Polled Sires on the price lists covered the genetic merit ranges listed above, a comparison for those categories was not possible.

An increase of $20 per dose is one thing when you’re looking at a 40 cow herd but it becomes quite significant in a herd of 500 cows.  Is it a good investment or a worrisome expense?

What Is The Sexed Payback?

At the outset you have to accept that any payback from using sexed semen or will be three to four years down the road.  With sexed semen, although there is lower conception and therefore it requires more doses per pregnancy, you are 90% sure of getting a female.  Some breeders limit the use of sexed semen to their higher genetic merit animals. The payback is that they get more heifers from cow families they want to build from. Consider that 100 cows require an average of 30 replacements (a range form 20 to 40 dependent of herd).  Using sexed semen on your top 50 cows will cost an additional $2850 ($19 x 3 or $57 in semen per cow). Your savings will have been in not rearing heifers from lower end cows. Those low end heifers can be sold at birth, vealed, bred for beef calves or used as embryo recipients. If you save $250 per cow per year in rearing fewer calves and getting some income from low end heifers calves, you save $25,000 for every 100 cows in one year. Why isn’t everyone using sexed semen?  Simple answer: Sexed semen is not available on unproven or all top bulls.

Proven Semen: Show Me The Money?

The difference in semen cost between an average and top proven bull is $110 (5 x $22) per heifer calf. By selecting to solve herd problems (Read more – Fact vs. Fantasy: A Realistic Approach to Sire Selection and From Fantasy to Reality – Top Sires to Address Herd Culling Problems), here is what should you get for your money:

  • Less mastitis
  • Less feet problems
  • Less labour for calving problems
  • Less labour for health problems
  • Higher performance
  • Longer Productive Life

If you can save $250 per cow per year on these issues, you will net $14,000 per hundred cows.  So you have invested $11,000 to get $25,000 back.  A net of fourteen thousand is nothing to sneeze at. And, unlike with sexed semen, you should be able to target the bulls that provide the corrections that your herd needs.


There is a $29 difference (-$11 vs. +$18) between young sire with low genomics compared to one with high genomics. Here it gets into exactly which young sires you use. If you use the top ones, you reduce the risk of calving out the “dogs” from lower end genetic bulls. If it costs $2000 to raise a “dog” and she sells for $1500 (or less) you have lost $500 at the outset. On the other hand, the scenario of using the top genomics young bull produces a heifer with significantly more sale value than the $2000 cost to raise her. Using high genomics, you again have the potential for savings on mastitis, feet, calving and health problems. With genomic testing of your heifers, you also have the choice of not raising an animal that is undesirable for your target market. Granted there is an added cost of $45 but you potentially save on rearing costs, have parentage verified and you have a head start, if the numbers are high, of attracting interest from the marketplace.

Can You Bank On It?

Depending on your scenario, the opportunity to benefit from investing more dollars in semen can vary. Let`s look at different scenarios.

If you are heavily into ET and IVF, avoid sexed semen as it appears to give poor results.  You are going to have to make your money back from using non-sexed semen from the top sires and merchandising some progeny from them to cover the added costs and more bull calves. (Read more – $10,000 a dose polled semen and $750 Dollar Semen! Are you crazy?)

If you are milking 500 cows, you can use both sexed semen and semen from top proven and genomics sires. Your challenge is that you will have to manage more breeding events but your rewards are that you do not need as large a heifer herd around for replacements and the ones you do have will be of a higher quality.

If you are working with robotics, you may feel that semen isn`t a big issue that you are more concerned with cows that work within your system. However, you have already got the savings on labour and you can invest some of those dollars back into raising the genetic level of your herd. This could be a new revenue stream to assist your bottom-line. (Read more: Robotic Milking: More than just automation it’s a new style of herd management)

Low Cost Semen Actually Costs More Money

If, over several years of breeding, you consistently choose your semen based on low cost, you are not only falling behind the genetic curve but you are also not solving the problems that your herd has.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The bottom line is that if you really want to move forward in today’s dairy breeding business, you’re going to have to invest money in semen! Lose the death grip on your wallet.

When the sires you use meet your on-farm needs, semen is never too expensive!! 

The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


Not sure what all this hype about genomics is all about?

Want to learn what it is and what it means to your breeding program?

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Preferential Treatment – The Bull Proof Killer

Accuracy of bull proofs has been one of the biggest challenges for dairy cattle improvement for many years.  It has been well known that top index cows have always received some level of “preferential treatment” and as a result their indexes have been inflated.  Usually this didn’t affect their sire’s proof since they were usually already proven sires and when weighted with many other daughters this had little to no effect on the sires proofs.  Enter genomics and large portions of young sire daughters receiving preferential treatment and this could have huge effects on the proofs of these genomic index bulls.  There is no question that the current systems around the world cannot account for this preferential treatment and as a result many genomic sires’ first proofs will be inflated.

In the past when young sires were sampled they were used across many different herd environments and regions.  I remember when regionally proven sire (California, etc) or breeder proven sires were released. Many breeders where hesitant to use them because they were not confident that these sires proofs would hold up.  Young sire programs in the past offered semen at low cost or pretty much free (when you factor in incentives) to many different breeders in order to ensure that the sire got enough daughters and that they would be able to achieve a reliable proof.

Does random sampling still exist?

Young sires are no longer randomly sampled.  In today’s genomic age, a lot of the systems and controls are gone.  Yes, many of the sires are still offered to all breeders, but these high-ranking young sires are sold at a much higher price, and marketed much heavier.  In addition often the first release semen is only used on contract matings on extremely high index, carefully selected mates.  This results in anything but random sampling and in reality is almost the perfect method for receiving an inflated proof.  It isn’t just because of the actual mates they are being used on but also because of the care the resulting calves will receive.

Why do daughters receive preferential treatment?

Think about it, if you have paid upward of $750 for a dose of semen (Read more – $750 Dollar Semen! Are you crazy?) to be used on your most valuable animals, wouldn’t you make sure you protected your investment by giving them the best care possible?  It is well known that top index cattle around the world have received over inflated indexes as a result of preferential treatment.  The problem is ‘how do we account for the biases?

Does the current system account for preferential treatment?

Genetic evaluation systems assume that all animals in the herd are treated equally.  Yet while there is nothing wrong with a breeder wanting to ensure their return on their investment in these top genetic animals, it certainly causes many problems when accounting for it in the genetic evaluations of these animals. (Read more – The Hot House Effect on Sire Sampling).

Most “animal-model” genetic evaluations in the world account for the genetic merit of a sire’s mates.  However, when the US first added females to their genomic reference set they actually got lower reliabilities as a result of inaccuracies in female’s proofs due to preferential treatment.  That is why some countries actually leave female genomic data out of their reference sets, as a large portion of the females are these high index animals that, in many cases, have received preferential treatment.  In the US they actually implemented a scaling-effect adjustment to bring those top females down.  The US has also implemented a new single-step model that includes genomic and traditional data together designed to account for this in bull proofs.  Other countries are also looking for potential solutions.  This includes potentially withholding early data from evaluations as well as other options.  The challenge is that no one has found a real solution to the actual problem, and steps so far just mask the issue with scale downs and other band-aids.

How to identify preferential treatment?

I recently attended a GEB session put on by CDN (Canadian Dairy Network) where they gave a presentation on accounting for herd bias.  Brian Van Doormaal presented a few different ways he theorized would identify bulls’ daughters who might have received this preferential treatment.  One indicator he presented of possible preferential treatment was if a high percentage of a bull’s early offering were the result of ET.  Another indicator he looked at was the percentage of daughters that have been genotyped.  However, neither delivered conclusive results.  Another suggestion that was presented was increasing the number of daughters a sire needs  in order to receive an official proof.  The challenge with that is that A.I. companies and most high profile breeders are wanting sires to get a proof as quickly as possible and increasing the requirements will cause delay.  In addition, analysis of semen price so far does not show it to be a great predictor either.  Currently there are simply no answers.

In Brian’s presentation he equated this problem to the challenges we have seen with second-country proofs.  In Canada bulls like Shottle, Planet and more recently Man-O-Man (Read more – Man-O-Man will he turn platinum? and Is Man-O-Man really going to be a sire of sons?) that come through with initial Canadian proofs over 3500 LPI, which everyone knows to be unrealistic, in time saw their proofs drop 300+ points with the addition of more daughters.  Van Doormaal also comments that you could expect bulls like Snowman, and genomic sires to do the same.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Currently there are no definitive answers only growing concerns.  This preferential treatment problem is going to get greater attention, as more high profile genomic sires,  priced high and highly marketed will start to receive proofs in 2013. The industry must be proactive about this issue. If not we are going to see breeder confidence in proofs decrease, instead of increase, because of genomics. That would be a killer!

The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


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Want to learn what it is and what it means to your breeding program?

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Bullvine Performance Index (BPI) – Top Sires December 2012

While there is no doubt that national composite index’s (TPITM, LPI, PLI etc.) are great marketing tools, recently there has been  discussion about their merits as actual genetic advancement tools.  With each index providing “home field” advantage to domestic animals and many out of date with where the industry is headed, we here at the Bullvine have developed the Bullvine Performance Index (BPI).

In the BPI we use direct genomic values instead of parent averages and we also incorporate reliabilities, in order to greater account for animals whose indexes stand the best chance of being stable over time.  As far as what traits we looked at, we have used an equally balanced weighting between production, longevity and health and fertility, as we see that emphasis represents where the market is heading.  We also include a small component (MPS) that factors in dam, 2nd dam and 3rd dam actual performance irrelevant of country of origin, as per our discussion with many breeders who feel that this should have some weight.  Instead of trying to be reactionary to the marketplace like most composite indexes, we are trying to be leading and ahead of the market.  We also are publishing BPI as a percentage so that it is clear just how far apart each animal is from each other.  Since this is a ranking index we felt it was more important to show the range between animals than to give a number that technically means nothing.

Top 50 BPI Sires

Sire NameBPIProductionLongevityHealth and FertilityMPS
MR LOOKOUT P ENFORCER-ET100%97%94%78%96%
LONG-LANGS OMAN OMAN-ET94%99%60%19%96%
COYNE-FARMS DORCY-ET93%58%93%50%95%
TEXEL BEAUTY COSMO-ET86%77%81%54%98%
CO-OP BOSSIDE MASSEY-ET85%79%48%59%92%
UFM-DUBS OLEGANT-ET85%48%66%70%95%
RMW ANCHOR-ET85%82%84%67%96%
LIRR DREW DEMPSEY84%34%85%49%97%
RMW DORCY AMBROSE-ET83%59%100%61%96%
CERVI ALLEMAR ET83%39%74%79%94%
WABASH-WAY EXPLODE-ET83%58%87%28%96%
MR LOOKOUT P EMBARGO-ET83%84%91%43%96%
CRACKHOLM FEVER81%33%85%42%96%
CO-OP O-STYLE OMAN JUST-ET80%66%40%66%96%
CERVI PHONIC80%38%48%100%94%
CO-OP BOOKEM YUXI78%75%95%53%93%
DE-SU JEROD 1223-ET77%82%83%60%93%
GEN-I-BEQ BRAWLER76%56%68%18%97%
SILDAHL JETT AIR-ET75%41%79%42%96%
MORNINGVIEW LEVI75%86%35%35%96%
DE-SU GILLESPY-ET74%72%77%0%96%
DE-SU DISTINCTION 11130-ET74%92%83%40%96%
S-S-I PEOTI MOWGLI-ET73%86%61%66%95%
SULLY MCCORD 269-ET72%93%69%44%94%
S-S-I BOOKEM MORGAN-ET71%86%65%61%95%
S-S-I PEOTI MANSUR-ET70%88%62%53%95%

Key Findings

  • One of the neat things we found in developing this index is that it is able to give a realistic comparison between sires from all countries.
  • Even more importantly it also gives a good comparison of genomic test sires versus proven sires.  Four of the top ten sires are proven sires, as compared to most national indexes that, when combining the genomic sires and the proven sires would find that at least nine if not all ten would be genomic test sires.
  • Outside of MR LOOKOUT P ENFORCER most of the sires are very close and really do warrant that you make sure you use the corrective mating for your specific animal as opposed to just using the top 5 or 10 bulls.
  • Another finding was the ability for second crop sires to also compare favorably with genomic test sires.  Besides Man-O-Man (LONG-LANGS OMAN OMAN-ET) other second crop sires who come up high are UFM-DUBS ALTAESQUIRE-ET (BPI of 68%) and BRAEDALE GOLDWYN (BPI of 66%).  This demonstrates that these high reliability sires very much still have value in many mating programs.


  • There is no question that MR LOOKOUT P ENFORCER offers an extremely balanced package.  His strong production numbers combined with his extreme type and longevity with good health and fertility traits will have him be a sire of sons worldwide.  He may be hard to get your hands on as he is just one year old and he may only be released for contract matings.  This Marbri Facebook son has the highest DGVs in the breed.  Look for him to sire extreme component yields from strong dairy cattle with great feet and legs.  One area to be cautious on using him is his body depth.  Both his sire stack and his DGVs would say this area needs protecting.
  • There is no question that this last proof round Man-O-Man (LONG-LANGS OMAN OMAN) stole the show.  His outstanding second crop daughter numbers have many top index breeders going back and using him again.  His extreme production numbers have him and his daughters in high demand.  With many sons like UNO also coming on the scene and offering a more balanced offering, it’s important to make sure you use Man-O-Man or maybe GENERVATIONS LIQUID GOLD when looking for the splash of production for a high type, high health and fertility mating. However hold off, if you are looking to improve those areas.  Use a more balanced sire like MR LOOKOUT P ENFORCER-ET or maybe SOUTHERN-HILLS BAYARD-ET.
  • Coming up strong, as he keeps adding daughter numbers, is COYNE-FARMS DORCY.  Look for Dorcy to sire balanced dairy cattle that have great udders and very good feet & legs, though he will need to be protected for dairy strength, fat percent and, specifically, for his body depth and chest width.
  • Also catching our eye are a couple of Freddie sons – SOUTHERN-HILLS BAYARD and HAMMER-CREEK FRED KRUNCH.  Both these sires offer a greater type and longevity option over their sire BADGER-BLUFF FANNY FREDDIE who suffers on our BPI index as his second and third dam’s classification and performance scores are low.
  • The top non- North American sire on our list is GOLDDAY.  Goldday is a Goldwyn son from A-L-H DESTINY VG-87-3YR-USA DOM GMD.  Destiny is of course the popular bull mother from Markwell Durham Daisy (Read more – Markwell Durham Daisy – 2012 Golden Dam Finalist), proven in Germany.  Goldday is also the full brother to former #1 German sire Danillo.  Look for Goldday to sire unbelievable udders and legs as well as long herd life.  One area where you will want to protect Goldday is rump angle.  Be cautious in using him on cattle that need production improvement.

The Bottom Line

It is difficult to keep track of all the top animals and compare them accurately. Trying to compare genomic sires with proven sires with each country having their own index with apparent bias makes it doubly hard.  Having said that, comparisons are instructive for informed decision-making.  That is why we developed the BPI formula.  Contrary to popular belief that you need to be using 100% genomic sires to accelerate your genetic advancement, our analysis shows absolutely that there are  proven sires that should be used in order to minimize your risk and still achieve the greatest results.

Rumors, Lies, and other stuff Salesmen will tell you.

Over the years, I have often been amazed at the rumors that go around the dairy industry.  Sometimes these are just a result of a bad game of “gossip” where one person passes a story on to another and each time parts are added or changed. Other times there seems to be actual intent to spread fraudulent rumors for financial gain.  Recently some of these have come to my attention and provided a few  chuckles over the holiday season.  For example did you hear this juicy tidbit “The Bullvine is  secretly funded by Select Sires”?

The part that made me take notice, as I traced back to the source, was that these particular rumors are coming from semen salesmen!  Of course,  they vow that they are just repeating what they have been told by people higher up in their company. Is this how they are trying to contradict what they perceive as bad publicity that is out there?  These somewhat unsuspecting sales representatives have  passed on what they are told, trying to get breeders to believe that what they are saying is based on fact.

Well the fact is, as we have stated many times, the Bullvine is currently funded 100% from our own pocket books.  We have not accepted any payments from any A.I. or other companies, in either advertisement or any other form.  The comments we make and subjects that we write about are inspired by actual conversations we have had with dairy breeders or subjects that have caught our interest.  NOTHING ELSE.

While this rumor about the Bullvine gives me a good chuckle, it does not really catch me by surprise.  For years the grapevine has been a marketing tool that many companies have used.  They pass information, often incorrect or not 100% accurate, to their frontline staff in order to sway public perception (Read more – Fight the Power).  The problem is in the 21st Century, these are old school public relation tactics that, instead of demonstrating how progressive a company is, highlight the fact that they are still stuck in the  past and not ready or willing to connect to today’s breeders.

Instead of using these out of date tactics, these companies should be engaging breeders in the public forum that is social media (Read more – How Social Media Is Changing the Holstein World).  I found it very funny that while these companies think they are taking a beating on social media platforms like Facebook, they choose to say nothing there.  Instead they try to use their out of date methods to combat the publicity.  Maybe they are afraid of what they cannot control?  (Read more – Got the Horns to Mess with the Bullvine?)

They have even gone as far as calling us here at the Bullvine and asking for “private” conversations, where we can clear things up.  The one thing we have said since we started is that we believe what the industry needs is transparency and accountability.  That is why we have been 100% transparent in our actions, and why we will NOT have  “private” back room conversations brokering deals or whatever with ANYONE.  We believe in our values and will  hold true to them.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

We all know many  salesmen whom we like and respect from many different  companies. Obviously one  important part of their job  is that of Public Relations.  For many companies these are the only frontline staff that will interact on-farm with breeders.  How they represent their organization can have a huge impact on the success of that organization within  that breeder’s herd.  While I have written articles in the past about the need for semen salesman (Read more – Are There Too Many Semen Salesmen Coming in The Lane?), I sincerely believe that  they provide a great service to the breeders they work with.  The ones that are most respected  build trust, offer unbiased advice, and leave the job of disseminating false rumors to those of lesser credibility.  So, the next time you hear a rumor that  seems to be too much PR bull and not enough fact, think twice and ask your source, “Where is this coming from?”

You’re Fired: The Future of the Sire Analyst

Do artificial insemination companies still need to pay high priced sire analysts to run the roads being nothing more than glorified tail hair pullers?  There once was a time when the skill of the sire analysts was the biggest differentiator an A.I. company had.  However, things have changed and the question now becomes,”Is the role even needed anymore?”

I am not trying to say that the current crop of sire analysts are not as good as some of their predecessors.  What I am saying is that, with the introduction of genomics, the role of the sire analyst has all but been replaced.  Or has it?

Who shot the sire analyst?

Technology has replaced the sire analysts and genomics is the smoking gun.  Gone are the days where a sire analyst could chose to contract a cow because he had confidence in her or the breeding program.  Also gone are the days when it was the sire analyst’s job to identify which cows are the real deal and which ones are just smoke and mirrors (read The Hot House Effect on Sire Sampling and Has Genomics Knocked out Hot House Herds).

Now more than ever it’s a numbers game.  Now it isn’t who can sample the most bulls, but rather with genomics, it is simply a matter of whether the numbers add up.  There once was a time if a cow was not at least an 87+ point cow she would never even get a second look from an A.I. company.  Now we are seeing bulls being sampled from Good Plus 2yr olds or even maiden heifers (Read – Is Good Plus Good Enough?)

What is a sire analyst to do?

As A.I. companies are being forced to get lean in order to keep operation cost down, you notice fewer sire analysts running the roads.  Many new A.I. companies don’t even have people in these roles.  So what are these soon to be unemployed, self-confident analysts to do?  Well rest assured the smart ones will learn to adapt.  Moreover, the others will quickly learn Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.  It’s no longer about how great a cattle judge they are.  Today it will come down to three things:

  • How well they negotiate contracts
    the first thing I would do is train every single one of these individuals on how to become the best negotiators they can be.  The future of their A.I. companies depends on how well these front line individuals can procure top cattle and negotiate the best value deal they can.  The power has shifted and it’s no longer breeders being excited that an A.I. company is even speaking to them, it has now become a bidding war (Read Top 10 Questions to Ask Before You Sign That A.I. Contract).  I would even recommend that sires analysts get paid 100% based on the deals they negotiate.  Much like in sales those that are great will rise to the top and make a lot of money, and those that can’t will find themselves going pretty hungry.
  • How well they build relationships
    The best way to become an expert negotiator is to be able to build great relationships.  When any parties sit down to work out a deal, it comes down to who you know and trust.  All things being equal, the breeders who own the cattle with the top genomics are going to make a deal with individuals that they know and trust.  If they can’t trust you, no amount of “extras” are going to make up for the lack of it.
  • No longer an expert cattle evaluator they are now breeding advisers
    For years sire analysts have been put on pedestals as these great evaluators of cattle, and many where.  In many cases top breeders are just as smart or even smarter at doing this. Today that particular skill is not as relevant as it once was.  The evaluation part is being done by the “number crunchers” back at the office (aka the geneticists).  However, a great way for A.I. companies to get a head start on their competition is to help breeders breed the next generation of great ones.  Share the wealth of knowledge that the “number crunchers” provide with the partner herds that you are looking to sample from, so that you can become that trusted adviser that will give the edge when it becomes contract negotiation time.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Would I fire all the sire analysts?  Yes, if they can’t adapt and become relationship builders and trusted advisers who know how to negotiate a win-win deal for both sides.  The predictability and reliability that genomics has brought to the industry has taken the role of sire selection from an art form to a very calculated science.  Those sire analysts that recognize this and adapt will thrive.  Those that don’t should start polishing their resumes.

Young Sire Sampling: Are we headed in the correct direction?

The Bullvine decided to take a closer look at the top (2012 August) 100 GLPI Canadian Holstein young bulls. To make it more informative the analysis is by groups of 25. It is important to recognize that the average reliability values for these genomically tested young bulls are between 64% and 69% almost as high as some new release bulls in the past. Behind us are the days when young bulls indexes were 33% to 37% reliable and posed a much greater risk due to low reliability.

Production – all breeders are also milk producers

Young Bulls Average Rating

GLPI GroupMilk (kgs)Fat (kgs)% FatProtein (kgs)% Protein
1 to 25+2303+96+0.10+86+0.11
26 to 50+2016+92+0.17+78+0.12
51 to 75+2012+84+0.09+74+0.09
76 to 100+1885+85+0.13+69+0.10

The top 100 GLPI young bulls are truly an elite group with production index values compared to recently proven sires of 98%RK for milk, 99%RK for fat and 99% RK for protein yields. An interesting note is how the top twenty-five stand out ten percent above the others, while each group afterwards drops by about 5-6%. A much greater variation than all other traits.

Type – important to predicting durability

Young Bulls Average Rating

GLPI GroupCONF (overall)MammaryFeet & LegsDairy StrengthRump
1 to 25+11.5+11.1+8.4+6.5+5.7
26 to 50+9.9+9.2+6.9+5.1+5.8
51 to 75+11.6+10.7+8.8+6.8+6.0
75 to 100+10.6+10.1+8.1+6.0+6.8

On average the type indexes of these top 100 GLPI young bulls are very high. The equivalent to a 98%RK for CONF for the recently proven sires. Note that the 26 to 50 group have the lowest type trait indexes to go along with high fat and protein especially for % Fat and % protein. In many cases, the bulls in the 26 to 50 group are the full or half brothers to the 1 to 25 group, who may have gotten more components but are not as high for CONF and Mammary.

Functional Traits – important but they have lower heritability’s

Young Bulls Average Rating

GLPI GroupHerd LifeDaughter FertilitySCSAverage H&F contribution to DGV LPI
1 to 25110992.6757
26 to 501101002.7185
51 to 751101002.7388
76 to 1001111012.70124

The average Herd Life and SCS ratings for these bulls are very good, positively contributing to H&F augmenting the GLPI values. However it must be noted that the Daughter Fertility ratings are only average detracting from the overall GLPI values for these bulls. Daughter Fertility is a trait that is primarily affected by non-genetic factors, but has a significant impact on the bottom line of any operation. The breed needs to be concerned because daughter fertility is not likely to see any significant gain genetically by using these bulls. As we all know more pregnancies equals more profits. Definitely more attention and more research needs to be given to the genetic evaluations and genetic merit of the breed for Daughter Fertility.

GLPI – the combination of production, durability and health/fertility

Young Bulls Average Rating

1 to 25+3218+3459+2784+3089+2599
26 to 50+2978+3127+2730+3191+2047
51 to 75+2900+3097+2592+2960+2052
76 to 100+2831+2960+2674+3056+2196

These top 100 GLPI young bulls are truly outstanding! They are exceeding by 982 LPI points the value required for a recently proven sire to get a 99%RK for GLPI. This was not even dreamed possible before there were genomic analysis using SNIP technology. Note that the Parent Average LPI’s are lower than GLPI’s and DGV LPI’s and are very close to being the same for all four groupings. It is in fact the young bulls DGV’s that put them in the top 100. They have full and half siblings that have lower DGV’s.  This supports our previous analysis of 7 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Use Genomic Sires With DGV’s Lower Than Their Parent Average.  The AI sire analysts have made very good use to the DGV’s after initially identifying bulls from their pedigrees, and then sampling those who’s DGV’s exceed their Parent Average LPI’s by a goodly amount. Think about it, the average of the top 100 young bulls at +2982  GLPI, and there is only one Canadian proven sire above that level. It should be noted that the dams/ DGV LPI’s for the first grouping far exceed the other three groupings.  Even if you factor in for a slight decrease in values, the top 25 would still all rank higher than the highest current proven sire.

Pedigrees – more similar than desired

Inbreeding is a concern that must be addressed as the top 100 GLPI young bulls are from a limited number of parents (Read more – Inbreeding: Does Genomics Affect The Balancing Act?).

Sires of Young Bulls

The five sires with the most sons are:

  • Oman Oman 28%
  • Snowman 20%
  • Planet 10%
  • Observer 10%
  • Freddie 7%
  • Other 25%

With Oman Oman, Snowman and Freddie all Oman sons inbreeding must be watched. 82% of the young bulls are sired by daughter proven bulls and 22% are sired by genomic young sires.

Dams of Young Bulls

The sires of the young bulls’ dams most prevalent on the list are:

  • Planet 25%
  • Shottle 23%
  • Goldwyn 18%
  • Bolton 13%
  • Baxter 7%
  • Other 14%

The dams with the most young bulls are:

  • Gen-I-Beq Shottle Bombi – 5
  • Comestar Goldwyn Lilac – 4
  • Sandy-Valley Planet Sapphire – 3
  • Marbri Baxter Brandy – 3
  • Sully Planet Manitoba – 3
  • Ten dams with two young bulls each
  • Sixty-two dams with one young bull each

Definitely there is more pedigree variability amongst the dams than the sires of these young bulls. All dams are milking cows. Five dams are below +2000 GLPI, 33 dams are below +2000 DGV LPI and 6 dams do not have DGV LPIs as they reside outside North America.


The bull owners for the top 100 GLPI young bulls are:

  • Semex – 64%
  • Alta Genetics – 10%
  • Genervations – 10%
  • Select Sires – 6%
  • CRI – 5%
  • Other – 5%

NAAB – top 100 USA GTPI young bulls

The Bullvine is not able to do as  extensive an analysis on the NAAB list as the DGV TPIs are not available for analysis. Below are the average ratings for the top 100 young bulls. Note this group is similar to the Canadian one hundred young bulls – again a significant concern is that fertility is not high.

  • Milk +1503 lbs.
  • Fat +71 lbs. +0.06%
  • Protein +55 lbs. +0.04%
  • PTAT +2.93
  • UDC +2.57
  • FLC +2.06
  • Productive Life +6.3
  • DPR 0.7
  • SCS 2.68
  • Net Merit +774
  • TPI +2395

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The use of genomic testing has provided  a very significant opportunity to increase the rate of genetic improvement in herds that use North American sampled Holstein bulls (read more – The Genomic Advancement Race – The Battle For Genetic Supremacy). The top 100 GLPI young Canadian bulls are the equivalent to over 99%RK for recently proven sires. Congratulations to the breeders and breeding companies for using the genomic results to produce the young bulls. Thank you to the breeders who use the top young bulls. A bright future is ahead.

The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


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The Hot House Effect on Sire Sampling

Since the Bullvine started in February (and even before), I have had many dedicated breeders ask me ‘Why do the Artificial Insemination companies keep going back to the same herds for young bulls when few if any bulls from those herds ever make it to active proven status?”’ That prompted me to ask – is that true?

Answering the tough questions

For many breeders it can be hard to determine which herds they should use young sires from and which ones they shouldn’t. For many AI companies, and sire analysts they have had their thoughts about which herds are hot and which ones are not, but never had the numbers to prove it. This has us asking has genomics truly eliminated the hothouse effect in sire sampling (read more – Has Genomics Knocked Out Hot House Herds). In true Bullvine style we decided to tackle this tough question to help breeders have confidence in which genomic tested young sires to use. We first took a look at all the herds that had more than one sire receive their first official proof in the August 2012 proof run.

Here is what we found:


In comparing the columns here is what we found:

HerdCountDGV vs. OfficialPA vs. OfficialGPA Vs. Official

(For a complete listing of sires and calculations click here)

In wanting to see if the Aug ’12 results were just a point in time for these herds or if it was truly reflective, we decided to look at all the bulls proven since the introduction of genomics (Aug 2009) from these same eight herds. Here is what we found:


Again comparing the columns here is what we found:

HerdCountDGV vs. OfficialPA vs. OfficialGPA Vs. Official

(For a complete listing of sires and calculations click here)

Let the numbers do the talking

In studying proven bulls we found that most of them fall within the range for difference between the individual bull’s parent averages and official proof of 150-200 LPI points. And for most of the herds hear falling within that same range.

To go deeper and identify which sires are the best sires to sample, and for breeders to use and which sires should not be sampled or used we took a closer look at how DGV’s, Parent Averages and GPA LPI’s compared to their Estimated Daughter Performance*. Here is what we found:

HerdCountEDP*EDP vs. OfficialDGV vs. EDPPA vs. EDPGPA vs. EDP

*Please note to calculate Estimated Daughter Performance we took each sire’s official proof and back solved considering his DGV and PA using the published CDN formulas and weightings.

These results are consistent with our previous findings that DGV’s are by far the most accurate indicator of which sires you should use/sample. As well, why you should not use sires that have DGV’s below their parent averages (read more – 7 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Use Genomic Sires With DGV’s Lower Than Their Parent Averages)

The Bullvine Bottom Line

For both breeders and A.I. companies it can be very challenging trying to figure out which genomic tested sires to use and which breeding programs they should consider investing in. As we have found out the numbers tell the whole truth. Genomic results do give us very reliable information. While it may be true that for some of herds it can be said that they breed better female than male bloodlines. Nevertheless, that does not fully explain why A.I. companies have continued to sample bulls from some herds. It also does not justify why sire sampling herds should be asked to take on the risk in their herd improvement programs. As one of my breeder friends often tells me – use the best, cull or ignore the rest.

The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


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7 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Use Sires with DGV’s lower than Their Parent Averages

In our recent article, Is the Genomic System Really Working? we pointed out that the early numbers indicate that the genomic system is a 27.1% improvement over the old system.  In taking a closer look, we also noticed an interesting trend that sires with LPI DGV’s (Direct Genomic Values) lower than their parent average actually did a nose dive, when they added daughter information.

In God we trust.  All others must bring data

Now some of you would say that the system is already putting too much weight on DGV’s and that it is too early.  I get that.  However, here are some actual facts from the most recent proof round (August 2012) for you to consider. (Again please note we use the CDN system as a result of being able to have access to the genomic information on it.):

  1. For the sires who dropped more than 200 GLPI points from their genomic parent average index to their official proof, 96% (25/26) of them had DGV LPI’s lower than their parent averages.  Note that 118 bulls received official proofs in the CDN system in August 2012.
  2. For sires with DGV’s higher than PA’s, 33% (11/33) actually increased their LPI ratings with the addition of daughter data.
  3. When we take a look at the 5 sires who took the biggest jump with the addition of daughter information when compared to their parent average (COMESTAR LAUTREC, L-RIDGEVIEW NOAK-ET, GEN-I-BEQ BRAWLER, OCONNORS JAY, FAVREAUTIERE GRIZZLY) we notice that they on average had DGV LPI’s that were on average 536 LPI points higher than their parent averages.
  4.  Conversely when we look at the 5 sires who dropped the most (BIG TIME WILTON, STANTONS BRAKE, EXPRESS DOLSUNN, STANTONS UNLIMITED, WEST PORT BRUTUS) we notice that on average they have DGV LPI values over 1000 points lower than that of their parent averages.
  5. When you take the top 5 sires with the highest DGV LPI values (GEN-I-BEQ BRAWLER, OCONNORS JAY, MORSAN BORIS, EXPRESS BOLLY, COMESTAR LAUTREC) they on average had an increase of 151 LPI points with the addition of daughter information.
  6. Of the 33 sires that increased with the addition of daughter information 30 of them had DGV’s higher than their parent averages.  That compares to only 3 of the 83 sires who dropped having DGV LPI’s higher that their parent averages.
  7. So then it comes to the question, “what if a sire has high genomic values but they are just below his parent averages?”  To answer that, we looked at the sires that had GPA LPI’s of over 2000 and DGV’s lower than their parent averages (ARDROSS STERLING, STANTONS UNLIMITED, and STANTONS BRAKE).They dropped by an average of 787 points with the addition of daughter information.  Conversely those sires that where over 2000 GPA LPI points and had DGV’s higher than their PA’s (GEN-I-BEQ BRAWLER and MORSAN BORIS) actually increased by an average of 134 over their GPA LPI values.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

While the numbers are still early, the facts clearly indicate the merits of only using sires who have DGV’s higher than their parent average.  No matter how high they are.  Breeders need to have access to the DGV LPI values for the young sires they help sample for breeding companies.

The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


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Want to learn what it is and what it means to your breeding program?

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Is the Genomic System Really Working?

With Genomic sampled sires starting to get proofs, many breeders are finding themselves asking, “Is genomics really working?” Since it takes about 36 months for a sire to be sampled this is the first round we can start to evaluate the genomic system since its release in August 2009. To answer that question we decided to take a close look at how the system is working and if there are any early trends indicating if it is or not.

New Release Sire Performance over the past 2 Years

Probably this first place to look is how the young sire sampling programs are working proof round over proof round. (Due to the access of information, we are using the CDN system for this analysis).


# of New Release

Average LPI*

# >2000 LPI





























*not base adjusted

Let`s start with the good news. The breed has been advancing when factoring in the base change. Now the not so good news, when compared to previous rounds at delivering top sires the numbers are not so pretty. As you can see by the table above, the last two proof rounds have not been so favorable for genetic advancement). We see the lowest average LPI from the sire sampling programs, with also the lowest number of elite sires being proven. This caused us great concern about the merits of the genomic system at delivering top sires and so we decided to look even deeper.

What’s going wrong? Or Right?

To get a better understanding of just why this last round was the 2nd lowest performing round in the past years (only behind Apr 2012) we decided to look at the group of young sires receiving proofs this round and discover whether it`s the system or how we`re using it.

In order to determine this we figured it would be best to compare the old system, top 10 parent average LPI (PA LPI) sires to the Top 10 Genomic sires (GPA LPI) and see how they stacked up. For the record her are the two groups.


The results are as follows:





Top 10 GPA LPI




As you can see from the table above the GPA LPI sires outperformed the PA LPI sires by 27.1% indicating that the GPA system is a better indicator of estimated performance than the old PA system. In actuality, the top 10 GPA LPI sires actually increased their numbers by 3%, contrary to the expected drop. Even all 119 sires only averaged a drop of 89 points (9%) contrary to some other stats showing sires drop upwards of 20% from GPA LPI to the official LPI proof.

It’s also important to note that with an average official LPI proof of 2033 (445 points for base change) would have this group rank #5 behind the August 2009 proof round behind (Shottle, Justice, Goldwyn and Ashlar) with BRAWLER’s base adjusted proof (3083=2638+445) falling behind Shottle’s August 2009 proof of 3873.

So if it’s Not the System, What Is the Problem?

As the analysis of the PA LPI system vs. the GPA LPI system above indicates the issue is not the system. So then the question becomes, is it how we are using the system? Or are we just going through a lull? That question is tricky to answer. If we look at a longer period trend using currently available data from CDN we see that the two proof rounds before this period where even lower performing than the last two proof rounds.

Round # of New Release Average LPI # >2000 LPI









It may also be that as an industry we are still very much learning how to use the Genomics system and sire selection practices have to adjust for these changes. When we look at the PA LPI list vs. the GPA LPI list we see two herds whose sires on average drop between 400 and 600 LPI points. Can we say hot house effect? (to read more Has Genomics Knocked Out Hot House Herds?)

The Bullvine Bottom Line

It is still early to weigh the success or failure of Genomics. The early indicators show that it is a 27.1% improvement over the old PA system. There is still much room for refinement and education on both the breeder side and the sire sampling side!

The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


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Eight Proven Holstein Sires to Watch For or to Watch Out For

Far too often many proven sires get missed. This can be for two reasons. Either their initial proof is lower than expected or everyone is so caught up in using the latest genomic release sires, that they miss some great ones.  And then there are those new release sires that certainly seem to be amazing and then   plummet to earth like a meteor.  In order to help breeders understand which sires are which, we took a closer look at some of today’s top proven sires.  Here is what we found.

(Please note: Due to the need to get DGV values all numbers are based on the Canadian System)

Sires to Watch for

    With a dam that has MACE proof of over +4000 MLPI, it can be pretty scary for many breeders to use a MACE sire that is so high.  Concerns that his proof is all parent average and genomics are not unusual.  However, when it comes to MASACLESE his daughters are actually backing up what his family and genomics would indicate.  His young sire proof estimates (65% Genomics and 35% Parent Average) would be +3019 MLPI and his MACE proof has him at+ 2972, telling you that, while his daughters are slightly lower, they are not far off.
    While no means a new release sire ALTAESQUIRE’s 2nd crop daughters seem to be outperforming his first crop proof.  Watch for ALTAESQUIRE to sire more production, components as well as better mammary systems than his current proof would indicate. Currently ALTAESQUIRE’s proof is held back significantly by his low parent average MLPI of +1763, that is 1171 points lower than his current official MLPI proof of +2934.  With the addition of more daughters watch for his official CDN proof to have him among the top 2-3 LPI spots.
    With so many sires from De-Su at the top of the genomics list, and breeders expecting that the top genomic sires will drop with the addition of daughter information, ALTAGOALMAN has actually outperformed his genomics and parent average.  With a PA MLPI of +1960 and DGV MLPI of +2710, ALTAGOALMAN’s official proof MLPI is +2887, indicating that his daughters are significantly outperforming expectations for both type and production traits.
    Unlike some sires that are significantly helped by their Parent Average’s SANTANA is actually significantly held back by his parent averages.  With an official proof MLPI proof of +2854 that outperforms his strong DGV MLPI of +2778 and his not so strong PA MLPI of +1678, SANATANA’s daughters are performing significantly better than expected, especially for production and components.
    Here is one Goldwyn sire that I think many breeders might have missed. His lower DGV’s (DGV MLPI of +2024) and parent average of +1420 MLPI, do not spell breed topper.  With an official MLPI proof of +2392, ARTES’s daughters are significantly outperforming expectations.  While already among the breed leaders for type, watch for ARTES to be a significant type improver across all the major type traits, as well as giving significantly more production than expected.

Sires to Watch Out For

    As we highlighted in our recent article The Effect Genomics Has On The August New Release Sires, DORCY’s current daughters are not performing as high as his Genomics (DGV MLPI of+ 2726) would indicate.  Even when you factor in his lower parent average (PA MLPI of +2016) his expected young sire proof would have been +2477 MLPI higher than his current official proof of +2305 MLPI, indicating that his daughters are currently performing below his parent average.
    Living up to expectations can be very challenging,   especially for sires that come from extreme families.  That is the challenge EXPLODE finds himself in.  With high genomics (DGV MLPI of +2333) and parent average (PA MLPI of +2127), EXPLODE falls short of what his young sire evaluation would be (YS MLPI +2261), with an official MLPI proof of 2183.  Specific areas to watch out for are his feet and legs and rumps, based on current daughter performance.
    When his first proof came out END-STORY was not genomically tested.  Being a late Oman son and internationally proven, many breeders were hesitant to use END-STORY, fearing that his numbers would not hold up.  His daughters are significantly outperforming his DGV’s (DGV MLPI of +2419) and PA MLPI of +1504, with an official proof of +2502 MLPI.  The hesitation factor is that with 57 daughters in 39 herds, there is plenty of potential for END-STORY’s proof to go in either direction.  If the daughters live up to the numbers, he may have many breeders thinking twice and those that took the risk looking pretty smart.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

While we are not saying don’t use bulls like DORCY or EXPLODE, what we are saying is to use them with some level of caution, as current daughter performance has them below their DVG’s and parent averages.  This does not absolutely mean they will drop with the addition of more daughters, but, if the additional daughters maintain current daughter performance, then a drop is in their future.

GENOMICS: Big Dollar Opportunities are Adding Up

Is the glass half-full or half empty?  The comment is often heard that genomics has yet to prove itself.   When index breeding for production traits came on the scene forty years ago, it too was seen as the new kid on the block.  In response,  The Bullvine has decided to compile a list of points could be considered significant dollar opportunities  Please note that these dollar values are derived from the Canadian situation but the general principles can be applied elsewhere.

Sample Only the Best Young Sires

Eliminating the need to sample the bottom 60% of 550 young sires (all breeds) will save the Canadian industry $16.5 M per year.  Add to that, eliminating the loss that producers bear when they must cull daughters of low genetic merit young sires and it is over $20M in savings by genomically testing all young sires and only sampling the top sires.

Turning Generations

Generation interval is extremely important in determining the rate of genetic advancement in a population of food producing livestock.  Shortening the generation interval, by using genomics to more accurately identify the top heifers and young bulls, will decrease the generation interval by one year, when 30% of the population is bred to young genomically tested young sires. That will increase the rate of genetic advancement by 25% per year.  However the rate of usage of genomically tested young sires is fast approaching 50% which equates to a reduction in generation interval of two years. This results in a 60% gain in genetic advancement.  Research has shown that that 60% gain is worth $30M annually for the traits that are currently included in the LPI formula.

Increased Accuracy

When considering the accuracy, with which we know the breeding values of the animal in a population, there are many points to consider:

  • Conducting a low density panel test on all heifer calves in a population of cows has a cost. It also has the benefit of having a totally accurate herdbook, no wrong assignments of parents and these help in genetic evaluations.
  • Knowing the genomic values for all females means that those genetic merit females can be used as recipients or can be fattened and sold for meat.

Identifying the elite females in a population greatly enhances the rewards that can be reaped from using only the best as dams of the next generation. Putting a dollar value on increased accuracy on the female side of a population is not easy to do but by The Bullvine’s calculation it would yield $20M per year in net terms for Canada’s dairy farmers.

Beyond Canada there are great populations of dairy cattle that contribute to the advancement of the genetic merit of dairy cattle everywhere.  Knowing the genomic values of these animals will greatly help North America advance their populations, especially for breeds with numerically smaller numbers.

Traits under Selection

As The Bullvine has reported (read Is Your Breeding Strategy a Field of Dreams) selecting for traits beyond milk, fat, protein, SCC and conformation will become possible with the use of genomics.  Already The Bullvine has learned from our followers that they look forward to knowing in genetic terms details for feed efficiency, production limiting disease resistance, calf health and liveability, reproduction traits and more.  Putting an industry dollar value on knowing the growth of those additional traits is not possible at this time.  But it will be quite a significant number.


This article will not spend time addressing inbreeding as it has been addressed previously in The Bullvine (read Inbreeding: Does Genomics Affect The Balancing Act).  Suffice to say at this time inbreeding can be handled when selection uses genomic values.  Not previously mentioned by the Bullvine on inbreeding is the fact that in dairy cattle populations beyond Holsteins there is considerable benefit to using genomics to select semen and embryos from outside a country’s borders.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

So far in this article, The Bullvine has been able to identify over $70M to $100M in annual benefit to Canadian dairy breeders alone from the use of genomics.  That means $10,000 annually for each and every breeder.  So is the glass half full or half empty when it comes to using genomics? How do you see it?
The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


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Murray Hunt: Perspective from Both Sides of the Fence

It’s our pleasure to welcome Murray Hunt to the Bullvine Team. Murray brings a wealth of experience from both the dairy industry side as well as the breeder sides of the fence. Ask Murray what success is in the dairy industry and he will instantly flash a smile because he has seen it up close and from both sides of the fence. The family farm, which is approaching its 100th Anniversary, is where he first fell in love with dairying, first at the heels of his grandfather Allen Humphrey and then working with his parents Sterling and Irene Hunt.  Almost three decades with Holstein Canada and the Canadian Association of animal breeders never separated him from his hands on appreciation of cattle at Huntsdale Holsteins.

He Loves Those Cows

“There’s an advantage to spending your working career doing what is closest to your heart.” Murray reports.  As he warms to the topic he enthuses that “Look at the major advancements we have seen in milk production and conformation, especially udders in Holstein cattle.  They were known for deep udders and low butterfat. They’ve certainly come a long way.” Years of working with the Holstein Canada Classification program support his conclusions. “And there is still great potential in working on feet.”  Justifiably proud of the Master Breeder shield earned by Huntsdale, Murray continues to breed to send sires into A.I. both in Canada and one in abroad. “Developing a member of the Gypsy Grand cow family has been good for Huntsdale.”

Cow Sense Meets Cow Science

Murray earned both his B.Sc. and M.Sc. at Guelph University.  His Master’s thesis was entitled, “An A.I. Breeding Schemes” and included the “Dollar Difference Guide” which was the precursor to the Canadian LPI system.  Hunt’s Masters was implemented by A.I. organizations that went from sampling less than 50 bulls per year to over 400.

(Not) The Same Old Story

Despite his long history with farming and farmer organizations, he is not reluctant to move forward.  “Success can be directly linked to your willingness to change.” Says Murray even though he adds, “All change is not good but we have to research the possibilities and then select what appears to be the best move in a forward direction.” If he himself was stuck in the past, he might be unwilling to see genomics moving the industry away from a purely pedigree analysis of animals.  “On the contrary!” he exclaims, “It’s wonderful to move to the next stage where we don’t have the cost and delays of proving sires that don’t have a chance of coming through as plus sires!” This leads to the topic of organizations and Hunt firmly believes that the future of the cattle breeding industry will see fewer producer organizations. “This is predictable from a purely financial point of view and will evolve with the breeder priorities, provided we can move beyond the past, be objective and expand our vision for the future.”

Look to the Horizon

“We need to forge our path to the horizon and not just to the end of our own laneway!” insists Murray who notes that “The ones who move forward with change are the ones who stay with the (cattle) industry and those who don’t will exit the industry.” He is not upset about this but does add, “Every generation that survives on the farm moves ahead with technology. It could be in your fully equipped office or the method you use for milking. For some it’s new ways to grow crops and mechanized ways to feed them.”  He strongly feels that it is “up to dairy breeders and industry leaders to trust the system, improve the system and use the system to produce a continually better product.”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

For Murray Hunt there is no final one-size-fits-all answer.  “If it was that easy, there would be no challenge and no opportunity. We all want to use what we know to prove our faith in the potential of Holstein cattle.  These are exciting times for genetics, technology and the future of the dairy business. It’s no time to find yourself sitting on the fence!”

Join us in welcoming Murray to the Bullvine team and we are excited about the great insights he will bring to the Bullvine.

A.I. and Sire Selection: Is the Tail Wagging the Cow?

As I watch how the dairy industry has changed over the recent years, and more specifically the dairy breeding industry, I find myself asking the question “is the tail wagging the dog?” Specifically I want to know, “Are dairy breeders dictating to A.I. companies what bulls they want to use and what trait they are looking for, or, is it the other way around?

So much has been made of how genomics has changed the dairy breeding industry lately, and yet, it still seems as though the large A.I. companies are trying to tell dairy breeders what they should be interested in, instead of dairy breeders, who know their own needs, telling the A.I. companies what’s important to them.

In any marketplace it should always be the consumer dictating to the producer what’s important. For the dairy industry that means that “Joe public” should dictate what’s important. Do they want hormone free milk, do they want milk that is from non-genetically manipulated animals. All this should be and, ultimately, will be determined by the end consumer.

Then as the milk producer, based on your own goals or strategy to deliver a product that is of high value to the end consumer you manage your herd appropriately. That means selecting of sires and genetics that will help you satisfy “Joe public.” Too often, I find that A.I. companies are caught up in themselves. They either have a new hot sire that they want to push, or they have developed what they think is a “distinct” differentiation from the other A.I. companies and want you to buy into that.

Your breeding program should not be dictated to you by who the popular sire of the moment is or what is the cheapest semen you can get. Dairy cattle breeding is not a popularity contest. It is something you should put time into and carefully consider based on your overall farm/herd goals and where you’re genetic programs fit into that. You can then decide what traits are important to you and what sires will help you achieve the desired results. As a progressive dairy breeder you need to be in charge of your genetic programs, not the local semen salesmen who get their marching orders from someone who does not know your specific needs and goals.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The biggest thing I have learned in my years working with various large corporate entities is that it all starts with the end consumer. Look for what they want and work your way back. For dairy breeders who want to be market leaders, that means looking at milk consumption. What trends are happening there, what trends are going on in animal welfare? By looking ahead instead of behind you will not only not be caught in the latest fad, but rather you will see the rewards in your pocket book.


For more information check out The Bullvine Bull Book or our Genetic Evaluation Resource Center.


Dairy Cattle Genomics: Have we taken it too far?

When you look at the top 10 GTPI heifers you see that 9 of them are from heifers themselves with only one coming from a scored and milk producing dam.  In addition 9 of them are from one sire (Shamrock), which instead of widening the genetic pool is actually shrinking it.  Looking at the top GLPI list reveals that three out of every four in the top 100 are from un-calved heifers.  While, on paper, cutting the genetic interval makes sense (read The Genomic Advancement Race – The Battle for Genetic Supremacy), long term, have breeders and AI companies started to take it too far?

In the new genomic world the previous gold standard of a proven sire stack and string of VG+ is no longer required.  In any given pedigree you can now find GP cattle (read Is Good Plus Good Enough) or sires that you never have heard of.

Does Classification Even Matter?

While GP-84-2YR used to be the kiss of death for many marketing and genetic programs, genomics has changed the game.  With genomics, we are seeing many GP 83 or 84 cows used as dams that would have never been touched before.  While many will increase in score later in life, others do not, and yet that does not seem to be as big a factor.  Many A.I. companies and breeders are more concerned about their genomic values than that of the actual classification scores.

There could be many reasons why that potential bull mother did not score very good.  It could be management, it could be an accident that happened.  Also, it could be that she is just not that good.  It brings into question the relevance of classification.  While the index system relies on having a large data set in order to map the genomes to the potential performance of each trait, it has me thinking do we need to score cattle anymore or can we just use their genomic values?  Then I snap back to reality and realize that it’s one thing to look good on paper and another to deliver in reality.

Have We Forgotten Sire stack?

At one time, if there was a non -known sire in the pedigree, A.I. would not touch it.  The marketability of that pedigree was next to nothing.  No matter what the classification score was, or what the family was behind that animal, sire stack carried significant weight.  Now I find myself having to do as much homework on the sire of the new top young sires, as I do on the young sires themselves.  That may be because most of them are still young sires themselves.  However, it is also because a young sire that did not turn out can still sometimes be better than a previous Top 10 proven sire.

For example, let’s say the proven sire has a TPI of 2300 at the time of mating and the young sire being used as sire of sons has a TPI of 2900.  By the time the resulting progeny is being sampled the proven sire may have a TPI of 1750, and the young sire that was being used as a sire of sons may have a TPI of 1850.  While that young sire may not be a list topper anymore, he is still higher than the proven sire that could have been used at the time.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The dairy cattle industry has seen more change in the selection of parents in the past four years than at in any other period in its history.  Genomics has changed the name of the game, and while many breeders have been apprehensive in embracing it, others have taken it and are running full force.  I would not be surprised to see more significance in the future put on Direct Genomic Values (DGV’s) than on the weighted GLPI or GTPI.  With everything that is new, there is a learning curve and, as we discover how to use this tool better, I am sure we will find better ways to apply the information.  However, there is no question that genomics is here to stay and it is greatly changing the rate of genetic gain.

The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


Not sure what all this hype about genomics is all about?

Want to learn what it is and what it means to your breeding program?

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Dairy Cattle Marketing Ethics – Do they exist?

You read the claims in ads all the time, #1 this and #1 one that.  You’re dazzled with amazing photos.  Can you believe what you see?  Are there really any ethics when it comes to dairy cattle marketing?

Ethics are a collection of principles of right conduct that shape the decisions people or organizations make. Practicing ethics in dairy cattle marketing means deliberately applying standards of fairness, or moral right and wrong, to marketing decision-making, behavior, and practice in the organization or on the farm.

Wild West Shootout

As I scroll through the major print publications, I see a wide variety of practices that may not abide by a standard definition of marketing ethics.  Pretty much every add you see has had the photo retouched, the cow cropped out and claims that they have the #1 this or the #1 that.You even see claims to be the #1 Genomics animal even when they have not been officially released.

I am not saying that this is totally wrong.  What I am saying is that there needs to be a standard or mutually agreed upon set of regulations that all dairy cattle advertising abides by. Currently it’s still a wild wild west where the people who design the ads are able to do whatever their creative heart’s desire.

Photo Ethics

Nowhere is this truer than in photos.  As we have highlighted in the past “Has Photo Enhancement Gone Too Far?” it seems to be a free-for-all when it comes to what some photographers will do to get a great photo.  I am sure in the minds of those who make these changes they think they are doing the correct thing. Are they really? Are you really helping the breeder sell more? Or are you hurting the industry as a whole because you are causing some to distrust the legitimacy of the image?

The New Rules of Dairy Cattle Marketing

As a graphic designer this excites me but as a dairy cattle breeder this scares me.  There needs to be a level of trust that readers can expect when they are reading these publications.  Some examples of rules would be:

  • If a photo has been retouched it needs to be identified
  • No retouching of an animal should be allowed
  • Can only claim to be #1 for something if it is validated by an official list
  • Unless there is an official conversion from one country’s ranking/evaluation to another there should be no claims made accordingly

The Bullvine Bottom Line

I remember when I first got into dairy cattle marketing almost 20 years ago.  At that point in time there was actually an industry accepted standard that all organizations had to abide by when publishing sire proof information.  But at the times have changed the rules and regulations have been lost.  The problem is that, with the loss of the rules, has come the loss of the credibility.  To rectify this, I wonder if it’s time to establish a new set of rules?  What is necessary?  What is possible? What rules would you like to see when it comes to marketing dairy cattle?

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To get a copy of the Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct please click here.

Fight the Power

For years a small few organizations have controlled the dairy industry.  No I am not talking about how A.I.  companies are seeking to control genomics, or genetic evaluation systems, sorry Ron.  What I am talking about is how a small few (mostly A.I. companies) have sought to control what breeders think.  It’s time to stand up and be heard and fight the power.

Having grown up on both sides of this fence it has been amazing to see the control that A.I. companies have over dairy breeders’ minds.  I can still remember when Champion was about to be released and the “rumors” that where swirling were insane.  Everything you could think of was being said about Albert Cormier and GenerVations.  Some of the stuff was not even possible and yet the rumor mill was fuelled with this because the other companies were threatened by a new player in the marketplace.  The great thing for the industry was that in typical Albert fashion he did not let it beat him down, but rather loved the challenge and met it head on.

More important than the marketing that any of the A.I. companies has done, is the ability to control the rumor mill.  Dairy breeders love great gossip.  Maybe it’s because as a dairy breeder you get limited contact with other breeders, or maybe it’s because most breeders are so passionate about what they do, but breeders do love good gossip.  Trust me, it does not take a day to have a rumor that starts on one farm spread all over the industry and this was even before Facebook and email.

I cannot tell you the number times I have had great conversations with many different breeders but put them in a group setting and they would be afraid to speak up.  As an industry we should not seek to ostracize those who are willing to speak up against the norm but rather encourage them to speak their mind.

Looking back on my upbringing one of the greatest things I ever learned was the ability to give reasons.  I cannot tell you how much it has helped me in my career.  Not because I am seeking to become judge the Royal or Madison (though if you would like me to, I am game), but rather it taught me how to form my own opinion and then have the confidence to present and defend that opinion in front of others.  On an average week I have to give 3-4 different presentations to groups of 100+ and it’s this the lessons I learned judging dairy cattle that make it a breeze for me.

The Bottom Line

I think it’s time more breeders speak up for what they believe in.  This is a great time to be a dairy breeder, but it’s also a time where the industry is going through great change.  It’s at this time the industry needs more breeders to speak up and be heard.  Let their voice be heard and make sure that the industry we all know and love will be just as great or even better for future generations.  We are not sheep or lemmings dam it, we are dairy breeders and it’s time to take control and speak for ourselves!

Is Good Plus Good Enough?

For years GP-84-2YR was the kiss of death when it came to marketing and selling genetics.  However, along comes genomics and it seems that GP is good enough.  Nevertheless, the question it has me asking is “Is Good Plus Good Enough?”

I can still remember when Summershade Icebreak Luke, was the #1 LPI cow in Canada.  The problem was she was scored GP-83-2YR.  The A.I. companies where not sure if they should even sample bulls from her and how would they convince their members to use them in their young sire programs.  Then came along Summershade Igniter and Summershade Inquirer and A.I. companies took the chance.  While hindsight is 20/20, maybe they should have passed.  On the female side, Icebreak had 34 daughters classified and only 7 of them going VG.  We ourselves had one of those daughters Summershade Icemarti.  While she did score VG, it was not until her 2nd lactation, long past her peak marketing time.  In the past, we have purchased many daughters out of GP 83 and 84 two year olds, expecting them to go VG before our purchase calved in.  It has proven to be a risky move, but one that could have paid off big time.  On the male side Icebreak had six sons enter A.I. service but none where ever returned to service.

On the flip side, I can also remember when we first purchased into the Braedale Gypsy Grand family and many people around us had concerns about her GP-83-2YR dam.  While there was a very good reason why Moonriver never went VG, we still found ourselves having to explain things many times.  Then along came Second Cut, Baler Twine, Freelance and Goodluck and we found that changed everything.

As we all know genomics has changed the name of the game, and we now see A.I. companies sampling high genomic sires irrelevant of their score or the score of their dam.  With that in mind, I decided to take a look at the current high index dams that are NOT scored VG.  The following is what I found.

The Story in the US

In the US, there are three GP cows on the Top 25 GTPI Cows List (GP-83-or Higher).  Leading the way is BEN-AKERS PLANET LUISE26-ET, she the #3 GTPI cow and the #1 NM cow scored over 83 points.  While Luise is from the Ricecrest Luke Lisa family and has solid type numbers, her genomic values for type are actually lower than her parent average and yet she still has a son at Alta Genetics, Ben-Akers AltaRazzle.  Joining Luise on the top GTPI list at #18 is SURE-VIEW MP PLANET LEXI.  Lexi is from the M&M-Pond-Hill Leadman Luba family and is scored GP-83-2YR.  Similar to Luise, Lexi has high genomic values compared to her parent average but yet again has conformation scores that just meet expectations.  Unlike Luise, it appears to this point that Lexi does not have any sons currently in A.I..  The third member of the list is SULLY PLANET MANITOBA , this GP-83-2YR is out of the great brood cow, Sully Shottle May the former #1 GTPI and GLPI cow of the breed.  Of course May is believed to have more offspring genomic tested over 2200 & 2300 GPTI than any other cow in the breed.  Unlike the other two GP 2yr olds on the top list, Manitoba has outstanding type numbers and her genomic values are actually higher than her parent average.  It’s these outstanding values that have her with at least three sons currently in A.I., SULLY HART MERIDIAN-ET and SULLY HART MUNICH-ET at Semex, and SULLY ALTABRANDON-ET at Alta Genetics.

The Canadian Story

Much like the US list the #3 spot on the Canadian List is held by a GP-83-2YR, Benner Planet Jakova-ET.  Being a Planet from a Goldwyn, Jakova has strong parent average for type and has strong genomic values as well.  Coming from the Benner Luke Jean family, Jokava has yet to put a son into A.I.. Joining Jokova on the list is Delaberge Planet Lulu.  However, on April 25th Lulu was raised to VG-85-2YR, 244 days fresh.  Lulu comes from the Bryhill Lindy Lilly family and already has a son at Semex, DONNANDALE LUMI.  The third member on the list is Alexerin Oman 993. Of interesting note about 993 is that there are no VG dams anywhere in her pedigree, she has mostly production sires and yet her parent average for conformation is five and her genomic value is a six.  Not surprisingly, 993 does not have any sons currently in A.I.  The last member on the list is Calbrett Planet Empress.  Much like Lulu, Empress has since been moved to VG-86-2YR later in lactation.  Empress is from the WABASH-WAY EVETT dam of the popular genomic sire Genervations Eclipse and the same family as Epic and Highway.  Given the strong maternal pedigree, Empress has PA of +10 for conformation and actually exceeds that with a +12 for her direct genomic value.  Given her increase in score and strong maternal pedigree it is just a matter of time before she has sons in A.I..

The Bullvine Bottom Line

While GP-84-2YR use to be the kiss of death for many marketing and genetic programs, genomics has changed the game.  With genomics, we are seeing many GP 83 or 84 cattle used as dams that would have never been touched before.  While many will increase in score later in life, many do not, and yet that does not seem to be as big a factor.  Many A.I. companies and breeders are more concerned about their genomic values than that of their actual classification score.


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Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding: Land of the Free and Home of the Brave?

For some time now the Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding (CDCB) has been working to establish a “Cooperative Agreement” with the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) pertaining to the transfer of the USDA-­‐ARS dairy genetic evaluation service to the CDCB.  This has culminated in the recent release of a draft Cooperative Agreement for public comment.  The problem is that the draft lacks some of the core values that makes America great, specifically the ability for everyone to operate on a level playing field (access to information) and to be led by brave leadership driving toward a better future.

With these changes come many questions.  Some key issues follow.

Will everyone have access to the information?

Reading the agreement may require having a law degree to fully understand it.  This may be by intention, but it really doesn’t make for light reading.  Some of the language in the proposed agreement is very confusing. It talks about how the CDCB will have ownership and control of the information.  One of the reasons that the USA has been able to become the mega world power that it is was because it was founded on the belief that everyone is created equal and has equal opportunity to achieve success.  Looking at how the use of genomic information was handled in the past does not bode well for how everyone will get free access to the information.  Many smaller organizations are concerned that this will lead to a monopoly for a few A.I. studs.

The proposed wording is in stark contrast to allowing free access to the information for all those involved.  This actually causes a double edged sword.  On one side, the powers that be are limiting the small guy from competing at the same level.  However, there is also the interest about keeping much larger players, such as say Pfizer from entering.  In Canada, Pfizer is already offering genomic testing and what’s to stop them from using their many resources to use that information in new ways (read Are You Ready for Genetically Modified Cattle).

How do we maintain our integrity with breeders worldwide?

Similar to the views expressed by Greg Anderson of Seagull Bay Dairy, many breeders are concerned about the perceived integrity that comes from going away from a government organization (USDA) to a private entity.  Vice President of Holstein USA Glen Brown and Director Bill Wright also express these concerns,  Both men are also  dairy breeders and call for the need to develop  strong business plan, in the following video


While I do understand this concern, there are many examples worldwide, such as the Canadian Dairy Network (CDN), which has been able to maintain integrity and do it   without the political hurdles that come with government involvement.

One of the lessons learned from the CDN model is that you need equal representation from all parties involved, not just those who put up the most money.  CDN is majority funded by Industry and specifically A.I., but its board has equal representation from breed associations, breeders, and industry.  This is necessary in order to maintain the integrity of the organization and also to provide effective direction for the future.  One thing is for sure, it will take bold leadership through these times.  This makes me remember when Murray Hunt (Dad for disclosure sake) backed by the Canadian Genetic Evaluation Board, was facing a similar challenge in Canada. At the time he made some bold moves, hiring of Paola Rossi, and Gerald Jansen, Canadians working in Italy to do Canadian genetic evaluations, long before there was the full business plan, but rather had the agreement in principle.  Yes, this was putting the cart before the horse, but it also lead to the formation of the Canadian Dairy Network (CDN).

Who pays the bills?

As Holstein USA Director and dairy breeder Leroy Eggink, points out in the video above, it has been a great scenario for US breeders having taxpayers foot the bill.  But, that gravy train is over.  In Canada when that ship sailed, it left industry footing the bill.  Since A.I. represents the most direct profitable gain from genetic evaluations, that means they are left holding the bag. Ultimately, this cost is passed on to the breeders.  And while the response comes that we pay for all the systems that track and record this information, there is still the cost to convert that raw data into actionable information (bull proofs).

The one area the CDCB needs to remember is that all costs should be expensed equally and should not play favorites with the larger A.I. centers, as happened with Genomic information.  In an interview with Ron Flatness, Flatness International, he repeatedly expressed the concerns around price for the smaller competitors and protecting against un-needed additional fees.  (Following comments are that of the writer and not Ron) Instead of higher membership fees that will limit the involvement of smaller organizations or independent breeders, all costs need to be handled equally.  One standard price per sire sampled vs. a much larger membership fees, would be fair to everyone.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Be careful what you ask for.  While many breeders want 100% free access to information, it isn’t always a good thing.  While there are many questions that still need to be answered, regarding a business plan, ownership of information and how to be as transparent as possible, I ask the question, “Is this a move to keep, not smaller players, but much larger players out of the marketplace?”

Here are some more great resources:

Dairy producers will have 29 days to comment on the Cooperative Agreement (May 7 to June 4).

If you have questions please contact any of the CDCB officers.

Contact information for USDA representatives:


Are You Ready For Genetically Modified Cattle?

The recent announcement by Canadian Dairy Network, Holstein Canada, Pfizer Animal Health, The Semex Alliance and its owner partners to support delivery of genetic services to the Canadian dairy industry got me thinking about what the future holds for the dairy breeding industry.  This alliance has me drawing parallels to what has occurred in the corn industry and the effects that had on consumers as well as producers.

While the announcement just covers the identification of genetic markers that has already revolutionized the dairy breeding industry, the part that catches my attention is a company the size of Pfizer entering into the marketplace.  When Monsanto entered into the corn breeding industry, it not only became a competitor to the other established players but it also used its vast resources to take the process to a completely new level.  While Monsanto had been a market leader for many years in the sale of herbicides this research gave them the ability to apply their expertise on the genetic level.

With Pfizer entering the genomics game, does that mean that we will start to see them  offer their own genetics available for sale that have been bred or rather modified to be disease resistant or even worse modified to produce more milk, or have better feet and legs.  If you thought the manipulation of photos to make cattle look better was an issue (read more here Has Photo Enhancement Gone Too Far), what happens when they can do it on the genomic level?  While the practical side of me sees how having cattle that are more disease resistant, that is polled and milk 20,000 kgs, for 10+ lacations would be beneficial, the breeder in me has concerns.  Part of what makes animal breeding great is the fact that it’s an art form.  What happens when that art form is handed over to science?

One thing that you will know for sure is that the sale of animal genetics will become a commoditized market place dominated by the big players such as Pfizer, Monsanto, and other multinational conglomerates.  While there is no question that these conglomerates will dominate over the average breeder, they will also dominate over the current major A.I. companies.  It has me asking myself “Is this move by Semex a step in building a partnership because they see the future coming?”  If so good on them for at least being proactive and at least trying to sustain their long-term viability.

If it’s more by chance, as I think it is, I think the whole industry needs to look at what the future holds and maybe have a wakeup call to where this is all heading.  Animal breeding is becoming big business, as evidenced by companies like Select Sires that have expanded their breeding programs to include owning females (read more about this at Should A.I. Companies Own Females?).  As the ability to deliver predictable results at a lower cost of development continues, larger and larger companies will enter the marketplace and begin to dominate the current players.

In the past, dairy cattle breeding has benefited from great moves, such as happened when T.B. Macauley, an insurance executive, started Montvic, when J. Rockafeller Prentice, from oil and banking fame, started A.B.S. and, likewise, when Peter Heffering, using outside industry investors, collected great cows and started Hanover Hill Holsteins.

There is also the consumer side to this equation.  We all witnessed consumer reaction to the use of rBST.  Over time while there has remained a small portion of the marketplace that actively buys non-rBST milk.  However, for the most part the issue has died off.  In the same way, the GMO corn issue has died off and much of the general public is not even aware that it exists.  Thus, there may be uproar as this “new technology” enters the marketplace, however, in time, the result will be the same for this commoditized product.  As long as the cost to consumer is lower, they will buy it.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

On the one hand, Thanks to genomics, the future of the animal breeding industry has never look brighter.  On the other hand, it also may be facing its greatest risk. Genomics has taken animal breeding from an art form to a science.  Furthermore, science will continue to define and refine the process.  With companies like Pfizer entering the marketplace this process will be accelerated at a completely new pace.  Those players that have the most resources available will also dominate it.  This means that the average breeder, as well as the current A.I. companies, need to realistically consider what the future holds as this happens.

So my question to you is, are you ready for GMC (Genetically Modified Cattle)?

Why the Ability for Breeders to Test Their Own Bulls Will NOT Change the World

For years breeders have been saying how they would do things differently than the big A.I. companies.  In March of 2013 they are going to get their chance.  While many top breeders are already licking their lips at the opportunity, there are some key factors I don’t think they have considered that may not change things as much as they think.  The following is a closer look at these issues.


When Calbrett-I H H Champion hit for GenerVations, the biggest challenge was not marketing but rather distribution.  Here is a company who had been a distributor for many international A.I. companies that now had to turn the table and sell back to these companies.  Fortunately, for GenerVations they were able to do so and leverage the network they had already developed in order to get Champion semen out to the world.  However, what is the typical breeder going to do?  Sure, you may be able to move some semen through the internet or advertising your bulls in the major publications, but that will not pay the bills.  A global distribution network that can move your semen is a must.  Only one person can have the #1 bull, for all others you had better have a cost effective distribution network, or your dreams of becoming the next great Albert Cormier or Doug Blair will fizzle before they even start.

Frequent Genomic Releases

With new genomic bulls coming out monthly, you could be on the top of the list one month and not even in the top 10 the next.  This provides for a very short run for peak sales and means you will not always be able to sell your genomic young sire semen for $50+ a dose.  More likely, you are looking at a $20-30 average price, and that is assuming you are still in the top 50.  Fall out of the top 50 genomic sires in the world and you can kiss sales good-bye.

Cost of Production

Breeders wishing to prove their own sires will have to use one of the approved semen collection facilities.  Certainly, many of these facilities will offer competitive rates, but they need to operate at a profit too.  While working with the largest A.I. company in the world, we knew that the cost per semen collected averaged between $4 and $5.  To get your semen dose collected you are typically looking at $7 – $10 a dose.  Big deal you say, a couple of dollars less.  Well actually it is.  When large semen orders come in, they operate on blend price for the order.  Depending on the situation they are from $10 – $12 a dose.  That $3-$5 a dose difference could mean the difference between profit and loss.  Don’t think you need those large bulk orders?  Think again, you will find they are your lifeblood for cash flow.

Aggressive Lease Options from Current A.I. Companies

We have already started to see it.  Gone are the fixed sales price of $5,000 -$10,000 or the capped leases at $100,000.  The major A.I. companies have already started to get very aggressive on the lease options they offer.  Smaller A.I. companies have already been forced to get extremely aggressive in order to procure top genomic young sires.  It’s also for these reasons that we are starting to see more bulls being sold in top sales, as it provides the ability to set the bar higher for many breeders.  It’s also for these reasons that you have noticed many players starting to buy top females, as the cost to buy them is actually cheaper than the cost to contract their sons.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

While the ability to test their own sires will certainly affect the lease agreements, they get from the A.I.  companies it will not be the total game changer that everyone is expecting it to be.  What it will do is make the current A.I. become even more competitive and have to trim their own fat.  Breeders sampling and selling their own bulls and not selling their bulls to A.I. seems a promising opportunity. However, the thought that it is going to totally change the way bulls are sampled and sold is farfetched.  From the cost of production to distribution there are many factors that eager breeders have not yet given enough consideration.


What the Experts Won’t Tell You about the Future of the A.I. Industry

Having grown up working with the Canadian Association of Animal Breeders, to working directly with some of the largest A.I. centers in the world, to running our own genetic programs that had many top LPI cattle, I have had the opportunity to learn the semen sales and marketing world from a variety of perspectives.  From this frontline view I have never seen as much change as the A. I. industry is now experiencing with Genomics.  With all these changes, the question becomes “What does the future hold for the AI industry?”

Genetic Advantage

It used to be that every artificial insemination center could claim an advantage in a certain product offering.  Semex would claim a type advantage that over the years converted to a longevity value, in order to appeal to the much larger commercial market, instead of just elite breeders looking for the next great show cattle.  ABS global added product lines and partnerships such as Judges Choice to counter moves such as Semex’s and included strong type offering to their very commercial product line.  Every AI center jockeyed back and forth to show how their genetic product offering was different.  Even when they overlapped, they would claim greater reliability or stability based on the country or system of origin.

Then along came genomics and wiped all that out. 

Today when you look at all the major A.I. centers products, you could take the name and stud code off and you would be hard pressed to notice any difference.  They all try to offer a complete product line.  Moreover, with the reliability, and ability to take the system or country of origin out of it, they all have pretty reliable product.  This almost completely eliminates any genetic advantage that any A.I. center has.

It has been very interesting to watch companies like Select Sires take to owning top bloodlines in a big way (to read more check out Should A.I. Companies Own Females?).  This may be the only way that A.I. companies can differentiate their genetic advantage.  Buy owning the top females these genetics companies (at this point, they are no longer just an A.I. company), are able to develop distinct bloodlines that none of their competitors can have.  This is only going to change more when breeders have full access to genomic information in 2013 and may start to sample and prove their own sires.

Think about it.  I remember back when I was working with GenerVations, and Champion hit as #1 in Canada.  We marketed the heck out of the fact that he was the best in Canada.  We relied on the world’s confidence in the Canadian system to promote that this new, small A.I. center had a reliable product.  We blasted that message around the world making sure everyone knew that GenerVations had the #1 in the world.  Because we all knew that there was about a 2-3 year window before competitors would have their own Champion sons, or he would no longer be the top bull.  Today we are looking at an even smaller window of opportunity. .  With new genomics bulls coming out pretty much monthly, things can change in a heartbeat.  The Select Sires program at least gives them 8 months advantage on the sires and total control over the dams (since they own them).  This gives them the ability to offer their customers a distinct advantage by doing business with them.  Some may look at it negatively and yet, from a purely business perspective, it makes total sense.  In the end, it will look like a very shrewd investment in a market in which it   so is hard to differentiate yourself.

Service vs. Price

Therefore, when you can no longer differentiate your company on product, it only leaves you two other options, service, and price.  You are either going to become the Wal-Mart of the A.I. world or you are going to become Nordstroms’s.  Both can exist in the same market place you just have to become extremely great at what makes you different.

If you want to become the Wal-Mart of the A.I. world, you are going to offer the lowest price for a very commercial product.  This means you need to have your production facilities running super efficiently and your overhead at a bare minimum.  This position plays extremely well to commercial producers who are looking for the lowest costs possible.  For years, companies like ABS, Alta Genetics, and Select have battled very aggressively.  Since most of these companies more or less were just selling a commodity, there really was not any brand loyalty.  Since most large herds did their own insemination work, they eliminated the close link that is developed between producer and the A.I. center through the regular visits by the technicians doing the insemination work.  While the major A.I. companies tried to lock in that connection again by offering mating programs and other services, since they all were pretty much the same and, often, not used by producers, they were only able to gain marginal difference.  And like the Wal-Mart model, margins are tight and profits are slim.

Therefore, if you cannot compete on product and you cannot compete on price, that only leaves service.  With the majority of the marketplace doing their own insemination, A.I. companies have to look outside the scope of traditional marketplace to provide services.  While this has been the case for many years in the commercial marketplace, it is also fast becoming the case in the entire marketplace.  While you may be able to get a slight premium when you have the #1 bull, otherwise you will live and die by the quality of service you offer your customers.  We have already seen this happen.  Many A.I. companies have gone to offering many non-genetic products in order to become a complete service organization, rather than just a supplier of genetics.

Also of interest, is how the roles of sales and sire analysts have also changed.  While many have called the modern sire analyst a glorified tail hair puller, they are now becoming more of a breeding advisor mixed with a negotiation specialist.  This is exactly what they have to do.  They can provide insight to breeders about the daughters of the top mating sires and maybe a little insight that his proof will not tell you.  Even more so, they are now the chief negotiator for their A.I. center.  If I were a GM of an A.I. company, I would invest heavily in negotiation and relationship building training for these individuals.  Realistically, unless you run a program like Select Sires, this will be your only way to get the top sires from many breeders.

The Bottom Line

Like most mature market places, there is little room for grey areas when it comes to the future of the A.I. industry and where the major A.I. companies position themselves.  It will take strong action now either to develop very aggressive genetic programs like Select Sires has, or you will need to decide if you are going to be the lowest cost provider or offer the greatest service.  And yes, I know there are many small micro A.I. companies that will be able to turn a profit.  I get that, they are able to keep their overhead so low that they will be able to offer a niche product to small segments of the market place.  However, when it comes to the big players, they need to ask themselves, “Am I going to get aggressive and develop distinct bloodlines?”  “Are we going to be the lowest price provider?” Alternatively, “Are we going to become legendary for the quality of our service?” Anything that is a smorgasbord of these will only end in extinction in the end.  Don’t think so?  Look what happened to your local hardware store, when Home Depot moved in, or the independent grocer, when Wal-Mart put up one of their super centers in the same community.  Where do you shop today?  Who will be your provider tomorrow?

What do you think?  Comment below our join the discussion on our facebook page.

Are There Too Many Semen Salesmen Coming In The Lane?

With high gas prices and little perceived genetic diversity is there really a need to have 5+ different semen salesmen coming in the lane?  This has been a tricky question for many years.  They all want a piece of your genetic dollar, but are they taking up too much of your time to just shoot the latest company line and share the local community gossip?


As technology has changed how most breeders get their information, there really is no need to get all the information from the “local” semen salesmen.  In the past. in order to get the latest sire proofs or daughter pictures. You needed to get a shiny brochure with all the fancy pictures to determine what sire you would use.  Today most breeders already know who the latest top sire is and have looked at daughter pictures online or in the trade publications.  It has gotten to the point where you can even order your semen online and have it shipped to you.

Gas Prices

Gas is not getting any cheaper, and trust me those nice fancy F-160’s or GMC Sierra’s don’t come cheap.  Hence, the change for some AI companies to switch to Ford Rangers.  Add up a $40,000 to $70,000 a year salesmen, plus truck, plus gas, plus insurance and that trip in the lane becomes very costly.  Ultimately, this cost is paid by the breeders through increased semen costs.  Do you really want to be paying extra so the local semen salesmen can drive a fancier truck?

Genetic Diversity

In the past, each semen salesmen had a very distinctive product line.  Semex had your type and “balanced cow” sires, ABS and Select had your production sires, and the International sires had your outcross pedigree’s with high components.  However, that has all changed.  Looking up and down each of the major A.I. companies sires line-ups shows little genetic diversity.  They all try to offer something to everyone.  This has blurred the line between the companies and only made the need for less of them to come in the lane.

Wasted Time

Probably the biggest cost that most breeders don’t think about is how much time it takes to talk to each semen, seed, equipment, ag-products person that comes in the road.  Now I understand that on the typical operation can be pretty lonely.  Not too many other breeders are coming in the lane, and social interaction at times can be limited.  Trust me I have been there.  In my career, I have had the opportunity to cover a sales territory and I know how long this can take.  I understand that these people coming in the lane can be a great break.  However, you need to ask yourself which ones bring value and which ones waste time.

As the role of a semen salesmen has changed, they are now more breeding advisers than salesmen.  The “good ones” understand when to spout the company line and when to say it like it is.  It’s these ones that bring you value and earn your trust.  The ones that keep pushing their newest or most expensive sire are just wasting your time.  Maybe it’s time to start telling those time wasters,” Hey instead of coming every week/month, how about you just wait until I call you?”

The Bottom Line

There is no question that the semen sales game has changed and I am not just talking about genomics.  Technology, gas prices, and limited time have breeders asking themselves “Are there too many semen salesmen coming in the lane?”  The answer really comes down to whether you feel they bring value, or are they just making a social call.  Your time is too valuable to be wasted on social calls.  Next time it feels like your local semen salesmen is just wasting your time, throw him a real pitchfork and say, “Let’s both get some value out of this time!”

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