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Cull Cows, Sire Selection And Lost Money. Are You Missing The Connection?

What comes to your mind, when you see or hear about a cow that has produced 200,000 pounds of 4.0% fat and 3.5% protein milk and is due to calve again soon? Too often as breeders we immediately look at her conformation and expound about her great feet and legs or mammary system.  Unfortunately we are missing the important questions. What proportion of her birth mates have already been culled. Why were they culled? From a profitability point of view milk producers are missing the obvious.  Culling information needs to be used for both breeding and management purposes. There’s no excuse for ignoring the statistics.

Jerseys Do It Better

Recently released American figures from milk recorded farms show that Jerseys are the best, when it comes to achieving the lowest culling percentage.

Table 1 Breed Culling Rates

1LADYS-MANOR PL SHAKIRA-ETPlanet x Shottle x Mandel Debut8724438393.49Ladys-Manor Ruby JenDe-Su Holsteins, LLC
2ROYLANE SHOT MINDY 2079-ETShottle x Oman x Manat8624097922.87CMV Melwood MindyBuschur Dairy Farms, Inc.
3LADYS-MANOR DORCY ODADorcy x Auden x Outside8623897563.06Ladys-Manor Delightful JemMy Ladys Manor Farm
4LARCREST CRIMSON-ETRamos x Shottle x Outside9123847413.15Larcrest Juror ChanelLarcrest Holsteins
5LADYS-MANOR DORCY AMIRADorcy x Planet x Goldwyn8623727682.9Ladys-Manor AutumnMy Ladys Manor Farm
6LARCREST CASE-ETSPlanet x Ramos x Shottle8623698152.68Larcrest Juror ChanelDiamond Genetics
7LARCREST CAKE-ETSuper x Shottle x Outside8623466883.09Larcrest Juror ChanelSandy-Valley Farms
8COOKIECUTTER MOM HALO-ETMan-O-Man x Goldwyn x Champion8823386563.33Snow-N Denises DelliaPhillip Wilson, Kyle M. Gett
9WEBB-VUE GABOR MYCALA-ETGabor x Baxter x Goldwyn8723306963.22Burket-Falls KL SabrinaRobert A. Webb
10CLEAR-ECHO M-O-M 2150-ETMan-O-Man x Ramos x Hershel8723206083.49Clear-Echo Hershl D-Rac 822De-Su Holsteins, LLC
11BEN-AKERS PLANET LUISE26-ETPlanet x Jose x Ramos8523198192.45Ricecrest Luke LisaDe-Su Holsteins, LLC
12STRAUSSDALE PLANET ELLAPlanet x Shottle x Spike8723107263.01Brandts Encore EdithStraussdale Holsteins LLC
13SULLY PLANET MONTANA-ETPlanet x Shottle x Oman8623026493.08Sully Shottle MayDe-Su Holsteins, LLC
14AMMON-PEACHEY SHAUNA-ETPlanet x Shottle x Oman8723027012.69Wesswood-HC Rudy MissySeagull Bay Dairy
15RICKLAND FREDDIE 3509-ETFreddie x Shottle x Outside8322986752.96Oakfield Outside BrynnGreg Rickert
16VISION-GEN SH FRD A12276-ETFreddie x Jet Stream x Outside8622986812.89Morningview Converse JudyOakfield Corners Dairy
17DE-SU 9955-ETFreddie x Boliver x Addison8522977052.48Neu-Way Patron AllieDe-Su Holsteins, LLC
18LADYS-MANOR PL SHANDRA-ETPlanet x Shottle x Mandel Debut8722857023.21Ladys-Manor Ruby JenJoel Krall & Tim Crouse
19NEWELL KRAMER 1571Kramer x Pronto x Best8322807041.66Newell 548 BestKen Newell
20MS M-P SEQUOIA LILLY-ETSequoia x Bolton x Shottle8522797342M-Pondhill Shottle LanaPond Hill Dairy
21LARCREST CHENOA-ETSPlanet x Ramos x Shottle8722776992.66Larcrest Juror ChanelLarcrest Holsteins
22LARCREST CHIMA-ETSPlanet x Ramos x Shottle8822757002.63Larcrest Juror ChanelLarcrest Holsteins
23MS WELCOME MM LULITA CRI-ETMan-O-Man x Shottle x Magna8522746343.01Welcome Blackstar LassGenesis Cooperative Herd
24SYNERGY PLANET PASSION-ETPlanet x Oman x Outside8622737022.61Walkup Bell Lou EttaSynergy Farm LLC
25PINE-TREE FREDDIE ALEXA-ETFreddie x Boliver x Zack8522736982.44Jafral Prelude PrissyPine Tree Dairy

So why are Jerseys rated as the best?  What makes them 32% better than Holsteins? As nearly as I can determine, for both male and female perspective, it comes down to one area – superior reproduction! Jersey cows have a conception rate of 42 to 48%.  This gives them a 27% lead over the Holstein conception rate of 33 to 36%.  This conception rate gap accounts for 85% of the difference in culling rates between Jerseys and Holsteins.

Hat’s off to the Jersey breed and breeders. It’s little wonder that the Jersey breed is experiencing a resurgence in commercial milk production herds.

For a considerable time, judges and classifiers have been trained to penalize cows with high pins.  However with mature Jersey cows that principle does not necessarily hold true.  Even with high pins, Jerseys still get into calf.  What I’m seeing, when I study proven and genomic bull proofs that it is much more accurate to judge reproduction by looking at Daughter Pregnancy Rate (DPR), when selecting bulls to use to improve herd genetics for fertility.

Before leaving the Jersey breed, it should be noted that the challenge for Jersey breeders is to improve their cattle for somatic cells (SCS), from an average of 2.94 compared to Holsteins at 2.80.

Stop Ignoring Culling Reports

Breeders are eternal optimists.  So we try for five, six or seven services to get a cow in calf.  We use sires that have a proof over 3.00 for SCS.  We use bulls that leave daughters with shallow heels that toe out in the rear.  Why is that? We all have read the annual reports of culling reasons?  Do we think we’ll get lucky?  Do we not respect the sire proofs?

Table 2    Culling Reasons that have a Genetic Component

1LADYS-MANOR PL SHAKIRA-ETPlanet x Shottle x Mandel Debut8724418403.65Ladys-Manor Ruby JenDe-Su Holsteins, LLC
2LADYS-MANOR DORCY ODADorcy x Auden x Outside8524077733.12Ladys-Manor Delightful JemMy Ladys Manor Farm
3ROYLANE SHOT MINDY 2079-ETShottle x Oman x Manat8524028052.66CMV Melwood MindyBuschur Dairy Farms, Inc.
4LARCREST CRIMSON-ETRamos x Shottle x Outside9123487103.1Larcrest Juror ChanelLarcrest Holsteins
5CLEAR-ECHO M-O-M 2150-ETMan-O-Man x Ramos x Hershel8723476493.52Clear-Echo Hershl D-Rac 822De-Su Holsteins, LLC
6COOKIECUTTER MOM HALO-ETMan-O-Man x Goldwyn x Champion8823346613.32Snow-N Denises DelliaPhillip Wilson, Kyle M. Gett
7SULLY PLANET MONTANA-ETPlanet x Shottle x Oman8623236573.27Sully Shottle MayDe-Su Holsteins, LLC
8BEN-AKERS PLANET LUISE26-ETPlanet x Jose x Ramos8523168122.49Ricecrest Luke LisaDe-Su Holsteins, LLC
9LARCREST CASE-ETSPlanet x Ramos x Shottle8623157552.81Larcrest Juror ChanelDiamond Genetics
10AMMON-PEACHEY SHAUNA-ETPlanet x Shottle x Oman8722996862.82Wesswood-HC Rudy MissySeagull Bay Dairy
11STRAUSSDALE PLANET ELLAPlanet x Shottle x Spike8722957033.23Brandts Encore EdithStraussdale Holsteins LLC
12LADYS-MANOR PL SHANDRA-ETPlanet x Shottle x Mandel Debut8722876963.34Ladys-Manor Ruby JenJoel Krall & Tim Crouse
13CHERRY CREST MANOMAN ROZ-ETMan-O-Man x Elegant x Outside8622846302.93Whittier-Farms Outside RozSiemers Holsteins
14RICHMOND-FD POMPEY-ETMassey x Ramos x Pippen8722817212.18Richmond-FD Ramos PoppyPine Tree Dairy
15COOKIECUTTER SS HEY 7043-ETMan-O-Man x Goldwyn x Champion8322816053.42Snow-N Denises DelliaZimmerview Dairy
16RALMA PLANET CENTURY-ETPlanet x Bolton x Durham8622736473.34Ralma Juror FaithSiemers Holsteins
17MS M-P SEQUOIA LILLY-ETSequoia x Bolton x Shottle8322717341.99M-Pondhill Shottle LanaPond Hill Dairy
18DE-SU 9955-ETFreddie x Boliver x Addison8522686842.57Neu-Way Patron AllieDe-Su Holsteins, LLC
19RMW SUPER ARIANE-ETSuper x Goldwyn x Oman8322646123.14Unicorn Chairman LynnDe-Su Holsteins, LLC
20SYNERGY PLANET PASSION-ETPlanet x Oman x Outside8622636872.7Walkup Bell Lou EttaSynergy Farm LLC
21RICHLAWN SUPER APRIL APPLESuper x Zade x Shottle8322617022.06Muranda Rudolf LilyGenesis Cooperative Herd
22JK-GOLD DORCY PASTRY-ETDorcy x Toystory x Outside8322606192.92Rabur Outside PandoraCorwin Holtz and True Farms
23DIRT-ROAD MANOMAN CAMEO-ETMan-O-Man x Goldwyn x Tugolo8622596512.55Cooks-Valley Bell CurlySteve & Amanda Killian
24MS WELCOME LATH TAMMILatham x Colby x FBI8622585782.82Clear-Echo 2635 Bol 1204Welcome-Stock Farm
25LARCREST CHIMA-ETSPlanet x Ramos x Shottle8822566732.58Larcrest Juror ChanelLarcrest Holsteins

The above culling reasons come from the cows culled in 2013 from Canadian milk recorded herds.  Where a reason was provided, 73.6% of the cows were culled for reasons associated with genetics.  The first cull should always be when you’re selecting sires.  Stop using the ones that are causing problems that you are continually culling for.  For information on what to cows that remain the longest in a herd, it is recommended that breeders read She Ain’t Pretty – She Just Milks That Way! There is a point where optimistically hoping for better results is simply foolish.

Do the Math

If we are still in doubt about the importance of considering culling in sire selection, let’s think about the dollars and cents of each of these statistics on lost dollars:

  • Every case of mastitis = -$300.
  • An extra 30 days in the dry pen, due to cows not getting in calf until the current average of 162 days in milk = -$150
  • Loss of genetics, when a top cow is culled = -$500
  • Five pounds less in average milk yield per cow per day, due to a long calving interval = -$200 per cow per year
  • Added costs and loss of production because of cows with moderate foot problems = -$400
  • Added insemination and semen cost with each insemination beyond second service =-$75.
  • Lost potential revenue from fewer calves born = -$250 (female) -$100 (male)
  • Low cull rates allow breeders to save on the cost of raising all heifers born = +$2000.
  • Low cull rates means selling excess heifers (3-24 months @ +$400 to +$2000.)

When you do the math on all of these factors, it is not hard to see how is possible to run up lost revenue and added costs that total $500 to $1000 per cow.  That’s too large a number, when you consider that a cow producing 25,000lbs. of $20 cwt milk generates $5,000 in revenue per year.  Quite simply, the math tells us that breeding to avoid culling should be a consideration in every herd’s breeding plan (Read more: What’s the plan?)

Sire Selection Steps to Minimize Culling

The goal is to maximize genetic progress, maximize profit and minimize (unreasoned) culling. The Bullvine recommends the following process for selecting sires.

  1. Consider only the top fifty proven or one hundred genomically evaluated sires based on gTPI, gLPI, NM$ or JPI (Jersey).
  2. Remove from the list any sire above 9% EFI (Effective Future Inbreeding) or above 14% for relationship.
  3. Remove from the list any Holstein sire that does not have a PL of 5.0 or HL of 108.
  4. Remove from the list any Holstein sire that does not have a DPR of 1.0 or a DF of 105.
  5. Remove from the list any Holstein sire that is not below 2.90 for SCS.
  6. For Jersey sires the minimums should be PL 1.5, HL 105, DPR 0.0 or DF 102. And maximum of 3.00 for SCS.
  7. Minimum standards for gTPI, gLPI, NM$ or JPI may be lowered for polled bulls but do not lower the minimums for Pl, DPR or SCS.
  8. As Red and RC Holstein Sires are mainly popular with show type breeders and their proofs are considerably lower, the Bullvine does not recommend that commercially focused breeders use those sires.

What`s Your Culling Blindspot?

Any discussion of culling has to consider those breeders who don’t cull enough.  Sometimes the situation arises where a breeder is most proud of the fact that it is rarely necessary to buy new animals.  The pride is in being self-sustaining.  This is all well and good as long as it doesn’t mean that you’re breeding the same problem over and over.  For want of a low culling rate the good of the entire herd could be lost.  There is no future in that.

Which brings us to the opposite problem with culling numbers.  Occasionally you will meet a breeder who reports a high (35% or more) culling rate and it’s hard not to be shocked.  However, we must always ask the second question, “Why?”  It’s the rationale behind the culling.  For example, if the high rate is because the breeder is always looking to raise only the animals that are going to live up to their genetic potential and not invest time and money in the rest, that is a plan.  That could mean that more heifers don’t make it through their first lactation. The culling number is a tool – not good or bad on its own. However, it can’t be ignored and it must work for the goals of each individual dairy operation.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Culling is a cost that must be minimized for breeders to maximize their net returns per cow per year.  The traits associated with reproduction, udder health and feet & legs need to receive much more consideration than has been occurring in the past.  Know what your herd needs from both a genetic and a management standpoint. Align your corrective mating to proactively impact your culling rates. Although the heritabilities for culling rates are low, it is surprising how much you can improve them in five years. If you don’t consider them, in those same five years could place yourself out of the market, when it comes to selling breeding stock or embryos.  Cull cows and lost money.  It`s up to you to make the connection.



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