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From the Sidelines to the Headlines, Polled is Going Mainline!

Until recently, if you were talking about polled dairy genetics you were talking about a minor portion of the breeding population.  However, modern dairy genetics has seen dramatic changes in that situation. The rising popularity of polled has been propelled in part by activists, consumers and breeders all of whom are seeking better ways to provide healthy products to the marketplace in an efficient, profitable and sustainable manner.  Polled is a proactive opportunity to solve issues and meet needs in one genetic swoop.

Polled Pioneers Past and Present

Polled pioneer breeders have been few and far between. Thirty-nine years ago Burkett Falls Farm (Father Dave & Son John Burket, East Freedom, Pennsylvania, USA)  had an Elevation daughter born, Sophie EX93, from which the majority of today’s polled Holsteins trace.  The desire of breeders to have polled Holsteins until now has remained just that, a desire. Some polled bulls have entered AI but except for Aggravation Lawn Boy P-Red (born in 2002) few have gained much attention. Perhaps two reasons for that are that polled may have been associated with breeder proven bulls, known for unreliable single herd proofs, and a frequent association between polled and Red & White, which in North America represents only about 5% of the Holstein population.

Aggravation Lawn Boy P-Red (EX-93-GM)

Aggravation Lawn Boy P-Red (EX-93-GM)

Changing Polled Perceptions

On the one hand, the dominance of the polled trait in beef cattle has given rise to the false impression that polled Holsteins are descendant of a beef background.  Today’s DNA testing capabilities answer that concern. However, despite this, the attitude of leading edge breeders is changing. No longer is the approach, stated in 1964 by the then Holstein Canada CEO George M Clemons, ‘we have other more important traits to improve’, in line with current breeders’ thinking.  Today, having doubled the 1964 production levels, breeders want to avoid unpleasant work, unnecessary costs and raise a positive animal welfare reputation.

Polling for Dollars

Just last month at the Ri-Val-Re Sale, in Michigan,  Bomaz Numero Uno 5904 PC (Numero Uno x Lawn Boy P-Red x Laudan x Garter),  the #3 TPI™ polled heifer in the breed at 2365, sold for $(US) 215,0000. (Read more: Ri-Val-Re Select Sale Averages an Outstanding $25,910) Polled has come of age. Not only is Uno 5904 high indexing for fat, protein, mammary systems, productive life, daughter fertility, milking speed and milking temperament but she is also an outcross.  In the same sale Ri-Val-Re The Best P-Red, the #1 TPI™ & NM$ female in the breed (Special Effect P-Red x Macguiness x Advent-Red x Ranger x Factor) sold for $(US) 38,000.  Again an outcross to Oman, Goldwyn, Shottle, Bolton and Planet. Their buyers obviously have plans.  Polled also made the headlines last fall when five doses of semen sold for $50,000 (Read more: $10,000 a dose Polled Semen). It was five doses of semen and the right to exclusivity of use for a few months of the homozygous polled bull Kulp-Dale Golden PP-Red (Colt-P x Goldwyn x Redman x Perk-Red x Rubens).

Ri-Val-Re The Best P-Red, the #1 TPI™ & NM$ female in the breed (Special Effect P-Red x Macguiness x Advent-Red x Ranger x Factor) sold for $(US) 38,000 at the Ri-Val-Re Select Sale.

Ri-Val-Re The Best P-Red, the #1 TPI™ & NM$ female in the breed (Special Effect P-Red x Macguiness x Advent-Red x Ranger x Factor) sold for $(US) 38,000 at the Ri-Val-Re Select Sale.

Going Down the Polled Road

There are two ways to use polled in a herd’s breeding program when it comes to sire selection.  One way is to go all out and only use PP bulls. All heifers born will be polled. The limiting factor will be that the heifers will not be as high for gTPI™, gLPI or NM$ as using P bulls (heterozygous for polled)

The alternative method would be to use P bulls. In the first generation half the heifers will be polled and in the second generation 25% will be homozygous polled, 50% will be polled but heterozygous and 25% will be horned. Definitely a slower route but the heifers will be higher indexing than using PP bulls.

More Bulls Are Polled Apart

The rise in polled popularity goes beyond two top selling heifers and five doses of semen. A search of the CDN files of Black & White polled bulls waiting to be old enough to be sampled, shows six bulls born in later 2012 and seven born and registered already in 2013 over +2750 LPI. Two are over +3000 LPI. Note that, on the CDN files, bulls cannot get a gLPI or have a DGV LPI listed until they are one year of age, These thirteen young bulls are the result of breeders breeding their top indexing females to polled bulls. As more and more top gTPI™ and gLPI cows and heifers are flushed to top polled bulls, 2500 gTPI™ young bulls and heifers will only be a short time down the road.

How to Pick Up Speed On the Polled Road


Roy MacGregor of DairyBullsOnline

It is always wise to ask questions and follow advice of the experts in new procedures.   shares his insights on where to start when establishing polled genetics in your herd (Read more: They`re Sold On Polled!!). “The first procedure is to check for horn bud. If no bud do not dehorn. If after 3-4 weeks no horn bud develops your animal is likely polled. Another really good indicator is double eyelashes. A smooth head and double eyelashes should mean polled right away. Some calves and especially males can develop small immature buds or scurrs much later at 4-6 months or even older. In this case testing your calf with the German test or the UC Davis test is the best idea to avoid confusion.” He offers this encouragement “

There is a small learning curve but after a breeder gets a couple polled calves he will understand that smooth (like glass smooth) means polled, and it will get easier from there. “

Polled Procedures or “When in doubt, test!”

The test currently used through Holstein is the Igenity test, which we are told is accurate to 95% which is really quite good however we are all aware of the bulls Shine, and Balti being the exception. The most accurate test today is the German or UC Davis test closer to 99.9% or greater. However nothing can be said to be 100% because in genetics natural mutations can, and do occur. It should be noted no polled test can save poor management of mixed up hair samples.  Of course, to err is human but when in doubt, test. For Homozygous calves obviously the only way to know is either wait until several offspring are born polled from one horned parent, or test.  However in today’s day and age nobody wants to wait so we simply have to trust the best test at our disposal.

Is Polled Suffering from a Bad Code

Firstly the POC code currently in place naturally tends to lead some to believe there are “polled carriers” which only confuses the matter even more. There is no such thing as a “Polled carrier” animals are either polled or horned. Roy MacGregor, offers this opinion. “I think giving a dominate trait a recessive code is the wrong approach. It would be simpler to add P or PP right in the name. Nobody has to go looking for codes. It’s all right there right in the name, and with proper protocol at registration (simple pedigree research) and proper testing (when needed) this could easily be automatic.”

The Polled Learning Curve

For those who have been following some of the questions and concerns, MacGregor provides his viewpoint. “I think A.I’s all over the world have now panicked and realized all polled bulls need to tested at UC Davis, so the initial shock is probably over. However the problem now is what to do with all the females coded as POC on the 95% accurate Igenity test? This whole POC coding adventure has been especially frustrating for those who have been dealing with polled for years. Imagine being told you have to test something for POC that is obviously polled? Would you ask a breeder with a Red calf to test it for *RC? Polled is still fairly new so hopefully over time common sense will prevail, people just need to relax, slow down, and follow step one (check for the horn bud).”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

So, how do you see polled in your breeding program? Is it an opportunity? Is it an annoyance? Is it a necessity? The genetics are rapidly being established that mean there is no sacrifice in genetic merit if you breed for polled dairy cattle.  The first choice of public opinion is moving quickly in favor of polled. From the sidelines, to headlines to main line it’s time to ask yourself, “When it comes to polled, what line will I commit to?”


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Dairy Carrie – Diary of a City Kid Gone Country

dairy carrie“I grew up in Madison WI, exactly 2 miles south of the World Dairy Expo grounds.” So begins what could be a simple diary entry.  But there is nothing simple about the writing of Carrie Mess who was raised in the heart of dairy land but not exactly part of it – at least not in the beginning. “Aside from seeing lots of cattle trailers on the Beltline as a kid, I had zero connection to dairy farms.” That all changed when Carrie met Patrick Mess whose family has been in the dairy business for generations. “After we got married I left my job in town and started working on the farm. We knew we wanted farming to be a part of our future but I had no idea if I could hack it on a dairy farm. I literally knew nothing about cows when I started but fell in love fast and found what I believe is the path I was meant to be on.” Those who know Carrie wholeheartedly agree.

Blogging In Vicariously!

Carrie had found her path but there would be some twists and turns. Technology became one helpful signpost along the way.  Carrie explains some of the first steps. “Via twitter I found a group of farmers that called themselves the AgChat Foundation. This group was all about using social media to tell the story of agriculture. I attended the 2nd AgChat Foundation 2.0 Conference and started thinking about creating a blog. At the time I was searching for a strong connection to agriculture. Patrick and I had had changes in our lives and weren’t on the dairy farm. I wanted something that kept me part of the dairy industry. A few weeks later I wrote my first post and the rest is history!” History yes!  But a lot more interesting for her readers!!

“All the Moos About Me!”

Patrick and Carrie are back on the farm now and have formed an LLC (Limited Liability Company) with his parents to purchase their 100 cow dairy. Carrie manages the herd health side of things as well as scheduling a few part time employees. She is a blog writer but her passion makes it so much more as she explains, “My blog is centered around agriculture and mainly dairy. However the title is “The Adventures of Dairy Carrie” and my life does include things outside of cows. Sometimes I will blog about music, food or whatever else I am thinking. It’s my blog so I make the rules! I find that writing about non dairy topics is also a great way to connect with people outside of agriculture.” You might say that anything relating to pen-manship — on the farm or on the keyboard — inspires Carrie.


This Merry Prairie Carrie has Mentors

Actresses have role models and bloggers do too! Once again, Carrie aspires to the unexpected. “When I grow up I want to be a combination of the Pioneer Woman and Mike Rowe*. They are both great at sharing stories in a fun and entertaining way.” However, Carrie’s career path has been mentored well on the serious side too. “When it comes to the cows, my in-laws, Clem and Cathy Mess have taught me the vast majority of what I know about dairy cattle. The care they give their cows is an example for all of us.” (Michael Gregory “MikeRowe is an American media personality best known as the host of the Discovery Channel series Dirty Jobs)

Carrie is Caring, Sharing and Calling YOU!

Carrie’s commitment to agriculture is a rallying cry for all of us. ““I believe that the future of agriculture, the very future of our food supply, rests in my hands and the hands of the people out there on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube sharing their lives.

dairy carrie2

Does She Get Carried Away? Absolutely!!

As the wave of Carrie’s dairy enthusiasm grows, so does the pressure on her schedule.  She admits, “I don’t sleep very much and my smart phone is glued to my hand. Between the farm, my full time position with Udder Comfort, selling semen for Sierra Desert Breeders and, my blog is often neglected. I try to post at least one post a week. A post can take me anywhere from 20 minutes to write to hours. I’ve found that some of my most popular posts are posts that I put up in a hurry. I guess I should take that as a hint and not to over think everything that I write.” Judging from her popularity Carrie probably could rest on her laurels and fall back on, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it!” That’s not the Carrie way however!!

The Big Barn Theory Hammers Home Carrie’s “Shocking” Message

Carrie has used many means to deliver her message and one of them was especially revealing. “My most popular post, with over 42,000 views was the video I made showing what really happens on a dairy farm. I set it up as a “shocking undercover video” to mimic the animal rights videos that get out. Again, I was blown away by the response I got! The video was shot quickly and put up so I wouldn’t feel guilty about not posting all week. I think it went over so well because people who were expecting to see something bad instead watched, laughed and learned and didn’t even realize it. I find humor is the best approach to the heavy stuff. Makes it all easier to digest.” Whatever her method the results are music to dairy lovers everywhere.

Someday She Will Carrie a Tune

This dynamo has many fields that she would like to cover in the future.  “I would really love to learn to play the guitar. I am a huge music lover and wish I had the talent to make my own music.”  She’s modest but her musical enthusiasm led to a connection that was behind this hardworking ambassador’s promotion of another agricultural event. ““The Departed song “Worth the Fight” is a really great tune; it really gets me revved up and rocking,” It was the inspiration behind her Farming: Worth the Fight! Agvocacy. “The song has been my biggest inspiration. Last fall when I was organizing a Hay Drive to help struggling farmers and ranchers in Oklahoma and Texas, the guys from The Departed helped me out by sharing the Hay Drive info to their fans. I really appreciated their help and thought that this was a great way to say thanks to them, as well as tie my love for agriculture and music into one big post.” When Carrie loves something, you’re going to hear about it.

Diary of Another Fine Mess

Inspired by the family farm and loving her life with husband Patrick Mess, Carrie says he is the one she relies on. “He can make or fix anything and he keeps me sane when life   starts spiraling out of control.” And that is probably why she so firmly believes that there is hope even though as she puts it, “ the future of farming in our country is teetering on the edge of disaster.” and needs all of us to raise our voices. “Misinformation is running wild across the news channels and internet. If the people out here making the decisions about how food in this country is produced don’t speak up and provide the transparency that our customers are demanding, soon our decisions will be made for us.” Hear here!!

The Bullvine Bottom Line – Carry Forward!

With champions like Carrie sharing her Dairy Diary and carrying the Dairy Torch, the future looks brighter indeed. Let’s help her keep carrying on!! It’s good for all of us!



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