Archive for Genetic Evaluation System

Do dairy breeders need to classify, milk record and register their dairy cattle?

It has been six years since genomic, genetic evaluations were introduced in North America.  Since that time, every part of the dairy improvement industry has changed. The business of artificial insemination has changed from selling predominantly proven sires and having to reward breeders for using young sires to young sire semen which now costs more than proven sire semen and accounts for more than half the semen sales.  On the one hand, there’s a growing misconception that genomics will replace traditional data recording systems, such as those offered by DHI and breed associations.  However, the reality is that, with genomics, accurate and complete performance data is required, in order to maintain the accuracy of genetic evaluations and allow a wider list of traits to be evaluated.

The question becomes where will that genetic information come from, if everyone stops classifying, registering and milk recording?

Accuracy comes from validating data with proven sires

Current genomic evaluations are more accurate than previous traditional evaluations primarily as a result of the large reference population of genotyped progeny proven sires. Without such a significant reference population, genomic evaluations would only offer small gains in accuracy compared to the significant move from 33% to 66% accuracy that a 50K genomic tested young sire currently receives.

The collection of performance data leads to a steady supply of new progeny proven bulls. Without these bulls continually expanding  the reference population, young bulls selected for A.I. would get further away  (and therefore less genetically related) from the proven sires in the reference population. Over time, this would negatively affect the accuracy of genomic evaluations, and we would actually start to see reliability figures decline.

Genomics have allowed us to make even faster genetic progress, however we still need field data for production, health, and conformation, in order to keep and even increase the reliability of the current genetic evaluation system.

Without genomics, test day records or a classification, a cow would maintain her Parent Average (PA) for all production and type traits for her entire life. She would thereby miss out on the opportunity to further enhance the accuracy of her genetic evaluations. Milk recording and classification data are added to the cow’s contribution from PA to produce an Estimated Breeding Value (EBV) that is more accurate than without it. For example, consider a first lactation cow that was genotyped as a heifer. Upon classification, the reliability of this animal’s Conformation index will increase from 68% to 75%. Once a lactation is completed, the reliability of her production index will increase from 73% to 78%. Despite the jump in reliability achieved by genotyping, the incorporation of performance data boosts the reliability, making the cow’s evaluation indexes even more accurate by approximately 10%. (Read more: Three Reasons Why Performance Data Will Always Be Important for Genetic Improvement)

Where does that data come from?

One of the more pertinent questions I hear being asked more frequently is, do we need to use official milk recording and type classification systems in order to validate this data?

With the introduction of on-farm computer systems, many breeders are not finding it necessary to use official DHIA milk recording systems.  That means instead of doing bi-weekly or monthly or sporadic tests for production, components and Somatic Cell Score, breeders who use Robots, for example, get this information with every milking.  This is a far more accurate way to measure production values. Instead of using algorithms to merely predict the in-between production data, these systems are working with the actual numbers.  In fact, these systems are such a complete herd management tool, `that they have metrics and information on many areas the current systems cannot even begin to predict. (Read more: The Future of Dairy Cattle Breeding Is in the Data, and Forget Genomics– Epigenomonics & Nutrigenomics are the future)

In speaking with many of the principal suppliers  in the robotic milking marketplace, they  often comment on that  the dairy breeding industry not only could have more accurate information, but  could also add indexes for more directly applicable evaluations such as feed efficiency.  While many organizations are trying to present algorithms to predict this measure, we could actually have performance data, which would significantly accelerate the accuracy and the rate of genetic gain in this core profitability area.

I have often heard the opposing argument from supporters of the current system. They cite that, since these numbers are not validated or conducted by a non-biased third party, how accurate can they be?  I find this argument doesn’t have any weight at all.   I have seen many hot house herds which have been able to “skew” the current numbers when they needed to. The argument that a third party verifies things means nothing.   With the fact that most new systems are computer based, there is actually the potential to implement a much more secure system for data integrity than the current process allows.  So really, the case for mandatory use of DHIA records is actually allowing far greater inaccuracy of the system, than if we accepted more modern computerized methods.

What about type classification?

The argument for the need for type classification is slightly different.  Since there is no computerized system to score a cow or to measure a cow’s conformation, there is no second data set that could be used instead of classification. Or is there?

Type classification was created in order to predict a cow’s longevity.  Isn’t that exactly what herd life and productive life measure?  Moreover, instead of being based on a prediction, they are  rooted in 100% accurate longevity data.  (Read more: Is Type Classification Still Important?,  She Ain’t Pretty – She Just Milks That Way! and Does Classifying Excellent Mean Profitable? Now? In The Future?)

Hence, the argument for the need to validate conformation data through classification is missing the boat.  Instead of trying to hold on to a system rooted in the past, we should embrace the more relevant data and information available. We should change the systems to evaluate genetic progress and merit based on actual information and should not continue to rely on a subjective system which tries to make predictions. The actual information is available.

What About Registration?

On-farm systems are such an accurate and efficient way to record breeding, calving and parenting information that the arm’s length breed association registration is duplication. Genomic testing provides 100% verification of parentage. (Read more: What is the Role of a Dairy Cattle Breed Association?)

The Bullvine Bottom Line

And so we see that the arguments supporting the need to continue type classification, milk recording and registry are becoming redundant.  Instead of trying to keep a system that validates old school genetic evaluation systems that are based on trying to use algorithms to predict genetic merit, we should be embracing the wealth of new and more accurate information that is available. We should be creating a new system that is based on measurable profitability and herd improvement statistics. The only reason that is left for keeping these three expensive programs is because we feel a need to validate an old animal model.  Instead, we should be creating a new animal model. One that accurately reflects the way modern dairy farmers operate.

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?

Download this free guide.




US Genetic Evaluation Changes: Are You Keeping Up?

There is an old saying about “Keeping up with the Joneses”. The term is often attached to things that happen in high society, but it can also be attached to the purchase of material things. Three decades ago it was installing a home swimming pool. Ten to fifteen years ago it was making sure that your children were introduced to the use of a computer. Recently it has been joining Facebook? Well, dairy cattle breeding is not exempt from change.  Today The Bullvine wishes to overview and provide some comments about keeping up with the changes in genetic indexes for December 2014 recently announced by the Council On Dairy Cattle Breeding (CDCB). For readers interested in exact details, they can go to

Weekly Genomic Evaluations

The first thing to take note of is that genomic indexes will be available every Tuesday (8 am Eastern Time) for animals that have had their analysis completed in the past week.  These weekly released indexes will be approximate as they will not be a full run of the evaluation system. Then once a month the full evaluation will be done and released on the first Tuesday of the month. Some breeders will ask ‘Why do an approximation? Just release the results monthly’.  There are two reasons for this move: 1) The work flow at the analysis lab can be evened out throughout the month; and 2) Breeders can select, sell or cull animals (or embryos) earlier thereby minimizing the expense of raising calves.

Be Clear About the Release Date

For buyers, using genomic evaluation results, it will be important that they ask for the date of release of the results.  It is entirely likely that this change to weekly genomic releases will create confusion until breeders are aware that weekly releases are approximations and until CDCB irons out any wrinkles there may be at the start. As well buyers interested in knowing how close to the top of an elite list that an animal is will need to do extra checking. I think we all knew that in time there would be more and more frequent reporting of animal’s genetic indexes. Dairy cattle breeding is faster every year that’s what happens when genetic advancement is rapid. Breeders need to make sure that they ask if an animal tops the list at the time of the official releases in Dec, April or August, or at the time of the nine other monthly releases, or on a weekly release.  Make sure you ask for the release date.

Base Roll

Every five years the base to which all animals are compared is updated. In December, the base will change to all cows born in 2010 from all cows born in 2005. On the CDCB website, the changes for all traits and all breeds are listed. Table 1 lists are some of the changes in indexes breeders can expect for Holsteins and Jerseys both of which have made significant genetic improvement from 2005 to 2010.

Table 1 – Index Changes That Will Occur in December 2014

Holstein Jersey
Net Merit $ -184 -124
Protein (lbs) -12 -12
Fat (lbs) -17 -19
Milk (lbs) -382 -327
Productive Life (months) -1 -0.8
SCS 0.07 -0.04
DPR -0.2 0
CE 0.4 n/a
DCE 1.6 n/a
UDC -0.92 -0.33
FLC -0.78 -0.15
BDC -0.61 -0.15
Final Score -0.99 -0.53

Breeders can expect that bulls and cows will have their genetic indexes lowered.  The relative rank of animals, of course, will not change. All animals will be affected to the same degree. Bulls that were $700 NM will now be $516 NM.  A base change time is an excellent time for breeders to re-evaluate the minimum values they will require bulls or replacement females to meet.

NM$ Index

Based on the up-to-date facts on genetic merit of the USA dairy populations and the economics of dairy farming in the USA, researchers at USDA-AIPL have fine-tuned the Net Merit index formula. Table 2 provides a comparison of the traits included and their weights for the formula used from 2010 to 2014 and the new formula for 2015.

Table 2 – Traits and Weights * in NM$

2010 2015**
Milk 0 -1
Fat 19 22
Protein 16 20
PL 22 19
SCS -10 -7
UDC 7 8
FLC 4 3
BDC -6 -5
DPR 11 7
CCR 0 2
HCR 0 1
CA$ 5 5

* A negative value indicates that a higher rated animal impacts negatively on NM$
** Indexes that will be issued on December 02, 2014

The changes may not seem major, but it should be noted that the emphasis on production traits are increasing from 35% to 43%.  This is similar to the change in emphasis that will occur in TPI in December (link to MSH’s article on changes for TPI). Breeders can expect that there will be re-ranking of bulls for NM$ especially for bulls that either excel or are below average for their production traits indexes. Animals that excelled for SCS, PL and DPR, can be expected to fall back relative to other animals in the breeding population. Breeders should take time to go through the new rankings in December before ordering semen, purchasing embryos or replacement females.

A New Grazing Index

Based on breeder requests, CDCB will be producing a fourth total merit index called Grazing Merit (GM$). The three previous total merit indexes, Net, Cheese and Fluid will remain in place. GM$ will take into account the needs of grazing herds and reflect the need in those herds for high fertility and seasonal calving cycles. With the move, in some regions or countries, to have the cows harvest their own forage and the production of milk during the growing season, this index is sure to get serious consideration.

Fertility Indexes

As noted in Table 2 heifer and cow conception rate genetic indexes are now included in the NM$ formula. The rationale is, of course that a conception must take place before there is a pregnancy. Fertility will no longer be solely DPR. As well the methodology for determining DPR will change with more information incorporated into the calculation. Breeders can expect that for some sires, there may be changes in their DPR as the correlation between the previous and the December DPR proofs is only 0.97.

New Genetic Evaluation Software

The new software has been used for calculating all fertility indexes since December 2013. This change in software will not be as obvious to breeders. The software in use previously was implemented in 1989. Since then, computational strategies and methodologies have been significantly enhanced. Extensive comparisons have shown that, for the daughter proven sires, the correlation between the evaluation results for the new and old software is 0.995. That is very high. However for cows and genomically and parent average evaluated animals, there may be some changes due to a software change.

Sign Up to Learn More

Holstein USA wants all breeders, regardless of which breeds they have in their herd, to have the latest details before December 02.  They will be doing that by hosting a webinar on November 13 at 1 pm Eastern Time.  Details on the webinar can be found by going to and on the home page will be found a link to the webinar. Click on the link – people wishing to participate in the webinar will need to register.  Interested people should register early.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

It is recommended that breeders take the time after the indexes are released on December 02 to go through the official listings with the goal of objectively selecting the animals, especially sires, which best meet their breeding plan. (Read more: What’s the plan?). We say objectively because it could well be that a sire you were using this fall no longer ranks high enough for you to continue to use him. However, it is not only sires that we must be objective about. Some previously high donor females may also drop. However, there will also be animals that go up in their rank position in their breed.

Even though our first reaction may be to say that the new index is wrong, we must remember that the researchers have worked hard to bring the industry more accurate information so dairy breeders can continue to move their herds forward genetically — as rapidly as possible! Making it possible to keep up with the Joneses!!



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The New Net Merit Formula – The Winners & The Losers

For over twenty years USDA-AIPL and now CDCB have been publishing Net Merit (NM$) values for dairy cattle with US genetic evaluations.  Over those twenty years five revisions have been made to the formula, the last in 2010, as new traits have been added, new genetic evaluation methodologies have been developed, and the economics of dairy farming has changed. The next change in the formula will occur in December 2014.

It is important that breeders consider the impact of the coming changes as they review the sire, cow and heifer NM$ indexes on August 12th.  Breeder consideration is needed because the matings that are made this fall will have offspring born in 2015 when the new formula will be in place. Obviously the changes in the formula will not affect how the new future animals will perform but it will, however, affect where the animal ranks for marketing purposes and where a herd’s genetic level for NM$ is relative to other herds.

Let’s dig deeper and see what changes are to take place and how that may affect current breed leading NM$ sires.

Significant Changes Coming In December

The following table compares the weightings, 2010 to 2014 (December), for the components of the NM$ formula.

TABLE 1: Comparison of Relative Emphasis for Traits in NM$ Index

DE-SU OBSERVER-ET16027.22.7667922.73.020.892332
HONEYCREST BOMBAY NIFTY-ET2367.22.627553-0.46-0.130.971810
POTTERS-FIELD KP LOOT-ET10047.22.6876500.081.71-0.241954
KELLERCREST BRET LANDSCAPE817.12.3685060.651.271.161838
WHITMAN O MAN AWESOME ANDY2026.92.5557540.32-0.171.212063
ZIMMERVIEW BRITT VARSITY-ET4106.82.6266680.71-0.471.552013
CLEAR-ECHO NIFTY TWIST-ET9426.82.628748-0.32-0.421.172039
KED OUTSIDE JEEVES-ET3556.82.83105151.370.971.741913
ENSENADA TABOO PLANET-ET22166.72.9867211.931.44-0.472176
GOLDEN-OAKS GUTHRIE-ET10786.72.786535-1.15-1.240.361728
DALE-PRIDE MANFRED ALFIE5196.62.966461-0.63-0.36-0.011702
LAESCHWAY JET BOWSER 2-ETN2006.52.8474551.622.031.831940
ELKENDALE DIE-CAST-ET-8726.52.7263700.681.851.991718
LAESCHWAY JET BOWSER-ET2006.52.8474551.622.031.831940
BADGER-BLUFF FANNY FREDDIE12366.42.757791.571.62.872292
CABHI AUSTIN POTTER-ET1516.42.8165200.050.410.021766
CABHI MOOSE-ET456.42.6463730.180.31.111625
SILDAHL JETT AIR-ET11186.32.6466442.882.262.912168
SPRING-RUN CAMDEN-676.22.9174330.571.790.61762
KERNDT MAXIE GOLDSTAR-ET1996.22.576449-1.28-0.61-0.961631

Thoughts on the changes include:

3 Proven Sires Favored by New Formula

Three currently (April 2014) high NM$ proven sires will gain from the new formula. They are: Roylane Socra Robust; Den-K AltaGreatest; and Mainstream Manifold. They are all high production sires, and the new formula will favour them. All three, Robust, AltaGreatest and Manifold will also benefit from less emphasis on their average traits – SCS and DPR.

Breeders can expect to see sires that have production indexes below 1500 lbs for milk and 65 lbs for fat drop relative to other sires for NM$. Sires over 2200lbs milk, 80 lbs fat and 55 lbs for protein will rank higher for NM$ come December 2014. Breeders that use NM$ in sire selection should consider discontinue using, after August 12th, sires with low production indexes.

2 Genomic Sires Going Up!

Two currently (April 2014) high NM$ genomic sires will be rated higher with the new formula. They are: Cogent Supershot; and Uecker Supersire Josuper. They are outstanding for production. Supershot – 2528 lbs milk, 100 lbs fat and 85 lbs protein. Josuper – 2971 lbs milk, 118 lbs fat and 92 lbs protein. Supershot has good ratings for the other traits so will remain to standout for NM$. Josuper will benefit from less emphasis on traits where he is breed average.

Many current relatively high ranked NMS genomic sires will fall back if they have only moderate milk indexes.  Breeders should consider discontinuing the use of genomically evaluated sires below 1600 lbs milk, 85 lbs fat and 60 lbs protein.

The Effect on Polled Sires

Current marketed polled proven sires are not highly rated for production, so will not fair well with the new NM$ formula. On the genomic sire side, two high production sires standout as sires that should increase in their relative NM$. They are Bryhill Socrates P (1914 milk 99 fat and 65 protein) and Pine-Tree Ohio Style P (2033 milk, 64 fat and 57 protein). Other sires that will do relatively well under the new NM$ formula are Kerndtway Eraser P, Da-So-Burn MOM Earnhardt P and Pine-Tree Ohare P.  Many polled sires have below 1000 lbs of milk and can be expected to drop significantly in NM$ come December.

1 Star Sires of Sons

One sire of sons stands out as benefiting, in a significant way, from the new NM$ formula. That sire is Seagull Bay Supersire. His high production numbers put him in an elite status – 2434 lbs milk, 111 lbs fat and 78 lbs protein. The reduced emphasis on SCS and DPR, in the new formula, will also help Supersire, as he is average for those traits.

Other genomically evaluated sires of sons, heavily used over the past couple of years, often have been only moderately high for production traits. Included in this category are sires such as Mountfield SSI Dcy Mogul, De-Su BKM Mccutchen and Amighetti Numero Uno. These sires do have some outlier high production rated sons but, on average, the majority of their sons will drop for NM$ come December.

Be Prepared to Avoid Inbreeding

With both Robust (sire) and Supersire (son) in heavy use and both benefiting from the new NM$ formula, it will require that top outcross sire and female lines be identified and used in order to avoid inbreeding. That can be accomplished by breeders using both corrective mating and genomic testing.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The changes coming for the NM$ formula in December 2014 are not just minor tweaks. Breeders that use the NM$ index in sire selection should be prepared to set aside sires that in the past have had high NM$ ratings but were only average to slightly above average for their production indexes.

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?

Download this free guide.




The Genomic Bubble Has Burst?

Well that is what some would have you believe.  They cite the decreased prices at the top sales, and that genomic young sires are no longer much higher on the list then their proven counterparts.  (Read more: An Insider’s Guide to What Sells at the Big Dairy Cattle Auctions 2013) The truth is that, instead of just citing observations, true breeders are looking at the facts.  For them, the facts show that Genomics is here to stay.

Almost daily I read warnings in other “leading” dairy publications against the use of genomic sires.  This panders to the old school mentality that fosters breeder concern about using Genomics.  Instead of basing their comments on facts, they use hearsay, conjecture and outright fear mongering to defend their comments.

Here at the Bullvine we have always worked to let the facts guide what we write.  That is probably the biggest reason that we have been proponents of Genomics from the start.  There are several key points that we think many breeders and our fellow media are missing.  Let’s summarize them here to help put an end to nonsensical comments.

  1. Genomics is a Tool
    It drives me nuts on a daily basis the number of breeders who refer to Genomics as a selection tool.  Genomics increases the reliability of individual traits and indexes.  That’s it.  The term “Genomics” is miss-used by many when they should be referring to “High Index” sires, meaning list toppers on the gTPI, gLPI and other lists.  This may seem like a minor thing.  I am even guilty of it myself from time to time.  However, it’s really a huge error when you look at it from a breeder viewpoint.  Over the past week, I looked at more than 100 comments about Genomics from naysayers.  Every single one of them would have been more accurate if they had used the term “High Index” rather than Genomics.  Most of the reservations against Genomics have more to do with the use high index sires.  The debate between selecting for “High Index” or “Proven” pedigrees will go on for years to come.  The thing that many miss is that Genomics is a tool that can help both strategies.  Since Genomics helps increase the accuracy of the indexes in both strategies, it will help both strategies excel into the future.
  2. The Numbers Don’t Lie
    It’s always easy to state a case-by-case example and find a few cases that help prove any point.  It takes a look at the full spectrum to truly get an accurate assessment on how any program or tool is working.  The facts are pretty clear that Genomics increases young sire’s reliability by 30% and 1st crop proven sires by 5%.  In effect that says that a young sire with a 50K genomic test and a proven sire will now have reliability comparable to an early 1st crop proven sire pre-genomics.  This would indicate that if you were willing to trust a 1st crop proof prior to the introduction of Genomics, you should now be willing to trust a genomic young sire with a proven sire as their reliabilities are very comparable.  Furthermore, the genetics marketing is also supporting this.  Genomic young sires are set to outsell proven sires as most breeders are confident in the numbers and are making sound breeding decisions based on them.  As we mentioned in our article Genomics – Lies, Miss-Truths and False Publications, genomically evaluated bulls with 65% reliable gLPIs, breeders can expect 95% of the time that their official proof will be within 670 LPI points (within about 18-20%) (Please note that with change in Canadian LPI formula this number is more like 400 LPI points).  This means  that we can be 95% sure that the current top gLPI sire, SILVERRIDGE V EXTREME (gLPI of +3544), will be higher than +3000 LPI, once he has his official progeny proven index that is over 90% reliable and that would make him the top  3 active proven sire in Canada.  In the US sires like ZAHBULLS ALTA1STCLASS (gTPI of +2598) will end up over +2200 gTPI placing him in the top 10.  (Editor’s note: Prior to the regression to bring high genomic young sires closer to proven sires, sires like Extreme and Alta1stclass would have actually been higher than the current top proven sire).  Yes genomic young sires do on average drop below their original predicted values, but, they are on average still higher than the proven sires of that time.
  3. Falling Numbers are not an Indicator of System Failure
    Whether it’s young sires indexes dropping or semen prices going down, neither of these two events accurately  predict the status  of Genomics.  You see Genomics is new to the industry and, with anything that is new, there is a period of figuring out how the “new world” will work.  During that period aggressive breeders and semen companies have sought to maximize revenues for themselves and the breeders they represent.  This has meant testing the market to see just what is the maximum revenue price for each animal or dose of semen.  Simple economics teaches us that we need to test that point that maximizes revenue, that is either sell at a high prices and reduced quantity or sell at a medium price at increased quantity.  Both are sound strategies. At times due to exclusivity and extreme unique genetics, young sire semen has sold for $10,000 a dose and, with the removal of the exclusivity and other sires coming out after the fact, that semen is now available at a greatly reduced price.  (Read more: $10,000 a dose Polled Semen).  The breeder who purchased this semen, Ri-Val-Re Holsteins from Michigan, actually made out very well with his investment as he had a clear plan with the use of IVF to maximize his return.  (Read more:  Breeding R-Val-Re: Where looking good in the stall is just as important as looking good on paper) It has also led to other attempts and premium pricing or pricing models.  This is not a failure of the system.  This is progressive individuals trying to discover how the new system is going to work.  Does it always return maximum profits?….No.  But does it help those individuals understand the new market and how they can operate to maximize efficiency in the future?  ….Yes.  Just because you are not able to justify these prices for your breeding program goals, does not mean that it will not work for others.  The big thing is for you to understand your genetic plan and goals and make sure you are constantly evaluating and improving them.  (Read more: What’s the plan?). It is interesting to note that since the introduction of Genomics the rate of genetic advancement has more than doubled.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.  Since more breeders can make more sound decisions, the industry as a whole is benefiting.

rate of genetic gain young sire

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Genomics will not make every breeder an instant Master Breeder.  Nor does it profess to.  What it will do is help each breeder make sound breeding decisions based on the most accurate information available.  There is still the need to have a breeding strategy the works for your specific management and financial goals.  You cannot simply use the entire list topping sires and expect to end up with the greatest herd in the world.  You need to take the time to choose the sires that work best for each specific mating and understand the issues of each cow or sire daughter group (i.e. inbreeding, strengths and weaknesses).  That is exactly what great breeders of the past did.  .  They took the time to assess their animals and planned how to end up with the best progeny possible.  That, and not Genomics, is what will lead to the greatest genetic advancement.  Genomics is simply a tool that enables breeders to make improvement happen faster!

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?

Download this free guide.




Genomics – Lies, Miss-Truths and False Publications!

2013ectRecently I read the most disturbing Letter to the Editor that I have read in a long time.  It was produced by lr Gerard Scheepens.  The concerning  part was that it was written by someone working  for an  A.I. company  (K.I. Samen) and was published by a dairy publication (Holstein World) trying to pander to those who spend the most money with them instead of thinking about how accurate the letter was.  In typical Bullvine fashion we decided to dispel the lies, miss-truths and false publications, so that you, the dedicated breeder, can see through the BS and understand what is actually happening.

Accurate Prediction or Wishing on a dream

In the article they make the following comment “Looking at the results of the genomic bulls with daughters in production you can see a devastating truth; nearly all of the bulls drop and drop a lot.”  The funny part, but not surprising is that they don’t back up this “devastating truth” with numbers.  Having painted a bleak picture, they just provide generalities and expect you to accept them as truth.  As the Bullvine has published several times in the past (Read more: How Much Can You Trust Genomic Young Sires? and The Truth About Genomic Indexes – “show me” that they work!), genomically evaluated bulls with 65% reliable gLPIs, breeders can expect 95% of the time that their official proof will be within 670 LPI points (within about 18-20%) (Please note that with change in Canadian LPI formula this number is more like 400 LPI points).  This means  that we can be 95% sure that the current top gLPI sire, SILVERRIDGE V EXTREME, will be higher than +3173 LPI, once he has his official progeny proven index that is over 90% reliable and that would make him the highest active proven sire in Canada.  Yes genomic young sires do on average drop below their original predicted values, but, they are on average still higher than the proven sires of that time.  This clearly means that they are a better option than the proven bulls available at that time.  It’s called genetic advancement.

Columbus disease

Didn’t Christopher Columbus colonize the new world?  Wouldn’t America have been different if Columbus had not dared to try new things?  If bold thinkers like Columbus had not set out to explore and try new things the world would still be reported to the editor as flat?  You see in order to advance we have to try new things.  The benefits of a technology such as genomics is that there are educated risks.  They are not sure fire guaranteed, they are educated risks.  Even using a 99% reliable sire will not give you the same exact result every time.  Fear mongers who are afraid of change like to throw out things like bulls’ proofs dropping.  Well, guess what people, so do proven bulls’ proofs.  Those proofs just don’t get noticed as much and no one is using it to put fear into breeders for no reason other than personal profit.  Mother always said that upon hearing outrageous criticism, “Always consider where it’s coming from!”


I don’t profess to be a mathematician or a geneticist, though there is one fact I know for sure.  The more accurate the information you have to work from the more accurate the result.  Genomics is not a perfect science, but it is more accurate than just parent averages alone.  You think bull’s proofs drop now.  Look what used to happen before the introduction of genomics.  (Read more: Has Genomics Knocked Out the Hot House Herds? And The Hot House Effect on Sire Sampling).  If someone runs a person over with a car, who is to blame?  Is it the car manufacturer’s fault for making a machine that can go faster than we can walk and larger than a bike?  Or is it the driver’s fault for using the machine in other than the intended way.  You see genomics in itself is not solely to blame when the resulting calf does not live up to expectations.  (Read more: Who’s to Blame? Why is there a lack of accountability in the Dairy Genetics Marketplace)

Real change is needed

In the published letter to the editor the author highlights the issue of inbreeding, something that has been an issue for a very long time.  The thing is you need to put inbreeding into perspective.  First data from the US reported that the current cost of inbreeding over an average cow’s lifetime was US$24.  (Read more: INBREEDING: Does Genomics Affect the Balancing Act?) That means that a 1% reduction in progeny inbreeding (valued at around $5 per cow).  But what if the genetics of that animal also means that their production will drop $10?  Inbreeding needs to be kept in perspective.  Inbreeding is only an issue when you don’t manage and account for it.  (Read more:  6 Steps to Understanding & Managing Inbreeding in Your Herd and Twenty Things Every Dairy Breeder Should Know About Inbreeding) There are times when certain levels of inbreeding can work well.  You just need to understand all the factors.

Sire and son

In the article it makes the point that “O Man has 253 sons with daughters tested in the US and only 5 of them score higher than him on Net Merit.”  It is funny that for any point you can find one single stat that you might think (or hope) proves your point.  In actual fact   you need to look at performance over a whole population not case by case.  It’s like saying 2% of the population died from the use of penicillin, what about the 98% of the population who are still living as a result of its use?

“150% more progress in what?  for whom?”

The number of times the author of this article shows an inability to understand bull proofs is a major concern.  In the article he makes the following comments “The top 10 NM bulls from August 2009 with daughters had an average of 702 NM.  The top 10 NM genomic bulls without daughters had an average of 814.  The genomic bulls without daughters had a 14% lead.  In April 2013 the average of the bulls with daughter group dropped to 607 around 13.5%.  However the genomic group fell to 515 NM which leads to a drop of 37%.  Furthermore, the proven group, which was 106 NM behind now leads with 92 points NM.  Where is the speed, and where is the progress?”  Again there are two main issues here.  First can I introduce you to something that is called a base change?  Secondly,   the author is again using a selective group versus the whole population.  There are published results from across the whole population that shows that the actual rate of genetics advancement has increased rapidly with the use of genomics.

rate of genetic gain young sire

Cows are not pigs

Can pigs fly?  The author’s point about how cows are not pigs is almost as irrelevant as the price of eggs in Winnipeg.  Yes in pigs the female has a larger role in genetic advancement than the female in cattle (Though the use of IVF on top females in dairy cows is quickly changing that).  The point the author makes is about how cows need to also reproduce in addition to produce.  That is why we have traits like daughter fertility, calving ability, daughter calving ability, calving ease, maternal calving ease, daughter pregnancy rate, sire still birth and daughter still birth.  This has nothing to do with genomics.  It has to do with which traits we use to evaluate animals.

Variation is essential

“The new major impact bull always has an original pedigree”, according to the author of the letter.  Really?  Was Durham that unique (Elton x Chief Mark)?  Shottle (Mtoto x Aerostar)?  Goldwyn (James x Storm)?  Man-O-Man (Justice x Aaron)?  I think more time, research and education should be taken by the author.  It is much needed before making comments that have no facts to back them up.

Reliability or accuracy?!?

For about 30 seconds I almost agreed with the author on this one point…then they fell off the rails and I was back to how off the mark this individual is.  Yes bias is an issue (Read more: Preferential Treatment – The Bull Proof Killer).  But then the author’s points fall off the train when he says “The accuracy of the breeding is way too low to take that kind of chance.  Accuracy of the proof will become more important than the reliability of the proof.”  That logic would then say that we never use an un-proven sire ever again.  Then where would our genetic advancement be?

How to stop a runaway train?

And then the author himself slams the brakes on his own runaway line of reasoning!  The author categorically states that as an industry we should “spend the money by improving the animal model, spend on better evaluations, less costly and more effectively.”  The simple reply:  Isn’t that exactly what genomics is designed to do?  And is doing?

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Since launching the Bullvine we learned one thing, it’s not wise to spread falsehoods or inaccurate information.  That is why whenever possible we have always put facts behind our points or when there are no facts available, such as in the case of dairy cattle pictures, we have gone to the effort ourselves so show how things are working.  We don’t believe in treating our readers as if they have no brains by publishing falsehoods or misinformation.  Instead we believe an educated breeder is the most valuable asset the dairy industry must have at this time.  That is why each day we source, write and share the most educational content in the dairy industry.  And we back it up with facts!

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Young Sire Sampling, Bacon Wrapped Turkey and the Importance of Being Random

I’ve been known to be random.  Quite random in fact.  Anyone who reads the Bullvine will find that sometimes there will be articles that seem to come out of nowhere.  This is because my mind seems wander all over the place sometimes and then all of sudden I get an idea and a thought for a new article or topic of discussion comes out of the blue.  The other day I was looking through my Facebook news stream and saw a picture of a turkey wrapped in bacon, which I shared of course because, in my unbiased opinion, there is nothing better than turkey and bacon together.  Nevertheless this is not a naturally occurring combination.  And, while delicious, it is definitely selectively controlled. This spurred the thought about the need to be random in sire sampling and how our young sire programs have gone from being random to totally controlled.

The Evolution of Genetic Evaluations

Prior to the introduction of Genomics, a young sire who was selectively sampled, say regionally, would have never been touched as breeders would have limited confidence in this sire’s ability to transmit when used in other herd environments.  That is because in order to get an accurate genetic evaluation of a young sire you needed to have young bulls sampled in many different herd environments where their daughters’ performance could be compared with contemporaries under a range of different circumstances.  This is the very foundation that our “Animal Model” is built on.

Over the years the way we look at sires has changed drastically.  First we looked at how their daughters’ average performance compared to other sires, with no regard for herd mate performance.  A method I see some old school breeders still using today.  In the 1970’s came the Modified Contemporary Comparison (MCC), which started to incorporate the performance of herd mates into evaluating sires.  This system was further improved to incorporate more information from relatives and resulted in the introduction of the full (cow and bull) Animal Model in 1989.

rate of genetic gain 60-86

It is interesting to see that if you look at the rate of genetic gain prior to 1974 (prior to the introduction of the MCC), you see that the rate has greatly increased since.


The five key factors that are considered in the animal model are:

  1. The cow’s management group
  2. The cow’s genetic merit
  3. The cow’s permanent environment
  4. The common environment of paternal-half sisters
  5. Other unexplained random environment

Where the problem lies is with that fifth factor” other unexplained random environment.”  Typically, that is meant to refer to the differences that still exist among cows’ records that haven’t been explained by other factors in the model.  In the past this was temporary as it does not affect a cow’s transmitting ability, as in the case of decline in milk yield due to mastitis flare-up.  The problem is this still assumed that everything thing was being done on a random basis with no herd and no selective sampling.

The Genomic Era – Not Random

The simplest way for the Animal Model to account for all things that cannot be explained is as a random event.  When spread over a large enough sample size, those random events will average out and we will be left with the true genetic merit of those animals we are evaluating.  That all worked just fine, prior to the introduction of genomics, when young sires where randomly sampled over many different herd environments, and a wide variety of dams with different degrees of genetic merit.  But with the introduction of genomics, no longer are young sires being sampled on just average cows.  They are now being selectively used on some of the highest genetic merit cattle in the world.  This is totally kicking that random principle out the window.

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 (well at least they say they are), 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.

Sure you can say that the Animal Model is supposed to account for this.  See bullet number 2 in factors considered by the animal model.  But is it doing so accurately?  Of even more concern is the bias resulting from the preferential treatment that offspring of the highest genomics sires receive (Read more:  Preferential Treatment – The Bull Proof Killer).  It’s only natural for these animals to receive this preferential treatment. The problem is that the Animal Model does not account for it.

This is not a new problem.  It’s just being amplified.  In the past this happened very frequently.  Just look at second country proofs of some elite daughter proven sires, Shottle, Planet, Man-O-Man, preferential treatment and selective use had these sire skyrocket to the top of the lists, only to settle back down once more random sampling occurred.  This is something we have already seen with Observer, His initial proof had him #1 in the US for TPI then once more daughters were added he settled to a respectable #8 among 99% reliable sires (Read more: Genomics at Work – August 2013).

One way this was dealt with in the past was to increase the minimum level of reliability for foreign bulls to receive domestic proofs.  In general this strategy was sufficient in the pre-genomic era, but even the centers that produce the genetic evaluations, such as CDN, are no longer finding this works in the current animal model.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

At the Bullvine we would love to say we know the solution.  The challenge is we don’t. Furthermore, I am not sure even those responsible for solving this problem have a clear grip on how to handle this.  Sure we could up the requirement for sires to receive their first proof, but is that really going to solve the problem?  What I do know is that time is of the essence. Within the next 12 months many of the sires that heavily promoted and selectively used post the introduction of genomics will be receiving progeny proofs in 2014.  If we don’t find a solution to this problem soon, we are all going to look as manufactured as bacon wrapped turkeys.

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How Much Can You Trust Genomic Young Sires?

There has certainly been great debate since the introduction of genomics about how accurate the information is.  While some breeders have gone full throttle on the use of genomic test sires, others are still very hesitant in the use of these yet to be daughter proven sires.  For many the question remains,” how much can we trust these sires?”

Recently I had a conversation with a breeder and he said “They are only 70% reliable and you can’t really trust that.”  To which I argued, “Actually you can trust that a fair bit.”

Some time ago CDN  published that for genomically evaluated bulls with 65% reliable gLPIs, breeders can expect 95% of the time that their official proof will be within 670 LPI points (within about 18-20%).  This means  that we can be 95% sure that the current top gLPI sire, Suntor Joyride, will be higher than +2813 LPI, once he has his official progeny proven index that is over 90% reliable.  That boils down to say that at least 95% of the time Joyride would end up with an official proof that would rank him in the top 10 in Canada.  That is the worst case scenario.

When you apply this to your breeding program when you’re using a genomic young sire, you can take 670 LPI points or approximately 455 TPI points off their predicted index and they will achieve that number or higher 95% of the time.  For example, take the #1 gPA TPI sire, Seagull-Bay Supersire, who has a current gPA TPI of +2527 and you can be 95% certain that his daughter proof that is over 90% reliable will be at least +2072.  That would place him in the top 77 sires in the US (260 points behind current proven leader Observer).  Remember that is 95% of the time he would be there at least.  Not a bad worst-case scenario. (Read more: The Truth About Genomic Indexes – “Show Me” That They Work)

Pattern vs. Rank

The question that really comes to mind for me is not necessarily how do they rank, but rather how good is genomics at predicting the sire’s breeding pattern?  Rankings will change all the time as new sires are added and breeders continue to push the envelope on genetic advancement.  I am more concerned about how good genomics is at predicting the strengths and weaknesses of a sire.

To look closer at this, I decided to compare Maple-Downs-I G W Atwood’s genomic proof pattern vs. his now daughter proven pattern.  Since Atwood is now over 95% reliable, it is safe to assess his current strengths and weaknesses, remembering that he was heavily used based on his genomic proof.  In looking at Atwood’s genomic indexes, you would have said that he was a strong components sire with low production.  His type pattern was that he would leave you outstanding daughters with great mammary systems, feet & legs and loads of dairy strength, but needs to be protected on rumps.  Looking at his actual daughter performance you would see the same exact pattern.  While yes his rump score is lower than his genomic index would have indicated, it was an area that genomics did say needed to be protected.

The interesting pattern that we have started to see is that the greatest variance from genomic prediction to actual proof is in the areas of health and fertility.  Logically that makes sense, since most of these traits have a lower reliability.  What we are noticing here is that genomic sires due to tend to follow the pattern of their sires for health and fertility traits more so than those of their dams.  This makes sense too, since there is a larger data set in the sire’s health and fertility index than in the index of a dam.  So next time you are looking at a genomic test sires health and fertility traits be sure to also check out those traits for his sire, as that may be as much a predictor of his potential as are his own indexes.

Sire Sampling

Prior to the introduction of Genomics in 2008, there was great attention paid to how young sires were sampled.  AI companies worked very hard at getting a young sire sampled in as many different herds and different environments as possible, in order to get an accurate proof.  Since the introduction of Genomics this has actually changed drastically.  It is now to the point where the top genomic sires are actually used very selectively.

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 mattings on extremely high index, carefully selected mates.  This too 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.

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.  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 possibly 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.  This preferential treatment problem is going to get greater attention, as more high profile genomic sires,  priced high and heavily  marketed will start to receive proofs in 2013.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

More and more Genomic young sires are now receiving their daughter proven proofs and many, such as Observer, have come through with flying colors.  While rankings may change, the important thing to remember is that the genomic indexes did accurately predict breeding patterns.  In that case, if you took the effort to make sure you used the sire because he was the correct mate for the animal, then the majority of the time the resulting progeny should be fine.  If instead you used the sire just because of how he ranked and then his ranking changed, well then yes, you are going to find that you may not be as happy.  The key thing to remember in any mating you are doing is know your goals.  Make sure you breed towards them by selecting the sire that best accelerates those traits that you are breeding for and fixes the challenges of the cow you are breeding to.  When you do that, you can be very confident in using genomic young sires to deliver the results you are looking for.

The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


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Data Systems in the Future – Are We Ready?

Three times in the past two weeks serious dedicated dairy cattle breeders have asked the Bullvine questions that we too have been wondering about.

QUESTION 1: Why do we accept breeders collecting DNA samples but not owner recorded milk weights?

QUESTION 2: Why can’t milk weights from robotic systems be considered for publication purposes?

QUESTION 3: Why don’t milk recording programs take all relevant details about a cow when the milk yield data is captured?

We decided to turn those queries into a think piece so that even more breeder input can be brought into the discussion.

The Reality Is

The current data included in national data bases is based on what was the norm a couple of decades back. As well it is based on the previously accepted fact that only human eyes could determine if a recording was accurate or unbiased.

Times have changed. Today robots milk cows without human oversight. Technology is coming out every year on ways to capture more details that can help in breeding, feeding and managing dairy animals.

It is true that individual owners own their animal’s data. They paid for its capture, but only through having all the data for dairy cows in one or inter-linked data systems will breeders be able to advance their animals as quickly as possible.  No one breeder is an island onto themselves so the approach must be to use and make available all the animal data.

The reality is that it is time to put energy and resources into addressing the needs and possibilities when it comes to the data captured, stored and reported.

Capturing Cow Data

In both robotic and large herds owners do not milk the cows. The computers or cow milkers have no bias towards any one cow. Also systems are being used in some tie stall barns where the RFID tag identifies the cow and the system electronically captures the yield. In these systems the data is captured for each and every milking.

QUESTION 4: Why is that data not available for others to see?

QUESTION 5: What can be more accurate than recording every milking?

Surely we are not prepared to argue that eight to ten single milking observations in a lactation by a third party person is more accurate than every milking captured by the milking system.

Canada found twenty years ago that owner recorded milk weights and collected milk samples were accurate enough for sire proving purposes. Data that is 95% accurate is much superior to no data at all.

In the foreseeable future there will be parlour systems that can instantaneously provide readings for butterfat %, protein %, SCS, milk temperature and hormone levels and we expect in time readings for fat composition, protein composition and a host of other readings. Wow won’t that be useful information to use to breed, feed and manage?

Question 6: Will this further information be moved off the farm into the national data system?

Just last week it was reported at the Progressive Dairy Operators Conference that RFID ear tags may have use for measuring temperature and ear movement to monitor heats in tie stall barns. That is interesting.

Data Starts Early

Calves are to be identified at birth with RFID tags.

Question 7: Why is it not possible to use technology that now exists to collect a piece of the ear tissue for DNA analysis?

That way every animal would have a DNA profile at birth. With the very interesting things we are learning on DNA profiles and heifer management, we have just scratched the surface of this crystal ball.

Calves are now being fed by computers from day three or four of age. There will potentially be a very useful data set there that can be of great benefit when determining genetic merit, feeding programs and management practices.

Let’s Dream the Possible Dream

But it does not end there! Many other details and data sets exist that are not part of the national data base but that can be useful for animal traceability, food safety (mastitis and other drug treatment), foot care, reproduction, production limiting diseases (i.e. Johnes), pedometers, rumen boluses (i.e. temperature),… and the list goes on.

Question 8: Are plans being made to link all dairy cattle data bases?

But Is It Official?

In the past, if a piece of information could not be authenticated then it could not be published.  In the future, every farm using genetics to advance their animals will, out of necessity, need to capture and use more data than they have ever had to in the past. Official and unofficial applied when breeders were or were not prepared to trust the method of data capture.

In today’s world there are many systems of marketing and commerce that are monitored as necessary but without a third party observing every event. Breeders are routinely putting on Facebook events about their cows, including their milk yields, an animal’s profit per day, flushing history and ability to come into heat when milking 120 pounds per day. The world of dairy cow information is changing and changing quickly.

QUESTION 9:  What does the current “official” actually mean in the bigger future scheme of things?

The Bullvine Bottom Line

THE ALMOST FINAL ANSWER: Future data standards will need to address that more information will be needed and that data must be universally available. Breeder input is needed now to guide the development of future standards for data captured, stored and reported.


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Cow Mobility: One Step Forward or Two Steps Back?

The udder may be a cow’s most prized physical asset, but her feet and legs literally provide the support for everything she does. How many situations with problem cows boil down to problems with their feet and legs?

In most herds foot care and hoof trimming are considered to be a very necessary event and, therefore, an expense that cannot be avoided. With this absolute in mind, we tend to march on breeding, feeding and managing cows without taking the time to consider ways to stop merely treating the symptoms we`re stuck with. Solving the problem before it becomes a health or management problem could completely avoid starting our animals off on the wrong foot. The Bullvine invites you to consider the genetics of feet and legs with us to stimulate a breeding solution for these issues.

The Heels of a Dilemma

In milk recorded herds, culling cows for feet and leg problems is #1 on the list of conformation culling reasons. In the past, udder breakdown was once the leader. However breeders have placed sufficient emphasis on improving udders that we are now to the stage where milk producers are saying they do not need to select bulls for udder traits except to avoid ones that are too deep.  It’s encouraging to know that with focus and time identified problems can be solved.

Although removal of horns may be the current hot button for people concerned about the welfare of animals, and therefore breeders are selecting for polled, there are numerous reports predicting that lame cows will be the next and much larger target.

Certainly, there are no dairypersons who are saying that feet and legs are good enough that genetic improvement for feet and legs is not needed.

Locomotion is Costing Us an Arm and a Leg

Reports show that for a cow with one temporary sore foot it reduces her annual profit by at least $100.  So what is the cost of a cow with foot construction that requires trimming 3-5 times per year, medication, less milk production, milk withdrawal, extended calving interval and premature culling? Feet and leg problems could be costing some herds $300 per cow per year.  On a one hundred cow herd that is $30,000 less profit. Significant by anyone’s standard.

A Vet Looks at the Genetics of Lameness

Gordon Atkins, DVM and a member of Holstein Canada’s Type Classification Advisory Committee, was a speaker at the recent annual meeting of the Wisconsin Holstein Association. He is not prepared to accept the fact that feet and leg heritabilities are as low as they currently appear to be.  Additionally, he shared some interesting facts about feet and legs:

  • Lameness is 88% a rear foot situation
  • That leaves only 12% for it being a front feet and leg problem
  • The outside rear claws bear the brunt of the lameness issue
  • The fact is that the rear outside claw grows faster because it is growing tissue in response to the greater pressure it endures while walking
  • Thin cows have a higher incidence of lameness
  • Thin cows mobilized fat from their bodies including the fat from the foot pad or digital cushion within the base of the heel structure. This results in less protection for the foot and heel.
  • The foot’s fatty pad can be replaced as the cow regains body condition but over time scar tissue will form when adequate fat is not present in the pads

Dr Atkins went on to highlight

  • His very telling statement followed, that being, “we need to evaluate feet and legs better”


Diagram – cross section of the foot

Diagram – Cross Section of a Bovine Foot

Let`s Go Toe to Toe with the Facts Only Please

Let’s summarize:

  • Dairy cattle have a genetic problem relative to feet and legs especially for animals not allowed to get off cement or to exercise
  • It is rear feet that are the major portion of the problem with respect to lameness

The Achilles Heel for Classifiers

The classification system scores numerous traits but there are factors in the area of feet and legs that are beyond their control.  Foot angle is not a good trait to measure because it is so variable due to foot trimming. Cattle owners have feet trimmed before classification so type classifiers do not see the animals in their natural state.  Classifiers do the best they can, given the circumstances. Add to this the fact that classifiers do not see every cow walking. Since the ability to walk is what is most important, classifiers again are at a distinct disadvantage.

Estimating heritability using classification data shows these percentages:

  • 30% for bone quality (moderate)
  • 24% for rear legs side view (moderate)
  • 13% for rear legs rear view (low)
  • 11% for foot angle (low)
  • 8% for heel depth (low)

Yes the report card is in – we need to improve the evaluation feet and legs especially for rear feet and rear legs rear view. Genetically we have bred for thin cows and thus less fat in the foot pad. The only place we collect feet and leg data for genetic purposes is in the type classification programs and there the classifier, as mentioned, is at a disadvantage. What’s left that breeds, classifiers, people doing the genetic evaluations and breeders can do?

Getting a Toehold on the Solution

A collective approach is needed:

  1. We must admit that we have a problem and that we need to find a solution to more accurately knowing the genetics of feet and legs.
  2. The problem is not limited to one country and it is more prevalent in cattle not allowed to walk on natural surfaces.
  3. Resources (people and money) must be allocated to investigation and research.

Some suggestions the Bullvine has heard on ideas to consider include:

  • observe or measure the females over their lifetime
  • evaluate the feet on calves at weaning
  • evaluate the feet on heifers at first breeding
  • measure the feet on first lactation females on their first milk recording test day (before they are trimmed)
  • compare sire’s daughter feet and legs on confined versus pastured daughters
  • compare the genomic profiles of cow families that are both desirable and undesirable for feet (and legs)

It is encouraging to see that there is one hoof trimmers’ guild that has public support for a study to collect pedigree information at the time of trimming, to complete a report of the condition of the feet before trimming and then to have the data analyzed. That could be a start.

In the Interim… Feet Forward

Research takes time and cows are bred every day, in the mean time, breeders must use the information currently available from sire indexes or proofs. It is strongly recommended that sires be highly ranked for Net Merit, TPI or LPI and higher than 1.5 FLC or +7 Feet & Legs. A recent addition to the information to consider on bulls is their Body Condition Scoring index. Bulls whose daughters do not get as thin during lactation should not drain all the fat from their foot pads.  (Some Bullvine recommended sires to use can be found at From Fantasy To Reality – Top Sires To Address Herd Culling Problems)

The Bullvine Bottom Line- “Stop “Digging in Our Heels”

What is needed is an international approach to studying dairy cattle feet, much like the approach being taken to studying feed efficiency.  Hopefully a way will be found to move feet research in dairy cattle to the DNA level. If the industry collectively has the will, there will be a way. All we need now is a champion to take the first step.


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Genomic Young Sires vs. Daughter Proven Sires: Which one is best for Reliable Genetic Gain?

The Bullvine is often asked, “How can using genomic sires be better, if the genomic sire’s reliabilities are not as high as those for proven sires?” So in typical Bullvine style we set out to answer that question.  The following is our answer…

Single Trait – Fat

Bullvine wanted to keep this comparison as simple as possible.  To do this we used one trait, in this case fat yield, knowing that breeders do not select for one trait only. The results apply to all traits.

Females in Your Barn

You have a virgin heifer and a seven year old cow that are both indexed at 100 kgs for fat yield.  Both have been genomically tested and the cow is milking in her fourth lactation.  The heifer’s index is 67% Rel.  and the cow is 82% Rel.

TABLE 1: Females

Born Fat Index % Rel Regressed Fat Index
Heifer 2012 Jan 10 100 67 67
Cow 2005 Jan 16 100 82 82



Three sires you might consider using for breeding these females could be:

TABLE 2: Sires

Born Fat Index (kgs) % Rel Regressed Fat Index
Oman March 08, 1998 82 99 81
Supersire Dec 28, 2010 116 67 78
Pride January 27, 2012 135 69 93


Index of Calves

What will be the fat indexes for the resulting calves? (Add parents together and divide by two)

TABLE 3: Regressed Fat Indexes for Calves (kgs)

Heifer 74 72.5 80
Cow 81.5 80 87.5

These values are the expected average fat indexes.  And, yes, there will be less variation amongst the progeny for Oman and the cow.  The most variability amongst the progeny can be expected for the heifer when mated to Supersire or Pride.

Therefore, the short answer for which bull to use, is Pride. Pride will maximize the calf’s fat yield index.

Rate of Genetic Gain

Determining genetic gain is a principle taught to all college genetic students.  The formula is:

Let’s simplify this:

Accuracy                              =             Reliability

Selection Intensity          =             Determined by where the animal ranks in the population (all these animals are in the top 1% of the population so their selection intensity is identical)

Genetic Variation             =             Standard Deviation of fat yield indexes (common for all the animals in the example)

Generation Interval        =             The average time between the birth of the parents and the birth of the calf.

Generation Interval is the place where the numbers for the heifer and the sires, Supersire and Pride, are much smaller (in years) than those for the cow and Oman.

TABLE 4: Generation Interval (years)

Heifer 8.5 2.5 2.0
Cow 11.5 5.5 5.0

Since the numbers for fat index in TABLE 3 are all similar, dividing them by a larger vs. a smaller generation interval greatly affects the outcome for genetic gain.

For the cow and Oman dividing 81.5 (Fat Index) by 11.5 (Generation Interval) gives a much smaller gain than for the heifer and Pride (80 divided by 2.0).  In fact it is much different 7.9 compared to 40.

That’s the reason turning generations more quickly, using genomics, gives the faster rates of annual genetic gain. (Read more: The Genomic Advancement Race – The Battle for Genetic Supremacy)

The Bullvine Bottomline

Genomics gives you more speed.  No question.  If you’re worried about speed being dangerous, spread the risk by using multiple (not one) high indexing genomic sires where you might have only used one or two proven sires in the past.



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Genomics: Think Big Not Small

Even though we are still in the early stages of genomic indexes, certain trends are already apparent.  One issue that I have noticed is that too many breeders are using genomics to narrow down their sire usage to a few sires at the very top instead of using genomics to discover what sires not to use.  Everyone likes to look at the top of the list to see what sires hold their rankings, however, the real power of genomics is actually in pointing out what sires not to use.

While there is no question that genomics has changed the way we look at indexes, there is one major issue that we are all guilty of.  We focus only on those sires that are in the top 10 or so to make our sire selection decisions.

So let’s take a look at the current top 10 genomic sires and their TPI Scores:

  1. Supersire 2530
  2. Jabir 2515
  3. Numero Uno 2497
  4. Jacey 2493
  5. Predestine 2491
  6. Chevrolet 2490
  7. Hunger 2488
  8. Jetset 2484
  9. Balisto 2483
  10. Willpower 2476

You will notice that all these sires are within 54 TPI points of each other.  That is a difference of less than 2%.  The issue with this is that, according to CDN research, 95% of the time sires can vary by up to 20%,  when comparing their genomic index to their eventual daughter proven evaluations (Read more: The truth about genomic indexes – “Show Me” They Work!).  Applying  that to the current list of sires and instead of looking at the top 10 sires you would instead need to look at all sires within 20% of the top sire, Supersire.  Since Supersire is +2530 gPA TPI that means your short list would include all sires over 2000 TPI.  Instead of 10 sires this means looking at the 1000 current sires.

Furthermore, genomics is not as much about identifying the top few sires you should be using, as it is about identifying the sires you should not be using.  When you are looking at two full brothers and trying to decide which one to use or sample, if they are greater than 500 gTPI points apart you are better to use/sample the higher one.  Or, if you can only afford to sample one of them then genomics would be a strong indicator of which one to sample.  However, when they are much closer, genomics alone cannot make this decision with great accuracy.

For sires that are less than say 300 gTPI points apart you really cannot use their genomic total merit index numbers alone to make that mating decision.  You are better to make a short list of sires that are within the 300 TPI points and then look for the sire that is the best corrective mating on your animal.  Given how much sires change and how little difference there is in the top sires these days, you are far better making corrective mating your number one requirement and only using genomics to help determine your shortlist.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Genomics is only as good as the way it is used.  If we begin thinking that the top short list is the be all and end all for mating decisions, we start to muddy the waters.  You cannot use the top 10 gPA TPI sires alone for your mating programs.  Instead you are better to look at the top 1000 sires and find the sire that is the best corrective mating.

Everyone l points to the few select top genomic sires and then bemoans how much they change with each proof round and eventually to their daughter proof.  Genomics works best on the macro level and not at the micro level.  Due to current 65% reliabilities and a limited differential between top sires, a genomic total merit index cannot be relied upon for the final answer.  Genomics is a Macro level tool and not a Micro tool. If you are limiting your mating decisions to the top few sires, you are also limiting your genetic improvement program.

Think big.  Find the genomic sires that will deliver the specific improvements that your cows need!

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Feed Efficiency: The Money Saver

Fed up? Losing money? Start Tracking Feed Efficiency. The current lack of forages for dairy cattle in North America and high grain prices globally has brought feed front and center on most dairymen’s radar screen. Since for most herds feed costs vary between 50% to 60 % of the dairy’s operational costs, the current higher costs are narrowing on-farm margins. In some cases it has resulted in farms downsizing their milking herd, selling off their heifer herd and for some farms an exit from the dairy business. To say the least dairy farmers are having to address something foreign to most of them – the amount and cost of the feed their herd is consuming.

New Territory for Dairy Farmers

Given that dairy cattle breeding, to a very large extent, has ignore any genetic aspects to a cow’s ability to convert feed into milk, the idea of culling cows that do not convert well is an unheard of practice. Seeing that this subject is new to most breeders, The Bullvine decided to delve a little deeper into what is known and what investigation is underway when it comes to the efficiency with which cows convert their feed to products humans can consume.

Feed In. Dollars Out. It’s Hard to Capture FIDO.

It is costly and time consuming to capture individual cow feed consumption, so producers and their feed advisors have taken the approach of feeding the herd or groups within the herd and monitoring the production, feeds costs and the returns over feed costs. Only in research herds has there been any attention paid to individual cows and their efficiency of conversion or return over feed cost.  And then only for cows on feed composition trials and nothing on a cow or sire’s daughters genetic merit for feed conversion. So to put it simply the industry has said – feed them more, balance the diet differently, add some micronutrients, have adequate fibre in the diet, etc. because we have not been able to address the cow’s genetic ability to convert feed to milk.

What We Know about What’s Eating You

Some facts about feeds, feeding animals and feed costs include:

  • The poultry and swine industries have paid considerable attention, for quite some time now, to feed conversion / feed efficiency. With much success especially in      poultry meat industries. In beef and sheep feed conversion for animals being finished in feedlots is an important profit factor.
  • In dairy cattle, feed conversion ability includes all aspects – feeding for growth, production and maintenance.  We do not always think about the extra cost to grow heifers larger or to maintain a large versus a medium sized cow. By the way the Net Merit index does include a 6% weighting on cow size. And it is a negative weighting so larger cows are penalized for their extra size. So if you have been using the Net Merit index you will already be indirectly breeding for feed efficiency.
  • Level of milk production very much depends on the amount of feed consumed by a cow (commonly known as Dry Matter Intake). But we do not know the degree of correlation between volume consumed and feed efficiency.
  • Recent cost studies show that milking cow feed costs on individual farms vary from 20 to 35% of milk revenue. That variation is significant! So the opportunity to make progress in returns over feed costs is out there.
  • Given the wide variety of feeds and feed practices on dairy operations, an average feed cost per milking cow per day on individual farms can be anywhere from $4.00 to $8.00.
  • Every day dairy farmers have happen but do not monitor or comprehend differences in their cows’ ability to convert their diet into milk revenue. Depending on lactation numbers and stage of lactation a cow consumes 1 kg of dry matter to producer between 0.8 kg and 1.8 kgs of fat or energy corrected milk. Differences in milk, fat and protein production are monitored on-farm however cow differences in feed conversion efficiency are not.

Measuring the Future: You are What THEY Eat

Farmers and their nutritional advisors will continue to fine-tune the diets of cows. That’s a given. Gains in the returns over feed costs will be made by fine tuning diets and by adjusting the management and environments for cow and heifers.

However if the swine and poultry industries have been able to genetically enhance their species’ ability to convert feeds to meat or eggs, then is there not an opportunity for dairy cattle to also be bred for feed conversion efficiency?

It should be possible to breed for heifers that grow more efficiently and cows that convert feeds more efficiently into the milk needed to produce the products consumers want and will buy. If through more efficient milk cows there could be $0.33 more profit per cow per day, which amounts to an extra net income of $25,550 per year for a 200 cow milking herd. Nothing to be sneezed at.

From a Pile of Feed to a Pail of Milk?  Where’s the Genetics DATA?

However the challenge remains how to the get data for use in on-farm decision making and for determining the genetic difference between animals and bloodlines for feed efficiency. Well in fact there are some keen researchers in the United States, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Australia in association with countries with national data bases used for genetic evaluation addressing this challenge. Currently they have studies underway to measure feed intake and cow outputs for cows on research trails. After obtaining the data they will correlate the efficiency results with the DNA (snips) makeup of the cows. In the USA alone there will be over 8,000 cows currently being studied.

Within a year the dairy industry can expect to see some preliminary results of this research work. But genomic indexes will only be the start. I expect that on-farm data capture software and systems will become available to measure a cow’s feed intake. The data from such systems will have value both at the farm level and at the genetic evaluation level.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Stay tuned for what will be new genetic evaluations and animal genomic indexes for feed conversion efficiency. It could take up to a decade for there to be accurate indexes and wide use made of the indexes but it will come fast once the basics building blocks are in place. Even a 5% gain in feed conversion efficiency in dairy cattle will be worth billions of dollars annually to the global dairy industry. Once again opportunity knocks at our doors.

Looking for more on Feed Efficiency check this out – Holstein vs. Jersey: Which Breed Is More Profitable?

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!

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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.

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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.

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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


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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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!

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Everything You Need To Know About TPI and LPI

How much do we really understand the TPITM and LPI system? Do we really know what they mean and what their limitations are? Earlier this week CDN General Manager Brian VanDoormaal posted an informative an interesting article, ‘Canadian Pride of the Canadian Kind!’, on the CDN website comparing and contrasting TPI™ and LPI, the national indexes for the USA and Canada. This got us here at the Bullvine thinking, maybe it’s time to revisit just what these indexes mean, why we have them and what their limitations are.

A New Tool was Needed

These indexes started in Canada and the USA for a number of reasons.  In 1984 Holstein Canada had adopted its breeding strategy whereby equal emphasis was to be placed on type and production yet almost two animal generations later breeders often continued to practice single trait selection – for show type, for conformation, for fat percent, for other traits. Marketers were all claiming to the #1 bull for this that or the other thing. In short the strategy was not being followed and the benefits of moving the population forward were not being achieved.

Setting the Standard for Continuous Improvement

TPI and LPI were introduced at relatively the same time and their primary achievement was to set a common base for breeders to rank their animals. Both indexes were first used over twenty years ago and have been continuously improved. Since starting as a way of combining type and production TPI™ and LPI have been enhanced by attaching economics to the traits.  This relates back to the breeders bottom line. The indexes have been adjusted to norms and standard deviations. For instance, milk yield is a big number and conformation is a single number, but their relative importance may be more closely related than the numbers alone would indicate.  Having said that, it was a good move to remove milk yield in favour of fat plus protein.  We don’t need to be shipping water or forcing cows to producing more and more low component milk.  Next conformation traits used in the indexes was limited over time to those of most economic importance on the farm. More recently the indexes have added health and fertility traits.

These are all worthwhile enhancements. Yes these indexes have been dynamic over the past two decades but have not been changed so frequently that they have lost the trust and support of the users

How to Use the Indexes

Today we make multiple uses of  TPI™ and LPI:

  • to select parents especially bulls to be used,
  • to market both males and females,
  • to follow the breed’s breeding strategy specifically indentifying the animals that best combine the traits and weightings in the strategy
  • used as culling tools within a herd or population primarily for proven bulls. Cows are most often culled for one or two economically limiting factors they have.

And the most important use of TPI™ and LPI

  • To rank animals based on the breeding strategy.

Moving the Population Forward!

It is the breeder’s and breeding companies that use the rankings to move their herd of the population forward. Since the traits in these indexes frequently have zero or negative correlations with each other, the indexes are a way to rank animals and come up with what is often referred to as ‘balanced breeding’. Animals with show type and production well below average or high production and low type, do little to improve herds or breeds.

Indexes Go Beyond the Numbers

Wouldn’t it be great, if you could just combine this LPI or TPI number with this trait you’re trying to improve and , “Voila!” you have the progeny that will improve your breeding program?  In 2012, when we are using, TPI™ and LPI we must be mindful that they include composite and predictive traits that are independent or negatively associated with each other. This means that the number in the index cannot be seen in the milk pail, in the eye of the breeder or in the bottom line of the farm. For instance a cow or bull with 3000 LPI – where do you see that number? It’s the combination of factors that is important. Simply stated, the indexes are a way of comparing the merits of animals.  The significance is in the comparison not in the number itself.

So what are the Results?

Since the adoption of both TPI™ and LPI, breeders and breeding companies have been able to significantly improve their herd and move the breeds forward according to the breeding strategies. The results can be seen in the udders in the barns and the volumes of fat and protein in the bulk tanks to name just three components of these indexes. Less obvious are the results for less heritable traits like feet and legs, SCS and the more recently added traits for female reproduction and longevity. Measuring the results of breeding is not easy or free of complication. Variables on each farm such as nutrition, housing, labour, management and environment can all impact the breeding results.

Annually CDN publishes the changes in many traits for the Canadian dairy cattle populations. These changes are estimates of the genetic gains made in the previous year. In 2012 the published changes for Holsteins include LPI +160, fat +3.4 kgs, protein +2.4 kgs. Conformation+1.05, Mammary System +0.93, Feet & Legs +0.81, Herd Life +0.50, SCS -0.03 and Daughter Fertility -0.27.  As you can see progress was not made for all traits. This happens because animals in the population are the result of breeder decisions and not the result of having a national breeding strategy. We do not have access to the results for the USA however we expect that they would mirror those in Canada.

Are There Limitations?

Yes there are two limitations.  First, as mentioned, TPI™ and LPI points cannot be seen by the human eye, measured in the bulk tank or on a farm’s financial statement. Secondly TPI™ and LPI function as if breeders are mating animals evenly rated for all components in the index. In actual fact, every bull and every cow has both strengths and limitations. Neither the absolute average nor the perfect animal in the population has ever been achieved. Each time a breeding decision is made, breeders must consider the attributes and limitations of both the male and the female in the population along with the objective of that particular mating and not just take the TPIs™ or LPIs of the parents, add them together and divide by two to get the resulting progeny!

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Even though TPI™ and LPI have limitations, they are beneficial tools to use in improving the genetics of North America’s dairy cows. There is no doubt that these indexes will be refined and improved in the future. The dairy cow of the future will be even better. Genetics does make a difference!

Genetic Evaluations – Why the Sky Is Not Falling

As more and more early high genomic young sires are getting their daughter proofs in next week, I am sure we are going to hear that the sky is falling.  And yes, while there is much certainty that the bulls may drop, that in no way indicates that genomics does not work.

As early proofs have indicated, the large majority of genomic sires will drop.  But that should not have everyone running for the hills.  Instead, what you should do is look at 2 key metrics:  1) How they compare to the proven sires that where available at the same time as the breeding  2) The percentage that are returned to service.

Why genomic bulls may drop

While critics would say that any drop is not acceptable, that just shows that they do not understand how the system works.  There are other reasons that bulls may drop that most breeders may not consider;   here are a few reasons:

  • Hot House Effect
    While we all would like to believe that the system is faultless, that is just not the case.  It’s important to remember that proofs are first and foremost based on herd variation and genetic gain over their parents.  So if a genomic sire is used on a dam who maybe lost a teat, or was sick as a calf and did not develop to her full genetic potential, this will have a huge advantage for the genomic sire.  Same is true if breeders are looking to work that system.  By that, I mean they are going to have other genomic cattle in the herd that do not receive the same level of attention as the families that they are working to have succeeded. (read more here:  Has Genomics Knocked Out The Hot House Effect)
  • Higher Quality Dams
    In the past, young sires were used on G and the odd time a GP dam, but never on your high scoring 2yr olds.  But with genomics, we see sires being used on VG 2 yr olds.  Unless the progeny can score higher than the dam (not account for herd variance), it will be next to impossible for that bull to receive a positive type proof, let alone one that will allow them to be a breed leader.   However, the potential for these sires to have the exact opposite effect is very possible, for instance, they were used on a VG-87 2yr old and her resulting progeny ending up a GP-80 2yr old.  The sire will actually receive a much lower type score as a result.  In reality, it is better to compare and note the similarities between a genomic sires daughter proof to a 2nd crop proof of the past.
  • System Improvements
    As mentioned in the hot house bullet above, the system is not perfect.   These early proofs are based on the best educated guess that the geneticist could do given the data provided.  As more data is available it will be possible to refine the system.  The most useful data they will get will be these early genomic sires with daughter proofs.  This will allow them to see how effects such as being used on higher quality dams will have and how they can adjust the system to account for this.

Does it matter?

The critics will say that the AI companies could care less if the bulls drop.  They have sold so much semen on these young sires at such high rates that they have already made their profit.  And yes, this is partly true.  There is no question that a high genomic young sire will probably become a significant profit as compared to the past when they were a $50,000 investment.   And then there is still the issue of credibility.  It does not take long or many sires killing pedigrees before the clients of these AI companies will start losing business. The other part of the equation is that often these same AI companies have used these sires as sires of sons in their own programs, resulting in a significant risk for their programs and future profits as well.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

What breeders need to remember is, yes, genomic sires may drop.  But instead of running around like Chicken Little announcing the sky is falling, what they need to do is compare those same sires to the proven sires that were at the top of list at the time when they made the breeding decision.  From a systems perspective, it is better to look at what percentage of these genomic young sires are return to service.  This will indicate if the system is working or not.

The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


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What Happens If Genomics Doesn’t Work?

There has be so much talk lately, The Bullvine included, about how much the dairy breeding world has changed since the introduction of Genomics, that it has  me thinking, “What if genomics doesn’t pan out.  What if it doesn’t work as well as predicted?”

History is full of trends and inventions that the world thought would be amazing that in the end seemed nothing more than hype.  In recent history there has been foursquare (location based social network) and the Snuggie that, due to great marketing and an audience starved for something new, saw immediate rapid growth but lacked staying power.  Are genomics no better than the Snuggie?

While I must admit, I am sure there has been way more research and development behind genomics than there was behind the Snuggie, there are some significant areas that we have had to assume as musts that may turn out to bite us in the butt.  Such as:

  • Not a Perfect Science
    Because genomics are so new, this means that we have to operate on a number of assumptions.  As time goes on and more and more animals are tested, I am sure the accuracy will improve.
  • Limited Data
    While the ability to have genetic evaluations and recording systems provides genomics the ability to more accurately predict genetics merit far ahead of genomics in other animals or humans, it’s still in its infancy.  As more and more cattle are tested there will be more and more data to work from providing geneticists with greater accuracy in the systems they produce.
  • Hot House Effect
    While even we have written about how genomics has removed the hothouse effect (Has Genomics Knocked Out Hot House Herds?), does it really mean that it has been removed, or maybe it has just changed the game?  Maybe “shady” breeders just need to think of new ways to work the new system.

Is It Genomics or Is It You?

History is littered with wide scale aversion to new, disruptive technologies.  Thomas Edison turned down the radio because it had no commercial value; Western Union turned down the telephone because management thought ‘it will never be more than a toy’.  Can you believe that Thomas J. Watson Sr., founder and head of IBM, turned down the computer; and Kodak turned down the Xerox copier.  This makes me think of how many old school breeders are pissing on genomics (Old School Dairy Breeders – STOP PISSING ON GENOMICS) maybe more because of fear of change, than anything else.

May be you should also stop listening to the radio, talking on the telephone or taking pictures?  Now tell me how many cattle you’ll be marketing?

The Bullvine Bottom Line

There are no guarantees in life (well, I guess I should say with the exceptions of   death, taxes) and genomics is no different.  Genomics is not a perfect science, yet.  However, it does have a very sound scientific basis that, as time goes on, can be refined and enhanced.  For those who are afraid of genomics I ask you, are you afraid of genomics, or are you afraid of change?
The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


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GENOMIC HEIFERS: Understanding who is on top

Adding genomics to genetic evaluations brings more attention to young heifers. There is increased accuracy to heifer indexes and new population benchmarks.  Even more significant are the Direct Genetic Values (DGVs) that are generated from the DNA results.  As you will see, the the very top heifers increase their genetic indexes significantly, while their full sisters, without high DGVs are not on the list. The DGV value makes the difference.

The Bullvine continually receives the question, “Why are the top heifers at the top?” In order to assist the industry to better know how high is great, the Bullvine has done an analysis of the top 25 Canadian Holstein heifers published in April 2012 by Canadian Dairy Network.

What do the average for the Top 25 look like?

[csv2table source=”” icons=”false”]

This is a truly exceptional group. What other Top 25 female list would be able to boast of an average value of 192 kg. for fat plus protein and 13 for conformation on their Parent Average Genetic Indexes? And look at their DGVs. They are even higher at 203 kgs. for fat plus protein and 13.8 for conformation.

Digging Deeper

Average numbers are a good place to start, but there are additional facts that can assist us in understanding the Top 25.

  • 21 were less than 1 year of age and 4 were over 12 months of age. Obviously, the heifers on this list are young.
  • The prominent cow families represented on this list are: Lila Z (24%); Lead Mae (24%); Gypsy Grand (16%) and Laurie Sheik (8%).
  • The heifers’ sires are 48% daughter proven bulls and 52% genomic young sires.
  • The heifers’ dams are 40% with performance of their own and 60% with PA GLPIs only.
  • 96% of the heifers have DGVs higher than their PA GLPI.
  • The most significant fact is that the top 25 heifers on average have DGVs 228 LPI points higher than their PA GLPI. They are what are commonly referred to as high outliers. Most of these heifers have full sisters who are not as high for DGV. Previously, they would have been considered equals.

In future articles, The Bullvine will be bringing forward ideas on the genetic needs of dairy cattle and strategies to use in selecting and breeding.


When deciding to invest in a high genomics heifer, it is important to study both the heifer’s PA GLPI and her DGV. Although 25 may be too small a group to depend on for everything. Nevertheless from this small snapshot we get a clearer picture of the potential that genomics and DGVs provide.  The Bullvine is excited to provide this perspective on an ongoing basis.
The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


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Old School Dairy Breeders – Stop Pissing On Genomics

Old school breeder pissing on genomics!!!!

Recently as part of our weekend humor series we published the picture seen at the right.  In publishing the image we knew we would get a reaction, but we were surprised at the way breeders interpreted it.  While we intended to show how old school breeders are dissing on genomics, but instead it seemed to become a rallying cry for old school dairy breeders.

The conversation that has stemmed from it has been very interesting.   As you can see, there are still many breeders who don’t totally understand the merits of using top genomic young sires.  In an effort to help educate, or maybe just bang my head against the wall, we have prepared the following details. .

Proven vs. Young Sire – Who wins in the long run?

Let’s take a comparison of the top 10 Genomics Young Sires vs. the Top 10 Proven sires from the April 2012 proof run.  Of course we all know that the genomic young sires will have higher breeding values, but we need to account for the expected drop.  Our analysis of the NAAB genomic sires’ proofs vs. their later daughter proven proofs currently shows a 13.8% drop on TPI.  (Note: we are actually tracking the drop on LPI sires, TPI sires and PLI sires, and so far we see them dropping 9.7%, 13.8%, and 13.5% respectively.)

The following table shows where the current top genomic sires would rank compared to the proven sires options available currently.

[csv2table source=”” icons=”true”]

What Does This Mean?

What you notice is that three of the top current genomic young sires (Numero Uno, Supersire, and McCutchen) would all rank among the top 10 proven sires.  In fact, 25 of the top 50 sires would be genomic young sires.  This is not to say that they will all drop the 13.8% that the average sire has already.  They could drop more or less.  However, what it does show is that these young genomic sires have a much higher predictability than in the past.  You can now use a group of these young sires with much greater confidence than in the past.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Are all the top genomic sires, going to end up on the top of the proven sires list, when they have daughter progeny?  No, of course not.  But what we have been finding is that only about 10% of them drop off the top list, and many of them hold pretty strong.  We have even found some genomic sires that actually go up with daughter information.  What it does mean?  Use genomic sires that are within 10% of the top sires.  If they have GTPI values of 2,300 or greater, you will end up ahead of where you would have been, if you had not used any genomic sires at all.  Just remember this is an average.  The movement will not be exactly the same for all sires, hence the need to spread out your young sire usage.

For all those old school breeders, who are pissing on genomics, well what can I say?  I don’t expect to change your mind. However, it is foolish to piss on something that you don’t understand.  Might I recommend that you read our free guide – The Dairy Breeders “No BS” Guide to Genomics.

Also be sure to check out our other fun links on Facebook

The most nevus day in most breeders lives.

The most nevus day in most breeders lives.

Some decisions are just too hard to make....

Some decisions are just too hard to make….

"You been Flushing Long"

“You been Flushing Long”

It's a good thing dairy breeders don't look at woman the way they do dairy cattle!!!

It’s a good thing dairy breeders don’t look at woman the way they do dairy cattle!!!

When you're having a bad day. Just think......

When you’re having a bad day. Just think……


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.

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?

Want to take your marketing to the next level, download our free guide “The Dairy Breeders Guide to Facebook“.

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

Will there ever be another distinct bloodline?

Before the recent Kueffner Kows at Cowtown Sale Horace Backus, commented that he had never seen anything like it in all his years!  “The quality of every animal and the homebred breeding was just so good.  Just before the sale started, I took a moment to walk through one of the lines of cows while it was quiet and everyone was already gathered in the tent.  I stood looking at a line of maybe 40 animals, and thought I was standing at Madison seeing that many great cows all together.”  These comments reminded me of the ones he made before the 1998 Hanover Hill Dispersal where Horace said, “In the history of the Holstein Breed, there have only been four or five herds that have created a distinct blood herd.  Today we are selling a distinct bloodline herd.”  This got me think will there ever be another distinct bloodline herd?

Over the years, the marketplace has changed greatly.  The improvements in technology have been incredible.  It is now easier than ever to market, compare and transport your genetics to anywhere in the world.  To get a better understanding how each of these will play into the potential of having another distinct bloodline, we decided to take a closer look at each one.

Marketing to the World

In the era of Hanover Hill era buyers did come in person from around the world.  The world has changed greatly with the Internet.  I often wonder what a great marketer like Peter Heffering would have done in today’s time.  The ability to market to a much larger audience through the internet and Facebook is expanding the marketplace.  You are no longer just selling to the person next door or in the same country or the few who are able to travel to buy.  You are often selling to people half way around the world.  And more importantly than where they are, is how quickly and easily you can reach them.  You no longer have to run magazine ads in each country’s major breed magazine.  Today you simply post a quick smartphone picture, or better yet video, on your Facebook page and share it with the world.

Cross Country Comparisons

One of the things that contributed greatly to each country or region having its own distinct bloodlines was that the ability to compare performance data on in each country presented challenges.  In previous generations, it was hard enough getting everyone to talk in the same units (ex. Lbs. vs. kgs.) let alone the fact that they had different methods of evaluating things.  Then came Interbull and MACE proofs. That started to open up the marketplace, but for some the confidence in the MACE system was not there and for the most part most countries still had regionalized breeding and evaluating systems.  Then came genomics that has given breeders around the world the confidence no matter where the bull was proven to use him on their cattle.  We now see that there is no longer a negative stigma in North America on foreign proven bulls.  Moreover, many of the great international cow families are gaining significant respect in the North American marketplace, especially as sons of these cattle have proven themselves well on the North American genetic base.

Transportation of Genetics

All the great marketing and evaluation systems in the world mean nothing if you cannot get the genetics to the consumers.  Artificial insemination had a drastic impact on the ability of breeders to develop distinct bloodlines.  Instead of just running your own breeding program where you sell the odd breeding bull, artificial insemination meant that when you sold that bull to an AI center, he would now be able to reach the world market.  With AI companies also becoming less regional or country focused and more world focused, that meant you could sell a bull in Chicoutimi Quebec and his semen could be used in Kamifurano Japan.  Breeders no longer had to develop their own bloodlines and could draw on the best bloodlines from around the world.  Furthermore, as embryo transfer technology advanced you could also import and export embryos and further accelerate your breeding programs.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Today breeding herds like De-Su limit the amount of genetics they sell and AI organizations like Select Sires are entering the female animal ownership side in order to develop a distinct product in the marketplace.  Nevertheless, I truly feel that with the overall changes in the global marketplace we have a much more level playing field through evaluation systems and technology and, therefore, it is highly unlikely that we will see the achievement of a distinct bloodline at the level reached by Hanover Hill.

What Will The Cow of The Future Look Like?

Will she score 95 points? Will she produce 40,000lbs per year? Will the cow of the future be polled?  Will she produce less methane gas? In the future, consumer demand will shape everything about dairy farming, including what the dairy cow will look like.  Dairy consumption in emerging economies is rising fast.  In China alone it will triple by 2020.  As rice-paddies turn to pasture, breeder goals and ultimately the makeup of the modern dairy cow will change.

Over the past decade in North America, total milk production has increased in concert with the increased demand for dairy products from growing populations and increasing exports.  This increase in production was achieved without increasing cow numbers, which have held steady, or slightly decreased, for nearly two decades.  Production efficiency has therefore increased substantially with average production currently at 21,000 lbs. per cow per year.

While many things have contributed to the gain in production efficiency, one key area has been genetics.  One of the biggest changes in the genetics market has been the use of genomics.  Genomics has brought greatly increased reliability to estimated breeding values and is drastically decreasing the interval between generations (To read more check out The Genomic Advancement Race – The Battle for Genetic Supremacy).  The next steps will be health traits and profitability and not just the ones that we are currently evaluating.  We are getting ready to delve into better understanding of reproductive issues such as which cows are more efficient at converting feed to milk production (To read more check out Holstein vs. Jersey: Which Breed is More Profitable). Also rising on the priority list will be disease resistance (to read more check out Your Cattle Are Under Attack) and ultimately which cows are the healthiest, trouble free and most profitable.

As the revered management guru, Peter Drucker, says, “You cannot improve what you cannot measure.” Even though the dairy industry has a great system for evaluation production and conformation, there is much needed improvement in the areas of profitability and herd health.  These areas were once thought to be low heritability however, with genomics, traits such as somatic cell, and immune response can greatly impacted at the genomic level.  With Pfizer a company very focused on animal health now offering genomic testing, it’s only a matter of time before there is greater measurement in these areas.

This first steps in any effective improvement program requires accurate measurement.  While many conformation traits and overall production traits are measured intensely when you look at overall measurement of cow –by-cow profitability, there are some major gaps.  One of the biggest is accurate feed conversion metrics.  While there have been studies by breed vs. breed comparison, there is a much greater need to take this analysis to the cow by cow and ultimately the genetics evaluation level.

The other day I was talking with a human geneticist about the use of genomics and ultimately the ability for genomic manipulation of a population.  One of the key things he pointed out to me was how the dairy cattle industry really has the ability to lead the way when it comes to genomic advancements.  Not because of the ethics issues, which we will leave for another forum, but rather because the dairy industry already has such a system in place for evaluation of the progeny.  This ability to measure the exact effects of the manipulation will greatly accelerate the advancement process.

The Bottom Line

Over the years we have started to see less emphasis on stature, and increased focus on feet and legs and mammary systems.  The cow of the future, will not just be about their conformation, but rather their ability to efficiently convert feed and their resistance to disease.  With companies with the size and resources of Pfizer or their newly formed Zeotis entering the marketplace offering genomic tests, and maybe ultimately genomically modified cattle, the future may come much quicker than most breeders expect.  So what will the cow of the future look like?  We do not know exactly, but she will no doubt be the one that returns the most profit to her owners.  All this will be driven by consumer demand.
The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


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Nobody wants to make decisions based on the wrong information.  Good breeders know that accuracy is the key to making successful breeding decisions. Wouldn`t it be wonderful to have perfect data at our fingertips? There`s nothing wrong with dreaming the impossible dream but, realistically, in the business of cattle breeding, you can’t wait for that golden sunrise when perfection is a sure thing and 100% repeatable.

THE PAST:  Almost-Perfect

Whenever we look back at animal-breeding history, a rosy glow settles over our perception of the past.  For more than fifty years, we have constantly improved our North American genetic evaluation methods and models, proudly proclaiming them to be, if not perfect, at least the very best. Many of us felt we were destined to be at the top in cattle breeding forever.  Then, the very success we reveled in spread our success and our genetics to everyone else. Accuracy was harder to ensure. Genetic evaluation methods and models are based on accurate recording of pedigree and performance data and all international input data is not created equal from country to country. Nevertheless we trusted the Animal Model (1989), the Test Day Model (Canada 1999) and Interbull (the international proof system). And it was still good.

AND THEN CAME GENOMICS:  New Dart!  New Target!

Hardly a decade into the 21st Century and Genomics comes along and changes our perception of the future.  Here is a revolutionary new tool or dart, if you will, to take genetic aim with.  Now there can be more focused selection much earlier in the bull or heifer’s life. Since that first official genomic evaluation in August 2009 accuracy has increased. Great! But now even the genetic target has changed.  It is bigger. Now we don’t only target selection of proven bulls and performance recorded cows, but selection of young bulls and heifers, shortly after their birth.  The full potential of what we can aim for has yet to be imagined.


In the interest of accurate information, it is important to look at everything that may be a negative influence on achieving this goal. In a May 2012 article entitled, “The Ongoing Challenge of Accurate Genomic Evaluations” Brian VanDoormal (CDN) points out those things that make precision targeting harder to achieve:

  • Non-random usage
  • MACE evaluations
  • Parent Average less accurate when the parents are foreign
  • Estimating unbiased proofs for foreign sires
  • High priced foreign proven sire semen used on higher quality females in higher quality herds.
  • Differential treatment adds to bias of non-random usage
  • Non-random usage of elite progeny proven sires
  • Non-random usage of high ranking genomic young bulls

VanDoormaal goes on to report that, “ CDN is actively researching methods to reduce or eliminate such biases and to better incorporate MACE evaluations of foreign sires and bull dams into Canadian genomic estimations and officially published proofs.” He emphasizes, “One immediate area of importance being researched is the development of methods to reduce bias in evaluations for foreign sires and bull dams.”

GENETIC EVALUATION ACCURACY: A Hard Target with Collateral Benefits

Each step that increases accuracy increases the trust that breeders can place in the information.  In fine tuning genetic evaluations we benefit from increased accuracy in predicting other traits that previously we didn`t have data on: calf health; fertility; resistance to disease; specific components of milk; hoof health.

Not only has the arrival of genomics changed how genetic evaluations are calculated but it has also significantly changed male and female selection strategies by A.I. companies and breeders as well as semen usage trends by producers. Even breeders who do not use AI will benefit from genomics because they will have available to them bulls that test genomically high but that were not selected for AI.  Previously there was a wider range of bulls sampled at great expense.  With genomics, the entire gene pool of sires is being much more accurately identified for their genetic merit.


For more than 100 years cattle breeders have moved the industry ahead by selecting for the traits they felt were most important. There was a progressive emphasis as the focus changed or was expanded:  amount of milk in a single day; total milk in a liftetime; butterfat; protein; and conformation. New models and young sire programs were developed. All of these had an impact but the potential for genomics impact is far greater.  With genomics, large numbers of young bulls can be tested and eliminated with an enormous reduction in time and cost to the breeder and the industry. This adds to the burden of responsibility for genetic evaluations to be accurate and account for non-random selection and/or under-evaluated progeny proofs.


Will Genetic Evaluations ever achieve 100% accuracy?  Only time will tell. The challenge we face now is to keep the system steadily improving for the impact having accurate information can have not only for cattle breeding today but for generations to come.

For more information check out our Genetic Evaluation Resource Center.

Your Cattle Are Under Attack!

In the fight against cattle diseases it feels like dairy breeders are constantly dodging shrapnel. Where will BSE or TB strike next?  Have you been hit with mastitis, ketosis or metritis? Also, it is becoming harder and harder to fight back since there is a worldwide concerted effort to limit the use of antibiotics, particularly in food producing livestock. On top of that, animals are developing antibiotic resistance, making that course of action less and less effective.

After years of focusing on measurable traits – conformation, milk yield, protein yield – the dairy industry has started to take aim at health issues by recording somatic cell score evaluations. It is a small start in waging defense against disease. We must now take aim at an even bigger animal health picture, when looking at the future of our herds and our dairy industry.

You Already Have the Ultimate Weapon

The real fact is we already have the best disease defeating weapon at our disposal. It is the immune system of cattle.  Animals with superior immune systems can do it all:

  • Reduce disease
  •  Increase farm profit
  •  Improve milk quality
  •  Increase animal well being

DISEASE WARS – DNA Strikes Back!

Researchers at Ontario Veterinary College at Guelph University have identified that, when it comes to fighting disease, “One of the most attractive options available is to make use of the animal’s own immune response genes to select for healthier animals with naturally superior immunity.” The OVC group refers to these individuals as High Immune Responders. The really great news is that beyond the idea, the research and the studies is the fact that they have developed a patented test system to quickly identify these animals within dairy herds. This method is referred to as the High Immune Response (HIR) technology and they report that this approach can work well on both conventional and organic dairy farms.


The OVC group reports that there is clear evidence in cattle that it is possible to selectively breed for high (H), average (A) or low (L) – immune responsiveness and that H-responders can positively influence resistance to infectious disease. “In fact, early research by our group showed health and production benefits following genetic identification of cattle and pigs for enhanced IR. This included lower occurrence of mastitis in high immune responders in 2 out of 3 dairy herds tested, as well as improved response to vaccination and colostrum quality. “

We Have the Technology

The OVC group refers to these individuals with both higher and more optimally balanced antibody and cell-mediated immune responses, as High Immune Responders, and goes on to report that they have developed a patented test system to quickly identify these animals within dairy herds.

The HIR technology is designed to identify those cows and calves with robust and unbiased immune responsiveness that can be kept for future breeding to improve herd health, while low immune responders may be culled from the herd.

It is worth noting that, in general, a calf identified as a high responder will maintain that classification as a mature lactating cow.  Therefore animals only need to be tested and classified based on their IR breeding value once in their lifetime.

Breeders Want HIR!

Qualitative market research using a cross section of focus groups was conducted by an independent firm, Agri-Studies (Guelph, Ontario).  Results showed significant interest among dairy producers to use HIR to identify calves or cows with High Immune Response (75% of producers). The key benefit they saw was the ability to cull animals as calves and save the cost of raising animal that later may have significant health issues. They also saw the value of using sires that were classified as HIR to improve the health of their herds. Further market assessment and beta testing of dairy herds is now underway to finalize the transferability of the technology to the marketplace.

 It’s All About Results

In 2010, 690 cows from 58 herds across Canada were immunized using the patented system to evaluate their IR profiles. In this study approximately 15% of cows were high, 15% were low, and 70% were average immune responders with some slight differences between provinces

  • Health
    Preliminary results show that among all cases of clinical mastitis in the cows across Canada that were tested for immune response, cows classified as HIR had the lowest occurrence of coagulase-negative staphylococci (CNS).
  • Production
    Results to date have shown that breeding for optimal high immune response based on both antibody and cell-mediated immune responses would not compromise production.
  • Profit
    In Canada, it costs the dairy producer $110 to $320 per case of mastitis, and it has been estimated that almost 1 out of every 5 dairy quarters in Canada is infected with a mastitis-causing pathogen

High Immune Response (HIR) Animals Are Naturally Immune

HIR is a patented evaluation technology developed to identify dairy cattle with high adaptive immune response capability. Identification is safe, fast and effective.

Benefits include:

  • Lower disease occurrence and severity
  • Reduced treatment and veterinary costs
  • Increased response to vaccines
  • Increased colostrum quality
  • Cows as young as 2 months can be tested
  • Animals only need to be tested once in a lifetime
  • Testing is safe and does not interfere with any other diagnostic testing
  • Cost benefit analysis show significant savings to producers who identify HIR cows in their herd.

The Future is Now!

Further market assessment and beta testing of dairy herds is now underway to finalize the transferability of the technology to the marketplace.

 The Bullvine Bottom Line

No matter how scary the news makes the latest livestock health threat out to be, your herd’s natural immune defense system is the ultimate response.

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:


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