Archive for Genomics

Arm Chair Quarterbacks, Monday Night Football and Tuesday Morning Genomics

If you were the coach of an NFL football team, would you  select your players based solely on  looking at them or would you want to see their performance statistics, in order to decide how to assemble the best team possible?  That is the question that Don Bennink (Read more: NORTH FLORIDA HOLSTEINS. Aggressive, Progressive and Profitable!!) asked at the recent genomics conference.  (Read more. Genetics in the Age of Genomics – Seminar Recordings and Recap) While it’s a pretty simple question, it may forever change the way you make your mating decisions.

For generations, we have all been taught to look at a cow the same way, and that’s the way we continue to teach the next generation to look at dairy cows today.  But just because that is the way it has always been done, does not mean that we have been doing it correctly.  We all start out learning the parts of the dairy cow and have learned the same way as we always have on how to evaluate cows.  In fact, one major publication did seven editions in a row about how to evaluate cows, and each one presented the same way it’s been done for generations.  It doesn’t seem to matter that evaluating type or conformation has been proven not to be the most accurate way to determine longevity (Read more: She ain’t pretty she just milks that way).

For years, it has been assumed that, if a cow had “high type” and lots of production, she was the perfect cow.  But we all know that perfect cows don’t always exist (Read more: The Perfect Holstein Cow).   Nevertheless, we have bred for these two key areas: high type and lots of production.  We totally disregarded that we did not make substantial gains in profitability.  And, furthermore, herd life actually decreased, even though we all bought into to the theory that a high type cow is a long lasting cow.  Unfortunately, actual performance data shows that, as we bred for this the cows were actually lasting less time than before.   In fact mortality rates increased; conception decreased and the number of lactations that most cows lasted decreased.

Through the years, the use of high production and low fertility bulls has actually decreased overall herd conception rates.  Don points out that when he “first started milking cows, and AI was in it’s infancy, farmers up and down the road, had a 60% conception rate. Today people brag if they have a 30% conception rate.”  Don also points out that in 1996, 93.4% of the calves that were born in the US lived, (i.e.  a 6.4% stillborn rate). In 2002, the stillborn rate increased to 11% (i.e. 89% lived) and by 2007, 14% of the dairy calves died at birth. It’s only in more recent years that the industry has acknowledged this trend and has started to put more emphasis on conception and the significant impact it has on profitability.  The reason for this is we put so much emphasis on a two-year-old production that we were killing reproduction.  That is because cows that get back in calf regularly drop in production because they have to use some of their energy to support the development of their calves.  So the sires that gave the maximum amount of milk were also the sires who had the lowest conception rates.  We all know that a cow that is milking hard is the hardest cow to get back in calf.  No matter what their conformation.

The thing is that we have the systems and technology to make the changes we need to make for the future.  As Don points out, we don’t need to go to the 125-year old technology of type evaluation to solve this problem.  Instead of having to use theory to predict longevity, we can actually measure productive life through the actual length in months that cows last in herds compared to their herd mates. We don’t need type evaluation to guess who will last longer; we have the actual information. We have the ability to see just which cows will last longer, not from trying to figure out what type trait links best to longevity.  We have actual longevity data, SCS, fertility, conception, still births, etc.

We are all armchair quarterbacks.  We are all willing to second guess the mating decisions of others after the fact. The challenge is that, with the technology we have available today, we don’t have to do as much second guessing as in the past.  Tools like genomics and new performance data such as DPR, Still Birth Rate, and Productive Life tell us everything we need to make an informed decision.  Don asks, “Can you just pick the perfect team by just looking at your players? Or would it  help to know which players have drug issues, which ones will end up in jail, which ones will last a full season, and which quarterbacks can actually complete a pass, or know how many sacks your linebackers have made in the past.  As a coach, you want all this data to choose your team.  Well we are not coaches we are dairy farmers, and we make our money milking cows. Don’t you want that data on your animals? Or are you just going to keep looking at them and think that you can guess which ones could perform?”

In today’s day and age, we not only have traits that are more directly connected to longevity than type evaluation, we also have genomic testing that can more accurately predict  what sires and cows will last longer. Every Tuesday we now receive genomic predictions on animals.  We don’t need  to wait till  for a quarterly classification visit, that may or may not catch a cow on her best day, to evaluate what we think from  looking at her is the probability that she will last more lactations.  We can actually get much more accurate data at a younger age on how long she will stay in the herd.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Sometimes it can be hard to change the way we have always played the game.  When something has been done for generations, there will always be those who are resistant to change.  However, the industry has changed and the amount of information available today to make mating decisions is light years ahead of what it was just a few years ago.  The game is changing, and you need to change what you base your breeding decisions on. .  The best coaches and quarterbacks make their decisions based on performance data, not on hypothesis. Genomics has helped take away the guessing game.  We can now know at a very young age, what the genetic potential of that calf is.  We can make better decisions faster.  In the past art and practical knowledge was what drove mating decisions.  However, today’s breeding world calls for a different approach.  It takes a level of focus and commitment, and it’s a business.  It is just like football, where the coaches now use all the information possible to decide what players to put on the field and how to use those players for the big game on Monday nights.  Tools like genomics have changed the game forever.

The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


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

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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.




Understanding Genetic Indexes – Keep It Simple Stupid

Go to any purebred dairy cattle sale and listen to the pedigree person. What are they saying? Usually is an exhortation to buy the animal in the ring because it has a gTPI of 2700 or her dam was Grand Champion at prominent show or she comes from eight generation of Excellent dams.  In essence what we are being told is that this animal is at the top of the breed and you should buy it. So does dairy cattle breeding work by identifying one number, one show or one family and only using that information to make decisions on. I think we all know the answer to that question … and the answer is…. “NO”! But let’s step back and, regardless of a breeder’s focus, look at how the understanding of all the numbers could be simplified when it comes to genetic information on sires.

The Information We See

Three times a year after each index run, breeders are bombarded with fliers, proof sheets, and fancy sire catalogues with numbers, numbers, numbers and cover girl like photos that make you wonder why the classifier only made the pictured first lactation cow GP 80. Was the classifier blind? Is the photo an accurate depiction of the cow? Maybe The Bullvine is right about photo ethics (Read more: Dairy Cattle Photography: Do You Really Think I am That Stupid?, Dairy Cattle Photography – Over Exposed, Introducing the Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct).

But let’s get back to the numbers, numbers for sires.

So many of them. Often expressed differently. What is good and what is not so good? What’s this thing about a base roll on December 2nd and what does it mean for dairy cattle breeders? Why oh why can’t the brainy folks who compile the numbers make them so breeders can quickly look at a number for a proven or genomic bull and know if he is a standout, middle of the road, an also ran or an out-and-out loser. Don’t the genetic types know that bottom-line focused milk producers want quick and simple answers on bull rankings as they plant and harvest crops, handle manure, feed and manage cows, coach 4-H or FFA and yes, educate their children.

What is #1? Does it Matter?

However at the same time that milk producers are asking for simplification, many breeders are striving to have Mr #1 Sire. First it was 2500 gTPI and now it is 2700 gTPI. Or first it was 1000 NM$ and now it is 1150 NM$. Can the difference between 2600 and 2700 gTPI be quantified when it comes to mating cows? If a breeder has a cow that needs improvement in protein yield and feet and legs which sire should he use? Is a sire with 39 lbs of protein and 1.81 for Feet & Legs Composite good enough? Bottom line focused breeders need a universally expressed number for all traits so they can say to their genetic advisor whether to include a sire in the mating program. Of course having a breeding plan that includes needs and priorities is needed for a mating program to be successful. (Read more: What’s the plan?)

Percent is Universal

Every student is trained to understand that 100% is the best mark possible, 75% shows good proficiency and 50% is just a passing grade. So why couldn’t the same thing apply to genetic evaluation results? That way breeders would not need to know what is the very best value, how to distinguish if this is on the new or old base or where a sires daughters are inferior.

Breeders Want to Know

Breeders do not want to carry several files on their electronic device on what is top, good, okay or bad for each trait. All they want to know for the sire they are looking at is – what are his strengths and weaknesses relative to his contemporaries?

Breeders expect their nutritional advisors to know the fine details about balancing rations. As well they expect their genetic advisors to know all about how to improve their cows and herd from a genetic perspective. In both cases breeders expect their advisors to use the KISS principle – Keep It Simple Stupid. (Read more: gPs– Genetic Profile Systems – Dairy Cattle Breeding Made Simple)

Does This Fit Breeders Needs?

The following charts are provided so Bullvine readers can consider if breeding the females in their herds would be easier for them if sire indexes were expressed on a percent basis. A percentage of what the very best contemporary’s index is.

Table 1 – Top Ten gTPI Daughter Proven Sires (Aug ’14) Expressed as a Percent*

Segment#Avg. LPIAvg. Sale PricePrice/LPI Point
>3000LPI803286$60,021 $18.26
>2000 LPI <30001642589$16,384 $6.51
<2000 LPI561637$8,879 $5.42
R&W262093$24,600 $11.75
Polled262275$37,076 $16.30
Show Heifers or All-Canadian Pedigree522005$17,154 $8.56

* Percent of the index for the #1 sire for the trait within the category

A quick review of Table 1 shows:

  • Facebook achieves the #1 position based on his high production and good type classification conformation
  • Dorcy, AltaGreatness and Large daughters have the udders
  • AltaGreatness, AltaFairway and Junior are below average compared to their marketed contemporaries for Feet & Legs
  • As a group all these sires can be expected to produce daughters that are very high for gTPI
  • Breeding on gTPI only will miss the fact that sires have strengths and limitations
  • Using only the top gTPI sires is not likely to produce show winners

Table 2 – Top Ten gTPI Genomic Sires (Aug ’14) Expressed as a Percent*

RANKNAME# OF DAUGHTERSPTATUdder CompF&L CompBody CompDairy CompStature
1BRAEDALE GOLDWYN553.032.592.561.932.033.1
2REGANCREST ELTON DURHAM-ET212.472.312.131.71.982.13
4REGANCREST DUNDEE-ET182.062.180.751.291.551.18
5GEN-MARK STMATIC SANCHEZ143.072.172.443.342.833.91
6WILCOXVIEW JASPER-ET112.891.940.732.562.523.22
7MAPLE-DOWNS-I G W ATWOOD-ET84.163.413.463.442.974.31
9PICSTON SHOTTLE-ET62.661.971.792.422.32.71
9ROYLANE JORDAN-ET62.071.940.321.532.061.93

* Percent of the index for the #1 sire for the trait within the category

A quick review of Table 2 shows:

  • Very little separates #1 and #10 on the list. Remember that genomic bulls are 70% Rel.
  • Within individual traits there is considerable variation among these sires
  • The percentages identify that every sire has one or more limiting factors
  • As is always recommended use several genomic sires instead of one or two
  • Supershot, Delicious Coin, Delta and Rubicon are high for production
  • Alta1stClass, Kingboy and Monterey stand out for conformation

Table 3- Top Ten NM$ Daughter Proven Sires (Aug ’14) Expressed as a Percent*

Segment#Avg. LPIAvg. Sale PricePrice/LPI Point
>2000 LPI <30001642589$16,384$6.51
<2000 LPI561637$8,879$5.42
Show Heifers or All-Canadian Pedigree522005$17,154$8.56

* Percent of the index for the #1 sire for the trait within the category

A quick review of Table 3 shows:

  • The vast majority of these sires will have daughters that produce high volumes of fat and protein
  • Yano, Erdman, Marian944 and Twist stand out for Productive Life
  • Robust is in a league all his own for Daughter Calving Ease
  • Twist claims #3 position on NM$ and has high PL, SCS and DPR.
  • SCS needs to be interpreted carefully as sires with poor SCS are not returned to active service

Table 4 – Top Ten NM$ Genomic Sire (Aug ’14) Expressed as a Percent*

Segment#Avg. LPIAvg. Sale Price

* Percent of the index for the #1 sire for the trait within the category

A quick review of Table 4 shows:

  • Percentages make it quick and easy to identify both strengths and limitations for a sire
  • Delta, Supershot and Dozer do not have significant limitations
  • Eight of the sires have over 80% for Productive Life
  • SCS, DPR and DCE percentages vary quite a bit but that’s to be expected for sires that do not have milking daughters

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Understanding index values is important but having multiple ways of expressing the results of genetic evaluations can result in breeders saying “Too much information. Give it to me in terms I can quickly comprehend”. Being a good dairy farmer requires that managers know a great deal about many disciplines. A good dairy farmer understands that effective breeding requires equal parts art (cow sense) and science (number crunching). Simplifying the expression of genetic evaluation results could be a step forward for all breeders.

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.




Was the Genomic Investor Boom Nothing More than a Big Ponzi Scheme?

So the other day I was reading about a Ponzi scheme that had gone wrong and it got me to thinking whether the rapid increase in the value of high index genomic females was nothing more than a big Ponzi scheme?

First let’s look at what the definition of a Ponzi scheme is.  A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investment operation where the operator, an individual or organization, pays returns to its investors from new capital paid to the players by new investors, rather than from profit earned by the player. Operators of Ponzi schemes usually entice new investors by offering higher returns than other investments, in the form of short-term returns that are either abnormally high or unusually consistent.

Now first let’s be clear that I am not directly implicating anyone as intentionally setting up a Ponzi scheme in the sale of breeding stock.  However, when I look at how the prices of high genomic heifers kept going up and up, yet the actual income from these animals had not yet been realized, it certainly does have some similarities.  In less than a two-year period, we saw the price of a high-end heifer go from $30,000 to more than ten times that.  All of this in a period where those animals would not have had the time to realize that level of income.  So these operations that were brokering these purchases had to keep flipping more and more animals in order to keep the cash flowing.  The challenge was that eventually the amount of new money coming in to fund the level of return that the early investors were expecting was not enough. Some of the early investors started wondering if they would ever see their money back.  This led to a mass panic among those who were in it for the short term as their confidence began to crumble. When this took place, we saw the prices paid for these top animals drop significantly.

It’s important to understand the business model that many of these investors were following. There were really only two sources of revenue for them: A) producing high genomic females and selling them and B) Semen royalties from AI companies.  The challenge is that, in order to play the game, they could not sell off their top genomic index females. Furthermore due to no new money in the marketplace, there was no one willing to buy the 2nd tier females that they wanted to sell.  At one point, some of these genetic programs were selling off very high, but not topper females, at $2,000 or $3,000 less than the cost of producing them.  Thus, they were actually losing money on them.  Then came the second part of the equation.  Instead of realizing insane royalties from selling semen from the sires in their programs, many of these companies did not get enough in royalties to even cover their own expenses. On top of that they were not even getting enough return to cover the cost of producing the 6-7 other progeny that, unfortunately, would never be profitable.  Combine these factors with the high cost of IVF and these companies found themselves losing money. The expected profits promised to investors were non-existent. Interestingly, along the way, as those who were looking for a short term get rich plan started to  took  their losses and cashed out, , other players came into the market to buy these animals at pennies on the dollar.  Most notably among these other players were many of the large AI companies. Unlike the investor money that started the speculation, the AI companies did have a direct line to long term return through semen sales. They were more than happy to acquire these females at significantly less than the cost it would be to buy the bulls.  This not only caused losses from the sale of females, but also led to even lower royalties being paid out by the AI companies/  AI companies could now  produce their own bulls at a fraction of the cost.  Sure they may not be getting the #1 TPI sire, but they were able to produce sires that were high enough for the commercial producer and do it at a fraction of the cost.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

I sincerely don’t believe that anyone ever started out on this genomic investment boom with the plan of initiating a Ponzi scheme. However, based on how the events unfolded, and the way the market responded, that is exactly what happened.  When they first started the business model seemed sound, but with one crucial, and ultimately incorrect assumption.  That assumption was that the money would come from semen sales.  That never happened and the significant investment in high genomic index females, combined with  the high costs of producing  the next generation of high index females, led to greater and greater cash outlays with no money coming back.  Eventually, when the money runs out, investors come looking for an answer.  The problem is the only answer “Oops we did not see that coming”.  Those are words no investor ever wants to hear.

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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Will there ever be another Millionaire Sire?

Over the past week, we have seen the announcements for two Millionaire sires.  Semex announced the passing of Buckeye (Read more: Semex Millionaire Sire Buckeye Passes Away) and Shot, from Select Sires, was noted as the youngest millionaire sire ever at Select. (Read more: SHOT Becomes Youngest Select Sires Millionaire) With dairy breeders using more and more young sires, to the point where young sire semen sales are now a larger portion of the overall sales worldwide than proven sires, it has us asking, “Will there ever be another Millionaire Sire?”

It is interesting to understand how Shot became the youngest ever. This is perhaps a sign of things to come.  You see Shot is not a total product of the “Genomic Era.” However “with the release of genomic data, SHOT was identified as one of Shottle’s most elite sons,” explains Rick VerBeek, sire analyst with Select Sires. “This helped drive his semen sales significantly.  SHOT has been the No. 1 selling bull for Select two out of the past three years and is on pace to be the No. 1 selling bull in 2014.  He has shattered nearly every semen production and sales record at Select Sires, including setting the record for yearly sales in 2012 with 311,824 units sold.”  The interesting part about this is that SHOT’s second-crop daughters are just entering his proof now.  So, for the most part, he has driven this level of interest heavily on his genomic proof and about 300 daughters (# of daughters in his proof in April 2013).  Unlike sires in the past that did not receive significant use until they had a solid proven sire proof, Shot has been Select’s top selling sire based mainly on a limited number of daughters in his proof but especially because of  his Genomic data.  This is certainly a sign that times are changing and young sires are indeed accounting for a much more significant portion of the overall sales for A.I. units.  The challenge with this is that, unlike the case with SHOT, most young sires are not great semen producers. Indeed it is very hard for A.I. units to keep up with the demand for these elite genomic sires.  So there is a supply and demand issue in the industry today. As is the case in any industry, when supply is less than demand, the price is sure to increase.  This has been the case for elite young sire semen in recent years.

Further sparking my thoughts on this matter is Alta Genetics recent advertisement in regards to the fact that Alta’s Top 100 gTPI bulls have achieved triple Millionaire status before their first daughter proofs.  This is certainly an indicator of the times.   Instead of a few proven sires being the headliners for A.I. units around the world, it is now a group of Genomic sires that are leading the charge, when it comes to semen sales.  According to our estimates, that is about 100,000 doses per sire per year (Alta has about 8-11 sires in the top 100 gTPI over the past 3 years).  So gone are the days when it was hard to sell enough semen to get a reliable 1st crop daughter proof. Now Genomic Young Sires among the headliners for each stud.

Alta September 2014 Ad

The one monkey wrench in this whole equation is the supply challenge.  It is a well-known fact that young sires do not produce as much semen as proven sires.  As we mentioned above, that limited supply in relation to demand does typically lead to an increase in price.  The challenge with that is the commercial milk producer, who represents over 90% of the marketplace, is not willing to pay more for their semen.  This leaves the A.I. units in a challenging circumstance.  With greater demand coming for their most costly entity, what can they do?  You see a young sire is like a 2-year-old cow. It costs money to get them there: Time and money in raising them (in the case of A.I. units, testing them and getting them into the unit. It takes time to get them to an output level that is significant enough to maximize their profitability.  So what are the A.I. units to do?  Well, the only logical thing…sample more young sires.  Yes, Genomics was first heralded as a significant cost savings for A.I. units because they would have to sample fewer young sires in order to get highly profitable proven sires. In the end, the opposite may prove to be true. It may change the industry to such a point that most sires are long since passed before they ever receive their first official daughter proof.  Which, due to semen production issues, may mean that many sires will never receive the opportunity to reach the Millionaire status. Most due to production issues will be lucky to hit 300,000 units and even the most elite may only ever reach 500,000 units.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

While millionaire status is certainly an achievement to celebrate, it may not be a realistic expectation for top sires heading into the future.  The marketplace has changed to the point where genomic sire semen sales is now greater than proven sire sales and could reach as high as 84% market share (Read more: Why 84% of Dairy Breeders Will Soon Be Using Genomic Sires!). Combining that statistic with the fact that young sires do not produce nearly as much semen per year, we could be about to see the last few sires that will ever achieve this lofty benchmark.

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.




Genomic Testing – Are You Missing Out?

When The Bullvine mentions genomic testing to production oriented breeders, we frequently get the reaction “Oh, that’s just for herds that sell high priced animals. I focus on running a profitable milking operation. I don’t need to spend money on testing my animals.” Well, in fact, that is not an accurate assessment of the benefits available from using this tool at the present time. If you are among those not using genomics, Stop Procrastinating! It is a tool that everyone breeding their herd to improve it genetically should not be without.

Only Very Moderate Uptake – So Far

Currently, there is an 8% uptake of genomic testing of all Holstein heifer calves. The total is less in other breeds. We have barely scratched the surface.  Half a century ago, official milk recording was at the same low level. Today it is recognized as a much-needed toll both on-farm and in the national herd. Obviously the question that breeders need answers to is ‘How will I benefit from genomic testing all my heifer calves?

Known Benefits

Much has been written about benefits and opportunities available to breeders who are submitting samples for DNA testing. Those range from selecting the best mates for your females, … to parentage verification, … to how to manage your heifer herd, … to deciding which heifers to breed and which ones to cull or implant, … to polled or not polled, …to finding the genetic outlier of an individual mating, …to an aid in marketing heifers in sales.

Just recently Holstein USA and Zetas launched an exciting service called Enlight. Breeders that submit their samples to Zoetis can through Holstein USA’s website summarize and analyze their heifers for their genetic qualities. This is the first, and no doubt other breeds will establish similar services in the future. Breeding to get the genetics that work best for you and then managing them in the best way possible is definitely important.

At the industry level, genomic testing has also proven beneficial. Alta Genetics, a few years ago, working with large herds in the USA, parentage verified all young sire daughters. It was a significant step forward in accuracy of sire proofs so they could guarantee their product to their customers. Companies like Zoetis and Neogen initiated genomic testing services so they could help producers and also as complementary to their other products. A.I companies have been able to restrict their young sires sampled to only top genomically evaluated young sires, thereby saving millions for themselves by not sampling the bottom enders and millions for breeders that did not have to raise, calve in and milk the lower genetic merit daughters of the bottom end bulls. All of these benefits are leading to cost savings in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

However six years into using genomics we are only starting to reap the rewards.

Genomics Will Make the Future Brighter

Breeders often mention that they want sires to use and females in their herd that are superior to what is available today for traits that are difficult or impossible to measure. Here are some thoughts and facts that may help breeders to decide to use genomic testing so they can have animals that are even more profitable than their herd is today. It does however require that genomic testing becomes routine (Read more: Why 84% of Dairy Breeders Will Soon Be Using Genomic Sires!).


Investigation, at the farm level, is being done in beef heifers on growth rates, diets tailored to genotype, immunity to common diseases and age at first estrus. The results of those studies will be able to be applied to dairy heifers since little similar research is being conducted for dairy heifers. Already breeders can test for the genetically inferior heifers, so they do not need to be raised. Up to $500 per heifer in rearing cost could be saved by having the retained heifers calving by 22 months of age.  Remember that it is age at first estrus that is important, for which we have very limited farm data. First breeding depends on a breeding actually occurring.  With heifers genotyped and selected for first estrus significant savings will be possible.

Feed Efficiency:

Two major research projects, one in USA and The Netherlands and one in Australia and New Zealand, will identify the cows that are genetically more efficient at converting their feed to milk. Within a couple of years, we can expect to see reports relating genomic information to feed efficiency.  This type of research is costly and not currently practical at the farm level, but using research herds this investigation is well underway. Reducing feed costs by 5-10% through genetic selection would result in many millions in savings. That is likely to be crucial to the dairy cattle breeding industry as dairy competes to feed a hungry world. (Read more: Feed Efficiency: The Money Saver and 15 Strength Sires That Will Still Fit In Your Stalls)


CDCB already makes available the inbreeding level of genomically tested animals based on their genomic results. No doubt further research results will provide numbers associated with inbreeding. Think about it. In the past the inbreeding level for two full sisters, based on pedigree, has been considered the same. However, by using their genomic profiles the level of inbreeding can be much more accurately known for each sister. A recent report from CDN, for the time period 2010 to 2013, shows that inbreeding rates are increasing not decreasing. Even though breeders are aware that inbreeding is a negative to future profit, they continue using fewer sire lines. More in-depth study of presence or absence of genes that negatively affect the viability of our cattle take time. Why do we always expect someone else to take responsibility for the level and rates of inbreeding? (Read more: 6 Steps to Understanding & Managing Inbreeding in Your Herd and Stop Talking About Inbreeding…)

Disease Resistance:

The list is long on diseases that breeders want their animals to be resistant to. Many research projects are underway to relate the genotype to particular types of mastitis, respiratory diseases, wasting diseases and even production limiting diseases like milk fever. CDN and Canadian milk recording agencies have been capturing field data for a number of years now on eight production limiting diseases. In time, the relationships between genetic lines and these diseases will be better-known. So that selection can be carried out to avoid problem bloodlines. When more animals are genomically tested, and bloodlines prone to diseases are identified great steps forward will be able to be made. It takes considerably more than 8% of the population genomically tested to move breeding for disease resistance to reality. (Read more:  Genomics – Opportunity is Knocking)


Failure to get animals to show good heats, to produce good oocytes and conceive when bred is the leading frustration on most dairy farms. The role that genetics plays in that frustration is now receiving attention by many researchers and organizations. In the past, the capturing of useful data to do genetic analysis relative to reproduction has been a significant problem. The relating of genomic results to reproduction holds out considerable hope. Early embryonic death, haplotypes that negatively impact reproduction, genetic difference between animals for cystic ovaries and many more are all areas of concern for breeders. Once again both genomic and on-farm data are needed to move forward. (Read more: 10 things dairies with great reproduction do right and Are Your Genetics Wasting Feed and Labor?)


I hear breeders say “Genomic indexes are just like production indexes.” However, that is not so. There are genomic indexes for production traits, conformation traits and management traits. Genomics is a dynamic science. It is best if breeders know not only the genomic values for the animals currently in their herds but also their ancestors. To build the genomic history for a herd necessitates that testing start as soon as possible. Genomics is a tool every breeder will benefit from using no matter what their selection goals are. (Read more: Better Decision Making by Using Technology and FACT VS. FANTASY: A Realistic Approach to Sire Selection)

In Another World

Outside the world of dairy cattle but totally related to DNA analysis, there is a study just under way in the United Kingdom, where 100,000 people with cancer or rare diseases are being genotyped to better understand people’s ability to avoid or resist cancer and disease. One of the terms used in the news release was that before there was DNA profiling this work would not have been possible. Relating that back to dairy cattle, if we do not have the DNA information for animals we will be limited in our ability to eliminate deleterious genes from our cattle.

Will Genomic Testing Pay?

The question for breeders appears to have been one of cost – benefit. “What will I get for the fifty dollar cost of doing a low-density test?”  The fact is that, to date, milk producers have not taken the opportunity for more rapid genetic advancement by testing all their heifers. However, the tide is about to change. With new information coming out almost weekly on how the genetic (aka genomic) make-up of an animal relates to profitability, breeders without genomic information on their herd will not be in a position to know which sires to use or how to manage or feed their animals. Genomic testing needs to be viewed as an investment rather than a cost. Invest $50 shortly after birth to save hundreds over the cow’s lifetime.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Every journey requires that a first step be taken. The first step is that breeders submit samples for DNA analysis. Every breeder will benefit by knowing the genomics of their herd. No doubt the cost of testing will come down as more breeders participate.  Future success in dairying will require genomic testing, just as current success depends on capturing and using performance information. Are you prepared for using genomic information to assist in creating your future success in dairying?

The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


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Why ALL Dairy Farmers Should Get Excited About Proof Day!

For the 1% of breeders who deal in seed stock Proof Days are like Christmas 3x times a year.  But for the remaining 99% of dairy breeders proof days, the days when the latest Genetic Evaluations are released, are not that big a deal.  But they should be.

The following are three reasons all dairy producers should be checking out the latest genetic evaluations.

All producers should be using the best genetics possible

Analysis conducted as a cooperative effort between Canadian Dairy Network (CDN) and the milk-recording agency in Québec, Valacta, examined the association between the average profit per cow at the herd level and the genetic potential of the herd for various traits.


Figure 1 shows the relationship between the average LPI and the average profit per cow per day in each herd studied. While there are some exceptions to the rule, the dark line in the graph reflects the average relationship across the LPI scale, which indicates that herds with higher average LPI levels of their cows also have higher profit values. This positive correlation between LPI and profit clearly shows that genetics is a significant contributing factor but that management also plays a major role. On average, for every 100-point difference in LPI at the herd level there is an increase in profit per cow per year of $50, which accumulates from year to year. From a sire selection perspective, this equivalence translates to a difference of $50 more profit per daughter per year for every 200-point difference in the sire’s LPI value.  Based on a 50% conception rate, that would indicate that the semen from a sire who is 400 LPI points higher than the average sire, should cost $50 more.  Applying this to the current sires available, by using a sire such as AltaRazor who has an LPI of +3038 you will generate and extra $187.50 compared to a sire with an LPI of 1500.  This is from direct daughter profitably and does not even factor in the increased performance of any progeny this cow would produce.  So then investing $50 to $100 more for semen that will deliver over $180 in return is certainly a profitable decision even for commercial milk producers.

The Grass Is Always Greener on the Other Side of the Fence

I often hear many producers quote the minimum levels for certain traits that they are willing to use.  The challenge with that is while this approach is great for setting basic criteria, it fails to look at how these sires compare to other sires.  By using “any” sire that meets their criteria they are missing out on maximizing the genetics gain, and therefore the profitability of their herd.  As demonstrated above setting a minimum threshold, instead of going for maximum return, is leaving dollars on the table, and not in the milk check.  Then there is the case where some milk producers prefer to deal with only one semen sales representative or A.I. company.  No A.I. company has all the best sires (Read more: Stud Wars: Episode II – April 2014), so by employing this practices any savings or efficiencies you gain from negations, are negated by the amount you are costing yourself in loss of genetic potential.  (Read more: Rumors, Lies, and other stuff Salesmen will tell you and Are There Too Many Semen Salesmen Coming In The Lane?)

Are You Sure You Are Getting What You Pay For?

With the latest reports indicating that genomic young sire use is approaching 60% in North America, many producers have embraced genomics in a significant way (Read more: Why 84% of Dairy Breeders Will Soon Be Using Genomic Sires!).  I have even come across herds that have gone to 100% genomic young sire use.  With such a heavy usage of sires that are 60-70% reliable, are you sure that the sires that you are using are delivering on the other end?  A great way to check this is to see how the sires you are investing in, are doing when they receive their official daughter proof.  Sure that may not mean that you go back and use these sires once they are proven, but it does help you get a better understanding of the reliability of the genetics that you have invested in.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

I am not saying that all dairy producers should be waiting with baited breath at 8 am on proof day.  However, there is certainly value in taking the time to check out the latest sire evaluations, to see how the sires you have been using are performing and what other sires are out there that could help you increase the profitability of your herd.  No matter what your management style, there are certainly enough reasons for you to get excited on proof day.

Check out the latest Holstein Sires Proofs in our Genetics Section

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The 12 Genomic Sires Most Likely to Top the Proven TPI List in April 2016

Figuring out which sires to use can be challenging enough, let alone trying to decide which genomic sires will hold their numbers and which sires are going to drop.  Based on our analysis of the genomic sires in April 2011 compared to theirs indexes in April 2014, we have identified key trends that the sires that held, versus the sires that dropped.  (Read more: The Genomic Roller Coaster – Hold on it’s going to be a bumpy ride).  We have taken this analysis and applied it to the current genomic sires who should be receiving an official daughter proof by April 2016. Our analysis identifies the following 12 sires that are most likely to top the lists.

Co-Op Bookem Yowza (April 2014)YOWZA

Co-Op Bookem Yowza-ET
Bookem x Boliver x Bret

Yowza is an extreme outlier sire.  His DGV’s for NM$ are 20% higher than in his official genomic evaluation and almost 30% higher than his parent average.  In fact, it’s his lower parent average that is currently keeping him from being higher on the lists.  As we identified in the sires from April 2011, the most accurate indicator of genetic potential is their DGV’s versus over inflated parent averages, or, in Yowza’s case, an underestimated parent average.  In fact, both Yowza’s dam and sire have DGV’s higher than their parent averages.  While Yowza’s +6 for PL is likely to decline, his 1400 lbs of PTAM is likely to hold.  Due to his underestimated parent averages there is actually a good chance the Yowza’s TPI is likely to increase slightly with the addition of daughter information into his genetic evaluations.  Yowza will need to be protected on his high pins and size and stature.

De-Su Bkm Mccutchen 1174 (April 2014)MCCUTCHEN

De-Su Bkm Mccutchen 1174-ET
Bookem x Shottle X O Man

Continuing the precedent set by Bookem, Observer, Gulf and Gillespy comes three new high genomic sires, Balisto, Mccutchen & Topsy.    McCutchen is actually a Bookem son that has been heavily used already as a sire of sons.  While is NM$ of 655 might concern some, his DGV’s are actually 107 points higher at 762 (18% higher).  The part that is somewhat worrisome is his 3.6 PL since earlier our analysis has demonstrated that Genomic Parent Average for Productive Life was the trait that showed the greatest variability compared to actual daughter data (50% range).  What we did find is most sires did tend to be closer to their DGV’s for Productive Life than their Parent Averages.  Since Mccutchen has a DGV for PL of 3.6, it is reasonable to expect that he will end up around the 3.0 mark.  Most likely Mccutchen will end up being a 700-725 NM$ sire and a 2350 TPI sire. This would certainly have him in the top 5 TPI sires.  Mccutchen will need to be protected on his milk volumes and DPR.

Michigan Bumblebee (April 2014)BUMBLEBEE

Michigan Bumblebee-ET
Bookem x Bronco X Shottle

Another Bookem son that should ring the bell as a proven sire, Bumblebee may not have been on most breeder’s radar.  At +2386 gTPI, Bumblebee is currently number 431 on the top 500 gTPI sires.  This is pretty far down for most elite breeders to have paid much attention to him, especially with other Bookem sons much higher.  While Yowza and Mccutchen may ring the bell higher than Bumblebee, he will certainly have many breeders regretting that they did not incorporate him into their breeding programs.  The hidden stinger that this Bumblebee possesses are DGV’s that for NM$ that are 107 points higher than his gPA’s and 17% higher than his parent averages. He also gets a significant portion of his genetics from his father. This is something that we have seen to be a reliable indicator of those sires that will hold their genomic values when daughter data is added.  Bumblebee will need to be protected on his loin strength as well as rump angle and bone quality, though he should sire desirable udders, solid feet and legs and acceptable dairy strength.

De-Su 11236 Balisto (April 2014)BALISTO

De-Su 11236 Balisto-ET
Bookem x Watson x O-Man

Balisto is the second of the sires on our list from De-Su. Balisto has been heavily used based on his genomic indexes and come April 2016 will have a high reliability daughter proof. The one challenge that Balisto does have compared to the trends we have seen is that he gets 61% of his genetics from his mother.  Normally this would scare us, but since the maternal line in question here is that of Wesswood-HC Rudy Missy-ET TV EX-92 3E GMD DOM that has proven itself time and time again genomically. Balisto should make out just fine.  Balisto will need to be protected on his loin strength, rump angle and rear teat placement, though he should sire more protein and overall pounds of milk than his current genomic proof would indicate.

Val-Bisson Doorma (April 2014)DOORMAN

Val-Bisson Doorman
Bookem x Shottle x Goldwyn

Another Bookem son on our list, Doorman’s calves already impress their breeders.  While he certainly will not be a milk sire, anyone using Doorman initially would have been aware of this limitation.  What Doorman does have going for him are his extremely high type numbers.  While there is a chance that Doorman could be the next Gold Chip and see his proof fall by over 450 TPI points, one difference between the two sires is that Doorman gets most of his genetics from his father, Bookem, who, judging by this list, should be a good thing.  While Doorman will never be a high NM$ sire, he will certainly sire high type acceptable production and will end up with a proof very similar to that of Mccutchen.

De-Su 11228 Topsy (April 2014)TOPSY

De-Su 11228 Topsy-ET
Bookem x Watson x Oman

If you are noticing a trend that is because, there is a strong dominance of Bookems on our list.  In fact 7 of the 12 sires on our list are Bookem sons.  Now to be fair, Topsy is the full brother to Balisto, so it’s not surprising that we would have both on our list.  However, unlike Balisto, who had a stronger contribution from his maternal line, Topsy received a greater contribution of his genetics  from his sire Bookem.  Not a bad thing considering Bookem’s dominance so far.  In fact, depending on just how these two sires end up, this could be another strong indicator about the importance of contribution.  (Read more: Why Braedale Goldwyn Wasn’t a Great Sire of Sons and Sire vs. Dam – Which has a Greater Impact on Your Herd’s Genetic Improvement?).  Similar to Balisto, Topsy will need to be protected on his loin strength, rump angle and rear teat placement, though he also should sire more protein and overall pounds of milk than his current genomic proof would indicate.  Topsy should end up with a slighter lower Productive Life evaluation than Balisto.

Ocd Mccutch Slick Willie (April 2014)WILLIE

OCD Mccutch Slick Willie-ET
Mccutchen x Ramos x Oman

The first non Bookem son on our list is in fact a Bookem grandson.  So if Mccutchen were to drop, Willie would be sure to follow.  Fortunately for Willie all indicators are that Mccutchen should hold just fine and so Willie himself should hold on well as well.  In fact, if we had not accounted for the reliability of the sires in each sires stack, Willie would have been near the top of our list.  Though given that his sire is Mccutchen, he is very likely to hold his numbers, we still had to discount Willie for this.  In fact, Willie is the third highest outlier sire on our list, behind Yowza and Balisto, of the more than 250 sire we looked at.  Willie’s DGV’s for NM$ are 107 points higher than his gPA and 23% higher than his parent averages. This has you considering “Have we regressed young sires from a young sire enough?” or if you believe that his sire is the real deal, then you should have all the confidence in Willie as he has some of the highest DGV’s in the world today.    Look for Willie to sire high production, type and fitness, while just needing to be protected on teat length and milking speed.

Mountfield Ssi Dcy Mogul (April 2014)MOGUL

Mountfield SSI Dcy Mogul
Dorcy x March x Oman

Another popular sire of sons that should hold his genomic numbers pretty well is Mogul.  This Dorcy son gets a substantial contribution of his genetics from his sire.  As one of the first ART program bulls from Select Sires, it will be interesting to see how well Mogul does as a proven sire.  (Read more: Select Sires vs. Semex – A Contrast in Cooperatives).  Mogul is one of the all-around solid sires that has solid numbers in all aspects of his genomic evaluation. Hence, his popularity as a sire of sons and bull mothers.  It will be interesting to see if he can hold over the magic 1,000 lbs. of milk though he should come in around there.   His type numbers should hold around the 2.50 points though he does need to be protected on Daughter Pregnancy Rate.

Morningview Bookem Lucid (April 2014)LUCID

Morningview Bookem Lucid-ET
Bookem x Shottle x Oman

The seventh and final Bookem son on our list is Lucid.  Though Lucid has the same sire stack as Mccutchen, he has a much different breeding pattern.  Lucid’s maternal line has demonstrated that they can deliver genomically and goes back to Whittier-Farms Lead Mae EX-95 3E GMD herself.  A great sire for commercial use, Lucid daughters should milk more than Mccutchen daughters, though Mccutchen daughters should have slightly better udders with more dairy strength.



Seagull-Bay Supersire (April 2014)SUPERSIRE

Seagull-Bay Supersire-ET
Robust x Planet x Shottle

There is no question that Supersire has proven himself as a genomic giant.  His extreme values for Milk, and Components have made him an extremely popular flush sire.  Now with many of his progeny being genomically tested, it is becoming apparent he can pass on his high genomic values. The question becomes will he be able to live up to these expectations when he receives an official daughter proof?  Our analysis shows that he should.  He does possess strong genomic values compared to his already pretty high parent averages. Even with a very potent maternal line, he still gets a strong contribution from his father, and his progeny are demonstrating that they are also getting extreme genomic values.  There are the three dominant characteristics that become evident in our analysis.  While Supersire daughters will not be winning many shows, his no holes type linear and strong production make him a strong commercial sire that will have a huge impact on genetics around the world.

Stantons Camaro (April 2014)CAMARO

Stantons Camaro
Epic x Freddie x Lucky Star

Camaro is a very interesting sire to come to the top of our list.  First we have the factor that Stanton bulls in Canada sampled between Aug 2009, and Aug 2012 dropped an average of 50% from their parent averages, (Read more: The Hot House Effect on Sire Sampling) and then you add in the fact that his sire Epic is from a genomic outlier in his own right. On top of that, while Camaro comes from the Sher-Est S-Wind Saturday EX-90 GMD DOM family which has produced such sires as Sacrates, Mr. Sam and Sidney it is not exactly an extreme sire proving family, given the number of sons that have been sampled out of it.  So how does he make our list?  Well, it’s hard to deny his extreme numbers.  At over +952 for DGV NM$ and high productive life, even if his numbers drop, as I expect they will especially for productive life, he should still be among some of the top sires come April 2016.  While breeding strong mammary systems and feet & legs, Camaro will need to be protected on his dairy strength and rumps.  He is for sure an extreme sire for health and fertility.

Vieuxsaule Flame (April 20140FLAME

Vieuxsaule Flame-ET
Numero Uno x Freddie x Bolton

From the emerging cow family at Vieux Salue Holsteins, Flame was the first sire to put Vieuxsaule Allen Dragonfly EX-94-2E 14* on most breeders genetic radars. (Read more: Vieux Saule Holstein: Rooted In Family Values and VIEUX SAULE ALLEN DRAGONFLY: 2013 Canadian Cow of the Year Nominee)  While most of the time it takes a few sons to receive an official proof before a cow family really hits, genomics has certainly made the identification of such cow families much stronger.  Flame is one of the highest PA TPI sires that should be receiving an official daughter proof by April 2016. All indications are that he should remain among the top sires, once he achieves his official daughter proven evaluation.  While his milk numbers may scare some producers, the one thing we found in our analysis of sires from April 2011 receiving genomic evaluations in April 2014 were that it was the extreme genomic production sires that saw the most significant declines, while those sires that were lower, such as Flame, actually held their production values pretty well.  While I do expect to see his Productive Life values decline as well, his high components, something that has proven to hold well, and high type (also proven to hold well), should have him as one of the top proven sires.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

As we found out in our analysis of the top genomic sires from April 2011, it’s not always the top ones that produce the highest daughter evaluations.  (Read more: The Genomic Roller Coaster – Hold on it’s going to be a bumpy ride)  Identifying which sires are most likely to hold their numbers or relative rankings and which ones are going to take you on a rough ride is probably one of the greatest challenges to breeding programs in the world today.  Based on the trends that we have identified, these 12 sires stand the greatest chance of holding their numbers and being near the top of the official daughter proven evaluations come April 2016.

*TPI is a trademark of Holstein America

The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Polled Story

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

The Bullvine Bottom Line

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

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The Genomic Roller Coaster – Hold on it’s going to be a bumpy ride

Since the very first genomic young sire lists were published in April of 2011, it certainly has been a very bumpy ride for the dairy breeding industry.   Top sire lists are changing almost monthly. Contract sires seem to go cold even before breeders have a chance to breed their animals.  This has many breeders feeling dizzy and asking “Does this genomic index thing really work?”

We here at the Bullvine decided to take a closer look.   We took the Top 20 gTPI sires from April of 2011 and compared them to the Top 20 proven sires from April of 2014 to see who performed better over the past three years.  The reason we are using the top 20 sires is that based on semen sales, most breeders, when using high index sires, prefer to stick to the very top of the list.  Therefore, doing a comparison on the top 200 or even 100 sires would not be an accurate representation based on actual usage. The following is what we found.

TABLE 1 – Top Genomic Sires April 2011 to April 2014


The top 20 Genomic Sires from April 2011 dropped about 10% upon receiving their official daughter proofs in April 2014.  Key areas that saw significant decline were DPR (57%), PTAF (31%), PTAM (27%), PL (24%) and PTAP (26%).  This tells us that the genomic markers used in April 2011 for these traits were not as accurate as say SCS, SCE, DCE, UDC and PTAT, which saw less significant declines from April 2011 to April 2014.

TABLE 2 – Top Proven Sires April 2011 to April 2014


On average, the top proven sires from April 2011 held up pretty well on the April 2014 results seeing only 3% decline.  Though interestingly we do see the same trend as in the genomic sires where the PL, DPR, PTAF lead the way with the greatest declines.  Also of interest are the changes in ranking.   In April 2014 the top three sires from this list were Badger-Bluff Fanny Freddie, Regancrest Altaiota, and Lotta-Hill Shottle 41 none of which were in the top 5 in April 2011’s top proven sire list.

TABLE 3 – Comparison of Top Genomic and Proven Sires from April 2011 (April 2014 values)


If you had used the top 20 genomic sires from April 2011 rather than using the top 20 proven sires from April 2011, you would have come out 3% ahead.   More importantly let’s look at each sire did in the actual ranking.

TABLE 4 – Ranking of Top 20 Genomic and Top 20 Proven Sires from April 2011 in April 2014 values


Interestingly none of the top 7 sires in April 2014 were from the top 3 on the April 2011 Top Genomic or Top Proven Sires list.  In fact, the top proven sire in April 2014 was Robust, who was 14th on the Top 20 Genomic Sires in April 2011.  The top Genomic Sire from April 2011, Shamrock, is actually in 17th spot on this list. That is more than 200 points behind Robust, who in April 2011 was 169 TPI points behind Shamrock.  That is a 370 point swing between these two sires.  When you think about this from the effects it has on your breeding program, owners of daughters from Ladys-Manor Pl Shamrock, Mr Chassity Gold Chip, and Wabash-Way Explode who once thought they would have the next list toppers for sure. Now they find themselves (on average) behind daughters of Roylane Socra Robust, De-Su 521 Bookem, Sully Altameteor, RMW Armitage, Co-Op Upd Planet Yano, De-Su Observer, UFM-Dubs Sherac, and Vendairy Wonder.   When they were making their mating decisions back in April 2011, breeders thought the first group would surely outperform the second.

Analysis reveals an even more alarming situation than this.   What it shows us is that sires that were not even on the Radar back in April 2011, ended up outperforming the top 20 Genomic sires from April 2011.  In fact, 4 of the 10 sires from April 2011 were not in the top 20 Genomic or Proven Sires in April 2011, and 25 of the top 30 proven sires from April 2014 were not on the top 20 Genomic or Proven Sires lists in April 2011.

TABLE 5 – Top 10 Proven Sires April 2014


TABLE 6 – Top 40 April 2014 Proven sires that were missed


While a few of these sires may not have been missed because they   were about to receive their proven daughter proof shortly, the majority fall into a situation where they were just not as high ranking as the top Genomic sires from April 2011 but they held their values much better.

When looking at the 25 sires that were in the top 40 proven sires in April 2014 that did not find themselves in the top 20 Genomic or Proven Sires in April 2011, a strong trend starts to show itself.  All of these sires were within 15% of the top genomic sire from April 2011, Roylane Socra Robust.   This tells us is that you can’t only use the top 10 or 20 genomic sires, if you expect to have the best results in your breeding program.  In fact, you need to consider sires that are within 15% of the top genomic sire. When you compare the top 20 Genomic Sires from April 2011 to these 25 sires you find the following:

TABLE 7 – Comparison of Top 20 Genomic Sires from April 2011 to Missed Sires


Applying this analysis to today’s breeding strategy shows us that we cannot just use the top 20 Genomic sires that are available, in order to have the best long term results.  Instead, we need to use sires that fall within 15% of the top current genomic sire, Cogent Supershot, who has a current gTPI of +2625.  That means all sires that are 2231 TPI currently could easily be in the top 10 proven sires in April 2017.  That will be a list of sires that has over 600 bulls on it.  Even if you remove the two proven sires (Robust and Dorcy) as well as those sires that are older and about to receive daughter proofs shortly, you are still left with over 500 genomic sires to choose from.  That means that currently there are over 500 genomic sires that could be in the top 10 proven sires in April 2017.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

While many breeders battle to get their hands on the early release semen of the top 10 genomic sires, and A.I. units are putting extremely high prices on this semen, analysis of performance data from the top sires in April 2011 shows us that these sires are not necessarily going to outperform the other available sires.  Breeders who used sires like Ladys-Manor Pl Shamrock, Mr Chassity Gold Chip and Wabash-Way Explode now find themselves behind sires such as Den-K Altagreatest, Pine-Tree Picardus, and Altaceasar.  These were all sires that in April of 2011 were not even on most breeders’ radars.   While genomic indices are an excellent tool for helping develop a short list of sires to use.  Performance data shows us that sires that are within 15% of the genomic sires can still produce a top 10 sire.  For your breeding program, this means that you need to take a look at all sires who are within 15% of the top sires and consider them for use.  This will help you develop your own shortlist, and then using corrective mating tools like GPS (Read more: gPs– Genetic Profile Systems – Dairy Cattle Breeding Made Simple), will help you determine exactly which of these sires will perform best on a mating by mating basis.  You can’t just use the top 20 Genomic Sires and expect to get ahead of everyone else.  Past performance shows this just doesn’t work.

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Sire vs. Dam – Which has a Greater Impact on Your Herd’s Genetic Improvement?

Too many people say that dairy breeding is an art. If they manage their herds this way, they will be unable to compete in an industry that grows with science. Art places value on the ‘family’ and sees both parents contributing equally shared value to their offspring. In practicing the science of dairy cattle breeding parents are not equal when it comes to which one is the most important when deciding upon a herd’s genetic improvement plan (Read more: What’s the plan? And Flukes and Pukes – What Happens When You Don’t Have a Plan, and Pick The Right Bull – Your Future Depends on The Decisions You Make Today!).

3 Factors Determine Genetic Advancement

On a simplified basis, the rate of genetic advancement in a dairy herd is primarily a function of three factors: 1) the superiority of parents; 2) the accuracy of the parent’s genetic indexes and 3) the generation interval expressed as the time between the birth of the parent to the birth of the calf. Dairy cattle breeders have, in the past, placed a priority on intense selection, but today with genomic information generation interval is necessary.

Four Pathways for Improvement

In a population of dairy cattle there are four groups, commonly called transmission pathways that are considered when determining the overall population rate of improvement. These pathways are: 1) the Sires of Bulls (SB); 2) the Sires of Cows (SC); the Dams of Bulls (DB); and the Dams of Cows (DC). Breeders do not have equally accurate information on each pathway and definitely do not apply equal selection intensity for each pathway.

Which Breeding Scheme is the Best?

The following table outlines the importance of the different pathways for three improvement schemes when animals are ranked and selected using total merit indexes like TPI, NM$ and LPI.

Comparison of Genetic Improvement Schemes

Pathway Selection % Accuracy Generation Interval Relative Emphasis
1. Traditional Progeny Testing Program
Sires of Bulls (SB) 5 0.99 7 44%*
Sires of Cows (SC) 20 0.75 6 22%
Dams of Bulls (DB) 2 0.6 5 31%
Dams of Cows (DC) 85 0.5 4.25 3%
Relative Total Merit Genetic Gain per Year = 100%
2. Genomic Testing Program
Sires of Bulls (SB) 5 0.75 1.75 34%
Sires of Cows (SC) 20 0.75 1.75 23%
Dams of Bulls (DB) 2 0.75 2 40%*
Dams of Cows (DC) 85 0.5 4.25 3%
Relative Total Merit Genetic Gain per Year = 185% to 200%
3. Genomic Testing Program with IVF
Sires of Bulls (SB) 5 0.75 1.75 30%
Sires of Cows (SC) 10 0.75 1.75 20%
Dams of Bulls (DB) 2 0.75 2 36%*
Dams of Cows (DC) 10 0.62 2 14%
Relative Total Merit Merit Genetic Gain per Year = 225% to 250%

* Pathway of most importance The Bullvine appreciates the assistance of Dr. Larry Schaeffer, University of Guelph, in providing information for the above  table. Further details can be found in Dr. Schaeffer’s 2006 paper “Strategy for applying genomic-wide selection in dairy cattle,” Volume 123 of Journal of Animal Breeding and Genetics.

Progeny Testing has Served Breeders Well

Breeders have been successful when they used the results of the traditional A.I. progeny testing programs. That is when only elite sires are used to produce bulls (SB) for progeny testing, each year newly proven sires are used to produce the heifer calves (SC), Dams of Bulls (DB) are elite indexing milking females and the bottom 10-15% of the cows in the herd are not used to produce replacement heifers. (Read more: Why you should get rid of the bottom 10% and  8 Ways DNA PROFILING Your Whole Herd Will Improve Your Breeding Program) most important pathway, by quite a distance, is the Sires of Bulls (SB) at 44%. Combined the sire pathways (SB & SC) account for 66% of the total genetic progress. That is opposite to what many breeders say ‘Sires are not as important as cow families. The cow family, in a herd, dominates.’

Genomics gives 185 – 200%

Over the past five years, breeders have become familiar with the program whereby the genomic indexes on young animals are used for animal selection.  Even though this program is much discussed, it has been implemented on less than 10% of the farms in North America. In Holsteins, less than 7% of calves registered are genomically tested. Breeders are obviously not confident with the lower accuracies and the much shorter generation intervals. So let’s dig deeper to see what the facts are when it comes to rates of genetic improvement. With the genomics program the relative importance between pathways shifts to where the Dams of Bulls (DB), at 40%, is the most important followed next by the Sires of Bulls (SB) at 34%. Again in this program, as in progeny testing, very limited selection pressure is applied to Dams of Cows (DC), pathway resulting in only 3% of the total progress. The relative ratios of improvement from sire and dam pathways is 57:43. The telltale important fact is that by using a genomic program the rate of annual genetic gain is 185% to 200% of what can be achieved by using the traditional progeny testing program. Another important difference between these two programs is that considerable money can be saved by only having to progeny test less than half as many young bulls with the genomic testing program.

Adding IVF gives 225 – 250%

Some breeders add IVF to their genomic selection program however due to costs and the challenge of mating carefully to avoid inbreeding it is not for everyone. The accuracies of this program match those of the genomic testing program, but the selection intensities are increased for the Sires of Cows (SC) pathway and greatly increased for the Dams of Cows (DC) pathway. For all pathways the generation intervals are short, something many breeders state as being a concern.  These farms use IVF on maiden heifers to produce all of the next generation of animals. Again the most important pathway is the Dams of Bulls (DB) at 36%.  However, the differences between emphasis on the pathways is narrowed. The ratio of emphasis sires to dams is 50:50. Farms employing this program can have annual rates of genetic gain of 225% to 250% compared to what is possible for herds using a progeny testing program. To fund this more expensive program breeders often sell surplus embryos or animals.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Determining which parent pathway is the most important rests with which testing and selection program a breeder wants to follow. For breeders using the traditional progeny testing program by far the most important animals are the sires of the young bulls (SB) that enter A.I. progeny testing programs. For breeders wanting to advance their herds at a faster rate by using the less accurate genomic information and shorter generation intervals, the dams of the bulls (DB) is the most important pathway. No matter which program a breeder chooses it is important to have a plan and always use the best available animals.



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Does Your Breeding Strategy Suffer from ADD?

Attention Deficit Disorder (also known as ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are terms used to describe patterns of behavior that appear most often in school-aged children.  Children with these disorders are inattentive, overly impulsive and, in the case of ADHD, hyperactive.  They have difficulty sitting still or attending to one thing for a long period, and may seem overactive.  When I talk to many breeders about their breeding strategies, I see many of these same characteristics. They have difficulty attending to one thing for a long period, are overactive in thinking about just what sires to use and often end up making impulsive decisions.

There is No Quick Fix

As a young child, I had many teachers wanting to tag me with those three magic letters, ADD, to explain my behavior.  You see I was not engaged with my schoolwork.  I would get bored and decided to be loud and disruptive.  It was not until I found a teacher who recognized this behavior in me, and knew that they needed to engage me more that I began to realize my full potential.  The same is true for your breeding program.  Instead of looking for a quick fix or making an impulsive decision, in order to gain maximum results you need to have a clear plan, with achievable goals.

Over the years, there have certainly been some major trends in the dairy cattle breeding world.  First, it was breeding for production, then for component/protein yield, followed by longevity.  More recently, the trend has moved more towards health and fertility.  Moreover, while all these traits are important factors in any breeding strategy, you need to understand that you cannot achieve your breeding goals overnight, and even with the introduction new technologies such as of genomics and IVF, it still takes years to achieve the results of your breeding decisions.

The Opportunity Cost of Your Breeding Strategy

Often, what sire to use comes down to, “What sire I have in the tank?”, or “Who is hot just now?” or “What sire could I buy the cheapest?”  The problem is all of these factors end up costing you much more money than you could ever realize.  You see what sire you have in the tank or who is cheapest may look like economical decisions, but that is just looking at it from the cash out of hand today and does not consider the long-term opportunity cost.  The impulsive decision you make today will affect your herd for generations to come.  That is why there is no such thing as semen that is too expensive.  (Read more:  Semen Prices Are Never Too High).

The time and effort it takes to develop a sound breeding strategy may be the most effective use of time you will ever make in your herd.  You see you can never take back a breeding decision.  So every day that you are operating without a solid breeding strategy that compliments your management style, you are costing yourself money.  (Read more: Let’s Talk Mating Strategies and gAa® – Genetic Animal Analysis – Dairy Cattle Breeding Made Simple)

A World of Constant Change

Just like how video games took children’s focus challenges to completely new levels, genomics has caused breeders heads to spin.  It does seem like monthly there are new sires to use.  Yes, official lists are only available 3 times a year, but the second an A.I. unit has a new hot sire, they are quick to let the world know.  Either through official channels or through the unofficial network that is the semen salesmen.  The challenge is that you can barely get the semen in the tank before there is a new hot sire that everyone tells you that you should be using instead of the one you just purchased.  Sure, this is great for driving up semen sales, but what is it doing to your breeding strategy, and your pocket book?  (Read more: Are There Too Many Semen Salesmen Coming in the Lane? )

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Instead of worrying about always following the latest fad, or using the hottest new sire, you need to have a sound breeding strategy that you can stick with over a prolonged period.  That does not mean that you cannot adjust the strategy as you go along.  You need to remember that, even with new technology, realizing the results of breeding decisions takes years.  Stop daydreaming about what the future may hold and start focusing on what you can do today.



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Top Sires North American Holstein Breeders Used in 2013

Breeders are continually searching for Mr. Right when it comes to which sire or sires to use in their herd.  It is part of both the excitement and challenge of being a breeder.  Breeders pour over the sire listings, available on-line, and in the printed materials from bull owners, marketers or breed associations. However, according to female registrations, breeders do not closely follow the list toppers. The Bullvine decided to look at what happened in 2013 on both sires used and sires available.

Most Used Sires – 2013

The progress for a population is set by which sires are the most used. In this case, we are referring to the sires with the most registered daughters.

Table 1 Sires with Most Registrations- United States (April 2013)

Table 1 Sires with Most Registrations- United States (April 2013)

Table 2 Sires with Most Registrations- Canada (2013)

Table 2 Sires with Most Registrations- Canada (2013)

The data for Table 1 comes from April 2013 Holstein USA ‘High Registry Activity by Bull’ and for Table 2 comes from the 2013 registration activity report from Holstein Canada.  The TPI and LPI proofs used were their April 2014 indexes as CDN changed the Canadian base system in 2013 and thereby the number listed will more accurately reflect what readers see now.

Points of interest from this table include:

  • Genomic Sires – four of the US sires have genomic evaluations only while for Canada all ten most used sires were proven sires
  • Sire usage in USA and Canada does not follow the sire ratings for total merit indexes: gTPI, NM$ or gLPI.

Average Indexes for Most Used Sires

There is a significant range in the average proofs for the most used sires and for most traits the average proofs of the sires were not outstanding.

Table 3 – Average Proofs in December 2102 for Most Used US Sires

Table 3 - Average Proofs in December 2102 for Most Used US Sires April 2013

Table 4 – Average Proofs in December 2102 for Most Used Canadian Sires

Table 4 - Average Proofs in December 2102 for Most Used Canadian Sires

The overall observation from Tables 3 & 4  is that both US and Canadian purebred breeders place significant emphasis on type when choosing the sires for their herds and as we have observed previously. (Read more: Top Sires North American Breeders Are Using) Breeders have not considered fertility (DPR or DF) as being important when choosing their sires. Canadian breeders place significant emphasis on component percentages, fat +0.31% and protein +0.06%.

Once breeders select a sire they appear to stick with the bull even if better sires come along.

How Big a Sacrifice?

The question that comes to mind is what were the average proofs for the top bulls in mid-2012. Those were the bulls that would have been available for use that would have resulted in daughters being born in 2013. The question that breeders need to ask themselves is how much did they give up in genetic advancement and thereby on-farm profit by not sticking to popular instead of the top sires. In this example, top sires were considered to be the top ten proven and top ten genomic sires for TPI or LPI.

Table 5 Trait Averages for Top Ten TPI A.I. Sires Available in 2012

Table 3 Trait Averages for Top Ten TPI A.I

Table 6 Trait Averages for Top Ten LPI A.I. Sires Available in 2012

Table 4 Trait Averages for Top Ten LPI A.I

For North American purebred Holstein breeders was it worth giving up considerable milk, fat, protein, longevity, fertility and udder health to use bulls that are high for type?  Even if it is acknowledged that genomic bulls are considered to be somewhat over-rated, giving up 50+ pounds of fat, another 50+ pounds of protein, 1.5 to 2.5 months of herd life, cows open a month or two longer and higher somatic cell counts does not seem worth limiting bulls to only those that have high type proofs..

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Both daughter proven and genomically evaluated sires are available that will increase the genetic level of herds and give greater on-farm profit. By limiting sires used to the higher type ones, North American purebred Holstein breeders deny themselves the opportunity to move ahead at a faster rate. Having a breeding plan (Read more: What’s the plan?) and continually buying semen from the best sires, the ones that will produce the milking females that breeders want to milk, are practices that must be followed. Following tradition and using the ‘safe’ bulls will mean breeders are leaving money on the table.

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Genetic Accuracy – Can you trust the numbers?

Dairy breeders are continually taking steps to be more exact about the way they farm and the products they buy, produce and sell.  However when it comes to the genetic make-up of our animals there remains significant difference of thought, amongst breeders, about the actual accuracy of the genetic information. Breeders are presented with a wide range of facts. Gold Medal, Extra, Star Brood, DOM, proven, genomic, photos, Supreme Champion … no wonder many breeders are confused. The Bullvine feels that breeders need to be objective about the animal information they see and to think in terms of the accuracy of the information. Now we are not talking about whether or not an animal meets the ideal. We’re talking about how much we can rely on the facts we see in hard copy or from virtual communication sources.

In the Beginning

In the nineteenth century milk cows were mostly dual purpose and herd size was small. People wanting to get into dairying purchased a cow or bull based on what the seller said were the animal’s merits. In time breed societies were formed to document lineage. That was followed in the early twentieth century with third party authentication of both yield and conformation.  The third party oversight of parentage and performance were the beginning steps to know the accuracy of the information. That was the start.

Many Steps Along The Way

Having a milk record or type classification authenticated for a single one cow in a herd was initially thought to be very useful information. The next move was to compare a cow to her dam to see if improvement had been made.  But that did not help much as the cow and her dam were not simultaneously at the same age and, in some cases, not in the same herd. Of course, over time we have learned that we need to know the performance of the cow’s herdmates. That was the stage where breeders started to compare animals within a herd with the desire to know which animals were superior, or, conversely, inferior for a trait. The biggest breakthrough in accurately determining the relative genetic merit of an animal came when Dr Charles Henderson, Cornell University, developed the analysis technique that he called B.L.U.P. (Best Linear Unbiased Prediction).  Forget about trying to understand the term, what it does is compare all animals within a herd and then compile the results across all herds to produce genetic rankings for males and females.

What About Accuracy?

From a genetic merit perspective it is important to know two things. Firstly where does the animal rank in the populations? And secondly, and also very important, how accurate is the prediction? How much trust can a breeder put in the animal’s genetic rating? If information is of limited accuracy, then it may be nice to know, but it does little for constructive breeding or to provide the opportunity to drive up on-farm profits. Accuracy produces confidence; confidence accelerates advancement, and negligence ruins the reputation which accuracy had raised. (Read more: Has Genomics Knocked Out Hot House Herds? And The Hot House Effect on Sire Sampling)

Let’s Compare Accuracy

The range in accuracy of genetic evaluation indexes goes from 0 to 99% and is called Reliability. The following chart is an approximation of the accuracy of predicting an animal’s total merit index (i.e TPI, NM$, LPI, or any other national total merit index) from the information that is known on the animal.

Reliability In Predicting An Animal Total Merit Index

Genetic Accuracy – Can you trust the numbers2

As far as accuracy goes the winners, as a result of incorporating genomic information into our genetic evaluation systems, have been young bulls, young heifers and brood cows. Adding genomic information has resulted in a doubling of the accuracy of their indexes. For further information on accuracy an interesting read is Two Ways to Look at Accuracy for Genomic Young Bulls published by Canadian Dairy Network.

What’s Ahead?

As more and more animals are genomically tested and recorded for their performance, the accuracy of all genetic indexes will increase.  Three other steps that will assist in increasing the accuracy of total merit indexing are needed:

  1. Have every milk weight, fat %, protein% and SCC automatically captured at every milking;
  2. Have information on new economically important traits collected;  and
  3. Have more economic information available on more traits.

Breeders will be the benefactors of having more and more accurate information so that they can make more and more accurate decisions.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Having genomic information has been a significant step forward for increasing the accuracy of genetic indexes. But it will go beyond genetics and genomics in the future. Read past Bullvine articles for further details about genomics for health and management (Read more: Herd Health, Management, Genetics and Pilot Projects: A Closer Look at ZOETIS) and what lies beyond genomics (Read more: Forget Genomics – Epigenomics & Nutrigenomics are the Future). When buying genetics breeders need to check that the animals, semen or embryos they are considering will both follow their breeding plans (Read more: What’s the plan?) and that the information is accurate.  Breeding dairy cattle is faster paced every year. The accuracy of the information used is an important consideration.



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Dairy Breeders vs. Genetic Corporations: Who are the True Master Breeders?

For the past two years we here at the Bullvine have been warning breeders about changes that will come as a result of large A.I. companies and other genetic corporations owning top females.  The comment that many breeders come back to us with is,”I will take a “master breeder” over some geneticist any day.”  As well they say,   “If it was up to the geneticists, we would never have had sires like Goldwyn.”.  Well we here at the Bullvine decided to take a closer look to see who the true master breeder is.  Is it the Geneticist or is it the Seed Stock Breeder?

What makes a true master breeder?

For years the Master Breeder award has been one of the most coveted awards given out by breed associations.  This award is the pinnacle of success for any purebred breeder.  In Canada there have been 924 Master Breeders shields awarded since its inception in 1929.  While Holstein USA does not have a master breeder program, it does have the Elite Breeder Award, bestowed annually upon a living Holstein Association USA, Inc. member, family, partnership, or corporation who has bred outstanding animals and thereby has made a notable contribution to the advancement of the Holstein breed in the United States.  As well it designates the Herd of Excellence award which recognizes registered Holstein breeders who have bred and developed excellent herds made up of cows with superior type and production.

Except for the AltaGen herd, run by Alta Genetics, which won a Master Breeder shield in 2001, all the winners have been seed stock producers or, in the early years, government herds.  But now, with the large A.I. companies and genetic corporations entering into the ownership of top females, this could be about to change.  (Read more: Should A.I. Companies Own Females? And Why Good Business for AI Companies Can Mean Bad Business for Dairy Breeders)

Who owns the top genetics?

If you look at the top genomic index lists over the past 2 years, you will see six names consistently producing the top index animals.  The names include De-Su, S-S-I (Select Sires), EDG (Elite Dairy Genomics now managed by Sexing Technologies), Alta Genetics, ABS Global, and the Co-Op program at Genex.  Over the past year, more than 50% of the top 100 females have been owned by one of these companies.  The interesting fact is that all but one, De-Su, is either a large A.I. company or a genetic corporation.  So it is clear to see that these companies have already entered and are starting to win the race.

Now I know you are probably saying that just owning the top females does not make them a master breeder.  And I agree it doesn’t.  But what it does do is give them control of the genetic advancement race.  (Read more: The Genomic Advancement Race – The Battle for Genetic Supremacy and What the Experts Will Tell You about Who Is Winning the Genetic Improvement Race)  Sure there are some who think “Breeders can still breed a better next generation than the corporations can with all their number crunching and statistics.”  That is because many feel that the geneticists at these corporations lack one key element and that is cattle sense.  The knowledge that comes from working day in and day out with cows.  The cow sense that makes cattle breeding part art form and part science.  In my opinion, that is correct!  Unfortunately, correct or not, it doesn’t matter.  What really gives the geneticists at the large corporations the edge is the resources that are at their disposal.

It’s a question of resources, not cattle smarts

Let’s take a look at the typical seed stock producer versus the geneticist and just see who will produce that next list topper.  The seed stock producer can probably afford to flush each animal 3-4 times per year in order to produce the next generation of great ones.  Given typical ratios that would mean about 10 females a year and let’s say 10 males a year.  Therefore, that breeder would have 20 progeny to compete with against the large genetic corporations.  Now let’s look at the case for the large genetics corporations.  First of all they already own the majority of the top genomic index animals so that they are already starting ahead of the game.  But, more importantly, they can afford to flush their animals 10+ plus times a year.  This gives them at least 50 plus females and over 50 males (and possibly 100 of each) to submit to the ranks of the genomic test gods.

It’s not that they are better about making sire selections, it’s that they can afford to flush each donor cow to every possible sire thus making sure they have all their bases covered.  So yes I would not be surprised to see that the resulting ratios and consistency numbers of the Seed Stock producers end up being as good or better than that of the geneticists at the large corporations.  However, geneticists at the large corporations have much greater resources at their disposal and, therefore, can afford to keep shooting until they get it right.

Of course there are   those of you who are more discerning and say, “Let’s see who produces the better proven sires.  After all that is where you find the true measure of a master breeder,” To them I say, look at the semen sales in the world today.  More than 50% is genomic test sires.  A bull getting a good daughter proof is less and less important, when it comes to winning the genetics race.  (Read more: The End of the Daughter Proven Sire Era)

Another key factor is the significantly increased genetic reliabilities due to the introduction of genomics.  In the past these geneticists were using data that was 30-40% reliable.  Now with genomics the information is more than double that, taking what once was a scientific crapshoot, into an artful science.  (Read more: The Truth About Genomic Indexes – “show me” that they work!, Genomics – Lies, Miss-Truths and False Publications! and The Genomic Bubble Has Burst?)

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The real question isn’t really about who are the better breeders.  The real question comes down to who has the biggest pocketbook.  Since the large A.I. companies have greater financial resources than those of the seed stock producer, they can afford to invest significantly more in order to win the genetic race.  The time to have changed this situation isn’t today.  The time to do something about it was two years ago when we told breeders that these corporations owning females would spell the end of the seed stock producers.  It was a good business opportunity that was taken by the A.I. companies.  They now have a relatively cost effective source for top genetics over which they have exclusive control.  So, while the seed stock producers may be the better master breeders, unfortunately they may not be around long enough to enjoy their victory.



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Why Braedale Goldwyn Wasn’t a Great Sire of Sons

2014 editors choice graphicOver the years it has been almost impossible to predict which hot new sire would be the next great sire of sons.  Just because a sire had a high index did not always mean that he was going to be a great sire of sons.  For instance, sires like Goldwyn produced great bull mothers but did not seem to make as much of an impact through their sons.  There have also been sires like O-Man that were great sires of sons, but did not seem to leave consistent bull mothers.  Fortunately, genomics at the chromosomal level has started to give us insight into which sires will make better sires of sons and which ones will be more impactful through their daughters.

Look to the past to predict the future

There is no question that Goldwyn has been one of the biggest impact sires over the past 20 years.  But for all the great daughters he has left, he has not had the same dominant performance through his sons.  Recent analysis by the Bullvine actually starts to explain why. Using the Chromosomal Predicted Transmitting Abilities tool on the Council for Dairy Cattle Breeding’s website we took a look at the top 10 Goldwyn daughters with EBV and genomic tests and his top 10 sons.  The following is what we found.

Table 1 – BRAEDALE GOLDWYN’s genetic contribution to his top progeny

$NM Sire Dam %Sire %Dam












It is interesting to note that Goldwyn was much more dominant (11%) in passing his genetics on to his daughters than he was to his sons.  When you look deeper at this, you will actually find that Goldwyn himself actually received 64% of his genetics from his mother, BRAEDALE BALER TWINE VG-86-2YR-CAN 33*.


Click on image to enlarge

In order to put this into a relative comparison, we decided to look at a sire that has been the opposite scenario, O-BEE MANFRED JUSTICE.  O-Man has been one of the greatest sires of sons of the past 20 years, but not as dominant on the female side.  When we look at Justice’s top 10 daughters and sons we find the following.

Table 2 – O-BEE MANFRED JUSTICE’s genetic contribution to his top progeny

$NM Sire Dam %Sire %Dam












It is interesting to see that when looking at Justice’s progeny results he played a far more significant role on average, 68% of the genetic contribution to his progeny, than Goldwyn’s 59%.  This is especially true where Justice contributed 12% more to his top sons than Goldwyn did. This is not surprising when you notice that O-Man himself received a much larger contribution (48%) of his genetics from his father, as compared to Goldwyn’s 36%.


Click on image to enlarge

Who’s Next?

Based on these trends, when looking at some of the top genomic sires from the past 4 years, we find that sires like Mogul, and Epic will be more impactful as sires of sons than say sires like Supersire and Numero Uno.  This is based on the proportions of their current chromosomes coming from their sires and their dams.

As far as current top genomic sires go, DE-SU 11756 OCTAVIAN-ET, SEAGULL-BAY SILVER-ET and MR DELICIOUS COIN 15006 will be more impactful through their sons.  Sires like MORNINGVIEW MCC KINGBOY and EDG JACEY MCCUT 8396-ET will probably leave more bull mothers, rather than sires of sons.  Again, this is based on the proportions of their current chromosomes coming from their sires and their dams.

The Bullvine Bottom Line.

For years, we have wondered why some sires seemed unable to pass on their great genetics to their sons.  Now at the chromosome level we know why.  Some sires are just more dominant about passing their genetics onto their progeny than others.  (Read more:  The Genetic Genius of Darwin, Mendel and Hunt – Genetic Transmission and the Holstein)  A sire’s ability to pass his genetics onto his progeny especially his sons, has a huge impact on whether or not he will be an impactful sire of sons.  For bulls like Goldwyn, this inability means he has fewer legacy sons, while Justice’s ability to dominantly pass on his genetics has contributed to his sons reading like a who’s who list.

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The End of the Daughter Proven Sire Era

For almost sixty years dairy cattle breeders have relied on daughter proven sires to drive the industry forward. There was a time when over 70% of the genetic advancement depended on knowing which sires left the best daughters and using them extensively. However that era is fast coming to a close. The Bullvine sees changes in the not too distant future for both breeders and breeding companies, all of whom have built their business and breeding models around the daughter proven sire.

A Quick Look at History

Before the 1950’s unproven sires were the norm. Yes some of them may have had some limited daughter information but it was most often in a single herd and was actually just phenotypic observations (i.e. 12,500 lbs milk, 3.8%F, 5 VG & 10 GP daughters). A.I. was primarily a tool to get cows in calf without having to feed and handle a mature bull. Truth is that genetic progress, at that time, was only slightly above zero.  From the 1970’s onwards considerable progress was made, based on the use of proven sires. During that time breeders and breeding companies were more selective in which young sires were sampled, more herds were milk recorded and type classified, genetic evaluations used B.L.U.P. technologies (i.e. +1100 lbs milk, +0.25%F, PTAT +2.24) and high ranking total merit proven sires got extensive use.

New Technologies Will Turn the Tide

Now let’s deal with how new technologies will change the timing and accuracy of genetic decision making. Simply put ‘time waits for no one’ and ‘the future is in the hands of those that search out the new, decide and apply the best of the new”. That applies to all areas of dairy farming but just now let’s stick to the genetic component. Let’s focus on why daughter proven sires will become a thing of the past

Accurate and More Accurate

To date genomic genetic evaluation has resulted in a doubling of the accuracy of indexes for young animals. It will not stop there. With refined knowledge in the genome we can expect production indexes on young animals to go from 65-70% REL. to as high as 85-90%. in the next five years. As well with more on-farm data being captured and collected in Genetic Evaluation Centers we can expect the REL for productive life, type, health and fertility traits to approach 70-80%. Part of the increase in REL, from their current 50-65%, will come from more accurate field data and part from in-depth study of the genome. The end result will be that if total merit is known with 85% REL for young animals, then daughter proven bulls and older brood cows will not be used as the parents of the next generation. In short the pace of the trend of using younger and younger animals as the parents of the next generation will speed up even more.

Sexing Technology

Dairy cattle breeders are hearing that genomics is the biggest advancement in genetic improvement since the introduction of the proven sire.  Recent information on what’s ahead in sexing technology is on the brink of speeding up the rate of genetic gain. (Read more: Sexed Semen from Cool Technology to Smart Business Decision and SEXED SEMEN – At Your Service!) That does not even factor in epigenomics and nutrigenomics will hold out significant promise. (Read more: Forget Genomics – Epigenomics & Nutrigenomics are the Future) Proactive breeders will need to stay tuned to what’s ahead and be ready to adapt the breeding plans. (Read more: What’s the Plan?)

We know that young bulls do not produce large volumes of sperm per ejaculation as mature bulls do, so we’ll need to collect from extra young bulls but there will come a day when all young bull semen will be sexed. Having more young bulls being used will help to counteract inbreeding.

The changes could well go much further than that.  How much sexed semen will be needed in another fifteen years?  It could be that embryo and embryo transfer technology will advance to the stage that, once identified, the very top genetic ten to twelve month old heifers will have many oocytes collected and fertilized in vitro and then implanted into 99% of the females on a farm.

Of course exactly what will happen has yet to play out but we need to be prepared for major advances in the technologies relative to both genetics and reproduction. Regardless the use of daughter proven sires will be a thing of the past.

Maximum of 50,000 Doses Only

In the past superior proven bulls have remained active and in use well past ten years of age. They have produced, on average, 130,000 – 140,000 doses per year. In some cases they have sold more than one million doses of semen in their lifetime. Although profitable for their owners this extensive use has contributed to inbreeding and narrowing of the genetic base. The question that has always been asked ‘what do we do about too much Blackstar, Valiant or more recently Oman and Planet?’. We will not need to have that concern in the future as genetic progress will be so quick that the maximum a sire will get used in his lifetime is 50,000 doses. That does however change the value that any one sire will have. The industry savings on feed and maintenance costs beyond collecting 50,000, likely sexed, doses is significant considering the thousands of bulls that have been annually sampled around the world in the past.

It could be that 50,000 is far too high a number of doses. Take the case of Kulp-Dale Golden PP Red.  (Read more: $10,000 a dose Polled Semen and The 24 Polled Bulls Every Breeder Should Be Using To Accelerate the Genetic Gain in Their Herd) Five doses and $50,000 may be the numbers that will be attached to his contribution to changing the Holstein breed from horned to polled. Another factor to think about is that high genomically evaluated young sires are often used exclusively by breeding companies before general release and, when released, are priced at $200 to $1000 per dose. However after a few months their semen price is dropped to the $40 – $60 range. By the time they have been on the market for a year they are often down to less than $20. Why? Because their time of demand has passed. If the sire is no longer a list topper for at least one important trait he is history.

Alternatives Exist

A couple of months ago The Bullvine wrote about using all natural sires in a herd. (Read more: Natural Breeding – Could It Work For You?) These sires can quite easily have high genomic indexes. Think about it. A breeder focused on producing milk saving on labor to heat detect and inseminate his cows and heifers. Perhaps 10% of a herd’s labor cost could be saved. With robotic technology advancing quickly it could well be that the safety factor for workers by having yearling and two year old bulls around the farm may be minimized as there will be fewer workers to be exposed to the bulls. Definitely the need for daughter proven A.I. sires would be zero.

Are We Ready?

The pace of change is fast and will become faster. In a few years it could be that the only need for daughter proven sire information will be to check the accuracy of genomic indexes or to develop the formulae for indexing for new traits that breeders wish to include in their breeding programs. It could well be that breeders are more ready for the future than are some breeding co-ops and companies that have built their business model on having the vast majority of their revenue coming from daughter proven bulls. Having said that, progressive breeding companies are taking steps to control their costs and to specialize their product lines, including owning high ranking females. Daughter proven bulls will not be the focal point for those companies.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Having moved to daughter proven sires for accuracy and selection intensity reasons, we can now expect to see a move away from those sires for the reasons of speed of turning of generations and of having very accurate knowledge at the gene level. Anyone doubting these changes needs only to look at male selection in the plant, fish, poultry and pig industries. The downside for bull breeders is that their bulls will have less value. The upside for all other breeders is that they can continue to make rapid progress in breeding profitable healthy cows. Daughter proven sires were a major force in getting us to where we are but they will now be replaced by more advanced technology.


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The Genetic “SUPER COW” – Myth vs Reality

During the recent “Advancing Dairy Cattle Genetics: Genomics and Beyond”,  Paul VanRaden with USDA’s Animal Improvement Programs Laboratory pointed out that “If we took the best haplotypes (genes) from all the cows genomic tested to date, we would have a cow at $7515 Net Merit”.  That’s pretty spectacular considering the current top Sire on the $NM list is DE VOLMER DG SUPERSHOT at 1000 $NM.

Now to put that into perspective the current rate of gain is $80 per year.  So in order to breed that $7515 animal it would take us 81 years to actually breed that animal.  Therefore it raises the question whether such an animal is actually achievable and is there technology out there that could accelerate the process of getting that Super Cow.


The interesting fact here is the greatly accelerated rate of genetic gain since the introduction of genomics.  This results for the most part from the greatly shortened generation interval.  Females are now being used as bull mothers 18 months sooner than in the past (as yearlings vs mid 1st lactation), and sires of sons are now being used 24 and sometime 36 months sooner than they were in the past.  (Genomic indexes vs waiting for proven sires).  The almost 40% increase in reliability of estimated transmitting ability has breeders and AI companies contracting and working with these elite animals at a significantly younger age.

An interesting comparison is found by taking the top 8 proven sires from April 2010 and comparing them to the top 8 genomic sires from April 2010 with their current daughter proofs.  You see that the genomic sires are 99 $NM (704 vs 605) higher than the proven sires.  These top genomic sires, that have been heavily used as sires of sons, are 16% higher than if we had used their proven counterparts from the same time.



This reminded me of a discussion stemming from an article we wrote over a year ago, “Are You Ready For Genetically Modified Cattle?”.  We discussed about how many larger and larger corporations are entering the dairy genetics marketplace and the fact that technology is advancing at such a rate that some time in the not so distant future it will be possible to take the best haplotypes in the Holstein population and produce progeny that would have an estimated breeding value of $7515 as VanRaden proposes.  But at this point it’s just like the “Perfect” Holstein Cow picture, it does not exist at this time.  (Read more: The Perfect Holstein Cow)

Not only does the potential exists to produce high $NM progeny, but what about creating or developing traits that are not yet available in nature.  Things like Epigenomics, Nutrigenomics and Transgenics will make this possible.  (Read more: Forget Genomics – Epigenomics & Nutrigenomics are the Future)

The Bullvine Bottom Line

There is no question that great breeding has always been part art and part science.  However as technology grows and new discoveries seem to happen almost monthly as opposed to yearly, the balance between art and science is starting to shift drastically.  I often hear many breeders comment about the failures of genetic predictions in the past.  That was when reliabilities were in the 30% and 40% range.  As the systems are refined and biases removed, these rates are now approaching the 70% and 80% range.  Given more time, there will come a point where we have over 90% reliable information for animals on the day that they are genomically tested.  Add to this the ability to genetically preselect or even manipulate the embryo and there is no question that, before long, numbers like 7515 $NM will not seem to be so astronomical.  They will be the expected.

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Breeding for Longevity: Don’t believe the hype – It’s more than just high type

Dairy cattle breeders want different results from their herds. Here at The Bullvine we highly recommend that breeders have a plan or strategy for how they select (Read more: What’s the plan?) and also cull. The cows we have today differ greatly from what existed even forty years ago. Holsteins have superior udders, Jerseys give more milk. One important factor that all breeders are attempting to turn around is early culling for both genetic and management reasons. With high rearing costs it is no long financially wise to raise a heifer only to cull her before she has paid for her rearing costs. It can be that the heifer is not truly profitable until she is milking in her third lactation. To order to provide breeders with some insight The Bullvine decided to do some investigation into Productive Life (PL).

Productive Life – What’s In It?

When a cow reaches twelve years of age, the facts are accurately known on her productivity over her lifetime. For an older proven bull, once his daughters reach their third lactation we have very good indication of how long lived his daughters will be.  But in our fast paced breeding world we do not have actual results to rank heifers, young sires or even bulls with only early first crop proofs on their genetic ability to live long productive lives. What is done is that an animal’s genetic indexes for traits like SCS, reproduction, udders and feet & legs are used to estimate a PL index. The inclusion of genomic analysis in the calculation has resulted in the reliability for these indexes to increase to almost 60% from pre-genomics when they were less than 30%. Since so many factors, both genetic and non-genetic, affect longevity it will never be 100% accurate. However, on a population basis 60%, is a great stride forward.

What Bull Proofs Tell Us.

We found interesting results when we studied the top twenty-five PL daughter proven USA A.I. bulls from the December 2013 genetic index listings (USDA-CDCB and Holstein USA).

 Table 1 – Averages for Top 25 Dec ’13 Daughter Proven A.I. Sires

Averages for Top 25 Dec '13 Daughter Proven AI Sires

These averages are different than we would have expected them to be.  They are a much different group than the top 25 TPI™ or NM$ proven sires. They stand out by siring daughters that, on average, stay in the herd 6.7 months longer than the norm. That’s 2/3 of a lactation longer. They are positive but not high for milk, fat and protein. It was nice to see that they excel for SCS and DPR. (Read more: FACT VS. FANTASY: A Realistic Approach to Sire Selection)It is interesting to see that these bulls’ daughters have the ability to calve without difficulty. That makes sense – long lived cows avoid culling due to calving problems. What was most interesting was the fact that these sires did not produce daughters that were high for conformation. In fact they are only average for Body Composite (BC) and Dairy Composite (DC).  That raises the question “Are our conformation evaluations standards right when it comes to body traits for the Ideal Cow? (Read more: The Perfect Holstein Cow): A closer look at body traits showed the following averages: Stature 0.35; Strength 0.19; and Body Depth 0.02.  So the Holstein cows that remain in herds are not tall, strong or deep and from Dairy Composite we see that they are not even angular. Is that what commercial dairymen and breeders like Don Bennick are telling us? (Read more: NORTH FLORIDA HOLSTEINS. Aggressive, Progressive and Profitable!!) At any show ring you’ll hear ringside comments “she’s not tall enough, strong enough or dairy enough to win that class”. Maybe, just maybe, the judge was right when he won the class with the slightly shorter and not so wide cow that had a super udder and moved extremely well on the walk.

The Bullvine Holstein Model 2yr

The Bullvine Holstein Model 2yr

The Bullvine Total Performance 2 Yr Old Cow

The Bullvine Total Performance 2 Yr Old Cow

Further study of the udders and feet and legs of the daughters of bulls that sired longevity shows that the udders were firmly attached and had enough depth to carry moderate volumes of milk. The feet had moderate depth of heel, had intermediate set as viewed from the side and tracked straight when viewed from the rear.

As mentioned previously, the top TPI™ and Net Merit daughter proven sires are not uniformly in the top 25 for PL but some that are include: Superstition; Shamrock; Freddie; Planet; Bookem; and Observer. If you are looking for a Red sire that has high PL look up Fritz-Pride Tycoon-Red.

High PL Bulls for the Future

On the USDA-CDCB and Holstein USA genomic bulls list for top ranking PL sires there are nine bulls that are 8 or higher PL. Having cows stay eight months longer on average in a herd will have a significant effect on farm profit. Cows that live longer, are older give more milk and fewer replacements heifers are needed.

Table 2 – Top 10 Productive Life (PL) Genomic Sires for Dec ’13

MR LOOKOUT P EMBARGO-ET346771162.85105
DE-SU DISTINCTION 11130-ET344774142.79104

These top ten genomic PL sires are an outstanding group. In addition to averaging 8.4 for PL they excel in SCS, DPR and DCE. Notice that their composite type ratings for body (BC) and dairyness (DC) are below their composites for udder (UDC) and feet and legs (FLC) similar to what was the case for the top ten proven sires (Table 1).  The Bullvine recommendation still holds do not use only one genomic sire across your herd. Using three or four of these top of the list genomic sires will add greatly to the genetic merit of your herd for productive life (PL).

On the genomic sire list there are nineteen sires that are higher than any of the daughter proven sires for PL and an amazing sixty-seven are 7.0 or higher for PL. For leading edge breeders wishing to add longevity, polled and Red simultaneously they should look at Lirr Special Effect-P-Red (106HO2864). His ratings are PL 6.3,  SCS 2.54, DPR 1.2, NM$ 609, TPI™ 2076, UDC 2.51, FLC 2.13, BC 0.15 and DC 0.10

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Having cows that genetically rank high for their ability to avoid culling for mastitis, reproduction, freedom from calving difficulty, udders and feet and legs will place the owner in a very good position for genetic sales and on-farm profit in the future. A minimum benchmark for PL to use when selecting a sire or buying embryos is 5.0. Going higher to over 6.0 for PL would be even better. Instead of monitoring why cows leave the herd a breeder should look to breed for cows that stay a long time in the herd. In the future a high PL will be important to all breeders.


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What is the Role of a Dairy Cattle Breed Association?

Recently I took the opportunity to review the Canadian Breed Strategy presented by Holstein Canada.  (Read more: Holstein Canada Breed Strategy, The Bullvine Feedback) I started to ask myself, “What, exactly, is the role of a modern dairy cattle breed association?”

First of all let’s get one thing clear.  I have the Holstein Canada logo tattooed on my chest.  That was a decision that I made as a young adult in order to display my passion for two of the greatest things in the world, Holstein cattle and Canada.  So for me to take a critical look at this is something I do with passion.  The perspectives that motivate me result from personally observing both the producer side as well as the association side.  My father was head of type classification and genetic improvement at Holstein Canada for 18 years.  That background motivates my review which essentially boils down to one question.  “Are breed associations still relevant?”

Now let’s be realistic, the role of the Holstein breed associations is much different than that of the colored breed associations.  Holsteins represent 92% of the dairy cattle in North America.  So for the colored breeds focus is driven by the need for  awareness and preservation.  What is the focus of the Holstein breed associations?

Politics vs. Corporation

For me this question really begins with the fact of how you look at breed associations?  Are they similar to a government entity and therefore they are to represent the best interests of their members and function mainly in a political role?  Or are they to function similar to a corporation and work at growing the profitability of the association and its members?  For me, I would answer that it’s a little bit a both.

The Elephant in the Room

It`s time now to consider the elephant that is hiding in the corner of the room.  In North America  approximately 22% of all Holstein cattle are registered with either Holstein USA or Holstein Canada.  That means that the large majority (78%) of the Holstein cattle in North America are not registered with either breed association.  When such a large majority is not seeing the value in registration and the association programs, I have to ask, “Are Holstein associations relevant to the majority of today’s dairy producers?”

On a personal level, I see great value in purebred dairy cattle, registrations, type classification, and the many other programs.  But obviously the fact that almost 78% of the Holstein Cattle in North America are not registered tells me that the large majority do not see the value.  Why is that?

When I ask that of many the commercial producers that I chat with the answer often boils down to one comment.  “I don’t see the value in the investment.”  Most of the time this position is held by commercial producers that run their operations more like a corporation, rather than passion for a specific breed or way of life.  While many are larger operations, I get the same answer from both large and small.

Technology has changed the world

In the 1980s the value of a purebred heifer of fresh cow was far greater than that of a grade.  But in today’s marketplace, the difference in prices does not warrant the need for registration.  Also reducing the  pressure  for registrations is the fact that computerized record keeping has evolved to a state that the records available on-farm are as complete as those available from the breed associations.  This has further reduced breeder’s perception of the value of registration.

So then it comes down to the other programs that breed associations provide.  The largest of them has to be type classification.  Now let’s be clear I am a HUGE fan of type classification.  But more and more I hear producers wondering if it is really worth it.  (Read more: Is type classification still important?)  They cite things like the use of genomics as a reason that they no longer need to type classify.  Well as we all know Genomics is not a perfect (Read more: The Genomic Bubble Has Burst?, Genomics – Lies, Miss-Truths and False Publications! and How Genomics is Killing the Dairy Cattle Breeding Industry), but it is a great tool.  However, in order to improve its accuracy, the breed still requires the phenotypic data from programs like type classification and milk recording.

While we are talking about technology, why can’t we use more of this on-farm information for genetic evaluations?  Sure I have heard the concerns about accuracy of data, and the ethics of allowing producers to record their own data.  But who said that this data had to be used for female genetic evaluations?  Why can’t we include this large data set in bull genetic evaluations, so that we can greatly increase the accuracy of sire proofs?  We could even develop more management based genetic evaluations that connect more directly to the bottom line?

Who Cares About Index?

From many of the most passionate breeders in the world, I hear “mixed” comments about the index systems, like TPI, LPI, etc.  (Please note that TPI is a trademark of Holstein USA) Yet breed associations continue to focus on this as a major issue.  While there is no doubt that having a national index has done wonders for marketing and genetic advancement.  In reality every breeder should have their own index.  The best index is the one that the works hand in hand with specific management goals.  Having one National Index isn’t working.  First of all we are in a global marketplace.  Secondly, we need at least have three difference indexes.  One that represents the needs of the seed stock producer (similar to TPI or LPI).  One that represents the needs of the commercial producer (similar to NM$).  Finally one that works for those breeding for the show ring (similar to CONF or PTAT).  Only then will you start to settle this debate.

As long as we continue to try to promote one “unified” national index, it will continue to be seen as nothing more than a marketing tool.  If you really want to have a tool that is for breed advancement and not for marketing, you need to understand that every breeder’s needs are different.  And when you start to look at things from the different perspectives of all producers, and try to represent and respect each one of their individual needs, you will start to see the greatest advancement in the breed.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Really the breed strategy must come down to, “How do you make me more profitable?”  All other issues are secondary to that.  For years I have heard “Well a higher classified cow will last longer in your herd and produce more milk over their lifetime.”  Well I am sorry to tell you that the data does not always support that conclusion.  What if the cow has reproduction issues?  What if they don’t milk very hard?  All of these challenges to profitability also greatly reduce their productive life, yet they are not factored into most of the programs that breed associations currently offer.  If you really want to get a larger share of the national herd pie, you need to show the average producer the measurable effect that registered animals and the associated programs have on their bottom line.  All other issues are just smoke and mirrors that many of the politicians (Breed association board members) spend far too much time focusing on.  I want my breed association to “Show me the money!”


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Forget Genomics – Epigenomics & Nutrigenomics are the Future

Two months ago I had one of those conversations. A friend said to me “you know Murray I am moving on from just simple genomics”. That perked my ears up and I listened more intently. “Yep I am now thinking about epigenomics”, he said. Well that was enough to set me off investigating what is out there that is beyond what our industry is currently considering and using when it comes to genomic.  Relax a little, this may seem like rocket science today, but it is in tune with what our industry has always done in the past.  We look to find more accurate ways of indentifying the elite animals. Then we figure out how knowing that information gives us ways to make dairy breeders and dairy farming more profitable.

Already Many Steps Too Far?

So now ‘epigenomics’ was pinned to my clipboard. But I didn’t get any further before I had a Master Breeder husband and wife corner me for half an hour and ‘inform’ me that “The Bullvine was leading the industry astray”. They stated to me that “they were from Missouri” and perhaps we should “still only be using the actually officially authenticated information – DHIR records and breed classification results – when it comes to selecting bulls and marketing females.  They asked how can we know that the hair pulled and submitted for DNA testing actually came from said animal.” I have known this couple for almost forty years so I took the discussion on to a review great cows of the past and how they would not compare to the great show and brood cows of today. As we started to conclude our conversation the lady, who had been somewhat quiet during our sharing, commented “You (Murray) have a good point about how the genetic evaluation results over our lifetimes have resulted in the fact that we have far superior cows for both conformation and production, but our herd’s current biggest genetic problem is cows not getting back in calf. We just do not now get to have very many ten year old and older cows in our herd, liked we used to.” That gave me the opportunity to talk to them about genomics and having fairly reliable information, early in an animal’s life, on its genetic merit for reproductive traits.

The husband’s concluding comment warmed my heart. “Our grandson plans to come home to our family farm and he tells us that at university his professors are saying the information we have today on genomics is just the start. So don’t give up on us old guys. You folks at The Bullvine just keep giving us the facts and helping the industry do an even better job of breeding dairy cattle. We don’t own a computer but our family keep us quite up-to-date on what The Bullvine is writing about.”  Obviously this couple are not as set in their ways as they led me to understand at the start of the conversation.

So if we have just scratched the surface, let’s delve a little deeper.

Epigenomics – What’s That?

By definition, epigenomics is the study of modification of the expression of the genetic material in a cell. Sounds rather out of the norm. Something can alter what the DNA says is the genetic merit of an animal? Let’s think that through a bit more.

As cattle breeders we can all think of times when three full sisters all had very similar performance. And I expect many of us can also remember situations where two of the sisters were very similar but the third sister just did not measure up to the other two.  The question that breeders always ask is did the third one not get the good genes, or did she get the good genes but something inhibited her from being able to express them.  I have even heard very knowledgeable breeders say that the third one will breed just a good as the other two.  How they arrived at that conclusion I am not really certain. But I have seen it happen as they predicted.

Research in mice has shown that the diet of a sire can influence the gene expression of their progeny. So that fits under the definition of epigenomics. Dr. Jacques Chesnais of Semex feels that “there is a definite possibility that epigenomics plays as important role in adaption to the environment. In particular, in our industry, the way we feed and treat a cow in the early stage of pregnancy could affect the calf for a lifetime and therefore affect the future productivity of the herd.” Hearing that made me wonder if the recipient dams of ET calves may have an influence on how those calves pass on their genetics.

Leaders in the study of epigenomics in livestock Dr Marc-Andre Sirard and Dr Claude Robert, Laval University, are currently  investigating how epigenomics applies to the bovine and in particular to female reproduction and embryo development. It will be interesting to follow their reports.

There is obviously much to be studied and learned about epigenomics in the bovine. Definitely traits like reproduction, health and immunity are ones that dairy breeders wish to know more about as they relates to inheritance.

So then – What is Nutrigenomics?

The second new kid-on-the-block, so to speak, is nutrigenomics. The study of the effects of foods and food constituents on gene expression. By definition “Nutrigenomics can be described as the influence of genetic variation on nutrition, by correlating gene expression or SNPs with a nutrient’s absorption, metabolism, elimination or biological effects.” Think about it. If we know the genetic make-up of our dairy cows we would be able to design their diets accordingly. Are there cows out there that can make better use of lower quality forages? Wouldn’t that be a boon for the economics of dairy farming. Especially given that feed costs are 52-58% of total dairy enterprise costs and low quality forages are less costly.

I asked two nutritional consultants about this. I got two very different responses. The first one said – “don’t bring that on too quickly I still have another ten to fifteen years in my working career”. The other consultant said “Well it would change my job but if it means dairy farming can be profitable and sustainable and if we can feed the hungry world – well bring it on”.

Expect Genetics to Play an Even Bigger Role in the Future

Investigation by Canadian Dairy Network (CDN) has predicted that, in stable milk pricing times and on milk production focused farms, half of the increased on-farm profits comes from increasing the genetic merit of sires and cows used to produce the next generation of females.  With a better understanding and more definitive knowledge of epigenomics and nutrigenomics it could possibly be that 60+% of on-farm profits could be as a result of the genetics used.

From the DNA analysis using hair follicles, breeders now know with 50-70% accuracy the genetic merit of their animals for a host of important traits. Think what might be possible if by including epigenomics and nutrigenomics information. The accuracy levels could rise to 70-80%.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The research phase of studying how epigenomics and nutrigenomics relate to the dairy cow is well underway. We can expect refinements to our genetic evaluation procedures based on what the research tells us.  And in time breeders will have information so they can better breed, feed and manage their herds. Stay tuned to the Bullvine for more great insight into these two future changing technologies.

The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


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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


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Casualties of the Genomic Wars – The End of Seed Stock Producers

The other day I listened to a well-known breeder vent about how his bull had been turned down by an AI unit because they had an equal quality sire of their own that  cost them a lot less to procure.  Can I say I was shocked?  Nope.  That’s because, since starting the Bullvine, we have been telling breeders who provide seed stock to AI units that those  days are numbered.

It’s hard for me to look at this objectively.  You see, when I look at it with my dairy breeder hat on, I am outraged at the whole scenario.  But, when I look at this as a businessman, (something I am asked to do daily for many large corporations outside of agriculture), it just makes good financial and strategic sense.

I Hate To Say I Told You So…..

You see over a year ago in our article, How Genomics is Killing the Dairy Cattle Breeding Industry, we outlined exactly what was going to happen.  We even put it in graphs to show clearly what and how and when it would occur.  So now a year later, when exactly what we predicted is occurring, it is no surprise to us here at The Bullvine.

What Happened?

Now some would ask,   ”If they are sampling 1/3 the number of bulls that they used to, why have sire procurement costs gone up?  Well that’s simple. Even with the reduction in the number of sires, there has been a much larger increase in the price of each bull.  Gone are the days when the average sire cost was  between $5,000 and $10,000. Now the costs are currently approaching $100,000 for a top genomic sire.  From the outside looking in, that looks like a big win for the seed stock producers.  Of course things are not always as they appear.

What Does the Future Hold?

You see the AI companies cannot  operate at a loss.  Therefore,  the AI units really only have three possibilities to combat the increased cost of sire procurement:

  • Increase semen price
    Since they now have greater expenses, A.I. companies will be forced to increase price.  As demonstrated in many other industries, the market will not respond favorably to this and ultimately will drive prices back down.  You see the largest segment of the marketplace (commercial producers) have no desire to pay more than the $10-$15 blend price they have already been paying.  While yes the elite seed stock producer is prepared to pay  more to get early access to truly special sires, the marketplace as a whole is not.
    END RESULT: No change
  • Cap contracts
    So, if A.I. companies cannot increase revenues they will have to try and cut their costs.  The procurement of sires will become the major expense they will seek to control.  One way to do this will be to cap bull contracts.  However, as the NHL has shown us, even if they could introduce a cap, some members will break that rule and other breeders will not stand for it.  Also, outside of pro sports, when organizations come together to create a false ceiling on prices, anti-trust laws tend to break that up pretty quickly.
    END RESULT: No change
  • Produce their own product line
    If A.I. companies cannot buy the bulls at a cheaper price, then they will have to go out and buy females and produce their own product.  This will lead to cheaper acquisition costs.  A.I. companies can now buy the females for $50,000 to $250,000 and only need to have that female produce one son.  That will still be cheaper than leasing the sire on an open lease.  This also allows them to have greater control of their bloodlines, accelerate their genetic advancement and develop their own distinctive product.
    END RESULT: Cheaper product development costs and a distinctive product.

So it’s no surprise that large A.I. units are  doing exactly  that.  Over the past year, the number of top 50 gTPI females owned or controlled by large genetic organizations has gone from 11 to 23.  Give it another year and that number will probably reach 30 maybe even 40. “Why you ask?”  There are two main reasons: First the larger A.I. studs and genetic corporations have the resources to IVF these females extensively, so they will have   many more potential top progeny;  Secondly, the breeders who do own the remaining 27 animals, will not have the revenue streams (bull and female sales) to support the continued IVF programs they are running, thus  resulting in less potential list topping females.

What does this mean to Other AI Units?

Here at the Bullvine we took a lot of heat when we published Semex – The Rise and Fall of a Semen Empire.  But even that article is proving to be accurate. You see, in this in-between period where A.I. units, especially those that used to sample massive numbers of bulls, are seeing insane cost savings, studs like Semex should be turning a much larger profit.  Why is that you ask?  Well it’s simple math.  In this transition period the studs are paying next to nothing for the sires.  That is because they don’t have to pay out the average $7,500 per  sire that they used to, because most new sires are all on lease.  This results in at least a $1,500,000 decrease in sire procurement costs alone for Semex, and that does not factor in the extra savings in operations, housing, marketing, genetic evaluation fees, etcetera.  Add to that the increased revenue from higher young sire semen prices and you can see why Semex is having “Record Performance”.  That record performance is more correctly the result of the transition caused by  changes in the industry than it is better operations.  The question now becomes, what happens to companies like Semex who refuse to own their own females, once this transition is complete and the cost savings period is over?

What does this mean for seed stock producers?

There are really only two options. Fight it or live with it?  Recently I read a very interesting post on Facebook by  In it they compared the current dairy industry with the 1960’s and 70’s NHL hockey scenario.  That was when  the players had not yet unionized and so they were receiving a small fraction of the profits.  While this is certainly the same case in the Dairy Seed Stock world, there are some big differences between the two scenarios.  The first and foremost difference is  that, in the NHL’s case, when the players unionized they had control of the product.  Yes the NHL owners could have gone out and gotten non-unionized players, but the product they put on the ice would have been far inferior.  In the current seed stock world, that is not the case at all.  As we highlighted earlier in this article, the large A.I. units and genetic corporations already own or control almost 50% of the top females, and that number is  getting higher.  That in itself is the greatest union breaker in the world.

So, when you factor in no bull sales and very limited female sales, the future does not look bright for the seed stock producers.  You see if they start selling off their high-end females (the only females that are really worth anything), they you don’t have the next generation in their  own program. But if they  don’t sell, then they  don’t have the revenue to support their own programs.

A little while back I had a great conversation with Ari Ekstein.  It hit home. He was highlighting to me how there is still a good market for well bred, non-index cows.  That is something their Quality herd has been able to produce generation after generation.  (Read more: Quality Holsteins – Well-deserved Congratulations and Quality Cattle Look Good Every Day)   Ari was highlighting several points.  Today they don’t sell many bulls to the large studs.  Also today they don’t see that many $300,000 calves being sold.  However what they do have is a consistent market for selling high quality, young cattle to fellow breeders.  As I look to the future, this may be the only true market that will survive in the near future.  It’s already happening.  If you look at the sale prices at the recent sales, genomic heifer prices are down almost 50%, while pedigree heifers have remained relatively unchanged. (Read more: An Insider’s Guide to What Sells at the Big Dairy Cattle Auctions 2013)

The Bullvine Bottom Line

As someone who loves the dairy industry more than anything (how many other people do you know that will lay in the piss just to take pictures at the cattle shows?), this is a hard message for me to share.  When we first launched the Bullvine, it was my desire at that time, to also go out and buy many top females.  My father had the exact same  passion.  The problem is that as we penciled out the numbers and did a five and ten year forecast, the numbers just didn’t work.  So instead we have sunk our time and energy into producing the Bullvine, something we see as more viable over the long term.  While yes we have purchased several animals over the past 2 years at some of the major sales, it was more  from the passion mindset than because of the financial one.  For other producers that are still investing heavily in top genomic females, I ask you to really look at the current marketplace and answer one question, “Where will my revenue be coming from in 10 years?”  If you can’t answer that question specifically, maybe it’s time to rethink your whole business strategy.  If you don’t,  you could  end up being a casualty of the genomic war.


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Genomics – Opportunity is Knocking

With less than a week until the December 03 index release day I am thinking what more do I want or need to learn about genomics in the world of dairy cattle breeding. I have friends that entirely use genomic information to breed and market while others are riding along and using higher indexing young sires but otherwise remain in the prove it to me “I am from Missouri camp”.  Here at The Bullvine we have provided thoughts in the past on genomics (Read more: Genomics at Work – August 2013). Today we decided to further document some areas that we feel are important to watch for and questions we are searching for answers to so that you don’t miss this opportunity.


“Does it really work?” is the question most often asked. The verdict is still out for many breeders. (Read more: Is the Genomic System Really Working?, The Truth About Genomic Indexes – “show me” that they work! And What Happens If Genomics Doesn’t Work?)

Except for a few preliminary reports by a couple genetic evaluation centers little has been published verifying that using genomics actually works. Breeders need the truth and nothing but the truth based on scientific analysis. We can likely expect the report to say that it assists with increasing the rate of genetic advancement but that: i) on an individual animal basis it is not as accurate as a 99% reliable daughter proven A.I. bull;  ii) for young bulls, heifers and cows it increases the accuracy of indexes ; iii) for traits for which we have limited farm data it is still too early to make  an accurate assessment; and iv) it is in fact the most important step forward in breeding since we got broadly based proven sires.  The message to our scientist and industry leaders is that breeders need to know the facts. The industry depends on breeders being successful. (Read more: CANADIAN BULL PROOFS – You’ve Got to Prove It to Use It!)

With the indexes of young animals today exceeding their older counterparts by a significant amount, breeders need to know the facts so they can decide on the extent to which they should use genomic information in their breeding plan (Read more: What’s the plan?).

Intensity of Use

It is well known that concern exists among all players, from breeders to scientists, on the increased rate of inbreeding.  (Read more: Twenty Things Every Dairy Breeder Should Know About Inbreeding, 6 Steps to Understanding & Managing Inbreeding in Your Herd and INBREEDING: Does Genomics Affect the Balancing Act?)

A study of the sires of top ranking young animals shows the following:

  • Sires of top fifty August 2013 gTPI young bulls – Mogul (21); Uno (8); Supersire (7); McCutchen (3); Facebook (2); Lithium (2), seven others
  • Sires of top fifty August 2013 NM$ young bulls – Mogul (13); Supersire (10); Uno (8); Robust (3); Shamrock (3); Epic (3); Lithium (2); Facebook (2); six others.
  • Sires of top fifty August 2013 gLPI young bulls – Mogul (17); Supersire (9), McCutchen (5); Bookem (5); Mixer (3); Epic (2); Lexor (2); Iota (2); five others.
  • Sires of top fifty gLPI heifers (Sept-Nov releases) – Supersire (11); McCutchen (6); Enforcer (5); Mogul (5); Liquid Gold (4); Munition (4); Morgan (3); Cashmoney (2); ten others

Even though most of these bulls are not themselves closely related it is concerning that only a few bulls come to the top on all these lists. 66% of the above lists are over 6.0% inbred and only one is below 5.0% inbred. Outcross sires (Read more: 12 Sires to Use in Order to Reduce Inbreeding and GOING OFF THE MAP: 14 Outcross Holstein Sires That Don’t Include GPS) has been recommended as a solution yet Oman, Planet, Shottle and Bolton are prominent is the ancestry of the bulls above. It is time that we stop worrying about inbreeding and start finding practical solutions. Do we need to designate breeding lines and then doing line crossing like is done in crops, poultry and swine?  Why are A.I. organizations not using alternate sires of sons? Is it that those alternates do not come up as high on total merit index ranking lists? If that is the case should total merit index be the criteria used when selecting young bulls to be sampled or marketed. Should the inbreeding coefficient of every bull be a required number to be published?  There are solutions but it takes effort and leadership to stop the runaway train.

Finding the Best

Breeders of very elite indexing animals want to know which bulls will ring the bell for them when they flush their top virgin heifers. Some of those breeders feel that there are certain sires more capable than others at leaving top of the list progeny? Put another way can two bulls be ranked the same for total merit but one leaves progeny that are very consistent for their genomic values while the other bull produces progeny that range more in value. Breeders are willing to gamble and use the bull that appears to be able to produce list toppers. Breeders are asking the question – have our scientists studied this and is their an answer to the question of why some families consistently throw the high outliers?

Which are the Future Parents

As well with more and more emphasis being given to management, health and fertility traits in dairy cattle selection the question becomes which are the young bulls or elite heifers for the future. Could it be that they should be 90%RK for Production and 99%RK for Durability and 99%Rk for Health & Fertility? Attention needs to be given to matter with a view to the needs for the next ten plus years. (Read more: Total Merit Indexes: Are they helping or hurting?, Does Your Breeding Program Save You Labor? and  Are Your Genetics Wasting Feed and Labor?)

Health / Disease Resistance

No doubt we have only scratched the surface on what the DNA profile of an animal can tell use about an animal’s ability to remain healthy and disease free.  Even though breeders would like to have the answers today, the absence of farm data to match to the DNA will likely mean that this area of breeding will be relatively inaccurate for some time into the future. That does not mean that we should not continue to study this area, it is just that we can not expect answers quickly.

Female Fertility

Here again we are dealing with an area where there is limited farm data, or the farm data is not in connected data bases that can be used to correlate female fertility with DNA profiles. Is there farm data out there that tells us when heifers reach puberty? No. Are there genetic differences in when heifers can be first bred? Likely but we do not know. To go even further what about female conception rates? Biologically up to 90% of the time a sperm fertilizes an egg, yet only 65% of heifers and 40% of cows in Holsteins actually become pregnant. The inability of a fertilized egg to implant is significant but knowing the genetics of that is still a long ways off. Maybe there is research in other species that might be useful for linking female fertility with DNA profiles.

Breeders who flush females know that to be financially successful a cow or heifer must give many viable embryos. And that there are differences amongst cow families in how many embryos produced. (Read more: What Comes First The Chicken Or The Egg? And Investing in Dairy Cattle Genetics – Think Outside the Box) One question yet to be answered is by using IVF on poor flushing families are we, in fact, hindering reproduction from a genetic perspective. Yes more questions than answers but remember that the most common reason for cows being culled is infertility. So we do not need bull dams being genetically inferior for reproduction.


With lameness in dairy cattle being targeted as a big time problem in animal care circles, is it time that a mobility index be produced? Can we take our current DNA profiles and calculate such an index? It matters little that we know a host of traits about feet and legs when breeders are most concerned about a cow or heifer’s ability to move freely and comfortably in the environment is which she lives. (Read more: Cow Mobility: One Step Forward or Two Steps Back?)

Getting with the Program

Perhaps some of our ‘thought list’ will be possible in the next year or two. One thing we know is that for traits to be able to be evaluated we need more animals both recorded for performance and DNA profiled.  Of immediate concern is that without broad based field data for calf and heifer performance we are limited in what we can accurately know about this important cost center.  Any breeders not currently DNA profiling all their heifer calves are denying themselves future opportunities to advance their herds. Cost is frequently given as the reason for not DNA profiling, yet the cost is only about equal to officially milk recording a cow for a year. The information obtained can be used early in life including which heifers to keep, how to manage them and which sires to breed them to.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Like almost everything else in genetic advancement, genomics does not have all the answers. It does not have 100% accuracy but it sure does shorten the generation interval in dairy cattle breeding.  Opportunity knocks for the breeders that do profile their animals. And every month with new facts coming out on genomics, the opportunity for greater return on investment increases for participating breeders.

The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


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An Insider’s Guide to What Sells at the Big Dairy Cattle Auctions 2013

Breeders often want to know how to price the animals they wish to sell or in order to value their inventory. But it does not stop there. Breeders also use sale prices to determine which sires they should use to generate future revenue from genetic sales. In order to assist breeders The Bullvine has analysed five sales held in Canada between October 24 and November 07, 2013. Those sales are the Genibeq V Sale, the Leading to the Royal Sale, the SnowBiz Dispersal, the Jetstream Global Greatness Sale and the Sale of Stars.


In total 408 live animals, 27 choices and 74 embryos sold for a total sales value of $5,000,045. Heifers averaged $10,280 (338 head), cows $14,290 (70 head), choices $15,922 and embryos $873. Each sale had its own focus for the animals sold and as might be expected the sale averages ranged from $3,500 to over $19,000. Yet the story goes much deeper than simply the averages.

Heifers Sell According to Earning Power

Recently the marketing focus has been on heifers. This was very evident in these sales with heifers being 83% of the live animal sold. Within the heifers there was a considerable price range according to their merit. The averages according to group are as follows:

Analysis by Buying Motivator - Heifers

Table 1 – Analysis by Buying Motivator – Heifers

NameCountrySireMGSBPI (%)

Clearly the heifers in most demand, based on the prices paid, were polled or those with a gLPI over 3300. Six heifers with gLPI over 3300 sold for over $50,000 and three polled heifers sold for over the $50,000 mark. Red Pedigrees had a good average however when the top seller was removed their average dropped to $9391. Top sellers were:

  • Red Families – $195,000  Crasdale TRJ Supersire Aroma  [Supersire from Apple Family] (Sale of Stars)
  • Polled – $200,000  Snowbiz Ladd P Sunshine [Supersire from Splendor Family] (SnowBiz)
  • gLPI over 3300 – $165,000 Coyne-Farms Pdestine May [Predistine with gTPI +2587 (#18), AI contracted] (Global Greatness)
    $100,000 Cookiecutter JC Hawn [Jacey x Halo back to Dellia Family with gTPI +2564] (Global Greatness)
  • gLPI 3000-329 – $100,000 MS Chassity Snow Carrie [Snowman from Barbie Family]  (SnowBiz)
  • 1st Choice – $100,000 1st Choice by Camaro (DGV LPI 3310) or Satisfaction (DGV LPI 3428) from Da-So-Burn Burberry (Uno x Dorcy) gTPI 2648 (Global Greatness)

Although heifers do not usually have a flush history, it was evident from the prices paid that buyers had done their homework when paying top dollars and had selected from families which flush well (Read more: Three Things to Consider When Investing In Genomic Heifers, Informed Heifer Buying – Are you fully prepared? And What Comes First The Chicken Or The Egg?).

Breeders making mating decisions now with the view to selling heifers in the future can expect the market to remain strong for both polled and elite genomically tested heifers from proven cow families.

Unique Brings Top Dollars in Cows

With only 70 cows in total selling in the five sales the averages by grouping were not as broadly based as with the heifers. The groupings for gLPI where changed from the heifers as milking cow gLPIs are lower. The averages according to group are as followsAnalysis by Buying Motivator - Cows

Table 2 – Analysis by Buying Motivator – Cows

LONG-LANGS OMAN OMAN-ET3461180895940.260.2812
DE-SU GILLESPY-ET275425577469-0.18-0.1214
FREUREHAVEN NIAGARA2665222693770.110.038
UFM-DUBS ALTAESQUIRE-ET26451100115670.690.264
ENSENADA TABOO PLANET-ET262526019283-0.01-0.029
GEN-I-BEQ BRAWLER2511122464540.170.1112
OCONNORS JAY2510143567760.130.2411
GEN-I-BEQ TOPSIDE2472133181500.30.0513
CRACKHOLM FEVER242174159240.3016
O-BEE MANFRED JUSTICE-ET2392151582780.240.25-2
LIRR DREW DEMPSEY232335645340.310.216
CROCKETT-ACRES EIGHT-ET2297136673780.210.280
CROCKETT-ACRES OTTO-ET2282126175690.270.232
SILDAHL JETT AIR-ET2269146464320.11-0.1413
MAINSTREAM MANIFOLD2234172083700.180.122
UFM-DUBS OLEGANT-ET221314644449-0.090.019
MAPLE-DOWNS-I G W ATWOOD216953056250.350.0717
SANDY-VALLEY BOLTON-ET216720497358-0.02-0.0710
GEN-I-BEQ ALTABUZZER2148142175440.22-0.028
DOMICOLE CHELIOS211782876400.420.1214
BUTOISE BAHAMAS210616124869-0.10.137
BRAEDALE GOLDWYN210537550300.350.1613
GILLETTE JORDAN2068104756370.170.0212
COMESTAR LAUTREC2066134776500.240.0510
WA-DEL HAYDEN-ET2058149369490.130.017
KARONA FANTASY202119275564-0.120.016
COMESTAR LAUTHORITY201057057260.350.0716
DEWGOOD BENEFIT200180841480.120.198
MORSAN BORIS197164865390.40.1611
GILLETTE WINDBROOK194787960380.260.0715
VIORIS SLEEMAN193924807189-0.170.066
WESSELCREST AIRBORNE-ET193915843147-0.23-0.049
GILLETTE WATCH OUT1936128792440.410.025
MACO FRED1934184978700.110.071
DIAMOND-OAK FROSTY-ET1925149968560.120.061
DUDOC RADIUS191815574244-0.14-0.066
BO-IRISH ALTON-ET191522227177-0.090.031
SMITHDEN ADMIRAL1912102476420.360.087
BRYHILL LOYAL190791555370.20.0612
PINE-TREE MARTHA SHAMPOO-ET1902102777500.360.143
PETHERTON ROX ITAK1890117748510.050.116
PICSTON SHOTTLE-ET1882125549360.03-0.0411
EXPRESS BOLLY186986455400.220.18
GENO MARITIME1867174567500.04-0.068
ALLYNDALE-I ATTICUS18676440180.370.1515
DEMARC RANCH186015344555-0.10.045
GILLETTE CANYON1853117348500.060.110
CHASIN-RAINBOWS JADON-ET185214274751-0.040.0411
VELTHUIS SOLSTICE183915829320.230.249
SILDAHL AIRRAID1831167681400.18-0.137
STANTONS ALTARIC-RED182974069530.40.256
DUDOC MR BURNS181812693166-0.130.218
REGANCREST REGINALD-ET181348043310.250.1414
ARDROSS STERLING1812113473600.30.198
MOON-LINE CRANKY-ET1812775101460.690.182
REGANCREST-PJ MAXLIFE-ET180349170370.490.1910
JEWELED-ACRES SHARKY-ET179021847881-0.030.08-3
GINARY BRAD179017574447-0.18-0.098
DELABERGE DESPATIE179015823744-0.17-0.0611
MORNINGVIEW HASKEL1784172677570.130.015
JOLICAP CARRERA17761266454500.0410
COLDSPRINGS KENYON 9118-ET1772133365440.1506
RIDGE-STAR JAMMER-ET176382656340.240.077
SMITHDEN AARON175984947370.140.0711
MORNINGVIEW ERAGON-ET1754152554500-0.016
CHARITY ALTAGRATIS-ET175477559490.290.219
MICHERET INFRAROUGE175474232290.050.048
GILLETTE STANLEYCUP174362366210.41013
GILLETTE WINDHAMMER174362366210.41013
HARTLINE FOWLER-ET1739138761360.09-0.087
MR MARVELOUS-ET1732107051430.10.0710
HARDWOOD BOSTON-ET172143441380.240.28
DESLACS MCQUEEN171815495660-0.010.074
REGEL BACHELOR170986746370.150.089
FLEURY MATHYS170950452370.310.195
WILLSONA SURE THING1704131352580.030.131
MAPEL WOOD LAIRD169917205145-0.13-0.14
BDGGENETICS ENCINO-ET1698144056550.040.072
GRANDEUR ALTATEBOW-ET169715093641-0.17-0.089
B-CREST SHADOW-ET169468932340.060.1114
CLEAR-ECHO DRISCOLL-ET169472772300.420.075
SUNNYLODGE SHARK1689107657610.170.237
KAMPS-HOLLOW CONVCD RSVP-ET1681138388520.340.062
GEN-I-BEQ LAVAL166320485857-0.14-0.087
HONEYCREST ELEGANT-ET166016854846-0.13-0.087
ALTAPPEL GLENDOR1657197471450.01-0.164
BEAUCOISE CROONER1653101464370.260.045
POLY-KOW ALLTOP-ET165018154649-0.19-0.097
EMERALD-ACR-SA T-BAXTER163919996840-0.04-0.227
R-E-W SEAVER-ET16375151135-0.070.1714
STANTONS DUNDAS163566739410.130.168
SUNNYLODGE STING163344855250.360.0910
PARADISE-D GILMORE-ET162617425050-0.12-0.067
BEAVER RAY MURAL162237149190.330.068
DIAMOND-OAK BARTON-ET1621142059470.070.011
GILLETTE WYCLIFF1614115262410.20.037
COMESTAR LAVANGUARD161466154250.280.0314
LADYS-MANOR DODGE-ET161136459360.430.226
STANTONS SUDIAL160990852630.180.292
VELTHUIS S V B SAMPSON160613914351-0.070.042
ALTA SAXON1606151176380.2-0.18
ERBCREST ROLO160642066140.48013
SANDY-VALLEY DEPUTY-ET16059062436-0.090.066
GILLETTE JUNGLE16048102335-0.050.0712
GEN-I-BEQ BECKER160488262340.290.058
APPLOUIS JET STREAM-ET159916365256-0.070.022
WESSELCREST BAXTER ASHER159820143200.360.1210
DELABERGE SHOCKER159212511840-0.26-0.0113
MAR-BIL BOLTON GUNFIRE-ET158816995342-0.09-0.127
PREMIER-G BLACKSMITH-ET158519675454-0.15-0.096
ALTA TAZO158411333822-0.03-0.139
UFM-DUBS GOLDROY-ET157837465110.49-0.0111
VIDIA MISSILE157757653430.30.218
LADYS-MANOR FALCONRY-ET1575110980500.360.113
ALLYNDALE-I G W ARDEN15752425200.230.1816
DARITA MIDNIGHT-ET157316443856-0.20.012
GLEN-TOCTIN AIR LANDING-ET1572121866460.20.066
REGANCREST LONGTIME156522442860-0.47-0.1211
CRACKHOLM FOCUS1563112742540.010.144
LORKA LUNAIRE156248673320.520.1410
APPLEVUE SHOTBLOCK1561107347450.070.087
COMESTAR LADNER155428244150.320.0511
LESPERRON MACLEOD155115455261-0.040.084
KELSTEIN OLIVER154926567985-0.16-0.031
CLAYNOOK VIGGER154946745380.270.214
CARTERS-CORNER ALLY-ET154484295340.60.06-5
FREUREHAVEN RITTER154320133320.250.235
RALMA FILMSTAR154116904739-0.15-0.155
GREGORI SEQUOIA154140251290.360.1510
NOVA-HD ARDENT-ET153711743033-0.11-0.069
BROAD COVE HARBORMASTER-ET153510103239-0.040.046
GEPAQUETTE F B ROSS153321259290.490.197
LA PRESENTATION SWORD153279950390.20.116
GOLD-N-OAKS M MACE152816654330.470.254
DE-SU BURNISH-ET1526145377350.21-0.114
SHEAROAD BUZZ152643842240.260.099
CANYON-BREEZE ALASKA-ET152337327330.120.188
LADYS-MANOR GORGE-ET1522102645470.080.117
CHARPENTIER MANITOU151810143649-0.020.147
MORNINGVIEW-MT-I LAKEVIEW151625916783-0.26-0.031
LE-O-LA EMERSON CLASSIC-TW151520062256-0.46-0.085
GILLETTE WILDTHING151414833347-0.19-0.029
GILLETTE WILLROCK151414833347-0.19-0.029
KICK-IT-UP ACTIVIST-ET151497678450.390.11-3
KILDARE LAKOTA15148702123-0.09-0.0510
GLEN-TOCTIN LASHBAX-ET151220163256-0.38-0.085
MURANDA BWM LEADER-ET1510143759360.06-0.095
STANTONS STEADY150841765220.470.0711
RICECREST MURPHY-ET150620606065-0.14-0.01-1
WALHOWDON HAILSTORM-ET150658952340.280.132
PEARTOME BULLSEYE150140181380.640.233
SCIENTIFIC DESTRY-ET1501-15712180.180.2211
GENERVATIONS BALANCE1496167165460.05-0.078
ERBCREST BOLTON MONTY1492142267450.15-0.024
STANTONS BUNDY149195568560.30.221
BEAVER RAY GOLDMAX148478948420.190.144
KLOVER-HILL JAVA-ET147953939340.190.1510
GLEN-VALLEY BW CAPTAIN-ET147650743330.240.148
GOLDEN-OAKS ST ALEXANDER-ET147566668190.41-0.029
CO-OP LONDON COSMO-ET146720611160-0.56-0.070
SANDY-VALLEY FIREBACK-ET146614553060-0.210.1112
KELLERCREST LANGDON-ET1466104741400.020.056
RALMA GOLDWYN COACH-ET146144018200.020.0513
CLOVERHILLFM LOFTY145914383942-0.14-0.059
BONTEMPS-I ASHTON145123554957-0.33-0.179
FAVREAUTIERE GAILURON14489683145-0.040.125
MORSAN OMANNY144479731470.020.182
WALLACEVIEW PATTON1443179466430.01-0.144
GILLETTE JERRICK144272741260.140.029
GENERVATIONS LOBO143735943350.280.215
VISION-GEN DORION-ET143615045239-0.02-0.097
BO-IRISH KRUISER-ET1436-1742160.410.1511
WALLACEVIEW ALADDIN1435138566610.150.134
GILLETTE WALLACE143419714344-0.26-0.188
GILLETTE WHITEFACE143419714344-0.26-0.188
MISTY SPRINGS SIRIUS143192850240.16-0.0610
BOSDALE PROMO143015184043-0.14-0.0610
HARTLINE TREY-ET142815143044-0.24-0.066
END-ROAD PVF BOLIVER-ET142413885056-0.010.092
STERNDALE LIQUEUR ET142413924542-0.06-0.0310
FAR-O-LA DEVOTED-ET1418121155540.10.123
MR BTR BOURNE-ET14184941543-0.030.246
MORNINGVIEW ASHLAR-ET141577542270.130.016
WESSELCREST ALTAAIRSHOW-ET141414433036-0.21-0.16
COMESTAR LILLTRUST141251321420.030.236
VELLHAVEN ALTAAPEX141010042528-0.09-0.049
CHARPENTIER NEWPORT1406138354320.03-0.126
PARADISE-DND SPARTA-ET140684341290.090.016
GEN-I-BEQ SHOTGUN140633153210.390.098
WEST PORT ARRON DOON MITEY P139613756230.490.175
SCIENTIFIC SS DUSK-ET139630237180.250.0610
CLAYNOOK TRILIGHT1395116580370.35-0.014
CLEROLI ALTALATEX1392160471420.12-0.090
RUBIS LIFE SAVER139098359220.23-0.098
DIAMOND-OAK SPLENDOR-ET1388116052380.0908
LARS-ACRES ALTAFLAME-ET1388131152360.04-0.064
BREMER RULER-ET138759161350.370.143
DRIFTY-HOLLOW MASTODON138523974455-0.39-0.23
COMESTAR LAUTHIERY138515554346-0.11-0.058
MR ELLISON138416073744-0.19-0.076
STANBRO PROGRAM138314091239-0.36-0.066
GOULDHAVEN HOTBLOOD137712404037-0.04-0.032
ROCKYMOUNTAIN LOCKMASTER137717754834-0.15-0.217
GOLDEN-OAKS ALTAJAXON-ET137615795577-0.020.21-4
MISTY SPRINGS BURMLEY137372641430.140.175
SHADYCREST-H MEGATON-ET137281640420.10.144
REGANCREST GOLD DORAL-ET137132940190.260.077
MS ATLEES SHT AFTERSHOCK-ET13714561940.02-0.118
BARNKAMPER ALTABENNIE136714043746-0.1408
ALTAPPEL ALTAGLOW136525541390.310.277
BREEZE HILL COMPASS136561235310.110.099
COMESTAR LEXACT136391435420.020.113
POTH-ACRES GIBBY-ET136215674954-0.080.026
CANYON-BREEZE ALLEGRO-ET1361121474520.280.11-2
VYECROFT VITTORIO136199251440.140.15
GILLETTE JOB135912942230.350.186
ALLYNDALE-I ATTIC1354-19946170.520.2113
BOFRAN LEONARDO1353123145390-0.016
YROLGAULT LUCIUS1353166360270.01-0.249
DESLACS COLUMBO135280634370.040.088
ACECROFT GOLDWYN ZULU ET134985935230.04-0.0413
WALHOWDON MARSHALL HARRY-ET134416442956-0.280.025
MEIER-MEADOWS MARS NILES-ET13447902136-0.070.085
KERNDT-PREMIER BUTZE-ET1342148258410.02-0.079
RICECREST EMMETT-ET134115244171-0.130.180
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GEN-I-BEQ CHARLESTON133368675280.460.046
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GEN-I-BEQ BOBBY133068431270.060.057
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MR MING-ET132510663236-0.070.013
MORNINGVIEW LANDSLIDE-ET132338855330.390.190
GEN-I-BEQ BALNEAIRE132088340300.0702
LUNCREST T-MAC-ET132083558190.27-0.075
REGAN-ALH DUNSTEN-ET131975732480.030.22
GILLETTE LEWISTON131917754646-0.18-0.1110
ALTA DELWYN131930212190.020.0810
MARBRI BREAKOUT131171243270.160.035
PETHERTON ROTHBY1308131051260.02-0.157
KERNDTWAY HUMMER130711133938-0.020.017
MONUMENT TRELY-ET1307106450290.1-0.067
JENNY-LOU MRSHL TOYSTORY-ET130612053938-0.05-0.025
PINE-TREE SID-ET130653130180.10.0116
JEFFREY-WAY TOPLEVEL-ET130410932335-0.1403
B-HIDDENHILLS MAR MARMAX-ET130325574572-0.43-0.1-1
CROCKETT-ACRES ENVOY-ET13034991634-0.020.167
SHEAROAD BOULEVARD1302124369390.22-0.016
MY-JOHN ROB-ET130020053578-0.340.092
SANDY-VALLEY BAILEY-ET129918215851-0.07-0.086
KERNDT STALLION129945864200.450.047
HILLS-END SHOTTLE CHANCE-ET129715771337-0.42-0.126
SANDY-VALLEY BLISS-ET129618282343-0.39-0.148
O-BEE JURYMAN-ET129516796149-0.01-0.053
CHARPENTIER LFG SPECTRUM129310142122-0.15-0.113
OLMO PRELUDE TUGOLO1293-5173150.740.15-2
GEPAQUETTE MESQUIN129219314758-0.22-0.053
HAMMINGVIEW STINGRAY1289147055450.01-0.038
CLAYNOOK MAP128865845370.20.135
GEN-I-BEQ SEQUENCE128551148340.290.164
ERNEST-ANTHONY AMBITION-ET12835257180.520.1511
SANDY-VALLEY DURRANT-ET128111103031-0.1-0.047
C.M.E. MR SAM TEDDY128054465480.440.275
SANDY-VALLEY BAUER-ET128016814834-0.12-0.188
NEU-WAY ALBERT-ET127960048490.240.25-4
HENKES-BROOK THORNE-ET127833433310.20.182
COMESTAR LOMBARDYS127775748370.20.116
BOSSIDE PS PISTON-ET12767011515-0.11-0.0812
HA-HO CUBBY MANFRED-ET127518165054-0.16-0.04-7
RIETBEN TIDE12728472442-0.060.125
RALINE LAKOTA1271-14633-50.38013
VALLEY-DRIVE ZESTY-ET126912813655-0.090.112
LORKA COGNAC RED126953231280.110.19
PROSPERE VOLT126846986210.660.067
BENNER JUDO1267194483430.12-0.184
VELVET-VIEW-KJ SOCRATES-ET1263138860290.08-0.143
KHW ELM-PARK ACME-ET1263-627210.260.210
JEFFANA MURRAY-ET126280553300.210.036
COMESTAR EL TOREADOR126120344640-0.26-0.2310
DELABERGE LAURAK125411342347-0.190.085
LA PRESENTATION DAMAFRO1254-9044380.470.383
STANTONS LUNCH12549792234-0.130.024
CALBRETT LEWIS1252468024-0.150.088
BRAEDALE GOLDFINGER124961844370.190.156
MY-JOHN KARIK-ET124890438400.040.091
GILLETTE WIZARD124715023836-0.15-0.116
VIEUXSAULE MASTERY12477802634-0.010.075
STANTONS VISION124614584939-0.03-0.085
SANDY-VALLEY TOYOTA-ET124515064042-0.15-0.060
ENGLAND-SCHILL DEANN 58A-ET12436791719-0.06-0.039
LUTZ-BROOKVIEW BURT-ET12429164410.590.352
GG ADDISON SATIRE124116556061-0.010.061
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STRAUSSDALE SUNDANCE-ET123613883945-0.11-0.016
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WARGO-ACRES MERCURE-ET123672241180.14-0.059
CLAYNOOK KELSO123514743952-0.120.034
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STANTONS SCHOLASTIC123318144662-0.170.011
CLOVIS SALSO12339365170.580.136
BOSSIDE GOLDENBOY123048137180.180.026
SHAWNEE ALTASTRATOS-ET1229277-614-0.140.059
HUNSBERGER VINCE122877235210.07-0.049
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GBM AMAZING-ET122259628260.050.0511
SANDY-VALLEY BLACKJACK-ET122180049300.190.032
WILLSEY KESWICK122017629160.220.0911
DONELEA INSTINCT1219-3460230.590.227
DESLACS DUSTER12195174070.22-0.089
LA PRESENTATION BARLEY121743531350.150.195
RAYPEL SUNSHINE121754331310.130.125
PETHERTON RODNEY121730841160.280.059
DELABERGE LURECK121473337330.10.086
LA PRESENTATION GALANT121379339340.090.073
BADGER ONESHOT-ET121216802552-0.32-0.021
STANTONS ENTER121220672050-0.5-0.153
WABASH-WAY ARBOR-ET121111152916-0.12-0.189
CROCKETT-ACRES-ML MALVIN-ET1210104044420.050.072
DIAMOND-OAK T S RESTLESS-ET120911882844-0.150.032
GEN-MARK STMATIC SANCHEZ12091026024-0.34-0.0815
HUNSBERGER CLAY-ET120711272533-0.16-0.0410
MR MODERN-ET12078722927-0.03-0.017
WINDY-KNOLL-VIEW PILOT-ET1207-2603090.390.178
MISTY SPRINGS SPECIAL1206103853330.15-0.017
RICHESSE SAP1206151064330.07-0.15-2
MESLAND DUPLEX-ET1203639-935-0.310.1316
CROAGH-I SCHILLING1201-39020140.340.2514
MR SCOTTISH-ET120059261370.370.152
SAVAGE-LEIGH GOLDLASER-ET12001144660.410.038
GEN-I-BEQ SPARKLE RED119984835300.060.037
STANHOPE ATLANTIC119814153230.460.165
BENNER JAYDE119889651190.17-0.096
COMESTAR EXPORT119718546170.370.12
RABUR POLITICIAN-ET1195-21136250.420.33
JEANLU CORTLAND1193504927-0.080.0910
BRYHILL LIBERACE119268841340.150.13
HICKORYMEA-I OKA P1192-1547190.460.1810
COMESTAR SCENARIO11904413670.19-0.0710
PASEN MANGO-ET11879812965-0.060.28-3
STANTONS BRAKE1187132149450.010.022
KARONA BONAIR11865491928-0.010.088
VYECROFT LUONGO118493549530.150.27
SMITHDEN ACCENT118498144430.080.096
GILLETTE WHY NOT1184143771240.16-0.28
KLASSIC MERRILL LYNCH-ET118029851390.390.27-4
GILLETTE BRILEA F B I118013693835-0.11-0.098
MISTY SPRINGS LIMELIGHT117873035260.080.029
CROTEAU DOMBY117770941350.140.112
SMITHDEN BUCKSTAR11761615635-0.48-0.166
MY-JOHN BW MARSHALL ACE-ET117510752741-0.110.051
VELTHUIS SONAR117418321280.130.199
VIEUXSAULE DRIVER117237342160.270.039
JOCKO BESN117017844664-0.180.05-1
CLAYNOOK VICTORY117056541380.190.171
DOMICOLE SAMSUNG1169100758330.20.012
MARYCLERC B SUPERBUCK116712972931-0.17-0.117
MR INDIANHEAD ARISTOTLE-ET116570935320.080.0811
GILLETTE ZENON116215923140.170.0712
KERNDTWAY HIGHWAY-ET11579262535-0.070.045
DESLACS SPACE115683437260.07-0.013
WINDY-KNOLL-VIEW PLAID-ET115449830170.130.0110
LA PRESENTATION MERLOT115446034130.16-0.0210
RJR CLARITY-ET1151163260350-0.160
K&C-VIEW ROMANO-ET11518147160.430.116
MR ALTAMAYHEM-ET11452039380.380.359
R-E-W BUCKEYE-ET114314193337-0.17-0.083
TOM-ANNA ALTAPESO114392334260-0.046
SAVAGE-LEIGH LEITH-ET114213632137-0.29-0.078
LADYS-MANOR GIFT-ET1142111653340.13-0.034
MARINEAU TIKKY113912382734-0.17-0.0711
PENNVIEW INNOCENT1139104867260.28-0.076
WINDSOR-MANOR ALTAZAP-ET113882450110.18-0.1510
MORSAN NOLTON1137137655250.05-0.165
KERNDT EDAN-ET113660131290.080.084
J-K-R BW-MARSHLL BILLION-ET11349941044-0.240.111
CLAYNOOK BRICE1134-32833160.450.258
MARGOLD PREVIEW-ET1130117663390.180.017
R-E-W BLOCKBUSTER-ET112815544042-0.15-0.074
BRAEDALE GOLDRUSH112613154843-0.0105
REGANCREST-RB MILES-ET1125-35350.520.055
STANTONS SVEN112313534555-0.030.090
CRACKHOLM DESERT112340847380.310.230
CLAYNOOK BAIT112357424230.040.036
PLAIN-O DURHAM ROSS-331-ET1121-252-129-0.020.1613

The only cow selling for over $100,000 was the show winning Sr 2 Year old Futurecrest Aftershock Tahlia (Aftershock x EX94 All-Canadian Goldwyn daughter). She sold for $150,000 and added $12,499 to the average sale price of her group. She is bred back for the 2014 show season which offers a great opportunity for her purchaser.

As a point of reference, registered purebred first calf heifers, not performance recorded, were selling in Ontario in the range of $1,800 to $2,400 during the time period of these five sales. Definitely performance recorded cows bring higher prices. As well their owners get the benefit of having information for both breeding and management purposes.

Same Time Last Year

Since sales a year ago during Royal Week, when The Bullvine reported on three elite sales (Read more: An Insider’s Guide to What Sells at the Big Dairy Cattle Auctions), there has been a significant drop back in sale prices. Some observations comparing 2013 prices to 2012 prices include:

  • Sale topping prices in 2013 are 50% of those in 2012
  • 2013 sale average prices are about 65-70% of 2012
  • Show and Red pedigree heifers have lost ground in 2013 on prices compared to Polled and elite gLPI heifers
  • Average cow prices in 2013 were 136% of heifers prices compared to 190% in 2012

Throughout 2013 it has been reality check time when it comes to dairy cattle auction sale prices. More and more buyers are placing confidence in genomic information and are willing to pay top prices for the top genomic heifers.

Opportunities Taken

We often hear the comment from the pedigree person – now that was smart buying, after the auctioneer has struck down an animal at a lower than expected sale price.  Opportunities are taken by breeders when a top of the breed animal is purchased with the plan to immediately start flushing, when an outcross but high indexing animal is purchased for a good prices or when a very high genomic heifer that is quite young or needs time to develop is knocked down to the buyer at a lower than expected price. Another scenario is when a young heifer is purchased that becomes a show winner the following year. But that last scenario is a very hard one to identify until the next show season is underway.

Some opportunities taken that the Bullvine saw during these sales include:

  • Dudoc Supersire Orgasme P (Born July 2013, Polled, RDC, DGV LPI +3225, gTPI 2329, PL 4.2, & DPR 0.7, Supersire x Magna P) [$15,200] (Genibeq)
  • Jumau Mascalese Anika (Born June 2013, DVG LPI +3558, CONF +15, %F +0.40, %P +0.18, SCS 2.57. Mascalese x Man-O-Man x Goldwyn) [$7,800] (Genibeq)
  • Quality Windhammer Tally (Born June 2013 Windhammer daughter of the Futurecrest Aftershock Tahlia, the $150,000 show cow) [$8,000] (Leading to Royal)
  • Snowbiz Sympatico Sade (Born July 2013, GTPI 2417, NM$ 809, PL 6.2, DPR 1.2, DGV LPI 3392, CONF 15, a Sympatico from the Splendor Family) [$7,000] (Snowbiz)
  • Legend-Maker Mag Magnificent P (Born March 2011, #1 R&W tested polled cow in Canada, Outcross Polled Pedigree, Magna P from Rita Ranger Family) [$5,100] ( Snowbiz)
  • 1st Choice Female Mardi Gras, gTPI 2505 & NM$ 803, from Butlerview Uno Sho-Off, gTPI 2472, from Adeen Family) [$9,000] (Global Greatness)
  • MS Brocarde Uno Bun (Born October 2012, gTPI 2320, NM$ 719, PL 5.0 DPR 1.0. Uno from Barbie Family) [$4,200] (Sale of Stars)
  • Knonaudale Munition Humor (Born July 2013, DGV LPI 3424, CONF 18, LP 4.1, DPR 1.0, Munition from Shthollerwood from Dellia Family) [$6,000] (Sale of Stars)

Every sale has bargains but, of course, it is only a bargain if the animal fits within a breeder’s breeding or marketing plans (Read more: What’s the plan?, Let’s Talk Mating Strategies and FACT VS. FANTASY: A Realistic Approach to Sire Selection). A sound knowledge of breeding trends and taking time to do one’s homework before attending a sale or signing in to bid on-line are both on the must do list.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

If marketing animals from your herd is an important source of income for your farm, then knowing what buyers are looking for and what they will pay above average prices for is important. The industry has moved to where young high genomic and/or polled heifers are the in demand group.  When planning for future sales take into consideration that health, fertility and longevity traits are gaining in importance. Planning for the future based on sound principles and buyer preference can be rewarding when it comes to selling animals at auction.



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Canadian Genetic Evaluation System: Who’s Leading? Who’s Following? Who’s A Few Bulls Short of a Proof Run?

Are you anxious about where dairy genetics are heading? How are you affected by the impact of genomics? Do you have concerns about health and fertility? What about the over-riding pressure to be profitable in a dairy genetics marketplace that sometimes resembles a global roller coaster of competing proof runs and bull lists?

Last week, I attended the Open Industry Session presented by CDN on behalf of the Genetic Evaluation Board.  I went into the meeting feeling interested and invulnerable because, after all, what you don’t know can’t hurt you. Right? But I soon learned I was wrong and not just because I was “a pair of genes short of a geneticist”.

DAIRY INDUSTRY TODAY: In the Running OR Run of the Mill?

On the plus side the Open Industry Session provides an opportunity for the manager and staff of CDN to demonstrate how they are fulfilling their mandate to fine tune genetic evaluations. It’s exciting to catch the enthusiasm for making genetic progress.  As pointed out throughout the day, a key measure of that progress is whether the science, the research and the results can be translated into on-farm applications for management, breeding and profitability.

Take A Genetic Bite Out of Mastitis

Mastitis is at the top of the list of 8 diseases that have an economic impact on dairy herds. Identifying genetic markers could have a significant effect on dairy profitability.  As with any index the quality of the data is the game changer here. Since 2007 40% of Canadian breeders have mastitis recorded. Prior to 2007 there is “ZERO” data. The good news behind those stats is that it is possible to build an index using correlated data from SCS and Type indexes.  In fact it was reported that Reliability gains were significant from using a multivariate model combined with historical data. The new genetic evaluation for Mastitis Resistance incorporates three predictors – Somatic Cell Score, Udder Depth and Fore Udder Attachment – as well as recorded mastitis, Body Condition Score and several other measurements associated with somatic cell count.  It reduces complexity by having one index that puts all the data together. This approach results in an evaluation that explains as much as 72% of the genetic variation in Mastitis Resistance and increases the accuracy of genetic evaluations provided by CDN.

disease frequencies

GENOMICS: The Fast and the Curious

Simplified estimation of DGVs allows CDN to move forward to more frequent releases of genomic evaluations for genotyped heifers and young bulls. Couldn’t help but sense the attention when BVD said, “We could release and update on a weekly basis.” The logistics appear to be fairly simple. “DNA genotyping labs would need to move to “continuous” genotyping for dairy animals.” VanDoormaal feels that at least moving information turnover from monthly to weekly (roughly from the current 6 weeks to 2 weeks) expands the opportunity for better decision making.

Bulls, Bias and Barriers

Genetic evaluations depend on data.  Huge volumes of data.  And not only is that data collected in 30 different countries but also with different methods, weighting and formulae. This means that bias is present and must be accounted for.  Canada has made extra effort to ensure that young bulls are not over-inflated relative to PT (progeny tested) bulls. Interbull GMACE can only recognize our GPA’s if we participate.  Italy, UK Canada and USA all plan to participate.

One of the most interesting opportunities for those at the industry session is seeing graphs demonstrating challenges, opportunities and actual genetic progress.

balancing genetic gain and diversity

impact of inbreeding on lpi and components

recessives trends - holstein

recessives trends - rw and polled

Take-home insights included:

  • 150 LPI points of genetic improvement represents $23.5 million dollars.
  • Graph representing within herd re-ranking of heifers with genomics. (There have been both high profile and large commercial herds regularly genotyping all heifers every year!)
  • With the right indexes and the right data it is ultimately possible to quantify the dollar value of right decisions vs. wrong decisions on heifers to keep as replacements.
  • Especially as regards inbreeding, dairy breeders are not paying enough attention to inbreeding. Therefore including it in the formula is a step forward. There isn’t significant loss in genetic progress but there is going to be population gain in having outcrossing taking place.
  • Adjusting Mendelian Sampling, by using only cow indexes based on male ancestors, can detect biased cow evaluations and thus determine the ones that are outliers (i.e. deviate excessively from Pedigree Index).

Each one of these breakthroughs represents tools that can be applied to improved profitability for the industry.

Canadian LPI:  The Less Stretched Index

Trying to boil down 1000s of hours of computerized “fine tuning” and “tweaking” into an easily understood Open Industry Session is a challenge for both presenters and audience.  With all the progress represented by the “new and improved” indexes the prime focus of the industry is to find the solution to bias in bull proofs.  “When we encourage industry participation, we hope dairy breeders care enough and are confident enough to stand up and try to make things change.”

Twenty years of a dynamic LPI has shown to be a great process.  That trajectory increased substantially with genomics. Now CDN is examining the best options for update to the LPI formula.  Two good questions were raised:

  1. “Are we going to lead with LPI or are we going to follow?”
  2. “Is there going to be breeder buy in to revised trait emphasis in the LPI?”

“Barking up the wrong fee!”  and “Who is responsible for this Hot Mess?”

Everyone attending the Open Industry Session requires dairy profitability for their daily survival whether that happens in a barn, an office, research lab, or at an editor’s desk. That is probably why ears perked up when the $7500 per bull fee for genetic evaluation results was raised … again!  It is a contentious issue for those A.I. organizations and some breeders who feel that they freely provide the information which becomes available to 30 countries. Therefore it should be available back to them.  Some feel the cost is too high. Others are concerned that too much or not enough information is disclosed. This oft-recurring and touchy issue makes its way to every open meeting where it is consistently deflected with the answer, “Fees are a policy decision not a genetics issue!”  Well then if this is an “open” session. Who sets the policy?  Who sets the fees? Who collects the money?  What is it used for?  If three out of four of these questions have the same answer, then let’s get to the table and make the decision and then live with it!


The meeting started seeing dollar signs again, after another perceptive question was raised, “If LPI is Lifetime Profit Index where does the Profitability come in?”  It was agreed that the aim is the profitable cow and we could do a lot better job of expressing the profitability value in dollars which is a language everyone understands.  That led to an “Aha!” moment!  It doesn’t matter how clear and accurate our calculations are, if they don’t translate well into the commerce side of the marketplace.  The key word here is “translate”. For those working in the global marketplace, language is another hurdle to overcome.   A few examples of how hard it currently is and how easily it could be done and it seems that multi-language translations of GEB / CDN publications is in the future.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The Open Industry Session literally opens the doors to the future. We know what we want.  We know that time is passing.  We have the information and the means.  The final key is that dairy breeders, scientists and board members must have the will to move forward. Together? Are we dedicated to progress or just the perception of progress? The challenge is to figure out the answers and thereby shorten the distance between the future and the present.  Otherwise… A lot sooner than we think… we could end up on the outside looking in:  “Just a few great bulls short of a proof run!”

The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


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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!

The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


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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.

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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Stop the Sale! Genomics, Chocolate and the Future of the Dairy Breeding Industry

“This cow is being stolen!” cries out Horace Backus, from the auctioneer’s box at the US National Convention sale.  ‘A beautiful Jasper daughter with such a magnificent pedigree gets such a low offer – that is pure robbery!” adds Backus.  Pounding his fists onto the podium, Backus has a point, since they are getting less than $5,000 for a very productive cow and moments earlier a very young calf sired by a genomic young sire sold for over $20,000.  Here you have an animal already proving her profitability versus a calf that has nothing more to show for herself then a simple little test?  I ask you ”Does the marketplace have it all wrong?”

Last week I was at our local county show (Read more: For Love of the Ring) and was talking with Doug Brown, owner of Browndale Specialty Sires.  I have known Doug for over 30 years and have huge respect for him.  One point that Doug made was related to the fact that at BSS they have 3 bulls in the top 100 LPI.  This is a huge success for a breeding program that samples just a handful of bulls every year.  And yet the conundrum, Doug says, is that they would be lucky if the three sires sold as much semen as the latest hot genomic sire.  Again here we have a well proven and profitable commodity being outsold by a relatively unknown entity.

Can you have too much of a good thing?

Is genomics kind of like chocolate?  Sure it’s great in small amounts when used correctly and it’s a great antioxidant.  However regularly over-indulging in chocolate can result in significant weight gain, sugar complications and kidney problems from the high potassium.

Now anyone who has read the Bullvine with any regularity knows that we are strong proponents of genomics (Read more: Genomics at Work – August 2013, Genomics: Think Big Not Small and Stop Pissing On Genomics).  But have we started to take things too far?  We hear breeders starting to question if they should register their cattle anymore?  (Read more: Why Do We Register?) Should we type classify anymore?  (Read more: Is Type Classification Still Important?  And Over-Scored and Over-Rated – Are we helping or hurting the dairy classification system?) and Should we only use Genomic Young Sires when making mating decisions?  (Read more: How Much Can You Trust Genomic Young Sires? and Genomic Young Sires vs. Daughter Proven Sires: Which one is best for reliable genetic gain?) Have we overused a good thing?

Many times I have had the opportunity to talk with Ari Eckstein of Quality Holsteins (Read more: Quality Holsteins – Well-deserved Congratulations  and Quality Cattle Look Good Every Day) and Ari has always reminded me that “Yes Andrew!”  genomics is a useful tool and at Quality they do use high genomic test type sires, However, he reminds us   “There is still a need to look at all the tools available when making breeding decisions that will result in generation after generation of proven cow families.”  At Quality they use genomics kind of like a great pastry chef uses chocolate.  It’s not the only thing tool they use and they use it as one ingredient.  In other words, genomics should be only one part of many factors used to make complete a great breeding recipe.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

I think many breeders have emptied the kitchen cupboards and thrown out all the other ingredients, or tools, that they used to use when making their breeding and purchasing decisions and now are only using one.  Even the likes of dark chocolate or Alba white truffles ($9,300 per kilo) are only great when they are used to enhance the tasting experience.  Great breeding decisions come when we stop using just one tool and find the best way to apply specific strengths to specific goals.  . When it comes to better breeding and the tools you use, genomics shouldn’t be the only one you use or be used as an all-in-one but it is definitely one to be reckoned with! Genomics for chocolate.  Now that’s sweet!!

The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


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Burket Falls Holsteins: Rebels without a Horn!

Dave Burket receiving the Red and White Master Breeder Award from Elmer Carpenter in 2000.

With so many choices to make when facing breeding decisions, the results we achieve inevitably brand us.  For third generation dairy farm, Burket Falls Holsteins, the label “rebel” goes back to ten years after the farm transitioned from Guernseys to Holsteins in the 1950s.

Father Dave and son John Burket give us a summary of the breeding philosophy at Burket Falls Holsteins, “We have always strived to breed eye-appealing, profitable, and long living dairy cattle.  Solid cow families were always preferred over jumping on the latest breeding fad.” Some would describe it as ironic that the 80%+ naturally polled herd is right in the thick of today’s latest breeding trend. However, having focused on polled for more than 50 years, the Burket’s definitely move out of the follower column and hold top spot on the visionary list. Dave gives us a glimpse of how it all started.

The Oft Polled Tale 

“Our first polled animal was born on the farm in 1960.  That cow, Princess Fayne Houtwje, produced seven consecutive records of 1100 pounds of fat in the late 60’s and early 70’s.  It was the unique combination of no horns and high production that got our attention that we indeed had a special cow.” Princess traced back 21 generations to Holland.

All Told They’re Polled

Many things in breeding serve to focus our goals and provide a foundation for our breeding plans. For some it’s production.  For others it is show winners.  For Dave Burket who took over the farm from his father, Frank, after graduating from high school in 1950, it was that productive, horn free purchase of Princess that clarified his breeding vision. Today Burket Falls Holsteins includes approx. 500 acres of corn, alfalfa, and alfalfa/grass mix.  They still pasture quite a bit. But there ends the familiar part of their resume. For this farm located in south central Pennsylvania that started with l1 registered Holsteins now milks 100 Registered Holsteins.   The herd is 80%+ naturally polled and about 3/4 are red or red factor.”

“Do what you do best… and let someone else do the rest”

We hear the above quotation many times when seeking advice from the elite breeders in the dairy industry. Burket Falls Holsteins has followed this motto for three generations and today

Dave and John and their families are involved in executing that vision every day. “Whatever type of cattle you desire, strive to breed that kind and don’t try to appeal to all markets.” Advises Dave. He emphasizes, “The breeders who have stayed focused with a particular goal, seem to be the most successful.”

On a Roll with Polled

We all feel justified when the breeding decisions we have made bear results. Such is the case with Burket Falls Holsteins. Developing a herd of predominantly polled Holsteins has attraction national attention and international appeal. The focused approach, combined with red, has yielded animals that have competed at the national show level and produced large amounts of milk. They are sought after in the market place.  A good plan is invaluable and takes daily commitment. Additionally, Burket Falls Holsteins feels they have been fortunate in breeding good cows due to advice from a very special mentor. “Bill Weeks, the founder of aAa, (Animal Analysis Associates) has had probably the biggest impact.  We were fortunate enough to have Bill as a friend and visitor to our farm. It was Bill’s genius over 40+ years that has made the biggest impact.”

Burket Falls Elevation Sophia EX93 4E GMD DOM

Burket Falls Elevation Sophia EX93 4E GMD DOM

Polled is Gold Generation after Generation

At Burket Falls Holstein they have stayed loyal to their founding family. “We are working with descendants of Burket Falls Elevation Sophia EX93 4E GMD DOM.  They now have more than eight generations of polled from Sophia. Sophia’s lifetime production is 241,000 and 4.1% fat. She is a polled Elevation daughter that was a granddaughter of the original polled cow, Princess. Dave Burket enumerates her successes. “Sophia now has over 150 Excellent descendants in our herd alone and countless others around the world.  She is the foundation of the only “all polled” five generation, GMD DOM, all VG or EX, all over 130,000 4.0% lifetime pedigree.”  Additionally, Sophia was recently voted one of seven of Pennsylvania’s Favorite Cows by the membership of the Pennsylvania Holstein Association in recognition of their 100 Year Celebration.

Burket-Falls Sizzle-Red EX-93-2E Lifetime to date: Over 180,000m 4.2%f 3.2%p Dam: Burket-Falls Conv Saphira-RC-PC EX-92-2E EX-MS 2nd Dam: Burket-Falls PP Shine-Red-PC VG-86 3rd Dam: Burket-Falls BS Savina-ET-RC EX-91-2E GMD DOM 4th Dam: Burket-Falls Shania-Red-ET VG-85 GMD DOM 5th Dam: Burket-Falls Ca-Lil Silver-ET VG-86 GMD DOM 6th Dam: Burket-Falls Elevation Sophia EX-93-4E GMD DOM

Burket-Falls Sizzle-Red EX-93-2E
Lifetime to date: Over 180,000m 4.2%f 3.2%p
Dam: Burket-Falls Conv Saphira-RC-PC EX-92-2E EX-MS
2nd Dam: Burket-Falls PP Shine-Red-PC VG-86
3rd Dam: Burket-Falls BS Savina-ET-RC EX-91-2E GMD DOM
4th Dam: Burket-Falls Shania-Red-ET VG-85 GMD DOM
5th Dam: Burket-Falls Ca-Lil Silver-ET VG-86 GMD DOM
6th Dam: Burket-Falls Elevation Sophia EX-93-4E GMD DOM

Genomics, Polled and the Value-Added Proposition

The Burkets feel fortunate that in today’s marketplace where the spotlight is on genomics, polled is considered of “added value”.  John notes, “Genomics has made the majority of our herd worth less money.  Unless you have the very cutting edge of genomics, or the high show ring type, most registered cattle today are worth commercial price.” Although they are aware of the swing of the marketplace, they remain committed to their original vision when choosing sires. Dave confirms.” We continue to try to use the best sires available to incorporate into our polled and red breeding programs. We use many of our own polled sires, plus a few of the top genomic sires from solid maternal lines”

The Future is Polled

Looking ahead both Burkets see much that is positive in dairy breeding. “The industry has finally accepted that the future will be polled.”  John explains their reasoning “This is primarily because of the demand in the market place and prices that polled animals have been commanding.” This is gratifying for the Burket Falls Holsteins breeding program but they see that there are other challenges that polled breeding can provide answers to. “We know that the animal welfare issues are not going to go away.  As an industry, we (polled breeders) can be proactive in eliminating an undesirable routine on the farm. “Realistically Dave and John see that changes are coming in all directions. “For breeding we think some of the most beneficial aspects will be disease resistance and feed efficiency. Right today we are in the genomic bubble, but the pendulum will again swing back to a more balanced approach.”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

There are many variables beyond the control of our dairy breeding programs and, while we should definitely be aware of them, we can learn from the Burket Falls Holsteins example. “Our breeding goals have never changed. We have always strived to breed eye-appealing, profitable and long living dairy cattle. Solid cow families were always preferred over jumping on the latest breeding fad.”  With heartfelt commitment they see their vision being achieved. “We are not sure what the color of the dairy cow of the future will be…But we are sure that she will be POLLED!”

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Is Too Much Water Milking Your Profits?

Over the past couple of weeks the Bullvine has published articles about having a breeding plan for your herd. (Read more: Flukes and Pukes – What Happens When You don’t Have a Plan and What’s The Plan?). Examples cited of herds with a breeding plan have included North Florida Holsteins who breeds for production and profitability (Read more:  North Florida Holsteins: Aggressive, Progressive and Profitable and The Truth About Type and Longevity) and Quality Holsteins (Read more: Quality Holsteins – Well-deserved Congratulations and Quality Cattle Look Good Every Day) and Ferme Jacobs (Read more: Ferme Jacobs: Success Is All In The Family!) both of whom breed for type. Today we wish to bring you some thoughts to consider for your breeding plan as it relates to the components in milk. For the vast majority of herds that is the major source of their revenue generation.

mount victoria tb plaque4% Fat

T. B. Macaulay, Mount Victoria Farms (Montvic), (Read more: Mount Victoria Farms: The Art and Science of Great Breeding) ninety years ago had a plan. One component of his plan was 4% butterfat. He built his herd around Johanna Rag Apple Pabst and his 4% fat daughters. The history books do not specifically identify Macaulay’s reason for wanting 4% butterfat except we know that back then Holsteins were considered to be ‘low testers’.

Roy Ormiston, breeder of the world famous Roybrook Farms, developed an excellent herd with the three pillars being high % fat, excellent conformation and high lifetime production.

The importance of fat yield has also been stressed by many leading USA breeders. Over forty years ago Dr. Gene Starkey, the very well respected Wisconsin Dairy Extension Specialist, in his speeches talked about herds where cows averaged over 900 pounds of butterfat per year with only limited reference to the milk yield number for top herds.

When Protein Ruled

Fat took a backseat to show conformation and then to % protein in the later 1970’s and into the 1980’s. The trendy thing was to use a bull the improved % protein but dropped % fat. The thinking was that consumers wanted to exclude fat from their diets but that protein was needed to make cheese. The trend meant the majority of breeders paid only limited attention to % fat and the national Holstein averages for % fat dropped.

How Milk is Sold

On a global basis the majority of milk is sold in a solid and not a liquid state (Read more: “Got Milk” is becoming “Got More” and MILK MARKETING: How “Got Milk?” BECAME “Got Lost”). Milk processors and marketers recognized this and so payment to farmers changed from volume and % fat to become based on the component yields. This is known as MCP, multiple component pricing. Today the pendulum has swung to where butterfat is back in fashion. Thus the quantity of solids a cow produces is important to her ability to generate income.

Milk is sold as a drink often has fat removed by processors. That fat is used to make other products and thus it is a source of revenue, not a cost, for the processor. .

The end result is that breeders are paid for the total fat and protein content in the milk they ship.  And in the future it is entirely possible that breeders will be paid for the specific fats (i.e. conjugated linoleic acid) and proteins (i.e. casein) they ship.

Avoid the Water

In today’s and likely tomorrow’s world having more water than necessary in milk is a cost and not a source of income. These cost factors include:

  • high peak milk yields adds stress on the cow and increased labor and health costs
  • high milk yields magnifies the challenge and cost to getting cows to conceive
  • to achieve higher milk yield adds to cow feed costs for high energy grains
  • cows and their rumens function best when a high percent of the diet is high quality but low cost forages
  • longer milking times to harvest the higher volume of milk adds labor and utility costs
  • on-farm more volume adds to cooling cost and the need for increased storage capacity
  • water removal at the farm is costly
  • extra milk volume adds to transportation cost
  • added volume increases processor cooling costs and storage capacity
  • high volumes adds to environmental costs and the disposal of water at the processing plant

If we could calculate the total for those ten items it might shock us how much money could be saved by having a higher content of fat and protein in milk. It all starts with the milk our cows produce.

Let’s Talk Genetics

At the farm level cows that produce 85 pounds at 4.0% fat and 3.4% protein are generating the same revenue and at less cost to all the partners in the supply chain than cows that produces 100 pounds at 3.4% fat and 2.9% protein. For sire selection this means selecting for fat yield, protein yield, % fat and % protein. Ideally, although not always possible, this means selecting bulls for less milk yield. Today most total merit index formulas (TPI™, LPI, NM$,…etc.) are based on fat and protein yield of a bull’s daughters without regards to the volume of milk they produce. This means that high yield bulls that drop % fat and/or % protein do not ranking near the top on these indexes. A help to breeders when selecting bulls to use.

Top Sires

The following table identifies top total merit bulls for their daughters’ genetic ability to produce fat and protein and have a high % fat and % protein. For bulls to appear in this table they had to be breed improvers for productive life or herd life.

Bulls Ranked by Fat plus Proetin Yields

Bulls Ranked by Fat plus Protein Yields
* USA – pounds / Canada – kilograms
Click on image for enlargement

Supersire tops the list for the ability to sire daughters for fat yield and total fat and protein yield  Jabir is high in all areas including NM$. For breeders wanting higher % fat and % protein should consider AltaIota, AltaRazor, Eloquent, Ahead or Overtime P.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Much emphasis is currently being placed on cows that are functional and healthy, yet productivity can’t be ignored. Without the ability to generate high levels of revenue from milk sales, it is hard to make a profit from dairy farming. When it comes to production, don’t let low component milk water down your success.

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 at Work – August 2013

Five years ago dairy cattle breeders were first hearing the word genomics. Over many generations of cows they had followed the recommended practice of using plus proven A.I. sampled sires on the majority of their herd with limited use (20-30%) of high indexing young unproven bulls. This practice had made it possible for them to improve their herd, help the breed improve and to generate revenue from the sale of breeding animals. And then along came a new way to look at accuracy for young animals and the merits of a cow without having to wait for her to have many milking daughters.

For most of us it was something that shook the foundation of what we knew about breeding cattle. How could an analysis of the genes change the method of breeding we knew and had been very comfortable with using? As expected breeders have had a variety of reactions.  Some instantly adopted genomics. Some cautiously considered and used it to a limited extent. Many took a wait and see approach.

Today much has changed to the point where half the semen used is that of genomically evaluated bulls. We are learning more every month and every index run about genomics. The Bullvine decided to address some of the current questions and thoughts about genomics that we are hearing expressed by our readers.

Learning from Observer



De-Su Observer, a former high ranking genomic bull, born in November 2008, received his first official proof, which included daughter performance, in April 2013 and he had a gTPI of 2332.  However with last week’s index release (Read more: August 2013 Holstein Sire Evaluations Highlights From Around the World) his gTPI dropped by 188 points to 2144. Many breeders are asking why? Can we trust genomics and the very first proofs with daughter performance included? Let’s think this one through.

High genomic bulls are now used by A.I. and breeders as mating sires for the next generation mostly using ET. The female mates of these bulls, with few exceptions, are also high indexing. Their progeny’s genetic evaluations will be adjusted for their parent’s high genetic merit by the genetic evaluation centres. However the extra care and treatment breeders give to these future star females, from birth to the end of their first lactations, cannot be totally adjusted for in the genetic evaluations. This means we can expect these young bulls to be over-evaluated in their first official proof based on the performance of their first 30-60 daughters. Until we can capture more details at the herd level for yields, health, reproduction, herd management, type assessment and heifer performance we can expect that high genomic bulls, after they get their very first official proof, will subsequently fall back slightly in some part of their proof.

This just happened to Observer.  Between April and August he added 582 milking daughters to reach 800 and 283 classified daughters to reach 349.  In April he was and in August he still is a 99%RK gTPI sire but he dropped from #1 to #21 on the TPI list (#8 among those with 99% reliability for MF). His breeding pattern for type did not change. His daughters have outstanding mammary systems but are only average feet and legs and below average dairy strength. His ratings for fertility and longevity were essentially unchanged. If anything they are up slightly. However Observer’s ratings for the yield traits dropped. The decreases were milk -14%, fat -26% and protein – 21%.  He is still a top proven bull and a good bull to have in the pedigree or to use to make productive profitable cows. With the high number of daughters now in his proof we can expect he will not changed to a similar extent in December.

Considering a bull’s rank on a total merit index list is the first step in selecting bulls. However knowing how his strengths and limitation match your herd’s genetic needs is the important second step.

What about Robust, Bookem, AltaMeteor and AltaRazor?

All these bulls had their first official proofs in August after being highly rated on their genomic information. Their August Reliabilities range from 89% to 91%. So we can expect some movement in their indexes, as they have information added on daughters, the same as happened with Observer. Remember they can go up as well as down. They are all top of the class graduates but like all new graduates we can expect to know their attributes more exactly come December or next April. For discerning breeders this means use them but not any one of them to an excessive amount. Between them these four bring to the industry high NM$, high protein yield, high udder composite and high fat yield. All things commercial breeders include in their breeding plans (Read more: What’s the plan?).

What about Inbreeding?

Some breeders are asking the Bullvine – “so where are the bulls that are below 5% for inbreeding”?  Readers have taken seriously the need to decrease the inbreeding level in dairy cattle (Read more: 6 Steps To Understanding & Managing Inbreeding In Your Herd and Twenty Things Every Dairy Breeder Should Know About Inbreeding).  It is not easy to find bulls to use that are low for their inbreeding coefficient.  To readers it seems that the high genomic bulls come from the same sire lines – Planet, Shottle, Oman, Goldwyn, Bolton,..etc. From time to time the Bullvine does produce lists of outcross sires (Read more: Going off the map: 14 outcross Holstein sires that don’t include GPS and 12 Sires to Use in Order to Reduce Inbreeding) so check those out. It would be a benefit to breeders if CDCB or CDN would produce listings for genomically evaluated bulls over 2000 PA gTPI of +2500 PA gLPI but under, at least, 5-6% for inbreeding coefficient. (Read more: Crossbreeding: Breed Help or Hindrance?).

Can more Genomic Related Information be Published?

To most breeders, it seems that genomic indexes are high, and constantly increasing. It is almost impossible to keep up. Go to an auction sale and hear the pedigree person say that ‘this bull is leaving many high genomic progeny” and what is the average breeder to take that to mean. It can be confusing even for people “in the know”. But what about people who do not follow the results closely? Furthermore for breeders that follow more than one breed, they see what is top numbers in one breed may seem ordinary in another breed. Has the time come to consider changes such as:

  • Publishing the %RK for indexes – that way an animal’s strengths and limitations was be easily seen
  • Widely publishing the levels for all indexes for 99%RK, 90%RK and 50%RK
  • Identifying animals that leave top genomic progeny for all traits not just for the total merit indexes.

Keep moving Forward

Genetic Evaluations Centres around the world are studying ways to use the records from bulls’ daughters where the bull may not have been randomly sampled. Excluding records from analysis is not as easy as not using the data from ET daughters or for the first 50 to 100 daughters born. These steps could be well and good if this matter only involved the genetic side of our business. But it impacts marketing and revenue generation from top animals and therefore it gets complicated. It could well be some time before we have a solution.

Breeders need a breeding and marketing plan for their herd. And then they need to use the most up-to-date genetic indexes for both bulls and cows. It does not change the process: first sort the bulls by your preferred total merit index; and then correctively mate your cows or group of cows with the best mate on your selected list. It is up to each breeder to decide whether to use the genomic information or not. The advantages from using genomic information are a faster rate of genetic improvement by having more accurate indexes on young animals and the use of the very top animals, especially bulls.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Breeding is about creating animals that are genetically superior to our current herd of animals. It does not simply happen by adding one and one to get two. It involves using all the skills including planning, cow awareness, genetic theory, accurate information, the turning of generations,..etc. Genomics is proving to be a good new tool. No doubt it and genetic evaluations will improve considerably over the next five years. More knowledge is always a good thing.

To see all the latest proofs be sure to check out our Genetic Evaluation Section.

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Pick The Right Bull – Your Future Depends on The Decisions You Make Today!

There are many ways to get from Point A to Point B whether you’re on the asphalt highway or the genetic highway.  A genetic plan for your herd is like a GPS – it can help you reach your genetic destination faster, with fewer detours and more profit in your pocket. It really depends on picking the coordinates that mean the most to you.

Your Future Starts Now!

The time to put in place a genetic plan is now.  The bulls used will be 90% of that plan in all but the very elite genetic herds.  In those herds the emphasis will be 60% bulls and 40% females.  Remember that with a four year average generation interval in a herd, it means that the bulls selected this month will form the base of the herd you are milking in four to five years time.

The Clock is Ticking!

Next week will be bull selection time again for dairy cattle breeders.  It’s time to decide whether to stick with the same or similar bulls  or is it time to chart a new course?  Over the past few month The Bullvine has covered various breeding approaches covering the spectrum from a main focus on show winning animals such as Riverside Jerseys (Read more: Riverside Jerseys: Travelling Hearts – A Girl, A Guy and Their Jersey Love Story) to a very definite focus on functional profitable cows as selected at North Florida Holsteins (Read more: NORTH FLORIDA HOLSTEINS. Aggressive, Progressive and Profitable!!). Both these breeders have a dynamic plan and they follow it successfully.  Both have secured a profitable pinnacle but there are many who struggle in various low points in between.  We feel their struggle relates directly to herd genetics decision planning that is unfocused or not undertaken at all.

Where Has the Money Gone?

The premium for selling good quality purebreds no longer exists.  The animals that formerly sold for $4,000 to $10,000 now bring just slight over the cost of raising them.  The market for replacement cows is a fraction of what it once was.  With the use of technology such as sexed semen and better herd management practices, herds that formerly bought replacements have enough of their own.  The few they do have to sell contributes to lowering the market price for replacements.

On the bull side, indexes for young sires are now almost twice as accurate thanks to genomics.  Fewer are being sampled and incentives for young sire use or price discounting of their semen have disappeared.

Show Money is a “No Show”

There once was a market for animals that could win the county show. Today, with 4H calves being one exception, the average milk producer have discontinued exhibiting cattle. At a practical level, the large tall show type animals aren’t the best fit for modern housing facilities. The trend is that show type farms will be a much smaller portion of national herds.  Where once perhaps up to 20% of farms selected bulls based mainly on their PTAT or CONF proofs, that is likely to be one in a thousand farms within five years time.  Selecting bulls only on their type indexes will not position breeders to generate a profit from cattle sales or to have efficient milk production.

Where is the Money Now?

Cattle sales once made up 10 to 30% of revenue for purebred breeders.  Today the milk check is the key revenue source.  The embryo market does not match former cattle sale levels.  The most valuable animal on the farm is no longer the 4-5 year old brood cow but the high genomic indexing 6-8 month old heifer from a proven cow family.  Buyers want first lactation females only.  Second and later lactation females are suspected as being sold for a problem (i.e. high SCS).  Commercial breeders are speaking out for efficient more agile cows with high yields. We can expect to see the trend for high prices for the genetically elite but after that there will be little or no premium pricing.

Put Your Money Where the Bull Is

If your farm’s primary focus is profit from efficient fat and protein production, then consider using NM$ as your primary selection index.  Once you have a list of bulls over NM$ of 600 you can eliminate bulls from that list based on their inferiority for traits that you feel are important.

Using second tier bulls (gTPI below 2100, gLPI below 2500 or NM$ below 600), daughter proven or genomically tested, will not give you animals or a herd that are in demand by other breeders.  Red adds little to a breeding program unless you can generate significant income from cattle sales. It would be a wise move to start using polled bulls on a portion of your herd. (Read more: Is Polled the NEW Red?) It is false economy to use anything but the top bulls. Don’t skimp when it comes to buying the semen from the top bulls for genetically advancing your herd. Do not be swayed by a salesperson.  They are looking out primarily for their own bottom line.  It only works if it’s right for your plan.  Using the right bulls will drive up your revenue and keep costs due to genetic issues under control.

Healthy is Wealthy

Using bulls with breeding values in the bottom 60% of the population for Daughter Pregnancy Rate, Daughter Fertility, SCS, Productive Life and Herd Live (below 1.0 on USA indexes of below 105 on Canadian indexes) will mean that you are not advancing the genetic merit of your herd for these increasingly important traits as fast as your fellow breeders are.  Today more accurate predictions are available on bulls for their daughters’ longevity, SCS and fertility, using genomic indexes.  With the increasing number of animals per worker, there is less time for individual care. Genetic selection for better health and reproduction is high on the priority list.  Feet and hoof care are receiving more management attention but on the genetic side this area needs more focus. Technology, equipment and management of herds are advancing all the time and health and reproduction needs to keep up. Never forget that animal treatment and welfare are also receiving more focus. Polled is going mainline and herds with lame animals will be centered out for negative attention. (Read more: From the Sidelines to the Headlines, Polled is Going Mainline!)

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Without clear thinking, five years from now you may find you haven’t made any forward genetic progress.  Analyze your genetic program.  If certain decisions you made in the past are no longer producing profitable results, then be ruthless, and move on to something better.  Times have changed.  Have you?

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.




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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Why Good Business for A.I. Companies Can Mean Bad Business For Dairy Breeders.

Just about a year ago we drew attention to  the fact that, when Dairy Breeders could genomic test their own bulls, it would start to cause the beginning of the end of the seed stock business (Read more: How Genomics Is Killing The Dairy Cattle Breeding Industry).These predictions were pretty easy to make because  these changes were  necessary in order for A.I. Companies to thrive in this new genetic environment.  With March 2013 now behind us and breeders able to genomic test their own sires, these predictions are coming true.  The challenge with these changes is that, while they make great business sense for the artificial insemination companies, they could spell the end of the seed stock business, as we have known it

At the recent Farnear Focus on the Future Sale, Alta Genetics paid $185,000 for a Massey daughter from Larcrest Case VG-86-2yr with a gTPI of +2505 (Read more: Farneer Focus on the Future Sale Averages $15,471 on 112 lots) .  While Alta Genetics owning females is not  new (Read more: Should A.I. Companies Own Females?), it does mark the resurgence of their program and certainly a significant investment by Alta Genetics probably indicating  that they are looking for new ways to control their sire procurement costs.  Of course Alta Genetics is not the only A.I. company that currently owns females.  Others, especially some of the smaller companies, have taken to owning top females in order to secure procurement of valuable and unique genetics and to differentiate their genetic offering (Read more: A Wake-Up Call To All A.I. Companies).  There are also those who have taken a very public stance against ownership of females (Read more:  Select Sires vs. Semex – A Contrast in Cooperatives).  This too may be a move to watch, as the competition for breeder-bred bulls will decrease with less competition for them from other A.I. companies.  Thus Semex and others too may start to see procurement costs subside.  Of course the market will decide just how low this price will go, as the other studs will always be watching the cost of production versus the cost of procurement.

What Has Caused This to Happen?

Since March 2013, breeders have had the ability to test their own bulls before negotiating the deal with an A.I. company.  This results in a much greater negotiating position for bull breeders.  The estimated effects of this change are as follows:

The number of young sires sampled will not change
The number of young sires sampled will not decrease further
The cost to actually sample a sire will stay low
The cost to actually sample a sire will stay low
With open ended leases and increased competition the cost of procurement could go way up and could even hit the $1M mark per proven bull.
With open ended leases and increased competition the cost of procurement could go way up and could even hit the $1M mark per proven bull.
Semen sales price will not change
Semen sales price will not change
Revenue will stay the same
Revenue will stay the same
With greatly increased procurement expenses profits will decrease drastically
With greatly increased procurement expenses profits will decrease drastically

How A.I. Companies are Reacting

There are not substantial enough profit margins in the A.I. industry to support such a change in profitability.  As a result, A.I. companies are being forced to take one of the following actions:

  • Increase semen price
    Since they now have greater expenses, A.I. companies will be forced to increase price.  As demonstrated in many other industries, the market will not respond favorably to this and ultimately will drive prices back down.
    END RESULT: No change
  • Cap contracts
    So if A.I. companies cannot increase revenues they will have to try and cut their costs.  The procurement of sires will become the major expense they will look to control.  One way to do this will be to cap bull contracts.  However, as the NHL has shown us, even if A.I.  could introduce a cap, some members will break that rule and other breeders will not stand for it. 
    END RESULT: No change
  • Produce their own product line
    If A.I. companies cannot buy the bulls at a cheaper price, then they will have to go out and buy females and produce their own product.  This will lead to cheaper acquisition costs.  A.I. companies can now buy the females for $50,000 to $250,000 and only need to have that female produce one son.  That will still be cheaper than leasing the son on an open lease.  This also allows them to have greater control of their bloodlines, accelerate their genetic advancement and develop their own distinctive product.
    END RESULT: Cheaper product development costs and a distinctive product.

What does this mean to YOU the average seed stock producer?

For the initial stage, which we are currently in, as A.I. companies buy into the female side, prices will rise.  Once they have the base genetics, they will not need to buy any more and they will stop buying.  Also currently we see top genetic breeding programs investing more in the top .1% of the genetics market.  The money for this is not coming as much from the female side as it is from the current or future revenue potential of semen lease deals.  The problem is that these bull breeders will be out of the market, as more and more A.I. companies STOP leasing from them, because they are now producing their own genetics.

With A.I. companies starting to own more of the top genetics, especially in the health and fertility and polled bloodlines( an area the market is heading to in the future) this will leave the seed stock breeder with a product or cattle that do not top the lists like they used to.  Also, now the A.I. companies will not release their new high genomic sires until they have mated them on all their own females first.  This will give A.I. companies a substantial advantage in generating list toppers.  Bull breeders, on the other hand, will not have the lease deals that they currently enjoy, so they will not have the same revenues from the sale of high index animals.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Nobody likes to be told “I Told You So” and the reason I bring this up is not to do that, but rather to open the eyes of breeders to what is happening and what the future still holds.  While there will always be a seed stock business selling females to other breeders, as the bull market continues to change, so will the prices for the top genomic females.  You will continue to see a spike for a few years, while the genetics companies stock up on top genetics.  However, after that, you will start to see prices drastically decline.  Your best course of action would be to ride the wave while it lasts, and then plan on all future sales/revenue (3-4 years from now) to start to be from females only, with only a very small, select group of sires being contracted by A.I. companies in the future.

The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


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Are You Breeding Purple Cows?

Face it, the tactics that have been used for the past 50 years don’t work anymore.  The same old ads. In the same old magazine.  Advertising the same old genetics. After you’ve seen one, or two, or 10, you’ve seen them all!  Boring!  However, a Purple Cow?  Now that would be something.  Are you remarkable enough to have a Purple Cow?  In today’s day and age of in vitro fertilization, genomics and social media, you’re either remarkable or invisible.

bigpc[1]Seth Godin’s book Purple Cow: Transform Your Business By Being Remarkable is perfectly titled for dairy breeders today.  Godin’s understanding of dairy cattle is limited as represented by his comment “Cows, after you’ve seen one, or two, or 10, are boring,” but his point about needing to be remarkable, in order to stand out from the herd, is spot on.

Every day breeders come face to face with a lot of boring stuff – even a lot of the same old boring cows – but you can bet they would never forget a Purple Cow.  Now getting a Purple Cow marketing idea doesn’t happen overnight.  It’s not as if you can just wake up one morning and change your marketing to have your “Purple Cow” idea.  You need to breed for it.  You need to manage for it.  And then and only then can you market it.

The Game Changers

For years, generation after generation of consistent breeding was enough to have your genetics in demand around the world.  However, that is no longer enough thanks to in vitro fertilization (Read more: IVF: Boom or Bust for the Dairy Industry and FAST TRACK GENETICS: More Results in Less Time).  With so many breeders leveraging this technology and producing more and more cattle at the top end of the genetic scale, there has been a shift in the marketplace.  What used to be unique is becoming commonplace. In this recent spring sale season, I saw no less than three full sisters (Uno’s from the great Apple) selling at three different sales in a 1-week period.  And then of course there were still more sisters at home.  IVF has changed things so much that even at the very top end, owners of the very best genetics are having trouble differentiating their product.  Genetics that at one time would have been sale headliners, are now selling in those lull sections of the sale that minimize profits.  Combine that with the cost to produce these animals and the ROI is shrinking.  Of course IVF is a catch 22 technology.  If you don’t use it and other breeders are using it on their top genetics, you’re still left behind.

In one sense you could say Genomics has brought harmony to the world (Read more: The impact of genomics on cattle breeding and How Genomics is Killing the Dairy Cattle Breeding Industry).  No longer are cattle from different countries viewed as inferior or of lesser genetic merit.  Genomic testing has brought uniformity to the world market.  But as a result it has also brought globalization to the industry and breeders can no longer differentiate their genetics by country of origin.  This means that instead of the top 1% of the genetics in the world being in high demand, it is now the top 0.1% (Read more: An Insider’s Guide to What Sells at the Big Dairy Cattle Auctions).  Either you are at the very top of the lists or you had better find a new niche or way to differentiate your genetics (Read more: Marketing Lessons from Glen Drummond Aero Flower).

AMMON-PEACHY SHAUNA a very popular purple cow

AMMON-PEACHY SHAUNA a very popular purple cow

If you want to get your message out to the world, there is nothing better than social media.  The power of tools like Facebook to let breeders around the world know what animals you have is amazing (Read more: 7 Reasons Why Your Dairy Farm Needs To Be On Facebook and The Anti-Social Farmer: On the Verge of Extinction?).  The thing is, it still takes those animals that are the “Purple Cows” in order to be noticed.  Hailey, O’Kalibra, Missy, Happy Go Lucky and Rae Lynn are cows whose show ring successes have also caused social media success for their breeders.  On the genomic side, cows like Shauna, Lucia, and Hue have attracted a lot of attention.  Another aspect that helps pictures on Facebook go viral is the ones that comply with the Dairy Marketers Code of Conduct (Read more: Introducing the Diary Marketing Code of Conduct and Dairy Cattle Photography – Over Exposed ). However, in order to achieve this sustained viral status you first need to be unique. You need to know your niche.  You need to be a “Purple Cow.”

Valleyville Rae Lynn is certainly a Purple Cow

Valleyville Rae Lynn is certainly a Purple Cow

The Bullvine Bottom Line

In Purple Cow, Seth Godin urges you to put Purple Cow differentiation into everything you build and everything you do, to create something truly noticeable.  It’s a manifesto for dairy breeders looking to take their genetics programs to a new level.  Pretty ads, generations of VG or EX and nice cattle pictures will not pay the bills. Either you set yourself apart or you are wasting your time.  What makes you unique?  Have you found your Purple Cow breeding program or marketing idea?



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Is Type Classification Still Important?

There are many changes going on in the dairy industry these days. Producers must try to understand what programs are worth still participating in and what ones to drop. At the Bullvine we have had some producers ask, “Should I still classify my cows?” To that we say a resounding, “YES!”  The following article explains why.

First, I would be remiss if I did not disclose that my father ran the Type Classification program here in Canada for 18 years, before it passed into the very capable hands of Jay Shannon and Tom Byers. I was raised understanding type classification and how the system works.  From when Dad and the late Dalton Hodgins first started playing with the handheld units to when it was time to update the True Type Model, you could say that classification was bred into me.   For me to even have to consider whether the program has merit is a very challenging situation.  But when a breeder from California asked me the other day, “Why should I still type classify?”  this caused me to stop and think about that, as I didn’t have an instant answer for him.  So, in typical Bullvine fashion, I did some more thinking about it, a little bit of research and here is what I came up with.

Why Type Classify if you Genomic Test All Your Females?

Tom Byers said it best, in our interview a year ago. “Classification will be the conformation verification of our Genomic selected sires.” (Read more: Tom Byers – “That’s classified”).  Genomics is not a perfect science and, in order to improve the accuracy of the genomic predictions, we need a larger data set.  That means we need more daughters classified by these new genomic sires so that the geneticists can compare the genomic predictions of these sires to the actual performance of their daughters. Only then can the geneticists improve the formulations so their predictions become more accurate.  Currently you can feel about 95% confident that a sire will come within 10% of their genomic prediction. With more information, that rate of confidence will increase while the range will decrease.

It’s also important to understand how these sires work in your herd.  I cannot tell you the number of times I have seen some sires work wonders in some herds and totally fail in others. While the sire’s proof may average out over all herds, that does not mean he or his blood lines will work well in yours.  That is why you still need programs like type classification and milk recording to validate that what you see on paper (genomic tests) is what you actually get in reality.

Why Classification is More Important than Ever When Marketing Your Cattle

It used to be that when a fresh 2 year old went Very Good many breeders wanted to see her picture to see if she really was a VG 2 year old.  Often times it was felt that maybe that animal got a gift and maybe would have only been a GP84 in a different herd.  Nowadays, with the state of dairy cattle photo ethics the way it is, I actually jump back to the classification to see if the picture really resembles the animal.

When I look at the picture and the heifer looks VG87+ but yet she is only classified VG85, I wonder why.  Often I notice that animal may only be a 2 or 3 for loin strength, yet in her picture with all the “hair” added she looks closer to a 9.  This causes a drastic change to the general appearance of the animal and greatly misrepresents her rump.  That is why now, more than ever, I look at the full classification breakdown in order to get a better understanding of just what the animal looks like.

Another area I often notice is size and stature.  With so many pictures having the original background removed and often the leadsperson as well, it is hard to get an accurate reference for the exact size of the animal.  When the photographer or graphic designer is adding in the new background, they are doing so by what makes the animal look the best.  While this is considered acceptable by today’s standards, it can greatly misrepresent the size and stature of the animal. (Read more: Has Photo Enhancement Gone Too Far?).

Another area where it is impossible to get an accurate read is heel depth and angularity.  Because these animals are being cropped out of their original images, often they lose some of the depth of heal in the picture as well as their necks get accidentally cleaned up.  While I do not think most photographers do so intentionally, the programs they are using combined with photographer’s Photoshop skills often cause some of these parts to be cropped, leaving a shallower foot and a cleaner head and neck.  It is for these reasons we have recently started the Dairy Cattle Marketer’s Code of Ethics (Read more: Introducing The Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct) in order to help re-establish credibility in dairy cattle photographs.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

There is no question that the industry is changing at a very rapid rate.  For some it`s not changing fast enough. For others, it seems too fast.  While all programs need to evolve to meet the needs of the modern dairy producer, there is no question that a dynamic Type Classification program has its place.  Since genomics is not a perfect science, and some dairy cattle photographs do not tell the full story, type classification remains the one constant for identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the individual, so that we can correctively mate to help the next generation function best in the different environments we ask her to work in. This combination of science and cow sense is what will lead us into a very prosperous future.


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3 Lessons Dairy Breeders can learn from Major League Baseball

It’s in the air!  Spring shows are starting.  In some regions cows are getting outside for the first time in months.  Most importantly, in major league baseball, spring training is over and it’s time to start the games that really matter. Every year Opening Day is marked with great anticipation by baseball fans.  You can smell the hot dogs cooking on the grill and the feel of the leather glove in your hands.  It’s baseball time baby.  Now I bet you are wondering what dairy breeders can learn from baseball?  Well here are three lessons dairy breeders can learn from professional baseball.

Lesson #1: Moneyball

The book and movie (starring Brad Pitt) Moneyball tells the story of how Billy Beane, GM for the Oakland A’s, used statistical analysis to find players who were undervalued by other teams.  The movie was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture.  It made over $100 million. Billy Beane forever changed the way major league baseball teams look at assembling their teams.  No longer is it about your gut feel.  You need Jedi senses in order to develop winners.  .

In modern major league baseball, managers now play the percentages.  They usually go with what has a higher likelihood of success. So left-handed hitters bat against right-handed pitchers and vice versa.  Certain individuals will be in the lineup against certain pitchers because of their record against that pitcher. Fielders shift to cover the hitting tendencies of batters (like the famous Jim Thome shift).  Does this mean right-handed batters can’t hit against right-handed pitchers?  No.  Does it mean batters always hit to the same location or that the past will always repeat itself?  Certainly not.

In dairy cattle breeding, when we talk numbers, that means Genomics.  Genomics has greatly changed the way many breeders go about sire selection.  (Read more:  The Dairy Breeders Guide to Genomics, Genomics: Think Big Not Small and The Truth About Genomic Indexes – “Show Me” They Work! )  By knowing your breeding goals, understanding the genetics you have in your herd, and leveraging the power of genomics, breeders can greatly accelerate their genetic programs, and more importantly increase the efficiency. (link 30 efficient sires)

Does this guarantee 100% results?  Does this mean you are going to have the next World Dairy Expo Champion (Read more:  7 Sires to Use in Order to Breed the Next World Dairy Expo Champion) or top genomic sire (Read more: The Top 12 Holstein Genomic Young Sires to Use for Maximum Genetic Gain)?  No.  Genomics does not guarantee 100% results.  But percentages do play out.  For consistency and overall greatest rate of genetic advancement it’s best to follow the greatest reliabilities and leverage genomics to have the greatest probability of success (Read more: Genomic Young Sires vs. Daughter Proven Sires: Which one is best for reliable genetic gain).

Lesson #2: You’ve got to master the basics

In baseball the teams that win the championships are not always the ones who have the highest payroll, or the biggest names, instead it the ones who have mastered the basics and can do so consistently.  Advancing the base runner (hit, sacrifice or bunt), throwing to the correct base to get the lead runner out, backing up every throw and not throwing the ball away and getting the leadoff batter out, these are all the little things that contribute greatly to the success of major league baseball teams.

The same is true for your breeding program.  Using the greatest sires in the world, on the most expensive females in the world does not guarantee success.  You still need to master the basics of dairy farming in order to make success happen.  Producing high-quality forage, producing high-quality milk (SCC <100,000), raising healthy calves and healthy cows is pivotal to any breeder program.  Without mastering these basics all the genetics in the world will not make you a winner.  Think about it. How many traits are highly heritable and how many are heavily management dependent?  (Read more: The Genomic Advancement Race – The Battle for Genetic Supremacy)

Lesson #3: You need a good manager

Bob Melvin was named 212 AL Manager of the Year.

Just like having players that do the basics well, it’s important to have a good manager.  Often a good manager is the reason professional baseball players are willing to do the basics well.  A good manager is able to step back, assess the team that he/she has and then leverages player strengths and protects or improves their weaknesses.  Some dairy breeders think of their breeding programs as an art form and do not give it the level of analysis and business management it requires.  The best dairy farmers and breeders take the time to step back and ask themselves “What areas in my operation need more management?”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

As in baseball, success in dairy breeding does not happen overnight.  It’s a long season in baseball and you have to be patient.  You can’t make all the necessary changes right away.  It takes years to build a championship team.  The same is true for a successful breeding program. It takes the right moves and an attitude of continuous improvement.  There will be setbacks and there will be lean times, but keep working at building a competitive business.  Don’t be discouraged. Don’t get impatient.  Never be complacent.  In baseball it’s three strikes and you are out.  In dairy breeding it depends on Moneyball, Mastery and Management. Fail at these three basics and there is no question your breeding program will strike out.


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Reality Check – Who is Really Controlling the Dairy Breeding Industry?

Often I find as an industry we are guilty of living in a bubble.  While sometimes that has served us well, other times there are situations where it for sure has hurt the dairy breeding industry as a whole.  However, like all bubbles, this will have to burst in order for the industry to advance, otherwise the dairy cattle breeding industry will become irrelevant.

There is no question that the dairy breeding industry is going through times of great change.  Genomics has had a massive effect on not only how we prove bulls, but also on the sources of revenue and the focus of many breeding programs.  There has been great discussion about what the changes in April will have on the industry (Read more: How Genomics is Killing the Dairy Cattle Industry).  There are some far greater issues that many breeders need to think about.

Some Big Hitters Are Coming To the Plate

One such issue is the entry of Pfizer/Zoetis into the animal genetics game.  There is no question that companies like Pfizer have the resources and the experience to come into industries and dominate.  When you compare the size and revenue of the Animal Health market to that of the dairy cattle breeding industry, you really have to wonder why Pfizer would even bother.  There is no question that DNA testing is a very cool science, but companies like Pfizer don’t do things because they think that it is cool.  They do it because they know they can make money.

When you step back and look at this from a 50,000-foot view, I start to think, is this Pfizer wanting to come and take over dairy cattle breeding?  On the other hand, is it that Pfizer sees how they can protect their much larger revenue source, animal health?  Walk with me on this one.  If it is possible to understand genomics to such an extent that we can breed a better cow, does that not include a cow that is more resistant to disease, parasites, and bacteria? Now we’re talking about core revenue sources for Pfizer animal health, now called Zeotis.

That is why when I first saw the announcement from Pfizer in May 2012 about how Canadian Dairy Network, Holstein Canada, Pfizer Animal Health, The Semex Alliance and its owners are going to partner to support delivery of genetic services to the Canadian dairy industry it really got me thinking about is this a good thing or should we be concerned?  While the public relations side of this looked all great with the message that the alliance gives dairy producers access to new genetic testing services, I could not help but think what does this mean if Pfizer/Zoetis now has direct access to all the genomic information not only in Canada but also indirectly for the world?

Also of interest about this move was that instead of being signed by all the members of the industry it was done very selectively.  Instead of being signed by say Canadian Livestock Genetics Association it was done exclusively with the Semex Alliance.  Is there a partnership between Semex and Pfizer that we are not aware of?  Have we as an industry, or our representatives, on our behalf made decisions that we may all regret?  While I am sure from first glance this agreement looked pretty basic, I can’t help but wonder if there are much greater ramifications that have not really been thought through.

Information is Power, But who controls the information?

With these questions about genetic evaluations and genomics, you can’t help but think about the heated discussion around the Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding (CDCB) and who controls genetic evaluations in the US (Read more: Council On Dairy Cattle Breeding: Land of the Free and Home of the Brave?).  The Cooperative Agreement with the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) pertaining to the transfer of the USDA-­‐ARS dairy genetic evaluation service to the CDCB has certainly had many asking who does have control?

While the Bullvine has request several times to do an interview with CDCB officers , Ole Meland, (Chair), Jay Mattison (Vice Chair), Becky Payne (Secretary) and  Gordon Doak (Recording Secretary), we have still not yet been granted the opportunity.

No Demand Means No Market

Of course there is a much bigger issue I think every breeder needs to think about.  While in Canada most breeders are pretty immune to having to think about market demand, you only have to look at the US and Australia to see what happens when market demand goes south.  If consumers are not drinking milk, it does not take long for the industry to dry up.

Worldwide milk consumption in relation to population growth is falling.  While yes total consumption is increasing, we are not keeping pace with other beverages.

With greater international supply and less demand, it doesn’t take long to drive price and revenue down (Read more: Why the Future of the North American Dairy Industry Depends on Supply and Demand). There is no question that breeders and the industry as a whole, needs to pay greater attention to consumer demand as it will have the greatest impact on our future.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

There is no question the world is changing.  It always is and always will.  The question becomes are you ahead of the change or behind it?  If we continue to operate in a bubble or stick our heads in the sand, we will not be the ones driving our own future, but instead will be handed the scraps from the future decided by others.  That is why it is important to know who is controlling the dairy breeding industry?



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12 Sires to Use in Order to Reduce Inbreeding

top13of2013Inbreeding, and more importantly its consequences, has long been a concern of breeders as it reduces production, lowers fertility, results in more stillbirths and leads to fewer days in the herd.  When genomics was first introduced, the theory was that it could help limit the amount of inbreeding in Holsteins.  In reality it has done the exact opposite.  Research indicates that relationships within respective breeds could be accelerating even faster since genomics’ introduction five years ago and there is also evidence that genetic diversity, another factor of inbreeding, is shrinking.

When you look at the sires of the top 100 genomic young sires lists, you notice a decent variety of sires with 30 bulls siring the top 100 sires.  However, a pedigree analysis on only the paternal side reveals that 90 percent of the bulls either have Oman, Planet or Shottle represented as the sire or grandsire.  The remaining 10 bulls represent genetic diversity.  However, the list needs further refining because 3 of the 10 remaining bulls have Oman’s sire or Shottle’s sire in the pedigree.  That leaves seven bulls with unique sires among the Holstein breed’s elite.

To help guide breeders in dealing with this inbreeding issue, we decided to look for outcross sires either proven or genomic tested sires that would offer breeders the near maximum genetic gain while providing needed diversity.  The word outcross or what constitutes an outcross sire can be tricky depending on where you are located.  For our purposes, we are calling an outcross sire to be one that does not have Oman, Goldwyn, Planet, and Shottle anywhere in the 1st, 2nd or 3rd generation of their pedigree.

Balanced Overall Performance Improvement

When looking for the sire that will help improve your herd across the board, we looked for sires that have a balance of production and longevity.  We also wanted great health and fertility traits that will deliver a low maintenance cow (Read more – Fact vs. Fantasy: A realistic approach to sire selection).  Here are our top three.

    Massey is a popular sire of sons combining elite indexes with a great outcross opportunity.  Massey daughters are snug uddered with strong attachments.  Though they should be protected for rump angle (high) and dairy strength, his low somatic cell score, high herd life/productive life and strong fertility make Massey a great sire for your breeding program.
    Look for Dorcy to sire balanced dairy cattle that have great udders and very good feet & legs, though he will need to be protected for dairy strength, fat percent and specifically his body depth and chest width.  While his productive life and low somatic cell score make Dorcy very strong longevity sire, you will want to use him wisely  on virgin heifers as he is not a calving ease sire.
    Yuxi is a great sire for feed efficiency, based on his strong milk production from smaller framed and stature cattle (Read more:  30 Sires That Will Produce Feed Efficient Cows).  While he needs to be protected on loin strength and body depth, his high productive life, low somatic cell score and great calving ease will have his daughters producing milk in your herd for a long time.

Production Improvement

It might be easy to just take the top milk lists or combine the fat plus protein and say those sires are the best for overall production.  We here at the Bullvine would not want to totally forgo type as well as health and fertility, so we are looking for the sires that give you the maximum production gain, without sacrificing everything to get it.

    A proven sire that maybe has not caught the eye of many breeders, Ruble offers outstanding production improvement from solid type.  While certainly not a calving ease sire, Ruble will greatly increase production from strong uddered cows that have good feet and legs.
    Coming from a strong maternal line (Read more: The Bloom is on Oconnors Goldwyn Jasmine) Jay offers great component improvement from solid production.  He also has the ability to improve overall type, especially udder attachments and texture, but should be protected on pin setting.
    Talk about a challenge.  In order to find a genomic sire that met our requirements we had to go the 95th sire on our list of production improvement genomic sires.  Much like Yuxi, Geno will also produce feed efficient daughters (Read more:  30 Sires That Will Produce Feed Efficient Cows).  His strong components, especially fat, combined with great udders and strong health and fertility makes Geno a great sire to look at for a solid outcross sire.

Longevity Improvement

For those of you that are looking to breed cattle that stay around  lactation after lactation or maybe you are  having problems with your 2 year olds not coming back for a 2nd lactation, we recommend the following outcross sires, in addition to Dorcy mentioned earlier:

    This outcross sire offers great longevity improvement combined with strong health and fertility.  While he does need to be protected on protein and milking speed, his great feet and legs, udders and health and fertility, make him an outcross sire you don’t want to miss.
    With  Boss Iron daughters such as Decrausaz Iron O’Kalibra catching the eyes of the world in the show ring (Read more: The All European Champion Show: The Greatest Show On Earth), there are also Iron daughters that are getting the job done as bull mothers.  A great example of this is BEL IRON IRENE, the dam of Mincio.  This high fertility Bolton son combines high type with great production, which is resulting in outstanding results in his current daughter performance.  Watch for MINCIO to sire great udders and feet & legs though you may want to watch him on somatic cell score.
    This outcross genomic sire just spells longevity.  Deligent was bred to deliver long lasting daughters.  With outstanding Herd Life/Productive Life, breed leading mammary systems scores and strong Feet and Legs scores, Deligent is a longevity specialist, though he does need to be somewhat protected for dairy strength.  Look for DELIGENT to combine this longevity with strong production and type numbers.

Health and Fertility Improvement

One area that is not getting enough attention from most breeders is health and fertility.  While there is no question that every breeder knows that more pregnancies equals more profits many of the top ranking sires actually have negative values for health and fertility.  The following are some outcross specialist sires that should help you change that:

    While you certainly would not use Stockton as a production improvement sire.  His high daughter pregnancy rate, productive life and low somatic cell make Stockton the perfect sire for that high production cow you are looking to breed some health and fertility traits into.
    While not a name that most breeders know, Phonic is certainly going to get some attention from breeders looking to breed to where the industry is headed.  With extremely low SCS and high daughter fertility combined with functional type and above average production, Phonic is leaving daughters that are extremely low maintenance.  Tracing back to the great Italian brood cow Cervi FIRESTONE, this family has produced such sires as BUXON, WOODSTOCK and PADERNUS.  Given his high rump angle, it is interesting that he is such a good calving ease sire.
    Similar to finding an overall performance improver on the top genomic lists, finding a health and fertility genomic sire had us going to number 55 on our list.  Look for True to sire outstanding udders with strong feet and legs.  He will need to be protected on loin strength.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Choosing the correct sire can be challenging enough.  Finding a sire that also offers an outcross from the main Goldwyn, Planet, Shottle and Oman can be almost impossible.  That is why we compiled these 12 sires to bring to light some outcross pedigrees that many breeders may not have heard of.  It is, certainly worth taking a look at many of these sires, when looking to combat inbreeding in your herd.

The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


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