Archive for herd life

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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Are Your Genetics Wasting Feed and Labor?

Throughout my education and my career in livestock improvement I have heard learned people say ‘the fields of nutrition, reproduction, management and genetics are independent of each other’. As recently as last week I had a nutritionist tell me that what geneticists do is secondary to what a nutritionist can do when it comes to on-farm profit. Well today I wish to challenge that theory of no inter-relationships.

Although I do not want to get into a back-and-forth between genetics and other disciplines, the purpose for this article is to challenge our thinking and see if there are in fact ways that genetics can be complimentary to nutrition, reproduction and management. It takes all disciplines working collaboratively to enhance on-farm profits thereby providing consumers with the dairy products they wish to consume.

If a stranger walked into your facilities and told you that you are wasting 20% of the feedstuffs you produce or that 20% of your daily labor could be eliminated would you throw them off the farm? Or would you stop and listen and consider taking action? If that stranger was your genetic supplier would you continue to consider their advice or would you scoff at them saying that “the genetics you use can not reduce your costs or increase your revenue”.

The following are areas that have a genetic component to them that deserve consideration:


Heifers not calving before 24 months or cows with an extra month or two in the dry pens each lactation take feed and labor at the rate of $2 to $4 (avg $3) per day. A heifer that does not calve until 27 months and takes an extra 45 days per lactation in the dry pen has costs an unnecessary $675 by the time she starts her fourth lactation at 69 months of age. By that time that heifer should be half way thru her fourth lactation. She not only costs an extra $675 but has lost $3000 in milk and progeny revenue by 69 months of age. The dollars lost add up quickly.

Genetically consider using only sires that are well above average for DPR  +1.0 / DF 105, cull heifers and cows with below average fertility ratings either their genetic rating or actual performance, and do not use bulls or retain females that are below 100 for Body Conditioning Score. If you are buying embryos or replacement females be sure to look at the genetic fertility ratings. Making excuses for buying below average animals or embryos is false economy. Another factor that is not a genetic rating, but has a direct bearing on reproduction is Sire Conception Rating. Remember that for each 21 days (one cycle) a female is open it costs $63 and that does not consider increased semen and insemination costs.

Productive Life / Herd Life

Improving just one year of herd life, from a herd average of three to four lactations, can markedly improve the revenue a cow will generate in her lifetime. An extra 26,000 pound or 12,000 kgs per cow per lifetime also reduces the number of heifers that need to be raised or purchased.  In a 300 milking cow herd the total of added revenue and reduced heifer costs can be as much as $300 net per cow per year. As heifer rearing is no longer a major profit centre, like it once was, why incur the feed and labor costs of extra heifers?

Using sires that are at least PL +4.5 or HL 110 is strongly recommended. Females should not be retained for breeding or replacement or purchased as embryos where the cow family members do not make it to third lactation.


The volume of fat and protein produced by each cow each day is a key factor for revenue generation (Read more: Is too much water milking your profits? and 5 things you must consider when breeding for milk production). When that can be done with a lesser volume of water it means less strain on the cow and less water to transport to the milk processor. High output of components means fewer cows needing to be fed and milked to produce a given quantity of fat and protein.  If daily yields are only moderate then feed is wasted feeding too many cows. At the processor more concentrated milk means less water needs to be removed and disposed of. It is a win–win for both the producer and the processor.

To achieve high fat plus protein yields requires that the sires used need to be ranked high genetically for total solids yield. In sire proofs that equates to bulls with 90 kgs fat + protein in Canada and 75 lbs in the USA. Cows should be culled for low total fat + protein yields per day not on volume of milk produced. When purchasing embryos make sure that the genetic merit for fat + protein yield is high.

Udder Health

On a continual basis the requirement for the maximum number of somatic cells in milk is lowered. It is estimated that each case of mastitis costs at least $300 in lost production and drugs. Add to that the extra labor required and the total cost, to all dairy farmers, associated with mastitis is huge.  Sometimes we forgive cows and bulls with poor SCS rating because they have a high rating for a single other trait. That is false economy when you factor in the cost of feed, labour and lost milk revenue. We need to be paying more attention to milk quality in the future than we have in the past.

Animals above 3.00 for SCS should not be used in your breeding program. Better still would be to aim for using bulls that are 2.80 and lower for SCS.  Of note is the fact that as of December 2013 CDN will be producing sire indexes for Mastitis Resistance (Read more: Official Genetic Evaluation for Mastitis Resistance).

Calving Ease

Producers have placed emphasis on calving ease over the past decade. It is now at the point where concern relative to calving difficulty is only mentioned for first calving heifers. Labor is saved with unassisted calvings. As well the dam and calf both get off to better starts. Less drug usage and quicker breeding back of the dam add up to major dollars saved no matter what the herd size.

Bulls receive indexes for both the ease with which their calves are born and for the ease with which their daughters give birth. It is advised to not use bulls that are rated below average for both direct and maternal calving ease.

Other Factors

  • Feet and Legs: Cows without mobility problems save on labor, lost feed and lost revenue.  Use sires that are average or above average for both heel depth and rear legs rear view. Calves and heifers with feet and leg problems seldom get better with age. (Read more: Cow Mobility: One Step Forward or Two Steps Back?)
  • Feed Conversion: In all livestock there are genetic differences in the ability to convert feed to end product. As yet we do not know those genetic differences in dairy cattle but we will know them in time. (Read more: Feed Efficiency: The Money Saver and 30 Sires that will produce Feed Efficient Cows) In is a fact that big cows, producing similar volumes to a medium sized cow, can not be as efficient as they must eat feed to maintain their larger body mass. Some (New Zealand, Ireland, NMS formula,…) already have a negative weighting for body size in their total index formula In the future breeders need to be prepared to select for feed efficiency and likely re-think the ideal cow size. Stay tuned. Research is already underway on feed conversion in dairy cattle.
  • Milking Speed: Slow milking cows were once tolerated in tie stall barns even though they required more labor. Now with parlour, rotary and even robotic systems, cows that slow down the parlour process or that mean fewer cows per robot are not tolerated. Sire indexes for milking speed are available on all bulls in Canada and are often available from bull studs in other countries. Avoid using bulls that leave slow milkers.
  • Polled: Labor required and animal set backs after dehorning are negatives at the farm level. For consumers animal treatment/care is often a concern that may affect milk product consumption. Polled is not just trendy it will be the norm in the future. (Read more: Why Is Everyone So Horny For Polled?, From the Sidelines to the Headlines, Polled is Going Mainline! and Polled Genetics: Way of the Future or Passing Fad?),  Genetic tests are now available that accurate identify animals as homozygous or heterozygous for polled. With each passing month the genetic merit for top polled animals for total merit (TPI, LPI NM$,..) is increasing. Producers need to decide when they will start to breed for polled.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Every discipline is important to improving on-farm profits. Research at CDN showed that improved genetics accounted for, at least, 40% of the increase in on-farm profitability. Genetics can help reduce the two biggest on-farm cost – feed and labor.  As well it can help drive up revenue per cow. Conclusion: Genetics can save on feed and labor costs. And Genetics can help generate more profit.

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Let’s Talk Longevity

Herd profitability is front and centre in the minds of breeders as they build their genetic base for the future. Current and future profit does not come by chance. It takes both breeder instinct and skilled management. Two important factors breeders and managers must consider is how long the workers stay on the job and how productive they are. And when it comes to workers on dairy farms it starts with the cows. Longevity along with productivity go hand in hand with making a profit.

What is Longevity?

According to our current indexes longevity is productive life (PL) or herd life (HL). But what does that mean? Is it one more month in the herd for an average daughter of a bull? What makes the difference?

Let’s take a moment and think about how great it is when your workers stay with your organization for at least five years. Instead of frequently giving new staff basic training, the organization can spend more time on advanced skills training. Productivity will increase and thereby profit can be pushed to new heights.

When it takes 1.0 to 1.5 lactations before a heifer you have raised or purchased to start to show a net lifetime profit, then culling heifers before the end of two lactations means just breaking even. A couple of months longer stay before the end of the 2nd lactation is really no big thing. Especially if the cow is below average for productivity.

When considering longevity how “long” is long enough?

What is Ideal Longevity?

Let’s start with what it is not. On a highly bred, fed and managed farm, averaging 25,000 lbs and 13.0 month calving interval, longevity is not a cow that stays around for five lactation yielding 20,000 lbs and calving every 14 months. She has two problems – her volume of output is below average and she takes a month longer off work than her contemporaries. In short she is a free-loader.

Each of us will have our own definition of longevity. Years back for many breeders longevity was the cow that won the county show, produced okay and from which daughters could be sold. For other breeders it is the cow that causes no problem, conceives on 1st or 2nd service and produces at least 10% above her contemporaries.  For today’s profit oriented breeders it is the cow that produces 200,000 lbs (90,909 kgs) in 8-9 lactations, that calves back within 13 months. It is the cow that, after calving quickly and smoothly, moves into lactation, does not require vet visits, maintains a low SCS as she ages and operates without problems within the herd’s housing and milk systems. Now that is longevity that is measurable and profitable!

Breeding for the Ideal

We can all see what we like when we look at the twelve year old cow but breeding is not a retrospective matter. Breeding is about creating the future. Idealizing the past is not breeding. Breeding is creating that heifer calf that arrives healthy without causing momma any problems, is able to resist illness and then calves before 24 months of age, is functionally correct and can cost effectively produce above her contemporaries and stays for many lactations.

Achieving ideal longevity takes more than genetics. Management plays a major role. When breeders get both genetics and management on longevity right they are able to have low herd turn-over (25%), save considerable dollars by raising fewer heifers (every heifer not raised saves $2200), and less expense for drugs, insemination, labor, feed, ..etc.

Current Tools Available

Two overall indexes currently published are PL (USA) and HL (Canada). Many other supporting indexes assist in interpreting PL and HL. Those include: SCS, DPR/DF, Udder Depth, Feet, Rear Legs Rear View and Maternal Calving Ease.  Of course yields of fat and protein (Link – Is Too Much Water Milking Your Profits) are important however a few more pounds of fat and protein in a lactation can in no way compare to getting that fifth, sixth and seventh lactation from a cow. Lactations where yield and profit are at their peak. Total merit indexes, like NM$, TPI™ and LPI, do factor in longevity but if breeders have genetically overlooked length of herd life, by placing their focus on show type or production, then these indexes will under estimate the emphasis that should be placed on longevity.

Future Tools Needed

What our current PL and HL indexes fail to do is to place emphasis of getting cows that make it to those fifth, sixth and seventh lactations. Adding a couple more months to cows that stay for 2 to 3 lactations is not what breeders need. They need some way of knowing which bulls leave daughters that profitably make it to those later lactations. Hopefully our genetic evaluation researchers will study some accurate way to identify bulls that produce long lived productive cows.

Let’s Talk Bulls

In breeding it always comes down to which bulls to use. Should I use Atwood or Bookem or should I use Windbrook or Fever?

Atwood, a current popular bull of show type, has  PL of –0.5 while Bookem, a newly daughter proven bull, has a PL of 5.7. Bookem’s stay in the herd over six months longer. How does Bookem do that? Well it is by having higher DPR, superior calving ease and maternal calving ease, lower stillbirths and higher production.  If show winnings are not important to you then Bookem should be your choice.

Both Windbrook (+15) and Fever (+16) sire superior conformation, yet Fever has a HL of 116 compared to Windbrook’s HL of 103.  Fever’s significant superiority in SCS, DF, milking speed and daughter calving ability give him the distinct advantage. DCA is often not used by breeders but Fever at 111 is in the top 2% of the breed for his daughters to calve without difficulty.

So in breeding for longevity breeders must dig deeper and find out all the facts. Bulls that have a PL over 5.5 or a HL over 110 are unlikely to produce daughters that have problems for somatic cell count, daughter fertility, milking speed, maternal calving ease, depth of udder or mobility.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Longevity is a lot easier to describe than it is to achieve. What are our choices? We could sit and anticipate a ‘genomic-like’ breakthrough in this area of dairy breeding and management. That would be easy. But that way we are losing dollars and productive animals every day. Or we can act to immediately incorporate strategies that keep our animals, trouble free, healthy and producing longer. When it comes to longevity proactive means profitable.

The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


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

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Keep Your Mind Open But Not Your Cows

For generations dairy cattle breeders have had reasons to explain why their cows did not quickly conceive or why the show cows needed to stay open and then calve at a particular time of the year in order to look their best for the show season. Well those are not reasons. They are excuses. We buy equipment, use drug therapy, manage groups, ask the vets to perform miracles and yes even lose sleep in attempts to raise our herd’s conception and pregnancy rates and lower our day’s open and extra days in the dry pen. But then we tell ourselves and fellow breeders that at only 5% heritability there is nothing we can do about genetically improving fertility in our dairy cattle.

If it was anything else, like a broken tractor, we’d go about getting it repaired even though it was a costly undertaking. Enhancing the genetics of dairy cattle fertility however falls into that ineffective area where –  we keep doing things the same old way but expect different results. The truth is we must do things differently. Until we revamp the genetics of the dairy cows, we can not expect to reduce the costs and lost revenue associated with infertility.

What Oman Has Shown Us

Mention the name Oman to a Holstein breeder and you can expect a reaction.  He is categorized as either the best sire to come along in years or he has ruined the breed.  This icon does not inspire fence sitters. On the like side both Don Bennick (Read More – North Florida Holsteins: Aggressive, Progressive and Profitable!) and Chris Buchner (who I recently visited with at Elmwold Farms) extol Oman’s virtues. Don’s favourite cow is an Oman daughter.  Chris put it this way – “We just loved our Omans. Sure they would not win a show but the Omans did it for us as we are in the business of efficient profitable production measured by maximizing fat and protein in the tank per cow per day of course at reasonable input costs’.  This raises the question “Does function follow form or does form follow function?”.  For Don and Chris, it is form that follows function

Oman did many things right when it comes to fertility. Calves are born easily, able to be productive cows before two years of age, able to breed back quickly while yielding a high volume of solids and able to do it year after year. And they do it in any environment. Oman showed us that calving ease, reproduction and longevity can all fit into a package and that cows do not have to be tall, dairy, flat boned or angular. In fact what Oman did was to show that there are genetic differences between sires when it comes to female fertility and it stimulated breeders to measure all traits independently instead of trying to define the model perfect cow.  One size does not fit all.

Female Fertility

Both phenotypic and genetic trends for female fertility have spiralled downwards as production increased in the past forty years. We put our focus on milk production and picture perfect conformation, using what is often called a combined production and type index. But the amount and quality of data captured and stored relating to female reproduction has been sadly lacking. For the milking herd that situation has been reversed in the past half decade due in part to the great expansion in herd management software programs with the data uploaded to central data bases where genetic analysis and evaluations are performed. But the same can not be said for heifer information.  Any data that does exist for heifers remains on farm so, except in education or research herds, we can not correlate, on a population basis, the heifer stage of development with lifetime performance.

Where once we relied on what we called “cow sense” we now have genetic evaluations, for cows and bulls, for the following traits that correlate well with female fertility:

Calving Ease
For years breeders felt that calves had to be large at birth to develop into large framed cows. Today commercially oriented breeders want live calves that are born unassisted and cows, especially first calvers, that deliver a live calf without assistance. Two genetic indexes are published – one for the birth of the calf (Calving Ease / Calving Ability) and one for the mother’s ability to deliver ( Maternal Calving Ease / Daughter Calving Ability). Sires rated above 7 in the USA or below approximately 97 in Canada for either calving ease index should be avoided unless breeders are prepared to attend and assist the birth. The cost of a difficult calving is significant when you consider the risk of death of calf and mother, vet and drug costs, an anestrous period, a longer time in the dry pen and less yield for both the lactation and lifetime.

Pregnancy Rate – No pregnancy, no calf, no lactation!
That says it all. Getting a pregnancy when a cow is lactating at a high level is no mean feat but is the reality of dairy cattle farming. Sires that rate below +1.0 for Daughter Pregnancy Rate (USA) and 105 for Daughter Fertility (Canada) will not improve the genetic merit of a herd for pregnancy rate.  Correlated positively with sire ratings for Daughter Fertility in Canada is Body Condition Score (BCS). Correlated negatively is Dairy Form (USA) and Angularity (Canada). Bulls that have a rating above 105 for BCS have daughters that get pregnant whereas bulls above average for Dairy Form and Angularity are more difficult to get in calf. Using all these indexes assists breeders to get the overall picture so wise decisions can be made when selecting sires to use.

Length of Life
Some breeders prefer to select only for Productive Life (USA) or Herd Life (Canada) instead of selecting for the fertility traits. Additional factors beyond fertility go into calculating the length of herd life including SCS and udder depth. Therefore selecting for longevity may not get the boost in female fertility a breeder may be looking for. Again, as with the other indexes sires will need to have high ratings for Productive Life (over +3) and Herd Life (over 105) to positively impact the genetic merit of a herd.

Genomic evaluations
have been a major step forward in ranking bulls for female fertility traits.  Accuracies of genomic indexes are more than double what they were with Parent Averages alone. The general recommendations on using genomic sires applies when addressing daughter fertility – use many sires not just one or two.

So what is improved female fertility worth?

A definitive answer may not be available, but considering that for the average cow it starts when she is bred as a heifer and finishes when she has completed about three lactations. This, on average, covers about 54 months, and the total can mount up to a considerable amount from loss of revenue and added expense. If improving the genetics for female fertility in a herd could give you an added profit in a cow’s lifetime equivalent to the value of milk for half a lactation would it be worth putting more selection pressure of female fertility? I think it would.

Male Fertility

A.I organizations go to considerable effort to package the semen from each sire so the optimum conception rates can be achieved from that bull. High semen fertility is not a genetic measurement for male fertility but it has a very positive effect on herd profit. Dr Bob Welper of Alta Genetics estimates that in a 500 cow herd using somewhat below average bulls for Sire Conception Rate (SCR) compared to using bulls that are above average for SCR costs the breeder a minimum of $35,000 per year. Having six more pregnancies every twenty-one days, higher herd average production, less semen cost, less labor required and more calves in a year are where the added profits come from.

Perhaps a breeder’s semen tank should have a warning label that reads – “Warning- Semen put in this tank must be above average for conception rate and able to produce fertile female offspring”.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Female fertility can no longer be ignored when selecting sires to use or cows that are to be the mothers of heifer calves. Many tools exist that assist with female reproduction on a farm however the use of genetically inferior animals for female fertility as the parents of the next generation is costing much more than we care to admit. In time there will no doubt be additional female genetic fertility index. The time to start using the current indexes is now. Big dividends await breeders who make the effort to use the current genetic tools for female fertility.

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The Truth About Type and Longevity

For years there has been  debate about whether show type is relevant to the commercial producer.  But more recently the deeper question is coming up that asks  if type itself in any form matters anymore.

This issue was further highlighted by our extremely popular interview with Don Bennink (Read more: North Florida Holsteins: Aggressive, Progressive and Profitable!!) where he made the following comments:

“Don feels that the current philosophy of the Holstein Association is very contrary to (profitability).”  He gives three main targets that he seeks out as profitable.  “High production with health traits and feed efficiency are our bywords.  The present classification and type evaluation system are 180 degrees away from cattle that pay the bills.  Bigger, taller, sharper doesn’t cut it.  The latest correlation of final type score with stature is .77.  Worse yet, the correlation of udder composite with stature is .59.  That means if you breed 100% for udder composite, you will increase stature at more than half the rate that you would if you bred for stature alone.”  There is only one conclusion for this dairy farmer.  “The current 88 and 89 point 2 year olds are dysfunctional for the guy making milk for a living.”

Don also highlights:

“With the current correlation of .59 between udder composite and stature, it is not unusual to see the same udder scored good on a short or medium sized heifer that is very good on a tall heifer.  No study including the ones done by Holstein show any real correlation of foot and leg composite with foot health or herd life.  Bulls with +3.00 and +4.00 type proofs have daughters that are too big and too sharp for commercial dairymen.  For this reason gTPI or TPI are essentially ignored in bull or female selection.  Net Merit $ has some value.”

The question really becomes why do we evaluate type?

The ultimate reason for evaluating type is to predict longevity.  In the Canadian LPI formula type is actually called durability.  In the US TPITM formula type elements are used to calculate longevity.  But then I ask why are we creating a composite index of other elements to help predict longevity when we actually have the data in Herd Life (CDN) and Productive Life (US)?  This makes me ask  what is the more accurate  index? An index we have created based on evaluation of many subjective parts? Or is it more accurate when derived from the actual herd data on  longevity? That data would  show exactly how long a bull’s daughters last in a herd.

When you look at the current top twenty Productive Life sires over 95% reliability in the US, you notice that only 2 sires have a PTAT over 2 points (DE-SU OBSERVER and SILDAHL JETT AIR) and as a group they average 0.65 for PTAT.  Even more alarming is that as a group they average 0.86 for UDC and 1.02 for F&L composite, two traits that are typically key in predicting longevity.   On the other hand, relating directly to longevity they all have relatively high net merit scores,  low somatic cell scores and, for the most part, are calving ease sires.   Why the disconnect?

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

The Canadian story is not that much different.  When you look at the top 35 sires with CDN proofs, only 3 sires (CRACKHOLM FEVER, TRAMILDA-N ESCALADE and SILDAHL JETT AIR-ET) are over 10 for Conformation and all have relatively low SCS. In fact NORZ-HILL FORM WIZARD who is tied for the top proven Herd Life sire in Canada is -3 for conformation, -4 for feet and legs and -10 for dairy strength.  And as a group the sires average only +3 for conformation, +4 for Mammary System, +3 for Feet and Legs and -2 for dairy strength.

CRACKHOLM FEVER279762015131371172.63
NORZ-HILL FORM WIZARD-ET1914521-30-4-101172.57
TRAMILDA-N ESCALADE-ET25956931371261152.69
DUDOC BACCULUM1630-52709-1-101152.95
SILDAHL JETT AIR-ET2824129212101171142.64
BADGER-BLUFF FANNY FREDDIE29851717585-51132.74
KEYSTONE POTTER1933110014-1-41132.91
BOSS IRON ET1925-72066141132.74
RUBIS LOTUS1908-51499141132.79
JOHNIE FRANCIS1754-561-2-1-3-41132.59
BARKA FETICHE1009-1793-14-11-14-131132.47
GEN-I-BEQ ALTABUZZER2748141764801122.82
HEATHERSTONE-V MCGUIRE-ET25701417911851122.67
MICHERET INFRAROUGE25217107811-11122.66
DUDOC RADIUS2518134442601122.67
RALMA CARRIBEAN-ET250175663731122.74
SANDY-VALLEY DEPUTY-ET2424801565-31122.37
HASS-ACRES BRAVEHEART222563957411122.68
KED OUTSIDE JEEVES-ET2216580443-21122.99
SHAWNEE ALTASTRATOS-ET22091867105-41122.51
DESLACS DUSTER21341598811-21122.83
MARKWELL DUCKETT-ET2094117378-91122.71
KLASSIC BILLBOARD20336181-10-21122.68
WHITTAIL-VALLEY COOPER-ET2015461234-71122.61
BONACCUEIL LORD195469603-2-41122.64
FLEURY LOTION18839630-13-61123.11
GRASSHILL CAREW1824-12-4-1-3-41122.68
CEDARWAL TAIT1816-985040-61122.55
CANCO ARMAGEDDON1664254-8-10-7-31122.73
JACOBS EMAIL1642-1179-6-2-4-121122.65
HILLCROFT MAJESTIC1396-95242221122.61
CLAYNOOK GARNET1319-431-5-5-4-31122.89
HENKESEEN NIGHTSTORM1238-1215-2-13-41122.78

I have always been a big proponent for type classification (Read more: Is Type Classification Still Important? and Tom Byers: “That’s Classified!”).  My father ran the Canadian system for many years.  But I now find myself asking “Are we missing the mark?”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

For years I have heard commercial producers tell me that they don’t care as much about type and that it’s the seed stock breeders that are putting all the emphasis on type.  The thing is, as Don points out, “the function of a seed stock producer is to produce the animal that is the most profitable for the commercial dairyman.”   If that is the  case are we as seed stock producers missing the mark by emphasizing type sires?  In today’s free agent bull market, it is more profitable to have a sire that sells well in the commercial market than just in the pedigree market.   Should we work to have the correlation between PTAT /Conformation with Herd Life/Productive Life as high as possible, as that is the whole point in evaluating type traits?


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