Archive for Type Classification

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


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Mario Perreault – Leading From the Holstein Heart

We have all heard the buzzwords that claim to be the answer to moving the dairy industry forward: cow sense; walk-the-talk; strategic marketer; team player.  There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these descriptions. In fact, Holstein Canada President Mario Perreault embodies all of these, but he goes beyond labels to another level altogether. Mario recognizes that dairy industry growth is not simply the external label that we give Holstein breeders … or even Holstein cattle … it goes much deeper than that.

Holstein Breeders with a Common Goal

Although his experience with cows brought him to this role, it is his passion for the people of dairy breeding that excites this dairy industry leader. “I made a clear statement in my first editorial of the Info Holstein: I will focus on teamwork – with our Board members, with our very qualified staff and with our industry partners. The reason is simple: the more goals we have in common, the more benefits our members will receive.” Mario believes passionately in Canadian Holsteins.


Holstein Canada’s Ambassador Walks the Talk

As is often seen in the dairy industry, passion is the foundation for successful dairy operations. This is certainly the case for the current President of Holstein Canada who is a successful dairy farmer from Quebec (Read more: Vieux Saule Holstein: Rooted in family Values). It has been seven years since Mario was elected to the Board of Holstein Canada. With the support of his wife Linda, he has not only become fluently bi-lingual but he also speaks the language of passionate dairymen everywhere and is an enthusiastic and approachable ambassador for Canadian Holsteins.  This owner operator of Ferme du Vieux Saule in the Lanaudiere region enjoys sharing his personal experience of the potential of the Canadian dairy breeding industry and is always excited to attend shows, visit farms and work with people who share his enthusiasm for Holstein cattle.

Vieux Saule Allen Dragonfly Ex 94 2E
14* NOM. ALL-CANADIAN 4-H JR.1-YR 2003
2 Superior Lactations
Nominated Holstein Canada Cow of the Year 2013

Supporting and Listening to the Next Generation of Holstein Leadership

There are many challenges in attracting the next generation into the dairy business and doing so is high on Mario’s and Holstein Canada’s priority list. “The younger generation is very important to Holstein Canada – after all, they are our future!” He outlines how Holstein Canada is taking action to support that priority. “Our Young Leaders program has been enhanced to support, motivate and train tomorrow’s leaders, in collaboration with our Industry Partners. Our activities range from scholarships, domestic and foreign exchanges (6 young Canadians will represent us the European Breeding School this fall), to a Young Leader program at our annual convention, and supporting youth in our Branches and at the Royal.” Mario and the Holstein Board are always looking for new and creative ways to support the next generation. “We are working on other new things such as a Leadership Convention similar to the Young Dairy Leaders Institute (YDLI) held in the United States.” Holstein Canada is committed to bringing finding new opportunities that build on experience and enthusiasm. “Projects are endless as we get our ideas directly from our youth.” The entire association benefits from that kind of commitment to and connection with the next generation.

Mario and wife Lynda as well as son Jimmy Perreault operate a 200 acre family farm in Saint-Esprit, in the Lanaudière region of Quebec.  Pictured here is son Jimmy as well as his son.

Mario and wife Lynda as well as son Jimmy Perreault operate a 200 acre family farm in Saint-Esprit, in the Lanaudière region of Quebec. Pictured here is son Jimmy as well as Mario’s grandson.

Holstein Canada is Pulling down Barriers and Losing the Labels

Less focus on internal differences and more focus on profitability for the breed.Squabbling is counterproductive agrees President Perreault,who is happy to see changes in how breeders see their peers. “Labels such as ‘commercial’ and ‘breeder’ are not used by Holstein Canada – all producers strive for increased profitability, and the source of income is first and foremost the milk cheque! Each farm is diverse and takes a different road to reach this goal but the goal remains the same!”

Mario Perreault  with his first official signed registration as Holstein Canada President.

Mario Perreault with his first official signed registration as Holstein Canada President.

HOLSTEIN CANADA VISION: Creating a Competitive Advantage Beyond Registration

Mario appreciates that interesting ideas come from many sources, including those who occasionally ruffle feathers.  He embraces the fact that in our common goal is a sustainable industry.  “To this end, Holstein Canada’s services are tools to support increased profitability. We are talking more in terms of economics and added value – for example genotyping heifers is to decide which ones to breed, while classification is an indispensable herd management tool: cows with good conformation last longer, etc.” With characteristic enthusiasm, he looks forward to great things. “Holstein Canada will  soon unveil the results of a study completed by a third party, revealing the financial benefits of our services – expect great things this fall.

Educate the Breeder.  Elevate the Breed. “Registration. Education. Elevation”

President Perreault is committed to making sure that Holstein Canada Members are up to date on advances in the dairy breeding industry. “We know we must better inform and educate our members – it is always the key to success when introducing something new on the market.  We must especially deal with misinformation or misinterpretation.” In particular Mario is gratified regarding the uptake of genomics. “The use of genomics increases each year – we had 20% more genomic tests in the first six months of 2014, as compared to last year.” He reports on steps taken to keep this trend growing. “Holstein Canada has hired Extension and Education staff, to better inform our members on the value of using this new tool in the future. I believe the percentage will gradually climb each year, so my forecast for 2016 would be approximately a 20 – 25 % increase. The more we learn about properly using genomics, the more important this tool will become for all milk producers.” Mario balances his optimism with a definitive statement that genomics is not the only answer to advancing the Holstein breed. “We cannot repeat it enough – Genomics is a tool to be used in conjunction with other important factors: classification and cow families.”

Holstein Canada Classification and Field Service Team

Holstein Canada Classification and Field Service Team

Classification Provides Added Value

Change is the only constant in the dairy industry marketplace.  Holstein Canada has to adapt to new goals of Holstein members and the dairy marketplace. “We have changed our approach in these changing times. People no longer just want to talk about four generations of VG or EX – they want to see the added value of our functional Holstein cow.”  Mario acknowledges that other industry partners are also addressing these changes. “Our AI Partners still support their clients (beyond paying for bull daughter classifications) and some are simply doing it in other ways, such as price discounts.”  He sees an important role for the breed association. “It is up to Holstein Canada to promote the economic value and return on investment of classification – it is a Herd Management tool, first and foremost.” He is proud of ongoing and future plans in this area. “The goal remains the same: to promote a well-balanced Canadian Holstein cow that produces a lot of milk for many years, all while improving its health traits. Our very devoted classification team is doing this every day – and stay tuned this fall for more on this level.”

Holstein Canada Board of Directors (back row, l-r): Robert Chabot (QC); Doug Peart (ON); Gilles Côté (QC), Ron Sleeth (ON); Gerald Schipper (ON); Harry Van Der Linden (Atlantic provinces); Ron Boerchers (SK & MB); and Orville Schmidt (AB). (front row, l-r): John Buckley (ON)- Vice President; Mario Perreault (QC)- President, Richard Bosma (BC); and Elyse Gendron (QC).

Holstein Canada Board of Directors
(back row, l-r): Robert Chabot (QC); Doug Peart (ON); Gilles Côté (QC), Ron Sleeth (ON); Gerald Schipper (ON); Harry Van Der Linden (Atlantic provinces); Ron Boerchers (SK & MB); and Orville Schmidt (AB).
(front row, l-r): John Buckley (ON)- Vice President; Mario Perreault (QC)- President, Richard Bosma (BC); and Elyse Gendron (QC).

The Future of Holstein Cattle Data Capture Changing with the Times

The Canadian dairy cattle improvement industry has a very progressive approach to making animal information universally available. With automated animal data capture increasing at a rapid rate and less third party verification, The Bullvine put forth this idea to the Holstein Canada President. “Do you see it possible that information from automated systems will be used by the Association and made available on the Association website?” Mario responded with characteristic passion regarding the potential in this area. “This is an excellent question!  I also have the opportunity of sitting on the CDN Board, and we have formed a committee to study this issue.  Other partners, as well as a few producers using automated systems, also sit on this committee.” Mario sums up that this area of research is a given. “Of course Holstein Canada is there. We must change with the times!”

Holstein Canada's CEO Ann Louise Carson attending the  World Holstein Friesian Federation (WHFF) Council meeting in Berlin, Germany.

Holstein Canada’s CEO Ann Louise Carson attending the World Holstein Friesian Federation (WHFF) Council meeting in Berlin, Germany.

Collaboration -At Home and Abroad – Expands the Holstein Marketplace

When it comes to marketing Canadian Holsteins Mario is especially enthusiastic. “This comes back to my strong feelings about teamwork! Yes, we want to help our member’s market Canadian genetics, and our way of helping is to work closely with The Canadian Livestock Genetics Association.  In fact, our CEO sits on the CLGA Board.” He elaborates how working with CLGA is part of an ongoing Holstein Canada strategy. “Our goal is to work with exporters, to contribute in lobbying Government and to promote the quality of our Canadian Holsteins around the world. There are some things a generic and neutral association can do to help international marketing. This will be a priority in the coming years.”  As well, Mario eagerly points out that collaboration within Canada is also a high priority for Holstein Canada. “Another very important issue for me is to put even more emphasis on the work accomplished with Dairy Farmers of Canada in the last couple of years.”  His reasoning is not only based on “protecting our system of supply management” but also goes back once again to a basic commitment to all Holstein members that is best realized through teamwork. “Together we are stronger in promoting Holstein Canada’s profitable tools to all Canadian milk producers.”

The Bullvine Bottom Line

We must never underestimate how the world looks in on our national dairy associations. It is so easy (from the outside) to see where the other national association has cracks, negativity or blind spots.  Getting to know Mario Perreault is a positive experience.  He speaks with pride, enthusiasm and passion about the Canadian dairy industry and especially about Holstein people.

All the best to Holstein Canada President Mario Perreault from the Bullvine and our readers. Congratulations for helping our industry to succeed not only on the balance sheet but from the heart as well. 




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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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Looking to Get Ahead? You Need To Break Out of the Herd Mentality

Today’s dairy cattle breeders live in exciting times. The information and tools available are expanding at lightning fast speed. Traditional methods for improving herds and generating revenue from the sale of breeding stock have gone by the wayside. (Read more: Is There Still Going To Be A Market For Purebred Cattle In 10 Years? and Which Is Your Most Profitable Cow?) The breeding of elite animals rests in fewer hands every year.

What’s In the Future for Breeders

Until five years ago breeders limited the traits they selected for to those for which data was captured by DHI and Type Classification Programs. The future will be different.

  • Cow Efficiency Will Be Key
    With milk producers getting a smaller and smaller portion of the consumers’ dollar spent on milk, breeders need to supply breeding stock that are more efficient. Feed and labor account for about 70% of cost at the farm level. Genetic indexing for feed conversion and labor efficiency hold out great promise as areas where breeding could help. To date capturing feeding and labor data at the farm level is not happening. Some research is underway on feed efficiency. Stay tuned as researchers study these areas. However no longer will longevity be #1. Cows will need to be efficient every day of their productive lives. (Read more: North Florida Holsteins: Aggressive, Progressive and Profitable, 30 Sires that will produce Feed Efficient Cows and Feed Efficiency: The Money Saver)
  • Food Safety Will Be a Must Have
    Higher and higher demands will be put on the quality of milk coming off farms. Even moderate levels of mastitis will not be tolerated. It is very interesting to see that CDN has just announced that, effective December 2013, it will publish an Official Genetic Evaluation for Mastitis Resistance. This report is well worth the review by discerning breeders. Information like the fact that for the best sires 6% of their daughters get mastitis whereas for the worst sires 22% of their daughters get mastitis.  These evaluations will be significantly more accurate that using SCS alone. Now that’s news breeders want to hear. Additionally it is quite exciting to read that in the future CDN plans to publish genetic rankings for other disease resistance traits.
  • Island Mentality Won’t Work
    Breeding dairy cattle will be just like running any sustainable business. You need all the information and you need KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators).  Breeders will need all the details which include the relationship of a trait to all other traits when making breeding decisions.  Think about it. How much more valuable is it to know all of the performance, nutrition, rumination, estrus, body temperature, health, DNA, classification, financial and other management information. Selecting for only a few traits will become a thing of the past. On-farm data capture systems will be much more extensive in even just a few years from now and it will be stored in the cloud.  Are you ready for on-farm testing for fat, protein, CLAs, protein fractions, and hormone levels? That list will grow quickly. Breeders will need 24-7 access to data and information. Data storage systems by breed societies and DHI’s will likely be a thing of the past. (Read more: Why Dairy Farmers Need To Know Their Key Performance Indicators)
  • Get Used to Global
    The world of dairy cattle breeding has gone totally global. The current Interbull system for ranking bulls will be a thing of the past. Consider the fact that Scandinavia has had cow and heifer health data recording for many years now. Think how useful it would have been to use that data to develop genomic indexes for health traits for the world. The best animals in the world will not be limited to a few countries. Can you imagine only implanting sexed female embryos that are genomically tested and in the top 5% globally? (Read more: Who Really Has The Best Dairy Cattle Genetics In The World?)
  • Less Instinct More Facts
    We often hear about the art versus the science of breeding cattle. Well get ready for the art of applying the science. So much will be known about the genetic make-up of our animals that the breeder instinct will be replaced by programs that analyse and give recommendations to breeders.

It has Already Started

Over the past few years, the breeding of dairy cattle has gone viral.  Communication by hard copy is dying quickly. Communities of breeders around the world talk every day without even leaving their office or picking up the phone. (Read more: The Shocking Speed of Social Media and the Dairy Industry) No one owns the patent on improving dairy cattle. It is a shared opportunity taken by those who want to breed improved cattle and generate income from owning the elite. Oocyte recovery will be possible from cows and heifers no matter where they are located.  And new technology and information will be available daily or weekly not every four months as is now the case with genetic evaluation releases.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

Now is the time for more global collaboration. Thinking beyond the present is a must. When it comes to breeding the ideal cow for 2020 or beyond she will need to be more complete than she has ever been before. (Read more: The Perfect Holstein Cow) If you haven’t considered one or more of the above changes you may already be in danger of falling behind.

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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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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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Dairy Cattle Genomics: Have we taken it too far?

When you look at the top 10 GTPI heifers you see that 9 of them are from heifers themselves with only one coming from a scored and milk producing dam.  In addition 9 of them are from one sire (Shamrock), which instead of widening the genetic pool is actually shrinking it.  Looking at the top GLPI list reveals that three out of every four in the top 100 are from un-calved heifers.  While, on paper, cutting the genetic interval makes sense (read The Genomic Advancement Race – The Battle for Genetic Supremacy), long term, have breeders and AI companies started to take it too far?

In the new genomic world the previous gold standard of a proven sire stack and string of VG+ is no longer required.  In any given pedigree you can now find GP cattle (read Is Good Plus Good Enough) or sires that you never have heard of.

Does Classification Even Matter?

While GP-84-2YR used to be the kiss of death for many marketing and genetic programs, genomics has changed the game.  With genomics, we are seeing many GP 83 or 84 cows used as dams that would have never been touched before.  While many will increase in score later in life, others do not, and yet that does not seem to be as big a factor.  Many A.I. companies and breeders are more concerned about their genomic values than that of the actual classification scores.

There could be many reasons why that potential bull mother did not score very good.  It could be management, it could be an accident that happened.  Also, it could be that she is just not that good.  It brings into question the relevance of classification.  While the index system relies on having a large data set in order to map the genomes to the potential performance of each trait, it has me thinking do we need to score cattle anymore or can we just use their genomic values?  Then I snap back to reality and realize that it’s one thing to look good on paper and another to deliver in reality.

Have We Forgotten Sire stack?

At one time, if there was a non -known sire in the pedigree, A.I. would not touch it.  The marketability of that pedigree was next to nothing.  No matter what the classification score was, or what the family was behind that animal, sire stack carried significant weight.  Now I find myself having to do as much homework on the sire of the new top young sires, as I do on the young sires themselves.  That may be because most of them are still young sires themselves.  However, it is also because a young sire that did not turn out can still sometimes be better than a previous Top 10 proven sire.

For example, let’s say the proven sire has a TPI of 2300 at the time of mating and the young sire being used as sire of sons has a TPI of 2900.  By the time the resulting progeny is being sampled the proven sire may have a TPI of 1750, and the young sire that was being used as a sire of sons may have a TPI of 1850.  While that young sire may not be a list topper anymore, he is still higher than the proven sire that could have been used at the time.

The Bullvine Bottom Line

The dairy cattle industry has seen more change in the selection of parents in the past four years than at in any other period in its history.  Genomics has changed the name of the game, and while many breeders have been apprehensive in embracing it, others have taken it and are running full force.  I would not be surprised to see more significance in the future put on Direct Genomic Values (DGV’s) than on the weighted GLPI or GTPI.  With everything that is new, there is a learning curve and, as we discover how to use this tool better, I am sure we will find better ways to apply the information.  However, there is no question that genomics is here to stay and it is greatly changing the rate of genetic gain.

The Dairy Breeders No BS Guide to Genomics


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