Whenever I talk with breeders about what sires they are using or how they make their breeding decisions, it quite often seems like they are trying to hit a home run with every mating. However, as professional baseball players have shown us, more often than not, you fly out instead of hitting the home run.
It seems to be that most breeders want to get that perfect calf with every mating they make. The problem is that no one is breeding from the perfect cow or has access to the perfect sire. Yet they seem to think it is possible to produce the perfect calf. Which we know does not even exist in pictures. (Read more: The Perfect Holstein Cow and No Cow Is Perfect – Not Even in Pictures)
When I started looking through some of the mating decisions behind some of the most legendary animals in the history of the Holstein breed, one thing became abundantly clear. Great impact sires and dams are made over generations, not simply after one mating. When I looked at these pedigrees, what I noticed is that the breeders had crafted them over 2 or 3 generations. They used what I like to call “constructor” bulls instead of balanced sires generation after generation. One generation they would use a sire with a significant impact on production and then they would follow that with a sire who offered high type improvement.
Even Peter Heffering, and Ken Travina, owners of the great Hanover Hill Holstein herd, used this strategy extensively. (Read more: Hanover Hill Holsteins: Peter Heffering 1931-2012) In Hanover Hill pedigrees, you will see production sires like Southwind being used and then followed with type sires like Starbuck. They were working at building a pedigree instead of crossing their fingers for a home run.
I am a big Toronto Blue Jays fan. One thing I have noticed over recent years is that, while the Jays are usually near the top of the league in home runs, they are not winning the most games in a season. That is because they are often hitting the home runs when there is no one on base. In the past, they have had a lineup of batters who would either hit a home run or strike out. They were not able to get batters on base and have those sustained run production innings. In order to achieve that and win more games, they need to have more batters who can get on base. Batters who can do certain things well, like bunting, stealing, hitting doubles etc., that make for big innings when an opposition pitcher is struggling.
The same applies for the breeders that I see trying to breed for the home run animal every time. Instead of trying to swing for the fences, they should rather look to improve only a few key aspects of each mating and then come back with the next generation and look to improve the other areas that are needed.
No sire is the perfect sire. No sire can enhance every trait significantly. That is why you cannot hit a home run with every mating. Instead, you need to look at the 2-3 traits that need the greatest improvement and use a sire that improves those traits. Then in the next generation look to improve the next most important 2-3 traits.
The Bullvine Bottom Line
You cannot improve every area with every mating. In order to achieve maximum genetic gain over the long haul, you are far better to look to improve the 2 or 3 key areas with each generation, then build on that. This is what is called constructing a pedigree. It is something some of the greatest breeders in history were masters at and that many modern breeders have forgotten about. Often we get so arrogant about the current status of genetic offerings, we believe that we can try to hit a home run every time, instead of trying to get that bunt single that starts a big rally.