Thursday, May 13, 2021

Let’s compare dairy breeds (familiar and unfamiliar)


There is a lot of ongoing and inconclusive discussion about cow SIZE and STATURE.    In the end, once you get past the extremes, cattle are more alike in size and scale than different, especially after a couple generations of crossbreeding.         Consider these averages:

Holsteins    (North American type)                                35,000,000 cows worldwide
The average “Holstein” type Black and White cow matures at 650 to 800 kg (1430 to 1760 lbs).
They are the breed that has been selected to produce the most milk volume.      A few polled.
In terms of milk components, they average 3.7% butterfat and 3.1% protein.    Average A2A2.

More distributed around the world outside of the USA are the traditional Dutch and British type Friesian (eg, the Kiwi Holstein-Friesian), stockier, less milk, more components       

Jerseys        (Channel islands, UK)                                                                   2,000,000
The average Jersey matures at 400 to 500 kg (880 to 1100 lbs) at a year earlier than Holsteins.
Segregated on the Island of Jersey, they were selected for the most nutrient dense milk.
They are also a breed with high BB Kappa Casein and above average A2A2 Casein.
In terms of milk components, they average 4.8% butterfat and 3.9% protein.        Some polled.

The two most important breeds in North America, but USA dairymen have done a lot of crossbreeding, such that the number of cross cows exceeds Jerseys.

Brown Swiss      (Switzerland, alpine cantons)                                            8,000,000
The second largest dairy breed in the world, relatively rare in the USA where they stand third.
The average Brown Swiss matures at a later age, 590 to 640 kg (1300 to 1400 lbs).
Milk components 4.0% butterfat and 3.5% protein, a good proportion for premium cheeses.
Well-adapted for both high altitude grazing and subtropical humidity due to hide/hair traits.

                          Breeds that have been promoted for crossbreeding:

Swedish Red    (Skandinavia) (native red breeds crossed with Ayrshire)  350,000
The average SRB matures around 550 kg (1200 lbs).
A “composite” under an indexing system favoring health and fertility traits in confinement.
In terms of milk components, they average 4.3% butterfat and 3.4% protein.    Shy for A2A2.

Montbeliarde    (Southern France)                                                                   400,000
The average Montbeliarde matures at 600 to 700 kg (1325 to 1540 lbs).
They were developed by combining two local breeds with the dual-purpose Swiss Simmental.
In terms of milk components, they average 3.9% butterfat and 3.45% protein.   Average A2A2.

Normande        (Northern France)                                                                  2,000,000
The average Normande matures at 675 to 800 kg (1500 to 1760 lbs).
They are descended from three historic red breeds in Brittany, Anjou and Normandy.
In terms of milk components, they average 4.4% butterfat and 3.6% protein.
They have a BB Kappa Casein frequency competitive with Jerseys, so good cheese yields.

Fleckveih         (Germany, Austria, Italy)                                                        3,500,000
The average Fleckveih matures at 700 to 800 kg (1540 to 1760 lbs).
Historically maintained as dual purpose, influenced by Red Friesian and Swiss Simmental.
In terms of components, they average 4.1% butterfat and 3.5% protein.    Good A2A2.
Flat peak milk, more persistent lactation curves and easier fertility in summer heat.


While the Montbeliarde, Normande and Fleckveih all equal Holsteins in size (weight) they are less tall in stature, more wide and sturdy in body, and carry healthier body condition.   

               Heritage breeds utilized for the goal of smaller frame size

Dutch Belted (=Lakenvelder)      (Netherlands)                                               10,000
The average Lakenvelder matures at 350 to 450 kg (775 to 1000 lbs)
A more traditional grass-based lactation curve (start drying up after confirmed pregnant)
Milk components in the same range as Holsteins.    Shy for A2A2.     Low Somatic Cell.

Milking Shorthorn     (England)   (dual-purpose type Shorthorn)                25,000
The average Milking-type Shorthorn matures at 625 to 680 kg (1375 to 1500 lbs).
A more traditional grass-based lactation curve (start drying up after confirmed pregnant).
Milk components 3.8% butterfat and 3.3% protein.    Shy for A2A2.    Lower somatic cell.
Noted for black hooves, easier fertility in summer heat.    A high percentage are polled.

Guernsey      (Channel islands)                                                                           50,000
The average Guernsey matures at 475 to 600 kg (1050 to 1300 lbs).
Golden colored milk and butter from high Beta Carotene excretion.
Milk components average 4.6% butterfat and 3.7% protein.   A breed rebounding in numbers.

Ayrshire         (Scotland, northern England)                                                    300,000
The average Ayrshire matures at 450 to 625 kgs (1000 to 1375 lbs).
Noted for hardiness in harsh climates and capable of exceptional longevity.
Milk components average 4.4% butterfat and 3.3% protein.   Naturally homogenized milk.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Benefits of rotational grazing by Peter Gaul, consultant


Alternating grazing with resting actually allows more forage to grow


Peter was a New Zealand dairyman who emigrated to Missouri ten years ago and set up what is now a successful combination dairy and beef grass farm under USA conditions (not all Kiwi’s made that transition successfully… ).

He now acts as a consultant and is a frequent presenter at Byron Seed meetings (both to customers and to Byron’s cadre of Dealers).

His thoughts are in the 2020 Beef Forage Guide volume one, which we have available to you if you would like a copy.

His thoughts:

·      Better utilization of the pasture and forage

·      More even soil fertility, especially from strip grazing

·      Increased resistance to drought (keep effective cover on and roots in soil)

·      More economical use of forage  (your animals do all the harvesting)

·      Better control of undesirable plants

·      Ability to spot problems earlier

·      Quieter animals more used to being moved

·      Lower costs and improved margins

·      Ability to allocate forages to animals based on nutrient quality


It is proven that if you rotate pastures and do not overgraze, you will grow and harvest 50% more feed than if you just “pasture” everything fenced all season.    Stands will be more persistent, animals harvest more in optimal vegetative stages for better milking and body condition, while calves grow.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

What happens at and after conception

 From the July/August 2020 Beef Newsletter

You found a cow in heat.    You catch her in your chute and breed her.    Will this bring a calf in nine months and a few days?    Here is the process.

At the time we breed the cow, toward the end of standing heat, ovulation has yet to occur.   It is triggered by the stimulation of the clitoris (in the fatty tissue at the bottom of the vulva) that sends a signal to the pituitary “release lutenizing hormone to rupture the follicle to release the ovum [egg]”.    In OvSynch protocols, a “Fertagyl” injection after breeding is used to do this, but the clitoral stimulation is clearly cheaper…  and preferable if you are trying to stay “natural”.

Thus, six to twelve hours after you introduced semen, the sperm cells waiting in the fallopian tube at the end of the uterine horn meet the ovum released from the ovary and the sperm cells begin to rub their acrosomal caps against the enzyme shell of the ovum, until one of them finds penetration inside and the genetic material (half from sire, half from dam) will fuse into a new, unique genotype.    

Over the next week, as this fertilized ovum goes through cell division, it migrates down the path of the fallopian tube to the uterine horn, which has a sticky lining from the recent estrus [heat].   If it finds a place to “stick”, an initial attachment forms.    A membrane begins to form around the embryo, and fills with protective fluids.   Over the next five weeks, the embryo within its sac transitions to a fetus and the fetal attachments (cotyledons and caruncles) become the pathway for nutrition to enter and waste to leave the fetus.

The cow’s body gradually discerns that a pregnancy is in progress, which suspends the estrogen production by the ovarian follicles, and progesterone levels increase to maintain bodily stasis.   Between 60 and 90 days, the reproductive tract begins to slide down into the body/flank cavity as the weight of fetus and fluids increases.

In the last trimester of pregnancy, the now fully formed fetus focuses on growth, which is why nutrition is so critical to a healthy, normal size calf (too much starch energy will explode the calf size at the expense of calving ease when fed in the third trimester).   High quality hay or pasture is best, as fiber energy meets the nutrient needs without excess weight gain.

In the last two weeks prior to parturition (calving) the calf, to this point suspended upside down inside the uterus, will “turn” to get into a birthing position—head and forelegs forward.   Once it begins, the first thing you will see is the udder forming up; next you may see the amber-color cervical plug  be passed; then you will see the lateral pelvic muscles relax.     From the onset of contractions, it can take five to ten hours before the cervix dilates enough for a safe delivery.  

Lost pregnancies occur

At any stage of the above, things can go wrong.   None are the fault of your insemination.


The  miracle  of  mammalian  pregnancy


It begins with a correct insemination procedure that deposits the germ plasm in the correct location (the body of the uterus, between cervix and the division of uterine horns).     From that moment forward, it is your cow’s hormone systems, health status, and nutritional intake that results in a live calf nine months later.

As our breeding seasons come to a close, our statistics of success depend upon the key elements above, and inside you will find a recap of the process as a cow does all the nurturing work of nature.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Back in History

 From the July/August 2020 Beef Newsletter

It was 2004, and Canada was still recovering from the devastation that the “Mad Cow Disease” (BSE) had inflicted on their beef cattle industry (as well as dairy heifer exports).

Ranchers around Brandon, Manitoba organized an “All Breeds Taste of Beef” competition which drew 700 people.     Cattlemen with a dozen different breeds contributed steaks to the event to be cooked on wood-fired grills, and a panel of “beef expert” judges, alongside the public visitors were each invited to “judge” the flavor of the steaks, breed by breed.

When the dust settled, it judges picked GELBVEIH as the “tastiest” beef.    Public visitors picked LIMOUSIN .     A reporter from a cattle magazine thought CHAROLAIS ranked right up there too.
(Unlike the USA, these larger-frame French and German origin cattle are favored in Canada.)   In the case of ANGUS, which dominates 70% of cattle breeding in the USA, they were awarded the “Best marketing and sportsmanship” award --  being an “also ran” to the Canadian palette.

Where are we with “taste testing” today?

This is an approach to beef promotion we do not seem to be utilizing currently, and it may be the optimal time, with commodity agricultural marketing in total disarray alongside a C-virus dislocated economy that has demonstrated the weakness of having a few large kill floors.

David Sovis, new to beef marketing in our Ovid area, has been inundated since he started package processing and direct selling from a refrigerated trailer.   Currently he is selling four to six processed steers per month, and is developing a Red Poll herd to capture the advantages many “heritage” breeds have to offer.   Many of you have probably had visitors driving in wishing to buy food direct from a local farmer, as consumers lost confidence in chain stores to maintain fresh supplies.     This can continue after a new “normal” is restored, as it is in line with trends that already existed before pandemic disruption.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

How to optimize your gains from genetic selection


CONCEPTIONS            Dairy route newsletter                       June-July 2020


The late Paul Harvey would say to this, “now for the REST of the story.”     All you hear in print and from semen salesmen is “genetic value [which implies high rank on a trait index].    This is the visible half of the story, because the money it has generated purebred breeders and AI bull studs has driven the industry’s selection focus for decades.

When you breed each cow, you want to see improvement from matings in future replacements.    Just staying “the same” means less future income to meet inflation in our future expenses.   The biggest reason for herd expansion in each generation is the need to increase income per farm if the net profit per cow in real spending power has not increased.    

The genetic evaluations and especially the Genomic data is NOT a calculation of what changed from one generation to the next (“intergenerational change”) but is a history of how the known progeny set compared to same generation “contemporaries” (same age herdmates) which they call “intragenerational deviation”.    Back in the 1960s, geneticists could not figure out how to compare daughters to dams in an era when herd averages were rising from newer equipment and better feeding, so they quit trying.   Since then the main factor added has been pedigree (“parent average”) which has compounded over generations to where “sire stack” now drives the Genomic bus (at 40% of the published values).

What is the true influence of “pedigree” on animal performance?

Last I checked, a pedigree starts with a sire and a dam (the bull you use on the cow you have).    ALL genes contributing to the resulting calf come only from those two mates.     Extending that pedigree out to grandparents, great-grandparents, et al may be more intellectual exercise than biologically determinant, but within Genomics, the extended “sire stack” is all weighted in to the calculated result.     The individual differences of the cow side of that ancestry are ignored.   Yet they have contributed 50% of the total genes passing down to your new heifers.    A strong maternal line (either in cows or bulls) can definitely change the result from the predictions of a sire stack, and we work with that variation in our herds every day – until we go to breed them.

Is there any usable system for managing “intergenerational change” in our favor?

I KNOW you get tired of me talking about the benefits of the “aAa” Breeding Guide, but this is exactly what the system does for you – (1) identifies the qualities your cows possess that will influence 50% of each mating you make; (2) identifies the qualities of bulls who will match up to her in a complementary way, so that (3) you harvest genetic potential that is only a prediction of average historical results in the data which genetic evaluation present you.

Simply put, “aAa” fills a void that genetic indexes were not designed to do – predict results from any individual mating.    This is why scientists call it “population genetics” and focus on progeny from bulls, rather than cows  ( “A cow doesn’t produce enough data for statistical accuracy”… )

What is the chief gain of using “aAa” breeding guide alongside sire selection concepts?

Genomics and genetic evaluation give “values” that depend on cows achieving “normal” length Productive Life.    The majority of GPTA- PL values are imputed from theoretical models because the bulls being marketed are not old enough to have tested progeny (or if they have any, their lives are still in progress, not completed for accurate measurement).     So again, historical data, pedigree sires, and a lot of other biased assumptions go into those calculations that may not fit your herd or the cow environment you have developed.

Users of “aAa” claim many benefits, but one of the most commonly mentioned is “aAa cows just last longer” [have less physical injury, less trouble calving, breed back well, stay healthy].     Zoetis has put out a lot of recent data to show that cows who remain functional at maturity produce 30% more milk than first-calf heifers – that is a benefit greater than even the highest GPTA Milk rated sires can produce.      You can benefit financially from a more mature herd.     

Looking at one of the first herds I ever analyzed, who still uses aAa, started with 80 cows at a 16,000 pound 3.2% bf herd average (ECM 14,000 pounds) 25 years ago.    Today there are 350 cows at a 25,000 pound 4.0% bf herd average [ECM 28,000 pounds] and a 13.5 month calving interval.    They had a cow reach 234,000 pounds lifetime from a first-generation aAa mating!     In 25 years they only ever bought 12 heifers and 1 cow when flirting with going registered … so this performance gain and expansion has all come from homebred natural increase.  

What proof can you offer that any of what you say here is true?

Toward the end of his life, Mr Weeks (founder of “aAa”) obtained data from Holstein USA to see how his concepts affected the results of dominant population genetics theories.    Looking at every Holstein heifer registered born in 1980 (nearly 250,000) they found 70% of these had production records that could be compared to their dams also on test.    On the average, these Holsteins of 1980 represented 41% “aAa use” (ie, how compatible on “aAa” was the sire vs the maternal grandsire?).     Sire selection preferences in the herds only using indexes were clearly the reason for only a 40% “match” (the industry loves breeding “likes to likes” which is where inbreeding depression starts).      

1980 cows that represented an 80% aAa match averaged 2500 pounds MORE than Momma did per lactation.  ( An 80% “percent use” average on aAa is the goal we use in herds that analyze. )

1980 cows that represented a 20% match averaged 4000 pounds LESS than Momma did in her lactations.     Most such cows had much fewer reported lactations than those at 80% match, and who her sire was (ie, how famous, how highly ranked) was no help to changing this data.

This simply demonstrates that making a complementary mating is as essential as using bulls who have genetic value according to your expected economic opportunities and production management system in place.     The “mating” side of the equation brings forward the prior adaptability of your cows to your environment.   The “genetic selection” side requires you to find bulls with the traits that can prepare for the financial value of your production.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

To cut or not to cut … is that the question?


CONCEPTIONS            Dairy route newsletter                       June-July 2020

First cutting hay is well in progress as we “speak”: you may already be done when you read this.   Weather change has made it hard to live up to Grandpa’s rule “first cutting needs to be done by Memorial Day” (ie, the end of May).     Grandpa’s reason for this was his preference for alfalfa + orchardgrass mixed hay.    The push for clear alfalfa seedings changed our rules to “once 10% of alfalfa plants show buds, it”s time to cut”, a time more affected by spring temperatures.

Now that those seeking optimum balance between nutritional quality, tonnage and seeding life have returned to mixed hay/ haylage plantings (18# alfalfa, 2# red clover, 10# grass) we get that same question again.    This seems complicated by the seeming differences between varieties of alfalfa as to how intensely you can manage cuttings (there are 28 day varieties and 35 day also).

The overriding rule, however, is to cut according to the stage of the grass.     The perennial type of grasses are all “cold season” (ie, grow best spring and fall, go dormant in summer heat) so as to maintain living root systems in the winter.     Once grasses have headed out (“gone to seed”) any regrowth in that season is inhibited.    You lose the window to optimize their feed value and you lose tonnage over the full harvest season.   

Will it hurt alfalfa to be cut pre-bud?     As this primarily occurs in first cutting, NO – you still will have enough moisture in the late spring soil (and cooler evenings) for it to recover.    In the heat of the summer, with the grass going dormant, you see more alfalfa and less grass and cutting by the alfalfa maturity is just fine.    Entering the fall, where you have now set yourself up for one more cutting (than you would have had delaying for the alfalfa in the spring), you will again see the grass came back and the thatch you leave at the end of the season provides the same cover benefits to next year as you get when planting cover crops after fall harvesting row crops.

Interseeding into thinner or winter kill spots in alfalfa stands

There are many options. Keep in mind, if you only want a crop this year, sudangrass (BMR-6) or sorghum-sudan (BMR-6) hybrid cross offer the best feed value, except seed supply is short.    A second option is Hybrid Millet (Prime 360) and seed supply is in better shape this season.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Is this problem “management” or “genetics” ?


CONCEPTIONS  Beef cow-calf newsletter                         May-June 2020

While we are generally familiar with lethal gene recessives (eg, the THC and PHAC conditions that float through Shorthorn and Maine-Anjou sires) we are less aware of how to tell when we are dealing with some other genetic weakness.    First, in the case of lethal recessives, calves are either aborted early, are born deformed, or stillborn—and you can see the deformity.     When this happens, you know the sire you used AND your cow you bred are both “carriers”, which warns you on any future breedings to avoid use of carrier bulls on carrier cows.    In the case of sales opportunity for breeding stock, it may even be prudent to consider use “terminal cross” matings on such cows, producing only steers or slaughter heifers.

However, there are lots of other issues where the line is harder to see between a “management” issue you can fix, or a “genetic “ issue that requires compensatory mating to prevent.    How do you tell?     Except with really small herds, the secret is to ask these questions:

“Do all or the majority of cows express this problem?”    If you say YES then you face a management problem; if you say NO then you are seeing a genetic issue.

Management of cow fertility

The quality of fertility in your herd has three focuses:   (1)   genetics—did I select breeding stock from easy breeding cow lines and masculine sire lines?    (2)   herd health—did cows clean quickly and thoroughly after calving, is my vaccination up to date to reduce respiratory interference in the next conception?   (3)   nutrition—do my cows show healthy body condition and strong heats at the time to rebreed?

The latest observer to note the inefficiency of much popular breeding today when it comes to reproduction is Johann Zeitsman (author of “Man, Cattle and Veld”).   In his observation of range cattle in both the Americas and Africa, the test of cow and bull fertility has been rebreeding when on grass, without the “bandaid” of the feedlot grain supplementation.    Even if you do feed grain to promote fast growth on your market and show cattle, it can hide slow fertility character in the momma cows.    Maintaining body condition from high digestibility forages is an indicator of the higher natural fertility cow and seems to give optimal reproduction.

Managing pastures for fertility

“Permanent” (perennial plant varieties) pastures have always been a cost-control input for efficient cow-calf feeding.    The concept developed from England and its culture of developing smaller frame, moderate size breeds on lush pastures, such cattle could breed, calve, nurse a calf to weaning and rebreed without grain.   In the Americas, when the scientists took over, they went to Europe seeking larger frame breeds to get heavier weaning and fed-cattle weights, assuming that it was cost-effective to drylot house and creep feed such cattle for the added gain.    On a “net profit” basis, measuring cattle weight sold per acre utilized, it is hard to see a clear advantage to large frame cattle (except when feed sells at a discount to the cost of raising and harvesting it).    Good, dense grass paddocks feed well.

Whether breeding smaller or larger frame cattle, however, a basis on digestible forages rotated so they can be harvested in their optimal vegetative state helps us maintain competitive growth rates at lower costs, often crossing small-frame cows with good milk to large-frame bulls with good post-weaning rates of gain.    The resulting phenotype from such crosses is often attractive to both club calf and feedlot buyers, representing “hybrid vigor” in the differences between genotypes of cows bred vs bulls used (it is not necessary to crossbreed to get hybrid vigor).

The insemination process

When you only do this once a year, it is easy to be a little rusty at the beginning.   Keep in mind you have these objectives:  (1)  Put daily effort into accurate heat detection, so as to inseminate at the optimal time;  (2)  Thaw and prepare the semen in the correct way, minimizing temperature drops after the gun is loaded;   (3)   Get the breeding gun inside the cow within fifteen minutes after extracting it from your storage tank;   (4)    Pass the AI gun through the cervix just into the uterus, no further, and release the semen (the sperm cells will find their way). 

If you need a copy of the full description, such as I use for breeding training, just call and we will send it.     Here is a drawing of what goes on inside the cow:


The rest of it is up to the cow (and the weather)

Cows can lose embryos any time their body temperatures go too high, so keep the need for water and shade in mind where recently bred cows are eating,

We  are  now  in  the  season    when the cows need to be breeding


A few ideas enclosed to stimulate your thinking and observation as you begin your AI season.     At this point we are still getting shipments from CATTLE VISION every two weeks, so if you need semen to complete your season, call (989) 834- 2661 or tell Gene when you see him on the route recharging your tank.


Mich Livestock Service, Inc         ph (989) 834 2661          For the Best in Bulls”