Sunday, November 23, 2014

Further thoughts on the evolving science of genomic testing and evaluation

A year ago we introduced this topic with what was known at the time.    Since then, we are seeing varying levels of AI stud adoption, from using G tests only to choose young sires, to assimilating G tested sires right into their main sire lineups as if they were fully “proven”.       We have some observations drawn from recent conversations around the world.

So how have G tested sires fared in New Zealand (where G tested sires hit the market in 2005) ?

The two major AI systems in New Zealand are LIC New Zealand (who breeds 80% of the cows) and CRV Ambreed (who breeds 10% of the cows).     Looking at the top six rated sires for each AI system over five years of progeny produced (from 2001 through 2006 calvings), the following happened:

Overestimation on EBV Protein:    Holstein:   25% for LIC, 11% for CRV.     Jersey:   35% for LIC, 19% for CRV.
Overestimation on BW index:        Holstein:   30% for LIC, 11% for CRV.     Jersey:   20% for LIC,   9% for CRV.

These twelve bulls (each breed) sired a total of 500,000 progeny annually that were tested.   So Rel% for all sires (assigning 75% to the G tests) ended up at 99% Rel (progeny data replacing the G estimates).
These results (consistently overstating the superiority of the sires G tested as at “the top”) have driven the Kiwi’s back to their microscopes and computers to figure out why Genomics failed as a predictor.   One of their conclusions was that higher density SNPs were required… and always, more data…

So what are the latest developments incorporated into the August 2009 predictions here?

An individual cow of interest (who has produced a polled Red & White son) has the following history of Genomic evaluations:     April 2009:  GPTA  $251 Net Merit:      August 2009:  GPTA $453 Net merit!
Over $200 gained in “Net Merit” rank, without any change in her type scores or lactation records.

What changed?    After all, her Genomic SNP (direct measurement of gene enzymes and sequences) would be the same (genes never change from conception to demise).    But this particular cow has a German AI sire—foreign G test results were not included by USDA in April, but were in August.   In other words, although the G test is a “direct” look at the individual genotype, we still are interpreting the results in part, on the parentage of the animals tested.     

Should not the accumulating body of G tests, establishing “marker” genes for each evaluated trait, be the determinant of a Genomic value, rather than a continuing reliance on the simplistic (lower Rel%) Parent Average calculations?    After all, we had already determined “G” tests were 70% Rel on milk and 60% Rel on type, on the first go-rounds (January 2009). 

I posed this question to Dr Curt Van Tassel, of AIPL-USDA, who is deeply involved in the computer estimation of trait values from Genomic testing.    His point gave clarity to why we could see such a change on a cow:   “…we can only predict genetic values accurately for animals that are represented in the data.  What I mean… is that if we have not seen an animal with a genotype like the one we are trying to predict, we don’t have a great ability to predict that genetic value.”    The less common a pedigree, the more estimation falls back on Parent Averages.

This goes a long way toward explaining why we keep seeing “the same” pedigree combinations on those G tested young sires who have the “elite” PTA estimations.     Those pesky genes still do not wear name tags that say, “I am the milk gene…”     Thus USDA researchers are hoping to implement new genotype platforms with higher density (600,000 SNPs compared to the current 50,000 SNPs).

Dr Van Tassell’s  “quotes” come from the online “polled dairy cattle” discussion group within his responses to questions.
What conclusions did Dr Van Tassel offer for the market use of Genomic data ?

“I was asked after a presentation that I gave to the New York all-breed society meeting in January 2009 whether I would use bulls based [entirely] on Genomic testing.     My response (which I stand by here in August) was that if I had spent my life building a herd of cows, that I would look at any technology that had the ability to undermine those efforts with great skepticism.    I think that this technology has great promise, but as of yet, is still largely untested in the true application of predicting response to selection using genomic predictions.”

He earlier answered my query, “that I am absolutely correct that we have not seen any real evidence of the PREDICTIVE power of the Genomic PTA.   Everything up to now has been predicting genetic merit for animals that were selected using quantitative genetic tools that we then re-predicted using SNP data, OR animals that have had genomic predictions early in life that have not been validated by real progeny data.”

The current excitement over Genomics by those scientists involved at AIPL is… “we have recreated [the selection scenario] by using genomic data from historic bulls to predict future genetic merit using data of 5+ years ago, and then looked to see if the predictions were more accurate than the old [pedigree-based] evaluations, and they indeed were!”

What underlying problems plague accuracy in genetic evaluation?

Dr Van Tassel reminded us that based upon DNA samples of heifers given ID, anywhere from 10% to possibly 40% of the progeny lists of sampled sires are misidentified (by sire or dam or both).    Because this has an ongoing potential to cause fluctuation in progeny evaluations, it costs us all in accuracy of the data we attempt to use for genetic selection improvement.

How should we then adapt G tested sires in our breeding programs?

They remain, for practical purposes, “young sires for sampling”.    Using a group rather than a single bull choice;  using added data from their individuality, pedigree and aAa;  avoiding paying too great a premium for an elite G-based ranking level;  all this makes common sense.

Based on this advice from a scientist actively working in Genomics (rather than a magazine writer who needed an upbeat topic for the latest issue) – we offer G tested sires as “super samplers”, and we do not confuse the ranking of progeny-tested sires on our price lists alongside G tested young sires.

A final quote from Dr Curt:  “if this technology does work, then there is a huge opportunity for someone to use it aggressively as an ‘early adopter’.”     So do your homework and buy sires accordingly.

The breeder’s philosophy in the use of sire selection tools

We tend to believe that, every time a new technology comes along, it makes earlier practices obsolete.   In dairy cattle selection and mating, this is not supported by experience.    The more tools available, old or new, the better job we do at sorting the long-term useful (dependable) from the short-term novelty.  
Genomics is no different today than indexes were in 1970; they are a way to screen animals, while you seek the traits and qualities specific to needs you have in your herd.    The identification of those traits specific to problems in your herd, which can be solved by careful analysis and mating by heritability, remains more important to your profitability than any external ranking of genetic value.      

Are you ready to pass up progeny testing to rely completely on Genomic testing?

At least one major AI system is so convinced that Genomics is a “done deal” that it has replaced 99% Rel progeny-tested sires with G-tested sires on its active sire price list and is scaling back its young sire sampling program in favor of its own ET donor herd.

Inside you will find data of earlier G-test experiences around the world, an example of a current issue in debate on how G testing should be done, and a recommendation from a key researcher that cautions caution alongside optimism.

Our goal is that your herd continue to improve as fast as good genes and sound matings and competent heifer rearing allows.     We hope you find this information challenging and able to stimulate better-informed questions on sire selection.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Selecting for “Type” does lead to “Production”—just not overnight

I have always found pedigree studies fascinating, and it is one of the reasons why I remain “contrarian” on breeding selection by indexes alone (or even primarily).

The three main Holstein “production” sire lines descend from three sires – Wis Burke Ideal born in 1947, Osborndale Ivanhoe born 1952, and Pawnee Farm Arlinda Chief born 1962.    All three sires developed in the context of earlier sire selection systems that combined a belief in “linebreeding” with the breeding worth estimations used prior to “Animal Model” and composite index rankings.

Ivanhoe” was proven by three breeder partners in CT, MA and RI, started out controversial for type when first entering AI in 1958, but within a decade his “tall, style” physique became the Holstein type standard.    In 1966, at 99% Rpt, he was only +270m, with plus bf%, +21bf—hardly a “ranking” sire in an era that had AI proven sires as high as +1600m.    But those other “milk” sirelines are extinct, while “Ivanhoe”—the +1.66 “type” and +2.40 “stature” sire is the direct grandsire of Carlin M Ivanhoe Bell (born 1974), whose sons once dominated the ranking lists for milk and protein production, and whose descendants (in spite of *BL and *CV) are still pretty obvious around the world.

In three generations, “Ivanhoe” as a  type sire, produced  “Apollo” (the sire of +2000m “Wayne”) and “Ivanhoe Star” (+1000m in his own right), among many others…    His son “Mowry Prince” sired the first 50,000-pound cow, Mowry Prince Corrine… “Ivanhoe Star” then produced “Bell” whose +1700m with +60bf and +40pr put him at the top, at the beginning of the “indexing” era.    [Note: both bulls Mowry Ivanhoe Prince and Penstate Ivanhoe Star are the cross of Osborndale Ivanhoe onto Lauxmont Admiral Lucifer daughters.]

Arlinda Chief” was proven by Wally Lindskoog in CA, entering AI on a two-herd proof in 1967, and thus was highly controversial even before we had the multi-herd AI sampling model thoroughly in place.
But he was +1622m and +79bf in those two herds, so many were willing to give him a chance.   By the time he was 99% Rel he had reached the +1805m mark—also climbing from +0.35 to +1.17 type.

What makes “Chief” so unique today was more common in his era—he was closely linebred, with three close crosses to ABC Reflection Sovereign, a Canadian “show type” bull—six crosses to Montvic Rag Apple Sovereign (sire of “ABC”) and twelve crosses  to Johanna Rag Apple Pabst (maternal grand-sire to “Sovereign”).     Most of the “ABC” sons were more “type” than “milk”, but they were used in a similar way to “Ivanhoe”—as sources of more “modern” udder and stature traits.

In three generations, looking on the sire side of “Chief”, you go from a –1035m double grandson of old “ABC” (Rosafe Pearl Hannibal) to a +700m bull, whose dam also carried more “Sovereign” (Pawnee Farm Reflection Admiral), to “Arlinda Chief”, both of whose grandams were sired by the same old “Sovereign” son (Tabur Sovereign Man O War).     –1035m to +700m to +1800m in three generations.

“Chief” started breeding milky sons and never quit—first Glendell, then Conductor, then Valiant, then Milu Betty, all the way to Walkway Chief Mark (a fifteen year span from first to last AI success).    He sired a world record cow—Beecher Arlinda Ellen (55,661 pounds in 365 days before rBST).        

Milu Betty Ivanhoe Chief – never as widely used, thus easier to forget today, combined “Chief” on top and “Ivanhoe” on the bottom, and his grandam was Dunloggin-bred just like those old “Lucifer” cows behind “Ivanhoe Star” and “Prince”.    But he sired Cal Clark Board Chairman, who in turn is sire of ToMar Blackstar – so you can see what we sometimes consider “outcross” is more mating effect than ancestral exclusion.    (“Blackstar” is a multiple of Chief, Elevation, Ivanhoe and Burke crosses).     

“Selecting for Type does lead to Production—just not overnight”   (page two)

“Wis Burke Ideal” --  why leave the eldest to last?     Because his influence is more subtle, yet more extensive, than the credit he ever gets.     Holstein’s “Red Book” tells you the three biggest sire lines are basically  “Bell” (Ivanhoe) – “Chief” (Rag Apple) – and “Elevation”, and that is true—but old Elevation combines all three lines—the “Burke’s” through his inbred sire Tidy Burke Elevation, “Ivanhoe” from his dam—Round Oak Ivanhoe Eve—and the Rag Apples through the linebred dam of old “Eve”.    Just as “Ivanhoe” was the result of “linebred sire x inbred dam” from two unrelated lines, “Elevation” was a result of “inbred sire x linebred dam” from two unrelated lines.    

“Elevation” basically preserved the smoother Burke bloodline phenotype into modern breeding, as a mating balance for the “tall, dairy” Ivanhoe type and the “strong, style” Chief type.    Old Wis Burke Ideal was wide, deep, open ribbed, strong front-ended.    He was only +477m in his era, but he sired useful bulls like Tidy Burke Forty Niner (+835m at 99% Rpt, who sired +2000m Arlinda Jet Stream, who sired +3000m Browncroft Jetson).   He was # one bull for Feet under Holstein USA’s “descriptive type” system and lived over 17 years of age.   The Thonyma and Paclamar herds were deep into WBI breeding—he is part of the sire side of Paclamar Astronaut (considered by many the major modern source of “Protein” in Holstein breeding).

“Elevation” was noted early on for “milk” sons like Rockalli Son of Bova (in four generations you have today’s Net Merit leader “O-Man”) -- and later for “type” sons like Hanoverhill Starbuck (two major crosses to WBI—“Elevation” as sire, “Astronaut” as the dam’s sire).   Here again, the “three generation” rule seems to apply:              Hanoverhill Starbuck   (a “type” sire)

      [son]  Ronnybrook Prelude  (a “fat” sire)                 [son]  Madawaska Aerostar  (a “milk” sire)
      [son]  Carol Prelude Mtoto   (high Euro index)        [daughter]  Condon Aero Sharon  (EX-91)

                                              In this linebred progression, we produce
                                              Picston Shottle   (premier Genomic “sire of sons”)    
The “Elevation” influence should be heavy in “Shottle”, as he carries four crosses (Mtoto is doubled Elevation, Aerostar is doubled Elevation) – but he breeds more like old “Starbuck”.      So you could probably cross him on “O-Man” (strong, wide) as well as “Storm” (dairy, wide) and get good results, even if that means even more crosses to old “Elevation”  [and “Ivanhoe”]  [and “Chief” as well].

My final example—the dam of “Shottle” is a three generation progression as well, from type to milk, without sacrifice of type:   (dam three) sired by Browndale Commissioner, a “pure type” bull;  (dam two) sired by Hanoverhill Inspiration, a “type” pedigreed milk bull;  (dam one) sired by Madawaska Aerostar, a true “milk” bull, who actually was inconsistent in type—but the result was an EX-91 cow who produced a top record of 45,000m with 2340bf in fourth lactation, and a world-class “index” bull.

So  what  is  my  point ??

Quit worrying that every bull you use has to be +1000m.    It is more important that every bull you use is capable of adding more desired traits, than undesirable weaknesses.    It is also more important that your mating combinations produce phenotypic balance, than that they have a high pedigree index.    If we are learning anything from Genomic testing, it is that “pedigree” was an imperfect predictor of performance, and that “inbreeding” is not pedigree-driven, it is an increase in homozygous gene pairings, which may occur more often from mating similar phenotypes than it comes from passive pedigree relationship

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The pelvic region of the cow’s physique—a multi use structure

Ever consider how much goes on in the pelvic region of the cow?
(1)   It houses the mammary gland, thus impacts upon milk production
(2)   It positions the hind legs, thus impacts upon mobility
(3)   It houses the birth canal, thus impacts upon calving ease

75% of most dairy breed type classification systems involve the measurements of traits within the pelvic region--  rump angle, pin set, thurl width, pin width, leg set, foot angle, and all the udder traits.    In the Holstein breed, both Udder Composite and Foot and Leg Composite are calculated from views of traits developed in the pelvic region.    The other two type composites are mostly ignored in sire ranking lists.

Is that all that matters in structural selection?

Compare the above “pelvic region” traits to the “frame” traits we measure:
Stature, “Strength”, Body Depth, Dairy Form.     The volume of the cow ahead of the hips is 75% of the total cow as a physiological and physical being, yet 75% of our selection attention is from hips to tail.
A large percentage of AI semen is sold strictly on the level of UDC and FLC that bulls’ data expresses.

But it is a biological mistake to assume that the only genes that “matter” are in the rear end.    Nowhere is this more evident, than in the frequency with which bulls who are plus UDC and FLC still end up as a “minus” for Productive Life—ie, their offspring leave dairy herds earlier than the average cow herdlife.

What connects the “front end” to the “rear end” of a cow?

If you study a bovine skeleton, you realize that the head, neck, foreleg, chine, and rib cage are one set of interconnected bones.   The pelvis, loin, hind legs and tail are a separate set of bones.    Connecting one to the other is the spinal (vertebral) column.     But the actual connective tissue of all skeletal structures is cartilage, tendons, muscling, nerves, and hide—what a biologist calls “soft tissue structures”.

The functioning interaction of muscles and bones is dependent on five internal organic systems, that are functioning in parallel— respiratory, circulatory, glandular, digestive, and nervous systems.    Glands produce hormones that regulate growth, digestion, metabolism, and reproduction.    Respiration is the method of oxygenating the blood, which circulation moves through the musculature and transports the nutrients.    Digestion takes raw food elements and breaks them down into blood-soluble proteins and nutrient energy forms, which the body organs either use now or store for later.    Respiration, circulation and water intake team up to cool the body that is heated by the ruminant digestive processes.     Through all this, the nervous system both sends signals for muscular movement (both external and internal) and regulates the disposition of the animal to its environment.    All of this must be efficiently “housed”. 

Production – in biology, a subset of reproduction

Our selection focus in dairy breeding has been both the direct (lactation yield) and indirect (visual type) measurement of “productive ability”.      Along the way, we standardized lactation measurement lengths so we could “rank” production, and we focused on linearly measurable traits we could “rank” based on their perceived contribution to productive behavior and ease of milking and handling.    We only added new measures (butterfat %) (protein %) (somatic cell score) as the milk market offered differential pay- ments for milk relative to the presence or absence of these substances in milk harvested.
Production—in biology, a subset of reproduction        (page two)

But as our focus on measurement increased, we lost sight of the factors affecting the efficiency of the production harvested.    We ignored fertility, assuming what was OK now would stay OK generations later.    And as we lost ground, we developed new technologies to replace the genes lost for fertility.   These replacement technologies included rBST (persistency in a needle) and OvSynch (fertility in same).

How should we look at the pelvis, separate or connected to the overall frame??

Now that genetic focus is shifting toward “longevity” as lower-cost production than “fast maturity”, we have a chance to return to a more comprehensive view of the physique as a connected totality.   Because the key differences between the fast maturity and the functional longevity cow are structurally related.

If you draw a cow, you realize that linearly measured traits to not describe the entire cow physique.   We chose traits, based on two criteria:  (1) consistent measurability on a linear scale,  (2) relationship to the faster maturing production ability.      The resiliency of the total organic system was not considered, as the primal assumption was that low milk yield was the primary genetic reason cows were culled young.

Today, we see mostly structural reasons for cows leaving herds early:  (1)  leg or hoof troubles, (2) udder troubles, including mastitis, (3) failure to conceive, (4) injury during calving, (5) death after metabolic disease, (6) injury in stalls or group stables.      Many cows marked “cull= low production” actually drifted into culling as a result of primary reasons (1) thru (6).     So common sense tell us the benefit of good type is to resist early death loss from structural reasons, or 2/3 of the reasons noted.

In this, there is an “ideal” physical expression, and it may not match type selection fads in some breeds.

How much emphasis in sire selection and mating should be given to “frame”?

This is an important question in an era where “longevity” is again considered of value, primarily to reduce the replacement costs of maintaining higher production (mature cows that remain healthy and mobile give the most milk, exceeding heifers by 20% annually even after “genetic selection trend” has its impact).

“Frame” matters – primarily as we remember the ruminant function of the dairy cow. 
Forage capacity of the cow is dictated by a frame proportion equally tall and wide, with depth and openness of rib to allow full expansion of the rumen and abomasums

The functional traits enclosed by the pelvis (calving, hind leg mobility, udder position) require support from the front end and body of the cow for optimal lifetime production.

The mating system we use has a comprehensive focus on the interrelationships above.

Saturday, November 1, 2014


Paul & Melanie Chittenden—Alan (dairy mgr), Nathan (heifer mgr), Brian (farm mgr)
101 Running Creek Rd  --  Schodack Landing,  NY  12078  [near Albany, SE New York]

Interview with Melanie—she feeds calves with son Nathan.    As they milk 360 cows, they are dealing with large numbers of calves born year around.    Herd is expanding to 600 cows, from natural increase – ie, successful breeding program and competent calf/heifer rearing program.

Calving is in a pack barn addition on W side of a free stall barn set up for dry cows and close-up bred heifers.    Cows receive usual vaccinations in head locks of dry cow barn.    In specific case of J-5 [mastitis] vaccine, only give one shot dry, second shot after calving—to avoid experience they were having with aborted calves (born early,  backwards and not surviving).

They experience calf sizes from 40 pounds to 70 pounds.    The selection trend in the herd has been in favor of a larger, stronger Jersey, thus the increasing calf sizes.    Melanie noted range of size has to be factored into calf care—the little ones need concentrated nutrition, the big ones do better with an extra mid-day feeding to keep them growing.

Colostrum from momma is given at birth, with a target volume of two-three quarts depending on size at birth.     In the past year they started adding a package of an immunoglobulin product , “Alta-Gold”  [ footnote 1]  to insure the level of antibodies received by the calf is adequate to the need.     They use a “colostrometer” to check density of colostrum, as one maternal line had been discovered that seems to be routinely deficient—those calves receive stored colostrums.

Melanie notes the significance of the wide range of bf% and pr% tests modern Jerseys produce can have an effect on the “value” of momma’s milk—a cow testing 6%bf is going to have 50% more digestible fat in her milk than a cow testing 4%.     She strongly recommends, in the case of feeding whole milk, that Holstein and/or lower test Jersey momma’s milk be supplemented with the addition of a high fat milk replacer to insure the calf is getting “Jersey” nutrient density.

Calf pens are individual 4 x 8  inside a cold high roofline pole barn that is directly E side of the dry cow/calving barn, solid dividers so calves cannot kiss each other.    In extreme cold weather “Woolover” calf jackets are used (prefers “Woolover” type jacket due to ability to wick moisture away from calf’s hide).    Special needs calves may get a heat lamp for a bit.     [footnote 2]

These pens get shavings for bedding, to absorb urine.    In cold weather, straw is added on top.   Melanie believes the straw should be used year round, as young calves (not receiving hay) may want to chew on something with fiber, the straw would be safe, but the shavings are not.

They were losing calves when feeding conventional milk replacers (Cargill was mentioned).   So currently use “Renaissance 22/20 milk replacer” medicated with Oxytetracycline and Neomycin (medication is used due to prior pneumonia experiences).     There is no vegetable-based protein (ie, soy powder) in this replacer—it is all milk.    There is also a yeast ingredient to stimulate the early rumen development.       She mentioned they have also had good luck with IBA’s “Winter Care” milk replacer, the “Renaissance” is a regional (PA) brand they obtain at favorable prices.

50 degrees F  is seen as the benchmark temp for supplemental mid-day feeding, in which they use an electrolyte product with microflora, diluted in warm water.    Only one quart is given at the mid-day feeding, but two quarts is normal for the am and pm milk feedings.    The idea is to avoid loss of body heat that will lead to other problems.    As calves get bigger, say a month old, the mid-day electrolytes are replaced with a third milk feeding.     [footnote 2]

She does not force a newborn to eat her full feed each feeding.    She says that if they got a full load of colostrum day one, then take their full bottle day two am, by next feeding, they may not be hungry enough to eat a full bottle.    Feed them to appetite, then stop—next feeding they will be hungrier.    Force feeding just seems to lead to scours, and then you fight a battle you might lose.    If calf is normal, they will be up to full intake within a week.   

Calf starter  is provided from birth in a “Braden” feeding bottle.    Melanie believes this feeder has these advantages:  (1)   Jersey calves like to suck something—the Braden feeder uses nipple shaped ends that attract the calf;   (2)   Sucking the Braden nipple releases grain into the calf’s mouth, thus they will be introduced to grain without hand-forcing;   (3)   The design minimizes grain loss, as the calf cannot contaminate the grain in the feeder [as happens with buckets they can climb in, slobber over, or back up to].     The grain stays dry and thus fresher.

Fresh water is offered the calves while still on milk, as they need to learn to drink it prior to weaning.    Hay is first introduced after weaning.     [footnote 3]     

It seemed to be Melanie’s opinion  (she grew up with Guernseys, married into Jerseys)  that we lose more Jersey calves from damp environments and inadequate nutrition, than we ever lose from missing a vaccination.     The Jersey calf is born without fat reserves in her body, which makes her different from a Holstein or Brown Swiss calf—thus from day one and until weaned,  high fat, high protein, high digestibility milk  is the feed of choice.    [footnote 4]

She saw the use of pasteurized whole milk as fully equivalent to using a premium milk replacer, but she cautioned we recognize that “whole milk” from high production Holsteins might only be 3.3% butterfat and 2.8% protein – thus starts out at almost half the expectation of Jersey genes that momma is going to feed her baby 6.0% butterfat and 4.0% protein milk.    Thus, in a whole milk feeding system, she suggests we buy some good milk replacer, and add half a cup to the milk as fed, and see if you keep calves alive that way.     [footnote 5]   

She also suggests we avoid “cow grain” going into calves until past weaning, when they are also eating some hay.    Calf grain needs to not have fine particles in it that aggravate the calf lungs as a dust inhaled from eating the grain.    [footnote 6]

[end of interview]     Thank you to Melanie for her willingness to share her experiences.

This interview was conducted at Dutch Hollow Jerseys by Greg Palen on Feb 18, 2009.

[footnote 1]    Another successful brand widely available in Michigan is “Colostrix”.

[footnote 2]    Jersey calves in outdoor hutches in cold winter also benefit from bedding to trap body heat, due to thinner muscle/fat cover, and in our opinion, the calf jackets are a must when using hutches for similar reasons.     I saw bedding packs in all the hutches at Den-Kel Jerseys (Kip and Robin Keller, Byron NY) the day before visiting Dutch Hollow.

In hot summer a Jersey calf in an outdoor hutch that traps sun heat might also benefit from a mid-day feed of electrolytes and water, just to avoid dehydration??

[footnote 3]     The feed company prohibition against feeding calves “hay” is based on a blanket assumption that a “dairyman” would only raise “alfalfa”.     The rumen needs about four months’ development before it can process alfalfa, thus feeding it earlier tends to scour calves.   BUT if you have access to nice soft “grass” hay, a calf can eat that from day one, and it will dramatically improve the growth rate and shorten the weaning period for a Jersey calf, but requires water be available at the same time (chewing on the hay will make them thirsty).

[footnote 4]     John P Reber DVM, who both breeds Jerseys and practices as a veterinarian in a large number of Jersey herds around Wooster OH, says that in his experience, when called out to treat a sick Jersey calf, if they still die, the cause is frequently “starvation”.    In his experience you can feed a Jersey calf as much as a Holstein calf, after a few days of working them up to it.

[footnote 5]     Until the renaissance in Jerseys in the 1980s, Jersey bloodlines were regionalized and the type of Jersey preferred in the deep south and arid west tended to be a smaller, fine bone cow that milked heavier but tested lower (southern milk marketing still avoids paying for solids values—high milk, low test% bulls remain more popular there than in Midwest and Northeast).  
My question is—as those cattle never experience winter, do they have a reduced ability to make colostrums with the density of immunoglobulins to get a cold climate calf to live and grow??

[footnote 6]     We went through a winter where we were losing calves closely after weaning, and our veterinarian eventually said they were dying of Mycoplasmic Pneumonia.   The source of the mycotoxins was the ground corn in our weaning transition grain mix—the fine particles and mold particles would be inhaled by the calf while eating, and they basically foamed up in their lungs.     We went back to the calf starter for two more months, and the problem went away.


So far, Genomic testing is being pursued in all breeds, but for assumptions of statistical reliability, are only being published in the Holstein and Jersey breeds.    The larger data set for Holsteins is assigning “G” tested bulls 60% to 70% Rel on individual traits;  for Jerseys a smaller data set is assigning “G” tested bulls 40% to 45% Rel on various traits.

We observe some dairymen (who trust data crunchers implicitly) buying individual “G” tested sires at premium prices, just as if they were truly “proven”.    NOTE that scientist consensus at this point is to “sample” a group of “G” tested sires like you would have a group of young sires selected strictly on pedigree merit.    This will be a safer approach, at least until we see progeny data on bulls being marketed from “G” estimates.

Taurus Service [Affiliated Sires] has published a directory of “G” tested young sires, and those are available to you upon request.    We have selected a group of these sires to offer at package discount prices—you will find them quite sensibly priced, relative to the heavy promotional pricing we have observed from other sire development systems.

Genomic tested sires (the highest ranked of whom all appear related) have raised the question of the advantages of “linebreeding”.    Here are some relevant thoughts:

Linebreeding possesses the same “risk to benefit” ratio it has always carried.   When you have found or bred the animal you want, the most economical way to replicate it is to linebreed it--  except that, in the process, without careful mating balancing, you will at some point produce more extreme phenotypes.

It is the “extreme” phenotype—when “dairy” turns “frail”, when “tall” turns “narrow”, when “refined” turns “small”—where we see the negative results in fertility, health, longevity, and limits on production.

In Holsteins, as a result of older classifier resistance to accept more recent direction that a wider front end has longevity value, we seem to be reverting to “the narrower the better” view of what makes a Holstein “dairy” and ‘stylish”.    (This was very evident in Holstein judging at Madison last fall.)    We can expect to see continued problems with functional longevity from this “narrow” view of the “dairy” phenotype.

Extreme phenotypes are created when both the  trait selection  and  mating processes  shift from being an “additive” approach to a “subtractive” approach.

When we are additive, we develop matings in which we compensate;  ie, width is added when we have reached our ideal stature; depth is added when we have our ideal length; substance is added when we have reached our ideal angularity; mobility is added when we have reached our ideal scale;  and an elongation of skeletal extremities reaches functional limits dictated by the housing environment.

We shift to subtractive when we get enthralled by a visual representation of the current “ideal” fads and begin to make “likes to likes” matings—thus instead of having a “balanced” (level with topline) front end, we get enthralled with cows walking “uphill” [to show] or “downhill” [to milk];  instead of “level” rumps (which maintain a level udder floor) we seek more “slope;  instead of “arched” pelvises (which provide the greatest calving ease) we seek “boxcar flat” rumps with tailsets sunk between the pins.

Focus on “stature” with “angularity” and you will  subtract  width, depth and spring of rib—leading to twisted abomasums.
Focus on high “peak” production with “angularity” and you will  subtract  body condition maintenance and cow fertility.
Focus on refined “bone quality” and you will  subtract  substance and stamina, thus overall adaptive ability.
Focus on narrow “dairy” front ends and you will  subtract  front leg mobility, replacing it with brittle bones and stiffness.
Focus on narrow “dairy” body and rear ends, and you will  subtract  forage feed efficiency and persistency in lactation.

The mating process that leads to our “ideal” is not a process of “like to like” --  it is a “what do I need to add next to get more improvement” process.     It requires us to address the individual weakness that inhibits full performance from each animal, identify its causation, and match her to a bull possessing an ability to provide causative improvement.     Thus, we gain function from an additive analyzation of the individual.

Statistical ranking indexes trap us in the fear that “I can only use the top sires across my herd, or I will go backwards”.     This frame of mind lacks objectivity about the relative imperfections of  animals we rank as “closest to perfection”.     There is no “perfect” cow or bull, which is why none of them produce “perfect” offspring in reality– the “like to like” effect always results in an element of subtractive realization starting within all the traits and qualities not considered important within the index “ranking” formula.

Think additively when designing matings on your cows.    Potential genetic improvement is only realized when we allow the better traits of the cow a chance to pass through to her offspring.    The bull only does 50% of it.
                                                   ENERGY RATIONING

When we look at PTA values for milk, bf%, pr%, DPR and SCS, we are seeing the effect of how that bull’s daughters are genetically programmed to ration nutrient energy.

It is a triangular                                          PRODUCTION                          
Interrelationship:                                              Volume                                (higher bf% and pr% yields
                                                                      Components                              require more calories)

                                                                          (all are
                         REPRODUCTION            energy driven                        HEALTH  
                            Calving vigor                      functions)                          Immunity
                             Fertility rate                                                             Body Condtion                               

In years past, most dairyman emphasized PD Milk (volume) as their primary selection criteria, followed by PTA Type (score) as their secondary selection criteria.   “Milk” was emphasized for income gain and “Type” was emphasized for longer productive life.     We only made one mistake—we defined a lack of body conditioning ability as “dairy”.    Since then, we have suffered loss of timely fertility.

The advent of health and fitness traits (including DPR, a fertility measure) reminded us of the genetics of fertility.    Trouble is, we are still milking cows whose genetics reflect the earlier, simplistic thinking.   How do we breed back in the milk value, fertility, and health qualities lost from earlier sire selections ??

Understand the cow’s energy metabolism

High PTA Milk volume bulls, possess genetics that will short either “health” or “reproduction” to make the higher peak test days leading to the bigger ME lactation values on which the PTAs are based.

(example— one of the current leading Holstein “sires of sons”)
“Shottle”    PTA +2165m   (+.08% bf) (+.00% pr)     99% Rel      ME daughter average 30245 pounds!                      
                   Health linked traits:  2.66 Somatic Cell Score        Productive Life  +4.0 months
                   Reproduction linked traits:   -2.0 DPR          8.0% Dtr C/E       5.8% Dtr Stillbirths

“Shottle” while negative for DPR (cow fertility rate) is so positive otherwise on health and repro linked traits (SCS below 3.00) (Stillbirths below 8.0%) (Productive Life high plus), that he is more likely an example of “delayed” fertility (ie, breed back once gaining body condition*) than “slow” fertility, that requires lots of hormone therapy to get back in calf.     This is consistent with his 2-4-3-6-1-5* aAa.

How “aAa” helps with energy rationing

Most sires who are more “sharp” (2-3-1) than “round” (5-4-6) in their mating qualities, will tend to be slower at gaining back body condition after reaching peak milk.     You will find that if you keep the “sharp” (performance) and “round” (substance) qualities in your herd in balance, that reproduction and health qualities will improve—allowing them to express their genetic yield capability more profitably.

But if you wish to be sure, also consider the cow line evidence—for example, “Shottle’s” dam set a UK milk record in her fourth lactation (the average commercial cow peaks in her second lactation and leaves in the middle of her third).    Thus she gives evidence of mature health, fertility and productivity.