Sunday, November 5, 2017

Time to wean calves (check pregnancies) (plan next season’s breeding)

The fall club calf sales are in full swing and are a good opportunity to check up on the sort of calves various popular sires are producing.

The major fall and winter shows offer a similar opportunity.
If you can fit them in, they will add to your base of information.

For those pursuing specialty beef marketing (rather than club calf sales) it might be worth a trip to the Eastern City Market (Detroit) where you can see how others are entering into “direct market” efforts and the consumer responses they get.

If you have a desire to market “grassfed” beef keep track of fall events posted by Lake City Experiment Station (MSU) or by Shorty Hochstetler of Topeka IN.

We are here to help you with the cattle or forage genetics your program requires.

Mich Livestock Service, Inc    ph (989) 834- 2661     110 N Main St (PO Box 661)  Ovid MI 48866

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Understanding TH and HCA recessives

Recessives are somewhat simple—if momma carries it, and daddy carries it, you have a 50-50 chance the calf will exhibit it.     Those recessives noted as “lethal” cause death.

If you wish to avoid ever having a TH or HCA afflicted calf, just avoid using carrier bulls on any daughter of a known carrier.

What is “TH” recessive?      Stands for “Tibial Hemimelia”    (origin in Shorthorn breed)
Calf will exhibit abdominal hernia, distorted pelvis and rear legs, exposed brain and/or spine tissue.
Such calves if born alive tend to die soon after birth.

What is “PHA” recessive?    Stands for “Pulmonary hypoplasia and Arasarca”   (origin Maine-Anjou)
Calf will have small lungs, filled with fluid, and will lack lymphatic system develop.
Such calves tend to be stillborn;  a certain percentage of such conceptions may abort prior to term.  

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Understanding “Myostatin”

Myostatin (Growth differentiation factor 8) is often mislabeled a gene, but is actually a protein that is produced and released by myocytes that act on muscle cells’ autocrine function to inhibit “myogenesis” (muscle cell growth and differentiation).    The gene involved is on Chromosome 2.

Lack of myostatin production is going to result in a significant increase in muscle mass.   In beef cattle there are several “double muscled” breeds (or bloodlines within breeds) that involve this lack of what is considered “normal” myostatin production.    

Breeds exhibiting some to all “double muscling”

Charolais  (France)          Gelbveih  (Germany)     Belgian Blue  (England)      Piedmontese  (Italy)                       
Limousin  (France)          Fleckveih  (Germany)                                                      
Maine Anjou  (France)

Lack of myostatin (GDF-8)  can be a mixed blessing of more edible muscle mass, but a more difficult calving for females, more difficult mounting and mobility for males.    It is for various reasons such as these that the majority of Belgian Blue cattle (male or female) are raised for slaughter rather than for breeding, where a majority of births require caesarian section.

Piedmontese breeders have been proactive in screening females on the basis of ultrasound measurement of the pelvis before being added to a breeding herd.    It is interesting that while some breeds show this double-muscling effect in each calf at birth, other breeds (such as Pied’s) are a few months old before the double-muscling effect is exhibited, allowing for more natural vaginal calf delivery.

The more extreme of double-muscling breeds have as a result of genetic selection also combined this trait with a smaller bone mass, and it is not unusual to see a 5% to almost 10% increase in percentage of
Edible carcass compared to traditional breed cattle.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Coat Color Matters

From the Oct-Nov 2017 Beef Route Letter

It is one of the great ironies of the current club-calf scene, that “hair” may be the primary selection trait.
Not “beef” yield, for edible meat cuts;  not “hides” for leather;  not “bones” for fertilizer.    Just inedible and unsalable “hair coat”, so important to the final fitting process at our club shows and sales.

Why do I bring this up?    Not necessarily because of “certified Angus beef” which has created a demand for “black” cattle, earning slaughter market premiums in hopes that the promoted carcass advantages of Angus would be present.   

No, it is because of the latest trends in Genetic (genotype, genomic) DNA research.

Black coloration of cattle is due to the presence of the MC1R (Melanocortin 1 Receptor) gene, which encodes a receptor located on Chromosome 18 that is needed for black pigmentation “and also has other functions” according to two researchers at Iowa State University college of Veterinary Medicine.

Black (MCR) is always dominant to the other alleles at the E locus.   Non-black (mcr) color is recessive (which is why other breeds, red, yellow, with or without white spots turned black so easily when bred to Angus to gain that black hair coat).     Like the black hair gene, the non-black gene has other functions which the ISU-CVM research find to be very beneficial.

It seems the “non black” cattle have a gene-encoded resistance to Salmonella and E.-Coli infections.  If exposed to either of those lethal diseases, their genotypes have natural resistance;  if vaccinated against these pathogens they develop useful titres;  if treated with antibiotics they metabolize them faster (which reduces withdrawal times) and they have a higher pain threshold (less likely to go off feed when ill).

Ironically, this DNA capability is lacking in the MC1R gene which provides the black hair.   Therefore, breeding for “black” in all the non-black hair breeds has passed a latent genetic effect across 70% of the total beef cattle population in the USA.

Genomics started out as a way to predetermine genetic values from DNA samples prior to actual animal performance and subsequent data evaluation.    These uses matured fairly quickly; now the bulk of DNA research is seeking out answers to more physiological and health-related issues such as ability to get an immunity from vaccination, or response to various drug therapies for typical herd problems.

Dominant and Recessive gene activity was already known in all breeds (dominant polled vs recessive horns;  dominant black vs recessive red hair) but now we are finding cases of linkages of effects as in this occlusion between black hair and specific disease susceptibility.   

Possible benefit to non-black breeds

The popularity of non-black cattle is greatest in commercial beef production, often the range managed herds, where minimum human handling is possible.    Could better health experience be part of this ??   
The cattle industry has always included highly observant breeders alongside data driven commercial producers, with some synergy resulting (given 90% of range cattle are bred naturally, only 10% AI).

It remains for our club calf judges to open up the opportunity for good red, roan, yellow, white cattle.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

MOBILITY: The dairy industry’s biggest current issue

A recent issue of Holstein International had an article discussing the industry trend toward an ever- straighter hind legs and the decline in quality of mobility leading to higher young cow culling rates.

The trend in Holsteins has alarmed Holstein USA to announce an entirely new formula for “Foot and Leg Composite” (FLC), removing linear scores for “rear legs side view” and adding linear scores for stature in its place.   

Linear scoring has very little to say about legs and feet, basically ignoring front legs and feet, putting emphasis on foot angle, then measuring the degree of “set” to the hock from side and rear views.   We are now looking at the fourth version of “FLC” since linear scoring was introduced in 1972.   Across four decades, the expert recommendation on set of hind leg has failed to reduce foot and leg problems.

So what does “stature” have to do with Foot and Leg structure?    It appears that the young cows that leave our herds with stiff, straight hind legs also are quite tall.    Ironically, “stature” not only has been highly correlated with positive type values, it is increasingly associated with superior milk yields.  The current sources of the straightest legs are also among the elite Genomic levels for GTPI and GNM$.  
(Of course, a couple generations of “sires of sons” have yet to show progeny production data.)   On the data graphed by Holstein International the generational trend for “straight” was unmistakable.

Will this latest FLC solve everyone’s problems?    I have watched the trends in “indexing” for forty years and expect nothing will change, especially as a majority of sires already selected for AI show in their own physiques the potential for siring legs too straight, joints too stiff, feet not standing sturdy.
Not including “leg set side view” in FLC means straighter-legged examples can persist in the mating population due to selection for udder, milk yield, fat and protein and somatic cell levels in the indexes.

Solving the mobility problem

Which cows exhibit the best mobility?    Cows who stand comfortably on four feet.    “Sturdy” cows with “central” thurls have proper weight bearing on their feet both front and rear.    They have supple, flexible hock joints and springy pasterns (demonstrating an equal distribution of shock absorption from walking).    They do not stand on toes nor shuffle their heels—their weight bearing is at the center of the hoof.    They are not pigeon toed—their weight bearing is even from inner to outer toe.

Have you ever tried to stand up on your toes for any period of time?   How about walking with extended toes?    It is painful, from your ankles up into your calves.    Yet in preferring “steep” foot angle we have asked our cows to walk like ballerinas, in spite of slippery concrete.    This foolishness continues in the latest FLC.    If you look up the greatest progenitors of Productive Life (eg,Rudolph and Ramos) you are likely to find sires criticized for “low” foot angle (based on herdmate deviation).   

Our fixation on extreme linears (reinforced by typical linear mating system formulas) keeps us breeding extreme physical character in our young cows.    We never stop with “good enough”, we keep seeking a “gooder than good” mating combination that produces more extreme frame expressions.    Feet and legs are the extremities furthest from the body core and thus tend to show the results of extreme mating first.

Linear theories of the physique were focused on defining the traits that correlated with a faster maturity of production volume.    For 45 years we have followed these, and have culled millions of failures
Consider the “aAa” solution

The “aAa” Breeding Guide (Weeks Analysis) preceded linear type traits by 20 years.   Scientists who developed linear measurement thought their new program would make “aAa” obsolete.    Instead we find “aAa” still going strong around the dairy world, after 45 years of linear confusion.    How does a program that thrives without breed association (classification) or AI stud (Genomic) support or subsidy persist?    Because it understands physical heritability  and  it solves problems of physical function.

Specific to Legs and Feet:    Quality of mobility in “aAa” methods is analyzed as an integrated whole rather than the average of a few individual parts.   The entire skeletal structure is considered;  muscling activating the skeleton is considered; cartilage and tendon structures in all joints are considered.    Both front and rear legs and feet are analyzed, as a functional unit and as they are attached to the body core.

A crucial defect in modern high-genetic cows is the “square” thurl position.    When the thurl is back from center in the pelvic structure, angling hind legs out towards the rear, you find it thrusting pins up and shifting rear end weight onto the loin (a structure which is not designed to carry added weight).
In an attempt to be sturdy, feet are thrust forward (on legs with “set” hocks) or posty backwards (on legs with tight hocks) and cows then walk “flat footed” and ‘spread toed”—all in an attempt to redistribute weight.    As cows age, loins flatten out and stiffness in the back impedes mobility.

Another defect in modern high-genetic cows is the confusion of “dairyness” with angularity leading to narrowing of the chest.   This narrowing brings the forelegs closer together.   Again, with all the front end weight to support, on a narrowing pedestal, cows learn to turn their feet out in an attempt for more stability.    Weight is then carried on the inside toe, leaving the outer toe to grow and curl.   Again, the quality of mobility is impeded.    Chronic lameness can result, no hoof trimming can fix this.  

 “Narrowing” of the frame is a side effect of the selection in favor of more stature (such heifers show more angularity from longer bones and stretched muscling across the skeletal extension).   If the loin is narrow, the entire body will be narrow (ribs will lose the ability to “spring” as rumen and abomasums try to fill with feed).   The difficulty classifiers have with cows lacking stature is “they just don’t look dairy enough to score higher”.    Showring judges have the same visualization problems.   Yet loss of body capacity will result in loss of productive ability – a “loss of dairy function”.

Think about the combination of square thurls and narrow front ends.   Take it a generation further and lose the depth and spring of rib.    Put that narrow, anorexic heifer up on her toes by stiffening all her joints.    In each generation you have a highly-ranked sire, but you are losing function and producing young-age culls.    You have to adopt a breeding guide that protects you from going too far so that all this genetic “potential” on which you have been selecting mating sires can still be harvested in fully functioning physiques.     This is why “aAa” Breeding Guide (Weeks Analysis) thrives.
Conclusion:  selecting on index rank and mating on linear traits is doubling your emphasis on data that leads to limitations of the physique.    Loss of mobility is just one of the many limitations that are causing too many promising young cows to have short herd life.     Consider adding a mating method that understands transmission of physical qualities and experience the freedom from agonizing over genetic theories that promise much but deliver little sustainable improvement.

Linear traits help you sort which bulls to use, but have proven ineffective in telling you which cow fits which bull.   aAa” matches cows to bulls for improved function.    It can fix your mobility problems.

Fixing  problems  with  feet and legs  by  mating  selection

If a problem persists long enough, with all efforts to fix it basically unsuccessful, it is easy to assume (as some geneticists feel) that foot and leg problems are “normal” to the high production dairy herd—at least for Holsteins, which is 90% of all milk cows.

Why then do a handful of cows remain highly productive into teen ages, while more seem to fail at younger ages?    Nothing seems to have more impact on early culling today than “failure of mobility”.    These are definably genetic differences, NOT the fault of facility or herd management.    Our methods of genetic selection are not consistently producing cows that are adaptable to the physical environment where they must walk every day.

There is a mating system that is focused on quality of mobility as part of overall physical adaptability to the cow environment you have.    This program does not require you to change AI studs or give up on your genetic goals.   It just answers the question that your current breeding approach does not address.     Check it out inside this newsletter.

Mich Livestock Service, Inc.          PO Box 661   Ovid,  MI  48866            ph (989) 834-2661

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Butterfat is again the driving force in milk checks

From the Oct-Nov 2017 Diary Route Letter

Part of the current milk “surplus” is the results of a focus on milk volume and skim milk marketing, which flies in the face of all the market trends.    The price of Butterfat is now twice that of Protein as sales of whole milk are the only growing bottled category, while all cream products (butter, sour cream, ice cream, premium cheeses) are posting gains.
If you wish to increase your milk check price over time, consider focusing on the sires listed inside who are superior for raising butterfat % while maintaining protein %.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Pre Pay seed orders

Byron Seeds’ prepay guides are now available, for anyone ready to pick out spring seed.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Seasonal tank storage and New tanks

You will notice when we arrive we have a new truck (Ford Transit Cargo van- white) and it has more floor space, easier ingress and exit.   There will be no more excuses when you want your tank brought in for winter storage—we are better set up to pick up and deliver.

Need a new (or newer) tank ?

We have a couple “nearly new” CT-20 tanks for sale.    These had a few months spring rental use, but have protective jackets and are in “like new” condition.   We have them for sale at $500 each.    They have six canisters and would hold 48 canes max.

We also have a Taylor Wharton 18XT for sale used at $300.   This tank is one model series older than the latest (XT20) T-W design.    This would be a good upgrade for any herd still using an AL-20 or LD-21 (which must be filled every eight weeks).   It has four canisters so would hold 32 canes max.

Your present tank (as a working tank) would have some trade in value.   

Saturday, October 14, 2017

One cow at a time adds up to a herd

In the April issue of Graze we made an attempt to stimulate some discussion about the optimal cow in a “no grain” grass fed grazing dairy.    In the summary paragraph I mentioned that “we can only breed one cow to one bull at a time”.    Lots of feedback was received for this article, asking for specifics on the ideal grass cow physique and how to breed that, but no one mentioned this statement.

e transforming data into trait indexes and composite ranking, it is the conclusion of geneticists that your best selection strategy is simple: breed all your cows to that bull who ranks highest.    (Oh, you worry about inbreeding?  Then use the second highest bull as well.)
Your conclusion: variation in my cows doesn’t matter.  Breed the group, not the individual.

So let’s consider how we provide data.    You are a grazier who participates in DHIA testing and keep track of sire and dam ID.    That qualifies your data for genetic evaluations.    Heifer “x” calves along-side a couple dozen other heifers.  They get to walk across the pastures every day.  Unlike the others, however, “x” does not walk gracefully, she gimps and limps.    She brings up the rear at every milking.
As soon as she is out from milking, she lays down.    Over the next few weeks, she milks off her body and then production declines.   She is not breeding back.   You clean and trim her feet, but nothing you do appears to improve her mobility.    Eventually you mark her “DNB” and at the point her production falls below your cutoff, you send her to town.

Once a month that DHIA tester comes back.   He notes this cow has no milk weight.  He needs to code a reason for this: did you sell her for dairy? (no)  Dry her up early? (no)  Did she die? (yes, but no, not here)  Was she shipped as a cull? (yes)    What caused you to ship her??      

The biggest issue with accurate genetic mating is that you must determine between Causality and more simplistic Associative relationship.    The cause of “x” being a cull was mediocre feet.   The associated reason for culling was she had fallen below minimum production requirement (as a result of a chronic negative energy state, reducing appetite, caused by feet incapable of sustained grazing).          

As for the accuracy of DHI data for genetic purposes, we have already heard that on average, 15% of all cows on test are misidentified by sire.   I would propose that there is even more error in the coding of any discretionary question that has a multiple choice answer (“why did you sell this cow?”).    Most DHI systems are now owned by AI studs, and they favor the herds that maximize production per cow, as the genetic evaluation ranking systems are based on pounds.    Large percentages of graziers do not use DHI testing because you get tired of being put on the bottom of the DHI herd ranking publications.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

They got the test %… they got the modern udders… with longevity as a bonus.

Sir Inka May had eighteen years of breeding service!!     Today we would aAa him as 5-1-3-6-4-2 (so a near-perfect match with their linebred Segis bulls offering 2-4-6).     His parents both lived into teenage so his longevity was inherited; but his physique also had the sturdiness of legs, the moderate frame size and the openness of rib with adequate blending of parts to express that latent longevity.   He modernized the Carnation cattle away from their extreme size and weight that held back their production in herds of less capability to feed them to their capacity or house them in typical commercial stalls of that period.
In other words, he was a high type and component % sire with good health traits under today’s sire definitions, rather than a high milk and early maturity (fast aging, less fertility) bull typical of decades of sire selection in the AI era.

In my opinion, Red Holsteins persisted because these original “seedstock” were superior for sound type, will to live, longevity (--and you cannot achieve “longevity” without first having good “fertility”)  with high butterfat % as a bonus that helped Holstein dairymen enter premium milk markets.    Even today, forty years after Holstein USA allowed Red Holsteins into registry, Red and Whites persist in AI popularity in spite of rarely being ranked near the top of any production-driven selection index.

Worldwide, Red & White cattle are preferred where selection is multiple-trait oriented (milk + fat % + protein % + fertility + moderate size + easy body condition), as in the semi-tropics where heat resistance is important, and in Europe where dairy is more grass-based and cheese yields set the milk price.

On the type front, three sires who set records for combinations of type and longevity—ABC Reflection Sovereign *RC, Amcana Dictator Model-Twin *RC, and Rosafe Citation R *RC—were all descended from Sir Inka May.    An additional sire who was more revered for mature production was Elmer Brook Aristocrat *RC.     All of these sires were active in Holstein AI breeding circles during the eras prior to Holstein USA opening up for Red registry.    As soon as their Red calves could be registered, the values of their semen sought the stratosphere.     Purebred breeders of our fathers’ generation valued type and longevity combinations as being the best route to realizing genetic progress: without a surplus of cows and heifers to sort for your future herd, you cannot harvest genetic progress in reality, no matter what the pedigrees and sire stacks indicate on paper.    You have to be able to voluntarily cull to keep the best you have produced, and you have to have sound enough animals kept to also reproduce.   Longevity will lead to a second income stream from replacement cows and service bulls desired by local dairymen. 

FACT:   All modern Red Holsteins descend from (in fact are linebred to) Sir Inka May.

While there are lesser contemporaneous sources of Red factor to Sir Inka May (the Winterthur herd and the Stewart and Maytag herds come to mind), they basically were the mates that allowed “Red” to shine through once exposed to descendants of Sir Inka May.     The famous ABC Reflection Sovereign *RC (sire of the equally revered Rosafe Citation R *RC) had “Inka” in both sire’s and dam’s pedigree.   

The influence of “Inka” is not limited to his “Red” descendants, given Pawnee Farm Arlinda Chief  has multiple crosses to “ABC” and his sire Montvic Rag Apple Sovereign *RC.     His contemporary Round Oak Rag Apple Elevation has some crosses to “Inka” on the maternal side of his pedigree.   ALL the high production AI sires of the modern day combine these two seminal 1960s sires in their ancestry.                

Today, combinations of polled heads and other desired traits are easier to find in Red Holsteins.
This is part of why we seek out the Red and *RC sires in all the programs we represent.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Recessive Red color can teach us a lesson in the Genomic selection era

Historical fact: for eighty years, Holstein USA denied registration to Holstein calves born Red instead of the ubiquitous Black.    Thousands of such calves were killed at birth and buried so the neighbors would not see your breeding stock was “polluted” by the Red recessive gene.    In the first thirty years of the AI industry, studs were “encouraged” to cull sires who produced Red calves.

Yet Red & White calves persisted in being born.    Eventually in the early 1960s the Red & White Dairy Cattle Association was formed among dairymen who were collecting up Red Holstein calves from better herds and forming Red herds, sometimes crossing them to add milk to Ayrshires and Shorthorns.   Soon as frozen semen allowed semen exports into Europe (where Red cattle were prized over Black) Holstein USA “saw the [green] light” and allowed registration of Reds, to facilitate profits from European exports of not only semen but live cattle and then embryos, which continues today.

How does a recessive gene receiving 80 years of discrimination survive in a cow population?

We all now understand that because it takes both parents to carry the Red gene for simple recessive gene pairing to produce a Red calf, when only one parent has the gene, he/she can pass it to offspring without detection.     Major breeding herds (Winterthur, Carnation, Maytag, among others using their bulls) early on decided that as Red was not a lethal recessive, just a hair color gene, they did not cull carriers; mostly just tried to avoid mating two carriers together.    So a few breeders with views contrary to the Holstein USA position conspired to retain better animals that were suspected or known Red carriers.

During the AI era, when Red carrier sires were routinely culled, the high profile of Canada’s Rag Apple bloodline created the misimpression that Red originated in Canada.   Actually the foundational Canadian cattle were not Red carriers: “Red” entered Canada when Mount Victoria Farms in Quebec (the original “Rag Apple” herd, linebred to Johanna Rag Apple Pabst) purchased an “outcross” sire from Wimbledon Farms in Maryland, and renamed him Emperor of Mount Victoria.    This bull was a son of Carnation Emperor, a son of Governor of Carnation that was in turn sired by Carnation’s first outcross herd sire, Sir Inka May…   a bull bred in Minnesota they purchased in 1925 after his dam had set a national milk record…  a bull who remained physically sound and virile and lived to 20 years of age (1943).

His first major son at Carnation, Governor of Carnation, was born in 1930 and lived 15 years, to 1945.   Many of his sons were in the first AI cooperatives as those systems began to form in the 1940s.   Once a few of his descendants from the “Montvic Rag Apples” also entered early AI, the red calves showed up, and of course were mostly blamed on the “Rag Apples” (rather than the Carnation “Inka-Madcaps”).

So what is my point?    (And I do have one)

Carnation Farms like most high profile Holstein breeders of the 1920-1940 era were linebreeders.
The descendants of their breeding were called the “Carnation Homestead” bloodline.     The original super cows of the Carnation Farm were sired by a bull named King Segis 10th who sired strong framed, sharp uddered, round rear-ended cows (today we would say aAa 4-2-6).    These cows milked volumes at rather low butterfat % levels.   After a few generations of this linebreeding, Carnation sought for an outcross that would raise the butterfat % and modernize the udders to make them adaptable to machines. Sir Inka May was chosen for his high butterfat% inheritance and his mother’s relatively modern udder with smaller teats.     (Typical of that era, he was not a “cold” outcross, because he had some ancestry related to old King Segis 10th.)

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Matrix selection helps to avoid inbreeding effects

Bet you never heard that before.    But it is a statistical fact that pedigree inbreeding coefficients and AI selection by “one size fits all” index ranking go hand in hand.

Why?   Because a composite index establishes an “ideal genotype” (a process that is much accelerated by Genomics, which is 60% based on “ideal” marker gene possession).   If you insist on the highest affordable level of “ranking” you will be breeding “like to likes” at the level that will express inbreeding depression in some form by third or fourth generation.

Under “matrix” selection you monitor each generation for its results, and change the traits on which you can see the emerging needs before they get out of hand.   In this way, genotypes over multiple generations remain heterozygous (as in more capable of hybrid vigor than we see from homozygous genotype selection defined by a sire ranking index).   

Mating to balance the physique improves adaptability of your replacements

Many dairymen utilizing “matrix” sire selection also utilize “aAa” concepts for the choice of matching cows in the herd to sires found through the matrix screening.   The idea here is that most of our involuntary culling losses come from physiques that had extreme characteristics leading to structural failure of the udder, the legs and/or feet, or major body organic systems (circulation, respiration, spinal nerve signals, pelvic calving dimensions, energy metabolism)

A major review of the impact of “aAa” concepts on the performance and longevity of 1980s purebred Holsteins (utilizing data provided by Holstein USA) indicated a 5000 pounds per lactation difference between “getting it right” and “breeding likes to likes” according to how aAa perceives those differences in cattle physiques.

Nothing developed as a result of Genomic technology (including the very interesting work being done by Zoetis on “wellness” trait correlations) has changed any aspect of breeding that is beyond the limited “reductionist” focus of trait and composite indexes.   Thus either “index selection” or “matrix selection” results can still be improved by adding the physical mating selection to the genetic trait selection, especially on the side of “cost control”.

Ranking indexes keep changing

CDCI will soon incorporate the “Livability” trait at a 1% level into Net Merit.   AJCA has announced a major revamp of Jersey Performance Index.    All this tinkering with indexes that are the basis for AI studs’ young sire selection is evidence that “one size fits all” does not fit anyone very well.    Just as cows have unique genotypes, herds have unique genetic trait bundles.    The job of the breeding industry is not to tell you what to use, it is to help you find what best fits your current needs, and to recognize when needs change before our herds suffer declining economic competitiveness and physical adaptability.

Genetic selection is important; compensatory mating is equally important; when these work together you insure your future herd can deal with changing economic and environmental conditions.   Breeding should be under your hands-on control, not left to the theorizing of mathematicians who fail to see the tremendous random variability that exists in biology at levels they are not factoring into their equations.   

Saturday, September 30, 2017

“Custom Indexes” or what we used to call “Matrix Selection”

The previous generation of dairy geneticists who gifted the world with the “selection index” must be rolling in their graves.    These were the fellows who actually told us “just breed on Net Merit ranking and all your other problems will go away.”    At that time “Net Merit” was based 70% on PD Milk and 30% of PD Butterfat—no protein, no type, no fertility, no health trait measurements.  All those things were added after the cow population began to suffer in all of those areas (some of which those same geneticists tried to claim were “management” traits rather than heritable behavior, as we now know them to be).

Consistent through all the formulation and recalculation and creation of new measurements (some of which are quite arcane, perhaps less than 5% heritable) – the advice was always, “don’t focus on some specific list of traits, just let the selection index do the job”.    Indexes were promoted as “more efficient” than a dairyman making his own list of desired traits and setting minimum levels of trait expression he would accept—a practice known as “matrix” selection.    

For the 55% of dairymen who still use a “matrix” approach, the latest advice – “calculate your own index” (according to the needs of your current herd) – is a vindication.   So as not to offend their old college profs, these new geneticists just avoid the word “matrix”.   But in fact they are now telling us, “composite index selection is obsolete” (even though these are the basis for all sire selection being done under Genomics, which are calculated purely to the various national index formulas).    

Just ask Nate Elzinga of Zeeland, MI, one of Michigan’s most milk productive dairymen, how he chooses his sires.   His office computer is programmed to recalculate the data from every sire AI offers him, to the weighting of traits he devised matched the heritable traits he wished to address in his herd of cows.   Or ask Josh DeHaan of Wayland, MI, how much he was able to accomplish in improving all fertility characteristics of their expanding herd by a focus on health and fertility traits alongside matings to create balanced physiques.   Many of your neighbors may be requiring plus bf% and pr% traits who wish to raise their milk price and find they are $2.00 per cwt above their breed average after only two generations.

The famous Wally Lindskoog of Arlinda Farms, Turlock, CA shortly before his passing told an interviewer that he could see the future of AI developing many specialty AI companies, whose sire selection would not be based on an ”index” but on the genetic preferences of like- minded dairymen of similar geography or facility design and milk market.    We have seen this process occurring ever since Alta Genetics purchased Landmark Genetics.

How do you design your own herd index?

First, you look at your own economic and management data.    What elements of cow care and management are costing you the most?   Focus on whatever heritable measures may have an impact on those issues.    For example, if conception rates are an issue, then establish a minimum trait value for daughter pregnancy rate (not semen conception rates, which have no impact on your cows’ natural fertility capability).    If you lose too many calves at birth look at stillbirth rate; if you lose too many heifers to hard calvings, look at both sire direct and daughter calving ease.    Establishing dollar values for each of these types of financial loss helps to put all of your herd data in perspective of where genetic change could help.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Facing facts about fertility

AI systems today sell twice as many straws per calf born as they did in the 1970s, in spite of all the advances in technologies and near-universal adoption of “production medicine” approaches by veterinarians.    For many dairymen the cost of each cow pregnancy has grown to several hundred dollars (ultrasounding, pre synch shots, Ov Synch, multiple services per cow, sexed semen on heifers) as traditional fertility management (breeding on observed natural heats) has gone out the window for these operations.

What role did decades of ignoring genetic fertility play in this development?   We think the answer is simple—it is Darwinian to assume that “genes not exercised in the current environment will be lost to future generations”.    If we ignore fertility genes, they do not stay the same—selection for anything else (especially if negatively correlated to fertility) will result in a declining “genetic base’ for that gene expression.

Want to improve the fertility in your herd by genetics?    Use the tools already available; health and fitness traits, maternal pedigree screening for longevity, physical balancing of matings from the “aAa” breeding guide.     Your progress will be measurable. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

What does the statistical “heritability” of each PTA trait really mean?

Dairymen have a right to be confused about the so-called “health and fitness” traits, which faced a great deal of resistance from breeders and AI stud personnel who were trained to believe “genetics” was about PRODUCTION and TYPE.     Select for PTA milk and you get more milk: Select for PTA type and you get sounder type.     PTA Milk would make milk checks, and PTA Type would lower the herd turnover rates, reducing replacement costs.     Then along came “management traits” (so called by nay-sayers) to confuse the genetic selection and the index ranking calculations.    

The statistical measures of “heritability” indicate how powerful a selection response you get from each trait.     Traits are not equal:   “h2” for milk, butterfat and protein yield (pounds) is estimated 25%- 30%.
“h2” for butterfat % and protein % (density) is estimated 55%- 60% (twice that of yield volume).    You can feed for “more milk” but you have to breed for a “higher milk price” from bf% and pr%  selection.

In other words, the higher the “h2” [heritability%] of the trait, the less you can effect change by feeding and cow comfort and better milking procedures.      Linear type traits have a similar pattern of as high as 40% h2 for stature, 25%  to 35% on udder traits, generally 10% to 20% on feet and legs and frame traits.   

By comparison, the “health” and “fitness” traits (SCS = Somatic Cell score, DPR = daughter Pregnancy rate, PL = Productive life, LIV = livability, plus the calving ease and stillbirth PTAs) began life with a lower scale of “heritability” (5% to 20%).    Thus, in the opinion of those pedigree/type and index/milk breeders, these should remain secondary considerations.

Heritabilities vary with the calculation and the geography

Our experience with New Zealand genetics among grazing-based dairymen indicates that “heritability”  is not fixed in stone: it is an accumulation of the consistency of selection within a cow population.   In a seasonal breeding system, “fertility” is the key genetic trait, and multiple generations of selection in its favor appears to improve the heritability (NZ genetics sets “h2” of calving interval at twice the level we have observed in the USA).    

The data from our friends’ herd would certainly suggest a clear linear result between DPR selection and resulting days open—and it should, as this is the basis of the DPR calculation anyway.     We were told for decades that, if cows are to milk more, we must expect conception rates to be lower:  however, once dairymen quit accepting that line, and forced geneticists to study the data closer, they found some cattle are just a bit more fertile than others, and this could be tracked by family lines.

Body condition ability:  a key “environmental” variant in the search for fertility

Inside the dairy genetics mainstream, “body condition” is something for nutritionists to manage.   It has not been considered “genetic”, except as the linear type system (devised in the 1970s to identify young cows who would respond to more grain fed with more milk produced) actually preferred the cow that would delay body conditioning.     In other words, to 1960-70s geneticists, cows who gained weight if fed more grain were undesirable cows.  Today, with higher forage utilization, these genes are needed.

In the “aAa” (Weeks Analysis) system, we recognize what all other biologists recognize, that ability to maintain healthy body condition (a key indicator of positive nutrient energy utilization) is heritable.   It is not hard to figure out that always mating cows to be more angular will inhibit expression of + DPR.