Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Will lower milk prices mean less sexed semen is used?

From the July August 2015 Dairy Route Letter

Many dairymen use “sexed” semen to insure an adequate replacement supply given fast cow turnover rates in their herds.     “Cow turnover” gets blamed on lots of things, but—
And common sense will tell you this is true—the biggest fault may be our random use of aggressive genetic selection at least without proper compensatory mating to balance it.

If you are using sexed semen, we sell the ST Genetics program, which is owned by the company that controls the patent on the sexing process.     The benefit of their years of research in perfecting the sexing process and semen recovery is available in their sires.

If you would prefer not to use sexed semen, but wish to insure adequate replacements, consider utilizing the “aAa” breeding guide as your mating program—the herds with the most longevity at competitive production levels tend to be “aAa” users, and usually have a surplus of heifers from normal reproduction.

Mich Livestock Service, Inc   

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Why did the industry revert to crossbreeding?

From the July August 2015 Dairy Route Letter

USDA performed extensive crossbreeding trials among Holstein, Guernsey, Jersey, and Red Danes at the Beltsville Experimental Farms in the 1940s and 1950s, concurrent with the beginning of AI.   After all crossbreds were compared to contemporary purebreds (which also included some inbreeding trials), the experiment was concluded with two conclusions “Nothing crossbred or purebred will milk more than a straight bred Holstein” and “Avoid inbreeding”.

Thus while ABS in its early days had advocated crossbreeding, all other studs jumped on the “purebred” bandwagon and dairy crossbreeding died out.     If anything, “crossbreed upgrading” became the norm for those who bred colored cows to Holstein sires once the 1960s ushered in the “Class” based Federal Milk Orders, and added bottling premiums to what had been a butterfat based milk pricing system.    

Holsteins peaked at 96% of the USA and Canadian cow populations, and many “experts” predicted the demise of all other dairy breeds.    At the same time, in the 1970s, the concept of “index ranking” took charge of the genetic evaluation systems, and each breed association eventually fell in line, accepting a “sire stack” contemporary comparison genetic theory, over purebred concepts of “maternal cow lines” and intergenerational phenotypic comparisons.    The culmination of these changes was  “linear trait” type appraisal replacing traditional breeder-designed type grading standards.

Indexing accelerated milk production at younger ages.   Linear selection made dairy cows highly angular (which is genetically linked to early production maturity) -- the milk check was the only selection value.
Multiple Component Pricing arrived in the north half of the USA in the 1980s, with protein taking its place alongside butterfat as the driving forces behind changing consumer demands, and colored cows started a comeback that continues today (rebuilding gene pools later tapped for crossbreeding).

By the 1990s, it was clear that many dairy farms were in trouble both operationally and financially, and those who study economic trends eventually looked at the dairy cows themselves.    The higher yield AI cows had become “high maintenance” cows as well, and the capital costs of remodeling dairy facilities to provide the “model” environment dictated by “ideal” genetics became too high to generate a positive rate of return on investment (even as the milk check cashflows continued to grow).

Enter crossbreeding.     Alternative farm designs, such as intensive grazing, higher forage rations, less external inputs, less elaborate barn designs, group handling, all brought the highly specialized Holstein  cow into question.    Industry logic was “we have been using the best bulls” [note: “best” as defined by prior assumptions] thus “the fault must be in pure breeding—we now must crossbreed to regain vigor, health and fertility”.     Overlooked was the continued success of “aAa” herds using the same sire pool.

What has been consistent in selection of “cross” breeds?     Every breed (starting with Jerseys, then  Brown Swiss, then Swedish Red, then NZ Friesian, then Montbeliarde, then Norwegian Red, and now Fleckveih) that has had a major part in crossbreeding  added “round” qualities on some physical level to the razor-back “sharp” Holsteins.    On a summary level, it was that simple.   The experts advocating crossbreeding spoke lots of pseudo-science to justify it (“heterosis response”) (“too much inbreeding”) (“higher health trait gene base breeds”) – but it turns out, the old concept of the “dual purpose” breed cow’s physique was just healthier and more reproductive than the “modern” cow.

Roundand Sharpare the most basic of “aAa” mating concepts.     Could it all be that simple??
All I know is, both purebred and crossbred herds using “aAa” are happier about their cows.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Modern breeding draws from the past breeding experience

AI began as a service in the 1940s, and with the advent of frozen semen in the 1960s, transitioned into genetic merchandising since the 1970s.    Today’s approaches to the “art” and “science” of breeding are really no different than the ideas competing in the transformative 1960s—we just assign new names to make then seem revolutionary.

In fact, most of our current breeding ideas are either evolutionary or just reinventing a tired idea that tried and failed a couple generations before.    Understanding history is a step in being able to sort “fads and fancies” from foundational concepts.    But perhaps the most overlooked aspect of modern breeding, in our reductionist science approaches, remains our need to build the physical cow capable of sustaining the production pace for which we focus so much genetic selection energy.

If you suspect you are missing out on all the genetic gains you have been promised, it may be time to have a conversation with us, and fit all the pieces together.

Mich Livestock Service, Inc   “For the Best in Bulls”    ph (800) 359-1693    Ovid, MI  48866

Saturday, May 20, 2017

HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF (although no one admits it)

From the May June 2015 Dairy Route Letter

In 1949, after ten years of breeding purebred cattle in five dairy and two beef breeds, the CURTiSS Candy Company Farms introduced their “Improved Stud Service”.    (The late Charles Palen joined this organization in 1952.)   By 1965, they represented over half the total growth of the entire AI industry, and were breeding over a million cows annually.

The CURTiSS program joined ABS as the only “private enterprise” studs, all others being regional and state cooperatives often organized by University dairy extension.     ABS advertised “Every Sire Proved Great” on the basis of [mostly single herd] daughter vs dam evaluations for production, and at that time generally ignored type or pedigree.    CURTiSS focused on “Cow Families” and promoted “balance” of production and type as the “Complete Cow”.     Both ABS and most of the State Cooperatives ridiculed CURTiSS as selling mostly young sires (the sons of their most prominent breeding cows and herd sires).
They also ridiculed planned mating (basic “pool” service was $7, but a “select” mating was $25, where the dairyman pre-arranged to have the bull of his choice available for his best cow) claiming that every bull in their programs was equally as good as any other, just take what the inseminator had that day and be satisfied.

How CURTiSS and “the Complete Cow” concept changed the industry

CURTiSS was the first AI stud to have all its sires analyzed by the equally new Weeks’ Analysis (“aAa” Breeding Guide) and to promote it to its customers as the way to make the best use of well-bred AI sires.
Even after the CURTiSS Candy Farms’ breeding herds were sold in 1954, the program grew by sourcing bulls from prominent breeders (eg, Gray View, Skokie, Paclamar, Walkway, Arlinda) who used “aAa”.

The “Complete Cow” concept could be summarized this way:

(1)     Select from bulls where deep pedigree maternal line cows are mated to complementary sires.
(2)     Use those bulls in your herd according to their best application under “aAa” or self-taught mating.
(3)     No matter how promising as young sires, CURTiSS only kept as “proven” sires those whose type and production evaluations indicated usefulness in some key area of selection.
(4)     Breed ¾ of the herd to progeny “proven” sires, breed ¼ of the herd to the next young sires.

Sound familiar today?    The only difference between CURTiSS and the most modern of AI systems today is in terminology  [AI stud “MOET” herds producing bulls]  [Genomic young sires for open sampling] –
But the one key difference is CURTiSS never bought into “index ranking” of sires, as the only measure of genetic “value”--  broad experience taught CURTiSS guys there is no “perfect” bull.

How CURTiSS proved that traditional breeding and science work better together

The two Holstein bulls that did more to establish momentum for CURTiSS in their early, fresh semen days (prior to 1960) were Curtiss Candy Invincible (born 1949) and Pabst Sir Roburke Rag Apple (born 1947).    Invincible was a CURTiSS Farms young sire first available late in 1950, while Roburke (sold as a calf from Pabst-Knutson Farm unit to Mooseheart Farms) was sold to CURTiSS in 1953 after being proven.     The “magic cross” proved to be using one of these sires on the daughters of the other, and by the late 1950s into the early 1960s, these two dominated Holstein USA’s “Honor List” and were recognized as the leading sire of 100,000 pound cows (Roburke) and 200,000 pound cows (Invincible).
The components of selection and mating that made this successful 
Roburke was a leading production sire of his era, +870m  +.02%  +29f , and earned a Gold Medal for also siring improved type +1.05.     “aAa” called him SRS – today he would be 3-1-5 (Open + Dairy + Smooth) which basically means dairy capacity and refinement of bone with width of body.    Weight at maturity was 2400 pounds, scored “Excellent”, most other AI studs sought his sons for their programs.

Invincible was a successful showring yearling and ended up +89m +.05% +6f with basically breakeven type ratings +0.05.    “aAa” called him RSR – today he would be 2-4-6 (Tall + Strong + Style) which basically means upstanding and growthy with full chest, good bone and easy mobility.    Weight 3000 pounds at maturity, the longest bodied bull of his time, scored “Excellent” all his life.

Both bulls were the result of judicious linebreeding, but each from a different bloodline than the other.

Roburke was a double grandson of Wisconsin Admiral Burke Lad who founded the “Burke” bloodline in Holsteins that was noted for moderate size, early maturing cows with modern shapely udders.   Today we have “Burke” influence through descendants of Elevation and Bell.

Invincible had three close crosses to Dunloggin Woodmaster and his dam and two grandams were the three most influential cows CURTiSS bought at the Dunloggin dispersal in 1942.    “Dunloggin” cows were rarely fancy in the udder (but good udder texture) but  were the lifetime champions of their era.   

Thus--  when dairymen bred Roburkes to Invincible or Invincibles to Roburke, they were making an “outcross” hybrid vigor mating between two unrelated but individually linebred sires.   They were also making a “balanced” mating according to “aAa” concepts of physical compensation and adaptability.   On the genetic selection level, you had a competitive young age production sire crossed against a size and maturity production sire.    The result: (1st) competitive production at any age, with (2nd) added ability to remain competitive into old age.

Can we do this today?

We have much confusion today over the difference between “linebreeding” and “inbreeding” and what must be done to avoid “inbreeding depression”.     What the above teaches us is, first, a linebred bull can be an asset to breeding; also, it teaches us that outcross combinations of linebred bulls produce our best performing animals which the histories of Round Oak Rag Apple Elevation (inbred Burke sire  x  linebred Rag Apple dam) and his grandsires Wis Burke Ideal (linebred Burke x Admiral outcross) and Osborndale Ivanhoe (linebred Rag Apple x inbred Ormsby) should have informed us as well.    

Use of the “aAa” Breeding Guide (following Weeks’ Analysis of your cows) prevents inbreeding effects as a result of guiding you away from matings involving similar genotypes.    At the same time it focuses on the qualities of the physical cow that in combination maximize production while optimizing health.

Perhaps the best example of a modern day linebred bull is the late Picston Shottle  (EX) who is a double grandson of Hanoverhill Starbuck who was linebred to Wis Burke Ideal and Osborndale Ivanhoe.   The other influences in “Shottle” were breed outcrosses, for example multiple crosses to Roybrook Telstar.   His ability to produce hybrid vigor in the modern population is reflected by his long life—16 years.

You do not need “index” in every generation to produce good cows—just good bulls for their purpose

Wednesday, May 17, 2017


From the May June 2015 Dairy Route Letter

Greek style yogurt (thicker and creamier than conventional yogurt) now represents 20% of the total yogurt sales in the USA, in spite of its premium price—mostly because it has twice the milk protein of regular (straight from the milk vat) yogurt.

Whey proteins are being added to a plethora of milk-based drinks for extra nutrients and energy for the time and weight conscious.     This is the “new” dairy growth sector.

All this suggests that at least for “multiple component pricing” milk markets, the protein content of the milk you sell will have an increasing impact on your income.

Protein (of the Kappa casein variety) is of course the major component of all the cheese you now see more prominently displayed in deli cases and specialty food stores.

Protein (of the Beta casein variety) now has a growing role in genetic selection, first in the awareness of the “A2” variant as superior to all other bovine variants for those who have family histories in autoimmune diseases (autism, childhood onset diabetes, etc).

There is much momentum among organic markets to provide an “all A2” milk supply.    Activist consumers have indicated a willingness to pay a premium for assured A2 milk and medical practicioners are becoming aware of how “all milk is NOT the same”.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Have we forgotten what a useful dairy cow looks like?

Many breeders who are pursuing high Genomic rank matings for AI and embryo markets are starting to question the type and physical proportions of many resulting heifers.   The phenotype of heifers (and their full brothers who often go into AI) seems to be like this:

        Around one third are too coarse (bully in front, narrow in rear) to milk well.
        Another third are too frail (narrow throughout, very fine boned) to compete.
        That leaves roughly one third that still look like a functional “dairy type” animal.
            (Yet we are assigning 50% Rel in Brown Swiss, 60% Rel in Jerseys, 70% Rel in Holsteins to these calves)

In the beginnings of scientific (mathematical) genetic evaluation, we compared a bull’s daughters to their dams, to see if the bull could improve on his mates.    The comparisons were made both for type and for production.    This approach resulted in development of “mature equivalent” (ME) factors to recognize that a young cow (first lactation bull daughter) was too immature to compete directly with a matured cow (third or later lactation dam).

This was known as “intergenerational comparison”—what changed from one generation to the next?
We still use intergenerational concepts in qualitative analysis (aAa or DMS), to predict results from possible mating choices.

But geneticists from early on preferred to seek the genotype (genetic potential) over the phenotype (realized result) believing that the phenotype was “too influenced by environment”.    Their first step was to convert sire evaluation to “daughters versus herdmates”, still using ME factors, and they called that result a “Predicted Difference” (PD).     This is “intragenerational” comparison—looking at all cows in the same generation, which logically led to the concept of “parity” (only compare daughters of our bull against other cows born the same season of the same year).    

The next step was the inclusion of the averages of the ancestors—first by “Pedigree Index” (1/2 sire PD plus ¼ maternal grandsire PD) which was assigned to both daughters and their contemporaries, so any deviations could be put in a “genetic” [pedigree rank] relevance.     By the time the “Animal Model” is inaugurated (pulling in Parent Averages for all animal pedigree relationships) we called the result the “Predicted Transmitting Ability” (PTA)  [actual deviation was only part of the total weighted data].

The industry was quite aggressive in promoting these indexes, which led to the composite ranking index ($Net Merit, TPI, JPI in the USA, LPI in Canada, BW in New Zealand, RWZ in Germany, etc).    All these indexes were designed to promote that nation’s genetics into any export market they could reach.

Now we have Genomics which looks at the DNA, but condenses the genotype to 64,000 “marker genes” that were possessed in common by animals who ranked for any measured trait in the historical reference list for each breed.     Now all we need to have a “ranking” animal currently is to find 7% or more of the markers in the DNA of your calf plus the pedigree ancestors to reinforce the assumptions (60% DNA vs 40% pedigree) to impute a high index.     We no longer “need” any progeny to get an elite ranking.

This might explain why there is so much physical variation in the individual high-ranked bull or heifer.
You do not need a “complete” or physically “balanced” physique to have the right “marker genes” to produce a high Genomic ranking value.     This is reductionist theory taken to its most extreme point.
                   How to still breed good cows for your environment

Not all Genomic sires are “the same”.   Some still actually have dams with scores and completed lactations.     Some actually have multi generation maternal performance to give us confidence beyond the mathematical assumptions.

And—as large expansion herdsmen are learning, type is still important.   Cows with a defective physique still leave herds faster than cows who have good physical adaptation to the environment.   The only issue with “type” is the basis on which you plan matings.

This heifer matured into a cow who made a lifetime yield three times that of the average commercial dairy cow (which at last count calves twice and milks less than 30 months).
She has the sharp shoulder and wide chest of the “sturdy” dairy cow, the deep and well sprung rib of the “ruminant capacity” dairy cow, the even proportioned udder with teat positioned central to each quarter on an udder with a level floor, and a rear leg position that fully supports her rear end weight, with springy joints, standing on substantial feet requiring minimal hoof trimming.   If you could add some more open space between her pins, she could have a more roomy rear udder (and likely calve easier) but this is a cow that will fit easily into any free stall space.

Mating should be on the physical, rather than a theoretical genetic, level if you wish to make cows like this one consistently.  Too many cows today are narrow, clumsy in their tallness, not able to maintain body condition, slow to breed, hard to calve.   Again, bulls do not need “balanced” physiques to receive a high genetic ranking.    The list of traits which add up to a high index is a short list that mostly ignores the physique.   

This is why we continue to bug you about considering the “aAa” method for planning matings that produce physiques capable of actually harvesting all that theoretical value the indexes promise (but are only able to deliver about one third of the time).

Some  current  favorites  from  newer  sires:

Two high production sires (progeny verified) who can safely calve your heifers:

99HO7070  Jehosaphat    (aAa 342156)               151HO 569  Pavethe way    (aAa 534126)
Use him on the smaller framed heifers                    Use him on the taller, narrower heifers
Calving ease:   5.9%     (5.8% maternal)                  Calving ease:   5.7%    (7.4% maternal)
+1060m   -02%   +35bf   -01%   +30pr                   +1242m   -01%   +41bf   -01%   +36pr
Carries the desired A2A2 Beta casein gene             Carries the desired A2A2 Beta casein gene
+4.1 Productive Life   +0.2 Dtr PG rate               +6.1 Productive Life   +1.1 Dtr PG rate
It is highly unusual to find sires (as these two are) who are still “plus” DPR above +1000m PTA
“Planet” son from a “Shottle” dam              “Planet” son from a “O Man” dam

Used within an aAa-directed mating plan, you can harvest the above genetic potential while also having a properly balanced cow physique that is capable of a full productive life without high maintenance cost.
Balancing the mating realizes more successful heifers than agonizing over linear profiles.   If you are afraid to use any bull without a “perfect” linear, you will end up producing tall, narrow, shallow cows—what linear classification techniques favor.    Think about that before you pass up any bull who has the production and daughter fertility and calving ease and developed maternal line gene support you need to change the “high maintenance” cow experiences you may have been getting.

Mich Livestock Service, Inc  “For the Best in Bulls”  ph (800) 359-1693

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Fleckveih cattle: quietly entering the dairy crossbreeding and grazing scene

From the March April Dairy Newsletter 2015

Next to Holsteins, the Fleckveih breed of cattle (primarily from Germany, Austria and Alpine regions of Switzerland and Italy) is the second largest population of dairy cattle in Europe.   Of all the red breeds in Europe, they are the most widely disseminated around the world, and has the larger AI sire development program (with more AI stud participants) than any other breed that has been introduced to the USA from Europe as a choice for a crossbreeding rotation.

Fleckveih was ignored in US crossbreeding mostly because the source studs in Europe were competitors of, rather than partners with, the major US studs exporting Holstein and Brown Swiss semen to Europe.  
World Wide Sires brought Skandinavian Reds to the US in trade for Holstein and Jersey semen wanted from the US, for example.     Today each major system has a chosen breed they offer crossbreeders (as with ABS and the Norwegian Red sires from Geno).     Fleckveih had no one to partner with except the few individuals (like Dr John Popp of Alberta) who had done comparisons and found the Fleckveih was adaptable to North America just as it has been adaptable across Latin and South America.

Fleckveih in some circles are confused with “beef” cattle, due to their historical descent from the Swiss Simmental, the first of the large frame continental breeds American AI studs imported in the ‘60s to meet demands for growth rate and frame among beef cattlemen.   The Simmental was true dual purpose breed selection, compared to the pure beef  Charolais, Gelbveih, Limousin, Maine Anjou, Chianina.  
(1)      They fed them on grass alone during the grazing season, in the foothills of the Alps
(2)      They milked them once per day after bringing them down out of the pastures
(3)      They still nursed their calf until weaning when in the barn in the evening
Fresh milk cheeses made from Simmental cows’ milk (like Camenbeart and Emmental) earned market premiums for Swiss cattlemen, and the management routine followed (1)(2)(3) above) also gave them a 700+ pound weaned feeder animal to sell at the end of the grazing season (on top of 10,000 pounds of 4% milk used for cheese).    The Simmental had fertility to breed back annually and stay in this spring grass calving seasonal window.     They are typically a sturdy 55 inches tall but might weigh 1500 lbs.

In Austria and Germany Fleckveih sire programs test several hundred bulls annually for both “rate of gain” and for “dairy production” (a goal of 100 daughters milk tested from each sire sampled) so the needs of both “dual purpose” cattlemen and specialized dairymen can be fulfilled.    Pedigrees show 24 active breeding lines (how does that compare to what we see in American breed selections?) are used.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Are we really making “genetic progress” ?

From the Jan Feb 2015 Dairy Route Letter

Of course we are—that is what the data says, and figures never lie.

We have to remind ourselves constantly in the business of breeding that “genetic” means “population” NOT  biological function or relative transmitting ability or even realized performance.    Genetics only measures the “current” measured generation, it does not compare the “new” against the “old” on either an individual animal basis or a philosophy of selection basis.

What do I mean?     Geneticists cannot tell you if “Mogul” today is superior to “Elevation” in his day.     You actually need a supply of Elevation semen to use at the same time on the same mates as Mogul to answer that question.     They prefer to assume that, because today’s herd averages are higher than in the 1970s, at least for yield traits, Mogul must be superior to Elevation.    

And as much as “breeders” will generally object to the idea that these newer, genomically identified “supersires” are “genetically” better (Genomic definition: possess a higher percentage of the desired “marker”genes associated with measured traits) –  geneticists, not breeders, control the agenda of selection for future AI sires, and are not concerned with prior industry definitions of “greatness”.

Thus, a sire like Rosafe Citation R *RC whose entire list of classified daughters averages an actual 84.0 points, but virtually all scored between 1962 and 1990, can be imputed as “minus” for type against the current type “headliners” whose actual score average may be less than 80.0 points.     The physical type considered superior in that era, while having transmitting influence behind today’s cattle, is different in many traits and can produce a different resulting score under current linear assumptions.

Likewise, while a higher percentage of tested “Citation R” daughters exceeded 100,000# and 200,000# lifetime production (before rBST or TMR) than any leading sire of the modern era, their annual lactation averages followed the classical pattern to maturity, doing their best efforts at ages cows no longer reach.
The relevant question is not being asked       

What is the goal of your breeding program?     If it is simply to have the highest indexing herd (without necessarily producing competitive animals in the high pressure Genomic market) just use the newest of the new, and buy them off the top of the list—the same way most AI salesmen tell you.     If you have a constantly updated physical and nutritional environment for your dairy, you will gain production.

My only question for you then, is “can you afford to constantly update your facilities, equipment and feeding to harvest all this accelerated genetic potential” if the only payback is a 382 pound gain over a five year period??      [How much equipment can you buy on the marginal profit from 76 pounds of milk per cow per year?]    

This is the ultimate fact of the numbers—55% of all semen sold is selected on the above premise, with data promising up to 2500 pound gains on individual sires—yet we are not harvesting a fraction of that.
Even if you argue but we were focusing Net Merit on health traits and longevity, not milk yield, why did Holsteins only gain one month (on an already short 29 month herdlife) over the same five years?

Genetic potential is only half of what it takes.   The other half is matings to produce sound physiques.

Most dairymen are going to use facilities already built for the remainder of their dairy career.    Each facility design was in part based on a given target production and requires a certain margin over feed and all other costs to generate the profitability needed to maintain desired household incomes.   If we try to push production above the level expected from the design, cows will die at earlier ages.    Margins fall on the incremental milk produced.   Profitability declines over time no matter how high the production.

Cows differ in their cost of production.    One of the long held assumptions of geneticists is that the cow who milks more has lower feed costs—as if every cow eats the same feed volume.    However, this idea never made sense even when we did stick cows in stanchions and give them all one coffee can of grain.  
As soon as we started “challenge feeding” cows, some of them went up in yield.    Because we did not measure anything else, we based evaluation on the assumption this was the core of “genetic value”.

Dairy profitability is based on controlling costs of production, not total yield.    This is because profit per unit in commodity production goes to the “least cost” producer, not the “biggest volume” producer.   
There are few economies in scale in animal housing, care and milking—only on the equipment side.   As a result, the best breeding program combines multi trait gene selection with physique-based mating to produce cows capable of competitive, high value per unit production at a minimal involuntary cost to sustain production.      This is the goal of our sire selection and mating guide.

Mich Livestock Service, Inc ** for the Best in Bulls ** independent in breeding ideas since 1952
Greg Palen and Associates                       ph (800) 359-1693