In earlier days when Ron Buffington influenced us to begin offering Conklin Fastrack probiotics in our product line, he put a lot of effort into studying “Super Cows” who were making 40,000 and then 50,000 pound lactations that included “Fastrack” as a nutrient supplement. There were over 300 such cows that he studied in detail, to see what it took for a cow to produce like this and still be alive to do it again.
The majority of such cows made these exceptional lactations after three or more calvings, once they had fully grown and physically matured. Most of these cows weighed from 1600 to 1800 pounds while in milk, and were typically from 57 to 62 inches tall at the shoulder. “Buffy” was conversant with “aAa” as a sometime “aAa” analyzer, and noted that the majority of these cows would be “balanced” from the “aAa” perspective (expressing all dimensions, tall vs wide, long vs deep, avoiding linear trait extremes that tend to limit some aspect of cow function).
A wide variety of sires and matings were involved in these cows, as well as a wide variety of selection philosophies. But the main thing they had in common was they had the ability to compete at mature physical development. They expressed “longevity” as a result of good genetic balance for fertility and health, physical development and maturability. They were not “fast maturity”, early-aging cows.
Hoard’s Dairyman article supports this with report on more recent research
Maggie Seiler, an associate editor with Hoard’s Dairyman, reported recently on a research into mature cows in Germany and Switzerland that described how the maturing of the bovine digestive tract leads to greater (and more profitable) feed consumption and utilization once cows reach four to six years of age.
Fiber digestibility peaks in the fully evolved rumen, feed spends more time in the rumen and thus gets to be fully digested, thus passing less unused nutrients out in the manure. Butterfat and thus Protein yield from the rumen is finally optimized at this stage of cow maturity as their cud chewing is more intensive over a longer period of the day. The full study can be found in the May Journal of Dairy Science.
Is maintaining a younger herd your best management strategy?
This certainly calls into question the current advice from amateur geneticists to focus your entire genetic future on the latest and greatest of Genomics, without waiting to see whether the heifers produced can be counted on to develop into that “Super Cow” maturity. The indexing underlying Genomic applications does represent a shift back towards the faster maturity young cow (current CDCI “ME” factors assume a “Mature Equivalent” yield level occurs in the second lactation, based on a genetic base for Holsteins of 30 months’ Productive Life). Currently less than a third of all Holstein cows raised do complete a third lactation (not quite half of all Jerseys, Ayrshires and Brown Swiss do the same). Thus the opportunity for that “super cow” performance to accumulate in your herd and achieve that 30,000+ production level is constantly eluding even the best conventional high-input dairy feeders and managers.
Has crossbreeding proven to be the added step that can cross this barrier?
To summarize known DHIA herd averages, the answer is NO. Crossbreeding is not a procedure that has ever proven it could lift herd production averages—it is a strategy for improving fertility and health responses within a herd that is giving its all for the maximum production young cows can achieve, and is most often chosen in lieu of, rather than because of, careful genetic and mating selection.
At best, crossbreeding gives us one more year of Productive Life than pure breeding, usually at the expense of slower maturity of production volume given a typically smaller immature cow frame size. It is worth noting that the goal of most crossbreeders is to recover their profitability at an attained level of production, rather than any desire to dramatically increase production. There is no proof that we make more money on the milk we produce at the upper margins of yield stimulation… at least, while cows are younger than their full species maturity (for Holsteins this is fourth lactation; for Jerseys third lactation).
The concentrates fed to get that last pound of milk cost more than the value of the milk produced.
Designing a breeding program that will achieve competitive cow maturity
It has been our observation for all the decades of AI propogation that the most consistent measures of sire “longevity” capability has been the accumulation of full lifetime cows in his pedigree. Of all the factors that have ever entered into the various “selection indexes” extension dairymen and AI salesmen have convinced oyu to use, there has never been an index that has ever considered lifetime production.
However, without capability of extraordinary longevity, there can be no gene transmission that creates longevity from a handful of linear and “management” traits in a selection matrix. For the last three genetic base changes (fifteen years) in which “Productive Life” and related measures have influenced Holstein breeding selection by “Lifetime Net Merit $” ranking, the breed has only made one month of realized genetic progress in “longevity”.
Basing production rankings on the second lactation (as “Mature Equivalent”) and calling half the bulls with progeny evaluations “plus” for Productive Life (ie, using rolling bases instead of some minimum economic level of profitable life length) will never produce a “longevity” result. Further sorting sires on the realized production of their maternal ancestors seeking those cows who actually do their “best work” at mature ages and continue to reproduce as part of the process, is more effective at sorting the “exceptional” from the average.
The breed’s best progenitor of full productive longevity is probably Round Oak Rag Apple Elevation who was born in the Holstein “golden era” of the mid 1960s. Penstate Ivanhoe Star (1960), Pawnee Farm Arlinda Chief (1962), Paclamar Bootmaker (1963) and Paclamar Astronaut (1964) share that era with “Elevation” (1965) and you will find that all of these sires have dams from 105,000 to 225,000 pounds actual lifetime production (prior to rBST, prior to OvSynch, and prior to TMR feeding). It is worth noting that the two influenced by Osborndale Ivanhoe (Penstate and Elevation) have the highest lifetime dams, and it may also surprise you to know that “aAa” influenced the matings producing all six of these foundational Holstein sires.
Thus, if your goal is to achieve a higher production level, and to remain profitable over production costs at that level, genetic selection and balanced mating goes hand in hand with preferring sires from long lifetime cow families. This was true before Genomics distracted all of us, and remains true now that we have Genomic estimates purporting to anticipate progeny evaluation results more accurately.
Longevity is directly heritable
Michigan produced one of the best examples of this phenomena (observed by biologists in a multiple of species) that “the best way to live along life is to select long-lived parents”. Jack Kaufman (Sandusky) had a cow that produced 278,000 pounds lifetime. She birthed a daughter that achieved 354,000 pounds lifetime. That cow produced a 321,000 pound lifetime daughter. [ Ask us about 76H 261 Mark Up ].