Monday, May 31, 2021

Concepts in linebreeding for in-herd use

 

Reference:  conversation with Jonathan Lambright, Indiana, June 29, 2020

Let us say you have a living cow in your herd who has done everything well so far: (a)  grew up healthy, (b) got bred on time and breeds back on time, (c) births live calves, (d) produces persistently, (e) has component value in milk with lower SCC, (f) heifers born to-date have been similarly healthy, reproductive and productive.

Biologically, this is a cow with a proven ability to adapt to your environment and to be economically useful under your feeding and marketing management.

Here is where considerations of your breeding goals  (is she the right color?  Is she polled?   Is she A2A2 Beta Casein and/or BB Kappa Casein?   Is she the desired size and scale to be a fit to your future environment?)  must be compared to what has been working for you across all successful cows.    Focus your goals in breeding.

At this point, you have proven phenotypic value.    How do we determine if she is of value genetically?     The first steps could be –

Raise a bull from a complementary mating: sell him to a neighbor, see if he does what your neighbor needs him to do (libido, fertility, health, quality of calves).

Raise a bull from a complementary mating: use on heifers in your own herd, see if he does what you need him to do, just as you would evaluate your neighbor’s.

In the meantime, any heifers she has had that you raised, consider how they are doing in your environment, whether “balanced” or “extreme” matings.   Hopefully she produces more heifers than bulls, as this seems to follow maternal lines.

Historical experience 

In the heydays of linebreeding (1920s-1950s) especially before AI made sire usage almost indiscriminate, breeders would test transmitting ability in this way:

Mate half brothers and half sisters together (linebreeds the cow)

Mate full brothers and full sisters together (linebreeds a cow x sire combination)

Mathematically, the mating of either half or full siblings is not “inbreeding” per se, as the theoretical percentage of ancestry “blood” from your focus cow stays at 50 percent in her F1 offspring, her F2 descendants, as many generations as you wish to go to perpetuate your focus cow’s influence.   

In each new generation, you need to evaluate:  are we making progress, are these linebred animals closer to my breeding goal than the rest of the herd, and are they giving me bulls that are successful mated across the rest of the herd?   If you don’t have positive answers to these questions, I would stop with that line.   A cow may have been exceptional in her generation, but that can be the result of being from a complementary mating followed by a favorable “genotype to phenotype” result within an environment that was conducive to success at each critical step.

When to outcross

When you linebreed, you will see that certain characteristics of your cow become dominant in her descendents, as a result of the homozygous pairing of genes that is occurring within their genotypes at each conception.    You hope to multiply the better traits of the cow this way, but you may also multiply the weaker traits.

This is where you seek (within your herd OR without) another successful cow, who is strong in the traits or qualities where your line is weak.    To avoid the random nature of a “cold” (pure) outcross, you breed this outcross cow to the best of the bulls in your line, and hope for a bull.    You evaluate and analyze any bulls born from this, and if they have the desired traits, you insert them into your linebred cattle to correct expression of the [weaker] traits in future generations.

In this way, you keep your line vitality while at the same time you gain uniformity and you keep your line competitive against cows from more “hybrid” matings you see as purely commercial producers (dependent on complementary mating and sire selection to produce useful replacements).    

Cow focus or Sire focus?

In Holstein breed history two examples of the above from the 1920s stand out as examples of how this can work successfully.

Carnation Farms,  Washington, USA

The Carnation Farms began their purebred Holstein breeding program around the “Segis” line, in particular a group of daughters from King Segis 10th.     He was a big spotted bull who sired a group of super-cows for the times (3x and 4x records up to 39,000 pounds of milk) that today we would call Strong, Tall and Style (aAa 4-2-6).    Sons of these cows sired by “Homestead” line bulls were used and a bloodline developed, good enough that this breeding crossed the country to be herd sires in both purebred and commercial herds seeking milk volume.

The weaknesses that developed were primarily (a) cows too big for midwestern stancion barns, (b) lower butterfat % test, (c) large teats, not adaptable to newly-invented milking machines.   

To solve these deficiencies, they bought a bull at public auction who was a yearling son of the new world record butterfat Holstein (1300 pounds with 4.7% test) whose udder had four teats squarely placed under an udder with level floor.    This bull was the desired mating for linebred Segis cows at Carnation Farms for years (he lived to be 21!), providing Dairy, Smooth and Open qualities (aAa 153) that modernized the big, rough, titty Segis’.    An efficient size bull and a sire of desirable feminine refinement, he transformed the Carnation cattle into their own bloodline (bull books of the 1950s-60s referred to them as “Carnation Homesteads”).    Basically they linebred the King Segis 10th x Sir Inka May *RC cross.  The “Red Factor” was discovered after some sister-brother Inka crosses had been made, initially a liability, eventually an asset as it is calculated that EVERY Red Holstein in North America descends from Sir Inka May.

Mount Victoria Farms,  Quebec, Canada

The owner of Mount Victoria had prior experience developing some of the first hybrid seed corns.   He began this herd with “Colantha” cattle that were Open-ribbed, Dairy, and milky but needed higher butterfat % test.     They found Johanna Rag Apple Pabst in Wisconsin, who was 25% “Colantha” and 75% “Korndyke” breeding, so a ‘warm” outcross to the foundation cows.

First they prevailed on the sellers of the bull to breed his own daughters back to him, in order to see if there were any hidden recessives.    Among the six inbred heifers produced, one was first prize two-year-old at the Royal Winter Fair (Canada’s national show) and another set the two-year-old butterfat record at 725 pounds 3x (pretty good for 1929).     JRAP daughters were bred to JRAP sons; in the following generation, double granddaughters were bred to double grandsons; a strong pattern began to emerge, meeting Mr Macaulay’s initial goals: healthy cows with modern udders for machine milking, testing over 4% butterfat, expressing longevity.

After Mr Macaulay died in 1942, in the early days of World War II, his herd was dispersed, but the buyers across Canada and into northeastern USA continued to linebreed the “Rag Apples” as they became known, and such herds persisted into the early 1970s.    One such herd (Ohio) the Owens family, milked 300 linebred “ABC” Rag Apples (ABC Reflection Sovereign) into the highest herd average for herds 250 cows or over in Ohio for several years, and linebred to JRAP descendant (“ABC” son) Rosafe Citation R *RC for as many as eight generations of “Citation R” sons in a row with no loss of productivity.

How  to  avoid  “inbreeding depression”  while  linebreeding

I used the term “compensatory mating” early on, and the most evolved system to accomplish this is the “aAa” Breeding Guide (Weeks’ Analysis).  

While inbreeding per se is a mindless mathematical calculation of percentage of related ancestry in the bloodline, this is an inexact and misleading way to predict “inbreeding depression”.      In biology (reinforced by what we have learned in Genomic measurement of the DNA) we know that all genotypes are individual, the result of the combination (pairing and discarding equally) of a sire and dam DNA at conception.

These genes do not flow equally from ancestors to descendants.   Lot of genes will disappear within as few as three generations.     Genes do not “dilute” (averaging of effects) within pedigree descent, they “pair” up, so it is easy to understand how they disappear.

The effects of inbreeding “depression” are all physical deficiencies so the practical way to avoid these effects is to plan matings around compensatory qualities.   aAa measures these according to the skeletal and soft tissue character of the physique and with a goal of physical “balance” between production qualities and substance qualities that support and extend functional life.    

Analyze your foundation breeding stock each generation

Because each conceptus is “individual” there will always be variation even among full siblings.   You can use this individual variation to avoid making “extreme” animals with lower functional quality as you pursue following generations of related animal matings.    The “aAa” process is consistent in identifying the transmittable physical character of each breeding animal, and as you match up cow and bull physiques for matings, you maintain a constant level of “heterosis” in phenotypic expression that helps you avoid the “inbreeding effect” of random matings; we tend to favor what we like and discard what we do not understand as having compensatory value, so linebreeding without “aAa” can lead to the decline of your line into more extreme or deficient physiques that are not adaptable to an ever-changing external cow environment.

Function follows form.    

You may have chosen your focus cow in part on the superiority of her physique.    However, as no animal (cow or bull) is ever “perfect”, maintaining compensation in mating qualities allows the good traits that led you to choose this cow as “foundational” to be expressed positively in the resulting generations of offspring.    

The option of embryo transfer

Lots of decent cows have become famous through the expense of multiple-ovulation embryo transfer, with breeder promotion focusing on the successful matings.    ET could be used as a faster way to “test” the transmitting qualities of a cow, and if there is little consistency in the offspring produced, you know sooner that this is not a worthy foundational cow.      

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Which cow needs to be more feminine? (Dairy? or Beef??)

  CONCEPTIONS Beef Cow Calf Newsletter                             Sept-Oct 2020 

Given I have been analyzing “dairy” cows for decades, under the “aAa/Weeks” service mark (both purebred and crossbred), but recently have also studied many more beef cows in cow-calf herds, some observations are telling me that trends in each are following parallel lines.

High production dairy herds are losing natural fertility quality as they select in the direction of “performance traits” geared to corn-based (as opposed to hay-based) feeding.     Visually, such cows are built more like steers, having lost the femininity we correlate with sound reproduction.    More and more, such herds are utilizing “ov synch” protocols that include early-lactation hormones to complete uterine recovery from calving.    

There is no “production” without prior reproduction.    “No live calf = no income” is pretty clear to most beef cow-calf producers, so in the purebred breeds we are as cognizant of needing “maternal trait” cow/sire lines (“momma instinct” cows who are easy breeding, easy calving, good milking) as we are “performance” sire lines (for faster growth calves and post-weaning weight gain). 

Feminine qualities in our momma cows will lead to more live calves, because their own will to live matches the instinct to get up and take care of a newborn calf.   In physical structure you have wider hips, open pins, deeper flanks, and wide-sprung ribs-- all of which not only accommodate easier calving but indicate capacity to eat forages from which the needed milk will come in desired volume.    Feminine cows are better at cycling and conceiving, because their glandular production of reproduction hormones is in balance.

It is an oddity that in the dairy industry, so many have lost sight of these biological qualities and visually-identifiable characteristics.     But dairymen are easily fooled by high-peaking cows during her “fresh” post-calving days, the highly angular rack of bones cow that puts away all the grain you can feed her and just makes milk.   You can design cows like that from high-performance milk bulls, and then struggle to get them bred back in a timely manner so that future production is insured.  

The common weakness in “E P D s” (beef) and “P T A s” (dairy)

The Dairy industry after World War II began to embrace “scientific” (population genetics) breeding, developing “predicted transmitting ability” measures for all major traits (lactation pounds milk, butterfat, protein) and theorizing all sorts of broad assumptions about all other desired selection qualities (“higher milking cows will still breed back ok, have calves ok, live a normal lifetime”)—assumptions that, on later data after several generations passed, proved to be untrue.

The Beef industry within twenty years of Dairy also fell into the hands of number crunching population geneticists, who told us we could identify the faster growth, heavier weaning, heavier finishing genetic sources strictly from data, and the EPD era was born.     The Angus breed, alongside the newly imported continental Euro breeds (with frames equivalent to the larger dairy breeds), were more aggressive in utilizing this data in sire selection.

Today, in both Beef and Dairy AI, you have premium-price sires that are selected through DNA (“Genomics”) imputations, where actually measured EPDs from real measured performance may be three or more generations behind.    It gets to the point where the ET donor dams never have their own calves (because they are “too valuable” to risk to the rigors of calving, milking and rebreeding annually)…

As a result, you may start to see females in Beef breeding circles who no longer look “feminine” --  they are more like steers in their physique.     When this starts to happen, in the following generations you may start to see cows that act like steers, have more difficulty calving (from tighter, more “masculine” pelvic sizes) and have less interest in mothering their calf, are harder to catch in heat, and as difficult to conceive (because they lack the more even body-conditioning ability of the well-sprung, deep-rib grass-based physique with its superior forage digestion).

Visual trait selection remains important.

Dr Jan Bonsma, among other seminal thinkers in the Beef industry, observed that “It takes a properly masculine bull to sire properly feminine cows.”     This is the sort of knowledge that never changes, as breeding fads come and go.    Nothing is more frustrating in cow-calf than trying to make calves from “steer cows”.


Monday, May 24, 2021

Are we breeding for the future, or catching up to the past ??

 

CONCEPTIONS  Dairy route newsletter                  Aug-Sept 2020

Breeding is a longer-term decision than the choices we make today in feeding our cows or planting our crops or planning equipment upgrades…    and the depressed values for replacement heifers tend to obscure the need to fine tune “selection” to what the future milk and cattle markets will require.

The only way to control how good your future herd is going to be is to put some effort into breeding your own replacements today.    As we choose to raise fewer heifers to control our costs, how we produce those heifers is more important.

Let us help you.    There is no cost to a discussion before any money is spent.   The latest and greatest technologies carry the highest costs, can we prove they offer the most profitable results?     Let’s figure out the answers first.

Mich Livestock Service     Independent in sires and ideas”     ph (989) 834- 2661

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Should we pay as much attention to Protein as Butterfat

 

CONCEPTIONS  Dairy route newsletter                  Aug-Sept 2020

At the present time, butterfat carries twice the value of protein in our milk checks which is almost the inverse of five years ago.   With the heavy deductions for skim milk that is being dumped unsold, most of us have become very aggressive in use of “high butterfat” bulls (in which selection on “% butterfat” differential will yield the most in raising your milk check price).

Consumer preferences have gone away from “low fat” in favor of “low sugar” and whole milk (if not “lactose free” packages) and yogurt sales have benefitted, while the maturity of the population has helped sustain sales of ice cream and hard cheese.
As milk processing and distribution straightens out, it will pay you to have focused genetic selection in favor of higher butterfat% and protein% sire choices.

Why both butterfat % and protein % ??

The very best sources of butterfat % tend to also be good sources of protein %, while there is a suspicion that the highest protein % producers have the most active and healthy rumens, thus the better buffered rumen that results will more easily produce butterfat % as well.

It seems that, while a cow is in a negative energy state (as often occurs when a cow’s peak of yield early in lactation exceeds her feed intake) the protein being produced in the rumen gets converted into energy in the abomasum, in an attempt to catch up that internal energy need.

Thus bulls with negative protein % ratings may be more prone to metabolic disorders and the usual result of this, after ketosis, is delayed rebreeding, followed by a drop in milk production once her system identifies she is pregnant.     This will be most extreme when the sires have a high plus PTA for production volume (the sort of cow who is driven to “peak” extraordinarily).

The current need is to select for greater lactation persistency rather than high peaks, and this sort of cow usually has more even body condition scores throughout lactation and will breed back “on time”.     This sort of lactation behavior usually will express above average protein % as well as butterfat %.    

Will the future milk market demand more protein than the current market?

In spite of a lot of noise about how Genomic selection is “speeding up the generations” it still seems to take 32 months on average to bring a new heifer from conception to production.   In three years we will be producing more butterfat, will the market have changed by then??

Monday, May 17, 2021

New options for improved conception when heifer calves are preferred

 

CONCEPTIONS  Dairy route newsletter                  Aug-Sept 2020

The industry has now had “preferred sex” semen for a decade.    At the beginning, sexed semen sold at a serious premium (four times conventional prices) and rates of conception were noticeably lower (15% less breeding heifers, 25% less if cows).  
Choice of sire was extremely limited, mostly older or lower market tier bulls.

Sexing Technologies continued to monitor results and research improvements which led to the “Sexed Ultra” straw (4 million live sperm instead of the initial 2.5-3.0 million) and the gap from conventional to sexed semen on conception rates narrowed (5% less on heifers, 15% less cows).
Cost per straw also came down, while number of bull choices went up.   ABS introduced its own sexed product as well, and has a few AI stud customers, bringing some competition.

Is there any other option?
Those using “sexed” semen still pay a 100% to 200% premium over conventional semen prices, and with the current dairy market (and deacon calf/cull cow prices) many have limited their use of sexed germ plasm.
In the meantime, an obscure product has come forth with the potential to gain on the preferred sex ratio, but which also has the ability to improve conception near the same amount that conventionally sexed semen lowers it.

This product is a combination of enzymes called “Heifer Plus” when you want to get more replacement heifers (or “Bull Plus” when you want to get more steers).   Produced by Emlabs, it is packaged in two sizes (for 1/2cc straws, or 1/4cc straws) and will last indefinitely as long as you keep it frozen until use.

The procedure will add ten minutes to the insemination time.   You thaw the vial of enzymes at the same water temp (95 F)  you thaw the straw.    You cut the straw at an angle, insert it into the vial, give a couple firm shakes (drawing semen into the enzyme vial), let it incubate for 10 minutes; then shake the fluid mix back into your straw, loads your AI gun and breed the animal.

Previous instructions suggesting 15 minutes of incubation have been CHANGED as incubating too long seemed to neutralize the “sexing” effect.    The new recommendation at 10 minutes is proving to enhance both conception and the desired sex ratio.

At a cost of $10 or less, this product is extremely competitive against buying sexed semen, and if all you get is a 5% to 10% gain in conception, you will save much more on semen expense!!


Thursday, May 13, 2021

Let’s compare dairy breeds (familiar and unfamiliar)

 

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

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

More distributed around the world outside of the USA are the traditional Dutch and British type Friesian (eg, the Kiwi Holstein-Friesian), stockier, less milk, more components       
25,000,000 

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

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

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

                          Breeds that have been promoted for crossbreeding:

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

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

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

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

 

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

               Heritage breeds utilized for the goal of smaller frame size

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 10, 2021

Benefits of rotational grazing by Peter Gaul, consultant

 

Alternating grazing with resting actually allows more forage to grow

 

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

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

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

His thoughts:

·      Better utilization of the pasture and forage

·      More even soil fertility, especially from strip grazing

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

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

·      Better control of undesirable plants

·      Ability to spot problems earlier

·      Quieter animals more used to being moved

·      Lower costs and improved margins

·      Ability to allocate forages to animals based on nutrient quality

 

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

Thursday, May 6, 2021

What happens at and after conception

 From the July/August 2020 Beef Newsletter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lost pregnancies occur

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

 

The  miracle  of  mammalian  pregnancy

 

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

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


Monday, May 3, 2021

Back in History

 From the July/August 2020 Beef Newsletter


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

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

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

Where are we with “taste testing” today?

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

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

Thursday, April 29, 2021

How to optimize your gains from genetic selection

 

CONCEPTIONS            Dairy route newsletter                       June-July 2020

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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