Friday, December 31, 2021

Vaccination -- calves, cows and people


CONCEPTIONS   Dairy Route newsletter              Jan-Feb 2021

CLAY HOWE          Route serviceman/ Agronomy specialist              cell ph (519) 933- 8431

SUE PALEN            Store/product manager and Order desk              cell ph (989) 277- 0480

GREG PALEN         Dairy programs/ “aAa” approved/ AI Training    cell ph (989) 277- 6031

Mich Livestock Service, Inc.    “For the Best in Bulls”     “For the Best in Forages”
110 N Main St  (PO Box 661)  Ovid, MI  48866  
ph (989) 834- 2661     fax (989) 834- 2914      email:


There is a great deal of confusion over how vaccines work within the normal function of any immune system.     Assisted by DNA “gene mapping” technology, both in humans and animals, the pharmacy industry’s current research focus is on identifying the genetics of immunity, for example, why certain antibiotics will or will not work against known diseases based upon what genes are present or absent in the genome.     Various polynomic “marker” genes are being identified that may provide immunity to infections (for example, we reported on the link with recessive red hair genes and resistance to salmonella and coliform infections last year).    It has been suggested that, for humans, “O Positive” blood type may be proving immune to Covid-19.

Babies in all mammal species are incubated within Mother’s womb and pre-programmed with her immune cells;  then they are born into an external environment which is always changing and providing stimulus to the developing immune system of the newborn and adolescent.   At a certain point, this programming seems to solidify.    After that, new challenges from viruses and bacterias and pollens, not present during adolescence, may cause “allergic reactions” or even sickness.       The more sterile the newborn and early adolescent environment is made by us, the more susceptible they may be to anything new that is introduced at later ages (too sheltered and sterile does not provide adequate stimulation to immune development).

The idea behind vaccination is to introduce into the body, a minute fraction of the organism we wish to defend, in a form that has been either killed or at least rendered infertile (thus not a large enough dose to actually cause a clinical sickness level).   The body’s immune system then produces “antibodies” (in the form of white blood cells) that circulate in the blood stream for a finite amount of time after (generally, three months to one year).   After this, the general medi practice is to “booster” this vaccine annually.    

Viruses only live as long as they find a living host.    If the virus kills the host, it dies off shortly after.    Their life span being short, they are able to mutate into new forms.


Is “immunity” the sum total of being “healthy”?      You may have been offered the “Immunity Plus” selection system which is a set of gene markers identified from DNA, licensed to Semex , originally patented by University of Guelph.     What the Guelph immunologists discovered was that certain animals seem more able than others to develop blood titres for various diseases following any vaccination.      Vaccination titres are measured by counting antibodies present in the blood stream (note: infectious diseases such as leucosis are measured in the same fashion).

Does this by itself define “health”?     How about the sort of animal that cannot seem to attain health without periodic vaccination?      Clearly, this is only part of the puzzle.

Observational knowledge of health

We generally assume we have healthy herds because, at least for heifers and unmatured cows, there is an absence of symptoms that would suggest a need for herdsman intervention or tell us that the bodily organisms are beginning to fail.     Across the dairy industry, the focus within AI breeding selection has been to seek faster maturity of production as a compensation for faster aging of the average cow.     Even though the Zoetis “wellness trait” genomic studies tell us that truly healthy cows will produce 30% more milk, on average, after reaching mature ages (five years of age)--  many dairymen still refuse to accept that a cow of that age can be a functional asset.   We accepted too many generations of cows that could not.

Carried into Genomic selection is a “reference population” of sires selected from the original “Net Merit” concept of the higher the PTA (original PD, or “Predicted Difference”) for milk volume, under nutritional advice that encouraged the basis of selection to be the highest peak milk in early lactation, the higher the ranking for “genetic value”.      As production yields gained at younger ages, metabolic diseases increased while cow fertility and longevity decreased.    For much of the dairy industry, normal reproduction did not provide enough replacements.   This in itself was a clue to “unhealthy” genetic selection that experts missed as they took credit for all the gains in herd averages among technology adapting dairymen.  

Connecting the dots:   (a)  structural soundness,  (b)  observed longevity

If you ever saw the movie “Secretariat” and watched that magnificent horse pulling away from all competitors in his final “Triple Crown” effort, you can grasp the observation that Secretariat was known as “Big Red” because he had significantly more chest than the typical race horse.   His large heart (proven by weight and size on autopsy after he died) gave him power and his wide chest (encasing his large lungs) gave him stamina.     This was the result of careful mating that involved some breeding that was outcross to leading race horse lines of that era.

You can do the same thing for your herd, as a result of healthier heart and lungs (from mating selection based on qualities of physiques possessed by cows and bulls) while favoring sires that result from cow lines of noted fertility and functional longevity—accomplish true healthiness.

Linebreeding     could be the answer to avoiding inbreeding

In 1919, a six year old sire was imported from the Island of Jersey with the highest production list of daughters ever seen in the Jersey breed.    He sold for $65,000 to a syndicate of breeders around New England, who rotated him from herd to herd for service over the remaining six years of his life.     The resulting offspring proved to be the foundation to a Jersey bloodline that succeeded for forty years, well into the 1960s. still producing competitive AI sires that were a result of linebreeding back to this prepotent ancestor.

His name?    Sybils Gamboge.     The bloodline he started was known as “Sybil” and was able to generate tremendous “hybrid vigor” in production yields when crossed into mainstream lines.

What made him so prepotent in transmitting milk (while, unlike other bloodlines, not sacrificing Jersey butterfat in the process)?      Linebreeding-- to a marvelous cow who was ahead of her time, producing up to 700 pounds butterfat per lactation over a hundred years ago, when the average “good” Jersey (and Holstein) might barely make 350 pounds butterfat at their best.

In fact, if you go to a pedigree chart, and count back to the fourth generation, where you will have sixteen grandsires and grandams, thirteen of the sixteen were sons or daughters of the cow Oxford Lass (if not the old cow herself).     She represented 34.8% of his total ancestry.

How would this work today?

As a result of AI, most cows have pretty much hybridized pedigrees, a bit of this line, a bit of that line, lots of sires rotated through their sire stacks in an effort to avoid the sort of inbred pedigree this great sire (among other progenitors in virtually every breed) demonstrates.    In spite of all this effort to steer clear of “inbreeding” we instead have herds with short herdlife and high maintenance costs, which now, under Genomic-based selection, have accelerating levels of “inbreeding” based on pedigree relationships.

Overlooked in all this is the AI industry tendency to all have sons of the same ranking bulls at the same time.     By avoiding the siblings in the next generation, we swing from one sire to another in every generation, finding them all somewhat related…     What if we chose not to avoid sibling matings, instead sticking with something you liked for an extra generation (or two)?     Simply by that decision, your cows’ pedigrees would become less related to the next generations of ranking sires.  Instead they would be meaningfully linebred to whatever sire it was you chose to stick with, in order to break the mindless hybridizing cycle that AI advisors substitute (ineffectually) for “inbreeding avoidance”.   

After two or three generations of sticking to one line, you would now have in the newest of your cows’ generations, animals where the current “newest of the bestest” sires could act as outcrosses , thereby you would regain the “hybrid vigor” expected from truly heterosis pairs.

This is in fact why the Triple Hil Sires daughters, whose pedigrees linebreed to great mature cows, with sire stacks out of sync with the generic-pedigree mainstream, are surprising people.


Sourcing something different

Now, after six accelerated generations of Genomic selected sires built on a few “health and fertility trait” indexes, that all trace back to three “high PL” bulls AI sourced from Europe—has anyone figured out that to find an “outcross” we just search for that odd pedigree current bull who is still “100% HA” ??

Did you know the Dutch Lineback is actually a rare color variation from the early ancestry of the Holstein-Friesian combination that produced American Holsteins?    Many still have black hoof pigment—noted by hoof trimmers as more durable.

Did you know that the key to success in sustained crossbreeding is to always use “purebred” bulls in each generation?     (thus JX “Jersey” bulls and composite Viking Red or Norwegian Red bulls dilute the expected hybrid vigor)

Mich Livestock Service, Inc ***    your independent AI sire source ***   ph (989) 834- 2661

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Further thoughts on Wagyu


CONCEPTIONS  Beef Cow-calf newsletter               Nov-Dec 2020

Clay Howe         (519) 933- 8431         Route Services, trained Agronomist
Greg Palen        (989) 277- 6031          AI Refresher Training, certified Seed advisor
Sue Palen          (989) 277- 0480          Office manager, Order coordinator


It is often a surprise to Beef breeders and marketers that there is a strong and steady market for “grass fed Jersey beef”.    Since when are Jerseys “beef cows”?

If you have been primarily marketing club-calf steers or breeding heifers, it is only your surplus (“commercial cull”) animals being sold at wholesale, and the nearest stock auction barn is a quick and convenient outlet, at which floor values apply.

It is characteristic at auction barns that size – pounds on the hoof – rules pricing, with breed having a secondary effect (a “beef” breed look calf carries the highest premium in deacon sale prices, somewhat lesser premium given desired condition in sales for older animal categories).

The cheapest animal at a commercial auction will be a Jersey deacon (where you may just get a bill for trucking) -- but for those playing with specialty beef markets there are always buyers for them (hobby farmers and those raising freezer beef).   Why is this?   Because Jersey cattle marble naturally after reaching puberty so the beef they produce is highly prized for its taste and texture; so in a grassfed system will generate a significant premium in individual piece or freezer beef marketing.

In the case of the Japanese Wagyu cattle, where calves are born well below that 100-pound threshold that moves a Holstein deacon into a veal barn, similarly low prices could result, even though they may appear to be a “beef” breed calf.   

However, if you are involved in freezer beef marketing and plan to feed the calves through to finish weights, Wagyu genes produce a unique marbling that is totally genetic, ie, unrelated to corn feeding, and will exhibit itself early enough in age to produce steers ready to market at weights most desired for freezer beef buyers – 900 to 1100 pounds at 15-18 months, thus competing with “grassfed Jersey” for marbling flavor and texture without greasy white fat trim off the surface of the carcass that is a net loss of feed dollars.   

Smaller-boned breeds whether dairy or beef, as a general rule will be easier to adapt to grass fed marketing than larger-boned and heavier framed breeds, where selection for rates of gain have been influenced by increased corn feeding since the beginning of “EPD” selection.    The mainstream food chain tastes have adapted to increasing levels of corn being fed, but desires for leaner beef have created a growth trend for “grassfed” to meet more sophisticated palates and health preferences, and established a new category for “premium” priced beef.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Recent insights from “Stockman Grass Farmer”


CONCEPTIONS  Beef Cow-calf newsletter               Nov-Dec 2020

Clay Howe         (519) 933- 8431         Route Services, trained Agronomist
Greg Palen        (989) 277- 6031          AI Refresher Training, certified Seed advisor
Sue Palen          (989) 277- 0480          Office manager, Order coordinator


Joel Saladin,  famous owner of “Polyface Farm” in Virginia who writes and speaks on the entire forefront of sustainable farming designs and practices, and has very savvy views on direct marketing of farm production and communication with the consumers who eat our beef, has started a series of editorials in “Stockman” that look at the chief bottleneck in direct beef marketing:  Custom processer capacity.

By background, it appears 2000 workers in large-scale commercial beef processing have tested positive for Covid 19 since March, with 200 requiring hospitalization.     This has disrupted the flow of fresh beef to chain grocery stores and restaurants, as various facilities had to close for a time, and equipment periodically disinfected much more frequently than has been normal.

For a time, we all knew panicked consumers who were visiting local farms seeking food, and encouraging the custom processing sector to “ramp up”, to where now most such small businesses are booked for slaughter slots well into 2021.

Joel’s first suggestion, focused on those processors who have federal inspection and can serve an expanding direct-sale market legally, is to figure out how to kill more, and then the extra out to anyone with the facilities and skill to hang, cut and wrap a carcass (such as deer processors).   Once a federal inspector has observed the killing and inspected the carcass, it can move out.

The next bottleneck became the cooling capacity of custom abbatoirs.   Beef must hang 10 days prior to cutting and wrapping (days longer than either pork or poultry).   

Various larger-scale ranches and restaurants have thus invested in or are investing in setting up their own cooling, cutting and wrapping, and in many cases are locating this as close as possible to the source location of finished cattle—it seems that one of the many factors that affect taste and texture of beef is how long they ride a truck before they are slaughtered.

The farmer who has entered the direct marketing of beef in recent times begins dependent on the capacity of local custom processors to fit newer customers into their schedules.    Learning to do your own processing leads to owning your own coolers for hanging and aging the sides, and could provide long-term financial benefits in reducing these costs.

Market prices for feeder steers and finished steers are more affected by current capacity of finishing lots and the plants that will be receiving these animals.   For a period of time, we can expect a bit of “up and down” as the marketing chain tries to manage supply against demand – but it is clear that for the foreseeable future, consumer demand for beef remains strong and steady.   

Meanwhile, fall sales for show-quality and breeding cattle were upbeat.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

There is more than one way to identify good bulls to use.


There has always been more than one way to mate your cows to reach the goals you have set for your farming business.

The generic genetic approach is to randomly use high index ranking sires and keep turning over your herd to have the highest indexing sire stacks in their pedigrees.

The purebred genetic approach is to consider “type” equally with “production” and combine competitive indexes with cows of superior conformation.

The traditional genetic approach is to only use sires from deep “cow families”, ie, where cows have had superior maturity and a lifetime of function for generations.

All these approaches actually do work for people today.    Thus there are all these kinds of sires available, once you know where to look for them.

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

Friday, December 17, 2021



Prevalence of crossbreeding has affected our individual view of purebred stock.
The club-calf industry, combining qualities from Maine-Anjou and Chianina with an English breed cow base, demonstrates the range of phenotype that is possible.

In the ranching world, as well as the seedstock world, where breed preferences are stronger and have persisted over many decades, the definition of a breed has great importance, ie, “breed character” dictates both performance and maternal trait ranges, from which crossbreeding draws its heterosis effects.

In all this, we balance “cattle management” traits against “market preferences” and find that each breed has a different “fit” into the desires of consumers.   The cattleman who has figured this out will see how to optimize production as well as maximize market price for his annual calf crop.  

Mich Livestock Service, Inc   “For the Best in Bulls”   (989) 834- 2661    Ovid, MI

Alternatives to ranking indexes


CONCEPTIONS   Dairy Route Newsletter                                     Fall  2020


Many who were early adapters of Genomic selection who are now milking third or fourth generation heifers are seeking answers to why milk production is no longer improving.    The answer?    Look to the way your index ranking is calculated.  Milk may not be the goal of the ranking you have been following.

Calculation of “Lifetime Net Merit”  (LNM$)    as revised August 2020
There is a graphic explanation of the formulas for LNM$ and Holstein TPI on page 25 of the new International Protein Sires bull book.     To summarize, overall weighting is 44% Butterfat and Protein yields;  16% Type composites;  and 40% conception, calving ease and health indicators.  There are 14 individual traits included, five of which are composites of a dozen sub-traits.   Only 0.7% of the calculation derives from Milk yield volume.    LNM$ has a different goal.

“Net Merit” is an attempt to combine several traits that affect the cash flow we would get from producing milk.     The current formula is day and night difference from the original “Net Merit” of the 1970s, which was weighted 70% Milk yield and 30% Butterfat yield – no type, no fertility, no size considerations, no health calculations.   The inventors just  assumed  that all those traits would stick around as we focused on “single trait” production gains.     As we learned however, the traits we were ignoring mostly got worse.    Crossbreeding was the solution many tried, in a belief that “hybrid vigor” would fix what “indexing” had lost.    “Lifetime” Net Merit was thus an attempt from geneticists to regain our attention by providing a comprehensive index.

How heritable are indexes??
This has always been a question in my mind.    If you take a set of traits that are 25% heritable (butterfat, protein, milk yield) and combine them with a dozen other traits that are only 15% to as little as 2% heritable, what is the heritability of an unequally weighted composite index??   
No one knows, all that you are given is the “Reliability” (Rel%) of the statistical calculation.    In the case of Genomic estimates, these come out around 75% production, 60% type, 50% health.    As for the individual traits that add up to the Genomic rankings, geneticists still caution us that a progeny evaluation for any individual trait could be widely different from an original Genomic imputation for that trait (which is, 40% “Parent Average” + 60% “gene marker possession”).

What is the multi-generation effect of only using a selection index for breeding decisions?
The effect we are seeing is, in fact, “random” for production (a high milk, low bf% and pr% and a low milk, high bf% and pr% bull can be “equal” for LNM$ within the overall calculation).    The 56% of the selection index that is composed of generic type, health, fertility and calving linears in fact will become the overriding driver of the genes passed through each generation, until you reach that point where your cow genotypes are mirror images of the new bull genotypes.  
     Any chance of “heterosis” from “like to like” mating declines with each additional generation.

Genomics is just another attempt at “single trait” selection
What is the problem with focusing on a single trait over multiple generations?   It is the problem of “inbreeding depression”.    Traits we ignore get worse, while the lack of remaining heterosis means what we wanted quits responding further.    All our experience tells us that every four generations, geneticists throw out their latest formula as the population data says “progress” is not occurring at the rate predicted by their theory.   They will announce a “new and improved” Net Merit formula, but busy dairymen do not read articles with heavy math in them, and no one “gets it” that what they have been depending on may be failing them.     Why fail?   Won’t the new formula solve all the problems??    No, because all the old “parent average” pedigree values built into the indexes have screened out all the “outcross” sources prior to changing the formula.     With each new iteration, regardless of calculation, you have fewer ancestors available to produce new heterosis vigor.

In prior generations of cattle, under previous indexing systems, when “inbreeding depression” occurred the result was usually slower growth rates, slow repro, more stillbirths, harder heifer calving, more health problems, and ultimately shorter herdlife.    Visually, such cows would look “frail”, their udders would outgrow their frames and collapse at the age they should peak milk.

Today, under composite indexes dominated by “Health and Fitness”, many have initially seen a reduction in the above problems—usually a three generation success.    Then we get another kind of “inbreeding” depression – heifers no longer reach peak milk, and lack persistence.    In a broader view, we have turned “dairy” cows into “beef” cows, who only continue to milk under a very specific, expensive, high-input feeding and management regime.

How do you pick an “outcross” to restore heterosis to such a herd ??
You exchange “index “ selection (which is a “sire stack” method) to “cow family” selection.    You re-emphasize “maternal traits” looking for sires whose cow lines show annual improvement in actual yields, efficient calving intervals, and higher lifetime production totals.   “Longevity”  (lifetime measurement) is completely different from the “Productive Life” index for sires, which is a composite of traits assumed to prevent early age involuntary culling (added up before the first offspring ever calve and enter production).     Common sense tells us that if a cow has many calvings, producing over a full lifetime, staying in the herd in competition with all the new heifers that enter it, she has the good traits in her genotype that in the combination she represents actually achieve Longevity.       Where “Genomics” estimates potential, maternal line selection represents when it actually happened.      Plus, we get added bonuses: no cow lives a long time if she is a hard breeder or has a bad disposition or is prone to mastitis.    Thus the cows with proven longevity over multiple generations are just better cows.

Zoetis research herds from which their “wellness traits” data is derived, still show that of those cows who reach third and fourth calvings and are still physically functional, their production is usually 40% higher than what they did as first calf heifers.    Longevity maximizes production.

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??