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.