Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Checklist: Prepare for winter


Your calves are now weaned.
Bull calves have been sorted for either breeding or castrating.
Heifers can be sorted for either breeding replacements or as feedlot extras.

Pregnancy check those cows now? Cull out the “empties” to maintain a better level of herd reproductive efficiency.

Any cleanup bulls not doing the pregnancy job? Cull them too. Fertility is our main source of profit not growth rates on any pre-selected group of calves.

Do a last walk around the pastures. Any reseeding needed?

We can help with that, by reserving the pasture mixes you will need in spring.

Mich Livestock Service, Inc *** (989) 834- 2661 *** since 1952

Monday, May 16, 2022

You can improve feet and legs through breeding

There are few linear measurements available for feet and legs, and heritability of those measurements (usefulness to predict mating results) is quite low.    In each generation of new heifers you find you still get cows who cannot walk smoothly, who have trouble getting into or out of free stalls, who go chronically lame or at least require constant hoof trimming—in spite of fifty years of selection pressure through “Foot and Leg composites” and other indexed measurements.

There has to be a better way.   And in fact, there is, once you learn to apply the  concepts of physical balance to your matings.     Focus on “function” rather than breed to the “average” of any trait measurement.     Recognize the ways in which index selection leads to extreme physical results, and utilize individual matings to counteract that tendency.    

Monday, May 9, 2022

Breeding for sound feet and legs


Since linear evaluation was introduced in the 1970s (fifty years ago!) the “experts” have argued from “you need a leg with ‘set’ in the hock” to “you need a straighter hind leg” without making any final decision.    In fact, you can have too much set in the hock, or not enough: both become extremes that reduce the functional life of the cow’s mobility.    A more important observation is that, when the selection index favors one or the other, within three generations you go too far.     (Note that in Genomic indexing, the newest sires are already three generations past your cows in milk, so the functional defect can occur on two or even one generation!)

What is more important—the LEG or the FOOT?

In the 1990s, one of the more important Holstein sire of sons was Walkway Chief Mark.   Rising to the top of Holstein USAs TPI list on the basis of strong production and exceptional udder type he became controversial for producing a lighter-boned leg with a lot of “set” in the hock.   Most of his AI sons ended up with big “minus” foot and leg composites, and this culled his decendant sire line from active AI.     In spite of this, “Mark” and his best sons/grandsons were noted sires of high lifetime cows (the dam of Ked Juror for example produced 304,000 pounds lifetime, and the famous “Raven” cow exceeded 350,000 pounds…)

Overlooked in “Mark” was that he sired a pretty good foot.     The shape and sidewall integrity of the foot has a huge impact on mobility.    If a foot has even toes, if the forelegs track straight and the weight-bearing on the foot is centered (toe to heel) a cow can usually walk.   If the hoof has a harder corneal shell, it will not wear to the point where the soft cartilage sole has to carry any weight (which leads to chronic lameness).     If the front end has adequate width, the front feet will stand in a sturdy fashion, and will track straight when moving forward.

In observing hundreds of “Mark” daughters and granddaughters, the ones with leg problems were usually the ones with thurls in a “square” position.    In other words, the thurl (hind leg socket in the pelvis) is back from an optimal central position, pushing pins up, forcing legs out behind the rear end, shifting weight-bearing onto the loin, which flattens-- bending the spine.   

All the nerves that run rear end functions run through the vertebrae that shape the spine.   To have long-term rear end function—hind leg mobility and presentation of calves—it is better to keep a spine in a straight line from head to tail.    A central thurl will keep the hind leg under the rear end, supporting the rear-end weight evenly down to the foot, thus avoiding stress to the spine.   

Linear traits have mostly ignored feet (only measuring low heritability “foot angle”) and remain fixated on the rear legs (straight or set hock?    Flat/refined or heavy bone?     Hocks in or out?) while totally ignoring front legs.     There are wide differences between USA and Canada in how feet and legs are scored for linear type (the rest of the world’s type classification systems follow either the USA or the Canadian linear models).     Thus we keep having foot and leg problems.      

How the “aAa” analysis system breeds sound feet and legs

The first step:   seek “balance”, avoid “extremes”

You have to perceive the overall cow in her physical completeness, asking the question-- “Does this cow have enough bone to support moving her weight around?” while also asking “Does she have ‘dairy’ bone quality, ie, is she a flat-boned ‘milk’ cow or a round-boned ‘beef’ cow?”

The second step:   analyze the correlations of parts to the whole

Most linear type traits relating to extremities have lower heritabilities.    This is because to just measure a “foot angle”, for example, ignores the shape and position of the attached leg which is connecting through the pastern joint.    To effect any change in the physique we have to first identify causality: “what is making this body part look this way?”     In this the leg is connected to the pelvic structure as well, its positioning controlled by the thurl and its motion actuated by muscles, nerves in the muscles, cartilage and tendons in the joints.    

The third step:   visualize the effect on overall function of any change in the physique

It achieves little if, in the process of “fixing” a leg or a foot, we choose a bull who in the mating is going to create a new fault in some other aspect of the physique.     After all, the majority of cull cows are able to walk on a trailer to leave the herd.    The cow with “bad” feet or legs may be more likely to “limp” on slowly than jump right in, but I think you get the point.

All matings, no matter how tight your selection focus may be on one or two linear traits, or on a selection index, still involve combining two genotypes (male and female) which exchange gene patterns in conception to produce a new “mix” differing from both dam and sire.    Your cow is not a “blank slate” on which the mating sire will automatically replicate his genotype.    All bulls will have good, average and bad offspring as a result of the overall exchange of genes between your cow and chosen bull.     Every mating changes the mix of genes on every chromosome; it is not possible to just change “foot angle” or “leg set side view” and not affect the whole cow.

The action step:   match your cow to available bulls on the “balance” of the mating

Averages of studs do not matter at this point:  You can only breed one cow to one bull at a time.   “aAa” gives you a numerical coding covering the front end, body and udder, and rear end in the order of their importance to fix the faults.   You simply find a bull who matches those numbers as closely as possible from the bulls you stock.   His physique best complements your cow in the way that fixes the problems your cow expresses, while keeping the good parts intact.    You get a more physically “balanced” result in the complete cow from each mating in this way.        

Monday, May 2, 2022

Clay says: Steps to remember as we prepare for calving season


Do you expect some early calves that may come when weather creates damp, cold conditions?  We can provide economical calf jackets to help a valuable calf retain body heat.

Are you prepared for that lunker bull calf trying to be born from your favorite show heifer? Check your tack box: if you need
calf pulling chains and handles  we have them in stock.

Need protection from calf respiratory issues?    We can provide
Enforce 3 (administer at birth) which offers a “state of the art” level of vaccine immunity building.

Have you provided pregnant cows with free choice vitamin/minerals (block or loose)?    If not, we can provide injectable
Vitamin E (with A and D added) to help them get off to a good start.

If your animals (of any age) are facing feed transitions, we stock
Conklin “Fastrack” as an oral paste, a dry feed topdress/additive, and as a “liquid dispersible” used on bottle calves.

As calves are falling, you may wish to check out the availability of both established and newer sires.     We receive shipment from “Cattle Visions” every two weeks, beginning in the calving season.    You can insure access to the higher demand sires with an early order.

Ordering your semen through us, pooling all your orders into full shippers, minimizes shipping costs per straw.     We then absorb the shipping costs so you only pay the semen price.

We now have access to the S T Beef program, which has favorable prices on gender selected semen (mostly focusing on purebred bulls from all the major breeds).    

For those utilizing seasonal storage of tanks and semen, just let us know the projected date for beginning your AI program in the spring:  we will match to our delivery schedules.    Any semen you wish ordered prior to bringing your tank, it will be placed in your tank directly from receipt, minimizing exposure to handling from UPS or Fed/Ex shipment.
    (We always add nitrogen into vapor shippers when they arrive, so straws are at the safest nitrogen temp. before transfer.)

Not certain your tank is still holding up to specifications?

Each year we have a couple customers lose their semen from semen tank failure.    If you doubt your tank, we can do a scale test here—there is still time to do this prior to the AI season.    Clay also will check semen samples for basic motility (we have a new microscope) if you wish, given enough lead time to fit that into his busy schedule.    Our goal is: one-stop
full service.

Genetics  vs  Heredity

 today is really more “mathematical” than biological.     “Population Genetics” is the collection and collation of “data”.    The range of data, within a single environment, from any measurement suggests whether the trait may be influenced in offspring by “genetic selection”.

Heredity  in a classic sense is more biological, ie, can we determine that a trait, a characteristic, or a behavior is based in the genotype?    If so, can we determine its causal genes, and assemble (or delete) those genes from ancestry so as to maintain or eliminate them?

From year to year, you may observe differences within or across your cow herd and the calves produced.    Is their success or failure genetic?     There is a simple “rule of thumb”:

For example,
If ALL your calves are getting pneumonia, that is an environmental issue (requires a manager intervention).      If only SOME calves are getting pneumonia, while the majority of calves stay healthy, that could be a “genetic” difference (check to see who sired the calves with pneumonia, as well as which cows birthed them).

“Genetic” differences occur in two ways:  the sire or dam is defective in that trait, OR, it is a mating effect (tendencies the sire and dam hold in common, brought forth from the mating).

The size of the “genetic” difference (as measured) can still be affected by “management” as a result of inputs added or choices made.    For example:

provides creep feed to calves still nursing cows.    “Joe” does not.    “John” ends up with heavier weaning weights than “Joe”.     The differences in weaning weight, once sorted by sires of the calves, within each herd, enter into the indexes for weaning weights for each sire.    The differences between creep-fed and non-creep-fed calves may increase the range of weaning weights for John’s calves, but not for Joe’s calves; thus sires used by John may get a bigger kick in their indexes (which are a summary of deviations between calves and herdmates same age).

Genetics assume those differences between sires John uses will replicate themselves when Joe uses them as well.    If they do not, they blame it on an Epigenetic effect (how genes alter their behavior according to environment differences or sudden changes).    

The current practice of Genomic testing is to assign “genetic” (trait) values based on marker genes identified within the breed genotype as associated with traits already measured over a period of generations.    Thus “values” can be assigned prior to measured performance.   This is currently in vogue with the major breeds, but its lack of consideration for either mating effects or epigene response makes many cow-calf breeders question how much they can rely on them.

Pedigree ancestry for obvious reasons remains the basis of all “genetic” evaluation methods, even DNA mapping.    We judge a bull by the performance of his offspring…

Monday, April 25, 2022

Kingfisher (and Red Tail) corn brands consistent winners in Forage Superbowl

Kingfisher (conventional hybrid) and Red Tail (traited hybrid) corn silage samples have shown up at the annual World Dairy Expo “Forage Superbowl” over the past five years, and have been standout entries.    For 2021 KF and RT corns placed five of the top ten entries, based on feed quality measures.   These five finalists averaged 2.5 points better than the other five brands on “30 hour digestibility”.      That trait aids in the time and quality of fermentation.

The success of the KF and RT brands relates to their focused genetic selection for nutritional values.    They are expected to be fed to animals—not focused on the overseas grain export trade or ethanol production (although the first “high oil” corns included look pretty promising).
Yields are competitive while feeding quality is better.  

Kingfisher “Synergy X” alfalfa blend is also Superbowl champion

Does a Beef producer need the highest quality alfalfa?     Quality never hurts, but with Synergy you have a blend of alfalfas that insures a more consistent yield (compensating for variations in fields for soil types, rain water retention and drainage, and winter heaving).     No one likes to run short of feed when spring calving approaches.   No one wants cows to lose too much weight nursing calves, especially if it affects timely breed-back.    

Synergy X has the quality to maintain a nursing cow, to help weaned calves grow, or help steers reach finished condition without totally relying on corn and beans given their increased market value.    Byron has perennial grass blends that will efficiently maintain cows once bred back, so you can cover every stage of animal growth between “push” and “coast”.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Different ways to look at bulls (focusing on somatic cell scores)

The real difficulty in reading sire data today is the complexity of available trait scoring and ranking systems. The less time we have, the more we depend on simple ranking indexes (Holstein TPI) (Jersey JPI) (Net Merit $) and thus ignore the underlying patterns that more clearly define reasons for each bull to either be used [he can help us] or avoided [he offers nothing exceptional].

Different ways to rank bulls, seeking future value

A2A2 Beta Casein is now on the radar of dairymen seeking an edge in the future milk markets. BB Kappa Casein is already a premium trait in Europe, where most milk checks derive more income from cheese making. What else do bulls with these milk quality traits offer to improve the equity value of your future herd?

Mich Livestock Service, Inc Ph (989) 834- 2661 *** since 1952

Monday, April 11, 2022

How do I read sire ratings for Somatic Cell Score ?

The DHIA systems around the USA offer Somatic Cell testing within the usual milk volume and component % data collection. Of course, you may be among the many who are concluding a once a month reading on Somatic Cell is not helping you much to control mastitis flare-ups, one of the key occurrences affecting milk quality bonus payments.

However, from a genetic selection standpoint, there is some heritability to the SCS trait score. Latest estimates put the h2 of Somatic Cell Score at 15%, right in the middle of the range over linear type and production traits. Over time, you can build a better herd profile by paying some attention to this in sire data.

What is a “somatic cell score”?

A “somatic” cell is any cell with a nucleus. The testing is designed to estimate the current level of spent white blood cells in the milk (evidence of the body fighting an infection somewhere in a cow’s system). The “Coulter” counters used do have trouble telling the difference between an infection cell and other nuclei, such as a shed skin cell (extraordinarily high butterfat% will affect the SCC measure adversely by such cells sticking to the fat particles in the milk).

Note that SCC does not specifically mean just “mastitis” infections. ANY infection in the cow’s body which draws a white blood cell response from the immune system will raise SCC levels. In fact, the biggest spikes in SCC often come when cows are fighting heel warts or foot rot.

How do I read the data ?

The sire PTA values are standardized around 3.00 as being “average”. A better bull will be under that 3.00 level, a lesser bull will be over that 3.00 level. It is best to assume that values between 2.95 and 3.05 are essentially “average” – you will have trouble detecting any change from sires in that range of SCS. Note: The lowest SCS bulls (down around 2.40) often have a reputation for “slow” milking speed, and the highest SCS bulls (up around 3.50) may be that way because their daughters “leak” milk prior to milking. Integrity of the teat sphincters has an impact (good or bad) on both milking speed and milk letdown.

Current examples of Holstein sires with exceptional SCS values

566 HO 1345 Claytop G-Plus EVER RED SCS 2.61 and this is in spite of being +.21% bfat. Milking Speed is rated 103 (3% better than average) . His aAa of 456 indicates him a source of “Strong” substance, “Smooth” body condition ability, “Style” durable bones. He looks pretty good on the Zoetis “Wellness Trait” DNA measurements. He is A2A2 for Beta Casein.

566 HO 1335 E-Lane Escobar LAYNE RED SCS 2.59 +.18 b’fat. Milking Speed 100. He is also another A2A2 Beta Casein source and is rated 110 by Zoetis for Mastitis Resistance.

Monday, April 4, 2022

Building equity value into a dairy herd in today’s commodity world

In one week during an “aAa” customer schedule across north central Ohio, I discovered two Holstein herd owners with the same novel idea: select on gene markers for two premium milk categories (not just one). In other words, they were now requiring all service sires to have the A2A2 gene markers for “Beta Casein” (milk digestibility) as well as the BB gene markers for “Kappa Casein” (cheese yield).

These dairies are in the Dalton (125 cows) and Orrville (250 cows) area of Wayne County Ohio, where land prices and absentee landlord ownership make herd expansion nearly impossible. Thus it takes a premium milk marketing strategy while reducing external input costs to increase returns on investment. In their part of the world, there are processors seeking higher value milk, either for bottling (for the Cleveland market) or for cheese making.

Is it hard to find Holstein bulls worth using who are A2A2 Beta Casein? Not any longer, at least in the programs we offer, a third of the sires are known A2A2 (the expected Holstein percent of A2A2 animals is 25%). Is it harder to find Holstein bulls worth using who are BB Kappa Casein? You bet it is... the expected Holstein percent of BB animals is less than 10%.

If you check out the latest sire catalog from AI TOTAL you will find they feature 21 A2A2 sires and 13 BB sires. Nine of these sires are both A2A2 Beta Casein and BB Kappa Casein. So far we are stocking these:
515 HO 381 I AM RED PP GTPI is 2646. Net Merit $ is 657.

724 HO 2005 NIPIT PP *RC GTPI is 2685. Net Merit $ is 577. 288 HO 237 ADAWAY GTPI is 2809. Net Merit $ is 743.

It is not unusual today to find the Red & White and *RC sires have advantageous gene marker profiles. An example of an A2A2/ BB combination at INTERNATIONAL PROTEIN SIRES is: 566 HO 1321 CATCH ON PP RED +.13% bf and +.10% pr. Low SCC 2.66. Calving ease 1.6%

It is much easier to find A2A2 Beta Casein and BB Kappa Casein together in Jersey bulls, but if you also add in PP (“Pure Polled”=homozygous polled) it gets harder... yet both International Protein Sires and Triple Hil Sires, as well as Sustainable Genetics have several such combines.

Anticipating new market opportunities is a good strategy, and the A2A2 and BB opportunities are only available by focusing your genetic inputs. If this appeals to you, we are happy to be of help in identifying and sourcing bulls with unique gene marker traits.

Monday, March 28, 2022

Big news in polled sires available

We can now provide polled bulls in every dairy breed: Holstein, Red & White, Jersey, Guernsey Brown Swiss, Ayrshire, Lineback, Fleckveih, Milking Shorthorn and Dutch Belted.

The polled Holstein sire lineup of Vogue Holsteins (Canada) are now available through AI Total. They also have the only remaining semen on Australia’s “Mirand PP” in North America.

International Protein Sires continues to provide much needed variety in polled Holsteins and has the current #1 GJPI Polled Jersey bull (#2 GJUI, #1 GType) as well as the #3 “Pure Polled”.

Triple Hil Sires has polled Holstein, Euro Holstein, Red & White, Jersey, Ayrshire and Guernsey. This includes the ever-popular and uniquely bred Burket Falls polled A2A2 Red & White sires.

Browndale Sires has three PP sons of the highest Protein yield polled cow in Canada.
The latest entries from
Blondin Sires happen to be polled: Limited P, Willows P Red, Believe P

and Energy P. Most of these would soon be available “sexed female”.

New Generation Genetics has two unique polled Brown Swiss Sires.
Amerifleck has a polled dairy-type Fleckveih sire in their new US-based program. Sustainable Genetics has semen on two newer Jersey PP sires from New Zealand.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Growing interest in “Heritage Breeds”


British White, British White Park, Canadian Speckled Park

These are English-origin breeds with distinctive coloring and specialized marketing opportunity. The designation “heritage breed” is bestowed by the American Minor Breeds Conservancy who document the characteristic traits, monitors the size of each breeding population across several livestock species, and helps to connect breeders wishing to be involved in any individual breed.

We get periodic requests for semen from these breeds, and have made some connections with individual breeders. At present we have a small inventory of the famous Speckled Park sire River Hill 26T Walker 60W. Born in 2009 and successfully shown 2009, 2010 and 2011 when he weighed 2075 pounds at 24 months of age, he is considered 100% pure Speckled Park.

The “Speckled Park” is a composite of the Angus, White Park, and Teeswater-type Shorthorn. They were developed in Saskatchewan (western Canada) and were first recognized in 2006 as a distinct new cattle breed. Traits noted are great foraging vigor, good rates of gain whether on grass or grain feed, and easy birth weights (75#-85#). The meat is well-marbled, tender, and has less outer-layer fat. The carcass dressing percentage is higher than most other breeds.

Drawing on the gene pool of the “British White Park”, this is a breed originating in England from the 1800s that is white with black or red points (ear tips, nose, feet) and has dark-tipped horns. More of a “dual purpose” (meat + milk) breed in its development, they are considered good at “conservation (rough land) grazing” and have a good marbling ability that does not require corn to produce a finish grade animal. Cows are from 1000 to 1500 pounds at maturity, Bulls are from 1800 to 2300 pounds maturesimilar to most other English beef breeds. Cows live to 20 years of age (hardy, good fertility, easy calving).

Of earlier origin are the “British White” (likely an ancestor of the British White Park). These are polled cattle, also considered dual purpose, coming from eastern England. They were first noted as resident of Whalley Abbey in Lancashire, described in the 1600s.

Interest in these breeds has grown with the rising market profile of “grass fed beef”. Breeds already developed to match the pastoral English climate and soils were typically selected for a moderate growth rate on grass (seasonal grazing and winter baled hay) and reach a “finished” quality from age-triggered marbling on a faster-maturing, smaller-frame carcass. “Corn fed” as a category of beef really did not exist until after World War I and the developing feedlots along the Mississippi River to which western range steers were herded seasonally. With the advent of “Continental” (European) breeds in the 1970s-80s, mainstream beef breeding in the USA was transformed from grass-based to corn-based.

“Grass Fed” in that sense is having a “renaissance” as the total costs of dry lot rearing and feed lot finishing of cattle have risen. $6.00-$7.00 corn prices today represent a severe shock to the feeding industry after decades of $2.50-$4.00 corn. The time for “heritage” breeds has come.

English Breeds -- a simple comparison --

vs Continental Breeds

Simmental/ Fleckveih/ Pie Rouge Maine Anjou

Gelbveih Chianina

Salers Braunveih Piedmontese Normande

Larger frame size Later physical maturity

Nutrient-dependent fertility bigger calves (long gestation) higher % edible

Angus/ Red Angus Shorthorn (horned/polled) Hereford (horned/polled) Red Poll
Red Devon
Speckled Park
Scotch Highlander
Murray Grey **
British White/White Park Galloway/ Belted Galloway

= =

Belgian Blue

vs vs vs

vs vs

= =

Smaller frame size
Earlier physical maturity
Higher natural fertility
easier calving (lower birth weight) lower % edible

Several of the Continental European breeds have “double muscling” which includes Charolais, Gelbveih, Limousin, Piedmontese, and Belgian Blue (a result of crossing British White Park and Maine Anjou, so a cross-channel collaboration). This adds to calving difficulty.

** Murray Grey actually originate in Australia, the result of an Angus cow being repeatedly bred to a white Shorthorn bull, resulting in their unique color.

There are subvariants within breeds, for example the Loala (“Lowline”) Angus which maintain the pre- World War II “baby beef” growth rate and easy-fleshing metabolism. The Irish Kerry cow (known here as “Dexters”) are a similarly smaller size cow for homesteaders.

Worldwide there are at least 700 local, regional, or nationally identified breeds of cattle, used for draft, meat or milk purposes. These fall into three categories: Bos Taurus (European in origin) Bos Indicus (the Indian subcontinent of Asia) and Bos Africanus (the African continent). Each of these subspecies has unique genotype characteristics that can be found in all breeds originating in their specific geography. Many of these English and Continental breeds from “Bos Taurus” have been crossed with “Bos Indicus” bulls to create heat and insect resistance.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Bull analysis procedures - What I think I may be learning

  Greg Palen 


I have been looking at bulls in bull studs for 50 years, thanks to my Dad’s work for Curtiss and for my later work with first Tri State Breeders (Accelerated) and then Semex, prior to focusing on “aAa” Breeding Guide (Weeks’ Analysis) beginning in 1994.   In my AI career, always with an interest in aAa, whenever I could stand in front of a bull pen and study a bull, knowing how he was officially analyzed by “the Masters”, I tried to see what they saw.     When I began seeing a lot of (mostly Jersey) bulls within the Ohio Northcoast Group herds, and when possible worked them with Louis Hoffmaster (who first mentioned a Bill Weeks concept “the pull of the breed”), proficiency and my confidence improved.    Occasionally this meant I did a bull who ended up in an AI stud.    Here are first ones I remember:

76 JE 123   “Rocco”      Greg aAa 354 at farm:   official 453126 at Taurus  (Charlie and Dale)
76 HO261 “Markup”    Greg 513642 at farm:    official confirmed at Interglobe   (Jim and ??)
There was a yearling at Wabash Way I saw 246, once at Hawkeye Jim saw 462 (Allstar Genetic).

It has always been a fact of aAa that bulls get changed after arriving at stud or EVEN when they have stood at stud.    Perversely it can be bulls with high visibility.    Here are examples:

Pawnee Farm Arlinda Chief (born 1962)   4-6 old system at farm:  416523 once at Curtiss
Round Oak Rag Apple Elevation   (1965)   2-4 old system at Sire Power:  152643 at Select Sires
Hanoverhill Triple Threat Red       (1968)   216354 as a youngster: 261453 as a mature bull
Marshfield Elevation Tony            (1970)   612453 eventually became 612534 
Observation of the young milking offspring of these particular bulls led to these changes.

Tamlane Rockman Senator, done at farm by George Reed as 415362, changed by Bill Weeks at Curtiss into 423156 …  because we got to listen to George explain it after, it got me thinking.

However, until 2010 when Jim Sarbacker first took me on a bull committee, I had little training in analyzing bulls, neither Ted Krueger nor Byron Bryant having much opportunity to discuss bulls in the herds which I found for them and within which I received my apprentice training.   That whole process went backward when he basically turned bull committee over to Tim B, who had a bunch of “Charlie-isms” to explain individual aspects of bulls memorized-- but whose only response to questioning was anger.    It was always his way or the highway.

Thus – and this may be true for virtually all of us – when it comes to analyzing bulls, I am mostly self-taught.     Certainly, travelling with Jim, the expectation was you learned by observation or osmosis, he never broke down a single bull for my benefit  (as Bruce, Michael and I have done with Lee, Peter, Matt, and now Amy consistently in bull training opportunities).    This tended to make us cautious about changes once faced with review bulls others had done earlier.   Under Mary’s guidance our procedures are getting stronger, but this can also mean we might have to explain why bulls’ aAa can be changed.     As to why lots of bulls used to get changed, I like to remember the day Byron Bryant and I tagged along with Bill and Charlie at Western Ontario, where it appeared it was customary for them to review every bull on site.


The complexities of biology will always elude us to some extent.    Every animal we see – cow or bull – is an individual phenotype and unique genotype.    Furthermore, genes do not “dilute” (in conception, half of each parent genotype passes through to create unique gene pairings, while the other half is discarded) – there is no averaging of parental contributions as is suggested by genetic evaluation procedures.    No animal must look like any other sibling.    Some animals will dominate matings in particular qualities, others will have a random range of expression subject to what their mates offer.     The relevance of “aAa” is that we remain focused on the individual as a complex of qualities and deficiencies, and have the wisdom not to “rank” them about it.  

Today the big risk to bull accuracy is the LACK of review opportunity.    The example most visible in my experience is Semex’ aAa procedure:  (1) they want all six digits on every bull, but (2) they also want this done when a bull is only a year (or less) old…   This approach is incompatible to “aAa” customers.    Select Sires may have a better grasp of practicality: (1) young bulls get 3 digits, (2) matured bulls who are “returning to service” as “graduates” (ie, progeny data still competes with Genomic data) get reviewed and assigned all six digits.     How many of those bulls have we changed?     Perhaps Dave could tell us over a recent time period.     The longest list of bull changes may have been Jan and Marcel’s trip to New Zealand, which had the added complication that (in the opinion of some of us) the overall quality of LIC breeding stock is not very high in comparison to our collective experiences elsewhere, but could also indicate what is in store for all the world in the future, when breeding bulls are created in computers based on indexes that basically exclude physical traits, never updated based on actual on-farm results.   

More recent issues

In February 2011 I analyzed a yearling Jersey bull at a farm in Ohio four hours after he stepped of a truck from Oregon (so a 1000+ mile trip).     Immediately on arrival a semen collection was taken as well – to even have him standing up for aAa was evidence of stamina.    What I thought I saw was 1 6 2 5 3 4.      By November of 2011 this bull had been purchased by Taurus Service, and showed up on a bull committee list.    That day he was seen by Phil Hasheider, Dale Button and me, now at two years of age.     He ended up 5 1 6 4 2 3 … and I could see it as well as Dale and Phil.    I asked them “Why could I not see it back in February?”     Dale suggested the truck ride might have shook all the stuffing out of him.    Phil just smiled.    It still bothered me.

At the time of the International conference, the group of us went to Triple-Hil Sires for practice on bulls.    Among those viewed was  Burket Falls All Things PP Red  who was analyzed younger by Ed Smith as 3 1 5.     Now, again at least a year older, our group consensus with Ed included was that he should be 5 3 1 4 6 2.       

The end of May, with Amy Bickham and myself as a bull committee, we again visited Triple-Hil for a couple new youngsters and several reviews on farm bulls they are now collecting.   These three dynamic young men are more concerned over “aAa” accuracy than typical bull studs.

The Burket Falls bulls are widely used in “aAa” context and so Triple Hil gets feedback on them.   The latest to have first milking daughters is now  Burket Falls Enlight PP *RC  who was analyzed younger again by Ed Smith as 3 1 2.     Recent feedback to T-H has been that this bull needed to be reviewed, as offspring exhibited a lack of “Tall” features discernable to many aAa users.

What we found was a mature size bull with the look of an “easy keeper”.    By the time we were done, this bull became 5 3 1 4 2 6.     The biggest point of contention was “is this a sturdy front end stance?” and the point of doubt was that (even more so than 516324 “Done Right P Red”) there was not the width between front legs expected by a bull who is “5” up front.    For me the decision was that, without depth of chest to hold his legs apart at the elbow, and with smaller forelegs, he could not express width between the knees – BUT his feet were even and he stood on squarely placed front feet, ie, they were not spindled.

As you added up indicators up and down the “has Smooth” column of the P/S chart, you could find nearly all of them.    As you added up indicators down the “lacks Tall” column of the P/S chart, you could also at this stage find nearly all of them.     So why could we not see both these bulls as smoothies when viewed as yearlings?    Do we have different expectations?

A further example, coming at it from the reverse side of customer expectations, is Chili Action Colton, at Select Sires, a worldwide favorite among type-oriented Jersey breeders.    Seen as a yearling, he was analyzed 1 5 6.     Once daughters began milking, calls were coming in that he needed to be reviewed, as “these things are so narrow, and you are calling him a wide bull.”    Bruce and I got to review him as a fully matured bull, and found a huge-bellied bull who only got narrow once you were behind the hooks.     He also had shallow chest, smaller forelegs, short/down pasterns, wide/short head, tremendously deep rear rib and sprung ribcage, BUT not enough chest to hold his forelegs very wide apart.    Again, the feet had even toes and tracked straight ahead, and (typical of Jersey bulls lacking 2 and 4) needed a hoof trimming.   We finished him off as 1 5 6 3 2 4  and the only explanation for “why are they not wide?” is either (a) there is not enough chest and frame to express it, (b) you have to let them get older for it to show, (c) he just isn’t as good a bull for this generation [of Jersey mates] as he was when he was first evaluated.     (Mr Weeks said “Cattle can be good” but the corollary to that is “a nice proof today fully promoted today does not guarantee useful cattle tomorrow”.)  

Tentative conclusions

The most important training exercise we have had recently is the April exercise where Mary asked us to explain every indicator.     Fine tuning our definitions will make on-farm bull aAa consistent with bull committee.    The example above is “do we understanding spindling on front legs (NOT “width between front legs”) vs sturdy forelegs (even weight bearing on feet with equal size toes) is absence or presence of 5 Smooth.    Do we understand that “broad hips” and “out hips” really do not look the same (“broad” hips create width across the meeting of body core and pelvic bone structure; “out” hips are prominence of bone beyond the body, whether narrow or wide bodied, as we view the same area).

I would ask Ed to recall if in the case of both “All Things” and “Enlight” if one of his reasons for calling both of these 3 Open bulls (as they are—a good 531 is certainly going to add “open”  to his offspring at a detectable level) is if, FROM HIPS BACK, he felt the body core capacity was being extended into the pelvic region capacity.     (What do I mean?    In the case of “Colton” you could see the rear end closing up as soon as you got past broad hips.     In the case of bulls lacking 1 Dairy which is a frequent event in Holstein Genomic selections today, you also see a “tight” rear end from lack of broad hips, but you need to see that differently from a “closed up” rear end as in lack of 3 Open.     Two different lacks can affect the same dimension, but it is our job to see the difference in overall causality, which is why you always confirm each number by the correlated patterns – not from the first observation:  ie, thurl is “out” so must be “square” which is NOT true, a thurl is much more visibly prominent on a “sharp” (Tall) animal than on a “round” (Smooth) animal.    

“Open” is thus a “sharp” way of creating width, while “Smooth” is more a “round” way of creating width, but we have to be very cognizant of when and where it creates it (an Open bull lacking Dairy is going to have a tighter rear end, what is your expectation?) (a Dairy bull with Smooth is going to be smaller framed thus not as wide as a Strong bull, again, what is it you are expecting to see?)     

Animals lacking 2 Tall (referring to the summary definition of the traits) will not have the same development at early ages as animals expressing 2 Tall, who are faster-growing, faster in their physical maturation, thus in the common possession, also faster aging.    We tend to see more Smooth expressed in the better longevity animals, we may also see immaturity in their younger offspring  (I have a heifer and cow photo of the famous “Snowboots” and she looks long-legged in her first lactation…  but she defines Dairy/Smooth in her elegant maturity).     

In the case of bulls, we do have heads, necks, loins, shoulders, pasterns and feet, testicles, rudimentary teats (on all breeds other than modern Holsteins at least), tailsets, flanks and hocks.    We cannot skip over what they are telling us.   What is in common in all the examples I have given is that at young ages, while still growing, they did not have the weight on their back nor the spring in their rib from full development and rumen function to make it clearer how Smooth they will become visually.    Ed Hubbell advised me early on that in cases of underfed or overconditioned heifers, I should focus on what all the extremities were telling me.    It is safer to wait for lactation or maturation to  make judgements on things like muscling and condition.    When it comes to bulls today, we are analyzing most of them barely past being heifers (ie, not that far from initial puberty) so the round qualities related more to organic and soft-tissue may take more time to fully express what we will eventually see.

Does this help anyone??


Wednesday, March 9, 2022

The impact of “aAa” (Weeks Analysis) on selection for fertility


“aAa” has always recognized the heritability of Body Conditioning ability.   This helps you to counter one of the major weaknesses in linear trait selection.

“aAa” accomplishes this by seeking more “balance” in the physical structure of the cow.    When genetic selection is so focused on “faster maturity” of the physique, by accelerating growth rate (the current simplistic method for measuring “feed efficiency” now built into “Net Merit” index) aAa balances young age growth rate with a sturdier bone structure and wider body capacity to slow feed passage through the rumen and abomasum to fully capture all nutrient energy so the cow can avoid falling into that energy deficit trap.

“aAa” keeps cows in proportional size, so they can adapt to your environment.

Unlike linear trait methods that use “rolling” genetic bases and have no anchoring to the limits your free stalls, alley widths, bunk spaces and parlor stalls place on cow size and stature, each cow is guided to a mating that can keep them within the scale of your existing facilities.

We all know that as cows have gotten larger (partially from physical maturity coming quicker; partially from that PTA Milk selection favoring bigger cows) and this trend has accelerated with more generations of “one size fits all” index selection, it has influenced many dairymen to get larger in order to build newer barns with more per-cow space.    It has also influenced feeding advisors to constantly increase the use of rumen bypass feeds to increase “energy density” but that runs up against rising ingredient costs in a “flat” milk price economy.    None of this would be necessary IF the mating methods employed could “manage” these genetic selection trends that have raised our costs with each successive generation of “high index” heifers added.

The impact of “cow line” sire selection for better fertility potential

Dr Allen Williams may be better known in the beef breeding world than in dairy, but his extensive studies in both have led him to conclude a dairy cow needs four calves before she is a “net profit” cow (recovered all costs of raising, producing at a profitable level).    This is one more calving than the “PTA Productive Life” index is based.      The biggest limitation in PTA-PL is coming from its reliance on “DPR” as the sole indicator of adequate fertility.    Daughter Pregnancy Rate data does not sort between natural heat conception and Ov-Synch fertility.

You will note that International Protein Sires, Triple-Hil Sires, and AI Total ALL have cow line type and production data in their sire directories.    Compare this to the many studs who only have “sire stack” pedigrees in their bull books…   where a majority of dams have not calved!      

Select sires on their maternal cow line evidence of realized fertility.
Mate cows so as to produce a balanced, healthy, adapted physique.

Breeding a more fertile herd is not “rocket science”, it is more (1) a consistent exclusion of sires who are no better than the average of commercial cattle, and (2) a consistent avoidance of matings that are highly likely to produce a heifer with more “extreme” physical proportions than your cow.

Sires are still available who offer exceptional ancestry of proven longevity, and the “aAa” method of mating can produce a more balanced offspring from their use.     You will find the semen prices on such bulls competitive, and you will also find that using “aAa” in place of genomic testing of (and sexed semen on) heifers is a huge savings.   

The production gain from functional maturity is greater than the marginal benefit of the highest PTA Milk values, and production profitability is also much greater at any level of current production you have attained.

Are you willing to be different from “the herd”?    Give us a call… (989) 834- 2661.

Monday, March 7, 2022

Breeding selection for a more fertile herd of cows


Over the last two decades, the calculation of milk checks has clearly gone in favor of component volumes over fluid milk pounds.    This has been difficult for AI studs who had focused on fluid milk volume (PTA Milk) with so few bulls initially offering truly good components.  Their advice to dairymen was to keep selecting “pounds” (PTA Fat and PTA Protein) when for breeding, the genetic response was twice as strong when you select “percents” (PTA Fat % and PTA Protein %).     Number of Jersey and Crossbred cows increased, but Holstein cow numbers remained static.
In that time period blended milk market butterfat in FMO 40 climbed from 3.50% to 3.75%.     Protein in comparison changed very little.

Genetic selection  and feeding  helped butterfat increase, but still holds back protein

Protein % is one of the most heritable of linear trait measurements.   Why do we not gain more protein yields?    This is important again after a generation of focusing on butterfat %.    This has been related to the continuing insistence on “higher PTA Milk” in sire selection, still followed by the larger AI systems.   They sell what they have, because they breed future bulls from the past success;  but this is done in a vacuum of understanding the limitations on performance that the prior selection emphasis has placed on the current breeding population.

One of the major limiters of higher protein yields is selecting for high angularity physiques.   The AI industry has ignored “Body Condition” as a genetically selectable trait.    Linear type has favored the high angularity type cow since 1970, and it has taken a toll on herd fertility.  

“First service conception” has fallen 1% per year in the first 30 years of “linear”

This data came from a conversation at an NAAB technical conference held around 2000.   (The reports from staff inseminators in the largest AI system at that time were this data’s source. )
It is noted that type scoring in all dairy breeds switched over from descriptive to linear methods from 1968 to 1972 – a highly suggestive coincidence.      What else could contribute to this?   The first Net Merit composite index (created by Dr Cint Meadows at MSU) shifted sire ranking from pounds of butterfat to pounds of milk, and the linear preference for “angularity” defining “dairy quality” came from corn feeding trials at MSU and other colleges following USDA’s lead in crop subsidies for corn and soybeans, rather than forage crops used for ruminant animals.

In other words, to make milk from corn instead of hay, we have to change the cow’s type.

Why such a trend in fertility?     First and most importantly, early indexes ignored fertility.   If a cow set a higher peak, she might extend her lactation.    Selection for bulls began to favor cows with the highest and most extended “peak” production.    Geneticists in that era truly ignored or had no understanding of how the genotype “rations” nutrient energy between four uses:

(One)      Finish growing  (first lactation cows were only 2/3 grown at that time)
(Two)      Make a lot of milk volume  (encouraged by new milk order fluid premiums)
(Three)   Put some useful nutrient solids in the milk  (butterfat, protein, lactose)
(Four)     Breed back as required to optimize productive life  (recover rearing cost)

What did selection favor?     Geneticists assumed all lactation “curves” were identical, and that culling the lower PD Milk yield bulls would also cull the cows that did not milk for 305 days.    As we now know, the cows with the longest productive life and the most regular calving tend to be the more persistent, “flat” lactation curve cows.     “Flat”, persistent lactation curves allow for a great many benefits:   Lower ration costs…   Lower reproduction costs…   Less metabolic disease and fewer veterinary costs…   less fluctuation in Body Condition score.     Taking a lesson from the Beef breeding industry and Grass dairymen, biologists observe that body condition score is highly correlated with optimal reproduction rates.

Cows in a “negative energy” state produce less protein and are slower to breed back.

Until a cow is on a positive energy plane, protein produced in the rumen will be converted into energy in the abomasum and absorbed to help the body keep up with its total energy demands.   Thus less protein shows up in the milk… and repro is slower.    Cows with lower Body Condition scores (condition lost from setting aggressively high peaks early in lactation) usually require Ov Synch intervention to get back with calf.    

Sires with “plus” PTA Protein % values are thus more likely to sire cows with optimal fertility.