Monday, February 28, 2022

There is only one “Y” Chromosome variant left in USA Holstein breeding?


You have probably seen the articles over the last three years…, reporting on Dr Chad Deckow’s work in genetics at Penn State University.     Influenced by the thinking of older geneticists such as Leslie Hanson of University of Minnesota (see his article in the April “Progressive Dairyman”) his team of researchers have sought out rare semen on bulls from 50+ years ago whose line of sire (Y chromosome) descent differs from what has come forward after the implementation of linear trait type evaluation with “modified contemporary comparison” production indexes.

“Ranking” of sires under various composite indexes (combinations of production and type, now also with health traits) has steadily reduced the number and diversity of sires considered to be “sires of sons” for competitive AI service.     Since the introduction of Genomic selection and its focus on “accelerating” generations, the number and diversity of “bull mothers” has also been reduced, and pedigree inbreeding coefficients (as monitored by Dr Hanson) have risen fast.

Why do we fear inbreeding?

There is an observed general loss of “vigor” traits as the genotypes being mated become more “homozygous” (similar in gene possession).       Under Genomic selection, the highest ranking females to mate to the latest ranking sires would be their full sisters…  those with genotypes that possess the same “marker genes” as their full brothers.     This constitutes “inbreeding” on the molecular level as well as (and perhaps more relevantly to the issue) on the ancestral level.

In spite of this, AI studs pursue ever-closer matings as they produce the higher imputed indexes under the current Genomic selection procedure.     To Dr Hanson and many others this is a basis to pursue crossbreeding (assuming other breeds still have different genotypes in ranked sires).


According to Dr Deckow (confirmed in Holstein USA “Redbook” sire summaries) the two sires who dominate AI sire lines are Round Oak Rag Apple Elevation (born 1965) and Pawnee Farm Arlinda Chief (born 1962).     For a period of time until 1990, a third sire, Penstate Ivanhoe Star (born 1960) was in the running, until two lethal recessives (*CVM and *BLAD) carried by “Star” and his prominent son, Carlin M Ivanhoe Bell, put them into the background of pedigrees with no new “Y” chromosome descendants surviving in sire line AI.     In the case of “Elevation” and his contemporary “Chief” they represent half of the total genotype (roughly ¼ each) carried by a typical modern Holstein.    ( In fact, the only two sires active in AI in the USA today that do not carry the “Y” chromosome from “Elevation” and “Chief” are Dun Did Black Onyx and Gloryland Jaguar, available from Triple Hil Sires  [which we carry] . )

What made the 1960s a seminal era in Holstein breeding?

By 1960, frozen semen was a fully adapted AI technology, allowing any breeder with a semen tank full choice of sires as desired in mating to his better cows.    Both “Chief” and “Elevation” rose to the top of Holstein USA’s TPI ranking list, and “Star” was high on the list of sires proved to mate well with these two stellar sires.     All three of these were found to be improvers for Protein % once this trait was first summarized in the 1970s (and drove USA genetic exports to Europe in the 1980s, reinforcing demand for their descendants as embryo donors).

Hidden underneath the obvious that fascinates data-driven geneticists, are some similarities in how these super sires were originally bred:  aAa Breeding Guide (Weeks Analysis) was used to plan the matings producing them:  linebreeding (to Johanna Rag Apple Pabst) had influenced the ancestors behind them.      These sires were all bred prior to the “contract mating” era that controlled new AI sire selections from 1980 forward, by Breeders whose primary focus was the generation of useful heifer replacements, and they considered more than “indexes” to do so.

What was unique about “Johanna Rag Apple Pabst”?

Born in Hartford WI in 1921 [100 years ago], this bull came from a dam who had produced 1034 pounds Butter (890 lbs butterfat) from 19786 pounds of milk in 365 days as a three year old, a remarkable accomplishment, roughly twice what better Holstein cows usually produced under similar farm management—and at a level of butterfat 1.0% higher than Holstein average.    This cow had a symmetrical udder with four evenly-placed teats of moderate size that would adapt to the new milking machines being developed.      Young “JRAP” was shown extensively and in spite of his “round” appearance was so functionally correct he was “All American” three years in a row.    His owners, after four years of service, consigned him to the 1926 “Clark’s Holstein Classic” as a newly-proven sire.     This was an annual extravaganza with 250 head offered.

How breed history used to be made

A newer Holstein breeder in Quebec, Thomas Macaulay (whose business was Insurance and as an amateur geneticist had a sideline in breeding hybrid seed corn) had been seeking a herd sire for his Mount Victoria herd (prefix: Montvic).      He had specific goals:   4% butterfat (Canada’s Holsteins were notoriously low in that era),  machine milkable udders, and sound type with no hidden recessives that would support a sustained linebreeding program.

He ended up paying $ 15,000  to get JRAP at the Clark Classic.    After the sale he negotiated the return of JRAP to his breeder’s farm to be bred to as many of his own daughters as possible in a time period determined by the eventual railroad shipping of the bull across the border.    Those inbred calves (six later going to Mt Victoria a year after) included a prizewinning two year old at the Royal Winter Fair and a new two year old butterfat record – pretty much confirming JRAP possessed no lethal recessives and had the genetic quality to withstand linebreeding.

How many purebred breeders in the AI era stick with a plan, beyond using the highest indexing or show type sires to compete in those high profile but limited size markets?    A century ago, as the dairy industry was growing and developing, most leading breeders had an outline to follow irregardless of prestige or popularity – they expected the cattle produced from their breeding to be useful in improving the herds (and therefore the well being) of neighboring dairymen.

Lines of descent from JRAP to “Ivanhoe” --  “Arlinda Chief” --  “Elevation”

The Montvic herd only had 20 years to develop (1922 to 1942) with JRAP at its head from 1926 to his death in 1933.     Only 70 head were catalogued for the dispersal (36 cows, 34 heifers and bulls) forced by Mr Macaulay’s death and the strictures of World War II on available labor.    Yet the release of these animals into the broader Holstein fraternity (up until then only service bulls had been sold to others) quickly influenced early AI cooperatives in Canada and Eastern USA to acquire Montvic-descended bulls for their farmers.

Penstate Ivanhoe Star  (1960)
JRAP sired Montvic Chieftain:  who sired Raymondale Successor:  who sired Raymondale Ideal Successor:  who sired Montvic Rag Apple Gladiator:  who sired Osborndale Ty Vic :   who sired Osborndale Ivanhoe:  who sired Penstate Ivanhoe Star.

Pawnee Farm Arlinda Chief   (1962)
Sir Inka May *RC sired Carnation Emperor:  who sired Emperor of Mount Victoria:   who was bred to JRAP- sired Montvic Rag Apple Colantha Abbekerk:  who birthed Montvic Rag Apple Sovereign *RC:  who sired ABC Reflection Sovereign *RC:  who sired Rosafe Pearl Hannibal:  who sired Pawnee Farm Reflection Admiral:  who sired Pawnee Farm Arlinda Chief.

Actually, “Arlinda Chief” carries eight pedigree crosses to JRAP as a result of a deliberate line-breeding from a series of “Rag Apple” herdsires used by Lester Fishler in Nebraska. 

Round Oak Rag Apple Elevation
Wisconsin Admiral Burke Lad, bred to his own daughter, sired Weber Burke Cyclone:  who sired Wis Ideal:  bred to his paternal sister, sired Wis Burke Ideal:  who, bred to his own daughter, sired Tidy Burke Elevation.    (The dam of old “Lad” shares some ancestral relationship to JRAP).   This is the inbred “Burke” sire line that produced Round Oak Rag Apple Elevation.

JRAP sired Montvic Chieftain, who sired Montvic Chieftain 6th, the first “Rag Apple” sire behind the dam of “Elevation”;  next came Montvic Pathfinder Prizetaker (sired by Montvic Pathfinder, son of Montvic Chieftain from a JRAP daughter);  then Glenafton Gaiety (seven crosses to JRAP); then Osborndale Ivanhoe.      This the ancestry of Round Oak Ivanhoe Eve, linebred “Rag Apple” the dam of Round Oak Rag Apple Elevation.


Where did that take us?

“Elevation” sired Hanoverhill Starbuck.     His two most AI- dispersed sons were Madawaska Aerostar and Ronnybrook Prelude.     The great Picston Shottle is sired by a “Prelude” son and from an exceptional “Aerostar” daughter.

Contemporaneous to “Shottle” and with some similar pedigree influences is Braedale Goldwyn.    His biggest impact comes through sons “Atwood”, “Aftershock” and “Gold Chip”.      He holds a record as siring the most daughters scored “Excellent” under Canadian type classification.


“Arlinda Chief” sired SWD Valiant.     He in turn sired Hanoverhill Inspiration the first Canadian AI sire to produce over one million straws of semen, and who sired the grandam of “Shottle”.

“Arlinda Chief” sired Milu Betty Ivanhoe Chief (from an Osborndale Ivanhoe dam).     He in turn sired Cal Clark Board Chairman (from an “Elevation” dam).    His most widely-dispersed son is To-Mar Blackstar (whose dam combines “Ivanhoe”, “Elevation” and “Arlinda Chief”).


What sire combining “Elevation” and “Arlinda Chief” with multiple pedigree crosses to both is a dominant sire line progenitor in the Genomic era?      “Mountfield SSI Dorcy Mogul”  (recently deceased after producing 1.7 million straws of semen, with more sons, grandsons and further descendants among Genomic selected AI sires worldwide than any other sire.)    


“Ivanhoe Star” sired Carlin M Ivanhoe Bell *BL.      Before BLAD recessive was identified, this sire was on track to dominate the “Net Merit” index world.      An influential son who escaped the curse of BLAD was Southwind Bell of Bar-Lee.


Based on the history of cattle breeding in the AI era, it can be both.     Earlier sires in formative AI were generally linebred, and they are the foundation for modern sires in use today.

At the same time, we keep being told that inbreeding is a potential danger to the functionality and profitability of our cattle.     Little consensus exists on how this danger occurs—most advisors focus on pedigree interrelationships, but others suspect it is “like to like” mating systems (following index ranking without regard for physical mating characteristics over multiple generations).

The latest question is how much of this is a result of being so focused on only one “Y” chromosome in the sire lines being selected for AI?     Again, there are mostly questions and a paucity of answers.

Mich Livestock Service, Inc   ***    “For the Best in Bulls”    and    “For Quality Forage Seeds”

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

How long should a momma cow last in a herd?


We could debate this for hours, and never reach a consensus.     In nature, a cow can live 25 years.     In the theoretical world of geneticists (sitting at a desk with a computer in their face, and no cows in sight) the perceived “genetic trends” skew most choices made and recommendations given.     The mainstream AI industry of dairy-focused studs with companion beef breeding programs are key promoters of emphasizing EPD’s and overlooking any observation of cattle behavior.    They are selling semen on traits with half (or less) the measured heritability of natural fertility, disposition, udder conformation, foot structure, and many other key cow characteristics.     They promote “indexed” performance gains over consideration of incremental cost of producing those gains.     Thus the use of creep feeding to “enhance” pre-weaning rates of gain, rather than pasture fertilization and cattle managed on the land in symbiosis with the soil biology, that could feed them in a more ecologically sound, less machine-intensive way, thus more economical way.

Genetic selection.

Do you know how many natural calvings the dams of all (or any) of your herd sires have had?   Do you know how many services each required for conception?     Lots of embryo donors that result from multiple generations of ET propogation produce progeny that require the same to produce offspring.      Limit their genes to your terminal cross performance and show cattle.

The economics of cow ownership.

For many years, the famous Wye Plantation angus herd (copied by the folks with the “hairpin curve” genetics in Nebraska) would offer seven year old cows at their public auctions.    What was magical about seven years old?     Their calculation of their farm overhead said that a cow whose only income is one calf a year has to calve five times to recover the cost of being raised.

Would you buy a seven year old cow?      Backing this up was the average momma cow at Wye Plantation lived fifteen years.      That means for twelve calvings she bred on time to calve in the desired month with a live calf, and bred back afterwards.      Cows producing stillborn calves and cows that did not breed on time were culled.     Thus when they offered a selection of pregnant seven year old cows, they expected they had seven more calvings in them for the buyer.    All the “culls” had already left at a younger age, not give second (and third) chances to screw up…

Even if you consider your beef cow-calf operation a “hobby” it still pays to operate as if these cows were the sole source of income for your farm.     Keep your decisions practical.


Approaching the end of the breeding season

For those who only utilize spring calving, this is getting close to the end of heat detection and insemination.     If you utilize clean up bulls, they need to be ready to go to work soon (but hopefully will not find much work to do… )

If your calves are not yet tagged or vaccinated, that will be your next step in herd management.    Calf identification is primary to effective evaluation of results for your breeding decisions, as you sort between replacement and feeder qualities.

For those will dual (spring + fall) calving, we remain ready to assist you with your new semen requirements for early winter breeding.     Our stocking of AI supplies and other aids to fertility is a “year long” investment here.


Mich Livestock Service, Inc    “For the Best in Bulls”    “For the Best in Forage Seeds”  

Sunday, February 20, 2022

A breeding tool I have found useful is aAa


“A breeding tool I have found useful is aAa.   I would encourage all of you to consider how this could help you to breed better cattle for your operation.”

                                                 John Mark Weaver, Fredericksburg Ohio
                                                 Panel discussion 2020 Ohio Winter Grazing Conf.


Thank you, John Mark, for this endorsement.   If you do not know him already, he is breeding purebred registered Holsteins, and is an accomplished grass dairyman.  
His success grazing pedigree Holsteins has astounded many, but so has Amos Nolt (the first “no grain” grass dairyman with whom I have worked, also a supporter of using “aAa”) with his polled Red Holstein breeding focus.


The general thought among graziers, influenced by advice from New Zealand and University experts, has been “if you are going to graze, get rid of your Holsteins.”    Various advisors (and commercial AI marketers) have promoted crossbreeding or smaller cow breeds or New Zealand and Australian genetic sources, all with the idea their choice is essential to grazing success.    And—initially (two or three cow generations) – the advice of all these “experts” has worked for most who tried it.


The problem with all advice (including mine??!!) is that it has been influenced in some way, either by a short-term PhD. research designed to support a foregone conclusion, or by an opinion that what you are already doing has anything wrong with it.     The grazing industry is recognizing that mainstream genetic evaluation is focused on the economic results for high-input, TMR, confinement dairy (and draws the majority of its data from those environments).    Thus it is seeking its own way, making the grass-dairy industry subject to confusion over breeding.

Everything can be made to look logical and useful when we are collectively unsure of the basis of mating and genetic selection in cattle to begin with…


What is the Truth?     “facts” tend to be limited by time.    They are “true” at the time they appeared evident.     (example: “hybrid vigor from crossbreeding gives 7% more milk, better fertility, more health, than straight breeding.”)   They work for one, maybe two, possibly three generations—then no longer work.    In some cases, the solution promoted to fix one issue just starts to create a new problem than becomes evident (again, in that third generation, when every “one size fits all” solution starts to cause “inbreeding depression”).

The biggest problem even with “research-driven” conclusions is that we do not see a need for “research” until we have already bred a herd (or a breed) into that problem.     We saw this fifteen years ago in the Jersey world, where comparative breed statistics showed Jerseys as #1 for health, fertility, and Productive Life  -- but by pedigree, were the most “inbred” of all major dairy breeds and thus feared “inbreeding depression”  {more puzzling, the breed with the lowest inbreeding coefficient at that same time was the breed with the worst health, fertility and Productive Life statistics!}.     However, the Universities paid to do this research (all of whom had Jersey herds) could document “inbreeding depression” at high levels in their herds, in spite of their use of the “best” bulls in the recommended way.      Their conclusion?    We must create some new outcross bloodlines, after years of recommending no Jersey breeder should use Danish, Canadian, any show type or local private-owner (eg, Ohio Northcoast polled) bulls, or “aAa” mating.   

Once the research concluded that the Jersey breed was actually less “inbred” than in a period of time before index ranking of sires, but had better health, fertility and longevity data in that era of linebreeding and on-farm herdsires, the entire discussion was dropped.    But do problems go away if we no longer choose to pay attention to them?     This is the mental state of dairy genetics and breeding, and the context in which breeding theories and fads arise and thrive.   


As a student of breeding history, I adhere to the mantra of all historians, “Those who deny or ignore history are doomed to repeat it.”    Thus my goal is to offer you a useful tool, that has helped dairymen all through the history of AI, and is applicable to every style of cow management, with a simple premise:  Breed a cow to be adaptable to any environment, and she will succeed in spite of change to that environment.    Then make it continue to work in multiple generations.

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Tips to optimizing fertility in replacement heifers


At this time you are breeding cows who may be nursing your replacements.     Your replacement heifers born last year are now fifteen months, old enough to breed.  Are they big enough??

Probably they are.     As a general rule, a heifer will be 55% of her expected mature weight at fifteen months of age.     If your momma cows weigh 1200, that means their yearling heifers only need to weigh 660;  if your cows are more like 1400 pounds, their yearlings will be 770.

The points I am leading to are these:

Creep feeding.     This practice has been used for steers still on momma’s milk to grow as fast as possible and to transition faster after weaning.   For intact bulls (as well as heifers) much of the weight gain from creep feeds is going to include fat, especially on smaller frame breeds.   After puberty, with sex hormone production kicking in, animals start making fat from excess energy intake, and tend to store it both visibly (brisket) (neck) (tailset) and in the wrong places (inside body around kidneys) (inside pelvis around repro organs) (inside the mammary tissue) (inside testicles) – places where it will not metabolize at times when animals need to mobilize some stored energy.       Internally stored fat is generally a negative to future health and reproductive performance.     If you practice creep feeding, consider grouping cow-calf pairs so this is kept away from future replacements.     

Conditioning for show.      The growth planes of females are strongly influenced by breed.    The traditional “English” breeds (Angus) (Red Angus) (Hereford) (Polled Hereford) (Shorthorn) (Red Poll) (British White) started with smaller frame size, reached puberty quicker, and were bred to finish on good grass, thus will “marble” based on age without supplemental feed.     By contrast most of the “Continental” breeds (Charolais) (Simmental/Pie Rouge/Fleckveih) (Maine Anjou) (Limousin) (Gelbveih) (Chianina) which matured later, grew taller on heavier-boned frames and did not “marble” stored fat into the muscle typically needed supplemental feed to reach higher meat grades at slaughter.

Now that nearly all breeds known by “continental” names are actually crossed with Angus  (to gain polled heads and black hair to compete in USA markets)  the original “breed character” is no longer as predictable in the animals you are breeding.      But the basic rule is that heifers of any breed, raised in any way other than grazing grass, should not be fed the same as steers and that means conditioning for showing must be very carefully done, with the body condition gain closely monitored to avoid heifers becoming too fat to breed and then have difficult calving.

Learn the differences in “type” between performance quality and maternal quality stock.    It is as true in Beef as in Dairy genetics, too much emphasis on “performance” traits for females can lead to a staggier, bully-appearing, low fertility and hard calving cow herd of inefficient cow size.     Such cows do not do well nursing calves on grass and have higher repro costs per calf.