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??


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