Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Is your farm producing generic volume or premium value ?

 

Starting as my Dad’s part-time office boy, ad writer and assistant bookkeeper, I am closing in on fifty years working in and observing the evolution of dairy cow breeding.   In this period, I have seen the exodus of my peers from farming to city jobs, or the changeover of dairy farms to crop farming and steer feeding.    All of us have seen the rise of environmentalism, now facing the first generation of the consumer public that does not see us as “the stewards of the land” but often as despoilers of the environment.    Many of you are jumping through extra “hoops” as more milk product handlers want to impact on the way in which we produce the milk they sell.   (My largest “aAa” customer in Ohio agreed to go “GMO free” in order to earn a premium on milk from Dannon yogurt.  With 2800 cows this adds up to thousands in extra income without added cost!)    

Are there opportunities for the majority of us?     There will be.    If you look at the sales made by Michigan’s largest on-farm bottlers (Country Dairy/ New Era, Moo-ville Creamery/ Nashville, Calder Dairy/ Carleton) all involve rBST-free, GMO free, and/or A2A2 Beta Casein labelling.    There are a couple successful local Amish-built dairies that are selling “creamline” premium milk and finding a ready market.

In Europe, the animal rights’ oversight on dairy farms has made note of how the “aAa” system for mating the cow physique produces “happier” (easier moving, more trouble free) cows.   In contrast, most dairymen suffering outsider inspection of cow lots find themselves written up for “lameness” – the majority of which is based on poor leg structure caused genetically and thus cannot be solved by any management intervention short of a higher culling rate.

Generic cows result from genetic indexes designed to produce commodity milk

Did anyone ever suggest this to you?    “Index” was designed from the beginning to satisfy the data-driven scientist focused on chemistry, rather than living biology.    Scientists do not trust “observational” knowledge, will follow a reductionist path to focus on data points that shorten the time of evaluation.    Genomics—a look at new-born DNA under a microscope—is the final step in this evolution away  from animal husbandry, which was always driven by interpretation of observed behavior and accumulated experience over animal lifetimes and intergenerational (rather than contemporary) comparison.

This focus on data points (the irony of trying to predict gene transmission when comparing a set of unrelated animals—ignoring the “mating effects” resulting from choice of sire and dam) has allowed undesirable behavior to propogate, and among this is the various mutations that effect milk composition in negative ways…    “blending” good and bad milk on the same milk route.  

Everyone suffers under milk market “pooling” when bad genes are allowed to proliferate

An example of this is when a major Michigan milk cooperative lost a lucrative volume market supplying milk to a cheese plant—and having three loads in a row fail to “set” curds in the set processing time.    What caused this?    OK, possibly too much fermented feed leading to too acid a milk produced;  but also, the proliferation of the “E”  Kappa Casein gene, a recently identified milk protein mutation that refuses to set curds.     This has multiplied in Holsteins as a result of widespread usage of a high Genomic value sire line dominating the “sire of sons” lists.     “Accelerating the generations” has meant that three generations of that sire line could be used in your herds before the first drop of milk was produced by the oldest generation of offspring having calved from that line.     By then, how many “outcross” (clean) cows do you have left?   

Traits not driven by data points have no impact on Genomic sire rankings.    Bulls with the “E” Kappa Casein gene should receive “Cheese Merit” indexes of zero – but their “cheese” indexes are still within the same range as the basic fluid milk “Net Merit” ranking.   Likewise, polled has no impact on any index, even though it has a clear multi-generation positive impact on heifer raising costs.    Data for Daughter Pregnancy Rates is not affected negatively when OvSynch has to be used to get cows pregnant (an increasing percentage of cows generated from IVF-ET sires will not cycle naturally) because DHIA does not record that data.    The relentless focus on more milk regardless of cost has you raising replacements that will require ever more intervention from external inputs raising costs.   In this, the $50 million that the dairy industry has invested in Genomic tests so far, to decide if a heifer deserves to be raised into a future cow, has not raised the net income of any dairyman who sells milk (instead of breeding stock) for his living.               

The 40% of dairymen who still use “matrix” trait selection are best positioned for the future

Genomics to date is calibrated simply on the male DNA side of the genotype.   The observable differences in female RNA (which pass from cow to her heifers) some of which affect milkiness are not considered.    Depending on Genomics for your total genetic decisions is to breed for bulls—and in fifty years I have yet to see any bull give a drop of milk!!

This might explain why we are happy to assist those dairymen who are increasingly selecting in favor of traits outside the data points—polled, A2A2 Beta Casein, AB or BB Kappa Casein, plus percents of butterfat and/or protein, depth of maternal line performance, and managing cow conformation with the “aAa” breeding guide (rather than following advice that has you mating your matured, most successfully adapted, more fertile, high productivity cows to “beef” bulls just because their DNA came from older thus “obsolete” bulls…)

So much of what the genetics industry is promoting reminds me of the children’s fairy tale, do you remember “The Emperor’s New Clothes” from the Brothers Grimm?   Just ‘cause everyone says this invisible cloth is lovely and therefore valuable, the fat old emperor is all I can see … it is still important we breed real cows with the capability of a long life of low-cost productivity.

Monday, May 20, 2024

Turmoil in the alfalfa seed industry reflects the changing Dairy farm dynamic

  CONCEPTIONS   Dairy Route newsletter                   Jan-Feb 2023 

Two of the three largest corporate entities in the breeding and production of alfalfa seed are currently for sale, with no “takers” in sight.     Corteva, the corporate spinoff that holds all the prior agricultural divisions of Dow Chemical, has drastically reduced staff in the alfalfa division.    A major competitor has similarly downsized its investment in alfalfa breeding, while it has been a couple years since Monsanto (during its sale to Bayer AG) spun off its “round up ready” alfalfa project to a division of Land Of Lakes.

What does this all mean?    Simply that, since the run-up in corn and soybean commodity prices the industry saw thousands of acres of alfalfa tilled up to plant row crops.    Those big chemical companies who have been buying up seed production in recent years are focusing down on the crops that require the most chemicals under the current monocultural farming models.

This does not mean that alfalfa seed will not be available, because it is.   At Byron Seeds we are expanding the reach of the “Synergy” concept alfalfa blends, which draw seed from several of the independent seed breeding companies.     If you have not looked at “Synergy” there is this opportunity to jump-start your alfalfa production in the face of the decline of seed propogation programs which will just keep selling the older varieties already in the marketplace.

BUT at the same time, crop reports are showing that the future for hay and haylage is moving in favor of mixed alfalfa/grass (the greatest tonnage and stand life) and grass/clover (the greatest nutritional density) if not the “three way” of grass, alfalfa and clover.     If you look up “synergy” in a dictionary, it will tell you “the result when the new ‘whole’ is greater than its parts.”
 

Mich Livestock Service, Inc   For the Best in Bulls”    “High Digestible Forages”
P O Box 661   (110 N Main St)   Ovid,  MI  48866     phone (989) 834- 2661     fax (989) 834- 2914
www.michiganlivestock.com     email to: greg@michiganlivestock.com


Wednesday, May 15, 2024

WEIRD TRENDS IN HOLSTEIN CATTLE that are causing trouble

  CONCEPTIONS  Dairy Route Newsletter               May-June 2022

Many of you have never asked why I keep promoting the “aAa” Breeding Guide.   I also know that the typical AI stud salesman calls what we do “voodoo” as if it had no basis in the biology of gene transmission and genotype repairing.    In fact, aAa has always had the most provable explanation of why linear-based matings can go wrong and produce early-age culls from what were supposed to be the “best” sires (and for which you probably paid a premium price).

Here are some examples:


DISAPPEARING  REAR  TEATS

Many of the “elite” sire lines based on both the “Net Merit $” index and Holstein “TPI” index have been “erasing” the rear teat on your replacements, frequently producing udders lacking enough rear teat to seal a teat cup for milking   

Biological cause:  lack of aAa quality #1 “Dairy”  
Selection cause:  as Genomics accelerates sire generations in favor of “health” it has reduced the hormone production in heifers that would complete developing a full capacity udder.    

 

REAR TEATS TOO TIGHT TOGETHER FOR EASY MILKING
AI studs have dreamed up “robot ready” designations to indicate the handful of sires that usually still have space between two rear teats.     The problem begins when the udder lacks any rear udder width.    Teats just ride on the outer skin of the udder; they will only be spaced when a rear udder has adequate “room”.     

Biological cause:   lack of aAa quality #5 “Smooth”
Selection cause:  as Genomic selection has tied faster adolescent growth rates and earlier-age maturity of production together, animals do not develop width or spring of rib that assists the rumen in full utilization; they just grow excessively tall and the stretched muscling flattens against the skeleton.    Narrowness results.

CHRONICALLY LAME FRONT FEET
Often seen on the heifer who is narrow in her front end.    When you look at the way she stands at rest, her front feet “toe out” to the extent her lower leg turns.   You will see most of her weight is carried on the inner toes, allowing uneven hoof wear.   Outer toes grow out requiring frequent trimming.    She goes lame.

Biological cause:   lack of aAa quality #5 “Smooth”
Selection cause:   linear type for decades has confused “angularity” with “dairy”.    This has produced narrower front ends over time, until the frame can no longer anchor legs squarely at four corners of a physically balanced body core.

 

COWS STRUGGLE TO RISE FROM FREE STALLS
The hind leg position on such cows does not support the full rear end weight, due to a thurl position that thrusts the hind leg out partially behind the rump.   Loins flatten out, spines bend, and locomotion declines as spinal nerves get pinched.

Biological cause:   lack of aAa quality #6 “Style”
Selection cause:   linear type for decades has wavered between preference for a “set” hock and a “straight” hock, often ending up with extremes of each.    This is an added consequence of “angularity” selection, which reduces muscle mass the cow needs to hold the thurl central to the rump and fully control the foot.

   

UDDERS SQUEEZED FORWARD BY HIND LEGS
If hind legs are too close to the udder, the maturing of the mammary gland will force it outside the housing provided by the pelvis.

Biological cause:    lack of aAa quality #3 “Open”  AND  lack of quality #1 “Dairy”
Selection cause:   linear type focuses more upon the rib cage, less on the pelvic dimensions, starting at the hip (hooks downward) and proceeding through thurl and pins.    Fancy snug young udders end up either deep or tilted forward, each of which reduces milkability of the udder with each added calving.

 

I COULD GO ON …  my point is, sound matings would PREVENT making such cows.

 

 

 

Monday, May 13, 2024

How much milk does the “genotype” produce, compared to your cows’ “phenotype” ??

 

The “genotype” is the microscopic DNA and RNA within the cells of your cows, which holds the pattern for the “potential” life the cow could experience.  

The “phenotype” is the physical cow standing in front of you, the result of how her “genotype” was filtered through her environment growing up.    It reflects how that genotype “adapted” to the environment.     It is the “real” cow rather than the theoretical, “potential” cow.

To produce the best “phenotype” you cannot depend on Genomics alone, which at this point only considers 15% of the total genes passed through conception.   Knowing that, why pay so much more for Genomic information that can easily be determined by keeping records of pedigree ancestry?   

MIch Livestock Service, Inc  “For the Best in Bulls”, mating guides, and the seeds to feed them  

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Just pondering where we are going

 

Embryo transfer was first attempted surgically in the 1970s—fifty years ago, with  “super-ovulation” [hormone injections to stimulate multiple egg release] quickly developing to multiply embryo production.   Then along came ET “flushing” (non-surgical) techniques in the 1980s, harvesting embryos a week after insemination for implantation into host/incubator “recipients”, followed closely by methods for freezing embryos for later implantation.    With the advent of “Genome” testing (DNA Mapping) in 2010, demand for “In Vitro Fertilization”  [conceptions made outside the cow’s body from eggs aspirated off ovaries]  arose.    A majority of Holstein, Jersey and Brown Swiss AI sires are produced by these methods.

Genetic values: now imputed instead of evaluated

From the advent of frozen semen in the 1960s, which enabled wide-scale progeny testing, until the early 2000s (again, fifty years) the “gold standard” genetic value was the 99% Reliability progeny evaluation.   Milking daughters, production tested and type classified across a number of herds, determined AI bulls’ “genetic merit.   The analysis of pedigree—ancestral performance—was of an equal value to those seeking a more complete view of breeding potential.    Finally, the individuality or phenotype of the bull himself and his close dams and sisters added up insights for compensatory mating and potential longevity of performance.

After the advent of Genomic indexed ranking the AI industry is no longer willing to wait for the final verdict of progeny evaluation.     Less phenotypic information is provided, in fact few bulls today live to maturity for evaluation, replaced by the relentless stream of newly-hatched IVF embryos.     Increasingly, the dams of the bulls AI offers never have a calf of their own, never enter the milking string, never have to compete in the real world and be evaluated on their own production.

Is there a consequence to all this?

I cannot help but wonder if we go too far with technology?   None of us as dairies can afford to abandon natural reproduction.    Nor can we afford to turn over cow herds at a 50% culling rate demanded by the current theory of “genetic progress”.    The functioning matured cow [3rd, 4th and later lactation] still produces the most.
How much of longevity requires adherence to natural fertility as nature designs?

Comparing  costs   (utilizing all the technology available)

The sales pitch is as follows:   (1) Genomic test all heifer calves for their ranking on USDA’s “Net Merit” or Holstein USA’s “Total Performance Index” [or some hybrid that adds in patented “Wellness traits” or “Immunity Plus” or “Eco Feed”].      $50

(2) sell as deacons all heifer calves below some arbitrary level of Genomic index. 
Breed the heifers retained to gender-selected semen from the newest of Genome ranked young sires, to accelerate generations to gain genetic value faster.       $60

(3) As these heifers freshen and enter the milking herd, start culling “older” cows whose Genomic index ranking value is below the incoming heifers.    Continue to breed the new milking heifers to gender-selected semen as long as their Genomic values exceed those of the second and later cows still milking.                            $70

(4)  Breed all second and later lactation cows to “Beef” breed sires, reverse gender selected if possible, to insure mostly male deacons to be sold  (deacons that look like “beef” crosses bring premium prices at sale barns).                                         $70

Depending on your success from sexed semen and raising calves, your milking herd age is going to decrease rapidly.     You are trading a “{mature}” production herd for a “{young}” production herd.     You are raising your future herd from a “heifer” momma herd instead of a proven “cow” momma herd.                   $ 1800

Estimated added cost of buying the technology theory (per cow milked):     $ 2050

The math is simple, really.    Genomic tests are an upfront cost of collecting DNA and sending it to your lab of choice.      Using gender-selected semen generally triples semen cost over regular conventional semen and related conception rates.    While heifers conceive to sexed semen at a rate within 10% of conventional semen, cows in milk conceive at a rate 25% less than regular.  
Finally, culling cows at their peak maturity (when Zoetis’ research says cows produce 30% more than they did as heifers) rather than keeping them their full productive life costs you the value of that cow, who probably cost $1800 to raise from calf to first calving.

Why have 45% of all dairymen swallowed this theory?     Just as I used to hear “you can’t get milk out of a registration paper” I will now ask you “can you get milk out of a marginally higher index?”  (enough to cover all the added costs of trusting to acceleration theories)    

Would it not be wisest to harvest as many replacement heifers as we can from the OLDEST COMPETITIVE COWS IN THE HERD?    Cows who are proven to have adapted successfully to your environment, have the fertility to breed back and have live calves, and MILK A LOT??

Monday, May 6, 2024

Should we use nitrogen fertilizer at “maximum” or “optimal” yield?

  CONCEPTIONS   Dairy Route newsletter           March-April 2022 

Nitrogen prices for 2022 crop season are, as we all know, skyrocketed.    I just read an article that suggests at these prices we should fertilize at the “optimal” level (an amount that will offer a meaningful yield boost) rather than seeking a “maximum” yield (an amount that may have diminishing return on costs).    

As cattle people we all have manure to utilize, and when carefully captured its natural nitrogen content (alongside organic matter for soil building) will aid us in row crop production.    Adapting to cover crops is an additional way to generate nitrogen naturally, reducing your out-of-pocket expense for synthetic fertilizer.


Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Some thoughts on feeding beef cows and the effect of supplements

  CONCEPTIONS  Beef Cow-calf newsletter         March-April 2022 

As I get older I pay more attention to people like Allen Williams, who is telling us fertility is a better measure of beef cow genetics (and a better selection strategy for profit) than rates of gain.     Feeding determines most of our weight gains.

If you are a “corn and beans” row-crop farmer with a few cows on the side, and dry lot house your cattle while crops are growing, it is certainly easier to lift that scoop of grain than that bale of hay, every day.    But it is also noticeable that the larger the cattle operation, the more emphasis is put on grazing cows and using pastures, extending the grazing season as long as you can, as the most expensive thing we do in cattle feeding is pour diesel fuel into machinery to feed them in a barn or dry lots, and haul away their manure.    Why is this true?     Because the typical beef cow is only going to generate a 550 pound calf at weaning on her own  (and the cheapest way she does that is to nurse that calf while on a good pasture, teaching it to also eat grass and thereby develop a more efficient rumen).    

All the big farming publications push heavier weaning weights.     Breeds publish the weaning averages of breeders’ calves at standardized (205 day) ages, hoping to prove their breed is better than the others.     In many farms “creep feeders” offer supplemental feeds  (grain rations, heavy on corn and oilseed byproducts)  so calves get extra energy beyond momma’s milk.     But does the market price structure pay you a profit on that increment of expense?    And are those “fat” heifers that result harder breeding and calving than pasture-raised females?

In other words, a decent beef cow even of smaller frame size will grow a calf its first 550 pounds of weight on milk alone, and the best of them will make their milk on grass alone.     All the supplements you feed, from hay to silage to grain mixes to probiotic stimulants, put on the other 200 to 250 pounds…  and as they reach puberty, the smaller frame breeds start to store excess intramuscular fat from the extra concentrated energy that corn and other supplements provide.

It is a huge waste of resources across our industry, to be faced with trimming all the extra (inedible) fat off carcasses after slaughter.    “Bark” fat is more prone to turn rancid and adds nothing to meat flavor or texture when cooked.   The only fat desirable to the consumer is the “marbled” fat that provides flavor.   

 

Are you making “records” or making “profits” ??

Paying attention at calving time improves conception at rebreeding time.

Raising replacements on grass builds more rumen capacity and digestive efficiency that helps the cow be profitable for a full lifetime

Growing market animals primarily on forage reduces feed costs per pound of gain and sets you up for profitability even in times of fluctuating market prices.

Selecting “terminal cross” sires on fleshing (muscularity instead of fat cover) and “maternal trait” sires on fertility and cow-line longevity is better use of genetics to improve a cow herd for the long-term than EPDs that can be “enhanced” by creep feeding calves and supplementing cows with high energy grains and oilseeds.

Mich Livestock Service, Inc  “For the Best in Bulls” and profit-making forages



Monday, April 29, 2024

Having custom-collected semen shipped from private breeders?

  CONCEPTIONS  Beef Cow-calf newsletter         March-April 2022

Many of you have found that directing direct semen (or embryo) shipments to our office saves trouble handling shippers and insures biologicals are handled expertly (for example, we add nitrogen to vapor shippers before handling the contents so they can be transferred to your tank or our delivery tank at optimal temperature.

If you are arranging such a shipment, CALL US (or email, or text) so we can watch for it to arrive.    With all the recent craziness, shippers can get lost in the Fed EX or UPS systems, and someone has to be tracking them so they arrive safely.    We just need to know where your order is coming from, how much is coming, and we will get it into your tank  (whether stored here or at your farm).

Pooling your orders with us:  save on or eliminate shipping costs

A single shipper tank moving, say, from Hawkeye Breeders in Iowa to Michigan is costing approximately $150.     On a 20 unit order, that adds $7.50 per straw onto your purchase price…   a cost you can avoid if the bull is handled by Cattle Visions.

GOOD CONCEPTION THIS SEASON STARTS WITH GOOD CALVING

A cow having a calf has to be ready for delivery.   This means that her dry cow ration in the third trimester needs to be maintaining her body condition at a stable weight.  Trace mineral levels in feed need to be adequate to support good muscle function, and daily walking exercise helps to maintain good muscle tone so cow can complete the delivery without “running out of gas”.

Clean and dry calving areas.   Cows calving outside in the spring will seek out a spot by instinct, avoiding areas where another cow has already delivered.     But if it is still wintry or wet and the calvings have started, consider setting up calving pens in sheds that can be bedded dry and easily cleaned.    I have seen calving shelters on skids you haul around a paddock.

Avoid rushing deliveries.    The full calving process takes several hours from the onset of labor.   “Pulling” calves early in labor, as a convenience to your time will usually damage the cervix, and maybe even the uterus and attached muscles used in delivery, and can render cows sterile.

If it becomes necessary to assist a calving, try to accomplish this with the use of OB chains and handles (in stock in our store and elsewhere) that allow you to alternate “pull” from one leg to the other.    Pull with her contractions, rest between contractions.     Until the body is out far enough to expose the navel, when the calf may be getting squeezed at its diaphragm (affecting its ability to breathe) you do not have to hurry things.

Milk fever is always a possibility in an over-conditioned cow that is fully grown.    When dry, the metabolism shuts down its synthesizing of calcium from what producing milk requires.    If this does not start back up when cows udder up, their muscles may not contract properly to enable calving without assistance, and then the cow cannot stand up after delivery (or may go down a bit later, after nursing her calf).     You can detect this by feeling the temperature of their ears (which should be warm to be “normal”).      There are oral calcium supplements to use prior to calving, and if cows go down, your vet will have CMPK solutions that can be IV’d into the milk vein (or if highly skilled, the jugular).     Yes, this is more often a “dairy cow” problem, but it is not impossible for a good beef momma cow to have mild cases. 

Mastitis and metritis often go hand in hand.     Good levels of vitamins A, D and E insure higher levels of liver enzymes produced to “clean up” the uterus after the placenta is delivered.    But it takes up to a month for the uterus to fully involute (return to normal size and condition) after a calving; the first days after the calving the cervix will still be partially dilated, allowing drainage to leave the uterus (thus bad bugs could crawl up that stream and enter the uterus).    Because of the nutrient energy drain making an udder and shrinking the uterus demands, an infection in either organ will reduce the system’s resistance to infection in the other.    Check udders if you can, at least observe their color and texture if the cow is not keen on being handled;  mastitis is easily conquered if you catch it early, harder to deal with if you give it a chance to multiply.

 

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Butterfat production is generationally accumulative

Cory Geiger, for many years editor of Hoard’s Dairyman, now Dairy analyst for an international banking system, recently released a study of the history of butterfat production in the USA.   It seems that, up to the middle 1960s, the national “blend” showed butterfat production steady around 4% of total milk production.   Then the Federal Milk order system instituted Class I milk (bottling) premiums, USDA decreed the “baby boomer” school kids would get a pint of milk per day, and nutritionists declared (erroneously) that animal fats were “bad” and vegetable oil fats were “good” (in fact, the opposite of current health research; and part of the cause for national  epidemics of obesity, heart disease and alzheimer’s).   National butterfat production dropped to 3.6% of total milk production and stayed there for forty years, far into the “multiple component pricing” transition that began in the 1980s linking butterfat and protein production as the “key” generators of dairy farm income.     Only now, based on 2022 milk marketings, has the national butterfat “herd average” regained the 4% level.    

Are you below a 4% herd average for butterfat?    Geiger’s study proves you are leaving income on the table, producing skim milk that no longer generates profit at any level of marketing.   In fact, in spite of the rise in national bf% averages the USA imported 107 million pounds of butter from our trading partners, half of that coming from Ireland…  where cows average 4.6% bf!

What is your strategy for increasing production of this most remunerative milk component?   It could improve if your feeding strategy raised the quality and quantity of forages within your ration…  however  without focusing sire genetic selection on higher butterfat% bulls, you would find progress to be quite slow.    Butterfat % is one of the top three highest heritable of all linear trait measures, at 50% heritability in most publications.    This compares to milk volume yield at 20% heritability.   The higher the heritability the more important becomes genetic selection.

Why did butterfat % yield lag 20 years behind changing sire preferences and selection indexes across the USA, in comparison to other leading dairy countries?     Part of the “fault” came from the national push to replace hay acreage with corn acreage, begun with USDA incentives in the 1970s forward for decades, followed by similar incentives for soybean production.   Cows had to “adapt” to being fed lots of corn and oilseeds, as a species originally evolved to harvest grasses and similar green forages.    Feeds that raise rumen acidity (as grain and oilseeds do) depresses butterfat (which is a product of cud chewing;   you have to have forage intake to form “cuds” of fiber needing chewing, which in turn buffer the rumen against acids from fermentation ).

Also, according to Dick Witter, retired owner and sire analyst for Taurus Service, when you look at the entire sire summary (not just the bulls pre-selected for AI marketing) there is a strong link between component production and the “round” aAa qualities, primarily 5 “Smooth” but also more dramatically when combined with 6 “Style” and a close balance between 1 “Dairy” and 4 “Strong”.   “Round” cows have more effective rumen breakdown of digestible fibers, from which butterfat is primarily produced.  Thus selection that preferred “angularity” in cows over multiple generations held back butterfat production, even when genes to support it were in the DNA.

Breed cows for what is heritable:  manage the environment to handle what isn’t

It can be confusing to keep straight what is highly heritable, what is dependent on adaptation to an environment, and what is heritable but the approach to measure it used so far is flawed.    As the typical presentation of AI bulls on websites or in catalogs follows an abbreviated “one size fits all” format dictated by Genomics, it can be harder to identify the bulls that have specific qualities you are needing in a generation where those characteristics were missed in sire selection.

Should we keep breeding cows to match an “ideal” theoretical environment, or would it make more sense to address real problems we see in individuals within the context of the environment they live in?    Should we follow indexes that are producing “generic” milk, or pay attention to trends in the dairy marketplace?

Economists tell us the secret to profitable commodity production is to be a least cost producer.    Let us help you breed for profitability instead of generic milk and throwaway cows.                           Mich Livestock Service, Inc        

Monday, April 22, 2024

Is the trouble environmental? Or is it genetic??

CONCEPTIONS  Dairy route newsletter                 May-June 2024 


As the AI industry transitioned from an inseminator “service” focus into its growth phase as a “genetics marketing” focus, and the theories of “genetic ranking” created a framework for the competition between AI sources and their sires, the tendency grew to blame “environment” (or “herd management”)  for most things that occurred when individual animals failed to persist, or failed to stay healthy, or became harder to breed back, or just did not live long enough.

An entire new “hoof care” industry of full-time trimmers and foot bath engineers arose.  Getting cows to breed spawned “OvSynch” protocols.    Veterinarians adapted to “production medicine” techniques to cope with the health of cow herds transitioning from a hay-based to a corn-based feeding regime (fresh cow ketosis followed by D/As, for example).     Nutritionists steadily added new energy-dense additives to rations to cope with lack of body condition and slow rebreeding.

How did the AI industry behave through all this?    First, they took “genetic” credit for all gains in milk yield (ignoring the transformative feeding technologies you were adapting), -- and Second, denied all responsibility for bad legs, lame feet, bad teat placement, slow reproduction, difficult calvings, because “we have the best genetics, you just have to learn to manage them.”

Here is the basic rule of thumb for who you blame for what goes wrong.    If your entire herd has the problem, look for an environmental (or management) cause.   But- if only individual animals have the problem, while others do not, look to genetics as the cause.    At its basics, “genetics” is just comparative statistics.    Deviation above or below “herd average” for not just milk, but for any aspect of cow behavior (or anything you can blame on a lack of adaptation to your environment) has an inheritable cause.    Random sire selection can cause these problems.

The only time “genetics” could create a problem across the herd is the accumulative effects of “single trait” selection.   Whenever only one thing (for example, seeking the maximum “index”) dictates the sires you use, this allows all genes not considered to accumulate negative behavior.



Saturday, April 20, 2024

Spring breeding is in progress all around our route

 CONCEPTIONS   Beef cow-calf newsletter                           May June 2024

Inside is a review of the estrus cycle, and how to time your inseminations to get an acceptable conception rate.     
Here is an extra tip:   If seeking bull calves, breed as late as possible in the cycle.   The male sperm cells are heavier than female, and as they will all wake up and be swimming about after you thaw the straw, the heavier male sperm cell expends more energy in the process.    Thus, they will have a shorter life in utero than the female sperm.
Breeding later  (like waiting until the cow refuses further mounting activity)  gives you higher percentages of live male sperm as they come in contact with the cow’s ovum (egg), thus increasing chances of a winning steer calf in next year’s crop.
Charlie Palen began his AI career in 1952.    He sent Greg to his AI school in 1969, and here it is 55 years later;  even with Charlie gone, we are still helping people get cows bred.
Mich Livestock Service, Inc.    “For the Best in Bulls”  ( a complete AI service )  989/ 834- 2661

New technology option for natural heat detection

CONCEPTIONS   Beef cow-calf newsletter                           May June 2024


Mark Curry     (989) 984- 7027     Route service and sales

Sue Palen        (989) 834- 2661     Office manager and Order desk

Greg Palen      (989) 277- 6031     Certified Seed Specialist;  AI refresher training

Ashleigh MacNeil                           AI Training consultant


We just learned of this.    It is called  “HEAT SIECKER”.    Equipment consists of a radio antenna, glue-on patches, and glue…    The patches send a radio signal to the antenna  (at your monitor location)  indicating each mounting activity.    This signal has reached one to two miles in trials, and (like cell phone signals) is not hampered by lacking a “line of sight” contact.    The patches have batteries with about four month life; the patches themselves can withstand a year being outside in the weather  (so you can rotate them from spring cows to fall cows).
Mark and I thought at first glance, the technology is a bit expensive:   You buy the antenna for $1399 (good for a working lifetime).    Patches, sold in boxes of ten, are $29.75 each.   The glue is $ 9.50 per bottle  (does 8-9 head).    THEN there is a data plan, $560 per year (or $360 if you just buy a 4 month breeding season) -- I assume you download that on your farm computer, but the idea of getting heat messages on your cell phone  (so you could plan insemination times “in the moment”)  was mentioned.
Testimonials to-date suggest superiority to either synchronizing or human heat detection.   One herd in South Dakota with 300 cows experienced a 16% increase in conception.     (Dairy farms with in-barn systems often report the same, but electronics for outdoor/pasture heat detection is a new development we will be watching).
The developer, Brent Siecker, can be reached at brent@heatsiecker.com or ph (402) 418- 2790. 

In  the  meantime …

We stock CIDR inserts for timed breeding,  and we also stock ESTRO TECH stick-on patches for enhancing visual natural heat detection.     Both are relatively affordable options.
Brush  up  your  heat  detection  and  AI  techniques  for  spring  

Heat detection

Cows cycle anywhere from 17 to 24 days, with most hitting 21 days.    Heifers should begin cycling soon after reaching one year of age (heritage breeds slower, pushed genetic selection breeds earlier).     “Cycling” begins on one of the ovaries when the most developed “follicle” releases estrogen into the bloodstream, which excites the cow/heifer to be more attentive to companion animals.   This excitement raises blood pressure slightly, resulting in a similar rise in body temperature, as blood flows into the reproductive tract.
Engorgement of the repro tract (on the side of the mentioned active ovary) will flow into that uterine horn;  if you palpate the tract, you will feel one horn enlarged and “lifting” up from the membrane holding the womb in place.   You will see a swelling of the vulva on the rear of the cow, and “pheronomes” (an odor that other animals will smell) will draw attention from others.  Over the next hours of visible mounting activity, this engorgement will move rearward, enlarge the cervix, stimulating it to release a thin mucus that cleanses and lubricates the vaginal canal.    
Toward the end of standing heat, when the cervix is fully “dilated”, the AI technique is easiest.   (If you enter the cow in earlier stages of estrus, you run into the engorged uterine horn, while the cervix will be hiding underneath and bent upward to the lifting horn structure.)    Standing heat can last up to twelve hours, and it rarely pays to inseminate with frozen semen in earlier stages (the sperm cells will wear themselves out swimming around inside the body before the egg is actually released from the ovarian surface).     
Basically, the entire process of estrus is designed to force release of an egg at the end of all the excitement.   In natural service, the bull’s thrusting will stimulate the clitoris.  The nerves send a signal to the pituitary gland in the base of the brain to release “lutenizing” hormone into blood circulation, and this causes the ovarian follicle to rupture, releasing that egg to travel down the “fallopian tube”.      The sperm cells will already be in the fallopian region waiting for the egg to arrive.     They begin rubbing their heads against the shell of the egg, until the enzymes coating both acrosomal caps (sperm) and ovum (egg) dissolve and a single sperm enters; this completes fertilization (conception takes place) and a new genotype is formed in the shell.   As the embryo develops it moves down the tubes into the uterine horn, attaches to the sticky uterine wall and goes through the continuous cell division that transforms into a fetus.
Good AI technique will mimic the design of nature

Because sperm that has been frozen and rethawed will only live up to twelve hours after AI, and the release of the egg can also take up to twelve hours after the end of standing heat, breeding later in the heat is best.   To insure ovulation, it is best to practice clitoral stimulation after the AI gun is removed, so that nature’s signals are met.    Work with nature is always the best practice.