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About: Chrissy Meyer

Recent Posts by Chrissy Meyer

A sire’s progression from new to daughter-proven

Genomic proofs give us the confidence to use exciting sires sooner! You can rest assured these bulls will deliver on their genetic promises because genomic testing provides an immediate reliability of around 70% for production, health and conformation traits.

You might be wondering, what are the different genomic sire options? And how do they progress from their first release to daughter-proven status? Let’s break it down…

Alta ADVANTAGE

Our newest sires are available only to our loyal Alta ADVANTAGE partner herds. These Alta ADVANTAGE only sires offer diverse trait specialties and elite rankings on many different customized genetic plans.

When a bull is first old enough to be collected, he simply won’t produce enough semen to be readily available to all farms around the globe. So while we work to build semen inventory, we give our loyal Alta ADVANTAGE partner herds priority access to these elite, new sires that best fit their customized genetic plans.

G-STARS

Once a bull starts producing enough semen, he is added to the G-STAR sire list. Many new G-STAR bulls are readily available this proof round. Among these sires are a wide array of trait outliers, and high ranks to fit your genetic plan.

FUTURE STARS

About a year after a bull is first released, we know results for both sire fertility and calving ease. We gather this data and analyze the results. We then award the FUTURE STAR designation to only the bulls that prove themselves above average for sire fertility and have real observations that say he’s less than 8% for sire calving ease.

FUTURE STARS are the way to go if you want the benefits of elite genomics, but prefer the added peace of mind of proven sire fertility and calving ease. You may give up some production and health as compared to the available G-STAR or ADVANTAGE only sires. But you gain peace of mind knowing that you’re upping your chances for a pregnancy and a live calf resulting from an easier calving. Because of the known calving ability, FUTURE STARS are ideal options to use on heifers.

That explains the progression a bull makes as a genomic-proven sire. So you now know the difference between each genomic sire option. With that in mind, compare the average genetic level of each group in the table below.

You’ll see the newest, Alta ADVANTAGE bulls have the highest genetic averages. That’s followed by the G-STAR sires, and then by the more highly reliable FUTURE STARS. You’ll also see the comparison to daughter-proven sire averages, just for reference.

December 2018 program averagesTPIMilkProtFatPTATUDCFLCPLDPRSCS
Alta ADVANTAGE2794175068911.651.710.766.52.52.71
G-STAR2708157362841.921.891.125.52.12.80
FUTURE STAR2573161360721.521.490.874.71.92.85
DAUGHTER-PROVEN2391113142561.371.560.793.91.72.82

Despite the big difference in genetic averages between the genomic lists and daughter-proven averages, it’s important to note that every single bull atop our current daughter-proven list was once a part of the G-STAR and/or FUTURE STAR lists.

The track record is significant for our current genomic favorites. Each proof round, we see these genomic bulls deliver on their initial predictions, and eventually graduate to daughter-proven success.

 Put your genetics into action

With that in mind, have confidence to use a team of sires from the Alta ADVANTAGE, G-STAR or FUTURE STAR lists. Alternatively, if you prefer the peace of mind from higher-reliability proven sires, you’ll certainly find the right bulls to fit your needs among that list.

Select a group of bulls that meet your customized goals for production, health and conformation so you drive your progress to match your current situation and future goals.

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December sire lists

No matter what genetic plan you’ve put in place on your farm, we have daughter-proven and genomic-proven bulls to meet your goals.

We have access to information on the specialty sires you need, all in one place. In printer-friendly formats, you’ll find A2A2, polled, outcross, robot-suited and kappa casein sires. There is also a listing of our milking speed ratings, 100% registry status listings and a list of DWP$ and WT$ on all Alta sires.

Whether these criteria or other traits match your current situation and future goals, work with your trusted Alta advisor to customize your genetic plan. You can do that by using our Advanced Bull Search or Alta GPS.

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Top takeaways from December sire proofs

1. Sire proofs are now more accurate

The Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding (CDCB) is now using a new reference genome and additional SNPs to calculate genomic proofs. While this alone may not mean anything to you, it does affect some genetic ranks.

In addition to a different, updated reference genome they are also basing calculations off 80,000 SNPs, up from the previous 60,000.

To better explain, PEAK Geneticist, Doug Bjelland compares this to finding a house on a map. The previous reference genome and number of SNPs would help us locate on which street a house is located. The new update means we can find exactly where on that street the house is at. In short, these updates give us greater genomic proof accuracy.

Because of these updates, on average, industry sires changed as follows. However, individual bulls may have went up or down more than these averages.

  • HO daughter-proven sires: ↓8 NM$ | HO genomic-proven sires: ↓ 14 NM$
  • JE daughter-proven sires: ↓6 NM$ | JE genomic-proven sire: ↓18 NM$

 

Want more details on these changes, check out this CDCB article HERE.

2. You’ll find high ranking sires to fit your genetic plan

Because genomics gives us continual access to ever-increasing genetic levels, we have some exciting new bulls atop each of our marketing lists:

Whether you’re looking for Holsteins or Jersey sires, you’ll find the right ones to match your current situation and future goals, regardless of the customized genetic plan you’ve set for your farm.

3. Sire fertility matters

We want to help you create more pregnancies. So we keep you as informed as possible on updated sire fertility ratings on conventional and sexed semen. Look for the orange CONCEPT PLUS logo for conventional semen or the purple 511 CONCEPT PLUS logo to know which are the highest fertility sexed sires.

To implement a true precision approach to fertility management, work with your trusted advisor.

4. Sexed semen awareness

We know sexed semen demand continues to increase on progressive dairies around the world. And we’re working hard to accommodate that demand. With this proof round, we’re bringing greater access to more available sexed sires.

Whether you choose the newest Alta 511 SexedULTRA bulls or prefer known sexed fertility through 511 CONCEPT PLUS ratings, we have the right bulls to fit your genetic plan.

5. Beef x dairy is part of a genetic strategy

Have you kicked your genetic strategies into high gear by using beef on your lower end genetic animals? If so, we have the beef sires you need. We can help you create that pregnancy to reap the benefits of an immediate premium for the beef x dairy calves.

Visit us.altagenetics.com/beef, and work with your trusted advisor to implement this as part of your herd’s genetic strategy.

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What’s a fertility leader?

Have you ever really thought about what’s involved to get highly fertile semen from the bull to your tank, and then into your cows or heifers? Fertility leadership is backed by the Alta people, processes and programs involved in every step.

PEOPLE

Fertility excellence is what drives our team! We hire and extensively train only those who share a commitment and passion to your herd’s reproductive success. From semen collection and evaluation to distribution and delivery, our barn and lab staff, veterinarians, distribution crew, technicians, and sales force are all committed to help you get cows pregnant.

PROCESSES

We deliver the highest quality semen through continual innovation. Our scientists on staff are always looking for the best ways to enhance semen quality through extender research, potency trials, and more. We implement the same, strict semen handling processes and quality control checks at each of our AI centers located in six different countries around the world.

PROGRAMS

We choose the industry’s leading sire fertility evaluation, CONCEPT PLUS, as the only way to measure Alta sire fertility. CONCEPT PLUS is based on pregnancy check results from DairyComp data in our large, progressive partner dairies. We update results every other month for the most reliable sire fertility information – and we’re transparent about which bulls offer superior or inferior fertility.

You can trust CONCEPT PLUS.

Twenty years ago, we challenged traditional fertility evaluations to align with the real needs of progressive herds: creating efficient pregnancies. CONCEPT PLUS goes above and beyond today’s industry evaluations to bring you the most trusted, accurate, and proven designation in sire fertility.

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Haplotype & genomic reliability updates

Based on new findings from the Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding (CDCB), one new haplotype will be added, and two others removed, starting with December 2018 proofs. Alta Bull Search and Alta GPS will be programmed according to this new information.

A new Holstein haplotype, HH6, was recently identified in France, and is currently found in about 0.5% of animals in the US Holstein population. Mating two HH6 carriers is expected to yield a 7%-11% drop in conception rate.

Further research into the JH2 haplotype in Jerseys and the BH1 haplotype in Brown Swiss showed no significant fertility losses on matings between carriers. This, paired with the fact that researchers could find no causative mutation on these two haplotypes, means they will no longer be reported.

Gene test advancements

In addition to new and discontinued haplotypes, the reported haplotypes are also gaining accuracy. PEAK Geneticist, Doug Bjelland, compares the improved accuracy of haplotypes to locating a house on a map. The previous way of recognizing haplotypes essentially showed us which street a house is located on. Now, because of gene test advancements for causative mutations to determine haplotypes, we know exactly where on that street a house is located.

Upgraded genomic reliability

Improved genomic accuracy also extends beyond the gene test. Researchers are now using an 80k SNP chip. This means they are using nearly 80,000 markers on the genome, up from the previous 60,000 used since 2014.

The additional markers, combined with a new reference genome, give genomic predictions about a 1% – 2% improvement in reliability.

What does this mean for you?

We want to keep you up-to-date on the newest genetic findings. Updates on haplotypes and genomic accuracy are one part of that. Because the haplotype updates will be accounted for within the AltaGPS program, you can have confidence that potential carriers of two bulls will not be mated together. That means your clients are protected from any potential fertility losses that could result in mating two carriers of any given haplotype.

Improved genomic accuracy should give you, and your clients, even more confidence that genomics and genetics continue to advance at more rapid rate. It’s as important now as it ever has been, to ensure your clients select genetics according to their customized genetic plan so the progress they make aligns with their current situation and future goals.

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A2: genetic fad or future?

Since its 2015 US debut, A2 milk has been a hot topic among dairy producers. Now, the latest A2 buzz comes from consumers. This follows the launch of the A2 Milk Company’s national television advertising campaign, and increased local availability of A2 milk in many grocery stores.

While the curiosity around A2 milk grows, it’s important to evaluate whether this is just another fad in genetic selection, or a real future of the industry.

What is A2 milk?

A2 milk comes from cows with two copies of the A2 gene for beta casein.

Cows’ milk is about 87 percent water and 13 percent solids. Those solids include lactose, fat, protein, and minerals.

To find the A2 gene, we look to the protein in milk. Casein is what makes up the majority of milk protein, and about 30% of that casein is called beta casein. The two most common variants of the beta casein gene are A1 and A2, so any given bovine will be either A1A1, A1A2 or A2A2 for beta casein.

Milk from US cows has traditionally contained a combination of both A1 and A2 beta casein.

Isn’t A2 milk for people with lactose intolerance?

Not necessarily. A2 milk contains the same amount of lactose as non-A2 milk. So a person who has been clinically diagnosed with lactose intolerance will see no benefits from drinking A2 milk.

Some studies have shown the A2 beta casein in milk to be more easily digestible than the A1 beta casein. This means that the discomfort some people experience after drinking milk could actually be linked to an A1 aversion rather than to lactose intolerance.

Since the majority of lactose intolerance cases are self-diagnosed, for those people, A2 milk could be the answer.

How do you get cows that produce A2 milk?

The only way to have a herd that produces A2 milk is through genetic selection.

For a cow to produce true A2 milk, she must have two copies of the A2 gene in her DNA. Each animal receives one copy of the beta casein gene from its sire and one copy from its dam. So for a 100% chance at an A2A2 animal, you must breed an A2A2 bull to an A2A2 cow.

How do you know if your animals are A2?

The only way to know for sure, is a genomic test. Some companies offer A2 genetic testing as an add-on to a full genomic test. Others offer testing for A2 on its own, for as little as $15.

How long will it take to convert your herd to only A2?

This entirely depends on how aggressive your approach is. If your goal is to immediately become 100% A2A2, you can make that happen. To do that, you’d need to genomic test each of your animals, keep only those verified as A2A2, and sell the rest.

A less extreme option for large, multi-site dairies is to genomic test all females, and sort any animals verified as A2A2 all to one site.

But since those aren’t realistic options for most farms, another approach is to limit your sire selection to only bulls confirmed as A2A2. Most AI companies publish this information on their proof sheets and/or websites.

A rough approximation of active AI sires shows about 13% are A1A1, 46% are A1A2 and 41% are A2A2. If you figure that same proportion within your own herd, it would take seven generations of breeding your untested females strictly to A2A2 bulls before you’d reach 99% of A2A2 females.

Pie graph showing that about 41% of bulls in active AI are A2A2. 46% of bulls are A1A2 and 13% of bulls are A1A1.
More than 40% of active AI sires are A2A2.

What do you have to lose by selecting A2A2 sires?

With 40%, or more, of active AI sires verified as A2A2, you have a good number of sire options to use in your breeding program. This also means that less than half of the bulls out there are A2A2, so you will miss out on some sire choices by implementing this as part of your breeding program.

Every time you add a filter to your genetic selection criteria, you limit the amount of genetic progress you can make in your herd.

Should you select for A2 in your breeding program?

If you are offered milk premiums for producing A2 milk, or see that option in your future, then selection for A2A2 sires is a wise decision. However, chasing that bonus, if it isn’t guaranteed will mean you limit your genetic options.

No one can predict the future. So it’s hard to tell yet, whether A2 is just a fad, or the future of the industry.

Regardless of your selection decision around A2 sires, make sure it aligns with your dairy’s customized genetic plan. Emphasize the production, health and conformation traits that match your farm’s current situation and future goals. This will help maximize future profitability and genetic progress in the direction of your goals.

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Introducing the All-New Alta 511 CONCEPT PLUS

If you’ve used sexed semen on your dairy, you already know that sexed semen fertility is not the same as conventional semen fertility. It’s no secret that individual bulls may perform differently as conventional semen than they do as sexed semen.

Millions of pregnancy check records in the CONCEPT PLUS database confirm these differences in sire fertility between conventional and sexed semen.

Based on research from our product development team, you now have access to the all-new 511 CONCEPT PLUS ratings! This designation tells you which sires give you the best chance at creating pregnancies with Alta511 SexedULTRA sires.

On an individual bull page, look for the purple 511 CONCEPT PLUS logo to know which bulls offer the best chance at creating a female pregnancy.

CONCEPT PLUS sires still tell us which bulls provide the highest conception rates using conventional semen. The new development around sexed semen fertility just gives you a more precise way to know which bulls best fit your genetic plan and strategy.

We trust the data behind CONCEPT PLUS more than any other sire fertility evaluation because:

  • IT’S COMPLETE
    • CONCEPT PLUS accounts for the effect a technician or breeding code can play on a sire’s fertility within a given herd.
    • Data is collected from US and Canadian herds, and not limited to US herds on official test.
  • IT’S CURRENT
    • We collect current pregnancy check results through DairyComp from our partner herds and include only information from the past two years to designate CONCEPT PLUS sires.
  • IT’S CONSISTENT
    • Data is only gathered from progressive, large-herd environments, where management is consistent, contemporary group sizes are large, and repro programs are aggressive.

 

For more details on the all-new 511 CONCEPT PLUS sexed sire fertility evaluation, work with your trusted Alta advisor today.

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Koepon and CRI combine to form URUS

Madison, Wisconsin — Two strong organizations – one cooperative and one privately-owned company – have combined to form a new global leader in cattle artificial insemination genetics and farm management information.

Koepon Holding BV and Cooperative Resources International (CRI) announced their intent to merge last December. Now, following due diligence and votes by each organization’s board of directors as well as the member delegates of CRI, the business combination is complete. The newly formed organization is known as URUS.

“While URUS is a new name in the global agriculture industry, its roots run deep,” states Cees Hartmans, CEO. “The companies within the URUS family – AgSource, Alta Genetics, GENEX, Jetstream Genetics, PEAK/GENESIS, SCCL and VAS – have a history of serving dairy and beef producers across the world. Now, as part of this new organization, these companies are even better positioned to meet the future needs of members and clients.”

The formation of URUS, with its size and scale, makes possible a significant increase in investment towards products and services that will benefit producers across the globe.

“The companies of URUS will be leaders in new developments for the cattle industry,” states Hartmans. “Dairy and beef cattle producers are the heart of this organization, and so we want to ensure our members and clients have access to the best products and services at a competitive price. We want to be your partner of choice for cattle genetics, reproduction and farm management information for years to come.”

Hartmans adds, “Together, we can focus on producing high-quality and healthy food while contributing to a sustainable, productive and profitable global dairy and beef industry.”

 

About URUS
Formed in 2018, URUS (www.urus.org) is a holding company with cooperative and private ownership. URUS has strong roots in the global agriculture industry. This deep history is anchored by the companies that compose Urus: AgSource, Alta Genetics, GENEX, Jetstream Genetics, PEAK/GENESIS, SCCL and VAS. It’s also fueled by a worldwide team of professionals dedicated to providing dairy and beef producers with genetic and farm management information solutions that improve herd quality and productivity.

For more information contact Cees Hartmans, CEO at cees.hartmans@urus.org or Keith Heikes, COO at keith.heikes@urus.org

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Can you really trust dairy genomics?

You’ve had the option to include dairy genomics in your genetic toolbelt for nearly ten years now. By now, fear of the unknown mystery surrounding genomics has faded. The progressive dairy industry accepts this as a new era in rapid genetic progress.

Yet, we don’t blame you if you wonder whether genomic-proven bulls are your best option, when many daughter-proven sires still offer a great genetic package. With that in mind, we look for answers in the real proof data on bulls across the entire AI industry.

What did we learn about genomics?

In graphs 1 and 2, our geneticist, Ashley Mikshowsky, analyzed proof figures on nearly 6,000 industry Holstein bulls released between January 2010 and April 2015, that currently have a daughter proof.

Graph 1 shows TPI trends. The blue line on top charts the average GTPI by initial genomic release date. The orange line shows the average August 2018 daughter proven TPI for those same bulls. The space between the two lines represents the average TPI change from initial genomic release to daughter proof.

A graph to show the average trend comparing the genomic proof versus daughter proof of industry Holstein bulls

As you can see on the left side of the graph, the bulls first released in January 2010 changed 177 TPI points from their genomic debut to their August 2018 daughter proof.

When you compare that to the newest daughter-proven bulls, including those released as genomic sires in April 2015, you see only a 105-point TPI difference from their initial genomic proof to their August 2018 daughter proof.

This means the stability in GTPI from genomic release until daughter proofs has improved by more than 70 TPI points! As a bonus, it’s clear to see that the genetic levels of bulls continue to rise!

The same goes for Net Merit $. Check out those results in Graph 2.

Industry bulls first released as genomic-proven sires in January 2010 dropped, on average, 150 NM$ from their first release until their August 2018 daughter proof. Whereas, the bulls first released as genomic sires in April 2015 only changed 89 NM$ from their initial release.

A graph to show the average trend comparing the genomic proof versus daughter proof for the Net Merit $ value of industry Holstein bulls

Looking at these results, your argument might be that dairy genomics are still inflated. Yes, and while that is true, the gap between genomic and daughter proofs has clearly improved since the start of genomics.

Let’s dig deeper into genomic proof stability

To understand from another angle, we took a look at the facts and figures in a different light.

Graph 3 and Graph 4 are based on proof data that our geneticist, Ashley, evaluated from 1,073 industry bulls released in 2014. She uses this age group because those bulls released in 2014 now have a daughter proof for production, health and conformation traits.

Graph 3 shows that the bulls released in 2014 changed an average of -110 TPI points from their initial release in 2014 to their daughter proof in August 2018.

Nearly 120 of these bulls have a daughter-proven TPI within just twenty points of their original genomic TPI. Only about 30 bulls from the entire group of 1,073 lost more than 300 TPI points – that’s less than 3%.

A histogram showing the skewed bell-shaped curve distribution of the amount of change in TPI points an average bull had from his genomic proof to daughter proof

We see the same trend for NM$. Graph 4 shows the average NM$ change and standard deviation of the same 1,073 industry bulls. The average sire released in 2014 changed -89 NM$ from their initial genomic proof in 2014 to their daughter proof in August 2018.

More than 160 of the 1073 bulls held steady within the small 20-point swing from genomic to daughter-proven NM$. Just 12 bulls changed more than 300 NM$.

A histogram showing the skewed bell-shaped curve distribution of the amount of change in Net Merit $ an average bull had from his genomics proof to daughter proof

What are your genetic options today?

Still debating whether your best bet is to use daughter-proven or genomic-proven sire groups? Take a look at the top 10 daughter-proven TPI sires available from Alta today.

AUGUST 2018 Top daughter-proven sires

Sire CodeSire NameAug. 2018 TPI
11HO11478AltaLEAF2712
11HO11437AltaSPRING2663
11HO11531AltaSABRE2624
11HO11493AltaHOTROD2616
11HO11601AltaHIFASHN2588
11HO11523AltaHOTSHOT2576
11HO11499AltaMEGLO2572
11HO11508AltaCONSUL2547
11HO11440AltaCORNELL2528
11HO11537AltaJANGO2508
Average2594

AUGUST 2018 Top genomic-proven sires

Sire CodeSire NameAug. 2018 TPI
11HO12115AltaFORCE2826
11HO12165AltaBUGGY2820
11HO12122AltaSTARJACK2818
11HO12169AltaEMIRATES2813
11HO12161AltaAROLDIS2793
11HO12124AltaGOPRO2791
11HO11778AltaROBSON2789
11HO12188AltaCUCHILLO2785
11HO12287AltaEDIFY2784
11HO12270AltaMANOR2783
Average2800

Currently, our top daughter-proven sires average a solid 2594 TPI. Yet, the top, readily-available genomic-proven group offers a much more enticing 2800 TPI average. That’s a 206-point advantage over the daughter-proven choices!

It’s inevitable that some bulls will gain points and some bulls will lose points between their genomic proof and daughter proof – the data show us that. Yet we can also see genomic proofs continue to improve. Keep in mind that your odds are essentially zero that every single bull atop the genomic-proven list would drop to rank lower than the current list of daughter-proven sires.

With your genetic choices, keep these points mind:

  1. Genomic proofs are still slightly inflated. Yet, we see less change from genomic to daughter-proven TPI and NM$ over time because of model adjustments made along the way.
  2. Despite an average drop for TPI and NM$ from a bull’s genomic to daughter proof, you will make much faster genetic progress using a group of genomic-proven sires than a group of daughter-proven sires.
  3. Make sure the genetic progress you make is in the direction of your goals. Select a group of genomic-proven sires based on your farm’s customized genetic plan. Emphasize only on the production, health or conformation traits that matter most to you to boost your farm’s future progress and profitability.

 

 Proof analysis and graphs provided by Ashley Mikshowsky, PEAK Geneticist

For a PDF of this article please Click HERE.

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What you need to know about August proofs

1. You’ve got a lot of high-ranking, brand-new sire options!

Never before have you had access to more new sires atop the Alta ADVANTAGE, G-STAR, daughter-proven, and Alta511 sexed sire lists! These sires are diverse in what they offer, and they are readily available!

2. You can now take a precision approach to herd fertility management

Starting this proof round, we give you options to most accurately and efficiently manage your herd’s fertility. (Read more about it HERE).

You can now select the right genetics for your herd based on your breeding strategy. We’ve released a sire fertility rating for conventional semen, and a separate sire fertility evaluation based on breedings with sexed semen.

These separate, and lowly correlated ratings will help you create more pregnancies by using the right sire fertility evaluation for your strategy and situation.

Alta 511 CONCEPT PLUS logo to designate high fertility sires when using sexed semen

Know which bulls will give you highest fertility using Alta511 SexedULTRA semen by finding this 511 CONCEPT PLUS designation on a bull’s individual page on Alta Bull Search.

Alta CONCEPT PLUS logo to designate high fertility sires using conventional semen

The industry’s most accurate sire fertility evaluation, CONCEPT PLUS designates whether a bull offers elite fertility on conventional breedings.

3. Some proof numbers were adjusted

  • NM$the index has new weights, and the average change across the industry meant a general increase of about 10 NM$. But many individual bulls changed more than that!
  • DPR – to account for the entire industry DPR drop that happened in April, the average DPR went up this proof round in the following amounts:
    • Holsteins: approximately +1.4 DPR increase
    • Jerseys: approximately +0.5 DPR increase
  • TPI – the average bull increased about 25 TPI points. However, several bulls atop our daughter-proven lineup increased 100 points or more!

4. The most efficient way to reach your genetic and reproductive goals is to set and follow your own, customized genetic plan.

Work with your trusted Alta advisor to set your strategy, and see how you can implement the exciting, new sire options and approach to precision fertility management in your herd.

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Create more pregnancies with precision fertility management

Big data is sweeping into agribusiness with precision agriculture. Now, with more information, growing crops and livestock has become more accurate and efficient, allowing you to do more for less.

We’re taking precision agriculture one step further. With precision fertility management, we are helping you turn data into dollars by creating more pregnancies.

Backed by the CONCEPT PLUS gold standard fertility designation, we’ve raised 20 years of fertility experience to a higher standard. We’ve compiled millions of pregnancy check data and delivered it through innovate tools to accurately and efficiently create pregnant cows.

Bullseye to represent precision fertility management

What’s new with CONCEPT PLUS?

If you’ve used sexed semen on your dairy, you already know what millions of pregnancy check results confirm. Sexed semen fertility is not the same as conventional semen fertility.

The data also shows that the same bull may perform well with conventional semen fertility, but not as sexed semen, and vice versa. With that in mind, we now give you access to two separate fertility evaluations, so you can take a precision approach to fertility management.

Alta 511 CONCEPT PLUS logo to designate high fertility sires when using sexed semen

Know which bulls will give you highest fertility using Alta511 SexedULTRA semen by finding this 511 CONCEPT PLUS designation on a bull’s individual page on Alta Bull Search.

Alta CONCEPT PLUS logo to designate high fertility sires using conventional semen

The industry’s most accurate sire fertility evaluation, CONCEPT PLUS designates whether a bull offers elite fertility on conventional breedings.

Can a bull be CONCEPT PLUS and 511 CONCEPT PLUS?

Yes. Since we know that conventional semen fertility and sexed semen fertility are two different traits with low correlations, we now identify them as such. An orange CONCEPT PLUS icon or logo designates the bulls with the best fertility on conventional semen. The purple 511 CONCEPT PLUS logo shows you which sires offer the best fertility on breedings to Alta511 SexedULTRA.

Why would I want to use sexed semen with average or unknown fertility?

As with any decision you make, there are trade-offs. With Alta’s sexed semen options, it comes down to what you value most in a genetic plan: the most rapid genetic progress or known high fertility.

Let’s say the main goal in your genetic plan is to make the fastest genetic progress possible. In that case you may choose to use bulls that don’t yet have fertility data, or else are proven as average for sexed semen sire fertility. If these bulls best fit your goal of rapid genetic progress, they may not have the CONCEPT PLUS or 511 CONCEPT PLUS designations.

However, if your main focus is to create a pregnancy, the purple 511 CONCEPT PLUS designation will give you confidence you’re boosting your odds at creating pregnancy with sexed semen. The orange CONCEPT PLUS designation will continue to help you recognize which bulls create the most conventional semen pregnancies.

How often does Alta evaluate sire fertility?

We want to help you create more pregnancies. To do that, accurate fertility information is key. To be accurate, the data must be timely. We run a complete evaluate for sire fertility every other month.

We know differences exist in sire fertility, even over shorter periods of time, so to take advantage of the most accurate and current information, we now release new CONCEPT PLUS and 511 CONCEPT PLUS ratings six times per year.

Why should I trust the fertility of Alta 511 CONCEPT PLUS sires?

Alta 511 CONCEPT PLUS sexed sires will give you the confidence to create more heifers and more pregnancies. We provide the utmost care for our bulls, we follow strict lab SOPs, and ensure careful semen distribution procedures. And more importantly, we make firm culling decisions on bulls with sub-par fertility performance.

You can have confidence in the CONCEPT PLUS and 511 CONCEPT PLUS evaluations because:

  • CONCEPT PLUS is COMPLETE
    • It accounts for the effect a technician or breeding code can play on a sire’s fertility within a given herd.
    • Data is collected from US and Canadian herds, and not limited to US herds on official test.
  • CONCEPT PLUS is CURRENT
    • Our team is always collecting data DairyComp in our partner herds.
  • CONCEPT PLUS is CONSISTENT
    • Data is only gathered from progressive, large-herd environments, where management is consistent, contemporary group sizes are large, and repro programs are aggressive.

 

When you want to create more pregnancies, take a precision approach to maximizing your herd’s fertility by using the right tools for the job. Work with your trusted Alta advisor to define your dairy’s customized genetic plan and create pregnancies with a precision approach to fertility management.

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Alta ADVANTAGE Showcase Tour explores progressive Idaho dairies

The 19th edition of the Alta ADVANTAGE Showcase Tour took place June 5-8, 2018. It was the first time ever this global event was held in Idaho.

Guests toured some of Idaho’s most progressive dairy farms and learned from the forward-thinking owners and managers at the host farms. They also had the chance to share their own experiences with each other during on-farm management stations, bus rides between farms, and during evening socials.

To break it down, here is the Alta ADVANTAGE Showcase overview, by the numbers:

251Guests who experienced the most progressive dairy management tour in the industry
21Countries represented at this year’s tour
5Charter buses used to transport tour guests
5Gracious host dairies, who welcomed the Alta group
- Eagle Ridge Dairy | Kuna, Idaho
- TLK Dairy | Mountain Home, Idaho
- Oak Valley Dairy | Burley, Idaho
- Swager Farms | Buhl, Idaho
- Beranna Dairy | Caldwell, Idaho
1Pre-tour farm that welcomed international guests before the main tour kicked off - thank you to Swan Falls Dairy for the warm welcome!
30On-farm stations set up to help guests discuss the areas of calf care, employee management, genetics, reproduction, parlor management, cow comfort, dairy education, herd inventory planning, manure management, and more
34,275Total cows represented on the Alta ADVANTAGE Showcase host dairies
70-30-0Most popular genetic plan of our host dairies
11Number of sires represented in the Alta ADVANTAGE Performance Pens
34Number of daughters featured between the two Alta ADVANTAGE Performance Pens
3Pails of ice cream used in the global ice cream eating contest – Chile came out victorious over all other country competitors
502Miles traveled in Idaho for one tremendous tour!
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Top 5 takeaways from Alta’s April proofs

1. MOST INDUSTRY BULLS DROPPED FOR PL, DPR & INDEX VALUES

  • CDCB updated the way they calculate Productive Life, which impacted industry bulls more than expected – and for more than just PL.
  • This is not a base change. The variable rollback adjusts for previous inflations, and that means an average TPI and NM$ drop for most bulls this proof round. Top-ranking bulls saw more extreme drops, but on average, according to CDCB, this calculation adjustment equated to the following:
    • Currently marketed industry HO genomic bulls: ↓ 1.5 PL  |  ↓ 1.4 DPR  |  ↓ 37$NM
    • Currently marketed industry HO daughter-proven sires: ↓ 0.8 PL  |  ↓ 1.0 DPR  |  ↓ 18 $NM
    • Currently marketed industry JE genomic bulls: ↓ 2.0 PL   | ↓ 0.8 DPR  |  ↓ 56 JPI
    • Currently marketed industry JE daughter-proven sires: ↓ 1.0 PL  |  ↓ 0.7 DPR  |  ↓ 26 $NM

What this means for you:
To account for previous inflation, be prepared to see lower PL, DPR, TPI, NM$ and customized index values for most bulls. The industry-wide decrease means you’ll want to readjust your mindset on the acceptable values for these indexes and traits.

 

2. NON-PUREBRED JERSEYS (WITH JX IN THEIR NAME) LIKELY DROPPED FOR JPI

  • CDCB extended their all-breed model to include genomic evaluations. This means that any Jerseys that have other breeds in their pedigree – denoted by the JX in their name – will be affected.
  • In addition to the average changes listed above, the non-purebred JX sires likely saw a greater change in JPI.
  • Holsteins and purebred Jerseys did not see a noticeable effect from this all-breed model change.

 

3. CDCB RELEASED SIX NEW HEALTH TRAITS

  • These traits, shown as resistance to each disease, are: Milk Fever, Displaced Abomasum, Ketosis, Mastitis, Metritis, and Retained Placenta
  • These new health traits are not currently included in any industry or Alta preset indexes. They can be found on Alta Bull Search in the Health Traits section of individual bull pages and within the Excel file export.

 

4. GREAT ALTA SIRE OPTIONS ARE AVAILABLE – REGARDLESS OF GENETIC PLANS!

  • If you’re a loyal Alta ADVANTAGE partner, there are 21 impressive new bulls available exclusively through this program.
  • The elite genomic G-STAR list added 40 new Holstein and Jersey sires!
  • 25 bulls with CONCEPT PLUS status gained low calving ease proof to earn FUTURE STAR status
  • To continue the trend of FUTURE STAR success, the top new sires on the daughter-proven list are all FUTURE STAR graduates!

 

5. THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO REMEMBER IS THAT YOUR CUSTOMIZED GENETIC PLAN IS KING. WORK WITH YOUR TRUSTED ALTA ADVISOR TO SET AND IMPLEMENT YOUR OWN CUSTOMIZED GENETIC PLAN THAT MAXIMIZES GENETIC PROGRESS TOWARD YOUR FARM’S GOALS.

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Explore the new health traits

The Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding (CDCB) will release these six new direct health traits during April proofs. Click on each individual trait to learn more details about its benefits, reliability and heritability, directly from CDCB.

For a quick, one-page overview on all six health traits, please Click HERE.

The traits will be presented as disease resistance. A higher positive value is best – it means an animal is more resistant to the disease. A lower negative value will mean an animal is more susceptible, less resistant to the disease.

For example, let’s take a herd with an average mastitis incidence of 10%. If that herd uses a bull with a PTA of +3.0 for mastitis, we would expect the daughters of this bull to average 7% incidence rate for mastitis. That’s 3% less than the herd average.

Disease incidence rates range from 1.3% for milk fever to 10.2% for mastitis. Economic impact per case of each health event was also estimated, and ranged from $28 cost for ketosis to $197 for a displaced abomasum.

The heritability of these traits is still relatively low, but that doesn’t mean that you cannot make progress by selecting for these traits (read more about the high value of low heritability traits)

Mastitis resistance is also very favorably correlated with somatic cell score. Furthermore, the new health traits show no significant correlations to yield traits, meaning selection for fat or protein yield will not necessarily cause a decrease in health.

As the newly developed health traits are correlated to previously available traits, we have already been making progress in these traits, which you can learn about by reading the genetic guide to healthier cows. The data showed correlations up to 0.39 with productive life, correlations up to 0.47 with livability, and correlations up to 0.59 with DPR.

The data used to evaluate the health traits was collected from producer reported data in US herds, and underwent rigorous data testing to ensure accuracy.

With all this new information, it’s important to maintain focus on your customized genetic plan to make sure you keep making progress in the direction of your goals.

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Reproductive and DairyComp training available at DairyLearning.com

Dairylearning.com — a brand-new online training hub for dairy owners, managers, workers, students and consultants who value progressive thinking — is now live and scheduling new training sessions.

As the first of its kind in the industry, the new web-based training platform offers a variety of tools to develop knowledge and skills on relevant dairy herd management topics. Online courses can be completed at any time, from any location, and live trainings provide learning from dairy industry experts in a small classroom setting.

All online courses and live trainings come directly from leading minds in the dairy industry. These instructors have researched and implemented the skills they teach, and experienced the impact of these lessons on thousands of cows globally.

Among the first online trainings available is an in-depth and interactive reproductive anatomy and physiology course to offer a better understanding of the reproductive tract, hormones, and the estrous cycle.

Also available are brand new DairyComp training modules created by VAS exclusively for dairylearning.com. These courses cover DairyComp navigation, CowCards, commands, settings, and dairy economic and business planning. Users can take the courses individually or purchase as part of basic or intermediate packages.

The future of dairylearning.com includes advanced DairyComp training, and more online courses directly from dairy industry experts on leadership, management and calf care.

Visit dairylearning.com today for more information, and to explore online courses and register for live trainings.

 

Questions? Please contact:
Sadie Gunnink
info@dairylearning.com

screenshot of the dairylearning.com website
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Genetic indexes: can one size fit all?

Indexes are important genetic selection tools. They combine all significant genetic traits into one package – and get producers away from setting minimum criteria for specific traits. That allows you to focus on creating a next generation of cows that are the right fit for your environment.

A global industry standard index like TPI has certainly helped dairy producers improve their herds. The one-size-fits all TPI index places 46% of the total weight on production traits, 28% on health and fertility traits and 26% on conformation traits.

However, an index like this assumes all farms face the same challenges within their herd. It assumes everyone has the same farm goals and milk markets. It simply serves as a general overview for a one-size-fits-all genetic plan.

Consider your goals

When you set your own, customized genetic plan, you can divide the weights as you see fit. To decide which production, health or conformation traits to include, consider your farm’s situation and future goals. How are you paid for milk? In a fluid milk market, you’ll likely put more emphasis on pounds of milk as compared to those who ship milk to a cheese plant. Are you expanding or at a stable herd size? If you’re looking to grow from within to expand your herd, you’ll want to put more emphasis on Productive Life and high fertility sires than the producers who are at a static herd size and able to cull voluntarily.

Your farm’s scenario is unique. With different goals, environments and situations, it’s evident there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all index.

Make progress where it matters

Just 42 TPI points separate the 100th and 200th ranked genomic bulls on Holstein USA’s December 2017 Top 200 TPI list. Does a separation that small mean these bulls offer similar genetic benefits? Of course not!

To illustrate why, let’s compare three different genetic plan scenarios. One focuses on high production, one on high health, the other on high conformation. The tables below show the sires, traits and genetic averages for the top five Alta sires that meet each customized genetic plan. Notice the extreme amount of progress, and also the opportunity cost for using each particular index.

When high production is the goal, your genetic plan may be set with weights of 70% on production, 15% on health, and 15% on conformation. A team of bulls fitting that plan averages 2400 pounds PTAM and 171 pounds of combined fat and protein.

High Production: 70-15-15MilkProteinFatPLDPRSCSPTATUDCFLCTPI
AltaMONTOYA2089791058.02.22.792.091.840.932864
AltaAKUZAKI264078798.10.72.992.072.520.752747
AltaSPRITE253984884.2-0.83.032.332.131.532684
AltaEMBOSS260777974.5-0.53.071.311.470.812589
AltaWILLIE212375916.82.22.911.972.100.632766
240079926.30.82.961.952.010.932730

When health is the focus, a 30% production, 60% health, 10% conformation genetic plan might make sense for you. That team of bulls delivers averages of +9.5 PL, +5.0 DPR and 2.75 SCS. That’s more than four points higher for DPR than the high production group! However, you give up nearly 1100 pounds of milk and 41 pounds of components to get those high health numbers.

High Health: 30-60-10MilkProteinFatPLDPRSCSPTATUDCFLCTPI
AltaDEPOT910376311.47.02.480.680.801.002693
AltaKALISPELL1727527710.04.22.751.371.571.362734
AltaROBSON83555898.64.72.861.521.351.422802
AltaNITRO129554938.34.42.732.081.991.492871
Alta49ER181061709.04.62.931.071.441.032702
13155278.49.55.02.751.341.431.262760

Lastly, if your genetic goal is to improve conformation, the team below provides an average 2.47 for PTA Type, 2.86 Udder Composite, and nearly two points for Foot & Leg Composite. With that much emphasis on the conformation traits, you’ll sacrifice on pounds of milk, fat and protein, and give up some productive life and fertility.

High Conformation: 25-25-50MilkProteinFatPLDPRSCSPTATUDCFLCTPI
AltaSCION109848798.72.42.762.803.332.112786
AltaDRAGO162156857.22.43.052.962.792.562799
AltaPACKARD77048699.93.82.402.742.391.762839
AltaCR53137867.02.32.941.692.772.042669
AltaDPORT173558697.73.02.962.163.031.162749
115149788.12.82.822.472.861.932768

Now, compare those different genetic plan averages side-by-side. You can see that a mere 38 points separate these groups on TPI average. However, the genetic values for the production, health and conformation traits are extremely different.

MilkProFatPLDPRSCSPTATUDCFLCTPI
High Production: 70-15-15240079926.30.82.961.952.010.932730
High Health: 30-60-10131552789.552.751.341.431.262760
High type: 25-25-50115149788.12.82.822.472.861.932768

15 bulls in the Top 5

Most of the bulls above rank similarly for TPI. But not one bull appears in more than one of the customized genetic plan top-5 lists. With 15 bulls in the top five, it’s clear to see there’s no such thing as a perfect bull. There is, however a perfect genetic plan. It’s the one you customize for your farm to match your current situation and future goals.

Think back to the examples above. Think about TPI (46% production, 28% health, 26% conformation). If your main goal is to increase milk production in your herd, emphasizing too much on the health and conformation traits will mean you sacrifice pounds of milk and total components in the next generation of your herd.

Alternatively, maybe you really want to improve the longevity and fertility of your herd. In that case, an index that focuses on conformation will cost you 1.4 months of productive longevity and more than two points of pregnancy rate in the next generation!

Bringing it together

Sticking to an industry standard index like TPI could get you the best ranking bulls for that index only. But that index doesn’t necessarily match your needs. If you’re looking for a more focused approach, keep these points in mind to make the most progress toward your farm’s goals:

  1. There’s no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” genetic index.
  2. Work with your trusted Alta advisor to set your own, unique, customized genetic plan. Consider your farm’s goals, future plans and milk market as you decide how much emphasis to place on the production, health and conformation traits.
  3. Maximize progress toward your genetic goals by using a group of the best sires to match your unique genetic plan.
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The high value of low heritability

Most of us misunderstand heritability. In simple terms, for any given trait, heritability tells us how much of the difference in actual performance is due to genetics, as opposed to management or the environment.

To better understand, think about two cows in two different herds. How much of the difference in their milk production is due to genetics? How much is due to management or environment? It turns out about 30% of the milk production difference is due to genetics, while 70% is due to management and environment. Therefore, milk has a heritability of 0.30.

What about pregnancy rates? Management and environment account for the 96% majority of variation between daughters. So the influence of genetics is minor, at just 4%. Thus, Daughter Pregnancy Rate (DPR) has a heritability of 0.04.

We commonly refer to the health traits like Productive Life (PL), DPR and Somatic Cell Score (SCS) as the lower heritability traits. Many producers believe that low heritability equates to less, or slower, genetic progress. However, in spite of lower heritability, it would be wrong to conclude that DPR, PL or SCS are insignificant as a result.

Perspective is important

In genetics, accuracy shows through when we evaluate results within one herd. In that herd, if we evaluate within a specific lactation group, and then within a specific time of freshening, we find a contemporary group. By evaluating within one contemporary group, we reduce the impact of management and environmental differences.

The overall heritability for health traits like DPR and PL is low. When we break our evaluations down into contemporary groups, that’s when we find the true genetic differences.

The proof is in the numbers

Take this real-life example from a 1,500-cow dairy with very good reproductive performance. We’ve separated out first lactation cows into four groups, based on their sire’s DPR. It’s clear to see that the high DPR sires create daughters that become pregnant more quickly than the daughters of low DPR sires.

Table 1# of cowsAverage Sire DPRActual preg rate
Top 25% - High DPR1742.327%
Bottom 25% - Low DPR137-1.120%
difference3.47%

The same goes for Productive Life. Despite the low heritability at less than 9%, PL can make a real, noticeable difference in your herd.

This table compares how long the daughters of the industry’s best ten PL bulls and daughters of the industry’s bottom ten PL sires will last in a given herd. You can see that a higher percentage of high PL daughters, represented by the dark blue bars, remain in a herd than their low PL counterparts.

When you select for the lowly heritable PL, you will certainly create healthier, longer-living cows in your herd.

Focus on the economics

As a progressive dairy producer, don’t let confusion about heritability prevent you from using the right genetic tools to improve your herd. Health traits are economically important, and making improvement in these areas can have a huge impact on your bottom line.

Many traits have a high heritability, but no economic importance. In other words, we can make a lot of progress for these traits very quickly, but it will not make a more profitable cow.

A couple examples of high heritability traits are coat color and polled. Both of these traits have a heritability of 100 percent because they are completely controlled by genetics. However, even if we can make cows red or polled in one generation, what is the economic value of that?

By comparison, the economic value of more fertile cows that last longer because of fewer metabolic problems, fewer cases of mastitis, and less calving difficulty is clear to see. These genetic features make a more profitable production unit for each and every farm.

Selection secrets for healthier cows

When you set or reevaluate your genetic plan, take the following tips into account to maximize progress in the direction of your goals.

1. Define your goals

To set the right goals, first identify the most common reasons for culling in your herd. Is it reproduction, milk production, mastitis? This information gives you the basis for the genetic decisions you make going forward.

2. Choose your tools

Health traits offer dairy producers some powerful tools to help correct for low reproduction, metabolic problems, etc. Identify how important each of these trouble areas are to you. Place a proportionate emphasis on these traits when choosing the group of sires to use on your dairy.

3. Customize the solution

Industry standard selection indexes put different and continually changing weights on health traits. So don’t assume they reflect your individual goals and needs. Work with your trusted Alta advisor to make sure your genetic plan is customized to match your current situation and future goals.

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Not all genomic sires are created equal

Genomic proofs give us the confidence to use exciting sires sooner! Be assured that these bulls will deliver on their genetic promises, since genomic testing provides an immediate reliability of nearly 70% for production, health and conformation traits.

You might be wondering, what are the different genomic sire options? Let’s break them down…

Alta Advantage logo for Facebook

Alta ADVANTAGE

Our 23 newest bulls are available only to our Alta ADVANTAGE partner herds. These Alta ADVANTAGE only sires offer diverse trait specialties and elite rankings on many customized genetic plans.

New, young bulls simply don’t produce enough semen to be readily available to all farms around the globe. So while we work to build semen inventory, we give our loyal Alta ADVANTAGE partner herds priority access to these elite, new sires that best fit their customized genetic plans.

G-STAR lgo for Facebook

G-STARS

Once a bull has made enough semen he is added to the G-STAR sire list. With 30 new G-STAR bulls this proof round, these sires are readily available to everyone. This groups includes a wide array of outliers for various production, health and type traits. From this elite list, you can find a great selection of bulls to fit your genetic plan.

Future Star Logo with subtext

FUTURE STARS

About a year after a bull is first released, we know results for both sire fertility and calving ease. We gather this data, analyze the results, and award the FUTURE STAR designation to only the bulls that prove themselves above average for sire fertility and less than 8% for sire calving ease and sire stillbirth.

This proof round, 13 bulls earned their FUTURE STAR status. This means they gained enough pregnancy check observations to prove their high fertility CONCEPT PLUS status. Plus, they have enough offspring born to prove their easy calvings.

FUTURE STARS are the way to go if you want the benefits of elite genomics, but prefer the added reliability of proven sire fertility and calving ease. You may give up some production and health as compared to the available G-STAR or ADVANTAGE only sires, but you gain peace of mind knowing that you’re upping your chances for a pregnancy and a live calf resulting from an easier calving.

Because of the known calving ability, FUTURE STARS are ideal options to use on heifers.

Now that you know the difference between each genomic sire option, and the progression a bull could make as he matures, compare the average genetic level of each group in the table below. You’ll see that the newest, Alta ADVANTAGE bulls have the highest genetic averages, followed by the G-STAR sires, and then by the more highly reliable FUTURE STARS.

TPIMilkFatProPTATUDCFLCSCEPLDPRSCS
Alta ADVANTAGE Only2743156777582.062.121.307.18.13.02.80
G-STAR2633161172581.761.721.096.96.82.32.86
FUTURE STAR2547136265501.481.591.006.46.82.12.78

It’s also important to note that every single bull atop our current daughter-proven list was once a part of the genomic-proven lists. The track record is significant for our current genomic favorites. Each proof round, we see these genomic bulls deliver on their initial predictions, and eventually graduate to daughter-proven success.

With that in mind, have confidence to use a team of sires from the Alta ADVANTAGE, G-STAR or FUTURE STAR lists. You’ll optimize future profitability by selecting a group of bulls that meet your customized goals for production, health and conformation.

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Daughter-proven options to fit your genetic plan

When it comes to sire proofs, is high reliability part of your genetic plan? If so, select from several different sire options atop our daughter-proven lineup that are either new to the proven ranks or have just added new daughter information.

These bulls offer a wide range of trait specialties to fit many different customized genetic plans.

11HO11478 AltaLEAF | AltaOAK X TRIGGER X PLANET | CP | 2689 TPI

  • Perfect balance of production, health, fertility and type
  • Improved on pounds of milk and fat, PL, DPR and type with new daughters added
  • Moderate sized cows with wide rumps, and excellent udders
  • #8 daughter-proven TPI sire in the industry

11HO11437 AltaSPRING | MOGUL X GERARD X MASCOL | 2563 TPI

  • Now over 3.00 for UDC – outstanding, high, wide rear udders and strong fore udder attachments
  • Moderate-sized cows with great balance of dairyness and strength
  • International producer favorite!

11HO11337 AltaCAIN | MAUI X INDIANA X LEVI | CP | 2560 TPI

  • Fat yield improver and low somatic cell score
  • High fertility Concept Plus status paired with excellent daughter fertility traits
  • Outcross sire with functional conformation traits on moderate sized cows

11HO11380 AltaROBLE | MOGUL X OBSERVER X SHOTTLE | CP| 511 | 2557 TPI

  • Health and type trait specialist
  • A high fertility Concept Plus sire that’s also at an elite 4.1 DPR!
  • Stylish, high type daughters with outstanding udders (+3.11 UDC)

11HO11419 AltaLEGAL | MOGUL X PLANET X LYNCH | CP | 511 | 2525 TPI

  • Production specialist
  • Great milk yield and outstanding components
  • Functional type traits, with excellent height and width of rear udders

11HO11379 AltaRABO | MOGUL X OBSERER X SHOTTLE | CP | 2520 TPI

  • Medium-sized cows with great dairyness
  • Type, udder and foot & leg improver
  • A high fertility sire with low calving ease

11HO1422 AltaJAKE | PETRONE X OBSERVER X GOLDWYN | CP | 511 | 2520 TPI

  • Health trait specialist at 8.2 PL
  • Fertility leader at 5.2 DPR and with the coveted Concept Plus high fertility sire status
  • Moderate stature, youthful cows with great dairyness

11HO11493 AltaHOTROD | JEROD X AltaIOTA X GOLDWYN | CP | 2483 TPI

  • New graduate from Future Star status – with high sire fertility and low calving ease
  • Tall, long, stylish cows
  • Youthful, well-attached udders – protect for short teats
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Predict future production using average daily gain

Genomic testing is a popular way to rank heifers as part of a strategic breeding plan. But it’s not the only way. If you’re looking to not only maximize genetic progress, but also future profit, there might be alternative methods to decide which heifers to cull and which to keep.

ADG as a female selection tool?

References to average daily gain (ADG) typically come from the beef industry and more recently, dairy nutritionists and researchers. Dairy-focused studies have proven that individual dairy farms can see the impact of ADG on future milk production potential. In fact, a study from Cornell University showed that for every one kilogram of pre-weaning ADG, calves produced 1,113 kilograms more milk during their first lactation1.

Weighing individual animals at set points early in life to determine their average daily gain can be an effective means to predict which animals will produce the most throughout their first and later lactations.

Take the example below. On this 2,850-cow Holstein farm in Wisconsin, weights are taken on each individual calf at birth and weaning, and calculated within their herd management software to figure out the ADG of each animal.

Table 1Number of cowsADGAvg. 1st Lactation 305-day ME milk
Group 1: Top 25% for highest ADG3322.1833105 lb
Group 2: Bottom 25% for lowest ADG3081.6731838 lb
Difference0.511267 lb

Here, we’ve broken down all first lactation animals into quartiles based on their initial average daily gain. The top animals for ADG gained nearly 2.2 pounds per day from birth to weaning, while the bottom 25% of animals for ADG gained 1.67 pounds per day during that time.

Fast forward two years to when these calves have entered the milking herd, and that difference in average daily gain equates to a real and noticeable 1267 pound per animal difference in first lactation 305-day ME milk production. This is on par with the results from 2012 Cornell University study mentioned above.

 

Genetics still matter

If we take this analysis one step further, we can see that genetics are able to express themselves to a fuller advantage in healthier calves that grow more each day.

When we split the groups from the same analysis shown above in Table 1 to do two separate genetic assessments we can see how animals in each group perform in relation to their genetic predictions. This shows us whether ADG affects whether an animal can produce to their genetic potential.

Table 2 takes only the first lactation cows that were among the top 25% of heifers for highest birth to weaning ADG. Within this high ADG group of animals, we compare 305ME milk production based on parent average for PTA Milk within that group.

Table 2: Highest ADG animalsNumber of cowsADGParent Average PTA MilkAvg. 1st Lact 305ME Milk
Top 50%: Highest Parent Avg PTAM1662.1958634503 lb
Bottom 50%: Lowest Parent Avg PTAM1662.1710531725 lb
Difference4812778

Here, it shows that among only the calves with the highest average daily gain, those animals with the higher parent average for PTA Milk calved in to produce nearly 2800 pounds more milk than the animals with a lower parent average for PTA Milk.

Table 3 looks at this the same way, but only splits out just the first lactation cows that were in the bottom 25% for lowest birth to weaning ADG. When we compare milk production within that isolated low ADG group, we see that a higher parent average for PTAM equated to just over 1800 additional pounds of milk in the first lactation compared to the animals with the lowest parent averages for PTAM.

Table 3: Lowest ADG animalsNumber of cowsADGParent Average PTA MilkAvg. 1st Lact 305ME Milk
Top 50%: Highest Parent Avg PTAM1521.6856932768 lb
Bottom 50%: Lowest Parent Avg PTAM1521.675530958 lb
Difference5141810

Within both groups of animals a higher parent average for PTAM meant even more milk than predicted by genetics. However, when you compare the difference in 1st lactation 305MEs you can see that the high ADG group outpaces the low ADG group by nearly an additional 1000 pounds of milk in the first lactation.

This means that when calves are given the best nutrition and care, and achieve higher average daily gains, their genetics are better able to express themselves beyond what’s even predicted.

Strategic management decisions

With this proof in mind, if your farm’s situation dictates culling extra heifers, it’s best to do that in a strategic way. While genomic testing certainly has its merits for this purpose, the power of monitoring and measuring ADGs can serve as an effective alternative.

If the animals that perform well early in life go on to perform better than herdmates later in life, it’s an easy decision to keep the fastest growing animals in your herd. If you cull those calves that perform at a sub-par level from the start, you can avoid the feed costs for animals that will produce less than herdmates in the future, and avoid housing for animals that you may not have room for on your farm.

Knowing that those healthy calves will put extra pounds in the tank down the road also enforces the power of proper and progressive calf nutrition and a sharp focus on overall calf health. Even when times are tight, the future of your milking herd should not be put on the back burner.

 

Points to ponder

  • When implementing a strategic plan to cull heifers, consider weighing each individual calf at various milestones in her life to determine average daily gains. A ranking based on ADG to sort which heifers to keep and which to cull can have a big impact on overall future costs of production.

  • Don’t let the genetics you select go to waste. An animal’s genetics are expressed best when she receives the best nutrition and care from day one. The amount each calf gains per day, even in those first few months, will make a major impact on future production potential.

 

References:

Soberon F, Raffrenato E, Everett RW and Van Amburgh ME. 2012. Preweaning milk replacer intake and effects on long-term productivity of dairy calves. J Dairy Sci. 2012 Feb;95(2):783-93. doi: 10.3168/jds.2011-4391.
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Understand the new TPI changes

With August 2017 proofs Holstein Association USA (HA USA) will make updates to TPI, Udder Composite (UDC) and Foot & Leg Composite (FLC). The following information will help you understand these changes and how they may affect sire ranks.

As with any index changes, sires will re-rank. We can attribute most of the re-ranking to the fact that stature is being added to the calculations for UDC and FLC.

Industry standard index changes remind us how important it is to set your own customized genetic plan. While we review the changes being made to Udder Composite and TPI for the upcoming proof round, keep your own genetic plan in mind to ensure it continues to match your farm’s current goals and future plans.

Udder Composite changes

The biggest change that will take place within UDC is that stature is now incorporated with a negative emphasis to promote a more moderate sized frame on Holstein cows of the future. While all individual trait weights within UDC will adjust slightly, stature will now have a relative weight of 17% of UDC. This change comes mostly from the reduced emphasis on udder depth.

A comparison between the previous and new versions of UDC is shown in Table 1 below, with major changes in bold.

TABLE 1Previous percent weight within UDCAugust 2017 percent weight within UDC% Change
Fore udder16%13%-3%
Rear udder height16%19%3%
Rear udder width12%16%4%
Udder cleft9%7%-2%
Udder depth35%17%-18%
Front teat placement5%3%-2%
Rear teat placement (now called Rear teat optimum)7%4%-3%
Teat length (now called Teat length optimum)-4%4%
Stature--17%17%

The other change taking place with udder traits is that both rear teat placement and teat length will now be two-way traits, and be called rear teat optimum and teat length optimum, respectively.

The rear teat length and placement of the Holstein breed has evolved to a shorter and closer average. By adjusting to an intermediate optimum, rather than a close and short ideal, is intended to help get the breed back to a more desirable norm.

The new Foot & Leg Composite

As with UDC, the main difference in the new FLC comes from the addition of stature to the index. Table 2 shows that stature is added mostly from the reduced weight now placed on foot angle and rear leg side view.

TABLE 2Previous percent weight within FLCAugust 2017 percent weight within FLC% Change
Foot angle24%7.5%-17%
Rear legs rear view19%17.5%-1%
Foot and leg score50%58%8%
Stature--17%17%
Rear leg side view8%--8%

TPI updates

In addition to the UDC and FLC updates, the TPI formula will also be revamped. While the weights within the production, health and conformation categories remain the same, the individual trait weights within the production and health buckets will change.

The biggest change to the new TPI formula is found within the production category as a new protein to fat ratio. You can see all changes in Table 3 below.

TABLE 3Previous weight within TPIAugust 2017 weight within TPI
Protein2721
Fat1617
Feed Efficiency38
PRODUCTION TOTAL46%46%
Fertility Index1313
Productive Life74
Livability-3
Somatic Cell Score-5-5
Daughter Calving Ease22
Daughter Stillbirth11
HEALTH TOTAL28%28%
Udder Composite1111
PTA Type88
Foot & Leg Composite66
Dairy Form-1-1
CONFORMATION TOTAL26%26%

HA USA reweighted protein, fat and feed efficiency, and therefore adjusted the fat to protein ratio. Starting in August, there will be 6% less emphasis directly on protein, 5% emphasis added to feed efficiency and 1% more emphasis on pounds of fat.

For your reference, feed efficiency is calculated as follows. Please note that Body Weight Composite within this formula is the new calculation to replace Body Size Composite.

Feed Efficiency = (-0.0187 x Milk) + (1.28 x Fat) + (1.95 x Protein) – (12.4 x Body Weight Composite)

In addition to the adjustment on the production bucket, HA USA will now incorporate livability as part of the TPI formula. The 3% weight on livability will come directly from that same reduction in emphasis on productive life.

What do these changes mean?

The new addition of stature to Udder Composite and Foot & Leg Composite, along with the TPI updates, are in place with an overarching goal to aid producers in creating more moderate sized, efficient and profitable cows.

Industry standard indexes can change at any point. These changes reinforce the importance of setting your own customized genetic plan. Work with your trusted Alta advisor to review the weights you place on each individual production, health and conformation trait. We want to help you ensure your plan always aligns with your farms current situation and future goals.

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Proof terminology explained

The letters, numbers and acronyms on a proof sheet can be complicated. Here, we break down the meaning and explanation of the proof indexes, traits and terminology.
Selection indexes

Genetic selection indexes are set by national organizations or breed associations. Genetic indexes help dairy producers focus on a total approach to genetic improvement, rather than limiting progress by single trait selection.

However, each farm is unique, with different situations and future plans. With that in mind, it’s important to understand what traits are included in each industry standard index. When you know what’s included, you can more effectively evaluate if the index truly matches your farm’s goals.

TPI = Total Performance Index
TPI is calculated by the Holstein Association USA (HA-USA) and includes the following trait weightings.

Image to show the weights on production, health and type for the TPI Index

PRODUCTION TRAITS = 46%

21% Pounds of protein
17% Pounds of fat
8% Feed efficiency

HEALTH TRAITS = 28%

13% Fertility index
-5% Somatic cell score
4% Productive life
3% Cow livability
2% Daughter calving ease
1% Daughter stillbirth

TYPE TRAITS = 26%

11% Udder composite
8% PTA type
6% Foot & leg composite
-1% Dairy form

NM$ = Net Merit Dollars

NM$ is a genetic index value calculated by the Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding (CDCB). It describes the expected lifetime profit per cow as compared to the base of the population born in 2010. Trait weightings are generally updated approximately every five years and include emphasis on the following traits. The current trait breakdown is in place as of August 2018. Please note that trait weights are rounded to the nearest percentage.

A bar showing the breakdown weights of Net Merit $ as 45% on Production traits, 40% on health traits and 15% on type traits

PRODUCTION TRAITS = 45%

26.8% Pounds of fat
16.9% Pounds of protein
-0.7%  Pounds of milk

HEALTH TRAITS = 40%

12.1%   Productive life
7.3%     Cow livability
6.7%     Daughter pregnancy rate
-4.0%     Somatic cell score
4.8%     Calving ability
2.3%     HLTH%
1.6%     Cow conception rate
1.4%     Heifer conception rate

TYPE TRAITS = 15%

7.4%  Udder composite
-5.3%  Body weight composite
2.7%  Foot & leg composite

CM$ = Cheese Merit Dollars

CM$ is an index calculated to account for milk sold to be made into cheese or other dairy products. The current CM$ index was adjusted in April 2017 and the following trait weights are considered. Please take note that trait weights shown have been rounded to the nearest percentage.

Image showing the trait breakdowns for production, health and type within the Cheese Merit dollars formula

PRODUCTION = 50%

22% Pounds of protein
20% Pounds of fat
-8% Pounds of milk

HEALTH = 37%

12% Productive life
-7% Somatic cell score
6% Cow livability
6% Daughter pregnancy rate
4% Calving ability
1% Cow conception rate
1% Heifer conception rate

TYPE TRAITS = 13%

6% Udder
-5% Body weight composite
2% Foot & leg

GENERAL PROOF TERMS

CDCB: Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding
Calculates production and health trait information for all breeds

MACE: Multiple-trait across country evaluation
Denotes that a bull’s proof evaluation includes daughter information from multiple countries

PTA: Predicted transmitting ability
The estimate of genetic superiority or inferiority for a given trait that an animal is predicted to transmit to its offspring. This value is based on the animal’s own records and the records of known relatives.

EFI: Effective future inbreeding
An estimate, based on pedigree, of the level of inbreeding that the progeny of a given animal will contribute in the population if mated at random

GFI: Genomic future inbreeding
Similar to EFI, an animal’s GFI als predicts the level of inbreeding he/she will contribute in the population if mated at random. Yet, GFI provides a more accurate prediction. It takes into account genomic test results and the actual genes an animal has.

aAa: an independent method for making mating decisions

DMS: a separate, independent method for making mating decisions

 

PRODUCTION TRAITS

PTAM: Predicted transmitting ability for milk

PTAP: Predicted transmitting ability for protein

PTAF: Predicted transmitting ability for fat

PRel: the percent reliability of a sire’s production proof

 

HEALTH & FERTILITY TRAITS

PL: Productive Life
Measured as the total number of additional or fewer productive months that you can expect from a bull’s daughters over their lifetime. Cows receive credit for each month of lactation, with more credit given to the first months around peak production, and less credit given for months further out in lactation. More credit is also given for older cows than for younger animals.  

LIV: Cow livability
Measure of a cow’s ability to remain alive while in the milking herd.

SCS: Somatic cell score
The log score of somatic cells per milliliter.

DPR: Daughter pregnancy rate
Daughter Pregnancy Rate is defined as the percentage of non-pregnant cows that become pregnant during each 21-day period. A DPR of ‘1.0’ implies that daughters from this bull are 1% more likely to become pregnant during that estrus cycle than a bull with an evaluation of zero. Each increase of 1% in PTA DPR equals a decrease of 4 days in PTA days open.

HCR: Heifer conception rate
A virgin heifer’s ability to conceive – defined as the percentage of inseminated heifers that become pregnant at each service. An HCR of 1.0 implies that daughters of this bull are 1% more likely to become pregnant as a heifer than daughters of a bull with an evaluation of 0.0

CCR: Cow conception rate
A lactating cow’s ability to conceive – defined as the percentage of inseminated cows that become pregnant at each service. A bull’s CCR of 1.0 implies that daughters of this bull are 1% more likely to become pregnant during that lactation than daughters of a bull with an evaluation of 0.0.

MAST: expected resistance of an animal’s offspring to clinical mastitis
Daughters of a bull with a MAST value of +1.0 are expected to have 1% fewer cases of mastitis than the average herdmate.

METR: expected resistance of an animal’s offspring to metritis
Daughters of a bull with a METR value of +1.0 are expected to have 1% fewer recorded cases of metritis than the average herdmate.

KET: expected resistance of an animal’s offspring to ketosis
Daughters of a bull with a KET value of +1.0 are expected to have 1% fewer recorded cases of ketosis than the average herdmate.

DA: expected resistance of an animal’s offspring to displaced abomasum
Daughters of a bull with a DA value of +1.0 are expected to have 1% fewer recorded cases of displaced abomasum than the average herdmate.

MFEV: expected resistance of an animal’s offspring to milk fever (hypocalcemia)
Daughters of a bull with a MFEV value of +1.0 are expected to have 1% fewer recorded cases of milk fever than the average herdmate.

RP: expected resistance of an animal’s offspring to retained placenta
Daughters of a bull with a RP value of +1.0 are expected to have 1% fewer recorded cases of retained placenta than the average herdmate.

HRel: the reliability percentage for a sire’s health traits

 

CALVING TRAITS

SCE: Sire calving ease
The percentage of bull’s calves born that are considered difficult in first lactation animals. Difficult births include those coded as a score of 3, 4 or 5 on a scale of 1-5.

DCE: Daughter calving ease
The percentage of a bull’s daughters who have difficult births during their first calving. Difficult calvings are those coded as a 3, 4 or 5 on a scale of 1-5.

SSB: Sire stillbirth
The percentage of a bull’s offspring that are born dead to first lactation animals.

DSB: Daughter stillbirth
The percentage of a bull’s daughters who give birth to a dead calf in their first lactation.

 

TYPE / CONFORMATION TRAITS

PTAT, UDC and FLC are all calculated by the Holstein Association USA.

PTAT: Predicted transmitting for type – referring to the total conformation of an animal

UDC: Udder composite index; comprised of the following linear trait weights:
19% Rear udder height
17% Udder depth
-17% Stature
6% Rear udder width
13% Fore udder attachment
7% Udder Cleft
4% Rear teat optimum
4% Teat length optimum
3% Front teat placement

FLC: Foot and leg composite index; comprised of the following trait weights:
58% foot and leg classification score
18% rear legs rear view
-17% stature
8% foot angle

TRel = the percent reliability for a sire’s conformation/type proof

 

GENETIC CODES

POLLED
PO: observed polled
PC: genomic tested as heterozygous polled; means 50% of offspring are expected to be observed as polled
PP: genomic tested as homozygous polled; means that 100% of offspring are expected to be observed as polled

COAT COLOR
RC: carries the recessive gene for red coat color
DR: carries a dominant gene for red coat color

RECESSIVES & HAPLOTYPES

These codes, or symbols representing the code, will only show up on a proof sheet if an animal is a carrier or test positive for one of the following. The acronyms denoting that an animal is tested free of a recessive will only show up on its pedigree.

BY: Brachyspina
TY: Tested free of brachyspina

BL: BLADS, or Bovine leukocyte adhesion deficiency
TL: Tested free of BLADS

CV: CVM or Complex vertebral malformation
TV: Tested free of CVM

DP: DUMPS, or Deficiency of the uridine monophosphate synthase
TD: Tested free of DUMPS

MF: Mulefoot
TM: Tested free of mulefoot

HH1, HH2, HH3, HH4, HH5: Holstein haplotypes that negatively affect fertility
HCD: Holstein haplotype for cholesterol deficiency

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Alta Advantage Showcase Tour 2017 – by the numbers

Guests from around the world joined together to share management strategies and insight during the 18th Alta Advantage Showcase Tour held in Michigan June 21-23, 2017.

On-farm stations were set up to provide insight on all areas of dairy herd management. Some of the topics covered included:

  • Reproduction
  • milk quality and parlor management
  • transition cow management
  • feed and nutrition
  • colostrum management and calf raising
  • heifer raising
  • labor organization
  • genetic planning
  • dairy technology
  • Performance Pens featuring some of the newest Alta sires to have milking daughters
  • and more!
Here’s a look at the 2017 Alta Advantage Showcase Tour, by the numbers:
360guests
26countries represented
18Alta Advantage Showcase Tours now complete
35on-farm stations that guests experienced throughout the tour
6charter buses required to transport guests
19,000cows milked among all pre-tour and Showcase host farms
9outstanding host dairies that graciously opened their farm for our guests to visit
Pre-tour host: Rich-Ro South Dairy | St. Johns, MI
Pre-tour host: Berlyn Acres | Fowler, MI
Walnutdale Farms | Wayland, MI
Prairie View Dairy | Delton, MI
Schaendorf Farms | Allegan, MI
Tubergen Dairy | Ionia, MI
Simon Farms | Westphalia, MI
Steenblik Dairy | Pewamo, MI
Double Eagle Dairy | Middleton, MI

These numbers sum up to ONE tremendous tour!

Guests enjoyed the friendly camaraderie and the ability to learn from both our host farm owners and others on the tour. These experiences left everyone with a lasting impression of Alta’s progressive approach to create value, build trust and deliver results to clients around the world.

 

Click HERE to view the collection of photos and videos from the tour!

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The proof is in your numbers

Let us show you…

We can show you the proof that genetics are one of the cheapest investments you can make to improve the profitability and efficiency of your herd. Proof sheet numbers may seem unclear or unrealistic. So we break them down to see how they translate within your own herd.

When you use a herd management software program, we can create a genetic assessment of your herd to see if genetics really work on your farm.

Do your 2-year-olds give as many pounds of milk as their sires’ proofs predict? Do these cows become pregnant as quickly as their sires’ DPR numbers suggest? And do daughter stillbirth numbers prove to be accurate indicators of DOAs?

When we do a genetic assessment for your herd, it’s important to realize that we only take into account first-lactation animals in order to minimize environmental effects. Phenotype equals genetics plus environment. So when we eliminate – or at least minimize – environmental influences, the actual performance differences we see are due to genetics.

We want to show you how those proof numbers translate to more pounds of milk, more pregnancies and fewer stillborn calves. So here, we take one of our real DairyComp 305 analyses of a real 1,500-cow herd for answers.

The proof in genetics: PTA Milk (PTAM)

We start with PTAM, which tells us how many more pounds of milk a first-lactation animal will produce compared to herdmates on a 305-day ME basis. We set out to find if higher PTAM values on this farm actually convert to more pounds of milk in the tank.

In this example, we sort all first-lactation animals with a known Holstein sire ID, solely on their sires’ PTAM values. We then compare that to their actual 305-day ME milk records.

As Table 1 shows, based on genetics, we expect the top 25 percent of first-lactation heifers to produce 1,541 more pounds of milk on a 305ME basis than their lower PTAM counterparts. In reality, we see a 2,662-pound difference between the top PTAM animals and the bottom in actual daughter performance.

Table 1: How does selection for PTAM affect actual 305ME performance?
# of cowsAvg. Sire PTAMAvg. 305ME Production
Top 25% high sire PTAM178150844080
Bottom 25% low sire PTAM171-3341418
Difference15412662
This means that for every pound of milk this herd selects for, they actually get an additional 1.69 pounds of milk. So these first-lactation animals are producing well beyond their genetic potential.

Why do they get more than expected?

When we do most on-farm genetic assessments, we find that the 305ME values closely match the predicted difference based on sire PTAM. However, in this example, the production exceeds what’s expected by more than 1,100 pounds.

We often attribute that bonus milk top-level management, where genetics are allowed to express themselves. This particular herd provides a comfortable and consistent environment for all cows. All of these 2-year-olds are fed the same ration, housed in the same barn and given the same routine. At more than a 40,000-pound average 305ME, this is certainly a well-managed herd, which allows the top genetic animals to exceed their genetic production potential.

Perhaps even more importantly, the identification in this herd is more than 95 percent accurate. Without accurate identification, this analysis simply won’t work. That’s because some cows whose real sire information puts them in the bottom quartile will actually appear in the top quartile and vice-versa.

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Polled genetics – examine the pros and cons

The polled gene in dairy cattle is dominant over the horned gene

Polled dairy cattle trace back as far as pedigree records have been kept. The polled gene in dairy cattle is dominant over the horned gene. Yet horned cattle are still much more prevalent in the global dairy population because few producers ever chose to select for polled cattle as part of their breeding program. This is because the real, economic paybacks of selecting for production, health and conformation traits has traditionally trumped the desire for polled genetics.

Genomic selection has allowed polled enthusiasts to focus on high ranking polled animals to propagate the polled population. However, producers stressing genetic improvement in other traits are also advancing their genetics at an equally rapid rate.

You can add polled as a criteria to your genetic plan, but must keep in mind the financial repercussions of that decision in terms of the pounds of milk and components you’ll give up, and the health and fertility you may need to sacrifice, just to avoid dehorning.

The more recent public awareness about dehorning cattle has made it another hot button topic in the industry. The naturally hornless cattle have gained popularity in recent years because of consumer opinion on the dehorning process, and the side effects they feel result from it. This perception has driven producers to create more naturally polled animals than ever in the past.

The pros of polled genetics

Despite the genetic and performance sacrifices made by selecting for polled animals, many producers do see the opportunity to incorporate polled genetics into their breeding program.

  • Avoid dehorning

You can save dollars, time, and labor, and also minimize stress on your calves by foregoing the need for dehorning. The average dehorning cost varies from one farm to the next based on the chosen method of dehorning, and there is a chance of causing additional stress on the calves during a crucial growth time.

However, it’s important to remember that modern dehorning methods done properly, and at an early age, will nearly eliminate stress on the calves, and will minimize your time and costs.

  • Cater to consumer perceptions

It’s a fact that consumer perception directs many aspects of the dairy industry’s reality. Animal rights activists have criticized dehorning for years, but it hasn’t been until recently that the general public has joined the activists’ view on dehorning as a detrimental process. With increased awareness about this common farm chore also comes increased consumer demands on how they feel farmers should handle it on their dairies.

We clearly don’t want animals with horns running around dairies, so the question is whether to dehorn calves or breed for polled genetics. Unless consumers are willing to pay a premium for milk from naturally hornless cattle, you will likely be leaving dollars on the table by selecting exclusively for homozygous polled sires if you want to ensure no animals are born with horns.

  • The polled gene is dominant

The basics of genetics tell us that since the polled gene is dominant over the horned gene, animals with one copy of the polled gene and one copy of the horned gene will not have horns, and a naturally hornless animal can be created in one generation. It also means it is easier to make more polled animals faster than if the polled gene was recessive.

An animal can have one of three combinations for the polled/horned gene:

PP = homozygous polled means this animal has no horns, an all offspring from the animal will be born without horns
Pp = heterozygous polled means this animal does not have horns, but offspring may or may not have horns depending on their mate
pp = born with horns

If you’re starting with only horned animals in your herd, the figures below demonstrate your results mating cows to a polled sire. The table on the left shows that a homozygous polled bull bred to a horned cow will result in 100% hornless offspring. The table on the right illustrates that a heterozygous polled sire bred to a horned cow will result in only 50% polled offspring.

The downside to polled genetics

Eliminating the need for dehorning may seem like the right choice for your dairy. However, the genetic sacrifices you will make in order to get to that point cannot be overlooked. Whenever you add extra selection criteria to your genetic plan, you will sacrifice in other areas. Here are just a few reasons to think twice about selecting exclusively for polled genetics in your herd.

  • The continuous need for polled sires
    Like mentioned above, the polled gene is dominant, so you can create a polled offspring in just one generation. What many producers tend to forget is that, at this point, maintaining a population of polled cattle in your herd is much more difficult.

As the images above show, using a heterozygous polled bull will not yield 100% polled offspring. To get to the point of a completely polled herd, and to maintain it once you’re there, you continually need to use only homozygous polled sires. This may not seem difficult, but it leads to the next shortcoming of using exclusively polled sires.

  • Limited availability and variation on polled sires
    Since the prevalence of polled animals within the various dairy breeds is still low, it will still take many generations to genetically eradicate horned animals from your herd if you want to maintain reasonable inbreeding levels.

Even though the number of polled bulls in active AI has increased substantially over recent years, the total number of sires providing that polled gene is still limited. AI companies will only bring in bulls at genetic levels high enough to help you make progress in your herd. And since selection for polled animals has only recently gained popularity, many of the polled bulls are closely related – either from a small group of elite polled cow families or with sires in common.

Even with selection standards in place for elite polled animals, their genetic levels don’t yet match up.

  • Genetic sacrifice and compromised future performance
    Most importantly, at this point in time, polled bulls, as a whole, don’t yet live up to the genetic levels of their horned counterparts. With polled as a strict selection criteria, you will miss out on the best sires, regardless if you select from the genomic or daughter-proven lists. When you figure the amount of production, health and conformation that could be lost by limiting your options to only polled sires, dehorning calves becomes even less of an issue.

Review your pros and cons for polled genetics

As you set your genetic plan keep in mind the pros and cons of selecting exclusively for polled genetics. At this point, the overall genetic and performance levels of horned animals still outpace those of polled cattle. Modern dehorning methods minimize stress on calves, so when performed correctly and at the proper time, it should be almost a non-issue.

On the flip side, you could make a case for exclusively polled sire selection if your milk plant is willing to pay more for milk from polled cattle, or if consumer perception drives your decisions.

Regardless of your selection decision, make sure it aligns with the customized genetic plan you put in place so the genetic progress you make on your farm is in the direction of your goals.

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