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Implementing Alta Cow Watch

Good heat detection is of crucial importance at the Koepon dairy farm in Feerwerd, Groningen. Alta Cow Watch, based on Nedap technology, was first implemented there in November 2016. This system combines accurate heat detection with health monitoring. This provides valuable information about eating, ruminating, inactive and other active behavior. It ensures that cows that have recently calved will now be far better monitored. “It’s no longer based on “feeling”, but rather on factual information. This provides certainty”, say the Operations manager and Herd manager.

We spoke to Herd manager Alex Borst  and Operations manager Marcel Rijkers, two experts who, by their own admission, together have quite a bit of experience with cows. Marcel: “If you then look at everything the system is able to do…” And Alex adds: “We used to do health monitoring based on feelings and assumptions.” Marcel: “If a given cow provides between 20 and 22 liters per milking, everything seems to be going well. But then you look at the system and see that she only spends about two hours a day eating. This means that she will be losing weight, resulting in a negative energy balance. Now we know this and can make adjustments accordingly.”

Heat detection and health monitoring

Heat detection has been used for many years at the Koepon dairy farm. The 400 dairy and calving cows are almost all used as recipients for embryos. This is why good heat detection is essential, as the very valuable embryos need to be implanted exactly seven days later. For years, a different heat detection system was used with satisfactory results. Before switching over to investing in Alta Cow Watch with health monitoring, the two managers wanted to know whether the new system would detect a cow in heat at least as accurately and reliably. This is why both systems were used side by side for a month. The conclusion: both the cows in heat and the correct insemination moment are exactly indicated. “But the main value lies in health monitoring”, they both add. The first thing a cow does when it falls ill is to eat less.

koepon Cows Feeding

Monitoring the transition list adds a lot of value

According to the Herd manager and the Operations manager, the health monitoring system adds most value by monitoring the transition list. This easily allows them to track the cows that have calved during the past week. “Any cow that doesn’t feed sufficiently will show up as an attention in the system. A cow is only allowed to return from the straw box to the herd when she eats and ruminates sufficiently.” This limits the number of cows with a negative energy balance, which indicates health problems. There are usually no problems with heifers and second-calf cows. It is the older cows that need a little more attention in their experience. Alex: “Sometimes you don’t notice anything about a cow. If she is not fit, however, and has an ongoing negative energy balance, then sending her back to the herd can result in permanent damage.” In the past, the decision was based on feelings and assumptions. “You were actually simply guessing. Thanks to health monitoring, we are now able to monitor them far more accurately and make individual adjustments: cows that really need it will get propylene glycol, while the others will not.”

By combining the data about eating and ruminating, you know exactly what the situation is and can ensure optimal milk production per cow. Alex can also see this in the milk production per cow: “We used to have the group in lactation for up to 60 days, with average milk production always 2 to 3 points lower than for the group from 60 to 120 days. Now the first group is doing just as well as the second group. They start off well and are given something extra when they need it.” Marcel Rijkers states: “By being able to monitor our heifers better and basing our planning accordingly, we are managing to produce 2 liters of milk per cow per day more during the first 60 days in lactation, which means that both the groups, from 0-60 and from 60-120 days, are managing average milk production of between 42 and 43 kg of milk per day.”

Earlier intervention and more targeted treatment

The cows are milked three times a day. Despite that, the system regularly detects that a cow is unwell before the milkers notice it, Marcel explains. “For example, a cow may be milked at 1 PM and will develop a coli infection an hour or two later. This is painful and the cow will not eat. We will then get a message from the system by 8 PM, whereas the cow would otherwise have only come out of the milking parlor at 10 PM.” This allows you to intervene sooner and provide the cows with more targeted treatment. This saves on antibiotics and money, according to the Operations manager. The system allows Marcel and Alex to keep an eye on sick cows at an early stage. Marcel Rijkers: “12 hours before an illness becomes apparent, we usually know whether the cow has fallen ill, as she will eat and ruminate less. This allows you to take action sooner and prevent milk production from dropping.”

Valuable management information

Access to this information is not only useful for heifers. At the Koepon dairy farm, the system has also produced very interesting management information on older dairy cows and dry cows. The influence of the eating time, the provision of the feed, the type of rations or the lighting in the barn – everything has been recorded, along with the ruminating behavior.

Thus the Koepon dairy farm has concluded that health monitoring with Alta Cow Watch offers them significant added value. “It is difficult to express in financial terms, but I think that, as a capital-intensive company, we have managed to recoup our investment in health monitoring alone even faster than a conventional dairy farm”, Marcel estimates. “We were able to recoup the costs within two or three years.” The most important aspect, according to Marcel and Alex, is the following: “Health monitoring lifts the overall health of the animal to a higher level, thus improving production results. This makes the system unique.”


Original Article from Nedap

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Bull Search for Android & iOS

Android & iOS Bull Search app

The Alta Bull Search app delivers rankings for the sires that best fit your genetic plan. You can find individual proofs on Alta sires and all active industry Holstein bulls with a TPI of at least 1700. If you’re interested in a specific bull, type his bull code, full name, or short name into the search box. You can access more than 15,000 Holstein bulls without the constant need for an internet connection!

Benefits of the Bull Search App:

  • It’s available online and offline
  • Search Holstein sires by bull code, sire name or browse by preset breeding goals
  • See how index values adjust based on trait selection in search results
  • Easily find whether individual Alta bulls have high fertility CONCEPT PLUS status, or if they are FUTURE STARS, G-STARS or available as Alta511 SexedUltra based on logo designations.
  • Check out additional bull images if you’re online
  • Tap and hold feature for information pop-ups in breeding goal selection
  • Find updated information after each proof round

Download it today!

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How do genomic proofs hold up?

We’re well into the genomic era. If you’re like most producers, you’re now comfortable incorporating genomic-proven bulls as part of your balanced breeding program.

Yet, you might still have questions about the difference you can expect between a bull’s first genomic proof and his daughter proof. To answer your questions, we’ve done an in-depth proof analysis of all industry bulls. Our goal was to find out how genomic proofs hold up. Do they become more or less accurate with time?

What did we learn?

Graph 1 shows the average change in TPI from initial genomic proofs to April 2017 daughter proofs. The TPI change from genomic to daughter proof is the amount of space that separates the blue and orange lines.

So, even though genomic numbers are still slightly inflated, the gap between genomic and daughter proofs changes less with each passing proof round.

Want more details?

Let’s look at the facts and figures in a different light. We’ll focus in on all 1,078 industry bulls released in 2013. We use this group because all bulls released in 2013 should now have a daughter proof for production, health and conformation traits.

The bell-shaped curve of Graph 3 shows the mean and standard deviation change in TPI on the 1,078 industry bulls released as genomic-proven sires in 2013.

As you can see, on average, these bulls changed less than 100 points from their initial release in 2013 to their daughter proof in April 2017. One hundred of these bulls have a daughter-proven TPI within just twenty points of their original genomic TPI. Only about 40 bulls from the entire group of 1,078 lost more than 300 TPI points – that’s less than 4%.

We see the same trend for NM$. Graph 4 shows the average NM$ change and standard deviation of the same 1,078 industry bulls released in 2013. These sires changed about -103 NM$ from their initial genomic proof in 2013 to their daughter proof in April 2017.

Ninety-five bulls held steady within the small 20 point swing from genomic to daughter-proven NM$. Less than 20 bulls changed more than 300 NM$.

Click the thumbnails below to find the average change in individual traits from a bull’s genomic release in 2013 to his daughter proof in 2017.
April 2017 Top Dtr-proven bullTPI
11HO11434 | AltaCR2531
11HO11379 | AltaRABO2476
11HO11348 | AltaBGOOD2474
11HO11143 | AltaEMBASSY2462
11HO11380 | AltaROBLE2461
11HO11283 | AltaMERCI2450
11HO11272 | AltaGILCREST2444
11HO11446 | AltaPITA2430
11HO11202 | AltaOAK2425
11HO11405 | AltaKADO2419
April 2017 Top Genomic-proven bullsTPI
11HO11630 | AltaMORENO2742
11HO11778 | AltaROBSON2733
11HO11725 | AltaAMULET2712
11HO11724 | AltaSTEEL2684
11HO11826 | AltaLOBELLO2681
11HO11758 | AltaNIXER2676
11HO11672 | AltaKERMIT2667
11HO11736 | AltaRECOIL2656
11HO11734 | AltaPOLISH2651
11HO11720 | AltaFLYWHEEL2643

Currently, our top daughter-proven sires average a solid 2457 TPI. Yet, the top, available genomic-proven group provides a 228 point TPI advantage!

Some bulls gain points and some bulls lose points. But your odds are nearly zero that every single bull atop the genomic-proven list would drop to rank lower than the current list of daughter-proven sires.

As you make your genetic selection decisions, keep in mind:

  1. Genomic proofs are slightly inflated. Yet, with each proof round, we see less change from genomic to daughter-proven TPI and NM$ because of model adjustments made along the way.
  2. The average TPI and NM$ change from genomic proof to daughter proof for bulls released in 2013 is about -100. Despite that change, you still 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 customized genetic plan. Emphasize only on the production, health or conformation traits that matter most to you to boost your farm’s future profitability.

Proof analysis and graphs done by Ashley Mikshowsky, PEAK Geneticist

Click to download a printable PDF of this article.

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Go for the gold with Alta’s genomic line-up

Find a group of sires to take your genetics to the top with Alta’s genomic-proven lineup of G-Stars, FutureStars and Alta Advantage bulls

All bulls we bring to Alta are genomic and health tested before joining any line-up. We only bring in the best, and we’re confident these bulls will deliver on their genetic promises, since genomic testing provides an immediate reliability of nearly 70% for production, health and conformation traits.

This proof round, we add 24 brand new sires reserved exclusively for Alta Advantage partner herds. Our G-Star list expands in number and genetic level with 40 new additions, and 15 new sires have received the stamp of approval to be promoted to FutureStar status. Within each of these three genomic-proven groups, you’ll find a variety of bulls to fit any and all unique genetic plans.

The table below illustrates the difference in production, health and conformation values of our three different groups of genomic-proven sires.

2016-08 New Genomic Table

Progressing through the ranks       

Alta Advantage: Once a bull starts making semen, he typically starts his career on the Alta Advantage only list. The newest, youngest 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 on those new bulls, we give our loyal Alta Advantage partner herds priority access to the newest sires that fit their customized genetic plans.

G-Star status: Once a bull has made enough semen he is added to the G-Star sire list. The sires found among the G-Star ranks are readily available to everyone, and provide 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.

FutureStar favorites: About a year after a bull is first released, and after both sire fertility and calving ease information have been gathered, the chosen few that prove themselves to be above average for fertility and less than 8% for sire calving ease and sire stillbirth are added to the FutureStar list.

FutureStars are the way to go if you want the benefits of elite genomics, but prefer the added reliability of proven sire fertility and real daughter observations for 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, FutureStars serve as ideal options for use on heifers.

Full speed ahead

If you still don’t feel comfortable going all in with genomic-proven sires, check out the comparison between our top daughter-proven versus top genomic sires. Selection from atop the daughter-proven lineup provides you with a highly reliable 2408 average TPI.

Yet, if you’re going for maximum progress, the tables below prove that your fastest path to the top comes from the genomic group of sires, which averages more than 200 TPI points higher than their daughter-proven counterparts.

2016-08 Dtr vs Genomic Tables












To further build your confidence in the genomic-proven groups, it’s important to note that every single one of the current top daughter-proven sires were previously used globally as FutureStars or G-Stars. The track record is significant for these former genomic favorites to deliver on their initial predictions.

With that in mind, go for the gold in maximum genetic progress by using a team of sires from the Advantage, G-Star or FutureStar lists that meet your goals for production, health and conformation.

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