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1106 PD: A.I. reps from 22 countries joined Alta Genetics tour of Midwestern dairies

Published on 10 November 2006

Juan Gordillo dreamed of attending World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin, in order to see American dairy genetics on display. But more than 2,800 miles separated Gordillo and his dream – until last month.

Gordillo of Chia, Colombia, has been selling A.I. semen to Colombian dairy producers for eight years. His customers milk Brown Swiss, Ayrshire, Holstein and Jersey dairy breeds. Gordillo says keeping up on international dairy genetics, especially U.S. genetics, is important.

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So when Gordillo’s company, Alta Genetics, invited him to tour U.S. dairies and visit World Dairy Expo, he couldn’t resist. But the 38-year-old would see more than that.

Alta Genetics hosted Gordillo and 120 other dairymen and A.I. industry representatives from 22 countries on a seven-day bus tour of Midwestern dairies during October. During the trip, the company showcased its Alta Advantage® program. The program, the company says, is overcoming a long-standing problem in the A.I. industry – inaccurate sire-daughter identification.

“One in four daughters in the industry is misidentified,” says Dr. Nate Zwald, Alta Advantage program director. “We know that because we tested 400 large herds across the U.S. Randomly, we tested 20 samples per farm, and what we found was 25 percent were wrong.”

In 2000, the company decided to form a group of large-herd, commercial dairies within which to test its young sire semen. Zwald and others pared down the company’s then 3,000 progeny test herds to just 175. These progeny herds have, on average, 850 cows. The dairies meet strict standards for management protocols to ensure data integrity. Zwald says the purpose for the move was to track and report production, health and reproduction statistics and to accurately identify daughters.

Now, six years later, the company says its proof sheets are nearly 100 percent accurate. And it claims its sire evaluations are the most “accurate and true” evaluations available in the industry.

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“We can say when we show [dairymen] a proof sheet, ‘AltaWILDMAN’ has 85 daughters. They have all been DNA verified, and they all live in a [commercial] environment,” he says. “That’s the kind of cow you want – one that is proven to live here, where we know the information is accurate.”

ABS Global, one of Alta’s many competitors in the industry, recently launched a new young sire program, called Cornerstone, which the company says will include marketing efforts toward large, commercial herds. However, a company spokesman says it plans to include dairies of all sizes. The company also says it DNA tests daughters in its young sire program randomly.

So why hasn’t Alta voiced its concerns about a potential industry-wide misidentification problem until recently? According to Zwald, the company to chose to fix the problem rather than talk about it.

“We wanted to say, ‘Hey, this is a problem. Here is our list of bulls, and we have DNA-verified that all the daughters are truly daughters of these bulls,’” Zwald says. “We’ve talked about it a lot for a year, and it’s had a big impact. It definitely opens the eyes of a lot of farmers who say, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I’ve been selecting on inaccurate information.’”

At each of the 11 dairies on the tour, dairy producers showcased between 20 and 25 daughters of sires enrolled in Alta’s program. The trimmed, show-ready daughters and their environments impressed both Alta’s own and visiting dairymen.

Angel Cassanello, a dairyman milking 1,200 cows in Argentina, said that compared to the mostly pasture-based systems in his country, the management systems in the United States were intensive and impressive.

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“The biggest difference is the system,” he said. “These are intensive systems with cows in freestalls and with cow comfort. And what you get is more stable lactation curves. Lactation curves are not affected as much by weather here as they are in Argentina.”

This visit wasn’t the first trip to the United States for Cassanello. He said this trip positively changed his image of the U.S. dairy industry.

“This has opened up my mind for what can be done for the dairy industry in Argentina,” Cassanello said.

Dirk Ellermann, an Alta sales manager in Germany, said his group of 12 dairy farmers and consultants were impressed with the “free market” milk system in the United States. Many of his guests milk small, family-owned operations under the European quota system. Labor management and new techniques for tackling old dairy problems intrigued these dairymen.

“From a production standpoint, these farmers find the same problems as German farmers, such as milk fever, calving ease, etc.,” Ellermann said.

Ellermann said the proven bulls graduating from Alta’s DNA-tested young sire program in the United States are creating a stir, even in Europe.

“[Reliability] is the biggest difference we have right now over the whole world,” Ellermann said.

The tall, but skinny Gordillo scribbled on an evaluation form, “Buena,” “Super,” “Muy buena” or “Excellent” for most of the daughters he saw. Just as impressive to Gordillo was the general management and animal care exhibited by U.S. dairy producers.

“It will be hard to explain to people in Colombia the kind of cows and size of cows you can see at World Dairy Expo and the level of production you can reach within these big, commercial herds,” Gordillo said.

Still, for seven days, as Gordillo traveled between farms, he would stare at late-season alfalfa fields and comment about the height of the plants. In Colombia, he says, stands would never get that tall. “Beautiful” were his frequent descriptions of the passing landscapes.

As for World Dairy Expo, Gordillo said, “It’s a great event. I saw a lot of good cows. I think in my life, I can never see this many cows again.” PD

Walt Cooley
Progressive Dairyman
Editor

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