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4 clichés for a successful breeding program

Mandy Schmidt for Progressive Dairyman Published on 16 November 2017

Gandhi seemed to have known what he was talking about when it came to breeding a profitable herd of cows when he said, “The future depends on what you do today.”

Do your future operation plans include expansion or transition to the next generation of owners? Do you need to engage in more cash flow activities like beef-on-dairy or niche marketing with A2A2 milk?

If what you do today is simply stay the same with genetics, you are already falling behind the average. Each year should bring an increase in your herd’s genetic profitability.

Since 1970, the national annual average production for Holsteins has increased about 15,000 pounds. Some of this progress is from management and nutrition improvement. However, a cow from the ’70s would not have the genetic ability to compete with your current cows. You could not out-manage her genetic limitations.

Do not place a genetic cap on the cows you are creating for the next five to 10 years. With lessons from the past in mind, be a visionary by using innovative tools for the future to design your most productive herd of cows yet.

Cliché #1: A penny saved is a penny earned

Pennies have become nearly irrelevant as a currency. Some debate has even occurred over removing the single cent. However, in our business world where margins are so tight, every penny really does matter. Operations need to look at where every single cent is being spent.

The days are gone when we could solely focus on maximizing every pound of milk leaving on the truck. The most enterprising dairies look at how they can reduce labor, treatment and equipment repair costs. Essentially, our cows need to be low-input while maintaining the same output.

Some of this is absolutely through cow comfort and management practices. The rest is through genetically developing a low-input cow. The genetics are available already today. You simply need to implement them correctly in your herd.

For example, if your balance sheet tells you money is leaving through mastitis treatments, long days open and cows not lasting long in the herd, select for mastitis resistance, high fertility and long productive life.

Cliché #2: The early bird gets the worm

In the late 1800s, Russian royalty contracted a scientist to develop artificial insemination (A.I.) technology for horses. Over 100 years later, Enos Perry brought bovine application methods to the U.S.

As with any technology, there were a few early adapters to A.I., but most waited to see “how it worked out for their neighbor.” The early birds, in this case, were able to introduce advanced genetics into their herd more quickly.

The next technology to completely change genetic practices is growing in a similar way A.I. did over a century ago. In vitro fertilization (IVF) will be the next tool to push commercial dairies’ genetics even faster.

Half of the cows you breed today will create offspring to enter your herd. Are all equally profitable? Will all offspring be equally profitable?

Most herds have a huge spread in genetics and associated performance, between the top and bottom of the herd. The genetic impact of only propagating genetics from the top 10 percent of your herd is beyond significant. IVF will more than triple the number of heifers coming from the most genetically elite females. This removes much of a herd’s inconsistency in a single generation. The poor genetic individuals can be recipients or bred to beef.

Other than increasing lifetime profitability per animal, IVF can be used to create an overnight milk market or to make breed adjustments.

The initial skepticism around A.I. is similar to that around IVF today. It is a new technology that was once just used for a few elite cows. Now, the technology has become efficient for herds anywhere from 100 to 20,000 cows.

Cliché #3: You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your … replacement heifers?

With more data available than ever for predicting performance through genetics, stop bringing “froggy” heifers into your program. These heifers cost the same amount to raise as your most lucrative animal. Furthermore, they will potentially create low genetic future replacements when they calve themselves.

Work with a genetic adviser to determine where the genetic trends in your herd are headed and strategically select females. They can determine if an intervention in any trait is needed based on your future milk market, facilities or expected inefficiencies.

Sexed semen allows us to create more heifers and be pickier about which cows are contributing to your future herd. The technology has done nothing except get better since its introduction to the market. The initial machines used rough sorting methods to split out the male gender cells. The 2017 version of the machines uses a sophisticated laser on a microscopic level to delete out “Y” sperm.

Reliable sexed semen fertility, due to enhanced technology, allows for better heifer inventory projections. Between this technology and improvement in calf raising methods, heifer pens are full.

However, if this combination has created too many mouths to feed, stop making so many. Breed low genetic females to beef and eliminate their genetics from coming back into the herd. Raise genetic averages in a single generation and create additional revenue from the beef-cross calves.

Cliché #4: Actions speak louder than words

Talking about genetic strategy and planning with your genetic adviser is great, but don’t just discuss. Do it every time you breed a cow.

In five to 10 years, will your cows be capable of providing the type of milk the market will dictate? More people are eating their dairy products than drinking them. Component demand will be king for most processors.

Are most involuntarily culls from poor reproductive performance? Work on bolstering female fertility.

Or with fuel prices increasing hauling charges, do you need to reduce the water weight in your shipped product? Increase the solids and total value without extra water volume.

I will leave you with an old Chinese proverb to contemplate as you analyze your herd’s genetic needs: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”  end mark

Mandy Schmidt
  • Mandy Schmidt

  • North American Dairy Genetic Services Specialist
  • ABS Global
  • Email Mandy Schmidt

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