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Jo-Eng Dairy excited about next generation of polled cattle

Sarah Lenkaitis Published on 24 August 2015

jodi and brooklynn Hollis

While the conversation surrounding polled dairy cattle has become more prevalent in recent years, it’s a topic that’s been discussed at Jo-Eng Dairy for nearly a decade.

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Located in German Valley, Illinois, Jo-Eng Dairy is owned by Jodi Hollis along with her husband and brother. Together, the family milks 450 cows, comprised primarily of Holsteins along with some crossbreds.

A pioneer in using polled genetics, Hollis found her first opportunity to incorporate polled sires into the herd with Norwegian Red – a breed known for having a high prevalence of polled in the population. As a result, Jo-Eng Dairy had their first polled calves born in 2006. Along with Norwegian Red, the dairy also began using Aggravation Lawn Boy P-Red within the Holstein herd.

Hollis and her family were inspired to begin utilizing polled genetics from a management perspective, as the dehorning process was unpleasant work and a nuisance for employees and the calves.

Even as early adopters of dehorning paste, Hollis comments, “Paste has its problems, too,” since it can be messy and ineffective if the calf tampers with it. For her, making the decision to utilize polled genetics was the best way to dehorn their calves.

While Hollis originally began using polled genetics from an on-farm management perspective, she recognizes today there are also pressures coming from outside the industry to breed naturally hornless dairy cattle.

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Household names in the food and restaurant business, including Dannon, General Mills, Starbucks and Nestlé, have made statements endorsing polled dairy cattle in response to consumers’ concerns surrounding animal welfare. These companies and consumers are challenging dairy farmers to migrate their herds to be naturally hornless.

At Jo-Eng Dairy, about 15 percent of the herd is polled, and the number is expected to steadily climb in the upcoming months. According to Hollis, a large percentage of matings within the past year have been polled because it’s “getting easier to be fussy” about the genetics.

“In just the past two years, I’ve seen a dramatic increase in the quantity and quality of polled sires available,” Hollis says. “It’s exciting to see lots of new sires being introduced because of the growing interest in polled genetics.”

She is looking for top TPI sires with solid milk production and components to incorporate into the aAa coding completed on the cows. (See pages 57-58 for an article on this strategic approach to mating.) Current service sires include 200HO10287 Regancrest Milford P-ET, 200HO6652 Lorka Zumba P, 11HO11441 Andersonville AltaVP P-ET, 11HO11500 Breteler AltaCueball PP and 11HO573 April-Day AltaX P-Red-ET.

In comparing today’s top polled and non-polled sires, Hollis sees the genetic gap is continuing to close. Today’s top active genomic polled bull is +2500 GTPI, and behind is a pipeline full of exciting heterozygous and homozygous polled bulls which will soon become available to breeders. With genomic testing to aid in identifying heterozygous and homozygous polled animals and elite individuals, polled sires are making quick progress despite the small population size.

Hollis is also excited about the quick progress made in her herd with polled dairy cattle. With polled being a dominant gene, it can be bred into existing lines quickly, especially as compared with recessives like red coat color.

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She adds she has started to use homozygous polled sires and has several calves coming that have the potential to be homozygous polled – aiding her in phasing out horned dairy cattle, since the progeny of homozygous polled animals will be polled.

In addition to the progress made toward having a larger percentage of the herd be polled, Hollis sees the next generation of polled animals closing the performance gap to their horned herdmates because of the quality of the genetics she’s been able to incorporate.

An important part of developing the next generation of polled dairy cattle in the herd will always be identification, according to Hollis. At Jo-Eng Dairy, calves born hornless are registered as observed polled and noted as polled within the herd management software, PC Dart, to help with breeding decisions. In addition, select individuals are genomic-tested, particularly those with an opportunity to be homozygous polled.

For now, Jo-Eng Dairy is a closed herd, but Hollis acknowledges there’s a strong market for polled genetics. Polled animals are commanding strong prices at sales across the country, and the top polled females are drawing international attention with A.I. and embryo interest.

The growing conversation and popularity of polled dairy cattle fueled by both consumer and breeder interest is exciting, Hollis says. While the polled dairy cattle population started small, the same as it did on individual farms like Jo-Eng Dairy, opportunities will continue to foster growth and progress for individuals and the industry.

And with farms of all sizes across the country beginning to incorporate polled genetics, the next generation of polled dairy cattle has a promising future. PD

Sarah Lenkaitis is a freelance writer and dairy farmer in Saint Charles, Illinois.

PHOTO: Around 15 percent of the herd is polled at Jo-Eng Dairy in German Valley, Illinois. Pictured here are Jodi Hollis (left) and her daughter Brooklynn (right) with a polled red calf she has been showing at local fairs this summer. Photo courtesy of Chrissy Meyer.

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