Take Home Messages
Genetic Indices of sires and cows are important genetic tools, and need to be utilized in breeding decisions. However, the need for breeders to use their cow sense is increasingly important when we consider the use of changing management tools in the population, and the impacts they will have on the assumptions that underlie genetic evaluation models.
Value-added cattle should be the result of a well-thought out breeding program. Our challenge today is to evaluate the cows in the barn in terms of profitable breeding goals, and to develop strategies to supply market demands.
Cedarwal Farms Ltd. (CWF) is a family corporation which employs six people to manage 220 milk cows and the replacement and recipient herds. The cattle are primarily registered Holsteins on official test and classification programs.
The farm crops about 300 acres; 160 grassland and 140 corn silage. Other feeds are bought in. Although a little grain is fed in the parlor and the hay is fed separately, the majority of the feed is fed twice a day as a TMR of home-grown silages and economical commodity feeds.
We are in the dairy business first. The farm carries a high debt load, and thus it is important to make net dollars, that is, make milk efficiently. Good cash flow depends on good milk flow.
We work at breeding good cattle. Our goals are to use economical breeding tools to make each generation better than the previous one, and strive for a profitable, problem free mature cow. Marketing genetics through cattle, bulls, and embryo sales has been a learning experience for us from a business and breeding program decisions standpoint. We are proud of some of the animals that represent our breeding program.
Defining the Profitable Cow
The answer should be many profitable cows. The most profitable cow, by definition, is the one that makes the most money for a producer after deducting expenditures. The only way to increase profit is to increase gross sales, decrease expenses, or both. There are three steps in evaluating profit from a genetics influence perspective:
This will form the basis of our discussion.
The most profitable cow, by definition, is the one that makes the most money for a producer after deducting expenditures. The only way to increase profit is to increase gross sales, decrease expenses, or both. How can the dairy cow increase in value and supply value-added products?
Increase Gross Sales.
Overview Approach by Farm Income.
Overview Approach by Individual Cow Incomes. Each cow has five potential sources of income - milk, heifers, bulls, embryos, and herself.
Your attitude and goals should be to develop cow income by identifying specifically what particular cows excel at, and how that affects the farm income.
Components. The opportunities vary with milk and milk component pricing.
Type. How do we increase gross dollars income with type? The two extreme positions for type goals appear to be:
I don't agree with the second assumption:
Functional Type. Ten years ago, functional type implied strong loins for good fertility. We now include the pelvic length and width, loin strength, and thurl position as important. They are related to set of leg-rear view. Teat length and shape influence SCC. Udder depth and suspensory ligament are the only two traits shown to be directly related to longevity.
Show/Style Type. Everyone in this country should have the freedom to 'do their own thing'. We believe show type does not prevent great production, it is just harder to attain because of the narrow gene pool that gives "show type". But if you want to develop and market something "uniquely Canadian", she better have more going for her than a wide ass, and walk uphill.
Genetic Value. Increasing $ in:
Decrease Expenses. Decrease expenses/input costs = primarily: feed + care + environment costs, but what genetic components?
What kind of cow maximizes profit?
Production capabilities: 25,000 to 30,000 lb.mature cows
Achieving Profit From a Genetics Influence Perspective
We all know what we want -- HOW DO WE GET THERE?
Tools to Work With.
Discussions. The Role of Global Proofs. Let's examine the origins of gene pools and the work at harmonization. North America: where did genetics come from? the North American cow. Canada versus? US. As information and genetics go global, we see a move to similar stated breeding goals, but conformation traits differ in interpretation and the ideal from country to country. Yield interpretations may vary with different production and genetic base levels of a particular country.
Let's discuss sire rankings using the performance and profitability indexes of several countries. This will emphasize differing breed strategies. The intent here is to:
The Role of Cow Indexes. The system of estimating the ability of two year olds to produce is the summary of the "index". So it is a genotypic estimate based on information of phenotypic performance values.
I believe that indexes are very useful, and should be considered and used in breeding decisions. I also believe they are being overweighted in their usefulness in breeding decisions, and want to encourage you to THINK about their use in your breeding program. Consider some questions about the information that goes into calculating the index number:
The intent here is to:
The Role of Longevity. Proofs are primarily based on two year old yields.
Clearly, increasing the average lactation of the herd increases the average $/day/life of the herd. But obviously, the net dollars achievable for the herd replacements will also play a role in management decisions.
A significant problem is the ability to define longevity early in the process of making genetic mating decisions. Market demands dictate that yearling heifers are flushed to accelerate genetic gain. What are your selection tools?
The Role of Size. Extremely large size is not a commercially desirable trait, but needs to remain a selection criteria for seedstock breeders. In our experience, nice little cows are not significant contributors of improved progeny or breed improvement. In fact, in many cases they parallel the concept as in other species of a "terminal cross". Optimum size for dams of significant progeny is medium to large frame.
The show ring has a place that must ensure that these cows are also correct, dairy and productive; if it fails to do that, it will lose it's credibility. In addition to marketing aspects, the show ring has provided the check and balance for retaining frame size and width in the spectrum of choice for the production of optimum performance commercial cattle.
The Role of Auxiliary Traits. The role of secondary traits in culling decisions is apparent, and some of this discussion can fall under a discussion of the role of longevity. The role of selecting for secondary traits has been minimal, and deserves to be that way because of the poor heritability estimates. Understand that this estimate is low because of inaccurate data collection, and does not reflect true heritability. The demands of workability traits in larger operations requires that seedstock producers eliminate undesirable characteristics before they get into the sire side. Genetic progress on workability traits is now primarily through a genetic tool called culling.
The Role of Reproductive Technology. Just a short note to recognize that artificial insemination, embryo transfer programs, and nucleus herd concepts are NOT the breeding program. They are only tools to accelerate the direction of choices made in the breeding program.
Summary. In this discussion, achieving genetic progress is focussing on breeding for one trait called "profitable production". A balanced perspective of the use of breeding tools in our program reflects our understanding of the Canadian balance breeding philosophy, and developing that genetic product for the market.
A discussion on developing a conscious system that sets goals for the farm/breeding program.
Technique. Market it - marketing techniques:
Thoughts. Buying drills or holes? cows or calves, production, profit opportunity?
Total cows are defined as excelling in profit-oriented traits. We don't want average -- it is too close to mediocre. The market does not want average. Our banker certainly doesn't want average.
There is no difference in what we want in B.C. or what you here want in a registered Holstein dairy cow:
We all need to recognize the value of genetic indexes for sires and cows, but the challenges of accurate genetic evaluations of changing dairy populations will alert the serious breeder that defined goals, cow sense, and common sense are still three valuable tools for genetic progress.
Our challenge today is to evaluate the cows in the barn in terms of profitable breeding goals, and develop strategies that supply what your market demands.