In breeding any type of cattle, the bull is just as important as the cow.
This rings true for dairy animals – so if you are the caretaker of a herd of dairy cows, you want to choose your bull wisely. Making a good decision about the bull used in your breeding program can ensure longevity of your herd, and boost your profits over the long run as well – it is a win-win for everyone.
Consider Your Goals
The first step in picking a dairy bull for your herd is to clearly identify your goals for your breeding program.
“Ideally, these goals should be revisited once per year – typically when the sire summaries are released,” said Reagan Bluel, University of Missouri-Extension Regional Dairy Specialist for Southwest Missouri. Do you want to increase longevity? Boost production and maximize good production traits?
Maybe you want to improve mastitis resistance, or work on perfecting your dairy herd’s type. Or perhaps you want to use the most reliably proven dairy bull you can find. Whatever your goals are, figuring out what the most essential objective is will help you narrow down the choices. Some of the herd goals that Bluel recommends reviewing routinely, and which would have impact on sire selection also include: success of reproduction, mammary traits, feet and legs.
Selecting Your Bull
After identifying your herd goals, the next item on your agenda will be picking out the right bull. Whether you plan to artificially inseminate (AI), or purchase or bring in a bull for natural cover, be sure you are working with reputable facilities. Your choice of dairy bull needs to be well cared for and in optimum condition in order to have a successful breeding season. Dawnnell Holmes of Real Farm Foods in Norwood, Mo., encourages people to look at the “masculinity” of the bull – she notes that “thick neck, square shoulders, deep girth and the actual shape of the testicles will produce a cow better suited for milking on foraging alone.”
There are certainly pros and cons to natural cover breeding or utalizing AI. For example, a big benefit to choosing AI is that you have a number of superior sires that are available to you – this gene pool is not limited by transporting and housing a breeding bull, or restricted availability of a particular bull during the breeding season.
According to an article by TNAU Agritech, “In artificial insemination the germplasm of the bulls of superior quality can be effectively utilized with the least regard for their location in far-away places.”
AI can also help limit inbreeding in dairy herds, and gives you the option of matching a particular cow to a particular bull.
“Sire selection prior to breeding is a tried and true way to improve the genetic progress in your herd,” Bluel said. Downsides to AI, however, include extra cost for equipment and the need for trained to administer the semen.
If you decide to select a dairy bull and let him naturally cover your herd, it can be far less labor intensive. The costs are generally cheaper and there is less risk involved – but you will likely have a longer calving season, and you also must foot the bill of feeding and housing the bull.
After calving season, you will want to evaluate your choice of bull, and look at his results and whether or not they lined up with your breeding program goals. Continuing to refine your program and your herd every year will lead to long term success in the dairy business.