Sire traits are important to today’s dairy industry
First things first, producers should assess their operation and decide if they want to utilize a bull or artificial insemination for their herd. If breeders choose the AI route, it gives them the opportunity to make genetic progress at an accelerated rate.
Additionally, AI provides health benefits for the dairy herd.
“The overall health and reproductive success of your cowherd can be dramatically improved through artificial insemination because you limit the risk of some diseases that can be transferred by live cover,” Reagan Bluel, dairy field specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, explained.
Bluel added AI allows producers the ability to select from multiple sires and customize breeding phenotypically. For example, if a cow needs a stronger udder cleft, then producers can select the bull with the strongest udder cleft. “While that sounds like such a miniscule thing, that can really help in the longevity of that cow family over time,” Bluel said.
When selecting a bull or semen, a variety of factors can be considered. The specific traits selected will depend on the goal of each individual dairy operation. However, there are common goals throughout the dairy industry that producers can work toward through strategic genetic selections.
Over the last 15 to 20 years, the dairy industry has focused on a single trait – milk production. This has resulted in milk yield increasing and dairy production reaching an efficient state.
However, the years of selecting for a single trait has been at the sacrifice of other traits.
“We have a very efficient system because we have selected for milk production, but at the cost of feet and legs of those animals, udder support of those animals and different things like that,” Michael Looper, Ph.D., Head of the Department of Animal Science at the University of Arkansas, said. Research indicates fertility and longevity have also slipped, due in part, to the extensive genetic focus on milk production.
Instead of looking solely at a sire’s milk production numbers, experts suggest implementing a multi-trait selection process. Researching sires and knowing their genetic longevity and fertility numbers can improve overall-herd profitability.
The average lifespan of a dairy cow is five years. It takes a substantial financial investment to grow a replacement female for two years to get her to calving and first lactation. The financial investment is even higher now due to the increase in corn prices. If that female remains in the milk line for the average of three years, that means she will have three lactations. Even if a cow doesn’t produce quite as much milk, if she stays in the herd longer, she will ultimately make the operation more money. “I want to hedge my bets and not take off a lot of milk yield, but make sure she stays in the herd for four lactations or five lactations,” Looper said.
A sire’s reproductive traits are important considerations, as are his milk component numbers.
“We know that energy corrected milk is a very important feature, that is a combination of fluid volume and the components,” Bluel said. “Even in Southwest Missouri that has for decades been a fluid milk market, the last few years we have been paid a lot on our components. So, we can’t ignore the need of pounds of fat protein, protein specifically.”
Another factor to consider is calving ease. This is particularly important when selecting sires for heifers and first-calf heifers.
Lastly, experts suggest producers carve out time each year to pause and make a thorough assessment of their herd. Producers should analyze where their herd is, where they want it to be and what sires will get them there. A yearly assessment is necessary because even among the same herd, goals and needs, will vary from year to year.