Maternal traits should be strong in dairy bulls

Sire selection serves as a critical component of every cow herd regardless of whether it’s a beef or dairy operation. The ever-evolving dairy industry puts a laser focus on its moneymaking females but sire selection is important to dairy producers as well. 

Sire Selection 

When dairy producers evaluate AI sires or herd sires, they are strategic in their selections. Producers evaluate the dairy bull’s EPDs, looking for traits what will enhance or correct issues within the herd.  

Many dairy producers put weight in the maternal milk EPD when selecting a sire or sires. Producers can utilize the maternal milk EPD to try to determine how well the bull is going to complement and increase the milking potential in his offspring.

The dairy industry looks for strong maternal traits in herd sires because of the importance of cows to dairy operations. 

“The main traits that we look for from a dairy perspective are production, health and fertility,” Chloe Collins, dairy specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, explained. 

AI versus Herd Bull 

The dairy industry has utilized AI since it was first introduced in the 1930s. Through the decades, dairy producers have increasingly relied on AI to advance the genetics of their herds. Currently, a majority of dairy producers choose AI over running a herd bull. There are a variety of reasons dairy producers prefer AI. 

One of the benefits to using AI is it can open a lot of genetic doors for an operation. “You can have access to a bull that you couldn’t normally afford on the hoof, and it may allow you to make faster genetic change within your herd,” Collins said.

 In some cases, utilizing AI is less expensive than buying and maintaining a herd bull or bulls. Additionally, AI reduces risk of injuries to females from being mounted, especially heifers.

However, there are some drawbacks to utilizing AI. 

“When thinking about AI the first con that comes to mind is that it is a skill that you must learn. Some people may be more apt to it than others, but it is something that gets easier the more you practice and use it,” Collins stated.  

When implementing AI as a breeding practice, producers need to learn and execute repro protocols which require trips through the chute, injectable drugs from a veterinarian and different equipment such as semen tanks and breeding gear. 

“In the dairy world AI is usually the choice over a herd bull, beef is slowly moving that direction as well,” Collins added.

A positive component of running a herd bull is herd mating records may not be as in-depth, especially if the operation is only turning out one bull to cover the herd. On the flipside, it can be expensive to raise or purchase, feed and house a herd bull or bulls. 

“When using a bull for natural mating we must consider the cost of purchasing the bull, cost of keeping the bull, limiting genetic potential, potential loss of reproductive management, potential biosecurity risk, cost of testing your bull for both fertility and any sexually transmitted diseases,” Collins explained. 

Producers will also want to consider how many bulls they require for adequate coverage of their herd. Lastly, producers will want to have a backup plan in place in case their bull gets injured during breeding season. 


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