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Genetic indexes: can one size fit all?

Indexes are important genetic selection tools. They combine all significant genetic traits into one package – and get producers away from setting minimum criteria for specific traits. That allows you to focus on creating a next generation of cows that are the right fit for your environment.

A global industry standard index like TPI has certainly helped dairy producers improve their herds. The one-size-fits all TPI index places 46% of the total weight on production traits, 28% on health and fertility traits and 26% on conformation traits.

However, an index like this assumes all farms face the same challenges within their herd. It assumes everyone has the same farm goals and milk markets. It simply serves as a general overview for a one-size-fits-all genetic plan.

Consider your goals

When you set your own, customized genetic plan, you can divide the weights as you see fit. To decide which production, health or conformation traits to include, consider your farm’s situation and future goals. How are you paid for milk? In a fluid milk market, you’ll likely put more emphasis on pounds of milk as compared to those who ship milk to a cheese plant. Are you expanding or at a stable herd size? If you’re looking to grow from within to expand your herd, you’ll want to put more emphasis on Productive Life and high fertility sires than the producers who are at a static herd size and able to cull voluntarily.

Your farm’s scenario is unique. With different goals, environments and situations, it’s evident there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all index.

Make progress where it matters

Just 42 TPI points separate the 100th and 200th ranked genomic bulls on Holstein USA’s December 2017 Top 200 TPI list. Does a separation that small mean these bulls offer similar genetic benefits? Of course not!

To illustrate why, let’s compare three different genetic plan scenarios. One focuses on high production, one on high health, the other on high conformation. The tables below show the sires, traits and genetic averages for the top five Alta sires that meet each customized genetic plan. Notice the extreme amount of progress, and also the opportunity cost for using each particular index.

When high production is the goal, your genetic plan may be set with weights of 70% on production, 15% on health, and 15% on conformation. A team of bulls fitting that plan averages 2400 pounds PTAM and 171 pounds of combined fat and protein.

High Production: 70-15-15MilkProteinFatPLDPRSCSPTATUDCFLCTPI
AltaMONTOYA2089791058.02.22.792.091.840.932864
AltaAKUZAKI264078798.10.72.992.072.520.752747
AltaSPRITE253984884.2-0.83.032.332.131.532684
AltaEMBOSS260777974.5-0.53.071.311.470.812589
AltaWILLIE212375916.82.22.911.972.100.632766
240079926.30.82.961.952.010.932730

When health is the focus, a 30% production, 60% health, 10% conformation genetic plan might make sense for you. That team of bulls delivers averages of +9.5 PL, +5.0 DPR and 2.75 SCS. That’s more than four points higher for DPR than the high production group! However, you give up nearly 1100 pounds of milk and 41 pounds of components to get those high health numbers.

High Health: 30-60-10MilkProteinFatPLDPRSCSPTATUDCFLCTPI
AltaDEPOT910376311.47.02.480.680.801.002693
AltaKALISPELL1727527710.04.22.751.371.571.362734
AltaROBSON83555898.64.72.861.521.351.422802
AltaNITRO129554938.34.42.732.081.991.492871
Alta49ER181061709.04.62.931.071.441.032702
13155278.49.55.02.751.341.431.262760

Lastly, if your genetic goal is to improve conformation, the team below provides an average 2.47 for PTA Type, 2.86 Udder Composite, and nearly two points for Foot & Leg Composite. With that much emphasis on the conformation traits, you’ll sacrifice on pounds of milk, fat and protein, and give up some productive life and fertility.

High Conformation: 25-25-50MilkProteinFatPLDPRSCSPTATUDCFLCTPI
AltaSCION109848798.72.42.762.803.332.112786
AltaDRAGO162156857.22.43.052.962.792.562799
AltaPACKARD77048699.93.82.402.742.391.762839
AltaCR53137867.02.32.941.692.772.042669
AltaDPORT173558697.73.02.962.163.031.162749
115149788.12.82.822.472.861.932768

Now, compare those different genetic plan averages side-by-side. You can see that a mere 38 points separate these groups on TPI average. However, the genetic values for the production, health and conformation traits are extremely different.

MilkProFatPLDPRSCSPTATUDCFLCTPI
High Production: 70-15-15240079926.30.82.961.952.010.932730
High Health: 30-60-10131552789.552.751.341.431.262760
High type: 25-25-50115149788.12.82.822.472.861.932768

15 bulls in the Top 5

Most of the bulls above rank similarly for TPI. But not one bull appears in more than one of the customized genetic plan top-5 lists. With 15 bulls in the top five, it’s clear to see there’s no such thing as a perfect bull. There is, however a perfect genetic plan. It’s the one you customize for your farm to match your current situation and future goals.

Think back to the examples above. Think about TPI (46% production, 28% health, 26% conformation). If your main goal is to increase milk production in your herd, emphasizing too much on the health and conformation traits will mean you sacrifice pounds of milk and total components in the next generation of your herd.

Alternatively, maybe you really want to improve the longevity and fertility of your herd. In that case, an index that focuses on conformation will cost you 1.4 months of productive longevity and more than two points of pregnancy rate in the next generation!

Bringing it together

Sticking to an industry standard index like TPI could get you the best ranking bulls for that index only. But that index doesn’t necessarily match your needs. If you’re looking for a more focused approach, keep these points in mind to make the most progress toward your farm’s goals:

  1. There’s no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” genetic index.
  2. Work with your trusted Alta advisor to set your own, unique, customized genetic plan. Consider your farm’s goals, future plans and milk market as you decide how much emphasis to place on the production, health and conformation traits.
  3. Maximize progress toward your genetic goals by using a group of the best sires to match your unique genetic plan.
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Not all genomic sires are created equal

Genomic proofs give us the confidence to use exciting sires sooner! Be assured that these bulls will deliver on their genetic promises, since genomic testing provides an immediate reliability of nearly 70% for production, health and conformation traits.

You might be wondering, what are the different genomic sire options? Let’s break them down…

Alta Advantage Logo

Alta ADVANTAGE

Our 23 newest bulls are available only to our Alta ADVANTAGE partner herds. These Alta ADVANTAGE only sires offer diverse trait specialties and elite rankings on many customized genetic plans.

New, young bulls simply don’t produce enough semen to be readily available to all farms around the globe. So while we work to build semen inventory, we give our loyal Alta ADVANTAGE partner herds priority access to these elite, new sires that best fit their customized genetic plans.

G-STAR Logo

G-STARS

Once a bull has made enough semen he is added to the G-STAR sire list. With 30 new G-STAR bulls this proof round, these sires are readily available to everyone. This groups includes a wide array of outliers for various production, health and type traits. From this elite list, you can find a great selection of bulls to fit your genetic plan.

Future Star Logo

FUTURE STARS

About a year after a bull is first released, we know results for both sire fertility and calving ease. We gather this data, analyze the results, and award the FUTURE STAR designation to only the bulls that prove themselves above average for sire fertility and less than 8% for sire calving ease and sire stillbirth.

This proof round, 13 bulls earned their FUTURE STAR status. This means they gained enough pregnancy check observations to prove their high fertility CONCEPT PLUS status. Plus, they have enough offspring born to prove their easy calvings.

FUTURE STARS are the way to go if you want the benefits of elite genomics, but prefer the added reliability of proven sire fertility and calving ease. You may give up some production and health as compared to the available G-STAR or ADVANTAGE only sires, but you gain peace of mind knowing that you’re upping your chances for a pregnancy and a live calf resulting from an easier calving.

Because of the known calving ability, FUTURE STARS are ideal options to use on heifers.

Now that you know the difference between each genomic sire option, and the progression a bull could make as he matures, compare the average genetic level of each group in the table below. You’ll see that the newest, Alta ADVANTAGE bulls have the highest genetic averages, followed by the G-STAR sires, and then by the more highly reliable FUTURE STARS.

TPIMilkFatProPTATUDCFLCSCEPLDPRSCS
Alta ADVANTAGE Only2743156777582.062.121.307.18.13.02.80
G-STAR2633161172581.761.721.096.96.82.32.86
FUTURE STAR2547136265501.481.591.006.46.82.12.78

It’s also important to note that every single bull atop our current daughter-proven list was once a part of the genomic-proven lists. The track record is significant for our current genomic favorites. Each proof round, we see these genomic bulls deliver on their initial predictions, and eventually graduate to daughter-proven success.

With that in mind, have confidence to use a team of sires from the Alta ADVANTAGE, G-STAR or FUTURE STAR lists. You’ll optimize future profitability by selecting a group of bulls that meet your customized goals for production, health and conformation.

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Alta Advantage Showcase Tour 2017 – by the numbers

Guests from around the world joined together to share management strategies and insight during the 18th Alta Advantage Showcase Tour held in Michigan June 21-23, 2017.

On-farm stations were set up to provide insight on all areas of dairy herd management. Some of the topics covered included:

  • Reproduction
  • milk quality and parlor management
  • transition cow management
  • feed and nutrition
  • colostrum management and calf raising
  • heifer raising
  • labor organization
  • genetic planning
  • dairy technology
  • Performance Pens featuring some of the newest Alta sires to have milking daughters
  • and more!
Here’s a look at the 2017 Alta Advantage Showcase Tour, by the numbers:
360guests
26countries represented
18Alta Advantage Showcase Tours now complete
35on-farm stations that guests experienced throughout the tour
6charter buses required to transport guests
19,000cows milked among all pre-tour and Showcase host farms
9outstanding host dairies that graciously opened their farm for our guests to visit
Pre-tour host: Rich-Ro South Dairy | St. Johns, MI
Pre-tour host: Berlyn Acres | Fowler, MI
Walnutdale Farms | Wayland, MI
Prairie View Dairy | Delton, MI
Schaendorf Farms | Allegan, MI
Tubergen Dairy | Ionia, MI
Simon Farms | Westphalia, MI
Steenblik Dairy | Pewamo, MI
Double Eagle Dairy | Middleton, MI

These numbers sum up to ONE tremendous tour!

Guests enjoyed the friendly camaraderie and the ability to learn from both our host farm owners and others on the tour. These experiences left everyone with a lasting impression of Alta’s progressive approach to create value, build trust and deliver results to clients around the world.

 

Click HERE to view the collection of photos and videos from the tour!

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