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Genomics: Setting goals for a replacement program

Jan. 31, 2013 | 0 comments


The goal of a replacement program is to develop a group of replacements that will consistently contribute to profitability of the farm.

A cow must produce over 31,000 pounds of milk before she pays a producer back for the costs that are stuck into her the first two years of her life.

Genomics helps to more accurately identify the females with the greatest future potential to genetically improve the herd. This allows a producer to eliminate unnecessary replacement heifers earlier in their life and keep the ones with the most genetic potential.

Pat Hoffman, University of Extension Dairy specialist, says now that genomics has come along as a tool for improving herds some of the other technologies that have come into play in the last couple of years could be even more profitable if they are used in combination with genomics.

He points out that if a producer invests extra money in an accelerated feeding program, for instance, it would be beneficial to know that the animals being fed will actually produce more and will not be limited by genetic factors.

During a recent reproduction workshop in Fond du Lac, Dr. Hoffman talked about taking blood samples or hair follicle samples of young animals to look at the potential for milk production and components.

Using this information a producer can look at potential culls, and determine which animals might be better to try young sires on and which ones to use the most expensive sires or sexed semen.

Doing the math, he points out that culling the bottom 15-25 percent of heifers creates a big effect on the genetic improvement of the herd.

Looking at the practical applications of the wide variety of technology that has been developed in recent years, he said sometimes one fights against the other.

Looking at heifers he said, "If we see her in heat we don’t necessarily breed her if she isn’t big enough."

He points out that already there is big variances in the age a heifer is bred and when using sexed semen there would be even more extremes.

Dr. Hoffman suggests age might be a better guide rather than size.

Looking at the carryover effect of age at first calving on first lactation milk yield, he said production goes up between 20-24 months at calving but then levels off. The difference, however, is she is on feed four months longer before calving.

"The object is to get them into the herd earlier, even if you lose a little in the first lactation milk but in her lifetime you get more milk because of having more days on milk," he said. "You need to look at entry and exit age, not just the age she enters the herd."

When a herd is milked three times a day rather than two times, there will be 16 extra days of milk by getting her into the herd earlier, he points out.

Housing is also a factor that influences when a heifer is brought into the herd. In a stall barn, one cow must leave in order to make room for a new heifer that freshens. In a parlor situation, that’s not necessarily the case.

"You need to manage, not the averages but the variance. The trick is to get the variance as narrow as possible. Consistency is important in bringing heifers in at the same age," Dr. Hoffman notes.

With all the technology coming quickly he said it will be important to think about how these technologies are actually on a collision course.

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