Rain, snow, sleet, icy roads and strong winds greeted visitors last week on their way to, or already at, the Endres Berryridge Farms LLC near Waunakee for the first of three Spring Barn Meetings sponsored by the Wisconsin Holstein Association.
The onset of miserable weather had been predicted for several days, with most of it occurring north of a line running just about through the Endres farm.
The crowd of about 50 dairy folks that did make it to the meeting site saw a herd of outstanding Holsteins, heard about Holstein breeding in 2016 and met members of a three-brother-owned family dairy farm.
Sustainable for 100 years
Berryridge Farm has been in the Endres family for 100 years with the fourth generation now involved in this outstanding dairy.
Like most larger dairy farms in Wisconsin (and elsewhere), it started small and grew. In 1958, the brothers' parents, Donald and Lucille Endres, purchased the 160-acre farm with 58 cows from Donald's dad.
Since that time, the farm business has expanded through the purchase of more land and expansions to the facilities.
In 1996, Don Endres and his three sons were milking 120 cows in a traditional dairy barn when the decision was made to increase herd size.
Then Don Endres died in 1997, with the farm passing to sons Jeff, Steve and Randy who (with their families) operate it today.
Over the years, cows were purchased from two other dairy herds, and in 2014, a second freestall barn went up. Today, 550 Holsteins are milked with a rolling herd average of 31,240 milk production with 4.2 percent butterfat.
Visitors toured the barn to view the herd and look at some of the outstanding cows that were identified before gathering at the farm repair shop for lunch and the formal program.
A different game
'Holstein Breeding 101: Is it the same game, or have all the rules changed?' was the subject discussed by Craig Carncross, a member of the Wisconsin Holstein board of directors, outstanding young dairyman and part owner of WargoAcres Holsteins in Lodi.
Carncross began by stating, 'There is no right or wrong way to build an outstanding herd of dairy cattle. It's all about what you want to use (or give up) to get where you want to be. What technology can help you get there?'
He cited sexed semen, genomics and breeding low-producing cows to beef bulls as among the technology choices now available.
A new word
The word 'genomics' in connection with dairy cattle breeding may be a new word for some — it's only been in common use since 2009, with dairy producers after some seven years pretty much gaining an understanding of what it means.
Genomics is the process of identifying the genetic potential of an animal so they can be selected for breeding on the basis of traits, such as feed efficiency and disease resistance, and help achieve selection goals much quicker than conventional breeding.
Conventional selection of animals with desired traits takes much longer as it relies on young bulls being tested through the performance of their progeny. This takes about five and a half years from the birth of a dairy bull, as the bull has to wait three years for its offspring to be born, have their own calves and start milking.
Genomics allows breeders to — within a small margin of error — tell from a DNA sample taken from a young cow (or even an embryo) what it will be like as an adult.
There are also benefits of applying specific management practices to animals whose genotypes are now accurately known.
Once the various trait values are known, it's possible to assign an animal an overall score, which in the Holstein breed (the biggest dairy breed) is the Genomic Total Performance Index, or GTPI.
Are dairy producers using genomic testing? Reports are that some 65 percent of the registered breeders are using genomic testing for all or part of their heifers to determine their potential and to select a complementary sire for future calves.
Changing the face of dairying
'Genomic testing has changed the face of dairying,' said Dr. Bob Walton, former longtime president of DeForest-based American Breeders Service. 'Not only is it giving dairy producers much valuable trait information, the testing has uncovered superior animals and cow families not previously well-known.'
Walton is a renowned expert in dairy genetics and, as a geneticist at ABS in the late 1960s, pioneered the use of progeny test programs to measure the genetic value of bulls through population genetics. The result was a calculation for Estimated Daughter Superiority, long known as 'Predicted Difference,' an index used throughout the dairy world.
Breeding a successful herd
From the preceding few paragraphs, one could get the idea that breeding an outstanding dairy herd is complicated and no easy task, and you'd be right.
The three Endres brothers have done just that. Consider: their average per cow milk production of 31,290 is 8,600 pounds above the state average of 22.697 pounds per cow; The Endres Berryridge animals, exhibited mainly by the Endres children, in the show ring at the local, district and state levels have found much success; and the herd is well-known for providing bulls to artificial insemination companies.
My question is: how do three brothers get along without major conflicts and continue to grow a successful dairy business?
'Probably most important is that we respect each other,' said Steve, who is the herd manager. 'Everyone shares their opinions and thoughts, and we do a lot of talking.'
'Our dad said he couldn't provide a farm for each of us so we had to get along,' added Jeff, who managed the cropping and maintenance.
Randy, who is in charge of feeding and the books, was on vacation, so he couldn't give an opinion; but as a part of the three-brother ownership and management team, he obviously believes in planning and working together.
Sarah, Jeff's 24-year-old daughter and the fifth-generation Endres on the farm, manages the calves and post-fresh cows.
She is an animal science graduate of UW-Platteville and sees dairying as her future.
The three Endres sons each have three children: eight girls and one son, Zach (Steve's son), with several now attending UW-Madison majoring in dairy science. Thus, the future of this family farm seems to remain 'family' and sustainable in years to come.
Today's dairying is a far cry from even a half century ago — not the least of the many differences centers on technology. That's called change!
John Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications. He can be reached at 608-222-0624, or email him firstname.lastname@example.org.