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Alta Brazil promotes dairy and beef genetics through international tour

Brazil is a country of continental dimensions. The environmental and climatic diversity of our country allows each region to have its own characteristics within livestock. The various production systems, the productive efficiency and the genetic evolution of the herds, have aroused the interest of breeders from other countries in search of increasingly lucrative and sustainable livestock.

March 19 – 23, the Alta Brazil team, along with Alta International Director, Manuel Ávila, traveled around 2,000 kilometers with producers, technicians and company representatives from Colombia, Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Uruguay, Paraguay and Panama for a round of visits to farms that represent the reality of Brazil.

“This week that we spent here was very important to share experiences and mainly served to show all the genetic potential that Brazil has in the zebu breeds. The great strength of these breeds comes from the genetic breeding that the Brazilian breeder have done in a fantastic way. Watching this closely and visiting some of the farms that provide these genetics for us makes total difference,” says Manuel Avila.

Guests view cattle during the recent tour hosted by Alta Brazil
Guests learn more about Alta's fertility evaluation during the recent tour hosted by Alta Brazil

The tour began at one of the farms of the Mafra Group in Uberaba (MG). Here, guests learned about all the breeding work carried out by the group for the past 20 years, as well as an important talk about CONCEPT PLUS, Alta’s exclusive fertility program.

The group then traveled to Jubaí (MG), and visited Fazenda Boa Fé, to see the production and genetics of the Girolando and Holstein breeds. Visitors learned about integrating crops and livestock on the property, along with the benefits of focusing on cow comfort. They also learned more about calf raising and why it’s important to provide colostrum for the animal development.

“In technical visits to farms, it is very important to have time to talk about raising calves, because in the calf is the genetic future of the farm. During the visit to the Boa Fé farm, we had the opportunity to talk about all the initial care with the newborns and we also demonstrated the success of the use of bovine powder colostrum on the farm,” explains Rafael Azevedo, Colostro Alta Product Manager.

The second day of visits began with a parade of genetics at the Alta facility in Uberaba. Throughout the morning, the participants visited the Alta headquarters, home to about 300 bulls of many different breeds. They were able to see where sires are housed and the main office.

After lunch, visitors traveled to Fazenda Xapetuba in Uberlândia (MG), a family company known for its innovation and productivity, both in agriculture and livestock. At the stations, guests took in lectures on genetic planning and the reproductive indexes of the herd.

Jorge Quiceno is a technician in Colombia and was impressed with the quality of the farms visited, “It was an excellent opportunity to get to know the country, the new technologies and the different production systems. The farms we visited have shown surprising efficiency. We, in Colombia, have many things to evaluate and possibly copy in our country.”

Guests viewed several different management systems during the tour hosted by Alta Brazil

The third day began in the state of Goiás, more precisely in the city of Rio Verde. In the morning they visited the Reunidas Baumgart, known internationally for the intense process of quality meat production and crossbreeding.

Next, they went to the Girolando farm, Rio Verde, to see pasturing and genetics at a property that works in a very simple, yet functional way. Proof of the results show through in the important recognition the farm has received, with animals awarded in various categories.

Edson Chaves came from Bolivia and was impressed by the genetic quality of the Brazilian-bred animals. “Bolivia has a very similar climate to Brazil, and for me, it was important to understand the criteria and the methodology that breeders have used here. I took all my doubts and understood a little more about how to produce more to the field with animals of high added genetic value.”

Also in Goiás the tour went to Fazenda Mutum in Alexânia, a farm that holds several records in the Gir and Girolando breeds. The Mutum farm originates from large dairy producers, such as Phase, Endora, Fécula and Cinta. In addition, they have used important Alta bulls like Gallium, Cargo, Skill, Jet among many others.

The last day ended on a high note, with a visit to Fazenda Vila Rica in Cocalzinho, also in the state of Goiás. Their focus on productivity has yielded important recognition in various dairy competitions. Animals in the herd are from Hada Vila Rica, Dayane, Amendoa and Africana, in addition to Alta icon sires, Kalika and Koro.

The participants had the opportunity to see the sons and daughters of important dairy and beef bulls from Alta. “Alta has provided us with a great event that will add a lot to our genetic improvement work in Ecuador. We saw important farms that operate in confinement, semi-confinement and also production to pasture systems. We were able to exchange experiences with producers from other countries and get a closer look at the genetics that Alta offers for these different production systems,” says the breeder Fabian Pita of Ecuador.

Guests get to view cattle during the recent tour hosted by Alta Brazil

Submitted by Renata Paiva and Camilla Lazak Rodrigues

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Explore the new health traits

The Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding (CDCB) will release these six new direct health traits during April proofs. Click on each individual trait to learn more details about its benefits, reliability and heritability, directly from CDCB.

For a quick, one-page overview on all six health traits, please Click HERE.

The traits will be presented as disease resistance. A higher positive value is best – it means an animal is more resistant to the disease. A lower negative value will mean an animal is more susceptible, less resistant to the disease.

For example, let’s take a herd with an average mastitis incidence of 10%. If that herd uses a bull with a PTA of +3.0 for mastitis, we would expect the daughters of this bull to average 7% incidence rate for mastitis. That’s 3% less than the herd average.

Disease incidence rates range from 1.3% for milk fever to 10.2% for mastitis. Economic impact per case of each health event was also estimated, and ranged from $28 cost for ketosis to $197 for a displaced abomasum.

The heritability of these traits is still relatively low, but that doesn’t mean that you cannot make progress by selecting for these traits (read more about the high value of low heritability traits)

Mastitis resistance is also very favorably correlated with somatic cell score. Furthermore, the new health traits show no significant correlations to yield traits, meaning selection for fat or protein yield will not necessarily cause a decrease in health.

As the newly developed health traits are correlated to previously available traits, we have already been making progress in these traits, which you can learn about by reading the genetic guide to healthier cows. The data showed correlations up to 0.39 with productive life, correlations up to 0.47 with livability, and correlations up to 0.59 with DPR.

The data used to evaluate the health traits was collected from producer reported data in US herds, and underwent rigorous data testing to ensure accuracy.

With all this new information, it’s important to maintain focus on your customized genetic plan to make sure you keep making progress in the direction of your goals.

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New On-Line Learning Opportunity

Dairylearning.com — a brand-new online training hub for dairy owners, managers, workers, students and consultants who value progressive thinking — is now live and scheduling new training sessions.

As the first of its kind in the industry, the new web-based training platform offers a variety of tools to develop knowledge and skills on relevant dairy herd management topics. Online courses can be completed at any time, from any location, and live trainings provide learning from dairy industry experts in a small classroom setting.

All online courses and live trainings come directly from leading minds in the dairy industry. These instructors have researched and implemented the skills they teach, and experienced the impact of these lessons on thousands of cows globally.

Among the first online trainings available is an in-depth and interactive reproductive anatomy and physiology course to offer a better understanding of the reproductive tract, hormones, and the estrous cycle.

Also available are brand new DairyComp training modules created by VAS exclusively for dairylearning.com. These courses cover DairyComp navigation, CowCards, commands, settings, and dairy economic and business planning. Users can take the courses individually or purchase as part of basic or intermediate packages.

The future of dairylearning.com includes advanced DairyComp training, and more online courses directly from dairy industry experts on leadership, management and calf care.

Visit dairylearning.com today for more information, and to explore online courses and register for live trainings.

 

Questions? Please contact:
Sadie Gunnink
info@dairylearning.com

screenshot of the dairylearning.com website
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The high value of low heritability

Most of us misunderstand heritability. In simple terms, for any given trait, heritability tells us how much of the difference in actual performance is due to genetics, as opposed to management or the environment.

To better understand, think about two cows in two different herds. How much of the difference in their milk production is due to genetics? How much is due to management or environment? It turns out about 30% of the milk production difference is due to genetics, while 70% is due to management and environment. Therefore, milk has a heritability of 0.30.

What about pregnancy rates? Management and environment account for the 96% majority of variation between daughters. So the influence of genetics is minor, at just 4%. Thus, Daughter Pregnancy Rate (DPR) has a heritability of 0.04.

We commonly refer to the health traits like Productive Life (PL), DPR and Somatic Cell Score (SCS) as the lower heritability traits. Many producers believe that low heritability equates to less, or slower, genetic progress. However, in spite of lower heritability, it would be wrong to conclude that DPR, PL or SCS are insignificant as a result.

Perspective is important

In genetics, accuracy shows through when we evaluate results within one herd. In that herd, if we evaluate within a specific lactation group, and then within a specific time of freshening, we find a contemporary group. By evaluating within one contemporary group, we reduce the impact of management and environmental differences.

The overall heritability for health traits like DPR and PL is low. When we break our evaluations down into contemporary groups, that’s when we find the true genetic differences.

The proof is in the numbers

Take this real-life example from a 1,500-cow dairy with very good reproductive performance. We’ve separated out first lactation cows into four groups, based on their sire’s DPR. It’s clear to see that the high DPR sires create daughters that become pregnant more quickly than the daughters of low DPR sires.

Table 1# of cowsAverage Sire DPRActual preg rate
Top 25% - High DPR1742.327%
Bottom 25% - Low DPR137-1.120%
difference3.47%

The same goes for Productive Life. Despite the low heritability at less than 9%, PL can make a real, noticeable difference in your herd.

This table compares how long the daughters of the industry’s best ten PL bulls and daughters of the industry’s bottom ten PL sires will last in a given herd. You can see that a higher percentage of high PL daughters, represented by the dark blue bars, remain in a herd than their low PL counterparts.

When you select for the lowly heritable PL, you will certainly create healthier, longer-living cows in your herd.

Focus on the economics

As a progressive dairy producer, don’t let confusion about heritability prevent you from using the right genetic tools to improve your herd. Health traits are economically important, and making improvement in these areas can have a huge impact on your bottom line.

Many traits have a high heritability, but no economic importance. In other words, we can make a lot of progress for these traits very quickly, but it will not make a more profitable cow.

A couple examples of high heritability traits are coat color and polled. Both of these traits have a heritability of 100 percent because they are completely controlled by genetics. However, even if we can make cows red or polled in one generation, what is the economic value of that?

By comparison, the economic value of more fertile cows that last longer because of fewer metabolic problems, fewer cases of mastitis, and less calving difficulty is clear to see. These genetic features make a more profitable production unit for each and every farm.

Selection secrets for healthier cows

When you set or reevaluate your genetic plan, take the following tips into account to maximize progress in the direction of your goals.

1. Define your goals

To set the right goals, first identify the most common reasons for culling in your herd. Is it reproduction, milk production, mastitis? This information gives you the basis for the genetic decisions you make going forward.

2. Choose your tools

Health traits offer dairy producers some powerful tools to help correct for low reproduction, metabolic problems, etc. Identify how important each of these trouble areas are to you. Place a proportionate emphasis on these traits when choosing the group of sires to use on your dairy.

3. Customize the solution

Industry standard selection indexes put different and continually changing weights on health traits. So don’t assume they reflect your individual goals and needs. Work with your trusted Alta advisor to make sure your genetic plan is customized to match your current situation and future goals.

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Alta hosts first Canadian Dairy Manager School

We welcomed 22 progressive Canadian dairy producers from five provinces to the first ever Canadian Dairy Manager School, held January 16-18 in Abbotsford, BC.

Participants from Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario enhanced their knowledge on reproductive programs and implementation during the 2.5-day school. They joined Dr. Glaucio Lopes, AltaU Manager, Kevin Muxlow VP of Sales-Americas, and Dr. Paul Fricke, UW-Madison Department of Dairy Science to learn more about what’s new, what’s been improved, and what they can do best to take their farm’s reproductive management to the next level.

The class gained insight during sessions on reproductive fertility programs, data analysis, incorporating electronic activity monitors to manage health and repro, and marginal milk profitability.

An interactive visit to a large-scale robotic farm added to the already high-level discussions that attendees enjoyed inside the classroom.

See how you can take advantage of the Alta Dairy Manager School opportunities HERE.

Article submitted by Dr. Glaucio Lopes, AltaU Manager

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Agreement on Plans to Merge Koepon & CRI

The boards of directors of Koepon Holding BV and Cooperative Resources International (CRI) have reached agreement on a plan to merge their organizations. The agreement is non-binding, and subject to due diligence and other customary conditions, including receipt of requisite governmental and other consents and approvals. Once completed, final agreement will be conditional upon approval by both boards of directors as well as the delegates of CRI. If successful, the organizations plan to formalize the merger by mid-2018.

Both Koepon and CRI, through Alta Genetics and GENEX, are global providers of bovine genetics and related services. Similarly, Koepon and CRI subsidiaries, Valley Ag Software and AgSource, provide herd management and information services to dairy producers. Koepon and CRI also have other businesses centered around services and products for agricultural producers. Koepon is privately owned, and CRI is  cooperatively-owned by its farmer-members. CRI cooperative operations will be maintained as part of the merged entity. The new organization will be incorporated and headquartered in Wisconsin.

About CRI:

CRI (www.crinet.com), a member-owned holding cooperative headquartered in Shawano, Wisconsin, is the global leader in delivering excellence, innovation and value to members and customers. This mission proclaims CRI’s position in the agriculture industry and commitment to those linked to the land through plant and animal production. CRI serves members and customers through diverse business segments: AgSource provides agricultural testing and informational services that transform meaningful data into innovative solutions; GENEX is a trusted provider of innovative excellence in cattle genetics; and MOFA GLOBAL develops superior quality assisted reproductive technologies. Employees from all segments live the values of innovation, integrity, leadership, quality and stewardship.

About Koepon Holding:

With strong roots in dairy farming through Pon family ownership, Koepon Holding (www.koepon.com) today is a vibrant combination of enterprises focused on creating value for beef and dairy producers worldwide.  Through leading genetic improvement programs and reproductive services (Alta Genetics), insight rich dairy management software (Valley Ag Software), and premium calf nutrition products (SCCL), Koepon positively impacts the performance and results of beef and dairy producers.  The company is fueled by the passion and pride of a worldwide team of talented and energetic people who focus daily on creating value and delivering results for their client partners.

For more information contact Cees Hartmans, CEO Koepon at cees.hartmans@koepon.com or Keith Heikes, CEO CRI at kheikes@crinet.com

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December 2017 specialty sire lists

No matter what genetic plan you’ve put in place on your farm, we have daughter-proven and genomic-proven bulls to meet your goals.

We have access to all you need in one place. You can find lists to download and print with any of Alta’s Holstein and Jersey specialty sires. Below, you’ll find A2A2, polled, outcross, robot-suited and kappa casein sires. There is also with DWP$ and WT$, milking speed, and registry status listings and info on our highest fertility beef bulls to be used for terminal dairy crosses.

Work with your trusted Alta advisor to customize your genetic plan using our Advanced Bull Search or Alta GPS.
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Strategic Heifer Raising Programs

Genomic testing is a popular way to rank heifers as part of a strategic breeding plan. But it’s not the only way. If you’re looking to not only maximize genetic progress, but also future profit, there might be alternative methods to decide which heifers to cull and which to keep.

ADG as a female selection tool?

References to average daily gain (ADG) typically come from the beef industry and more recently, dairy nutritionists and researchers. Dairy-focused studies have proven that individual dairy farms can see the impact of ADG on future milk production potential. In fact, a study from Cornell University showed that for every one kilogram of pre-weaning ADG, calves produced 1,113 kilograms more milk during their first lactation1.

Weighing individual animals at set points early in life to determine their average daily gain can be an effective means to predict which animals will produce the most throughout their first and later lactations.

Take the example below. On this 2,850-cow Holstein farm in Wisconsin, weights are taken on each individual calf at birth and weaning, and calculated within their herd management software to figure out the ADG of each animal.

Table 1Number of cowsADGAvg. 1st Lactation 305-day ME milk
Group 1: Top 25% for highest ADG3322.1833105 lb
Group 2: Bottom 25% for lowest ADG3081.6731838 lb
Difference0.511267 lb

Here, we’ve broken down all first lactation animals into quartiles based on their initial average daily gain. The top animals for ADG gained nearly 2.2 pounds per day from birth to weaning, while the bottom 25% of animals for ADG gained 1.67 pounds per day during that time.

Fast forward two years to when these calves have entered the milking herd, and that difference in average daily gain equates to a real and noticeable 1267 pound per animal difference in first lactation 305-day ME milk production. This is on par with the results from 2012 Cornell University study mentioned above.

 

Genetics still matter

If we take this analysis one step further, we can see that genetics are able to express themselves to a fuller advantage in healthier calves that grow more each day.

When we split the groups from the same analysis shown above in Table 1 to do two separate genetic assessments we can see how animals in each group perform in relation to their genetic predictions. This shows us whether ADG affects whether an animal can produce to their genetic potential.

Table 2 takes only the first lactation cows that were among the top 25% of heifers for highest birth to weaning ADG. Within this high ADG group of animals, we compare 305ME milk production based on parent average for PTA Milk within that group.

Table 2: Highest ADG animalsNumber of cowsADGParent Average PTA MilkAvg. 1st Lact 305ME Milk
Top 50%: Highest Parent Avg PTAM1662.1958634503 lb
Bottom 50%: Lowest Parent Avg PTAM1662.1710531725 lb
Difference4812778

Here, it shows that among only the calves with the highest average daily gain, those animals with the higher parent average for PTA Milk calved in to produce nearly 2800 pounds more milk than the animals with a lower parent average for PTA Milk.

Table 3 looks at this the same way, but only splits out just the first lactation cows that were in the bottom 25% for lowest birth to weaning ADG. When we compare milk production within that isolated low ADG group, we see that a higher parent average for PTAM equated to just over 1800 additional pounds of milk in the first lactation compared to the animals with the lowest parent averages for PTAM.

Table 3: Lowest ADG animalsNumber of cowsADGParent Average PTA MilkAvg. 1st Lact 305ME Milk
Top 50%: Highest Parent Avg PTAM1521.6856932768 lb
Bottom 50%: Lowest Parent Avg PTAM1521.675530958 lb
Difference5141810

Within both groups of animals a higher parent average for PTAM meant even more milk than predicted by genetics. However, when you compare the difference in 1st lactation 305MEs you can see that the high ADG group outpaces the low ADG group by nearly an additional 1000 pounds of milk in the first lactation.

This means that when calves are given the best nutrition and care, and achieve higher average daily gains, their genetics are better able to express themselves beyond what’s even predicted.

Strategic management decisions

With this proof in mind, if your farm’s situation dictates culling extra heifers, it’s best to do that in a strategic way. While genomic testing certainly has its merits for this purpose, the power of monitoring and measuring ADGs can serve as an effective alternative.

If the animals that perform well early in life go on to perform better than herdmates later in life, it’s an easy decision to keep the fastest growing animals in your herd. If you cull those calves that perform at a sub-par level from the start, you can avoid the feed costs for animals that will produce less than herdmates in the future, and avoid housing for animals that you may not have room for on your farm.

Knowing that those healthy calves will put extra pounds in the tank down the road also enforces the power of proper and progressive calf nutrition and a sharp focus on overall calf health. Even when times are tight, the future of your milking herd should not be put on the back burner.

 

Points to ponder

  • When implementing a strategic plan to cull heifers, consider weighing each individual calf at various milestones in her life to determine average daily gains. A ranking based on ADG to sort which heifers to keep and which to cull can have a big impact on overall future costs of production.

  • Don’t let the genetics you select go to waste. An animal’s genetics are expressed best when she receives the best nutrition and care from day one. The amount each calf gains per day, even in those first few months, will make a major impact on future production potential.

 

References:

Soberon F, Raffrenato E, Everett RW and Van Amburgh ME. 2012. Preweaning milk replacer intake and effects on long-term productivity of dairy calves. J Dairy Sci. 2012 Feb;95(2):783-93. doi: 10.3168/jds.2011-4391.
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Genetics and A2 milk: what you need to know

As consumers continuously look for new ways to eat healthy, A2 milk is a trend that emerges on their radar. A2 milk has been a common brand in Australia and New Zealand for several years. It only made its entry to the US marketplace in 2015.

It’s a new concept for many people, so before you join in on the A2 hype, here are a few answers to questions you may have.

What is A2 milk?

A2 milk is produced only from cows having two copies of the A2 gene for beta casein.

To explain further, cows’ milk is about 87 percent water. The remaining 13 percent is a combination of lactose, fat, protein, and minerals that make up the solids in milk.

If we focus on the protein within milk, the major component of that protein is called casein. About 30% of the casein within milk is called beta casein. The two most common variants of the beta casein gene are A1 and A2, so any given bovine will be either A1A1, A1A2 or A2A2 for beta casein.

In the United States nearly 100% of the milk contains a combination of both A1 and A2 beta casein.

What is the benefit of A2 milk?

Researchers believe that A2 is the more natural variant of beta casein, and A1 was the result of a natural genetic mutation that occurred when cattle were first domesticated. With that in mind, studies have been done to see if people digest or react to true A2 milk differently than regular milk.

Some of those studies have found that people drinking milk exclusively from cows producing A2 milk were less susceptible to bloating and indigestion – leading some to conclude that A2 milk is a healthier option than regular milk. The exact science behind the difference in A1 versus A2 milk is complicated, but research has shown that digestive enzymes interact with A1 and A2 beta-casein proteins in different ways. Because of that, A1 and A2 milk are processed differently within the body.

Can you breed for A2 milk?

Yes, in fact the only way to have cows that produce A2 milk is to breed for it.

True A2 milk can only be produced from cattle possessing two copies of the A2 gene in their DNA. Each animal receives one copy of the gene from its sire and one copy from its dam. So for a chance to get an animal with the A2A2 makeup, you must breed a bull with at least one copy of the A2 allele to a cow with at least one copy of the A2 allele.

To ensure with 100% certainty that a female will produce A2 milk once she freshens, she must be the result of mating a cow with two copies of the A2 gene to a sire that also has two copies of the A2 gene.

Does A2 milk only come from colored breeds of dairy cattle?

Traditionally, colored breeds of dairy cattle, such as Jerseys and Guernseys have been the poster children for the A2 gene. Those two breeds still have a higher proportion of A2A2 animals. However, some of the popular Holstein sires of recent years have increased the prevalence of A2A2 sires in the black and white breed as well.

You may be surprised that about 40% of the Holstein sires in active AI lineups, including numerous household names, have two copies of the A2 gene. In addition, over 80% of Holstein sires have at least one copy of the A2 gene.

Is A2 milk the answer for people with lactose intolerance?

A2 milk contains the same amount of lactose as non-A2 milk. So in clinically-diagnosed cases of lactose intolerance, A2 milk will not provide the benefits that lactose-free milk would offer.

Since most cases of lactose intolerance are self-diagnosed, some doctors believe the cause of indigestion in those cases is actually linked to an A1 aversion rather than lactose intolerance. In those cases, drinking A2 milk may help prevent the side-effects otherwise experienced from drinking regular milk.

Should you select for A2 in your breeding program?

With this new information at hand, it may seem compelling to produce only true A2 milk. Many A2A2 sires are available, but you still have an opportunity cost by selecting only A2A2 sires.

When A2A2 is a limiting factor in your genetic selection, you’ll eliminate about half of all bulls available. That means you will likely miss out on pounds of milk, extra health and improved fertility traits.

Regardless of your selection decision around A2 sires, make sure it aligns with the customized genetic plan you put in place on your farm so you can maximize profitability and genetic progress in the direction of your goals.

 

Click HERE to view a list of Alta’s current A2A2 sires.

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Gestation length added as new trait

The Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding (CDCB) is adding gestation length as a new trait to be released with August 2017 proofs.

Gestation length can be most useful as a genetic tool for herds that implement seasonal calving. These herds will have the option of choosing service sires with shorter gestations for cows that didn’t settle to the first breeding.

Gestation length can also be a useful predictor of a cow’s calving date, which allows for more efficient management of close-up and maternity pen moves.

As of now, gestation length will not be included in TPI or the Net Merit index.

As new traits like gestation length are released, it’s important to keep your farm’s current situation and future goals front of mind. Work with your trusted Alta advisor to review your customized genetic plan. Only incorporate new traits like gestation length into your plan when they aid your farm’s goals and bottom line.

Learn more information about the research, heritability, and correlations behind gestation length, as presented by Wright, Van Raden and Hutchison at the 2017 ADSA meetings.

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