At Terra Linda Holsteins Breeding and Management Combine for Success

Aggressive use of top genetics builds a herd high in production, conformation and marketability

THE SANTOS FAMILY AT TERRA LINDA
Brothers Craig Santos, left, and Mike, Jr., right are shown with their children, from left, Presley and Carter and Noelle.  Not shown is their father, Mike, Sr., also a partner.
-photo by David Brown, Tulare DHIA

 

The Terra Linda prefix caught the industry’s eye when a high genomic calf topped Dave Rama’s Fun in the West Sale Feb. 24 in Paso Robles, Calif.  With aggressive use of top genomics in this herd of 1450 cows and 2100 heifers, along with some strategic purchases, high genomic animals with strong pedigrees and top production have resulted for Mike Santos, Jr., his brother, Craig, and their dad, Mike, Sr. located near Tulare, Calif.  Mike Jr. works with the cows and Craig runs the 1200-acre cropping operation, growing all their own forages.

“Our philosophy has always been to concentrate on proven cow families and pedigrees, putting the numbers in our favor.  It’s a fast-moving industry so to stay in the game, we try to cast a wide net from our genetic pool,” Mike explains.

 

 

“We’re not afraid to sell our top animals,” he says, explaining they will use the second-tier females for donors.  A good example was their consignment to the sale held in Paso Robles, managed by The Cattle Exchange.  Ms Terra Linda Mod 188-ET was the high seller struck off at $170,000 to Peak Genetics in Wisconsin.  This heifer is a +2898 GTPI Modesty from Sandy Valley Yder Cayenne-ET, a +2598 Yoder from a Larcrest family the Santos family had purchased from the Bauers in Wisconsin.

Mike, Jr. tells about what’s behind this family now being developed in the Terra Linda herd.  He writes, “Sandy-Valley is one of the most recognizable prefixes in this industry and their females and males speak for themselves as they litter the lineups of all stud companies.  We admire and respect Sandy Valley and their accomplishments throughout the industry.  I wanted to reach out and purchase some Sandy Valley genetics and try to build a family branch at our operation.  Sandy-Valley Ydr Cayenne was purchased in the beginning of 2016 from Sandy Valley Farms.  We began IVF'ing her at 10 months of age and used a variety of bulls such as Modesty, Jedi, Expresso, Helix and AltaKermit.  With varying results on each sire, we started to have calves born and when genomic results started coming in we immediately knew MS Terra-Linda Dairy 188 was special.  With nearly 2900 GTPI and almost 1000 NM$ we knew we had a special heifer.

“Immediately we debated our options whether to keep her or market her in a national sale or sell privately.  With the Fun in the West Sale in Paso approaching we were contacted by Dave Rama and his staff and they wanted to sell her in this sale.  We decided to consign her to the sale and let the chips fall where they may.  It was very exciting on sale day and we couldn't have been happier with the way things turned out.  We were very grateful for Peak Genetics buying her and the contending bidders who pushed her to $170,000.  Dave Rama and his staff did a great job.

“With selling the high heifer from Cayenne we still had a nice group of heifers from her with four females over 2700 and two males over 2760 from Cayenne.  Cayenne's 2771 GTPI AltaKermit is the highest AltaKermit in the world after the April run by over 90 points so that is a really unique heifer for us to continue working with.  Mr Terra-Linda Mod 211 at 2792 GTPI, the 24th highest NM$ bull in the breed was sold to ABS and Mr Terra-Linda Mod 190 at 2763 GTPI is tied for the 12th highest fat bull in the breed and was sold to Genex.  We look forward to those two bulls’ success in the industry.

Cayenne has another nice Modesty daughter who is 2785 GTPI with 954 NM$ that will be exciting to work down the road.  We are awaiting pregnancies from Modesty and Pharo from Cayenne and she is a carrying a Blowtorch calf due Sept. 30.”

Breeding Program

Mike explains he’s using a careful breeding program that starts with registering and genomically testing every heifer calf, then using top genomic bulls, sexed semen and an IVF repro program.  The RFID ear tags which allow tissue sample collection are purchased through the Holstein Association which also provides the genomic testing.

Right now, the sires being used meet the following guidelines.  The GTPI is at least 2700 or higher, with 140 combined fat and protein, 1500 milk, high udder composite, two points on type for most all sires, and plus DPR.  Mike puts a heavy emphasis on cow families and would like to see every female in the bull’s pedigree EX or VG.  He’ll use a group of 10 or 12 mostly genomic bulls for a month along with a few special proven bulls such as Montross and may use a bull with good repro results a bit longer.

Sexed semen is used on the virgin heifers for all services, which also helps with calving ease, and for first service on the first lactation cows.  Conventional semen is then used on second service and beyond for milk cows.  Monthly some 20 to 25 of the top genomic heifers along with a few milk cows are selected for IVF with embryos implanted in virgin heifers at the lower end of the genomic scale.  Donors typically will be above 2600 GTPI and / or 800 Net Merit. These genomic results have attracted the interest of the AI units who provide some pre-release semen for selected contract matings.  Conventional flushing is always used every two weeks with four donors each session.

“With over 70 heifers above 2700 GTPI and 75 heifers over 800 NM$ is hard to narrow down the favorites but these are few that we are excited about for their offspring in the future,” he concludes.

The goal is a high producing herd of trouble free cows, with capacity, good udders and strong feet and legs.  He’s not particularly bothered about tall cows, the current concern in some circles, as long as the animals have width and dairy strength and openness of rib to consume roughage and produce lots of milk.  Feed efficiency is a very important number Mike monitors.  Mike shoots for an average of 24 months at calving, finding that this seems to give the heifers a better start than if they come in at 22 or 23 months.

He likes the productive capacity of the Holstein breed and thinks they outperform everything else… “I’m a Holstein guy,” he concludes.

The formula seems to be working certainly.  Terra Linda has ranked high in the Tulare County DHIA four straight years, and was the top herd in 2016 with energy corrected milk average at 32,753 lbs.  The herd averages 3.7% fat and 3.3% protein and currently is producing right at 102 lbs. a day.  High quality milk too at 125,000-130,000 SCC.  The herd is milked 3X in a double-25 parallel parlor.

Merchandising to Commercial Producers

In addition to selling off the top end, Terra Linda will sell several hundred commercial replacements each year, which explains the higher inventory of heifers here, more than is required for the herd.  Mike believes buyers pay a premium for the quality of the registered heifers in his herd even if they don’t want the registration papers.  Commercial dairymen value the high production and good functional type.  He will sell 100 service bulls to area dairymen each year, also, with similar credentials.

A Family Dairy

Grandfather Manuel Santos moved onto this dairy in 1972, followed by his son, Mike and wife Kerri.  In 1972 Manuel Santos Jr. split with his brother John Santos to form Terra Linda Dairy, the current facility being operated on today.  In 2010 Mike Santos Sr. along with Craig and Mike Jr. purchased the John Santos Dairy and made it a heifer ranch for surplus heifers.  Today Mike, Jr., age 36, a Cal Poly grad, and brother Craig, 33, operate the dairy and farming with 15 employees.  Mike, Jr. and his wife, Leslie, have a daughter, Noelle, age 2.  Craig and his wife, Laure, have a son Carter, 7, and daughter Presley, 4.

Mike, Sr., and his wife, Kerri, continue as partners in the operation.  It was Mike who first brought Registered Holsteins onto the place, buying cattle from the late Doug Maddox at RuAnn, working with them and getting his sons involved even as the commercial herd expanded.