Breeding and Genetics: Using All the Tools at Vander Woude Dairy

By Joel Hastings

Breeding and Genetics: Using All the Tools at Vander Woude Dairy

Breeding and Genetics:  Using All the Tools at Vander Woude Dairy
Simon Vander Woude

“We want to keep profitable cows in the herd as long as we can,” explains Simon Vander Woude when he talks about the breeding program at his 3500-cow Holstein herd near Merced, Calif. What that means is a plan for reproduction – getting cows in calf – and a plan to improve genetics of the females to create that trouble-free, durable and high producing cow that lasts. His genetics program incorporates sire criteria, genomic testing, a mating program and use of ET and IVF (in vitro fertilization) technologies. On the repro side, he uses “walking and chalking” every day, ovsynch on the cows, lutalyse on the heifers and regular AI and heat detection audits by his A. I. company training staff.

How’s that working for him? Today 44 percent of the herd is third lactation or older and the current DHI 305d ME average is over 28,000 lbs. of milk, with a 40% conception rate on the cow herd and a 52% conception rate on the 2800 heifers (of which 450 are from a second dairy location) and a 26% annual cull rate. And he believes the incidence of mastitis and other herd health problems are at declining levels due to emphasis on “wellness” genetics.

Breeding and Genetics:  Using All the Tools at Vander Woude Dairy
Vander Woude Dairy Merced, CA

While Vander Woude has always tried to use good bulls in the 90th percentile, the introduction of sexed semen and genomic sires has pushed him to set clear criteria.  Before the most recent genetic evaluations, his guideline for bulls: over +750 Net Merit $, at least 45 lbs. of protein, 65 lbs. of fat, 1000 lbs. of milk, higher than +6 PL (productive life), at least +1.5 DPR (daughter pregnancy rate), less than 3 somatic cell score and less than 1 in stature, emphasizing the moderate sized cows he prefers.

On the female side, he began genomic testing with Zoetis in 2012 with two goals in mind… a smaller heifer herd and more rapid genetic progress. He had 3200 heifers when he started and now the count runs more towards 2200 to 2400, with about 100 2-yr-olds coming in each month. The parent average of the first lactation heifers then was +185 NM$ while today it’s jumped to +354 NM$ (See Table 1.) The average Genomic Net Merit for the heifer population in March 2017 was $451. And the range between his highest and lowest genetic merit heifers has narrowed, too, even as the average has moved upwards rapidly.

On both male and female side of the pedigree, he pays special attention to DPR. Like more and more breeding experts, he believes genomics is revealing the heritability of that trait is higher than once thought.

He identifies and genomically tests every heifer calf using an RFID ear tag that also takes the tissue sample. For the heifers, 80% to 90% are bred to sexed semen, with the balance bred to conventional semen from AI Holstein bulls that meet the criteria. He knows his best genetics are in the heifer herd so that’s what he wants as the source of most of his replacements. The genomic values are produced by Zoetis using its Clarifide Plus program that includes the new health traits along with production and type values. ID is verified, too.

The cow herd is sorted by GNM$, Genomic DPR (daughter pregnancy rate), TRBD (Times Bred or number of services), mastitis, metritis, retained placenta, PRELV (Previous Relative Value), PDIM (Previous Days in Milk) and lactation. The top 50% ranked on these criteria are bred to Holstein bulls, with the very best bred to sexed semen, the rest conventional.

The bottom half of the cow herd is bred to Angus semen in what Vander Woude calls his “breeding to feeding” program. A mature Holstein cow is also bred to Angus if she’s open after four inseminations. The resulting Angus X Holstein cross calves are raised and fed out to 550 lbs. These young cattle uniformly look like Angus and are sold for a premium beef price, above what the market would bring, to a local buyer who picks them up… about 100 a month.

Regular observation of the herd, walking the corrals and chalking tail heads, ovsynch on the cows and lutalyse on the heifers, all contribute to a 65% HDR (heat detection rate) on the cows and 69% HDR on the heifers. In addition, the AI company training staff regularly audits the breeder’s activities and protocols.

After doing some embryo transfer, more recently, a program of IVF is used. Beginning a year ago, the top 20 to 30 high genomic heifers and cows were identified for IVF. Aspirations are done once a month on heifers with the oocytes sent to a lab for fertilization with semen until day seven when some are transferred fresh and some are frozen for later use. Heifers are aspirated from 10 to 12 months and then bred.

The embryos are transferred into heifers and cows due to be bred to beef semen, but with positive DPR values and DSB less than 7. The current goal is to transfer 70 to 90 embryos per month with that number likely to go up. The breeder is training to do transfers for frozen embryos, as well. The conception rates achieved with fresh embryos are running 53% in the heifers and 48% in the cows, with continuous tracking of the results from these different techniques.

Vander Woude credits the staff of his key venders – GENEX Cooperative and Zoetis – for providing products, technologies, know-how and assistance tracking herd performance. He notes with a smile, though, “the numbers are only as good as the bottom line.”

He and his wife, Christine, moved to this 2100-acre location from southern California in 2001 in partnership with his parents. He fondly recalls working together with his father to construct the buildings on the farm… his dad passed five years ago. Today, Simon is active off the farm too serving as a board member of California Dairies Cooperative and Western United Dairymen.  Committed to family, Simon and Christine have six children… William, 19 – a freshman at Dordt College in Iowa; Aubriana, 17 – a high school senior; Alyssa, 14 – a freshman; Michael, 12 – a sixth grader; Anneka, 9 – a fourth grader; and Simon, 4.

Editor’s note: This is adapted from Vander Woude’s presentation at the Dairy Challenge event Apr. 8 in Visalia, Calif. Heather Lee of Genex Cooperative compiled many of the statistics cited.



Breeding and Genetics:  Using All the Tools at Vander Woude Dairy

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