Dairymen and AI Staff Look to Future of Dairy Breeding

Five dairy producers and AI company staff talked about dairy cattle breeding in a roundtable discussion at the California Holstein convention on Jan. 26 in Sonoma, Calif.  Hank Van Exel, association vice president, moderated the session.  He dairies with Holsteins and Jerseys at Lodi. The panel was composed of Joey Airoso, dairyman and Holstein breeder from Tipton; Ryan Matheron, dairyman and breeder from Hilmar; Kevin Jorgensen, Select Sires; Larry Schirm, ABS Global; and Wayne Glazier, Oakdale, who operates a private breeding business.

Airoso who with his family farms with over 2500 cows made the point that good cows allow a dairyman to thrive in good times and endure the tough times.  For him, a good cow is high producing, trouble free, long lasting and efficient.  He predicted more breeding emphasis on health traits and he noted that bankers today are paying attention to the quality of cattle, as well as the quality of the care they get.  It takes good cows… and good people… to survive today, he said.


While he genomically tests his heifers extensively, he said he had hoped the use of genomics in the breed would identify new sources of genetics and decrease inbreeding, but in his mind that has not been happening.

In terms of efficiency, he said all dairymen are under pressure to take care of the environment.  “The public wants clean water and clean air,” he said.  “There is no good argument against that.”

He was encouraged that new technology will help here, noting the manure digesters are improving, allowing the dairy to control emissions as well as sell power and obtain bedding as well.  Having more sources of income from the farming operations will be a benefit, he said.

In terms of genetic diversity, Schirm said that to get a broader cross section of bloodlines, the number of traits being selected for has to expand, including health traits, as an example.  He also said ABS has developed a new method of sexing semen and for the future is looking at the female side.  He predicts that with coming innovations, the IVF process on selected females will become much more affordable and therefore much more widely used.  He foresees a day when a commercial herd can obtain all its replacements from the top ten percent of the herd.

Kevin Jorgensen of the Select Sires genetic team and himself a partner in a Wisconsin dairy credited genomic testing and especially the Zoetis program for increasing the interest in good genetics by all producers.  He said everyone involved with genetics owes them a bit of a debt of gratitude. He said when you show commercial dairymen the dollar returns on cattle with better genetics, you have their attention.

There was discussion of crossbreeding and the success some have with the F1 cross of Holsteins and Jerseys, as noted by panel member Wayne Glazier.  He commented that in hog production, the traditional breeds aren’t a factor in commercial production.  Instead, genetics lines with desirable traits are used.  He predicted this could be a possibility in cattle breeding.

But Ryan Matheron, a committed Holstein dairyman, said he believes can find enough variation to breed the right size cow with high solids to stay with the black and whites.

As the audience commented, it was noted traits for cows being milk by robots… correct teat size and placement and high milk flow… are desirable to maximize the output of the automated “box.”  Cow size is not so much a factor; in fact, smaller than average cows can be a bigger problem than cows that are too big.