Why Fleckvieh Cows Have Longer Production Lives

When studying cattle life cycle, much like a horseman that looks at his horse and says: ”No feet , no horse” , a similar approach should be taken when looking at the life span of dairy cows:

In Veterinary practice and farm visits I have seen many cases of foot diseases that shorten dairy cow lifespan. A lot of problems are management related – for example this means there is poor hoof care or inadequate stalls for cows to lie down without injuring their feet and legs. Some of the problems are not at all management related but relate to the resistance to disease problems in the foot by way of “design”.

Develop Animals With Better Feet and Legs

Upright position rear foot dairy cow characteristicThe cows suffering from foot problems are suffering pain and discomfort. They lose milk production and are in need of Veterinary care. So not only does the farmer then have production losses, also there is now a need to spend time, money and resources on treatments. In some cases, the problems have advanced so far, that a culling decision is just around the corner. At that point – it is frequently not even possible to ship the animals to slaughter. Why? Because they may have been medicated and there is a withdrawal time for an antibiotic that has to be observed. If the animal gets shipped to slaughter, a long standing condition of pain in the feet and legs will have caused weight loss. In an already compromised state she may end up condemned at slaughter.
So how can a dairy cow have less foot problems? Outside of management, another option is to develop animals with better feet and legs.

Through the use of Fleckvieh genetics, the following benefits can be reaped:

  1. Inter digital ligament strength. What is this? Each of the claws has the ability to flex or move separately. This makes it possible to navigate rough terrain and also to spread the force over the claws while walking. The two claws are held together by a strong set of ligaments called inter digital ligaments. By design, the claws have to stay closely associated so these ligaments do not get overstressed and stretch or tear. Over time, a foot with weakened ligaments will change to accommodate the pressures of walking. What are these changes? A wider space between the claws, and a change in contact surface that is used for stepping. So the hoof wall which is designed to bear weight now slides away sideways and the hoof horn/center pad is used to bear weight and becomes subject to bruising, foot infections, abscess formation etc. Correction with trimming can only go so far after a while because the foot is still used the wrong way by the cow. In conclusion, a tight inter digital ligament with strong hoof walls make for longer lasting cows.
  2. Upright position of the pastern area. What is this? Looking at the feet of a mature dairy cow from the side, the goal is to have all the weight spread equally or throughout the whole foot. If however the angles are such that more weight is going to the heel or the back of the foot, more stress is put on the supporting tendons and this causes pain. The animal is going to lose condition and production. Additionally, she may require treatment of infections, sole bruises etc.

Largely – much like in the horse, these things are genetic. A good way to make improvements in production life cycle is to select against these poor foot structures with the mating selection decisions. Fleckvieh animals have very robust feet and can stand up to stresses of modern production longer than many dairy type breeds.

What Everyone Ought to Know About Fleckvieh and Genomics

Dairy Farmers can lower costs and improve herd health with a proven sire program. Consistently applied targeted mating can improve the genetics of a given herd with highly predictable outcome.

Find out how BDC and Fleckvieh use genomic estimated breeding values to increase the accuracy of genetic evaluations to assure mating predictability and precision phenotypic expression of heritable traits, and help your Dairy Herd live a healthier, more productive life.

Facts about Fleckvieh and Genomics

Sire selection as done by Bayern Genetik in Bavaria:

Bayern Genetik purchases genomically tested breeding bulls per year at local livestock auctions or directly out of the farmers’ barns. The bulls are selected from a population of 750.000 Fleckvieh herdbook cows in Bavaria. Many of these young sires (candidates) come out of matings:  The highest priority is given to selected siredams were mated to the best Fleckvieh sires available. The other bulls come out of regular but promising matings with herdbook cows.

Bayern Genetik also purchases sires from other countries like Austria, the Czech Republic, Australia and South Africa. The focus is on production and fitness traits when buying sires. The phenotypic appearance of a sire weighs heavily in the decision making process.

Testing of the chosen candidates:

After the quarantine period is over (28 days pre-quarantine and 28 days main quarantine period) 1.200 doses of semen of each candidate are collected and used in farms that take part in milk recording. The goal is to get as much data of first lactations of daughters of a candidate as possible in order to judge his hereditary performance.

This testing period lasts for six weeks. Each bull is tested in different regions (crop farming, grassland). This guarantees that regional effects do not have a major influence on a bulls breeding value.

Waiting bulls:

After the testing period further 15,000 semen straws are collected from each sire. Afterwards the sire is kept on one of our waiting stations at Börnchen / Saxony or Anzing, till the first production data of his daughters are published. This takes about four years.

Genomically selected young bulls:

The German Animal Breeding Law now allows us to sell semen of bulls without previous progeny testing that have genomic breeding values with an accuracy of 50%. This means that semen of all bulls that finished the quarantine period can now be immediately marketed. Naturally there is a huge time saving of at least two years – since the wait for progeny results is not there.

Proven sires:

Bavarian Fleckvieh Genetics attaches great importance to the fact that the bulls still run through a field progeny testing. Especially the estimation of the type traits is subject to variations. After production results of the progeny are published and the daughters were inspected for their type traits, “the wheat is separated from the chaff” and the bulls marketed as “proven sires” are chosen.

New selection methods:

New methods of biotechnology allow us a precise testing of single traits of the hereditary performance of a sire, as for example beef quality traits or milk quality traits. Of course we take advantage of these methods and test our sires.

The History Of Genomics in Dairy Cattle

The use of genomic information in genetic evaluation has brought about revolutionary change in dairy cattle selection. Genomic evaluations increase the accuracy of genetic evaluations and have the potential to rapidly increase the rate of genetic improvement in many traits.

Their use is especially effective where there is limited information such as with females and young bulls, and with traits of lower heritability. The sequencing of the bovine genome in 2004 spurred a worldwide effort to use basic information about genetic coding to improve how the genetic values of cows and bulls are estimated. The bovine genome is made up of about 25,000-30,000 useful genes.

For genomic selection, the genome researchers look for markers or single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). An SNP is a place in a chromosome where the DNA sequence can differ among individuals. SNPs are particularly useful when they occur on a gene or close to a gene that contributes to an important trait. As most traits are controlled by many genes, the process is complex, and real progress was not made until a genotyping computer chip, called the Illumina 50K test, was developed that could be used to identify over 50,000 SNPs on the genome.

Although the 50K test continues to be used for high-end breeding stock and screening young artificial insemination (AI) sire entries, a simpler, cheaper test called the 3K test, which identifies about 3,000 carefully chosen SNPs, has been developed to allow herd owners to make use of genomic testing on a wider basis. Provided that at least one parent has been tested with the 50K test, the more economical 3K test can be used with only a small loss in accuracy due to the use of a method called imputation, which uses knowledge of the parental genome in the calculations. Recently, more SNPs and improved accuracy have been added to the 3K test, now called the 6K test.

Tests Available

The initial genomic test available used the Illumina 50K chip, which evaluated about 54,000 SNPs that were of value on the bovine genome. This has become the accepted standard for genomic testing of AI sires, potential bull dams and screening of young sires. The cost of using this test has declined since it was first introduced, however, it is still very expensive for widespread use by dairy farmers. In 2010, Holstein Canada and the Semex Partners launched GenoTest, a program that makes the 3K test, and an even better one – the 6K test, available to Canadian dairy producers at a cost of $47 per animal.¹Although genomic testing can be carried out on a variety of tissue samples, the preferred samples are hair, including roots, or, in the case of young calves, a nasal swab. Test kits are available from Holstein Canada and the Semex Partners. Detailed instructions are available from the Holstein Canada website

Genetic Improvement:

The publication of the August 2009 dairy genetic evaluations marked a new era in Canada for bull “proofs,” when the majority included genomic information. With a few exceptions, all bulls available in Canada in the top 100 Lifetime Profit Index (LPI) list published by the Canadian Dairy Network now have genomic estimated breeding values (GEBVs) – breeding values in which genomic information was used.

With proven sires, which have many daughters and a reliability over 90%, the estimated breeding value (EBV) is already a pretty accurate measure of the genetic value that a bull passes on to his offspring. For these sires, the addition of genomic information improves this accuracy only a small amount for most traits. However, the improvement can be substantial for traits with low heritability, which are difficult to evaluate accurately through traditional methods. With genomic testing, it is now possible to screen thousands of candidate young sires for AI selection and select the best possible candidates to enter the progeny testing program. This increases the selection intensity and also reduces the costs of maintaining large numbers of young sires awaiting proofs. A definite advantage using this technology becomes evident here.

Dairy producers can now use young sires that have genetic information (genomic parent averages or GPAs), as well as proven sires. These bulls’ GEBVs are equivalent to the addition of 9-20 daughters for production and type traits in a traditional proof. They are not as accurate as a progeny proof, and breeders should use them in groups rather than trying to select one or two top bulls to use extensively. Research has shown that, in most situations, a group of five genotyped young sires has an average reliability nearly as good as that of proven bulls. A group of 10 such sires has the same average reliability as proven bulls. These young bulls, on average, can impart superior genetics as long as one does not concentrate on one particular bull, given their lower reliability.

Strategies and potential advantages of genomics:

#1. A strategy could be to use top, highly proven sires on 50% of the herd and a group of young sires on the remaining 50% of the herd. Set a limit on the number of breedings to any one sire and then replace it with a new top bull. Review the list of sires at every genetic evaluation and add and delete individuals as better bulls come along.

#2. An added advantage to GPAs is the availability of accurate information on individual traits. The breeder can take advantage of top young bulls that meet criteria such as calving traits and fertility, for use on heifers in the breeding program. This is an opportunity to bring the best available young genetics into the herd as quickly as possible.

Female Selection
#3. Test cows and replacement heifers that are candidates for bull mothers, embryo transfer and/or export of genetic material with the 50K test or at least with the cheaper 6K test. The ease of use and availability as well as low cost of the 6K test makes genomic selection within herd a real possibility. Genomics are the most useful for heifers, which can be tested shortly after birth, allowing selection decisions and planning well in advance of their potential entry into the milking herd.  Genomics provides the opportunity to make meaningful in-herd selection decisions.

 Genomics in Herd Management:

The availability of genotype parent averages, or GPAs, for replacement heifers provides new tools by which the owner may make management and breeding decisions. GPAs are calculated for all traits allowing the owner to select sires to use on heifers using complete production, type, health and fitness trait information. Genomic information may alter management of some heifers. Replacements that have an exceptionally high GPA for production may be managed differently prior to calving and in the milking herd. Heifers with a high genetic value for somatic cell score – meaning they may be prone to mastitis but are otherwise good quality heifers – might be managed differently to reduce exposure to mastitis infection. If an owner uses sexed semen on a selective basis, the high-GPA heifers could be chosen for sexed semen to ensure they have female offspring. Genotyping is a very new scientific development, and its uses and applications are developing very quickly. Dairy producers will quickly adapt to the many ways this technology can be used to better manage and improve their herds.

Summary

The availability of genomic testing for dairy selection purposes has improved selection for AI sires and females within herd. For sires, genomic testing has improved accuracy such that young sires may be screened prior to entering a bull stud. With GEBVs, the accuracy of genetic evaluations is improved for young sires as well as for traits with lower heritabilities such as health and fertility across all sires. As the dairy industry takes advantage of genomic testing, the rate of genetic progress could be improved by as much as 60%. This could be accomplished as AI studs take advantage of more efficient bull proving, producers make better use of younger sires and use more accurate genetic evaluation of cows and heifers to select the best animals within their herds. GEBVs, however, do not take away the need for participation in progeny-proving programs and keeping records of production, calving and other traits. These data are required to update the reference values on which the effects of the various SNPs are estimated.

BDC Interpretation of Fleckvieh Genomics:

The information provided above gives a general oversight but warns of the fact, that there is a huge value in traditional progeny testing in a proven sire program. Mating predictability and precision phenotypic expression of heritable traits can not be surpassed with this method in the author`s opinion. Consistency of applied targeted mating with highly predictable outcome improves genetics in a given herd. The AI stud takes on the challenge and investment in developing and making available the best semen. The farmer ends up with the best calves. Semen pricing? Well again – the progeny tested Fleckvieh Genomics provides the best investment and this is because there are less mishaps with the the newborn animal. Industry reports from farms and veterinarians have reinforced this in discussions with the author.

Improve Reproductive Anatomy in Your Dairy Herd

Poor Confirmation Dairy Cow Rear Pelvis

Forward rectum position trait exampleWhen you take a close look at this dairy cow, you will note a great udder quality.

The position if the rectum is clearly more forward than the vagina.

It almost appears as though the rectum is tucked into the body cavity while the vaginal opening sits on the rim of the pelvic bone further to the back of the cow.

This positioning leads to the deposition of manure and urine pooling on top of the vagina when the animal voids.

This process can lead to undesirable contamination of the vaginal area. Also, as a result, bacteria may enter into the vaginal area and vestibule which can lead to reproductive problems by way of this contamination. This can lead to unnecessary embryonic loss, infections of the reproductive tract e.g. metritis and conception delay or failure.

Improved Fleckvieh Rear Pelvis Angle:

Rear view of Fleckvieh dairy cow pelvis
You can see the anatomy of a cow that is skeletally built in such a way that this contamination is prevented from occurring.

Also, more body fat reserves and muscling keep the rectum apart and above the vagina to address potential contamination issues.

How Fleckvieh Crossbreeding, Absorbtion Crossing and Three Way Crossing can assist your farms productivity

Fleckvieh is a dual purpose breed can assist your dairy farm’s productivity and fertility with crossbreeding, absorption crossing and three way crossing.

Dairy Breeding Management

Dairy cattle breeding management is in a situation of radical change and reorientation. The drive for profitability in the dairy business by making cows with a focus on milk production and quantity only has had a direct influence on nearly neglected but nevertheless very relevant traits of a dairy cow such as fitness, stable metabolism, fertility, health of the udder.

Working with the physiology and the frame work of rumination, a cow with more body muscling and higher condition scores and reserves will manage herself far better.

Fleckvieh Crossbreeding Dairy Farms

Dairy breeding (Holstein Friesen, Brown Swiss, Swedish Red, Jersey for example) focuses on milk and protein quantity with a strong emphasis on the dairy trait character, a fact that results in a cow that produces a large quantity of milk but not in an economically sensible way over more than one or two lactations.

Reduced Replacement Rates

High herd replacement rates and the resulting high costs make headaches for farms. Long service periods reduce the selection possibilities of the female progeny. Why? because less calves are born per cow unit of time. Outsourcing of replacement animals is costly and can be risky. Such things like Johne`s disease, tuberculosis etc. can be hard to manage if brought in by purchased animals (bred heifers).

Humane transport risk/Animal welfare problem

Slaughter cows can be a humane transport risk, and often times they have no salvage value since they have almost no actual “beef” on their bodies. From a perspective with animal welfare in mind, the foremost goal is to work with a healthy animal produce good quality milk without compromising its natural freedom to express normal behavior and health – all the while living in comfort as much as possible.  Unfortunately, the immune system of animals with the dairy trait character is often compromised by production stress.

This can be seen on the slaughter floor by looking at the lymph nodes. When they are enlarged – it means they are “reactive” to stress. Since there is little or no “beef value”, the carcass is condemned at that point if not even before slaughter. If undue pain and suffering are experienced on the trip to final slaughter, the farm may end up penalized. This would be like getting a speeding ticket – put in simple terms. Why bother? When in doubt – don`t ship it out. Part of the solution to these complex issues may be considering genetic change:

Crossbreeding With Fleckvieh

Crossbreeding, absorption or purebred crossing and three way crossing are options to explore: Below is an example of crossbreeding Holstein Friesen with Fleckvieh over several generations which then leads to purebred animal after the 5th filial generation. Most of the blood of this type of animal is Fleckvieh (above 87.5%). This process is called absorption crossing.

How does our crossing program Fleckvieh (sire) x Holstein Friesen (dam) work?

The Fleckvieh Crossbreeding F1-generation ( first filial generation):

#1. Substance and muscling is added from the Fleckvieh genetics
#2. Hybrid vigor
#3. Stronger healthier calves with faster growth rates
#4. Milk protein content increases
#5. Somatic cell count decrease and lower incidence of mastitis

F2, F3 generations

The mating program for the production of the F2, F3 -generation results in more of the Fleckvieh muscling and frame characteristics becoming apparent:


Hermine

75% Fleckvieh, 25% Holstein
Production:
1. La., 302 days: 7.166 kg – 4.81 fat – 3.15 protein


Elvira

50% Fleckvieh, 50% Holstein
Production:
1. La., 305 days: 9.268 kg – 4.12 fat – 3.43 protein



Anita

87,5% Fleckvieh, 12,5% Holstein
Production
1. La., 305 days: 9.026 kg – 4.44 fat – 3.71 protein
2. La., 279 days: 9.124 kg – 3.89 fat – 3.57 protein


Three way crossing

Another method that can be used to enhance the quality of livestock desired traits is three way or three breed crossing: For example Holstein Friesen x Jersey presents you with animal with good birthing abilities, improvement in milk components and likely better feet. Now what is the next breeding step? You wish to keep the good feet and the components but want to add substance, strength and health. The ideal choice is a third breed – Fleckvieh. The same system can be used with for example Holstein Friesen x Swedish Red. Add Fleckvieh to the mix and you can reap benefits mentioned above.

Absorption Crossing

The goal is to breed a balanced F1 crossed animal that has a maximum amount of heterosis, which brings about the predisposition for good growth and makes the first 100 days of the lactation without melting too much of the body substance.

This better body condition makes it such that the cow has to becomes pregnant again without pharmaceutical intervention or prolonged waits for strong heats. Then one can meet the demand of one calf per year and reap all the benefits associated with Fleckvieh Crossbreeding.