Breeding for balance with aAa analysis
From: Progressive Dairyman Intern Michael Cox Published on 24 August 2015
Everything in life is a balance; even too much of a good thing can be bad. When breeding cows, farmers often tip the balance in favor of high yields and components, but a growing number of dairymen are using aAa analysis to not only improve the structural balance of their cows but also their bank account balance.
Founded in 1950 by Bill Weeks, a prominent Holstein cattle breeder and classification inspector, aAa analysis is a breeding tool that analyzes the structural make-up of cows and aims to breed healthier, balanced cows with improved longevity.
aAa analysis defines a cow’s structure under six categories. It relies purely on the physical attributes of the animal; no genetic merit is taken into consideration. The analysis aims to strike a balance between enough “roundness” to live and enough “sharpness” to milk high yields.
aAa analysis for cow structure
From the six categories, the analysis assesses the qualities a cow lacks, in order of severity. For example, a cow analyzed 4, 6, 2 is weak in the categories of “Strong,” “Style” and “Tall.” Cows are ranked on the qualities they lack, while bulls are ranked on the attributes they will bring to a mating. Therefore, a 4,6,2 cow should be mated to a 4,6,2 bull.
Bill Weeks claimed that lack of a quality in one area of a cow can lead to poor performance in other areas, naming this the “relationship of parts.” The relationship of parts is a key aspect of aAa, as it not only tells the farmer what is wrong with the cow, but why.
For example, a low-hanging udder may be a cow’s main problem, but the source of the problem may be a lack of width in the pelvis, which is forcing the udder down or forward. This lack of width may stem from the very start of the cow with a narrow muzzle, narrow chest and flat ribs. aAa analyzers like Lee Bingham can identify the “why” of the problem.
How it works
“The process is quite simple,” Bingham, who has worked as an aAa-approved analyzer in the Idaho region for several years, says. “I arrive on-farm and observe each cow individually. Sometimes all the cows will be locked into headlocks so I can take out each cow and look at her individually. I write down her three traits that need improvement, and after that it’s up to the farmer to use this information.
“We want to build a cow from front to back,” Bingham says. “The ‘will to milk’ starts with a long, broad refined head and neck, a wide chest with sprung ribs leading to high and wide hips, a good square leg stance and strong erect pasterns. Regardless of breed or system, that’s the ideal cow in a nutshell.”
Genomic and genetic selection has developed advances in production. This is generally well understood; however, there are some misconceptions about aAa among farmers, says Mary Weeks Dransfield, daughter of Bill Weeks and current owner of aAa Analysis.
“Firstly, aAa is not a form of evaluation,” Dransfield claims, “PTAs and linear evaluation can be used to determine if an animal is ‘good,’ but aAa shows how good animals are different. aAa does not evaluate a problem but states it and states what is causing the problem. With this knowledge, the source problem can be rectified in the next generation.”
Secondly, Dransfield says, aAa is not a judgment on the merit of stock. It only focuses on the areas for improvement in the cow, regardless of breed or genetic merit.
Weeks also states that aAa does not breed opposites together. Instead, it finds the source of the problem, and depending on the relationship of parts, this may be solved in different ways. For example, if the cow has narrow pin bones, simply breeding her to a wide-rump bull may not result in better-quality heifers.
The problem may arise from naturally close pins in a cow that needs aAa Quality 3 (Open), or it could stem from a narrow head, narrow chest and flat ribs in a cow that needs aAa Quality 5 (Smooth). “Breeding opposites together does not fix the problems,” Dransfield says.
Does structure matter?
World-renowned animal behavior expert professor Temple Grandin states, “Don’t over-select for any single trait … you will wreck your animal.” John Brubaker, a pedigree Holstein dairy farmer from Buhl, Idaho, has taken this advice to heart and avoids excessive selection on yield and components in favor of improved structure.“My breeding plan is simple: All my cows are analyzed by an aAa analyzer.
I pick a Holstein family that has high components, and I select bulls with the correct structure to match my cows’ needs.” Brubaker has not used PTAs for more than 30 years, and although his cows have negative figures for components and yield, he attributes his herd average yield of 24,000 pounds to the sound structure of the cows. “Our yield isn’t from small grains that ‘burn out’ cows either; 60 percent of the diet is from forage,” Brubaker says.
“Once a cow is comfortable in her skeletal design, she will do what you ask of her. Our cows have good width throughout, from a wide head to bold ribs that can handle lots of forage; they’re round, with enough angularity to milk.” Brubaker also highlights the benefit of improved longevity of his herd. “Our cows are reaching seven or eight lactations, so we have surplus heifers for sale. That’s become a big source of income.”
While Brubaker only uses aAa for selecting bulls, in Ireland, Holstein X Friesian dairy farmer Stanley Wright selects for both high PTA merit bulls and aAa structure analyses. “We need good components to hit our milk price bonus, so I pick a team of genomic bulls with good figures, but they must have the correct aAa structure to match my cows,” Wright says.
The benefit of combined selection has resulted in Wright’s annual surplus heifer farm sale having some of the highest average Irish Holstein heifer prices for the last five years. “My repeat buyers know our heifers have the structure for longevity and the figures for yield.”
“At the end of the day,” Dransfield says, “If a cow is balanced enough with optimal form, she can easily produce a lot of milk, reproduce effectively, be lower-maintenance, healthier and longer-living than an individual with structural inadequacies.” She says, “We’re not reinventing the wheel, just pointing out how to ensure you improve your chances of not getting a puncture in the future.”
For a Canadian analyzer – you may contact Peter Frei from Alberta:
Have you ever asked yourself why there are cows coming into milk with more udder edema than others? Is it related to the time in utero? A hard calving? Age of the cow/heifer? Genetic causes? Feed related issues? Environmental circumstances?
In depth discussion paper:
Preventing Udder Edemas in Dairy Cows Like other metabolic diseases which appear at calving time. The causes of udder edema can usually be traced to feeding and management practices during the dry period. In udder edema, there is an accumulation of fluid in the udder. Accumulation begins at the base of the udder and, in mild cases, may be present around only one or two quarters. As the severity of the edema increases, the entire udder becomes affected and fluid may spread through the abdominal area, the thighs and vulva. You can see a severe case on above picture.
There does not appear to be one single cause of udder edema. Normal metabolic changes, genetics and nutrition likely all play a role. Cows experience some edema prior to calving due to hormonal and physiological changes, which take place prior to calving. Heifers are more prone to udder edema.
Theories about edema:
- Increasing pressure, caused by fetal growth, results in a restriction of blood and lymph flow away from the udder in late pregnancy. This occurs concurrently with an increased blood flow to the udder. Smaller blood vessels and a reduced fluid flow is likely the reason why heifers are more prone to udder edema than are cows.
- There is a drop in blood proteins as the cow transfers immunoglobulins (proteins) to colostrum. This is thought to increase the permeability of the blood vessels allowing an increase in fluid buildup.
- Changes in hormone levels are also believed to play a role in udder edema.
- Genetics play a role in increased susceptibility to udder edema as an inherited trait.
There are several nutrition factors implicated in udder edema.
a) High intakes of potassium during the dry period predispose cows to udder edema by increasing fluid retention. Potassium levels in dry cow forages are often over 2% – much higher than required. Feed forages with low potassium such as grass (eg. timothy) hays and corn silage (in limited amounts) during the dry period. Intake of potassium should not exceed 250g.
b) High sodium (ie. salt) intake also predisposes cows to udder edema by increasing fluid retention. Limit salt intake during the dry period to 30g (one ounce) per day. If salt is fed free choice, provide it in block form rather than loose as this will decrease consumption. Remove any sodium bicarbonate buffer, which may be present in the feed, typically from the milking cow diet. Check the water for sodium levels as some areas in Manitoba have high sodium, or salty, water.
c) Low magnesium during the dry period has been implicated in udder edema. Ensure close-up dry cow rations contain 0.4% magnesium.
d) Excessive grain intakes prior to calving have been associated with increased incidence of udder edema. Feed a dry cow diet that is properly balanced for protein and energy.
e) Ensure levels of zinc and vitamin E are adequate in the close-up dry period (40 mg/kg and 1200 IU/day respectively). Both help to reduce the effects of oxidative stress on the udder. Oxidative damage can be triggered by the release of iron in times of stress, trauma or nutritional imbalance.
f) Ensure adequate water intake so that the fluid balance of the post partum cow does not get negatively affected. If salt intake is reduced, thirst decreases and the animal may end up dehydrated. This is very dangerous and can lead to the body holding water in. This then in affect increases edema – the exact opposite of what you are shooting for.
Treatment includes massages and hot compresses on the affected areas. This stimulates blood flow which aids in the removal of the excess fluid. Through all this it is crucial that the cow be completely milked every time. Udder edema is a risk factor for development of clinical mastitis and occasionally can become a chronic condition that persists throughout lactation. Treatment should be initiated if swelling threatens the udder support apparatus or if edema interferes with the ability to milk the cow. Edema can be treated by milking cows before parturition. Positive effects of pre-milking in heifers have been reported, but the practice may predispose older cows to parturient paresis (milk fever). Massage, repeated as often as possible, and hot compresses stimulate circulation and promote edema reduction. Diuretics have proven highly beneficial in reducing udder edema, and corticosteroids may be helpful. Products that combine diuretics and corticosteroids are available for treatment of udder edema.
If you have ever asked yourself – how can I work on my cattle with less fuss and potential for injury? Check out the below link.
Attention Farmers and Ranchers;
Pregnant Fleckvieh Milk Cows For Sale!
Do you need a NURSE cow or FAMILY cow for the beef calving season? Now is the time to come to Primrose Farms to view our beautiful cows for sale. No culls are sold. Only quality candidates. After 16 years of breeding with Fleckvieh from Germany, we are offering outstanding cows for you. We can not milk them due to our dairy barn burning down 5 weeks ago. First come, first serve. These are AI bred cows. Top proven sires from Bayern Genetic. Lots will be calving in middle of February, end of March, a few in April, many in June and a few in July. No holds accepted. Photos are previous Fleckvieh nurse cows we had retired to wonderful homes.
Location: Big Valley, Alberta
Text: 403-323-0219 or 403-323-0217 to make an appointment to view the cows.
blog articles listed with specific technology that can help reach your goals in achieving a great performing Felckvieh dual purpose herd:
#1. Humane and ethical treatment of down cattle
#2. Biosecurity on your dairy farm
#3. Stray voltage problems in Dairy cattle
#4. How to reduce your dairy farm cull rate
#5. The cost of subclinical Ketosis to dairy farms
#6. How to reduce the causes of mastitis
#7. Why Fleckvieh cows have longer production lives
#8. What everyone ought to know about Fleckvieh and genomics
#9. Improve reproductive anatomy in your dairy herd