SALEM, Ohio — The public often associates the dairy industry and its products with images of black and white Holsteins. That may be because the number of U.S. registrations for Holsteins is more than 50 times larger than the number of U.S. registrations for Guernseys, Milking Shorthorns and Ayrshires.
In fact, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy has listed Ayrshire, Guernsey and Milking Shorthorn breeds on its watch list because they have shown a marked decline since 1970.
According to Marjorie Bender, conservancy program coordinator, the numbers show a drastic decline between 1970 and 1990, when the last livestock census was taken. A new livestock census will be completed in 2001, and she believes it will show an even greater decline.
“I think a decrease in numbers, both farmers and animals, and a decrease in genetic diversity have led them to where they are now,” said Bender.
In 1970, the number of U.S. registrations for Guernseys, Ayrshires and Milking Shorthorns were 43,783, 15,000 and 4,263, respectively. In 1990, ALBC’s records show 18,000 Guernseys, 9,539 Ayrshires and 3,524 Milking Shorthorns.
In 1999, according to the individual breed registries, there were merely 5,890 registrations with the American Guernsey Association (www.usguernsey.com); 5,000 with the Ayrshire Breeder’s Association (www.gbla.com/ayrshire is stated Web site, although Farm and Dairy found it usually ‘unavailable.’); and 2,700 with the American Milking Shorthorn Society (www.agdomain.com/usmilkingshorthorn/). This compares to 313,330 Holstein registrations.
Producers and dairy associations are trying to turn those numbers around and though it’s been slow, most are confident it will happen through genetic recovery programs and producer education.
The American Milking Shorthorn Society has created a grade-up program that allows farmers to bring non-registered purebred Milking Shorthorns back into the herd book.
A grade-up certificate is issued to any characteristic female with a minimum of 50 percent registered Milking Shorthorn blood, said Stuart Rowe, American Milking Shorthorn Society executive secretary. Three-quarter blood females and males sired by a registered Milking Shorthorn and out of a grade-up dam are eligible for registry.
The society is also expanding the genetic base of registered Milking Shorthorns by accepting selective crosses if the offspring are entered in a three-step process. The dam or sire must be a registered Milking Shorthorn and continued crosses with purebred Milking Shorthorns allow the offspring to be entered into the herd book.
“We suggest crossing with Red and Whites,” said Rowe. “This seems to have the best outcome. Enrolling more grade cattle will allow for better sources of increased revenue.”
The Ayrshire Breeder’s Association’s Genetic Recovery Program also calls for a three-step generation process. Ben Copeland of the association said between 150 and 200 animals enrolled in the program during 1999.
The three-step process is also put to use by the American Guernsey Association. The fourth generation becomes registered and that animal and must be bred back to a registered Guernsey, according to Seth Johnson, executive secretary.
Johnson also said the association is stressing the importance of embryo transfers.
“We have had a lot of success using other breeds as recipients of Guernsey embryos,” Johnson said.
Though all milk prices are down, these three associations agree that multiple component pricing has been the saving grace for producers.
“Breeders are getting more money for their milk,” said Johnson. “They’re getting rewarded for their high components.”
Rowe is encouraged by the demand for higher test milk. He sees more farmers adding Milking Shorthorns to their Holstein herd to increase their components.
“The demand for Ayrshire milk is the highest it’s been in 50 years,” added Copeland. “Component pricing has really opened the door for Ayrshires.”
Copeland also claims Ayrshires are more becoming more profitable.
“When you compare Ayrshires to Holsteins, you will see a much lower vet bill, and their profitability vs. productivity is what farm lenders want to see,” said Copeland. “Ayrshires are not as productive as Holsteins, but with the surplus of milk, being high test really pays off for the Ayrshires.”
Supporters of these smaller dairy breeds also say ease of care makes their respective breeds more attractive. Rowe points to the return of grazing as one of the Milking Shorthorns’ strong point.
“Milking Shorthorns are more adaptable than Holsteins. You can put them out to pasture with much less worry,” said Rowe.
Calving and breeding back are also important factors when looking at these three breeds.
Copeland says producers of the smaller breeds need to take it upon themselves to test and register their animals. They also need to learn about herd improvement and implement changes. He would also like farmers to realize the benefits of using young sires and new genetics.
“Those who are using year 2000-level management do just fine. Those who let a bull run with the herd and use 1950’s management will fail,” said Copeland. “A calf with the right genetics is selling for $1,000.”
Though you won’t see an intense increase in numbers of Milking Shorthorns, Guernseys or Ayrshires any time soon, producers and supporters are researching innovative ideas. Most say changes in the market provide the largest opportunities to promote their breeds. Farmers and breeders just have to be savvy enough to capitalize on those opening doors.