Hairy toads and dairy genetics

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There’s an old saying that claims you can’t get hair off a toad. Well, in many aspects of life and farming, that old saying is right. For example, in the realm of genetics, you probably won’t get stellar performance when the proper breeding isn’t there to begin with.

Top sellers and solid, reliable milkers don’t just happen after a random mating between a great bull and cow, they require carefully planned genetic pairings and a lot of trial and error.

Should be priority

In this day and age, there’s no reason why genetics shouldn’t be a top priority for any cattle producer. In the last few decades, advancements in livestock genetics have shown that with appropriate planning, producers can increase herd efficiency, productivity, and in the end, profit. If genetics can play this large a role in herd success, isn’t it worth your time to make sure your cows are reaching their full genetic potential?

Genetics or management

In order to give your herd a chance at success, it is important to assess all aspects of your operation, not just the genetic portion. Many times, what we perceive as a genetic problem may not be caused fully by genetics. Though genes may play a role, factors such as nutrition, health and environment should always be considered.

Once you determine which problems stem from genetics and which are from other environmental or management factors, you can start to make progress with your pedigrees. To start making steps in the right direction, take a look at your current herd. See what practices have worked in the past and what the outcomes have been.

Stop ‘same old, same old’

If you know that your genetic goals need some adjusting and improving, don’t hesitate to try something different. After all, one of the hardest ways to make progress is to stick with the motto of ‘That’s the way we’ve always done it.’

Some practices of the past still hold true today, but as Albert Einstein put it, you can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different or better results. Since genetics and breeding go hand in hand, once you determine what needs to be improved or changed, the next step will be to decide which breeding practices to use. There are many methods to choose from, so pick what best suits your operation.

Remember, just because your neighbor used sexed semen on all of his heifers doesn’t necessarily mean that it will work for your herd. That being said, it still never hurts to ask fellow producers about practices that have been successful for them. Another resource is your local breeding service. They see what works and what doesn’t every day, so they could be helpful in improving your breeding program.

Selecting right genetics

Once the breeding program is taken care of, then it’s time to choose which genetics you want to use. This can be nerve-wracking, but this past year I learned a lesson from an experienced cowboy in Texas that will aid any cattle producer when making genetic decisions. His advice was to first pick the cow that will best accompany your environment and operation, and help you achieve the goals you have for your herd. Next, pick the bull that best complements the cow that complements your goals, and the offspring will put you one step further in the direction you would like to go.

Genetics will always play a role in your herd’s success, but it’s up to you as a producer to make sure that the role it plays is a positive one.

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Haley Drake is an assistant with Mahoning County's OSU Extension office and the Ohio Farm Business Analysis Program. A senior at Ohio State University, she is majoring in animal science with a minor in communications.

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