Relative calf intelligence ranking should be added to genetic scoring


I have to be perfectly honest. Since working as the herdsman at Misty Dale Dairy Farm in Highland County after graduating from the dairy science department at OSU, I have done a poor job of keeping up with the ever-changing genetic evaluations of our AI sires.
The fundamentals don’t change much, but what is weighted, how, why, and against what standards does.
Hot topic. The newest change, currently a hot topic in the dairy popular press, is a measure of both the sire’s and his daughters’ ability to produce live calves.
The genetic merit of the service sire to produce live calves, (SSB – Sire Still Birth) and how well daughters deliver live calves (DSB) are now included in the Calving Ability Composite (CA$), one factor in the Net Merit $ (NM$) formula.
Missing the boat. As long as the genetics guys were ramping up the system in the live calf department, they should have added RCI, an equally – or more important – trait evaluation.
The RCI, or Relative Calf Intelligence score ultimately represents 1) the ability of the calf not to die due to severe stupidity, and 2) the likelihood of the calf raiser not to go screaming into the sunset.
A “10” on the RCI scale represents the calf feeder’s dream calf.
Affectionately known as “The Beast”, this calf will practically knock you down trying to get that fist bottle of colostrum and all milk thereafter.
The beast comes up for air only after sucking down the entire bottle in 60 seconds or less. Shortly after catching his/her breath, they are looking for the next bottle.
Slightly less enthusiastic, 7’s, 8’s and 9’s still get the job done in short order. It is the 5’s and 6’s that start to get challenging.
These calves can take up to 20 minutes of extreme patience and coaxing to get started on the bottle, however they still have relatively pleasant personalities and ultimately want to live.
Problem child. Scoring less than 5 are the problem calves. These range from 4s which qualify for a DAR, or “dumb as a rock” classification, to 1s.
The “1s” are usually called “idiots” when other people are around. After spending 20 minutes trying to coax the calf to eat (hoping it is no lower than a 5,) the calf feeder has to resort to the tube.
A “4” is the calf that was perfectly capable of drinking from a bottle, but just didn’t feel like it. When the patience runs out, this is the calf that will expend amazing amounts of energy fighting the tube. It usually bawls loud enough to hail the neighbors and the feeder ends up playing twister with the calf to keep it still while the milk is being tubed.
Scraping the bottom. Things get really ugly below 4. These are the calves which make an agonizingly slow connection between eating and living.
Feeding takes exponentially longer when there are multiple calves that score less than 4.
How likely is it that the AI industry will embrace the Relative Calf Intelligence score? Since my husband and I just made it up, not likely.
But the potential benefits to the industry in terms of healthy calves that want to eat as well as happier, mentally healthy calf feeders are certainly worth consideration.
(The author, the northern Ohio district dairy specialist with OSU Extension, admits to having at least one “dumb as a rock” on her farm. Send comments or questions in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.)


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