The State of the A.I. Industry

The State of the A.I. Industry

I recently ran across an article titled Is our U.S. A.I. industry OK? written by Sophie Eaglen of NAAB and published by Progressive Dairy that I found very interesting. I think it does a good job of spelling out the state of the A.I. Dairy Industry. If you have some time, check it out!

Here are some excerpts that stood out to me:

On the subject of big A.I. creating most of the genetics from their own programs:

” . . . in synergy with the growth of companies, the closing of breeding programs also creates more uniformity between sire stacks offered by the A.I. companies. In the end, most A.I. bulls will come from the same “nest” despite being branded differently.

It is very likely this development will create a counter-movement where individual breeders will find an outlet to sell lower-ranking, yet a more diverse portfolio of A.I. bulls. This may not grow into the genetics that are behind the main dairy brands in retail stores feeding the U.S. population. However, it can offer a passionate platform that creates balance and discussion. This will be required for the continuous improvement U.S. dairy cattle genetics need to keep the number one global position.”

Is Triple-Hil Sires the “counter-movement selling a more diverse portfolio?” I hope that we can be and are already the “passionate platform that creates balance and discussion.” We do not expect everybody to jump on our train, but it is pretty obvious by the growth our business experiences with every passing year that many breeders are done with being told they don’t know how to breed a good cow.

On the subject of observing and predicting new trends Ms. Eaglen writes:

“Genomic young bulls have been around for 10 years. Despite the advice of geneticists to always use a spread of genomic and proven bulls, the popularity of top-ranking, extremely young bulls has been significant. Now that daughters of these herds are milking, there is some sense of displeasure about the lack of uniformity. It isn’t unthinkable that we will see a trend to revert to a higher usage of proven bulls, to a point where a balance is reached between early prediction and proven performance.”

We have observed that when indexes and genomics enters the picture, many people (breeders, semen salespersons) will gravitate to the highest numbers, because they are the best – right? For the sales person they are the easiest to sell, I am sure. Not enough thought is put into the cow families behind the bulls and truly understanding what my cow needs. Rather the question too often is what will give me the highest number on the current formula system? (Which is changed regularly to counteract the very problems it created).

A bull is the product of his parents. Regardless of how absurdly high his GTPI, NM$, Type, or (insert your favorite selection tool here) is, he will sire the type of cow that his genes dictate based on the bloodlines he is from. Common sense? I think we could all agree on that. Now here is where I think many people fail to follow through on common sense. If you are using a bull because he is the top bull for (your favorite selection tool) and he comes from a cow family that lacks spring and depth of rib, or width throughout, or healthy feet and legs, or a will to live, or a combination of all of them, how do you expect to advance your genetics?

Are you one of those people who have “a sense of displeasure about the lack of uniformity?” Using proven bulls or young bulls from proven cows families where the cows lived long enough to prove they could breed back for many lactations and milk more than the national average of 2.4 lactations would go a long way in improving your herd. More so, in my humble opinion, than the bull, who for today at least, is the highest bull for (insert your favorite selection tool).

On the subject of a noted increase in custom collection and “backyard semen sales:”

“Alongside the larger A.I. companies are smaller businesses that produce and sell semen. A new (relaunched) category to this list are the semen sales between commercial dairy producers that have been termed “backyard” semen sales. This goes back to the previous paragraph where bulls offered by breeders can be attractive competition for those sold by large A.I. companies with almost predictable pedigrees. Having more businesses produce and sell semen is not a development restricted to domestic sales. Even exports to EU and China are now conducted by individual breeders that were once selling bulls to A.I. and are now collecting and marketing their own semen.”

Thanks for the shout-out! We are only successful because of the many breeders who understand breeding cows is more than numbers. Breeding cows is an art. Breeding cows involves science. Not only art, not only science. The current path of mainstream A.I. isolating the science from the art will only bring more frustration to more  breeders. Watch for trends to continue to bring more support to small studs and individual pedigree breeders who see the danger in the current path. Go Breeders!

Ms. Eaglen sums up her synopsis of the A.I. industry:

“It is nearly impossible to diagnose the current state of our A.I. industry. However, what is clear is that it is changing. Give it another 10 years, and our industry will have yet a different face.

For many, this change will be undesirable; for some it will be beneficial. It will be largely driven by technological advances and economic developments, which are unlikely to be stopped. Just as frozen semen, (genomic) breeding values, embryo transfer, sexed semen and genomic testing have changed our industry, so will the introduction of genome editing and precision (smart) dairy farming. There will likely be a counter-movement with the return of smaller cooperatives and private breeders. One will have to find the space he or she finds most comfortable, but we need to be careful that we do not reintroduce the disadvantages of earlier times.”

She is right. The industry is changing, on many fronts. In 10 years what will the average cow look like? Will we have figured out that a posty legged cow does not last even if she ranks the highest in index ratings? Will we grasp that a cow that lacks femininity will not breed back well and will only milk well on high levels of grain even if she is in the top 100 for DPR and milk.

Unless we stop chasing our tails, the problems that haunt us today, will not look much different than the problems that will be discussed in 2030.

We have chosen to stop chasing our tails. We do not chase the latest and the highest index. We stick to what is always true. A good bull “yesterday”, will produce the same kind of cow today that he did “yesterday.” If he worked well in your herd and produced cows that stood the test of time, he is the best bull to put to work in your herd. Either by using him again or a son from a good cow family.

One elderly farmer when asked what one thing he would point to as a reason for his success, stated simply, “I used proven bulls.”

Let someone else try out the latest and the greatest. Let someone else figure out which bulls are a disaster and then use the ones that lived long enough to pay his bills. They will likely pay your bills too. It is not the most glamorous way, but it is the most profitable way.