grazing ability & cow genetics
There is an increasing interest in rotational grazing systems among beef and dairy producers. An article by Roger Wentling entitled Grass and Dairy Genetics in the August issue of GRASS FARMER has some interesting observations. Below are some excerpts.
Many times I have walked the rotational grazing systems of Holstein dairy farmers and knew there was something missing.
They had six to ten inch tall swards of excellent grass and legumes. The fencing and watering facilities were also good to outstanding. All in all everything looked ideal for the cows to graze and produce high levels of milk.
Unfortunately, in all too many cases, their Holstein cows would take a few bites and then head back to the barn or nearest shade. Alas, the best laid plans won’t work if the cows won’t work.
Recently I had the pleasure of visiting with Dr. Elizabeth Lundgren of Spring Hill, Kansas, about the problems and opportunities in dairy genetics…She is a member of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners.
Dr. Lundgren said, “Most cattle available in the United States today were developed for either feedlot beef production or confinement dairying and as a result are genetically poorly adapted for a grass based production system.”
Most dairy cows have lost their ability to forage efficiently because of their confinement feeding and their adaption to concentrated rations. Their soundless and longevity have also deteriorated.
Dr. Lundgren said, “Graziers using traditional breeds will have to get used to heavy culling due to their poor adaptation. For example,” she said currently, “the dairy industry is trying to drop the calf death rate on Holsteins to 10 percent. Death rates as high as 20 to 25 percent are common. The average American dairy cow also currently has only two lactations before she is culled. This means she is gone before her fourth birthday. Udder and leg problems are the primary reasons for culling,” she said.
She said that since the producer is paid for milk, milk production is the only thing the A-I people concentrate on and they stress the use of young sires.
(ran across Roy Beeby’s observations from 20+ yrs ago……..even more true today!....BH 5/13)
Genetic soundness can be obtained in the beef cow herd through selection and the use of genetically sound bulls. Line-breeding within the herd and the use of genetically proven linebred bulls can speed the selection process for herd soundness and longevity.
Genetic adaptation for foraging ability should improve within a herd if contemporary herd sire prospects and prospective heifer replacements are raised to yearling, evaluated and selected in a grazing program compatible with the cow herd’s natural environment and management.
-Roy Beeby, October 1991.