Lee Pattison and Stefan Temperli both are successful Midwestern dairymen. But their management styles and business objectives are more different than alike.
Pattison owns a 700-cow commercial Holstein herd near Garnavillo, Iowa, with a focus on profitability, low overhead and labor efficiency. Temperli and his family own a 1,250-head registered Jersey herd near Elkton, S.D. While they also strive for profitability, the Temperlis work to achieve it by not only selling milk and components, but building cow families and selling bulls to AI studs.
Both dairymen say they are better able to achieve their goals now that they have fully embraced genomics in their reproductive decision making.
“I was skeptical about genomics at first,” Pattison said. “I didn’t really think it was a technology that applied to my operation.” Attending informational meetings and talking to other producers convinced him genomics might have valuable applications for him, but he said he really became a believer when the genomic-bred heifers in his herd freshened and entered the milking string.
Prior to using genomics, Pattison said he intended to breed the top 20% of his heifers to sexed semen and sell the bottom 10%. “We’re not in expansion mode, so we don’t need all of our heifers,” he shared. “But I never seemed to be able to sell off that bottom 10% because I didn’t have a good sorting criteria.”
Now, he uses genomics to emphasize the traits most desirable to him: net merit dollars and dairy wellness. Heifer calves are tested every two months, and the bottom 20% are bred to beef bulls to stop their genetic progression. The top 40% of remaining heifers are bred with young-sire sexed semen.
Pattison said this strategy has produced healthier herd replacements that now contribute to the dairy’s 33,000-lb. herd average. At the same time, the dairy raises 120 fewer heifers per year, a savings that Pattison said more than pays for the investment in genomic testing.
For Temperli, adopting genomics was an easier decision. “I was eager to start using genomics because I think they level the playing field for selling breeding stock,” he said.
Temperli said he always has enjoyed breeding and genetic selection, and genomics have added a new dimension to that process. “I was really surprised at some of our cow families that initially tested high genomically,” he shared. “They are not the ones I would have picked as our most superior animals.”
The genomics program currently in place tests one-third of the herd’s heifers. Most of the top half are bred with sexed semen, and the bottom half become embryo recipients. The highest genomic tier of heifers is submitted to advanced reproductive programs. Most are flushed for embryo transfer twice at 9 to 10 months of age. The very highest animals are bred first, then are enrolled in in-vitro fertilization every two weeks, starting at 40 to 100 days pregnant.
In addition to generating higher-quality replacement animals, Temperli’s aggressive genomics and breeding program has resulted in nine bulls being sold to AI over the past few years. The dairyman said profits from the bull contracts more than pay for all of the genomic testing and flushing, while the rest of the herd continues to advance genetically.
Beginning in January 2017, the Temperlis will genomic test 100% of their heifers and have entered into a new venture with an AI stud to generate superior bull mothers. Temperli said it will be extremely helpful when eventually all of the cows in the herd will have genomic information.
“Also, if we have excess heifers down the road, the genomic testing information will come in very handy when it is time to sell them,” Temperli stated. “Genomics have been a highly effective decision-making tool for us.”