The Select Sires Podcast - Ep. 1 - Make Longevity Her Legacy

News and Updates

In this first episode of the new Select Sires Podcast, we're exploring the topic of longevity on the dairy farm - what it means, how genetics play a role now and into the future and much more.

Guests Mark Kerndt and Rick VerBeek join host Joel Penhorwood as they discuss the big picture, as well as actionable tips on breeding for the healthier, longer-living dairy cow. Tune in with the audio player below or by subscribing through your favorite podcast platform.

Mark Kerndt
ART™ Program Manager
Select Sires Inc.

Rick VerBeek
Dairy Sire Analyst
Select Sires Inc.

Full Transcript

Welcome to the Select Sires Podcast talking Your Success, Our Passion, starting in 3-2-1.

Joel Penhorwood  0:05

And welcome everyone to the Select Sires Podcast. I'm Joel Penhorwood. I'll be your guide on this audio journey of ours, as we explore several topics affecting our industry. All in hopes of bringing our farmer-owners valuable information they can take back to their operations. In this episode, we're exploring the topic of longevity on the dairy farm, what it means, how genetics play a role now and into the future, and much, much more. We'll be hearing from two outstanding members of our sire team, Mark Kerndt and Rick VerBeek. Stay tuned - we'll be getting to that in just a moment. But first, we'd be remiss here at Select if we didn't talk about some of the sires that we're particularly excited about right now. I'd like to introduce Holstein sire analyst, Jordan Siemers. Jordan, what's our bull of the podcast today?

Jordan Siemers  0:58 

Hey, thank you, Joel. I am Jordan Siemers. Holstein sire analyst with Select Sires. One of the bulls that's been getting me kind of excited when talking to producers is Huey. 7HO14125 HUEY. Huey is another one of these FRAZZLED sons out of a very good Silver that traces back to that Coyne Farm J breeding. You know, the HUEYs for the most part, what gets everyone very excited about them is they're really deriving dollars and cents into our producers pockets. They're pushing out high levels of combined fat and protein pounds with really high test percentages. So that is keeping everyone fairly excited. These HUEYs have been problem free cows, which everyone likes those ghost cows that nobody knows about because they get in, get out, do their work and they don't make it onto your lists. That's a very valuable piece. You know, a lot of these HUEY now are breeding right back getting pregnant for a lot of these producers. That has been really optimistic. Looking at it, he was linear. He's a bull that's building the ideal teat size and shape and ideal teat placement. He's been a great constructor on the teat side which has a lot of dairy producers very excited who are looking at more automation. Producers that you know, have a lot of have a lot of MOGUL blood in their herd. Just trying to get a lot of structure back in the pedigree. So that's a bold that really has me optimistic, Joel. Very excited for HUEY’s future 7HO14125 HUEY. Thank you.

Joel Penhorwood  2:18 

Thanks, Jordan. As always, you can find more on that sire and other exciting bulls online at Well, today, we're discussing the topic of longevity. It's not the only time we'll be talking about this in the Select Sires Podcast. It's an extreme focus of ours in the pursuit to equip farmer owners with the best tools and products that they can possibly get. Very excited to have on the podcast today Select Sires’ own Mark Kerndt and Rick VerBeek. Mark, Rick, thank you so much for joining us here today. Hey, I'll let you guys introduce yourselves to the listeners. And Mark, we'll start with you.

Mark Kerndt  2:53 

Sure. Thanks, Joel, for inviting me today. My name is Mark Kerndt. I'm the ART program manager for Select Sires. I've been part of the sire department now completing five years here, but currently with the ART program, I'm in charge of the female donor program at Select Sires.

Rick VerBeek  3:09 

Yeah. Thanks, Joel. I'm Rick Verbeek. And I guess for the last 20 plus years, I've been responsible for Holstein sire acquisition, primarily in the northeastern portion of the United States and responsible for meeting and acquiring the bulls that come into our program from the traditional breeders here in the northeast.

Joel Penhorwood  3:28

Nicely done. And I'll start with a question that seems simple. But can probably, and as I'm sure as you guys could do, talk about it for days on end. Seems that cow longevity has become a pretty hot topic with dairy farmers the last few years. I guess I’ll ask sort of in a two-parter. Why? And if I'm a dairy farmer, why should I care? So whichever one of you guys want to begin, we'll have a little bit back and forth with you. Mark, since you're the first, you can start things off if you'd like.

Mark Kerndt  3:55 

But I think it's just part of the evolution that we've seen in the dairy industry, as we become more and more efficient in everything we do. And with genomic testing, going on 10, 11 years now, and certainly increase in the last five or six years in genomic testing leads to greater interest in genetics overall. And if people and dairymen spend more money on genetics, whether it's genomic testing, and then for better semen to get a better genetic package, it's just a no-brainer, they want these cows to last as long as possible. We're seeing that all the time is something that I think we're in the sire department we been breeding for that for a number of years.

Rick VerBeek  4:41 

Yeah, I would agree Mark and I think longevity is it's an interesting topic and I think it's always been important in Holstein breeding. Dairymen have always wanted cows that last a long time and so to say that this is new is probably not actually correct. Longevity is always important, but as we might manage our dairies today and we see the evolution and increase of use of sexed semen in conjunction with genomic testing. And now, the use of beef on dairy in trying to predict and manage our heifer inventory so that we're not carrying too heavy a load. You know, the next step or evolution in this process is to decrease our turnover rate. And that means the having old cows stay in the herd for multiple lactations. And when we have limited replacement animals available to us, making sure these cows can stay and last and get those third, fourth, fifth lactations is going to be even more important to the bottom line and profitability of our dairies.

Mark Kerndt  5:40 

Rick, I would say, I'm not sure who coined the term, but the term precision breeding, I think applies even more now to today's genetic strategies. We've had a number of new traits over these last five or six years. And with these new traits, the producers become more comfortable with those now. And they can really drill down into their own herd and what works and what's needed on their dairies didn't have the most efficient, most profitable cow. And that's why I like that term precision breeding. And I think that just goes into the increased longevity that we're seeing in our Select Sires customers that is one of the wants and needs that they have.

Joel Penhorwood  6:22 

As you're talking about that precision breeding and where genetic selection plays a role in the idea of longevity. Not a new idea, as you're talking about that right, but maybe something that we're seeing a little bit of a tighter focus on. What do you guys see as far as genetic selection? Tell us, you know, from your sire department perspective, where do you guys like to take the conversation?

Rick VerBeek  6:45 

Well, I think as far as all this precision breeding it is exactly that. And in order to make all these formulas work and make the right estimations on how many replacements you need, you know, one of the critical factors is your turnover rate or your cull rate. You know, a lot of herds run at 40% is kind of an often-quoted number. But as you push that number down and force your herd to become older and produce less replacement animals, you have to have the right kind of old cow that's problem free and doesn't have troubles. So genetically speaking, you know, we really focus on the matings that we make and the bulls that we bring into our program. Those older cows, they need to be able to breed back, they need to have a high degree of mastitis resistance, low somatic cell, few incidences of lameness. And they've got to produce - combined fat and protein, milk. But you know, so we need these cows to basically run on all cylinders at a high efficiency level, especially as they're older cows so that we don't create more problems and more animals in the sick pens cost us the profit we think we've gained through all the other efficiencies of selection we're making.

Mark Kerndt  7:57 

Yeah, Rick, you're exactly right. I think as a global company, we serve as markets all over the world and precision breeding will mean different things to different producers depending on the environment, they live in the type of facilities and the different herd goals that they may have in their dairy but I have not met any dairyman, any place in the world that tells me the most profitable cows I have are the ones that produce a lot of milk and breed back and stay healthy. We know sick cows take up a lot of time and a lot of money. Nobody wants to spend time treating cows, it's a no-brainer that cows that produce the most amount of fat and protein are going to be more efficient cows, and in order to live a long time have multiple calves, multiple lactations, they have to breed back on time. So those are traits that have always been focused on. But I think with this precision breeding that we were talking about, have an even more increased role in these last few years.

Joel Penhorwood  9:00 

As we've talked about, and you guys have touched on it there, focus on health traits - increased longevity as a result, and also discussion, it seems like if we get out there and talk to people they ask about, well, we try to manage for healthier cows. Where do you guys take the conversation when it does come up about increased longevity, a function of management and a function of genetic selection and marrying those two? How do you address that?

Mark Kerndt  9:25 

Well, there's no question. It's a combination of both. I think it's pretty safe to say that all the dairy producers that are left now, certainly in the United States, and for the most part, the rest of the world are pretty good managers. There's not going to be a lot of difference there. But as what the difference can be is just the genetic level. And there's no question we can see improvement in these longevity in these traits and these health traits through genetics as well. When you start talking about the different traits, no matter what kind of culling data you look at, I just looked at the most recent DGI culling data from 2018 this morning. And after the number one reason cows leave the herd is lower production. I said lower production, not low production. Because no matter how high producing cows we have in there certainly higher producing cows now, that comes time to culling cows and you got too many rounds, those ones that are the lowest producers will get culled. But after that it's fertility. And then the number one health reason for a colleague in the herd is mastitis. And I don't think that's any surprise to anybody that's spent time either milking cows or being on the farm that sick cows, the cows with mastitis, are just not fun cows to have around are not profitable cows to keep around.

Rick VerBeek  10:45 

Yeah, and you know, Mark answered exactly spot on. It's both a function of management and genetics. And the interesting thing in the last several years as we utilize genomic testing, and then, you know, the term genetic audit has come about where we're going back and looking at the results, looking at the phenotypic performance as it compares to the animal's genetic evaluations. And not surprisingly, we found out that really good genetics do materialize and do play out over time. And the other interesting thing was that in the better, if you want to call them, better managed herds where the environment is just so clean, and so pure, and the animals can really maximize their genetic potential, you oftentimes find that those herds even capture more of the genetics that those animals have, because there's less environmental noise, you know, the nutrition systems are great, the environments great, the cow comfort is great. And so you know, in those herds they’re actually experiencing even greater return on their genetic investment. So both of those things play critical roles. And if we can improve the genetic capacity of these animals to thrive and survive and perform at even higher levels, when the management level maxes out, you get the best of both worlds.

Joel Penhorwood  12:07 

We're quickly going down the path of specific trait discussion, and I can see that coming, we'll get there in a moment. But before we get there, I do want to ask some things kind of from a more aerial perspective. So both of you do spend a lot of time in the field, on the farm, looking at cows, talking about genetics, all those good things. On this discussion about the healthier longer living cow, can you share any stories from the field that might illuminate the idea of longevity? A success story? What comes to mind?

Rick VerBeek  12:37 

Well, I think one of the the early stories that we have relates back to these, you know, genetic audits, and give Zoetis a lot of credit for coming up with their wellness traits and the DWP$ Index. And I guess I'm familiar with several herds that incorporated genomic testing to then utilize those results made genetic culling decisions, or which animals to keep and which heifers to cull as young calves, and not be a part of their milking herd and utilizing that selection index and genomic testing and making that immediate decision that they were going to change the breeding strategies go into this precision breeding concepts. When those two year olds calved in, and there were fewer replacement animals available as there would have traditionally been, they really didn't see any letdown, the two year olds that calved into those herds performed as expected and even better than expected, in a lot of cases. They were the kind of young cows that were going to calve out and become profitable, third and fourth lactation cows and so those herds were able to implement these new precision breeding strategies early and are hugely satisfied, and in fact, only intensifying their efforts in this area and in looking at, you know, now reducing turnover rates and the culling rate because they've experienced success. They know what will work. And as a dairy sire analyst, I sometimes cringe when they tell me how much beef semen they're using today. But they know that the system works, they proven that it works. And in conjunction with that they can use better bulls at a higher genetic level and gain all these efficiencies that we're talking about to be profitable dairies for the long run.

Mark Kerndt  14:20 

While Rick was answering that question, I was trying to rack my brain to come up with an example on that, and there's no question on, I think, between Rick and myself working in the field of genetics seven days a week we understand the value of genetics. And we've seen that obviously, a number of breeders understand that as well. One of their herds that I've had a relationship with and known the dairy for a long time, quite a number of years ago told me about how one of their strictest standards they select for - one of the traits they select for very strongly - would be somatic cell count and they've done that for a number of years. I think at that time that was before we had mastitis resistance predictions. We know somatic high somatic cell is correlated with mastitis resistance. So this herd was, for a long time, been selecting for lower somatic cell, it made a lot of sense. And they've told me more recently now, they hardly ever have to treat a cow in the parlor anymore for mastitis. And I think that's a real world result that you see that when you select for certain traits, we definitely can make improvement in those traits. And I know this herd for sure, has seen that firsthand experience on their own.

Joel Penhorwood  15:39 

Great discussion as far as looking back and how it affects their farms today. So I'd like to take it one step further here. You guys have done a really nice job leaving that in for me, what impact do you think focusing on longevity could have on the industry, let's say 20 years from now? We can just say in the future down the road. But let's talk about focusing on longevity today. And as you guys were talking about from the past on into today, what's that going to look like here down the road?

Mark Kerndt  16:07 

Well, there's no question that from the consumer end of our dairy products that our industry producers, they want healthy cows, they want to know or that peace of mind that the cheese in the milk and ice cream that they're consuming is coming from healthy cows, as dairy producers we already talked about the efficiency that having healthy cows makes. And now that we can directly select for some of these health traits, there's no question we're going to see improvement in these wellness and health traits in our Holstein cattle. We're already seeing that as keyholders to kind of genetics in the sire department here. I can tell you we bring in very, very few bulls that are minus for mastitis resistance. If we do it's because they have some other specialty niche that we feel that we need to bring them in for sampling. So just by that we're going to improve the mastitis resistance of the Holstein breed just because we're not bringing in those poor bulls anymore. And I think you can extrapolate that to other health and wellness traits as well, whether it's lameness or ketosis resistance, milk fever resistance, displaced abomasums, maybe the heritability isn't the highest on all these traits. But that doesn't mean it doesn't have value. Because when we eliminate extremely poor evaluations for those different disease resistance traits, and not letting those genetics get propagated back into the breed, we'll just pull the breed along and improve, we see improvement overall in the health and wellness of the Holstein breed. And we'll definitely see that and see that there's no question in my mind, we'll see that in 20 years, we'll have a much healthier Holstein cow on our farms and what we have now.

Rick VerBeek  17:52 

Yeah, Mark, I thought you took a peek at some of my notes here, because I had basically the exact same answer, I think, you know, long term, this focus - and let's keep in mind, some of these wellness traits we're talking about are really new genetic evaluations that we’re really getting a first, first real look at, for example, mastitis resistance, who the superior genetic lines are, and really being able to actually focus on those in our genetic selection programs and our breeding program. So we're going to make huge progress in all of these areas down the road. But I think the biggest positive is talking about animal welfare. And, you know, bottom line our consumers and being able to tell a story of and promoting health and wellness and good being of our animals in how we're producing the products that ultimately our consumers are buying and putting on their tables and in their kitchens every day, is going to be huge for us to be able to tell the story and really shape a narrative that the dairy industry is really doing everything we can to be the best that we can be, produce great dairy products, but you know, in a very humane and animal friendly scenario. And that we can genetically make progress to eliminate or significantly reduce the amount of antibiotics in the food system, I think is huge for us.

Joel Penhorwood  19:15 

We're going continue looking through that crystal ball into the future or at least trying to but let's take a quick commercial break. So rest those vocal cords guys, and we'll be right back here on the Select Sires podcast.

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Joel Penhorwood  20:39 

Welcome back to the Select Sires podcast. And right before that commercial, we were talking about where's the industry 20 years from now. We’ve got a couple of outstanding folks from our sire team with us. And so let's keep talking about that down the road. Let's build the cow of the future. What does she look like? So let's now talk about those specific traits as we were alluding to earlier. What does she excel in? And how do those traits play a role in her longevity? And maybe there's some traits she has that aren't directly focused on longevity, so let's talk about those too. Guys take it away.

Mark Kerndt  21:12 

Well, again, you might get different answers from different dairyman in different parts of the world and in different locations. But I think from a sire department standpoint now, I think the pat answer what we're trying to breed now, and this comes from what dairymen tell us to breed because we don't tell dairymen how to breed their herds, they tell us what they need, and then we try to help them achieve that goal. But I think cows that are moderate size that produce a lot of fat and protein that breed back first service that don't ever see the sick pen that don't have to be treated, that can have a calf on their own and start into going in the parlor and producing right away – those are the type of cows everybody likes. I don't know how many times I've been on farms over the years, and as part of the sire department, Rick and I and Kevin and Jordan and Jeff, we always get asked, well, what do you see on daughters of this or that or we’ll ask the dairyman are you milking daughters of this bull or are you milking daughters of that bull. And over and over, I've had guys tell me, well, let me check. Because the cows I like are the ones I'm not really sure how they're doing because I don't have to see them because I'm not sending somebody out to treat them all the time. If I checked my computer, they're the ones that are milking really good. And oh, by the way, they bred back right away. They call them kind of invisible cows. And those are the type of cows that I think more and more that people are appreciating. And I think those will be the cow of the future. If not, it's already the cow that we like to see right now.

Rick VerBeek  22:47 

You stole my notes, once again, invisible cows is exactly those are the kind that we love, you know, the kind that don't give us any trouble. And, you know, if we continue with the same trend lines that we are experiencing now as far as beef x dairy, sexed semen, really managing our heifer inventories, and we do have an older herd of cows. What we're going to see in what we're going to emphasize on are those same things Mark mentioned. DPR, daughter fertility. Especially as we get older cows, even if you're putting a unit of beef semen enter, she better get pregnant, and she better get pregnant, first or second service. She had better be mastitis resistant and out of the sick pen. Lameness events had better be minor, because anytime a cow causes you an issue, she is going to be apt to leave. And if you don't have a replacement, ready and willing and able to take her spot, she's going to have to stay around a little bit longer. And nobody's going to want to deal with those problematic, you know, older cows. And of course, she's going to have to produce fat and protein. We can't do these things without sacrificing production, the world continues to grow, the population continues to grow. And so we would hope that the demand for dairy products will still be there. So we're going to have to have more production with in all probability a smaller dairy population to feed the same or growing number of people and size is always a huge topic, what is that cow going to look like? And I think to that it's really relative to your facilities. Cows can be different shapes and sizes all over the world, depending on what your facility structure allows. So size is again, a little bit of a personal choice and what's going to work for the facilities that you have or the facility you may have 10 or 20 years down the road. But if you're locked in and fixed into robotic style milking systems that come in a fixed size, fixed dimensions, then your cow had better fit those dimensions in order to be, you know, perform at a high rate without having some of the injury issues that sometimes larger cows can have in in smaller capacity kinds of facilities.

Mark Kerndt  24:52 

Probably before we move on to the next question here, I'd like to back up just a little bit. There's no question that longevity is more than just a so called buzzword in our industry or certainly to us at Select Sires. We know for a fact that the cows that are in that third, fourth, fifth lactation are the most profitable cows we have. We also know it's cows in those third, fourth, fifth lactations that can have the most problems for some of these diseases or health traits. Typically, the two-year-olds will come in and stay relatively healthy. The younger cows are just built to handle that first lactation, but we also know it takes that whole first lactation and part of that second lactation before that Holstein animal is sufficiently paid for upbringing up to that point in life. So it's not until you get into those multiple lactation cows that they're actually making you money and that's why we frankly see in this discussion of health and wellness because when we evaluate for those traits then we again we come back to this precision breeding and it's just something that just kind of all dovetails in like I think we started out today talking about the evolution of the Holstein cow.

Joel Penhorwood  26:08 

Nicely said and taking it to that next level we've talked about stories of success from the past, thoughts of success down the road. Would kind of be remiss to talk about on the Select Sires podcast the tools we're making available to producers right now with regard to what we have to offer in trait selection. So Herd Health Profit Dollars, the Mastitis ResistantPRO designation, if we're plugging right now and taking this time, is there any words that you guys can offer on how those tools which we'll discuss more in later podcasts can help farmers today?

Mark Kerndt  26:38 

I'm going to let Rick go first so I don't read his mind this time here.

Rick VerBeek  26:43 

Well, I think it's all about identifying what the future needs to look like and then doing everything we can to help our producers easily find those genetics, and so you know, whether you're looking at genetics and the sire directory, price list, the website - having those designations and logos available to make it easy and a quick reference for our customers to find the bulls that are going to sire the kind of cattle that they're going to need down the road, are some great tools and so Mastitis ResistantPRO is just an easy one stop look at you know what bulls do we predict are going to sire the greatest mastitis resistance in the future based on CDCB mastitis, Zoetis mastitis resistance and somatic cell score. So, that particular logo makes it really, really easy for those breeders out there that want to focus on mastitis resistant. There it is one quick easy designation. Herd Health Profit Dollars is another I think a great overall selection index that really combines all the things that we talked about trying to design the cow the future. Gives you an easy way in a dollar, economic format to evaluate bulls and compare them and we have DWP$ dollars as well. HHP$ is similar to that index with some slightly different focuses and emphasis on a few different traits, but it utilizes the CDCB traits. So I think they're two great new indexes and rollouts to our platform to allow our customers to really quickly identify what we expect to be the best Bulls in those areas down the road and give them an early chance to adapt those into their programs today.

Mark Kerndt  28:25 

Yeah, I think Herd Health Profit Dollars is a new index that Select Sires just released here in April on all their animals and I think there's no question in my mind that if you select your next sire fathers for your herd, using the Herd Health Profit Dollar index, you will breed a healthier longer lived herd of cows. Herd Health Profit Dollars was developed by Select Sires partly in response to our feeling in the sire department that the popular Net Merit frankly just didn't have enough emphasis on mastitis resistance in it. Too often we're seeing bulls that were ranked very high on Net Merit, but they'd be kind of crummy for mastitis resistance and frankly those bulls are hard to sell semen on. So we think Herd Health Profit Dollars is a much more balanced approach to breeding a longer lived healthier cow and we encourage our dairymen to look at that index and see if that is something that makes sense for their herd and talk to your salesmen talk to our genetic advisors about that and I think they will be comfortable that it is something that a new genetic tool that can be used to help make more money in their herds on each farm.

Joel Penhorwood  29:41 

Fantastic discussion here today and we are getting closer to wrapping it up but before we do it, we'd like here on the Select Sires Podcast to end things I guess more on a lighthearted note. So with that, this question came out so what's the oldest cow you've ever met? We're talking about longevity - who's going to defer, and who's going to take this question on that one?

Rick VerBeek  30:01 

Well, we're both getting a little bit older and I'm not quite as old as Mark, but he's a lot sharper than I am. And I honestly couldn't come up with a great name. But I think the some of the oldest cows I've ever seen were those invisible cows that weren't necessarily famous. They just did their job and were standing there at 10, 12, 13 years old. And I can't say that they were necessarily famous, but they were the kind that that we're looking for in that invisible kind of cow.

Mark Kerndt  30:30 

Yeah, certainly over the years as we've all had careers in this industry. It's just like movie stars start to become known by just maybe one name. There's cars out there, they're just known by their one name, and they're usually known by a name because they're famous, but they have to have lived a little while as well. And I'm not sure if it's the oldest girl I've ever met and probably wasn't but cow that came to mind when you asked that question Joel, Seagull-Bay Oman Mirror, the mother of ROBUST, mother of BOOKEM BOB - both prominent bulls at Select Sires. She was also the mother of Shottle daughter, Roylane Shot Mindy that has deep roots in the ART program at Select Sires. We have a number of female donors and a number of bulls at Select Sires that go back to this cow family. Oman Mirror just passed away last fall. I remember John Anderson I think was the final owner of that cow, but I just saw her in Idaho - probably the last time I was out there maybe two years ago - but she was still being flushed, still making some genetically relevant animals offspring at that time. So certainly a cow that she lived to be 15 years of age - had multiple hundred plus offspring, several hundred offspring, in fact, definite positive influence on the breed. And I think it's a positive to say that she was kind of a cow before time, or maybe even her sire O-MAN, certainly was probably a bull before his time as well. And that was a cow that lived a long time - passed on those good traits to a number of her offspring - and I'm thankful for the influence she had in the Holstein breed and the influence she had at Select Sires.

Joel Penhorwood  32:22 

Well said and thank you, gentlemen, for your time on the Select Sires Podcast. That's Mark Kerndt and Rick VerBeek, with Select Sires, sharing insights and tools to make longevity her legacy and make longevity your legacy. We thank you for tuning in and we encourage you to stay tuned until next time for more than the Select Sires Podcast.

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