September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
Jon and Ann Larson - who own Larcrest Holsteins in Albert Lea, Minn., with Jon's mother, Raymona - have the number one and number four CTPI cows in their barn: Larcrest Cosmopolitan (VG 87) and Larcrest Crimson-ET (VG 88). Across the border in New Albin, Iowa, Darren Meyer and his family at their farm, De-Su Holsteins, LLC, claim the second and third cows on the list: De-Su 7051-ET (VG 87) and De-Su 7050-ET (VG 86). Crimson, a Ramos daughter, is the only cow of the four not sired by Shottle.
The cows that make the Cow Total Performance Index list, formerly known as the Cow Type Production Index, come from the top 10,000 cows on the Locator List by Holstein USA and are scored Good Plus-83 or higher.
"The animals that would rank high on CTPI would be those animals that would combine individual traits in such a way as to indicate that they have potential to transmit the combination of genes that would make them profitable dairy animals," said Steve Berland, co-owner of GenElite.
Berland, who has been working with dairy genetics his entire career, said CTPI takes into consideration type, production and health traits.
Jon Larson never expected his cows to reach this caliber of genetics, with two cows - a mother/daughter duo - in the top four CTPI.
"I breed cows the way my dad liked cattle - long living pedigrees and high type pedigrees," said Larson of his 120-cow milking herd and 500 replacement heifers.
But Larson attributes some of his success to good fortune, especially since the mother of Cosmopolitan was twin to a bull.
"We hadn't kept any twin to bulls so why we kept her I don't know, but we did," he said.
From there, his good fortune snowballed when his twin-to-a-bull Outside daughter had a heifer - Cosmopolitan. She became a highly sought-after contract cow, which changed Larson's way of breeding.
"When I'm breeding those cows (from the Cosmopolitan family), A.I. markets dictate what a lot of the matings are going to be," Larson said.
After flushing Cosmopolitan to Ramos for contract, Larson had another heifer calf, Crimson, who is now milking as a 2-year-old and is fourth highest in CTPI.
For Darren Meyer, the beginning of his immersion into genetics is different. Over the past 15 years, De-Su Holsteins has expanded from 70 cows to 1,450. In the last six years, Meyer refocused on the genetics aspect.
"I felt frustrated in the industry years ago and I just said, 'To heck with them. I'll do what I want to do,'" Meyer said about mating decisions.
Paving his own path has proved to be successful for Meyer and his herd, which has had about eight cows in the top 10 for CTPI and many others in the top 100. All the cows have resulted from matings Meyer selected himself.
When choosing bulls, Meyer talks to other people in the industry and sire analysts to find out which daughters are doing well. He uses that information to assist his breeding philosophy.
"I try to breed a cow that has enough type to appeal phenotypically, yet enough health traits and production to also appeal to the commercial guy," Meyer said.
But Meyer said it's not just in sire selection, but knowing the cow family, too.
"I look at a cow like a chain. They're only as good as their weakest link," he said. "I don't try to make their good attributes better. I'm always working on the two traits I feel are their weakest spots."
Both farms routinely flush animals.
"I have a pretty short generation interval," said Meyer, who flushes about 25 to 30 cows per month.
Larson said flushing about seven cows per month is "getting out of control."
"It's hard to find enough recipients and it's harder on our facilities," he said. "We're set up to milk 70 cows so we've been slowly growing and switching cows."
But Larson doesn't mind the hassle when he thinks about what the payoff has been.
"We are extraordinarily thankful for Cosmopolitan in 2009," he said. "Her income (from embryo sales) last year was nearly double that of her milk sales. She got us through. She paid the bills."
Cosmopolitan is currently not milking, but flushed every 28 days, producing about 12 to 20 embyros each time.
Meyer has also seen the money return, but only from the top cows.
"It costs a lot of money to play the game. It isn't like you get filthy rich," he said. "Right now, because I have some of the higher ones, I'm making money. But longterm, it's a tough thing to get into."
Some people buy expensive animals to get into flushing and marketing, Meyer said. However his strategy is to breed using his own cows and not give the higher genetic cows any special attention.
Over their years of trying to breed the cows, Meyer and Larson both said not all matings turn into cows with good pedigrees.
"The sire summaries change around a lot," Meyer said. "At the time, you may think you have a super good calf, but then the bull's sire summary goes bad. Then all you have is another milk cow. That's disappointing and frustrating."
To get into marketing and higher genetics, Meyer and Larson offer some advice.
"Have some type of focus and plan how to get there," Larson said. "It starts with semen purchases and corrective mating."
Meyer said it all boils down to loving cows, genetics and the dairy industry.
"So many people are chasing fads and only listening to what others tell them to do," he said. "Start with the cow you like and you're happy with. Do your own thing because in the end you're the one who has to milk the cows."
The top four CTPI cows are making milking time a lot more enjoyable for Meyer and Larsons[[In-content Ad]]
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