November 10, 2022 at 2:51 p.m.

Kyles breed for long-lasting, high-component Jerseys, Holsteins

Dave Kyle and his son, Hayden, milk 130 cows on their farm, Kylecrest Holsteins and Jerseys, near Elkhorn, Wisconsin. Dave manages the breeding of the Holsteins while Hayden manages the breeding of the Jerseys. PHOTO BY STACEY SMART
Dave Kyle and his son, Hayden, milk 130 cows on their farm, Kylecrest Holsteins and Jerseys, near Elkhorn, Wisconsin. Dave manages the breeding of the Holsteins while Hayden manages the breeding of the Jerseys. PHOTO BY STACEY SMART

Dave and Hayden Kyle
Kylecrest Holsteins and Jerseys
Elkhorn, Wisconsin
150 cows total; 130 milking

Describe your facilities and list your breeding management team. Cows are housed in a sand-bedded freestall barn. Half of it is sized for Holsteins, and the other half is sized for Jerseys. Dave is in charge of breeding decisions for the Holsteins while Hayden oversees breeding decisions for the Jerseys. Cows are milked twice a day in a double-6 parallel parlor. Dry cows are housed in two barns – one for far-off cows and one for close-up cows that includes a calving area. Both dry cow barns feature a row of free stalls, a bedding pack and access to pasture. Calves are housed in the old dairy barn in individual pens. They leave the farm at 3 months to be custom raised and return as springing heifers. We used to raise all of our heifers when we just had Holsteins, but we never had enough of our own feed. Our breeding management team includes the two of us and our veterinarian, Dr. Dave Chapman, from Stateline Veterinary Services. Dave is a really good fit for us. We also consult with friends in the industry on their thoughts about certain bulls and what certain farms are using instead of just looking at sire proofs. I’ll also ask the appraiser or classifier what bulls I should stay away from or what bulls he likes the 2-year-olds from. But on the flipside, those cows might not milk. We have a big consulting team and get a lot of input. We do feel like every mating is pretty important. It’s an investment both in that offspring and how it will affect future matings.

What is your current pregnancy rate? It is 26%. It has been as high as 37% and as low as 19% in the last year for the whole herd. Jerseys on average run 4% higher than Holsteins. We house Holsteins for a few people – show cows – and these cows are not bred back as quickly. They are either kept open longer for showing purposes or have difficulty in getting bred back. These cows can skew our numbers lower, and we struggled a lot with that this past summer.

What is your reproduction program? Do you use a synchronization program? How do you get animals pregnant? We do not use a synchronization program. We work with our vet and do a herd check every two weeks. We use Lutalyse on any cows over 65 days in milk who have not yet shown a heat. We’ll breed off the Lutalyse shot only if we see them in heat. We do most of the milking and know our cows well. If a cow comes in the parlor first instead of last or looks at us funny, we know something’s up. Therefore, we might not breed off a standing visual heat and use other visual indicators instead. In our last herd check, nine cows were checked, and seven were pregnant. That’s pretty standard. We have good luck getting cows pregnant and find that the open ones are the kind that are always open. Our average days to first service is 80 days, and average days to pregnancy is 122 days. Jerseys are so inquisitive and help with heat detection. They’re good at picking up cows in heat; whereas, we have Holsteins that never show heat.

Describe your breeding philosophy. Dave: We try to breed for balanced cows, but our breeding philosophies are different. I want long-lasting, trouble-free, healthy cows, but I never used to look at that until Hayden came back home. I always wanted super fancy show cows. I almost bred too much for extreme type, and in the long run, it probably hurt me some. You learn more from making mistakes. I had some great cows that didn’t live as long as they should. They were too big and did not breed back as easy. I wanted to get more milk too. It’s hard to find a bull we like that’s polled. If we found one, we would use him a lot. But we’re not going to give up what we’re looking for in a bull in exchange for a polled animal.

Hayden: My breeding philosophy changed since first getting into Jerseys. When I came home from college, I leaned more toward my dad’s philosophy of breeding for typier cows. I didn’t look at components or milk that much. I bred for very high udders and very good type as I figured you can feed for milk. Cows with a lot of type can also be longer lasting. Our Jerseys are larger than a lot of other Jerseys. Our breeding philosophy was always to breed for the bigger-framed cow. We bought our first 20 to 50 Jerseys through the eyes of a Holstein breeder. We wanted them bigger and wider. Now, we’re going for a more average-sized cow. I was up to 50 Jerseys when I noticed my heifers weren’t getting pregnant. If an animal isn’t bred, we look at who the sire and dam are. We started paying attention to daughter pregnancy rate, which was new at that time when we noticed heifers out of the same bull taking four or five times to get pregnant. Now I look for bulls with a higher DPR. If an animal is hard to breed as a heifer, then she’s going to be like that as a cow. Cows that calve in more often and easier are the goal. I probably don’t put as much emphasis on type as my dad does. I try to use a handful of good bulls. We’ll go back and use a bull if we see success with him. We’ll use a bull a bunch and then stop and wait to see his daughters come up. If he produces a really good, consistent group of daughters, we’ll use him again.

What guidelines do you follow to reach the goals for your breeding program? Dave: We genomic test, which is probably as good of a report card as you can get. Of course environment and management influence whether an animal is going to achieve her potential or not. Classifying is the other guideline I follow. It’s an opportunity to get an outside opinion on if we’re breeding the right kind. DHI testing is also a really good tool. You can find reproduction numbers quick and know if you’re going in the right direction. When you have milking daughters out of certain bulls, you know if those sires are good or not. We also follow cow families.

Hayden: I was big into genomics in 2017 but have since backed off a little. I don’t care if it’s the best bull in the breed. If I can’t get cows pregnant, what good is that to me? I try to use all the tools on the table. I don’t lean just on proven bulls, production records or genomics. Instead, I take it all into consideration. Some cows are not the highest milkers, but they look so nice and are healthy and trouble-free. Health traits are so under appreciated. You might not get as much milk during the first and second lactations, but I’d rather have a cow around three more lactations and get more daughters out of her. I try to use the highest genomic bulls out there, but I don’t want to give up what my dad and I have built just for a number.

What are the top traits you look for in breeding your dairy herd and how has this changed since you started farming? Hayden: I like cheese merit with an emphasis on type, components and health. Within those traits, I specifically look at combined fat and protein, somatic cell count and udder. I place less emphasis on DPR now. I am 30% higher than the breed average for DPR at this point. Your breeding philosophy should change or adapt as your herd adapts. I can get away with not doing shots because I’m a big believer in good-settling bulls that match my cow. I don’t try to breed for super big cows. We are also big into udder composite.

Dave: I am focused on A2 genetics, and probably 85% of all our heifers (Holstein and Jersey) are A2. I don’t currently have a market for A2 milk, but I want to be in the position for it if the opportunity arises. You have to have your eyes down the road a bit. That’s why A2 is part of our breeding selection. I’m big into butterfat and concentrate on percentage fat, not pounds. I like cows with big butterfat records. I also look at health traits a lot now. My type traits are no longer too extreme. I want fancy, balanced cows, but I shoot for less extreme type. I had beautiful cows from the bull Atwood, but I couldn’t get his daughters pregnant because he had a negative 4 DPR. I’m a visual guy who likes to look at the linear on a bull. We treat our cows like individuals. I don’t want to make a problem worse.

What are certain traits you try to avoid? We avoid using bulls with a negative DPR and high somatic cell count. We also stay away from bulls that are not positive for percentage fat and protein. We do not use bulls with negative components. We also will not use a bad-uddered bull, a low foot angle bull or a high-type bull with bad production numbers.

Describe the ideal cow for your herd. Our ideal cow is the invisible cow – one that is problem-free and low maintenance. She is a cow we can be proud of and enjoy seeing in the barn. You don’t have to think about her all the time because she does her job, comes into natural heat and breeds right back. You have to breed for type too. We want cows that are scored Very Good or Excellent. We have a whole herd of cows that we’re proud of, and people respect the job we do. We have consistency, and it’s hard to find a bad cow in our herd. In breeding the ideal Jersey, we shoot for 90 to 100 pounds combined fat and protein. We want high components. It’s better to ship less water. We also feel that higher component cows are healthier than big milk cows.

What role does genetics have in reaching the goals of your farm? Genetics are pretty important to us. We use genomics, real production and confirmation in helping reach our goals. If we see a nice-looking heifer, we’ll place bets on who the sire is. We’re able to enjoy genetics and have fun with it. It’s almost like a contest. If you shoot for numbers, it’s not as much fun. The milking part is secondary. We both enjoy the genetics of the dairy farm more than anything. Figuring out how we can both breed the best cow that we both will like is a fun challenge.

What percentage of your herd is bred to sexed, conventional and beef semen? Sexed is 30%, conventional 10%, beef 50% and embryos 10%. Our top cows get sexed semen, and the bottom 50% are bred to beef. A select few problem breeders get conventional semen. Hayden: I don’t want Jersey bull calves. I also don’t want a daughter out of a hard breeder. Even my best cows are only bred twice to sexed semen, and after that, I’m switching over to beef semen.

What is your conception rate? How does this differ with different types of semen? We don’t have conception numbers for the individual types of semen. Overall, our Holsteins average 2.1 services per conception, and our Jerseys average 1.8 services per conception. We try to use high-conception bulls while also thinking about calf livability.

What is the greatest lesson you have learned through your breeding program? Dave: I am a big believer in learning from mistakes and admitting if I am wrong. Perhaps we didn’t do enough research on a bull. You always have to evolve and change, be willing to admit you made a mistake and be willing to change. I like to go to shows and see the daughters of different bulls. That’s a good learning opportunity.

Hayden: It’s always a gamble with genetics, but I haven’t gone back on anything. You can’t focus on one thing too much when breeding cows. Even if you think it’s going to be a perfect cross, there’s always that chance it won’t. That’s how genetics are. I don’t get as anxious about bull selection as I used to. You have to look at the big picture and enjoy the victories. Don’t get too tied up on specific numbers and benchmarks. Stick with your gut. Nothing’s guaranteed.

What is the age of your heifers at first service? Our heifers are tail chalked every day. They are put in the breeding program at 12 months of age, and we hope to have them bred by 14 months. However, our custom raiser bases it more off size than actual age.

How does your heifer inventory affect your breeding program? You can’t keep all your heifers, so if we’re going to raise a heifer, she has to be a good one. If we’re low on replacements, we can easily go buy a cow. We need about 25 heifers a year of each breed and are raising about 35 of each breed for a total of 70 heifers. Our cull rate in the herd is 20%, so we do have a cushion with the number of replacements we are raising. We try not to calve our heifers from Christmas to the end of February because it is harder on the calves and the udders. We breed 100% of our heifers to conventional semen. For the Jerseys, we might switch to top genomics getting sexed semen and the rest getting beef. We’re going to breed fewer cows to sexed semen in the future and breed more heifers to sexed instead.

Tell us about your farm. We have shifted from Holsteins to Jerseys in recent years, and our herd is now about 75% Jersey and 25% Holstein. Hayden went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison Farm and Industry Short Course with plans of returning to the farm and milking Holsteins like his dad. A friend of Hayden’s milked Jerseys, and as Hayden learned they require less manure storage, have higher feed efficiency, higher components and higher pregnancy rates, he decided to go with Jerseys instead. We started with two and bought adjustable free stalls from a farm that was selling out and continued to expand the portion of the Jersey herd from there. We also own a coffee shop and may consider going down the route of ag tourism in the future. Our coffee shop customers love when they hear we have a farm. We have hosted our county’s dairy breakfast three times and are involved in the community. We also do a lot of tours. We don’t want to grow bigger but instead get better and keep the labor inhouse. We don’t want to have a lot of employees. It’s not just about numbers to us, and the cows are not just cows to us. The cows are part of our family. It’s fun seeing them grow up.


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