Let me tell you about Spring. (I know we'd all like to think about Spring, the season, but I'm talking about Spring, the cow.)

Spring is one of our young Holstein cows. If you walked through our herd, you might not notice her at first. She has classic black-and-white Holstein markings. She's moderately sized - maybe a little on the short side. She has very correct conformation and a great udder.

Spring doesn't stand out in our herd health records either - and that's a good thing. She's a trouble-free cow that breeds back right away and hasn't had any health issues.

Where Spring really shines, though, is in our production records. On our last DHIA test, with the cows still on pasture, Spring led our herd in components with 6.2 percent butterfat and 3.9 percent protein. Spring's numbers were even better than our Jerseys' numbers.

Why am I telling you about Spring?

Because she's the perfect example of what happens when dairy farmers focus on genetics.

For the past 10 years, Glen has very diligently researched and selected the sires we use on our farm. He also very carefully matches them with our cows to produce the best possible offspring. He does so with a specific goal in mind: Increasing our herd's production and components through strong, balanced cows.

If you ask Glen, he will tell you that mating dairy cattle is as much an art as it is a science.

But he has some stringent criteria that he doesn't waver from. He only uses bulls that have positive percentages for components and will increase milk production. He only selects bulls that have two points on udder composite and two points on foot and leg composite. He ignores all of the highly-publicized, formula-based indexes.

We use young sires almost exclusively, so there is some trial and error involved. Mostly, though, we've had success because part of Glen's research involves looking back through each bull's pedigree and evaluating cow families, so there are no surprises in offspring. This pedigree research also helps us avoid inbreeding.

The other thing I should mention is our cows are all grade. I know from past comments that a lot of people assume our cows are registered because they all have names and our kids show them. We breed our cows for health and production, not for the show ring.

Thankfully, though, when you breed for correct conformation, you end up with heifers and cows pretty enough to do all right in the show ring. But looking good in the show ring doesn't contribute to our farm's success, so those pretty cows also need to produce high-value milk.

Why wouldn't you notice Spring if you walked through our herd? Because the majority of our cows have the same correct conformation, great udders and moderate size.

And the majority of them are milking just as well.

In the past 10 years, we have improved our butterfat and protein production by 1 percent and 0.5 percent, respectively, even with summer grazing. Our dairy's rolling herd average has increased 10,000 pounds (although part of that can be attributed to advances in nutrition, fresh cow transition and management changes). These kinds of improvements contribute greatly to our farm's success.

Regardless of whether you milk registered cattle or grade cattle, focusing on your herd's genetics can pay off.

Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 75 cows near Melrose, Minn. They have three children - Dan, 9, Monika, 7, and Daphne, 3. Sadie also writes a blog at www.dairygoodlife.com. She can be reached at sadiefrericks@gmail.com.