Global Ag Alliance is committed to serving dairy farmers with progressive products and services that provide a competitive advantage in reproduction and ensure profitability. Incorporating polled genetics is an easy and cost effective change dairy producers can make today.
- The genetic merit of US polled Holstein bulls has quickly reached and is exceeding that of horned bulls.
- A recent study shows an economic advantage with polled calves when taking into account dehorning costs, price of semen and relevant health costs.
- Concerns about animal welfare and employee welfare will become more prevalent in the future.
What is polled?
Polled refers to animals that are naturally hornless. In cattle, horns are inherited as an autosomal recessive gene, polledness being dominant. If an animal has the polled gene, it will not grow horns, and the gene needs to be present in only one parent for the offspring to be polled. In one breeding season, a producer can take a herd of horned cows and breed them to a homozygous polled bull to produce an entire polled calf crop.
Will genetics in my herd suffer if I used polled bulls?
Using polled Holstein genetics – either homozygous or heterozygous polled – will eliminate the need for dehorning without sacrificing genetic potential. Genomic selection has helped to more easily identify the genetically elite polled animals to use as sires and dams of the next generation, speeding genetic progress. Although the polled gene remains at a low frequency in the U.S. Holstein population, it is increasing at a relatively fast rate. And many of the top polled bulls are genetic outcrosses, limiting concerns about inbreeding. An analysis of the genetic merit of registered Holsteins in the U.S. over the past 35 years shows that the polled segment of the population is remarkably similar in all major production traits to horned counterparts. Today, some of the top bulls in the Holstein breed are polled and are a part of the Global Ag Alliance’s genetic offering.
Why should I care about polled?
Most Holstein herds today accept the time, energy and cost associated with dehorning cattle as a cost of being in the dairy business. Equipment and labor are the direct costs involved. Dehorning is not a very pleasant job – and very often it is delayed too long, making the job more difficult and more costly. In addition, there are costs associated with lost daily gain in dehorned calves and with the occasional infection or complication with dehorning. There is also increasing evidence that dams carrying polled calves have easier calvings with less stress on dam and calf.
Won’t polled genetics cost me more?
Researchers at the USDA and Purdue University compared the total management cost of dehorning to that of using polled semen by accounting for the cost of dehorning, a premium price for polled semen and likelihood of animals requiring veterinary treatment due to dehorning. Under all the scenarios they evaluated, dehorning was always more expensive than using polled genetics. They estimated that on average a farmer could spend an additional $7.50 on polled semen and break even by eliminating the cost of dehorning. These results indicate that there is likely to be a financial incentive to using polled semen on most farms.
Who else cares about polled?
Dairy consumers increasingly care about how animals are raised and cared for, to the point that long-accepted animal husbandry practices are under new scrutiny. Even though consumers have not yet cried out for change, that does not mean they won’t in the future. Much like tail docking, once consumers gain awareness, they will put pressure on the industry. Concerns about animal welfare as well as employee welfare are sure to become more prevalent.
In fact, the Sunday, March 29, 2015, online edition of the Janesville Gazette Xtra from Wisconsin had a front page feature article from the Associated Press, “Dairy farms asked to consider breeding nohorned cows.” The lead paragraph stated, “Food manufacturers and restaurants are taking the dairy industry by the horns on an animal welfare issue that has long bothered activists but is little known to consumers: the painful removal of budding horn tissue from calves so farm workers or other animals don’t get gored later.”
Some of the nation’s largest food companies, such as General Mills, Nestlé, and Dunkin’ brands, are asking dairy suppliers to incorporate polled cattle into their herds. Their new animal welfare policy “supports the use of polled genetics breeding programs to promote polled or naturally hornless cattle, thereby eliminating the need for dehorning”. Quoting from the Janesville Gazette, “The animal welfare policy of Dunkin’ brands, which owns Baskin- Robbins ice cream, asks its suppliers to ‘support industry-wide efforts to promote the humane treatment of cattle, including the responsible use of polled breeding.’ And dining chain Denny’s released a policy in February indicating a ‘purchase preference’ for milk from polled dairy cattle.” Other companies with animal welfare policies that address dehorning and polled genetics in the supply chain include Starbucks, Sodexo, Dannon, Aramark, Chipotle, the nation’s largest supermarket Kroger, and Wal-Mart.
Global Ag Alliance selects bulls for the traits most important to profitability. Many of Global Ag Alliance’s bulls are homozygous or heterozygous polled, giving producers the advantages of premium genetics and great profitability!