Genomics testing boosts heifer sales

Selling by the numbers | Dairy producers say gene-linked traits are the biggest industry advancement since freezing semen

PONOKA, Alta. — It was an eight-month old Holstein heifer that didn’t even attend the Morsan Farms sale that brought top dollar.

Sully Man-O-Shan Martha sold for $140,000 at the farm’s Morsan300 sale Sept. 18-19.

It was the heifer’s numbers rather than its looks that brought the high prices, said Greg Thalen of Morsan Farms.

The heifer scored 2544, the highest of all the genomics tested animals at the sale, which predicts it will be a great dairy cow.

“Her own ability to milk and produce high fat milk was better than others, but also her ability to transmit that to her calves would be better,” said Thalen of Ponoka.

“She is from a good cow family. Not the best cow family in the world, but a good cow family.”

Specific genes are linked to specific traits desirable in the dairy industry, including higher milk production, good health and good conformation.

Genomics is expected to be the biggest advancement in the dairy industry since freezing cattle semen.

Thalen said the farm is moving from show cattle to more genomics tested cattle in its dairy and livestock business.

The young heifer was in the United States, where it was born, during Morsan’s sale because Thalen didn’t want to truck it to Canada only to have it be bought by an American and trucked back. He said an American bought a half interest, but it will be living in Canada.

The growing interest in genomics tested dairy cattle was reflected in the sale numbers, said Morris Thalen.

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“The high genomics calves bring the biggest money,” he said.

“DNA testing, that’s where the market’s heading. It’s going to be our main focus going forward.”

Ninety-five percent of the dairy business is interested in milk production rather than the show circuit, and that will be the farm’s new focus.

Greg Thalen said 85 percent of Morsan’s operation is commercial cattle and the other 15 percent is purebred show cattle.

He said 10 percent of the cattle in the farm’s 1,600 head milking operation are genomics tested. Five percent of the show cattle are genomics tested, he added.

He said commercial dairy operations are looking for increased milk production, and genomics is one more way to help cattle producers choose cattle that will produce more milk.

A nine-month old heifer, Morsan Mogul Spooky, sold for $41,000 to GenerVations, an Ontario based genetics company, because of its numbers.

Thalen said the farm originally estimated the heifer’s genomics testing production index numbers at around 2100, but they came back at 2491.

He said a heifer of its age and quality might typically bring $5,000 to $6,000, but the high genomics testing numbers boosted its value.

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“It put her in an elite league,” said Thalen.

Other genomics tested cattle also received top prices from $25,000 to $87,000.

He said only the top non-genomics tested animals bring good money.

“When I say good money, I mean extreme, like $80,000, where the rest bring $5,000 to $50,000. In the genomics, the top bring $100,000 plus and the in betweens can bring in $10,000 to $40,000 or $50,000.”

Three hundred cows, heifers and bull calves sold at the two-day sale on the farm. It’s the first time the family held the sale on its Ponoka farm. The sale average was slightly more than $6,000.

The family also has a string of elite show cattle, including Missy, which won supreme champion at Madison, Wisconsin, and at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto in 2011 and cow of the year in 2012.

During the sale, Lot 160, BKB Goldwyn Amenda, a show cow, sold for $87,000 to West Coast Holsteins from British Columbia.

The cow will be leaving shortly for Madison to one of the largest dairy shows in the U.S., where its new buyers hope to win big.

“We still like the odd show cattle, but it won’t be our only focus as it was in the past,” said Thalen.

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