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The NM$ index has new weights

The CDCB health traits will be added to the Lifetime Net Merit (NM$) formula starting in August. They will be combined into a health trait sub-index called HTH$, which will not be published separately.

You can find the relative value (%) for the traits in HTH$ in Table 1. DA, MAST, and METR represent over 80% of the index, due mainly to the higher costs and heritabilities associated with those traits.

Table 1. HTH$ sub-index relative values

TRAITABBREVRELATIVE VALUE in HTH$
MastitisMAST32.9
MetritisMETR26.5
Displaced abomasumDA23.3
Retained placentaRETP10.3
KetosisKETO4.7
Milk feverMFEV2.3

HTH$ Correlations

The correlations between HTH$ and the other traits in the NM$ formula are in Table 2. HTH$ is moderately to highly correlated with the health traits that were already included in the formula (PL, DPR, SCS, HCR, CCR, and LIV).  The heritability of HTH$ is low (0.01) as are many of the health traits.

Table 2. Genetic correlations between HTH$ and other NM$ traits

TraitMilkFatProtPLDPRSCSHCRCCRLIVCA$UdderF&LBWC
HTH$0.030.080.040.560.42−0.440.180.360.550.33−0.010.02−0.26

The new NM$ Index

A comparison of the 2017 and 2018 NM$ formulas is in Table 3 below.  The addition of HTH$ to NM$ results in slightly less weight on some of the traits already in the formula. In addition to new health traits in the index, NM$ now puts slightly more emphasis on the yield traits. SCS emphasis decreases because indirect correlated health costs are now allocated directly to HTH$.

The Fat to Protein ratio shifts to favor fat more, as the price paid for Fat is increasing and the price paid for Protein is decreasing (see Table 4 below).

Emphasis on SCS decreases since MAST is now directly included through the HTH$ index. PL emphasis also decreases slightly because later lactations are less valuable now that replacement heifer prices are lower.

Table 3. Net Merit $ Relative Values

Trait2017 NM$2018 NM$
Milk-0.7-0.7
Fat23.726.8
Protein18.316.9
PL13.412.1
SCS-6.5-4.0
DPR6.76.7
HCR1.41.4
CCR1.61.6
CA$4.84.8
LIV7.47.3
HTH$-2.3
UDC7.47.4
FLC2.72.7
BWC-5.9-5.3

NM$ 2017 versus NM$ 2018

An illustration to compare the index weights on production, health and conformation of Net Merit $ 2017 versus Net Merit $ 2018

Table 4. Component prices used to calculate Net Merit

YearFat ($/lb)Protein ($/lb)F:P ratio
20172.611.871.4
20162.312.101.1
20152.302.241.0
20142.383.390.7

Genetic Progress

Table 5 shows the expected genetic progress per trait for the 2017 and 2018 NM$ formulas.

The new 2018 formula will result in more progress for Fat, Protein, and FLC, and less progress for PL, DPR, CA$, and HCR.

The correlation between the 2017 and 2018 NM$ indexes are very high. For current industry genomic Holstein bulls the correlation is 0.998, and for current active, proven Holstein bulls, the correlation is 0.999.

Of the current top 100 NM$ genomic bulls, 88 remain in the top 100 NM$ using the 2018 formula.

Of the current top 100 NM$ active, proven bulls, 95 remain in the top 100 with the new formula.

Table 5. Expected genetic progress from NM$

Trait2017 NM$ (PTA change per year)2018 NM$ (PTA change per year)
Milk104104
Fat5.55.9
Protein3.73.8
PL0.540.51
SCS-0.02-0.02
DPR0.180.16
CA$3.53.4
HCR0.210.20
CCR0.420.42
LIV0.380.38
HTH$0.90.9
BWC-0.08-0.08
UDC0.050.05
FLC0.020.03

Customize your genetic plan

Ever-changing industry indexes serve as a reminder that your own farm’s customized genetic plan is as important as ever. When you set your emphasis on the production, health, and conformation traits that matter to your own bottom line – and stick to the plan you set – you’ll continue to maximize the progress you make in the direction of your own farm’s goals – even when other indexes change.

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Genetic indexes: can one size fit all?

Indexes are important genetic selection tools. They combine all significant genetic traits into one package – and get producers away from setting minimum criteria for specific traits. That allows you to focus on creating a next generation of cows that are the right fit for your environment.

A global industry standard index like TPI has certainly helped dairy producers improve their herds. The one-size-fits all TPI index places 46% of the total weight on production traits, 28% on health and fertility traits and 26% on conformation traits.

However, an index like this assumes all farms face the same challenges within their herd. It assumes everyone has the same farm goals and milk markets. It simply serves as a general overview for a one-size-fits-all genetic plan.

Consider your goals

When you set your own, customized genetic plan, you can divide the weights as you see fit. To decide which production, health or conformation traits to include, consider your farm’s situation and future goals. How are you paid for milk? In a fluid milk market, you’ll likely put more emphasis on pounds of milk as compared to those who ship milk to a cheese plant. Are you expanding or at a stable herd size? If you’re looking to grow from within to expand your herd, you’ll want to put more emphasis on Productive Life and high fertility sires than the producers who are at a static herd size and able to cull voluntarily.

Your farm’s scenario is unique. With different goals, environments and situations, it’s evident there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all index.

Make progress where it matters

Just 42 TPI points separate the 100th and 200th ranked genomic bulls on Holstein USA’s December 2017 Top 200 TPI list. Does a separation that small mean these bulls offer similar genetic benefits? Of course not!

To illustrate why, let’s compare three different genetic plan scenarios. One focuses on high production, one on high health, the other on high conformation. The tables below show the sires, traits and genetic averages for the top five Alta sires that meet each customized genetic plan. Notice the extreme amount of progress, and also the opportunity cost for using each particular index.

When high production is the goal, your genetic plan may be set with weights of 70% on production, 15% on health, and 15% on conformation. A team of bulls fitting that plan averages 2400 pounds PTAM and 171 pounds of combined fat and protein.

High Production: 70-15-15MilkProteinFatPLDPRSCSPTATUDCFLCTPI
AltaMONTOYA2089791058.02.22.792.091.840.932864
AltaAKUZAKI264078798.10.72.992.072.520.752747
AltaSPRITE253984884.2-0.83.032.332.131.532684
AltaEMBOSS260777974.5-0.53.071.311.470.812589
AltaWILLIE212375916.82.22.911.972.100.632766
240079926.30.82.961.952.010.932730

When health is the focus, a 30% production, 60% health, 10% conformation genetic plan might make sense for you. That team of bulls delivers averages of +9.5 PL, +5.0 DPR and 2.75 SCS. That’s more than four points higher for DPR than the high production group! However, you give up nearly 1100 pounds of milk and 41 pounds of components to get those high health numbers.

High Health: 30-60-10MilkProteinFatPLDPRSCSPTATUDCFLCTPI
AltaDEPOT910376311.47.02.480.680.801.002693
AltaKALISPELL1727527710.04.22.751.371.571.362734
AltaROBSON83555898.64.72.861.521.351.422802
AltaNITRO129554938.34.42.732.081.991.492871
Alta49ER181061709.04.62.931.071.441.032702
13155278.49.55.02.751.341.431.262760

Lastly, if your genetic goal is to improve conformation, the team below provides an average 2.47 for PTA Type, 2.86 Udder Composite, and nearly two points for Foot & Leg Composite. With that much emphasis on the conformation traits, you’ll sacrifice on pounds of milk, fat and protein, and give up some productive life and fertility.

High Conformation: 25-25-50MilkProteinFatPLDPRSCSPTATUDCFLCTPI
AltaSCION109848798.72.42.762.803.332.112786
AltaDRAGO162156857.22.43.052.962.792.562799
AltaPACKARD77048699.93.82.402.742.391.762839
AltaCR53137867.02.32.941.692.772.042669
AltaDPORT173558697.73.02.962.163.031.162749
115149788.12.82.822.472.861.932768

Now, compare those different genetic plan averages side-by-side. You can see that a mere 38 points separate these groups on TPI average. However, the genetic values for the production, health and conformation traits are extremely different.

MilkProFatPLDPRSCSPTATUDCFLCTPI
High Production: 70-15-15240079926.30.82.961.952.010.932730
High Health: 30-60-10131552789.552.751.341.431.262760
High type: 25-25-50115149788.12.82.822.472.861.932768

15 bulls in the Top 5

Most of the bulls above rank similarly for TPI. But not one bull appears in more than one of the customized genetic plan top-5 lists. With 15 bulls in the top five, it’s clear to see there’s no such thing as a perfect bull. There is, however a perfect genetic plan. It’s the one you customize for your farm to match your current situation and future goals.

Think back to the examples above. Think about TPI (46% production, 28% health, 26% conformation). If your main goal is to increase milk production in your herd, emphasizing too much on the health and conformation traits will mean you sacrifice pounds of milk and total components in the next generation of your herd.

Alternatively, maybe you really want to improve the longevity and fertility of your herd. In that case, an index that focuses on conformation will cost you 1.4 months of productive longevity and more than two points of pregnancy rate in the next generation!

Bringing it together

Sticking to an industry standard index like TPI could get you the best ranking bulls for that index only. But that index doesn’t necessarily match your needs. If you’re looking for a more focused approach, keep these points in mind to make the most progress toward your farm’s goals:

  1. There’s no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” genetic index.
  2. Work with your trusted Alta advisor to set your own, unique, customized genetic plan. Consider your farm’s goals, future plans and milk market as you decide how much emphasis to place on the production, health and conformation traits.
  3. Maximize progress toward your genetic goals by using a group of the best sires to match your unique genetic plan.
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