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Study examines value of identified cattle

By Dr. Tom Lawlor, Director, Research and Development, Holstein Association USA

One of the goals of the U.S. dairy industry is  to improve the basic identification system of our national herd. Although it is believed that properly identified cattle are more valuable, little research documents this added value. Documenting the superiority of properly identified cattle will help promote this important aspect of good management.

In addition to encouraging breeders to keep good records, others will be encouraged to buy identified cattle as replacements. This study can also assist bankers by providing them with the necessary financial information to justify appropriate lending amounts. Therefore, the goal of this study was to quantify the direct economic superiority of properly identified cattle.

Economic considerations
The USDA's Animal Improvement Programs Lab utilizes several traits to measure net profitability of dairy cows. Four important features are considered:

- Lactation yield per lactation
- Net value of the milk and its components
- Milk quality and udder health of the cow measured by somatic cell score
- Expected length of productive life of the cow

Superiority of sire identification in grade cows.
USDA did a within herd comparison of milk, fat and protein yields of grade cows with or without sire identification. A 10% sample of the data received by USDA for the 6 month period between January and July, 1995 was used. Every herd with a herd code ending in the number 5 was selected. Only completed or terminated records of at least 250 days in milk were used. Cows had to be at least 18 months of age at the time of calving. A total of 76,368 grade cows were included in the study.

Actual records were used instead of standardized records, but additive effects of age were included in the model. The other terms in the model were the effect of unknown sire and unknown dam. Differences between known and unknown dams were not significant. The effect of unknown sire was significant. Cows with identified sires produced 370 + 35 lbs more milk, 11 + 1 lbs more fat and 10 + 1 lbs more protein.

Although we do not have any direct measure of productive life and somatic cell score, it is reasonable to believe that the same superiority observed for production will be seen for productive life and somatic cell score. These differences amount to 1.8 additional months of productive life and 0.18 lower somatic cell score. All of this adds up to the sire identified grade cows being $166 more profitable than non sire identified grade cows.

Superiority of registered cows compared to grade cows
In addition to comparing the difference within the grade population, the present study compares the genetic merit of registered and grade cows. Registered cows were slightly lower for milk yield, but superior for fat and protein yield, productive life and somatic cell score. Lower SCS evaluations indicate less mastitis and higher milk quality payments. Most of the economic difference is due to the higher protein yield and longer productive life of the registered cows. Registered breeders have traditionally paid more attention to conformation traits in their breeding programs and this increased selection intensity is exhibited through the longer herd life.

The net economic difference between registered cows and sire identified grade cows is $75.70. And the difference between sire identified grade cows and non sire identified grade cows is $166.35. Therefore, it is expected that registered cows will net $242.05 more profit in their lifetime than non sire identified grade cows. This is based solely on the value of the additional milk yield and longevity. It does not include increased marketing potential or the value of the offspring and therefore should be considered a conservative estimate of the true economic difference between the two groups.

The present study clearly shows that properly identified cattle are worth more money than non-identified animals. This is primarily due to additional milk yield per lactation and an increased length of productive life of the cow. Under current 1996 economic conditions, proper sire identification increases the value of cattle by $166 for grade cows. An additional $76 premium can be paid for registered cattle. Overall, farmers can pay $242 more for registered cattle than non-identified grade cattle based solely upon increased productivity.