The Reality of Ideal

August 30, 2017

The Reality of Ideal

Leah James, U.S. Dairy Marketing Manager

When sitting down with Darin Dykstra of Dykstra Dairy in Maurice, Iowa, it doesn't take long to discover the passion he has for genetics and Holstein cows. A discussion with Darin on either of those topics is quick to reveal the realities of breeding for the ideal commercial Holstein cow.

A Great Cow
When asked about genetic selection, Darin shares his breeding philosophy without hesitation. His philosophy matches that of the Ideal Commercial Cow (ICC$) index. Established to meet members' requests for a better selection tool that addresses the needs of modern dairying, the ICC$ index is a Holstein sire ranking tool that encompasses real-time economic indicators, science-based genetic principles and data points from multiple sources.

Darin fully embraced the concept of ICC$ when GENEX first released the genetic index nearly three years ago. As he explains, he uses ICC$ as a selection index because he wants a "functional, durable, long-lasting cow that produces lots of high component milk."

He adds, "That is a great cow for any commercial dairy farmer."

Genetic Goals

More specifically, use of ICC$ helps Dykstra Dairy achieve genetic progress in specific areas: 1) selection for Fat and Protein yield contributes to production efficiency so the dairy can ship the most total pounds of components possible, 2) emphasis on fitness and fertility promotes a solid reproductive program and 3) attention to health traits leads to durable cows with fewer health events.

On the topic of durable cows, Darin notes, "The less events she has on her cow card, the better."

Similar to other commercial dairies, there's another area of genetic focus at Dykstra Dairy that can't be overlooked - one that contributes to efficiency. "The Ideal Commercial Cow index is where we need to go because we are focusing on smaller cows," explains Darin. "That's what we are breeding for."

Genetics Drive Progress
Since the summer of 2014 when Dkystra Dairy began using ICC$ as the main sire selection criteria, performance in specific areas has steadily improved. Kim Egan, a GENEX National Dairy Account Manager with a doctorate in veterinary medicine, monitors the genetic progress through DairyComp 305 records. As Kim states, "It's exciting to break down the genetics within the herd and compare genetics to actual cow performance. The results confirm the effectiveness of ICC$ as the main selection tool." 

When analyzing Dkystra Dairy herd performance data, Kim points out that high ICC$ females experience fewer health events and outperform their herdmates on fertility. In fact, the highest third of the herd (those over +500 ICC$) recorded an annual pregnancy rate of 25% while the rest of the herd averaged 21.5%. In the heifer pen, the difference was even more notable. Heifers over +600 ICC$ had an annual pregnancy rate of 36% while those under +500 ICC$ averaged 27%. (see below)

When evaluating fertility, Kim also examines abortion rates. In the Dykstra herd, cows over +500 ICC$ recorded a 3.2% abortion rate while the cows less than +250 ICC$ averaged an abortion rate of 12.3%. Heifers over +500 ICC$ had a mere 1.5% abortion rate while heifers below +250 ICC$ had an abortion rate of 7.2% (see table below).


The fresh cow pen is another location where performance improves based on genetics. A noticeable difference can be seen in metritis events. Those cows over +500 ICC$ had a metritis rate of 14.5% while 31.5% of cows under +250 ICC$ experienced metritis.

With the recent addition of Metritis (MTR), Subclinical Ketosis (SCK) and Foot Health (FH) into the ICC$ index, Darin looks forward to even more progress for health and durability. "Metritis, ketosis and lameness are three issues that affect a cow's ability to remain productive in the herd. While I've always selected for healthy cows - first through Lifetime Net Merit and now through ICC$ - I fully expect to see further reduction in these issues through continued selection for ICC$."

Finally, when asked why he uses the ICC$ index, Darin shares, "Because I'm a commercial dairy farmer first and foremost. We run a lot of cows through the parlor. We want cows that work in our system very well. We don't want to spend a lot of time on individual cows. We want the system to be smooth and efficient.

That is why I like ICC$. It focuses selection on exactly what it says, the Ideal Commercial Cow. That's what we are looking for!"