What 1960's Holstein genetics look like today

By Christy Achen, Hoard's Dairyman

Originally appeared in Hoard's Dairyman June 29, 2018 

“The 1960’s Holsteins here are basically a herd frozen in time,” said Brad Heins, an associate professor and manager of the University of Minnesota’s Organic Dairy Research and Outreach Center in Morris, Minn.

Dairy cow
This cow from the U of MN WCROC is a living representation of genetics from the 1960's

Heins explains that the cows are smaller in stature and carry more body condition than today’s contemporary Holsteins. They are more fertile and have fewer health problems as well. However, the 1960’s cows only average around 40 pounds of milk per day, approximately 60 pounds less than today’s Holsteins.

The genetics of this herd go back farther than Pawnee Farm Arlinda Chief and Round Oak Rag Apple Elevation, which many of today’s Holsteins trace back to.

When this herd was started in 1964 by Charles Young, 20 A.I. bulls at the time were chosen based on predicted transmitting ability for milk yield. Once the original supply of semen was low, the sons of the previous 20 sires were collected to maintain the herd.

Prominent bulls that are only a few generations back in the cows living today are Wis Burke Ideal, Wiz Leader, Lauxmont Admiral Lucifer, and ABC Reflection Sovereign.

Heins said they do not have any trouble sustaining the herd’s genetics today because there is over 100 years worth of 1960’s semen still available to breed this herd. The semen is stored at the National Animal Germplasm Program Repository in Fort Collins, Colo.

The research farm continues to maintain this herd because of the interest in immune function of dairy cattle. Heins has also genomic tested the 1960’s herd and will evaluate genome-wide associations with different traits and compare them to modern-day Holsteins.

Brad Heins added, “There is nowhere else in the world that has a herd and genetics like ours. It is quite unique.”