Okay, you want to breed your cow…
And you have a specific idea of what you want from your dairy cow or heifer.
Where do you go from there?
For the sake of keeping things specific, I am only going to talk about breeding using Artificial Insemination (AI) and using dairy semen, not beef or specialty semen. Because I am a Jersey breeder, I’ll also be sticking to Jerseys in reference, though the system works for all dairy breeds, with minor variations.
If you are going to be using a bull, scroll to the bottom of the page for a few tips on bulls & breeding.
Breeding Your Cow Successfully
FIRST, KEEP YOUR OWN RECORDS!
I have sheets pre-printed with room to write in information from each breeding and calving. These records become invaluable over the years as you look back, compare, and learn from each calving.
Click on the link to print a copy for yourself: Cow Record Sheet
Here’s a SAMPLE of a completed breeding record:
NOW, TO MAKE A DATE…
TIP: Please do this well in advance of when you NEED the service! Finding someone to AI your cow takes time, shipping or purchasing semen can take time, from one week to two months or more depending on your location. Then, you have to get your animal ready and watch her heats so you can tell the AI person about when you will need them to come out and service your animal. Then, you will have to keep their number and call them when you see your cow in standing heat.
The AI person should ideally come out about 12 hours AFTER you start to see standing heat. Read more here: Heat Detection & A.I.
Before having the AI Tech out, double check your calendar to make sure the breeding date will correspond with a good calving date. [Got nor-easters? Maybe plan for calvings that are NOT in January…]
Gestation Chart Calendar:
“Service on date given in first column should bring calf on date given in second column (+/- 14 days).”
Depending on your breed, the average date of 283 days may be different than the above chart. In that case, take your breed and add or subtract the number of days difference for your breed. For example, a Jersey cow is on average 278 days, so if the cow was due on September 10th according to the chart above, you would subtract 5 days (283-278=5 days less) for a predicted due date of Sept. 5th.
These are things you need to think about so your AI tech can help you find the best bull for what you want:
- Is it more important to improve your breeding in your offspring, or is it most important to get your cow bred asap? (Young sires or a home bred bull will have more sperm per straw, unlike active AI sires. But, you lose the helpfulness of “proofs” which tell you what kind of daughters the bull produces. This option leaves you only picking from pedigree.)
- If you want a replacement heifer, what qualities would you like to improve on your cow? (Some bulls have better traits than others, what is more important to you?)
- What do you not want to change about your cow? (For example, if your cow has great udder cleft and you really want to keep that, make sure you use a bull that will protect udder cleft.)
- Is ‘calving ease’ important? (Consider a bull that gives small calves, or consider a smaller breed of animal to cross breed. For example, if you had a Holstein, try breeding to Jersey, at least for first breedings of heifers.)
- Should the calf be Male, Female, or does it even matter? (Sexed semen is an option: More expensive, less chance of settling on first breeding, much higher chance of heifer.)
- Is your cow reproductively sound, or do you need to find a bull that will improve Daughter Pregnancy (DPR)? (Sexed semen is not recommended for hard breeders, aka cows that don’t get pregnant easily.)
- Who is going to perform the AI? Are they limited in their selection of AI companies or bulls available to them? (Examples are Select Sires, Semex, ABS, Genex, Taurus. Each company has a “lineup” that they use. Most areas have reps from different companies, but you need someone that is going to breed your animal, not just sell you the semen.)
- How much milk do you want the offpsring to give? More or less milk? Are equal or higher butterfat and protein components important? Is your cow always high in somatic cell? (Check the bull proofs!)
- Are you more concerned about TYPE (frame, longevity, and udder conformation) or PRODUCTION (milk quality)? (Type=Look for a young sire or go through Semex, which will offer you more choices from Canadian lines. Production=Most active AI bulls are very good in production, the issue is finding one with the qualities you want.)
- Having registration papers on hand with a three generation pedigree is very helpful to prevent inbreeding. Make sure you have a copy to show your AI tech!
TECHS & STRAWS:
A. If you have an AI Tech, find out which companies are available to them. (You can have semen “shipped” but it is expensive and requires a ship-able liquid nitrogen tank.)
B. Find the A.I. company online by Google-ing the name of your chosen AI company, or any major company, if you have options. If you don’t know which companies are available to you, go to The NAAB Database and call them to see if there are any technicians or salesmen in your area.
C. Ask if they are available to come and AI your cow. If not, ask them if they know of anyone near your home that might be available to help you. If they are available, ask them how much they charge for AI. And do they charge extra for mileage to drive to your home? Is the cost of semen additional? Do you have choices for bulls in your breed that you are looking for? If you find your own semen, would they be willing to hold 5-10 units for you if you have it shipped to their location? Read more here: Heat Detection & A.I.
LEARN TO READ BULL “PROOFS”
Links to particular AI companies’ descriptions of their individual proof sheets (which may vary somewhat from other companies):
- Bullvine: How to Understand Bull Proofs
- Semex – Understanding Sire Proofs
- Select Sires –
- LIC NZ – Understanding New Zealand Sire Proofs
- If this link does not work, Google search “LIC NZ and Understand Sire Proofs”
- Holstein Foundation – Sire Summaries Handout
- aAa Analysis Numbers – aAa website
And my description of bull proofs using a Semex bull proof as an example:
- Sire’s Registered name: SHF Centurion Sultan
- …SHF = farm name where he was bred
- …Centurion = his SIRE
- …”Sultan” indicates his mother was also an “S” name, Success)
- CANM10201207: Registration in Canada, Male, Registration Number
- aAa – A simple mating system. There are 6 numbers (1=Dairy 2=Tall 3=Open 4=Strong 5=Smooth 6=Style ). Most bulls are given a number which reflects what they will give to their daughters through a mating. Cows are scored on what needs the most improvement. So, a 165 bull would be mated to a 165 cow, meaning that his best traits would help fix her three least best traits, in order to improve up that cow’s offpspring.
- DMS – A similar mating service which focuses on health, production and reproduction. Bulls and cows are coded in a same way as the aAa system, with the hope of creating a well-balanced daughter.
- Kappa Casein- A key protein in cheesemaking that bulls can transmit to their daughters. Complicated, but BB is good for cheesemakers.
- Three generation maternal pedigree. Dam is Success. Grand-dam is Leanne, Greatgranddam is Nan. Next to each cow is the sire she was bred with to result in the daughter shown.
Milk, Protein %Protein, Fat %Fat – Positive numbers “reflect the expected production of future mature daughters.” Positive percentages mean the bull’s genetics will INCREASE milk or fat or protein production. A negative (or minus) bull tends to DECREASE production in his daughters.
%Reliability – How reliable are the numbers that are shown? Generally, only bulls above 70% reliability are even worth considering, if you are basing your judgement on numbers. Bulls at 99% or thereabouts mean that you will likely get a daughter that looks a lot like what the graphs and numbers are showing (good and bad qualities!). From now on I won’t mention reliability, as any “reliability” will reference the trait closest/above it.
Dtrs/Herds – First number is how many daughters were used to form the information (through DHIA records). Generally, higher numbers raise reliability. Second number is how many herds those daughters are in. Numbers are more reliable if you use more herds. For example, if you had a great looking bull, but his daughters only came from two herds that had really good cows, he might not be a great bull. It might be that the mothers of his offspring are compensating for his lacking qualities. If the bull is used in multiple herds, the difference in cows bred to the one bull will increase and provide more reliable information about what the bull is offering genetically.
Somatic Cell Score- Scores below 3.0 indicate lower somatic cell, which reflects resistance toward mastitis. Above 3.5 means that bull’s daughters tend to have more problems with mastitis.
Productive Life – Simply, how long will this bulls offspring survive and be productive animals? The number measures months of productive life on average, so higher numbers would indicate longer living animals.
DPR – Daughter Pregnancy Rate – 1.4 means that bull’s daughters are 1.4% more likely to conceive than the average cow.
SCR – Sire calving rate identifies how fertile a bull is as a service sire.
Type – An overall score reflecting the type traits by taking the appraisal scores of his scored daughters and calculating how superior (or inferior) that bull will be in type. The higher the number, the more superior the bull will be in passing on positive type traits.
Dtrs/Herds – Reflects how many daughters and herds were used to compute the information (through the appraisal system).
JPI – Jersey Performance Index – Action is 186, so he is 186th highest of all scored bulls. You can compare him with other bulls above and below him. The Index is rated by comparing fat, protein, functional traits, somatic cell, productive life, and functional udder.
Country – Where the bull is registered.
JUI – A calculation based on udder traits. The higher the number, the more ideal of an udder this bull will pass on. Action is one of the highest bulls in JUI, at 8.26 (as of March 2009)!
Stature – Action makes his daughters medium-tall.
Dairy Form – Extremely dairy.
Strength – Slightly stronger, but be careful to only breed to cows with strength.
Body Depth – Does not add depth or take from, but you’d like to see it more to the right.
Rump Width – Same as body depth, this is Action’s biggest fault.
Rump Angle – Slightly sloped, ideal!
Legs Side View – Slightly sickle, so you’d want to breed him to cows that already have straighter or even posty legs.
Foot Angle – Pretty steep, so lots of heel. Their feet will last a long time.
Fore Udder Attachment – This is why his JUI score is so high! Wonderful!
Rear Udder Height – Avery, Action’s sire, is where the high rear udder comes from.
Rear Udder Width – Lots of width. Will give a cow more room for milk production and a nice, squared rear udder.
Udder Cleft – Any bull you look at should ALWAYS be positive in cleft and the more the better. This is a very important trait for longevity.
Udder Depth – Very shallow udder. You can see up on the chart to the left that he is “plus” in milk, but the udder is still shallow, meaning they milk a lot, but you won’t have a huge saggy bag!
Front Teat Placement – Very close. This means the teats are more likely to be square under the udder, which also increases the chances of udder longevity. Plus, square teat placement makes it much easier to milk by hand or attach a machine.
Front Teat Length – Action lengthens teats. This is only important if your cow has either really small or really large teats that you want to correct. For hand milkers, this is an important quality to check out, though!
Read more about these qualities & see pictures here: Appraisal & Cow Conformation
Halotypes Affecting Fertility (from Select Sires Brochure)
Genetics and Bull Selection
Jerseys come in many styles. Understanding genetics can help you determine which type of bull you want to use.
- AMERICAN – Bred for high production (20-35,000 lb. per lactation) with most focus on overall milk production and udder quality. Be cautious about type scores and longevity issues. www.selectsires.com is a broad-reaching U.S. A.I. company. Forest Glen, Molly Brook, Brentwood (BW), Sunset Canyon are well-known American breeders. Famous bulls are: Brook, Jace, Hallmark, Beretta, Sambo, Centurion, Duncan, Barber, Avery, Pitino, MC Tops, Paramount, Counciller.
- CANADIAN – Tall, stylish dark animals with a major focus on conformation. Their major fault would be lacking softness of udder and lowered milk production (although very well-attached udders!). www.semex.com is the most well-known CAN A.I. company. Rapid Bay, Bridon, Hollylane, Giprat, Pleasant Nook, Rock Ella are examples of well-known CAN breeders. Famous bulls are: Renaissance, Remake, J Imperial.
- NEW ZEALAND/AUSTRALIAN – Cattle bred to thrive on a heavily grass-fed system. LIC-NZ offers genetics within the U.S. http://www.licnz.com/
- DANISH – Similar to American, but with a higher focus on maintaining high components (ie. 25,000 lb in a lactation, with 5.2% butterfat). From what I’ve seen and heard, these Jerseys can tend to lack dairy form and udder conformation. They are sold through U.S. A.I. companies. The farm prefix ISDK is a well-known Danish breeder. Lemvig is a well-known Danish sire.
Some bulls worth considering (updated 2019):
(These bulls are preferably JH1F, JH2F, BB, A2/A2, BBR100 – if these are important to you, double check each bull for the specific traits.)
- 200JE10023 – River Valley Lolalala (Action + Amadeo + Centurion)
- 200JE10003 – River Valley Venus VIP (Family Hill Connection Chilli + Action + Stephan Sparkler Vera + Minister + Renaissance)
- 200JE10031 – River Valley Strikezone (BW Citation (Avery + Centurion) + Renaissance Deluxe)
- 200JE10009 – River Valley Ricki Rockstar (Furor + Jurisdiction + Schultz Legal Critic)
Through Select Sires:
- 7JE1088 – Chilli Action Colton (Family Hill Connection Chilli x Forest Glen Avery Action)
Good Bulls to have in your genetics:
- 7JE177 HIGHLAND MAGIC DUNCAN
- 29JE2875 HIGHLAND DUNCAN LESTER
- 7JE356 LESTER SAMBO
- 7JE159 SOLDIERBOY BOOMER SOONER OF CJ
- 122JE5063 BANCREST LESTER AVERY
- 7JE342 ALTHEAS LES PITINO AL-TOP
- 200JE303 SHF CENTURION SULTAN
- 200JE131 BRIDON REMAKE COMERICA
- 7JE860 Maack Dairy Eclipes-P
- 7JE867 Griffens Governor
Below is a list of websites that I use very frequently when researching Jersey genetics:
NAAB Database, basic database to look up any active A.I. bulls:
Canadian Dairy Network, to look up Canadian A.I. bulls:
Jersey Canada, you can look up pedigree information free:
US Jersey provides various areas of information about Jerseys:
Note: If you have a Jersey registered in your name, you can go to US Jersey and click on the link to “Info Jersey” where you can recieve a password and look up American genetics online.
Bull information is found at: http://greenbook.usjersey.com/
USING A BULL FOR BREEDING YOUR COW:
- Ask for the bull’s pedigree. Does he have any daughters already that you can look at? Is his mother still alive and can you go and see her?
- Tritrichomonas foetus, a protozoan organism, can be passed during intercourse and can cause infertility. Ask if the bull has been tested for this.
- Where will the breeding take place? Do you have to haul the cow to them or can he bring the bull to you? If you bring a bull to your farm, you risk a high liability issue. If you take the cow to the bull, find out where they will do the breeding. Make sure the ground is level so the cow has stable footing.
- How much do they charge?
- If your cow is older and having a hard time getting bred, bull breeding is more reliable than A.I. for conception.
10 thoughts on “Breeding & Picking Sire”
Very helpful information! I have a question, my cow is due today going by the gestation calendar. Bred AI on December 1 st, due September 9th. I was thinking that she would have calved sooner, due to her being a Jersey this is her second calf. She is showing signs, full udder, milk in teats and puffy vulva. She looks content, though not lying down as usual spending more time standing yesterday and this am. Still eating. Should I be concerned that she is not calving yet? My first time doing this, of note I did not do the AI the seller did, I got dates from him. I was thinking of calling Vet though I do not want to jump the gun seeing as she looks happy.
Normal activity. Like humans and other mammals, cattle can go overdue and have perfectly normal births. As long as she is acting relatively normal (as comfortable as a 9 month pregnant cow can be…) then there’s nothing to worry about. I’ve seen cows as much as almost 3 weeks overdue, but odds are it sounds like your cow will calve soon. If concerned, feel free to message me via our contact page: https://spiritedrose.wordpress.com/contact-us/ I can reply and you can send photos of your cow to my email address directly.
Thank you for the advice it is very much appreciated!
This is a great resource. Thanks for taking the time to put this together.
Michael Family Farm
How i should select a fresian bull for milk production ? A bull that calves more daughters and his daughters have a good production record .
Look for positive numbers on the bull’s stats for milk – the higher the number, the more he may improve milk production in his daughters.
FAQ: What kind of a dairy cow should I look for if I want to keep her on mostly a pasture diet?
First, you need to look for genetics that can support an all-grass diet. Any protein breed will be superior than Holsteins in efficiency of pasture grazing. Beyond them, you can look into other dual-purpose breeds for increase efficiency, but much lower milk production.I would agree with you that regardless of operation, a good udder is a good udder. For a cow outside, you might want to be extra careful to get a very well attached udder to lessen chances of sunburn. So, a high, wide rear udder and well attached fore udder are good. Plus, if there’s brush and whatnot, a high udder would be less likely to be scraped, poked, etc.I would also agree that in general, a smaller animal (Jersey/Milking Shorthorn/Dexter/etc) would be easier on pasture.I know of many bulls that produce “stockier” type Jerseys, so a few of mine are definitely ones that need to be on a grass diet. They tend to be shorter, wide, high tight udders, and a tendency to get fat.One note, on grass, just about any dairy cow is going to be thinner looking. Grass tends to keep a cow looking dairy and milky without putting on that chunky weight.
You can look for a few bulls (I mean, more likely their offspring) that will reduce stature or give you a smaller Jersey: Dusaiseoir, Centurion, Golden Boy, Simba’s Pride, Remake. They should all give you gorgeous udders and smaller stature. Plus, they tend to be bulls that aren’t overly plus on milk (except Centurion) so they do well as family cows and are heartier.
This is very helpful information. Now that a few years have passed, would you add any new sires to this family cow list?
Hi Denise, Yes, there are a few new bulls I can add! Give me a little time and I’ll change the info above to include some new bulls. Thanks for the suggestion!
I love coming to your website! Very informative!! Thank You!