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Use genetics to remove labour, pain and image of dehorning

Bryan Quanbury and Roy MacGregor Published on 31 October 2011

Many studies and research articles have been conducted and all have drawn the same conclusion: There is no physical way to remove horns on dairy animals without creating a task no human wants to do – causing pain to an animal – and thus creating an image the general public cannot understand.

All three of these issues – labour, pain and image – can be removed simply by using genetics. Opting to breed with polled bulls would remove the need for dehorning the offspring.

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In today’s society, the power of the consumer should not be overlooked. The educated consumer wants to know where their milk, cheese and yogurt come from.

Anything to promote our dairy image in a positive manner should be considered a step in the right direction. Consumer perception is important, and efforts to avoid negative attention when producing consumer products will be required.

Working proactively to solve animal welfare issues, like dehorning, should be viewed as an opportunity.

There are places in Europe today where you cannot dehorn your calves without a veterinarian presence.

This is bound to happen in North America, sooner than we think. Protocols and regulations like this have a cost, not only in vet fees but also in time and effort.

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Dehorning cattle through the use of polled cattle solves all the problems associated with labour, animal welfare and consumer perception.

Polled genetics have been utilized in the beef industry, so much so that the incidence of animals having horns are continually a decreasing minority. The USDA surveyed the number of calves born expected to grow horns decreased from 29.3 percent in 1992-1993 to 12.4 percent in 2007-2008.

This dominance of the polled trait in beef cattle has given the false impression that polled Holsteins are descendant of a beef background.

However with today’s DNA capabilities, this argument can certainly be put to rest. In fact, the Holstein herdbook has records of polled animals from the 1880s.

On parent average alone, many polled bulls have been overlooked by A.I. structures, but since genomics have been introduced, young polled bulls can be compared more favourably to the general population.

There are now several choices with more than 500 $NM and 2,000 GTPI, and the list grows with every proof round.

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In the Holstein breed, polled sons of Goldwyn, Million, Shottle, Bolton, Toystory, Lawn Boy, Destry, Marion, etc., are already here and more are coming all the time.

Because the polled gene is a dominate trait, using a heterozygous bull will eliminate horns on 50 percent of breedings. Using a homozygous polled bull will eliminate 100 percent of the horns in your calves.

A genetic test has been developed for homozygous polled that allows this to be determined in young animals.

Homozygous bulls have been historically very rare, but they are out there. The future generations of new young polled Holstein bulls coming by Man-O-Man, Super, Freddie, Explode, Domain, Garrett and others have that promise.

The opportunity for farmers to introduce polled genetics into their herd and breeding programs has never been better.

Any breeder who has been using polled genetics will tell you the same thing – once you get that first polled calf, you will be hooked.

It is not hard to get started. Either do some research on the Internet or talk with your A.I. service technician to learn what polled genetics are available.  PD

Bryan Quanbury and Roy MacGregor are the owners of DairyBullsOnline.

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Bryan Quanbury
Co-Owner
DairyBullsOnline

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