Make Every Cow Count

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Location, water, arable land and labor have become common, relatable limitations for dairies throughout the U.S. These limitations inhibit growth, which is often a strategy to boost profitability. For dairies that don’t have the resources to add cow numbers, what is the best approach? Can dairies limited by growth remain competitive in today’s dairy industry? 

My answer is a resounding “absolutely!” and the strategy is simple: “make every cow count.”

By: Brandon Thesing, Associate Vice President of Corporate Accounts, Select Sires Inc.


We are all familiar with efficiency. Webster’s Dictionary defines efficient as “capable of producing desired results with little or no waste (as of time or materials).” For D&D Dairy in Rushford, Minnesota, efficiency means mating, selecting, raising and milking only the best cows. Dean Smith, owner of D&D Dairy, deploys an aggressive breeding strategy to ensure that every heifer they raise and every cow that walks through their parlor maximizes her genetic potential and garners a healthy return on investment.


Inventory management is key

D&D milks 1,500 cows on two sites in the southeastern corner of Minnesota. Their strategy fixates on each individual cow and is developed and implemented by their Select Sires team. 

Select Sires’ proprietary inventory calculators combined with genomic data are used to determine the optimum number of replacements and then cows and heifers are assigned with NxGEN®, sexed or beef semen.

By genomic testing all calves at birth and culling low merit animals, D&D doesn’t waste any extra dollars raising unneeded heifers or low performing cows. They previously ranked cows using NM$ values but are pivoting their process to be more precise. With Zoetis CLARIFIDE® Plus test results, they have begun to monitor individual and herd trends for Zoetis Lameness, Mastitis and Twinning rates. They also plan to utilize genomic results to rank the milking herd by the Herd Health Profit Dollars™ (HHP$™) index. 

Regardless of lactation number, highest ranking females are assigned sexed NxGEN semen. Cows are then individually mated by Genetic Consultant Kim DeFrang with the Select Mating Service® (SMS®) program. D&D Dairy’s inventory and breeding strategy has also created a lucrative opportunity to market high-quality beef x dairy ProfitSOURCE® calves.


Dean Smith is passionate about calf health. He has seen firsthand how the proper treatment of pregnant cows leads to successful calvings and healthy calves. The operation has a top-notch program that promotes calf vaccinations, quality colostrum and calf comfort, both dairy calves and beef x dairy calves. "Every calf gets treated the same — Holstein heifer or beef x dairy calf," says Smith.

They began assigning beef semen to problem cows in 2008. At the time, Smith believed this was an ideal strategy to eliminate poor genetics from the herd and still earn some return on investment. As an early adopter, D&D has had time to fine-tune their program, recognize the value in calf care protocols and use the right genetics. Today, they use exclusively TD Beef semen from the ProfitSOURCE beef x dairy program. Not only are they using elite dairy genetics but through the ProfitSOURCE program, the very best beef sires as well to create the most valuable beef x dairy calves possible.


Priortizing health and wellness genetics

With two facilities and limited parlor capacity, D&D has experienced the importance of mastitis resistant cows. Their mission is to create resilient cows with excellent udder health traits. To carry out this mission, sires are first selected based on their HHP$ rank and then consideration is made for strength, medium stature, legs side view, rear teat placement and teat length. Because HHP$ prioritizes Combined Fat and Protein, Somatic Cell Score, mastitis resistance traits and fertility, the herd is leaning into this index to select sires and sort females.


Herd Performance Like No Other

D&D’s focus on making every cow count is working and they are creating extremely elite, healthy and efficient cows. The herd’s top cows are sired by 14HO13925 MAJESTIC, 7HO14578 FOXCATCHER, 14HO14905 STAR, 7HO14264 SPEEDY and 7HO14454 LIONEL. Daughters from each of these sires have achieved Energy Corrected Milk (ECM) records above 160, with a MAJESTIC daughter boasting 210 ECM. 

Table 1: Records from recent test day.


In addition to impressive ECM records, component yields are outstanding for this herd. And while their inventory and culling strategy is shifting the herd to a greater percentage of older cows, their bottom line benefits from  greater components and higher ECM. To lessen the treatment and veterinary costs that often accompany older cows, D&D is proactively focusing on health and wellness genetics. 

Table 2: Average of records from recent test day.

Finding the right cows

D&D Dairy is limited by growth; they don’t have the available land to add more cows so their strategy emphasizes quality. Using tools, services and elite genetics from Select Sires has advanced their herd. To remain competitive and boost profitability, they are building a herd of healthy, fertile cows that efficiently produce large volumes of fat and protein. With the help of their Select Sires team and on-farm crew, they are able to hone in on each individual animal to “make every cow count.” 

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