Given I have used artificial insemination (AI) and bred all my own replacements for many years, it gives me a good background to the genetics within my herd.
I am able to trace cows back three, four and even five generations.
I can even identify different cow families.
With all this information on my herd, I often look back to see if any traits are following through in different cow families.
The experts will tell you that some traits are more hereditable than others, which I’m sure is true, but outlined below is an example of what I have noticed.
I have one particular cow family that I can trace back to a springing heifer that my father bought over 20 years ago.
One-quarter of my spring-calving cows are genetically linked right back to this heifer.
She was only a small heifer, but had lots of milk. However, she didn’t last that long in the herd, having succumbed to grass tetany.
Most were lovely roan animals, while others were nice red and white types
I remember her having a set of twins (bull and a heifer) and a few other calves. Only one was kept for a cow (it was a nice red and white, Belgian Blue sired animal), however, this cow went on to produce a lot of calves.
Her first calves were a set of twins (again a bull and a heifer), but after that she had only heifer calves, and all were kept for breeding.
Most were lovely roan animals, while others were nice red and white types.
I usually sell in-calf replacement heifers every year, and these roan or red and white heifers always attract strong demand
The cow is now gone out of the herd, but her offspring are working well for me.
Most of them are throwing those roan or red and white calves, and thankfully, the majority are females, which suggests that these traits are easily passed on.
I usually sell in-calf replacement heifers every year, and these roan or red and white heifers always attract strong demand.
However, after doing my research, and seeing the good cow family that they are out off, I’m starting to think that I should be keeping more of these for myself.
As well as colour and sex, there are other traits that are coming through in this cow family. The most important one is the milk.
They all have lots of milk and this seems to have been maintained through the generations (although I always use bulls with good milk figures).
Then there is the likelihood of producing twins. It has been more sporadic, with twins popping up now and again
Probably linked to this is calving ability, which hasn’t been an issue with this cow family (mostly calving without any assistance).
The next most important, in my opinion, is fertility, and this has been passed on in abundance. Most of this cow family will hold to AI first go every year.
Then there is the likelihood of producing twins. It has been more sporadic, with twins popping up now and again.
Sometimes it misses a generation. This would all suggest it is not a trait that passes on easily.
The size of the cow also tends to be more variable, and this seems to have a lot more to do with the bull used. The original cow was small in stature, but the family is more up and down in terms of size.
One final thing that I have noticed is that they are mostly good on their feet.
I did have to cull one because of feet issues, but this, again, probably came from the bull.
All in all, there seems to be a fair degree of heritability in most traits, but it is also a matter of getting the bull right, which is probably a bit more difficult.