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Sustainable Genetics Create a Healthier Herd

August 26, 2020


Katie Humphreys



Participating in the Wisconsin Department Natural Resources Green Tier program from 2012 to 2018 piqued Rosy-Lane’s interest in measuring sustainability. The farm looked at many elements, from recycling paper feed bags to light fixtures in barns. While this measured tangible aspects that often come to mind first when thinking of sustainability, using genetics to create a healthier herd is a large part of Lloyd and Daphne Holterman’s long-term approach to sustainability. The ultimate measure of the farm’s impact on the environment and economic success is pounds of milk produced per pound of dry matter fed to the milking cows. Eight key things must go right daily to achieve their goal of 1.7 lb. of milk per 1 lb. of feed: technology, milk harvest, herd health, nutrition, housing, calves, genetics and people.


Lloyd relied on his passion for genetics to redirect the breeding program in 1992. The goal is a moderately sized cow with a long lifespan that produces a lot of milk without sick days, rarely needs her feet trimmed, breeds back on time and calves on her own. (They assist just one in every 52 calvings). These improvements add up to over $200,000 per year in savings.


Rosy-Lane cut phosphorus in the feed ration from 0.50% to 0.31%. Less phosphorus comes out through manure and could allow more manure on the same or less amount of land, depending on nutrient content. This also reduces the potential for phosphorus runoff.


Unconventionally, Rosy-Lane has not fed a transition diet in 35 years. Cows go from the dry cow ration to the milking cow ration. They’ve seen fewer fresh cow health events, including retained placentas, displaced abomasums, ketosis and udder swelling.


On the crop side, the farm tracked Brown Mid Rib (BMR) corn versus conventional and found cows ate more, produced 1 lb. per cow per day more milk and income over feed cost fell.


Rosy-Lane was one of the first farms to chop corn silage as shredlage based on Randy Shaver’s research at University of Wisconsin-Madison. This technology produces a return of 9 lb. more milk for each ton of corn silage fed because of increased digestibility.


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