What breed is tied for the lead in fertility as determined by daughter pregnancy rate?

The answer may surprise you. The Red, White and Roan Dairy breed, which was the foundation for much of the commercial U.S. dairy herd 120 years ago, has made a renewed commitment to improve and expand.

Beginning in 2001 the American Milking Shorthorn Society (AMSS) initiated the “Cortland Plan,” a business model for the 21st century. One vital element of this game plan was to expand the sampling of high genetic merit young sires through improved cooperation with A.I. organizations. The selection criteria was, and is, to focus on management traits Milking Shorthorns excel in, such as fertility. The Milking Shorthorn cow is tied for the industry lead in daughter pregnancy rate and somatic cell count, while greatly accelerating improvement in production.

This aggressive program is producing results that can be seen in the ranking of A.I. Milking Shorthorn sires born in the last eight years. This list is provided by USDA-AIPL. According to the January 2008 proofs, these Milking Shorthorn bulls have the highest relative ranking in lowering somatic cell count, expanding productive life and increasing daughter pregnancy rate over all breeds. These same bulls are ranked number two for rate of improvement in pounds of milk and number three in improving pounds of protein across all breeds. This has resulted in the available Milking Shorthorn A.I. bulls leading the industry in reducing somatic cell count, improving productive life and tying for the lead in daughter pregnancy rates, while moving up the scale for production traits.

A major challenge facing AMSS and the Milking Shorthorn cow is to transform the impressions held by many, if they think about the Milking Shorthorns at all, that the breed is dual purpose, a hobby breed or meant only for a show ring toy. Along with this, is the challenge of enlightening the industry that there exists a domestic source of Red cattle genetics that is complementary to U.S. populations for crossbreeding that provides sought-after management traits. As a breed, another challenge is to stay focused on rapidly improving production traits, while not losing ground on industry-leading management characteristics.


The opportunity for growth of the Milking Shorthorn is substantial. Thanks to the structure of the AMSS Herdbook, the opportunity to incorporate the best genetics from other breeds to create the most competitive commercial Red cow, while not losing Milking Shorthorn breed character, exists. Currently, the top Illawarra (an Australian breed closely related to the Milking Shorthorn), Swedish Red and Holstein genetics are being blended into the Milking Shorthorn base. Selection criteria focuses only on those animals of these breeds that will provide improved production in milk, fat and protein in addition to enhancing management traits.

A second opportunity has arisen from USDA-AIPL’s far-sighted decision to develop the multi-breed base for genetic evaluations in this country. This has allowed AMSS-registered bulls sampled through A.I. to greatly improve their reliability for production proofs with the inclusion of their crossbred daughters. With expanded awareness of the suitability of inclusion of Milking Shorthorn sires in designed crossbreeding schemes, the move to the multi-breed base increases the opportunity to expand sampling of high genetic merit Milking Shorthorn young sires, thus enhancing breed progress.

Perhaps the most exciting opportunity is the expansion of the polled gene. AMSS has identified a number of Milking Shorthorn cow families that average 5.0 percent fat and 3.7 percent protein that are also polled. Through aggressive employment of embryo transfer technology, these families are being rapidly expanded. This year marks the beginning of sampling of polled sires from these families.

The best example of the fertility and production potential of the modern Milking Shorthorn is Gold Mine Poppy’s OT Kay. Calving on June 6, 2004, Poppy made a 4/10 328d 2x milking 41,680m 3.6% 1,521f 3.0% 1,252p record. Poppy calved back in 363 days on June 4, 2005, and made 5/10 365d 2x milking 46,666m 3.3% 1,544f 3.1% 1,427p. Held open the following year for extensive flushing, Poppy calved on June 27, 2007, and while again being heavily flushed, she has averaged 124 pounds of 3.5% fat and 3.1% protein through her first 224 days of this lactation. The first two records were made with the usage of rBST, while the current record is not.

While exceptional, Poppy is not unique for an American Milking Shorthorn. Challenged to produce, many modern Milking Shorthorns can respond. PD

—From the Milking Shorthorn Association