The following article is reprinted with the friendly permission of Mr. Fred Hendricks:
(Fred Hendricks is the owner of SunShower Acres, Ltd, Longmont, Colorado. SunShower has been involved with the sampling-development of young sires for the A.I. industry for over 25 years. Several polled bulls developed by SunShower are now active through A.I. For additional information on polled Holsteins, contact SunShower Acres, Ltd., P O Box 658, Longmont, Colorado 80502)
Dehorning Dairy Cattle With Genetics
by Fred Hendricks
Looks at the economic advantages with polled dairy cattle
Incorporating polled genetics in your breeding program results in fewer calves that require dehorning. While this fact may seem elementary, few dairy farmers contemplate the economic advantages. Most often farmers respond with â€śdehorning is part of our routine operation so itâ€™s not an important factor.â€ť
Breeding a typical dairy herd to polled bulls results in a minimum 50% hornless calves. In just one generation a herd can become half polled. The polled gene is dominant and needs to be present in only one parent.
While dehorning may be a routine operation on most dairy farms, there are significant costs associated with dehorning. These costs vary a great deal depending on the size of dairy, personnel employed to do the dehorning and equipment utilized. The most difficult cost to ascertain is the setback a calf goes through resulting from dehorning.
Reid Hoover, Hoover Farms, Lebanon, Pennsylvania indicates his dehorning costs to be $10.00 per head on young calves and up to $20.00 per head on older calves. â€śEquipment and labor are the costs involved. When they are older it sets them back and you lose growth and efficiency,â€ť states Hoover.
Hoover further states â€ś These costs and the time factor to do this job well have made me think about using polled bulls. We have used a few and have liked the results with polled calves.â€ť
Enhanced efficiency - unpleasant job
Lonny Ward, Manager of BYU Dairy, Spanish Fork, Utah tags their dehorning costs at about $2.00 per head. â€śThis figure does not calculate a cost for the setback losses because there is too much variation in those costsâ€ť
Ward points out that polled cattle enhance their dairyâ€™s efficiency. â€śTo survive in the dairy industry today you have to be as efficient as possible. Any time you can eliminate a cost without a negative consequence you are better off. Dehorning is an area where improvements can be made genetically to eliminate a labor cost and stress on the animal. If we can integrate the polled gene into the Holsteins without losing in other areas, we will have taken a step forward.â€ť
Iv-Ann Holsteins, Minister, Ohio indicates the setback to their calves is their biggest cost. â€śIn our opinion the cost of dehorning is very hard to quantify since we do our own work. However, we think our biggest cost is the setback in the growth of the animal caused by the dehorning trauma.â€ť
Ivo Osterloh, owner of Iv-Ann Holsteins states â€śThe cost is not the only factor we consider in our use of polled bulls. Dehorning is not a very pleasant job - and very often it is delayed too long.â€ť
Origin of polled dairy cattle
Polled Holstein Historian, Dr. Larry Specht, Professor Emeritus of Penn State University reports â€śThe history books tell us that the ancestors of our modern cattle did not have horns and that mutations must have occurred that gave rise to horns. Horned cattle proliferated and it is now thought that the occurrence of polled animals in modern times is the result of another mutation back to the hornless condition.â€ť Horns served a useful purpose prior to cattle being domesticated. They were a defense mechanism and served to survive the species. In some countries farmers tether their cattle by the horns. In modern dairy farm operations, horns have no purpose, therefore the practice of dehorning.
While it is not clear when polled cattle began appearing in U.S. dairy cattle, Dr. Specht found the earliest recorded polled bull in the Holstein Association herdbook to be born 04/22/1889. Various breeders propagated the polled gene over time to where the polled gene now occurs far more frequently in todayâ€™s dairy cattle herds.
In his Bouic Polled Holstein Newsletter, Frank Bouic reports â€śThere are over 25 polled Holstein bulls in A.I., including proven bulls, sires-in-waiting and sample sires.â€ť Mr. Bouic further reports â€śThe genetics available in the polled segment of the Holstein breed is improving rapidly, in some cases approaching the best of the Holstein breed. The Burket-Falls, East Freedom, Pennsylvania (Dave Burket Family) and Hickorymea, Airville, Pennsylvania (T. Edwin Johnson Family) herds in particular have contributed to the supply of A.I. bulls.â€ť
The polled gene has been present in Red and White dairy cattle for many years, therefore the Red & White population has a significantly larger selection of polled red and red carrier bulls.
Second generation polled Jersey breeder, Paul Chittenden, Dutch Hollow Farm, Schodack Landing, New York indicates that his father, Stanley Chittenden, bought his first polled Jersey in 1952. The Chittendens have been leading breeders of polled Jersey cattle ever since. The Dutch Hollow prefix can be found on several proven sires in A.I.
The polled gene is also well documented in both the Ayrshire and Milking Shorthorn breeds.
In conclusion, utilizing the polled gene is easier than ever before with additional sires available through A.I. The financial savings through labor, time, equipment and sustained growth of the animal can be substantial. And, a herd can be converted to poll in short order with polled being dominant.