Interview with polled breeder - Wendell Miller from Richlo Polled Dairy
Richlo Polled Dairy
Richlo Polled Dairy, located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan near the
northernmost point of Lake Michigan, was started by Richard and Lois
Miller. Today, it is a partnership operated by 3 of their sons: Jonathan,
Wendell, and Leighton, and their families.
Current cow numbers are 183 grade Holsteins (46 polled), 29 registered
Jerseys (14 polled), and 39 crossbreds (21 polled).
DHI RHA January 2007 (3x):
Holsteins and crossbreds:
25,677 lbs milk, 1021 BF, 770 true protein
Jerseys: 18446 lbs milk, 888 BF, 636 true protein
Q: Explain your background and experience with polled dairy cattle.
In the 70's, Dad milked about 50 cows, and we dehorned using caustic
pastes. In the 80's, the caustic pastes that were the easiest to use were
removed from the market, and the size of our herd increased, so dehorning
became a much more difficult chore. (We raise all our calves, and sell
the steers as feeders every fall. Therefore, every live calf has to be
The first polled bulls we used were Pete Poll and Valier (Super Samplers
at Select), and Bernard and Soldier Boy Norm (Jerseys at ABS), but due to
the small number of daughters, the polled genes from those bulls did not
last long in our herd.
In the late 80's, we began to seriously look for polled bulls in AI.
About that time, Lynx-P and Be-Magic-P were in active AI service, so we
used them. We also started using polled Jersey young sires. In 1990, we
bought semen from Hickorymea Saul-P. Since that time, we have had a
steadily increasing number of polled cattle in our dairy herd.
In 1996, we bought semen of F Kjolleberg, the first polled Norwegian Red
bull marketed in the US. We have used seven polled Norwegian Red bulls
since, and are very satisfied with the results.
Q: Do you feel the role of polled genetics has evolved over the past
10 years, stayed about the same, or decreased in scope?
Definitely increased. Most breeds, especially Holsteins, Jerseys, and
Norwegian Reds, have more polled bulls in AI than 10 years ago.
Q: What should breeders and producers realize about the polled
The animal rights/welfare movements will someday make dehorning an issue.
The dairy industry can counter them with a slick propaganda campaign, or
mitigate the issue by encouraging a shift to naturally polled cattle. I
favor the latter approach.
The polled gene is dominant, so it can be added to a top cow family in 1
generation. The breeders who do so successfully have much greater market
Farmers who dislike dehorning can take steps now to reduce the problem
Q: What do you feel are the biggest challenges and/or disadvantages
of using and selecting for polled genetics?
The first challenge is getting started - to find polled bulls who can be
used to introduce the polled gene without sacrificing the other traits a
breeder desires. Other than for the most selective and elite breeders,
this is a minor problem, as lots of polled bulls are available, better
than some of the horned bulls being marketed.
The next challenge is deciding how much emphasis to put on polled versus
other traits. The majority of the best available bulls are horned, so the
most genetic change can be made using horned bulls. Every farmer has to
decide what trade-off to make between reducing frequency of dehorning
versus progress in other traits. If done correctly, the loss of genetic
progress for traits other than polled would be small, both on a breed and
The ultimate goal in breeding for polled genetics is eliminate the need
for dehorning, which means developing homozygous polled bulls.
Q: What strategies or approaches are you considering to address
challenges you have identified?
Our breeding program is not focused on a single trait (polled). We use
the top Net Merit and longevity bulls, especially on polled cows. Our
medium-term goal is that all horned cows would be bred to polled bulls.
We have reached that goal with Jerseys and crossbreeds, but not Holsteins.
We do not use any horned young sires. We buy semen from all the polled
young sires that are sampled by AI studs (that we can conveniently
obtain). We save our best polled bulls to use for cleanup. This gives us
a steady source of polled genes to increase the frequency of polled in
We use proven polled bulls that can add other needed traits to our herd.
Polled Plus and the Hickorymea bulls Ottawa and Oswald are the only
proven Holstein bulls we've used, but the Jersey and Norwegian Red breeds
have had many good proven polled bulls.
The long-term goal is to eliminate dehorning. For that, we need
homozygous polled bulls. We are using Ottawa on our best polled cows to
produce a homozygous polled bull for our own use.
Q: Do you feel polled genetics have a stronger presence and/or
greater opportunity in Red cattle?
In the past, the successful breeders of polled Holsteins are those who
have combined polled and red. Obviously, there is no genetic correlation,
but this suggests that the commercial dairy farmers who were interested
in buying polled genetics wanted red also. This may not be true in the future.
We do put some emphasis on using red and red factor bulls, because we do
have a better market for red polled bulls than black polled bulls.
There is a greater opportunity to breed red, polled cattle, because a
breeder can select polled bulls from all red breeds. The Norwegian Red
breed has selected for polled, and developed a lot of good polled bulls,
a few being homozygous. There are a few polled bulls in almost every
dairy breed to choose from. Thanks to the RWDCA herdbook, we can use the
best polled bulls from every breed without losing genetic evaluations or
registry status. To date, we have crossbred with polled Brown Swiss,
Milking Shorthorns, Ayrshires, Guernseys, and Norwegian Reds.
Q: What sire or bloodline do you feel has had the greatest impact on
polled genetics today?
Historically, most of the polled Holstein lines trace back to Burkets'
polled cattle. In Jerseys, Chittendens' cattle are the base. But the
greatest current impact is from the breeder who uses the best horned
bulls on the best polled cows.
Q: What bulls have you used recently to extend the polled genetics?
Hol.: Ottawa, Oswald, and many young sires
Jer.: Myway and many young sires
NR: Svarstad, Halrynjo
Q: What excites you the most about polled genetics?
It would be possible, at this time, to breed all of our cows to
homozygous polled bulls, and completely eliminate dehorning. While I
don't think that would be the best long term breeding program, it shows
the considerable progress that is being made in polled breeding.
On our farm, the number of calves we have to dehorn is steadily
declining, and the genetic merit of the polled stock is increasing. We
are milking polled daughters of Trent and Jace, who were among the top
Net Merit bulls of their generation. Â We have polled heifers from top Net
Merit bulls, namely Abe, Maximus, Artist, O Man, Boone, Ally, Bo, and
Canvas. As the number of polled cattle on our farm increases, we have
more chances to get polled calves sired by the best bulls. We are
excited about the opportunities we have breeding better polled cattle on