The pace of technology change in agriculture

I really wanted to title this post “sex sells”… It is based on some conversations I had this past weekend with an individual in western Minnesota.  I do not claim to know a lot about this topic, it is not something I work with regularly, but the story is a fascinating one to me.

Last I knew (a few years ago) the idea of sexed semen was just hitting the dairy industry.  For those that don’t know, sexed semen allows producers to produce calves of a specific sex with high degrees of accuracy.  Especially in the dairy business, most will choose to produce heifer calves.

So the dairy my friend works for started this several years ago.  They have both Holstein and Jersey cows.  I learned about the Jersey experience this past weekend.  It quickly became apparent as segments of the dairy industry rapidly moved to sexed semen that there was an over-abundance of heifer calves in the industry, the industry could now produce them much faster than replacements were needed.

So, my friends dairy began a program 18 months ago or so of breeding the lower end of their Jersey herd to Limousin bulls, producing a beef/dairy cross that is intended for the feedlot.  They have calves from this program that are already approaching a year old.  At younger ages, the dairy influence was very strong in these cattle, as they reach market weight, they look like a nice pen of beef cattle, and on-feed performance (the all important measure of success in the cattle feeding business), has been good.

So, in just a few short years, we’ve moved from having bull or heifer dairy calves determined by random chance, to not only choosing the sex of the calf, but now optimizing for a specific endpoint.  In other words, for a cow heard that implements this technology,  they have somewhat dramatically improved the amount of meat and milk they are producing per resource unit consumed.. the very definition of improved sustainability!  And my friends new job?  Semen Salesman. 🙂  With the apparent success of this program this dairy has decided to attempt to sell Limousin semen to other Jersey dairies and than buy the bull calves back to feed.

You’ve heard about everything I know about this process..  If there’s further questions, I’m sure I can find folks to help answer them, and we both can learn a bit more!


7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by pearlsnapsponderings on March 27, 2012 at 9:25 am

    An interesting point to note…Jerseys are known for their genetic predisposition to produce milk with higher butter fat. Interestingly enough, this same trait also correlates strongly with higher degrees of marbling in beef. I bet those Jersey/Limmie crosses make some tasty beef 🙂


    • Interesting Jesse. This dairy has been moving to Jersey’s, their milk goes for cheese and they feel the increased butterfat and lower feed intake more than compensate for the lower volume of milk. I had never heard the higher marbling part. Thanks!


  2. just found this post Darin, I won’t say what search term let me here O:-) j/k. anyways, I am curious about a follow up to this post to learn how thus program worked out for this dairy farmer.


  3. In my tall corn post today we talked about how technology has made farming safer. I didn’t ask the guys, so, Darin, I’ll ask you… of all the new tech that has come onto the farm since 2000… what is the one piece that you absolutely would not part with?


    • Very good question. There’s a lot of technologies that have impacted us in the last 10-15 years. But probably the one that has the most significant daily impact on how we operate our farms is the cell phone


      • I didn’t even think about the cell phone. I was thinking autosteer, variable rate with gps and field maps…you know, the big size stuff. lol

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