Developing Our 100% Grassfed, Polled A2 Jersey Genetics
In 1999, just 9 years after Holt Creek Jerseys began, we decided to radically change the goals and practices of our dairy cattle operation. Until then, we had focused on maximizing milk production per cow, which we did quite successfully. But it wasn’t paying the bills. We were still relying on conventional feed inputs, and we were still relying on the conventional milk market for our income. We had absolutely no control over the price we were paid for our milk, nor could we control the price of our feed.
We decided that we needed to utilize the resources we could control on our land base as the main input for nutrition, so we transitioned to 100% Grass-Fed. We decided that we needed to produce a healthy, value-added food rather than a commodity, so we certified the land and cattle as organic. We began to sell raw milk directly to customers in our area and grew our raw milk network to a 300-mile radius. What we found out was that the cattle, more specifically their ability to efficiently convert forage into high-quality food, was the single most important variable that we needed to manage for, second only to the health of the soil.
When I first switched to no-grain, all-grazing management over fifteen years ago, I soon found out that not all cows were capable of surviving, let alone thriving, in this system. Some of the cows did not fare well at all. Some quit giving milk, some lost so much body condition that they wouldn’t breed back, some aborted, some got sick and had to be removed from the herd. Other cows, however, did just fine without grain. They were usually the first ones to the barn in the morning, they dug through snow to get to the grass underneath, they aggressively ate hay without sorting through it, and they maintained satisfactory levels of production and of body condition through the winter months. These cows would rapidly gain weight once they were dried off, and they quickly became slick and shiny upon the onset of the grazing season.
At that time I decided to start saving the bull calves out of the cows who were doing well on the new no-grain program. It had become clear to me that some cattle were predisposed somehow to being better adapted to handle their “new” environment, and it had also become clear to me that mainstream American A.I. studs were not selling semen from the kind of bulls that were selected to perform under my management system.
Now, after several generations of breeding this way, the individual animals within the herd are consistently able to perform with functional and reproductive efficiency in a variety of environments, many of which are extreme. The best-performing cows have been used as bull mothers, and the strongest cow families in the herd have been combined to produce bulls that are capable of producing offspring that are equal to or superior to their ancestors.
I have used linebreeding to fix these desireable traits and create consistency, and I’ve found out that the old adage is true: like begets like. We have used our best bulls on our best cows over and over, to produce a highly-functioning and uniformly-performing herd that thrives season after season, challenge after challenge.
After using these methods to produce a functionally-efficient herd of cattle that can produce more profit per acre than their ancestors, we now offer these genetics to like-minded producers of all types who want to optimize their herd’s efficiency and performance on grass only.