Build Your Own Custom Index with These 5 Steps

Publish date: 4.22.24 

Utilizing data in genetic selection is not new to the dairy industry. In fact, dairy producers are usually considered data-rich with the amount of data collected on farm. However, all that data can cause a headache when you think about the number of traits producers can choose to consider. It is not always easy to make sense of all the tools that are supposed to help you handpick genetics for your herd. This is why the dairy industry shifted to the creation of selection indexes as they balance different traits, consider various levels of importance, and present the information in one simple value. They have become important tools in a dairy producer’s toolbox to simplify genetic selection.  

There are two key advantages of using selection indexes. The first one is they are subjective and simplify your day-to-day breeding decisions, such as which bulls you use or which animals to breed sexed or beef. Secondly, they allow you to balance many important traits and summarize them in a simple value, instead of only focusing on a few traits that could result in unintended consequences in other trait categories. While industry indexes are a great tool, they may not always have your dairy’s best interest in mind. 

Let us explain. The downfall of using industry indexes is they operate with a one-size-fits-all approach. This means they cannot be customized for your operation’s unique needs, situation, or market. Thus, that means the industry is telling you what traits matter to your dairy and the weighting of importance, which ultimately, can limit your ability to make genetic progress in the areas that put you closer to reaching your operational goals. 

Knowing these limitations, we recommend using an ABS Global Custom Index to fast-track your genetic progress. A Custom Index gives you the power to customize trait selection based on your milk market, herd health, facilities, and business style. This tool acts as the ‘GPS’ for your herd’s genetic progress because it provides the directions to reach your genetic potential. The most valuable thing a Custom Index provides you with is the control over choosing what traits you want to focus on and their weighting of importance in your system.  

Be Confident in Building Your Custom Index 

We realize this is a newer concept and recognize that the thought of creating one yourself could be overwhelming. To help ease worries, we developed a step-by-step guide to assist you in building an effective Custom Index. 

  1. Starting with the end in mind, use these questions to determine the type of cows you want in your herd in the future.  
  • How do you get paid for your milk? 
  • Why do cows leave the dairy?  
  • What processor demands and facility changes are anticipated in the future?  
  • What does your herd need to look like in 5 years?  
  • What conformation issues are affecting efficiency in your operation?
  • What improvements in udder design are needed to make your cows more efficient for milking?  
  1. Now that you have a vision for your future herd, it is time to budget your 100 points into the three dairy trait categories—production, health and fitness, and confirmation—based on what is important to you. 
  1. Use the answers to your questions to start identifying the 5-8 traits that help you create the type of cow you want to milk in the future that will optimize your milk check. 
  1. Now it is time to use the information collected to draft your Custom Index using Bull Search to optimize your milk check.

Ensure that the Custom Index accurately selects genetics that reach the herd’s goals.  

  • Input these values into Bull Search and review the bulls that rank high on your next Custom Index.  
  • Work with your ABS team to analyze the Custom Index correlations with all traits to ensure the index selections are not inadvertently selecting for undesirable traits.  

You can design a better genetic calf crop with a Custom Index. It can help you identify the right sire to introduce to your herd. You can rank your females based on the right genetic mix for you. It can also assist you in determining which females you want to become mothers for the next generation and which will be bred to beef. You can even take your Custom Index to the next level by becoming a GENEadvance herd. The simple fact is a Custom Index is a tool that allows you to make faster genetic progress! 

Are you looking for help in building your Custom Index? Contact your ABS Genetic Advisor today or complete the form below! 

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