The principle purpose of SA Holstein (SAH) is to improve the breed. The maintenance of the Society and efforts made to assist members with services and products, are in support of breed improvement.

SAH is a Society of people interested in the ownership and development of Holstein Cattle. To achieve any goals and / or objectives, it is necessary that members place increased emphasis on full participation in breed improvement programmes, especially those related to increasing lifetime yield and improving functional conformation.

The 21st century in South Africa promises to be the age of information. It is the Society’s opinion that planning will be even more crucial in the next decade than it has been in the past century.

SAH therefore, provides this breed improvement policy as the guideline for the industry for the next decade. Realisation of the goals laid down in this document is a pre-requisite for South Africa to retain its status in Africa, and to enable us to be part of the rest of the world in dairy cattle breeding and in the exchange of information.

To continuously strive for genetic improvement by focusing on profitability traits for production and longevity, and to improve feed conversion efficiency.

1.  Purposes
2.  The Cow of the Future

3.  Research & Development

4.  Techniques

5.  Awards

6.  Information / Promotion


Dairy cows are maintained to convert roughage's which are unsuitable for human consumption into a high quality human food. Modern technology will bring about the development of new dairy products and new methods of utilizing nature’s most perfect food. However, the Holstein cow must compete as an efficient factory along with man’s highly efficient creation in producing food for tomorrow’s society.

Holsteins have over the past century, dominated the dairy cattle population in most parts of the world. It can therefore be said, that as a breed, they must be reasonable efficient converters.

It will be necessary to continue to produce a high quality product (cattle and production) with increasing efficiency that suits the market place.

Holstein Breeders in South Africa have a major role to play in future. They must be the industry leaders who guarantee that each successive generation of cows is superior to the previous one, superior to the extent that each decade at least a 10% genetic gain in yield (combined fat and protein) and efficiency is realized.


 Targets - To get as close as possible to the breeding objective, we need to set targets.
SAH believes that the cow of the future will be the one that maximizes returns to her owner. In genetic terms it will be the cow that has the maximum genetic merit. As all owners do not have a similar definition for genetic merit, SAH defines it to be “the cow that commences production at about 24 months of age, calves annually, produces high volumes of milk of good, consistent component value in a long lifetime”.

Quantitatively, the Society aims for an annual genetic gain for the primary traits combined fat and protein yield plus conformation) of 7.5%. This rate of improvement is based on improving each trait at the rate of 1% per year, increasing secondary traits at the rate of 2.5% per year, and monitoring other traits in an attempt to ensure that the population does not deteriorate in other aspects.

2.2  Primary Traits
Only traits that have a major influence on the profitability of SA Holstein are considered to be primary. Additionally, since selecting for more than two genetically independent traits limits the progress in any one trait to less than 70%, the primary traits have been kept to two of moderate to high heritability. These are:

Fat and protein yield, being on both an individual and lifetime basis, (expressed in a value), and Conformation, evaluated on a biological scale, (expressed in a value).

The breed policy for the next decade is to place emphasis on these primary traits in a ratio of 2:3:3. Individual breeders may deviate from this policy depending on their own circumstances and objectives.

2.3  Secondary Traits
Although butterfat percentage and protein are considered to be secondary traits, the Society wishes:  to increase protein percentage at an annual rate of .005%, and to keep butterfat percentage on a 3.5% level.

All other traits currently kept record of, or being measured, are considered “other” for a number of reasons. These include: low heritability, not measurable, or lack of accuracy, etc.

These traits need to be monitored in the population but need not receive emphasis in a programme. It assists in the fine-tuning of the breed which contributes to the overall superiority of the breed.

2.4  Recommendations
Efficiency on a dairy farm necessitates the consideration of both genetic and non-genetic traits. In relation to the improvement of the breed, the following are recommended.

   Calves that require minimal veterinary attention at birth and grow at a rapid rate.
       Heifers death loss less than 5% at first calving.
       Heifers growth based on maximum utilisation of forages.

For optimum production:
Heifers to be bred at a weight of 360kg at the age of 15 months. Age of heifers at first calving to be not more than 24 months, at which the weight to be at least 580kg (or 83% of mature weight).

Optimum rump height during first lactation to be between 142cm and 147cm.
Females should produce a live calf every 12 to 13 months.
The number of heifers reared annually to breeding age to be 40% of the number of milking cows, so that surplus heifers are available for sale.
Cows to be capable of completing at least six lactations. (Stay ability should be defined within the boundaries of economics).


Research is considered to be a necessity investment. For research to be effective, it must be a cohesive effort between members and the Society alike. Members must play a significant role in determining the destiny of the breed based on research. The Society considers its mandate to do research of a genetic nature. That includes research into determining the heritability of a trait and increasing the accuracy of the method of evaluation and analysis.

Society research for the next decade:

3.1  Total Genetic Merit
The relative emphasis of traits in overall selection and the most accurate method of ranking the population.

3.2  Conformation Evaluation
Ideal conformation as it relates to reproductive performance, measured by both conception and calving ease, first lactation's evaluations as they relate to subsequent evaluations and length of herd life, alternate evaluations which more accurately predict a long herd life.

3.3  Herd Life
Ideal length of life as it relates to selection, economics, and maximum genetic improvement.

3.4  Milk Yield
Traits as they relate to efficiency of production, accuracy of evaluation methods for both males and females, relative importance of single lactation yield and relative importance of lifetime yield.


4.1  Milk Recording

Future genetic and environmental improvements are dependent upon a dynamic milk recording program. The Society supports the need for a milk recording program which responds to the current and future needs of the dynamic dairy industry.

For use in genetic evaluations, overall accuracy is of vital importance. Measurements of yield and determination of milk composition should be verified by an unbiased organization, and conducted often and thoroughly enough that the results can be used with confidence for the intended purpose.

Performance recorded on program which do not meet the required level of accuracy, although not verified, are considered only useful to the herd owner.

Optimal utilization of milk recording programs in the collection of information is recommended for the benefit of both the herd owner and the industry. Production and management traits moderate to high in heritability, are considered to be an essential part of every milk recording program.

Genetic evaluation for production and management traits must relate to the population as stipulated by Interbull, and based on the recommended theory and methodology.

4.2  Type Classification
Conformation, as measured by the harmonized type classification program, has been supported by members and has served to measure the change in conformation of Holsteins in South Africa and abroad.

Accurate evaluations by experts comparing and measuring animals to a specific standard, are essential to the type classification program. The initial classifications should be made during a cow’s first lactation. Subsequent classifications will indicate the degree to which the animal achieves and maintains perfection as it matures. High scores expressed in final class are not assigned until the animal has calved twice, and had the opportunity to produce large quantities of milk.

The major areas requiring improvement in the breed are: rump width, rump angle, as it relates to calving ease and reproductive efficiency, and teat length. Traits which are on an acceptable level, but still need continued improvement are: teat placement, median ligament and udder depth.

The ranking of bulls for their ability to sire animals of superior conformation should be based on comparisons with other bulls in the breed, removing all factors that may tend to mask true genetic differences between bulls. To ensure continued improvement, it is necessary to adhere to the high standard on which the type classification program is based. The percentage distribution of the subjective evaluations within each category for Final Class, corresponds with those of leading countries in the world. It is important that these distributions be maintained through continuous high quality training and monitoring of classifiers.

4.3  AI Industry
SAH and the AI industry share the responsibility for the genetic improvement of the Holstein breed. For this reason, the Society supports those organizations which can serve the dairy industry in a cost effective and efficient way in supplying superior genetics and breed related information.

The Society supports semen producing businesses and semen supplying businesses which: follow the breed’s genetic policies, operate satisfactory bull testing programs, have sires available or semen available of sires, that allow dairymen to maximize the rate of genetic improvement in their herds, and follow all codes of the Society.

The Society furthermore supports the exchange of young sires to be tested simultaneously in and from other recognized Holstein countries.

4.4  Nucleus Moet Schemes
The Society supports the formation of Nucleus Moet Schemes which can assist in increasing the rate of genetic improvement, increase reproductive rate and shorten the generation interval of cows.


The awards programs of SA Holstein should be designed to recognize both animals of superior merit and members who breed or own animals which are superior. Individual animal awards should be based on single recordings, lifetime results, and animals contributing significantly to breed improvement.


The Society and its members have a responsibility to inform and promote to South African dairymen the benefits of ownership and membership.

Ultimately, the goal is to have the majority of South African dairymen actively participating members of the Society.

A complete array of promotion and information literature on all aspects of Holsteins should be provided be the Society. The literature should reflect the overall breed improvement policy.

Shows are beneficial to both individual members who participate, and the Society. The Society, where possible, will assist participating members and promote shows. Shows may assist in achieving improvement in the breed, but are not considered as an integral part of breed improvement. The Society is of the opinion that shows get their maximum benefit when the level of competition is high, where the numbers of animals are large, and when judges select for the animals which accord with the breed Standards of Excellence.

Similar goals are common to most dairymen throughout the world. The basis of similarity is that of profitable returns from the production of milk (as its components) and the sale of cattle. The differences are in how these goals are achieved.

SAH approach to maximizing genetic improvement, must allow for individual breeder decisions. Individual breeders may wish to develop a herd of a sub-population of genetically superior animals for either of the primary traits. This hopefully will also assist in achieving the breed goals of an annual increase of .75% in total genetic merit based on an annual genetic gain of 1% for both production and conformation.

While the Society should take full advantage of science, it still respects the breeder for the unique mating which carry the herd and breed to new achievements.

In conclusion, SAH stresses that breeding dairy cattle is a long-term process, and to achieve maximum improvement in the genetic merit of Holsteins, a balanced and proportional emphasis must be placed on traits.


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