Friday, August 4, 2017

Now I Can Retire

By: Doug Wilson, CRI CEO

After 49 years in the A.I. industry, it is time to move on to my second career and become a full-time farmer. One-half of my career was spent in direct cattle genetics work and one-half indirectly through general management.

Years ago, as the Director of Dairy Cattle Breeding at ABS, I had the opportunity to hire the late Morris Ewing as a sire analyst. Morris had been on the genetic staff at Curtiss Breeding Service and was the first industry sire person with a master’s degree in genetics. Morris was a great cow man, an exceptional educator, a Jersey lover and considered a giant in his time.

Morris and I often traveled together. He would joke that when we retire we should write an article that expresses our largest disappointment. His idea was to tell it like it is if, at retirement, it would not harm the organization we worked for. During my last 39 years spent with GENEX and its predecessors, I have kept that discussion in mind. I’m retiring next week, so thought now is the time to write that article.

As further background, it is important to know I love the show ring. I have shown horses, pigs, beef and homing pigeons at local and state levels. At the national level, I have exhibited dogs, sheep, and dairy. In fact, in 2017, I have been at 10 sheep shows and have five more to go.

Decade after decade after decade.
In 1979, linear evaluation of dairy cows was launched using a 50-point scale. This provided data for research so we could finally answer the long-debated issue of what the most profitable cow really looked like from a phenotypic viewpoint.

In 1985, GENEX predecessor 21st Century Genetics and Dr. Gene Freeman at Iowa State University presented the first research clearly illustrating the medium stature cow (57 to 58 inches at the withers) was the longest lasting, most efficient cow. This was 35 years ago. During the five years that followed, eight other research papers were published, which all supported the medium size cow was best.

Equipped with this data, our cooperative launched a decades-long campaign to educate and sell the dairy industry on the goal of breeding for medium stature. We presented speeches at conferences, World Dairy Expo, state conventions, national conventions and around the globe. We developed many articles. The most controversial article was “The Cow in Fourth Place is Simply Too Tall.” During this time, we swam upstream in the sales world because of our stance.

We participated on committees and met with breed associates to encourage changes to reduce final score once a cow was above 58 inches. In 2014, we developed the Ideal Commercial Cow (ICC$) index to support our long-held belief.

My largest disappointment.
Perhaps we were simply poor communicators, but it took 30 years (three decades) before the industry began to change their attitude. During the last five years, the marketplace (driven by large commercial herd owners) has begun to penalize bulls that sire tall cows. Semen sales have shifted dramatically. Just the other week, I was informed the Holstein Association will be putting a slight negative weighting on stature in the TPI® formula.

A negative person might ask why it took three decades to change the industry’s opinion when it was overwhelming science that directed us. On the bright side, it is great the industry is now rapidly moving to a medium-sized cow to help improve profits at the herd level. We know it is right. We have known for a long time that it is right.

Now, while we know the show ring doesn’t always follow suit with the commercial side of the industry, the people who judge our shows hold an awesome responsibility. They greatly impact the goals and phenotypic direction of the breed. They greatly influence the global perception of U.S. genetics.

There is no doubt that judges have changed and are changing. Simply being tall does not win. This is great, but are judges doing enough when the science is so clear and the commercial dairy producers are sending such a clear signal? As a judge, you are an educator. Never underestimate how many people you influence. You can set a new standard. If the cow is above 58 inches, put her in fourth. There are plenty of great uddered, good foot and leg, open ribbed and balanced medium-sized cows. I have watched judges entirely change stature or frame goals in other species. Why not dairy? I am fairly sure breed associations will follow and reduce final score as cows get taller.

There it is, Morris. My biggest disappointment in a 49-year career is the length of time it has taken for the industry to realize the medium-sized cow is the most profitable AND the time it continues to take for the show ring to follow suit. Thank goodness it is changing, but it took way too long and cost far too much money. Now I can retire! 

About the Author:
Doug Wilson grew up on a dairy and beef farm near St. Charles, Iowa. While raising Guernsey and Angus cattle, he was active in cattle judging contests and was named the Iowa State Outstanding Dairy 4-H Member. Doug chose Iowa State University as his alma mater, and received a bachelor’s degree in dairy science.

He began his career in the dairy cattle breeding department of ABS. Later, he accepted the position of director of genetic programs at 21st Century Genetics (a GENEX predecessor). He served as GENEX chief operating officer before becoming CEO of Cooperative Resources International (the parent company of GENEX).

During his 49 years in the agriculture industry, Doug has worked for the betterment of the industry specifically in the development of dairy genetic programs. He has become known worldwide as an industry leader and earned recognition as the World Dairy Expo Industry Person of the Year, Iowa State University Distinguished Dairy Science Graduate, University of Wisconsin-River Falls Distinguished Agriculturist and Dairy Shrine Guest of Honor. Doug is also a great advocate of youth in agriculture and has served on many committees that promote this mission.


  1. Enjoyed reading your blog Doug. I find it very fortunate to be able to serve on the Genex Board of Directors with you as our CEO and COO. Best of luck to you as you retire. Kay Olson-Martz

  2. Congratulations on a wonderful career Doug. Your influence in the dairy industry isn't over - but how lucky of CRI & Genex to get to capitalize from it during your tenure there. Enjoy retirement!