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Abby the Holstein earns her way into the record books

by Linda Hiller

In a way, Abby is the cow that gave the golden egg.

On Sierra Vista Farms off Centerville Lane, one of only two remaining dairies in the Carson Valley, Chris and Valree Hellwinkel took some bad news and turned it around a few years ago.

One of their prize milk cows, Abby, was mysteriously injured during an early morning earthquake in 1994.

“We don’t now how it happened, she might have fallen or been hit by something, but when Chris went to do the milking, he noticed her abdomen was swollen and when they started her milk, there was blood in it, so they pulled her off the line,” Valree said.

After losing six gallons of blood and getting a veterinarian’s examination, it was determined that Abby should no longer be milked with the other 149 cows, which was no small blip to the Hellwinkels.

Abby was, after all, one of their best milkers and had already gotten quite a bit of attention in the Holstein world as a very special individual.

“Every dairyman wants to breed the perfect cow, and she was our perfect cow,” Valree said. “When she got hurt it was scary, because we didn’t know if she’d make it, but after she recovered, we realized it was a blessing in disguise.”

n Brilliant idea. In order to turn misfortune around, the Hellwinkels decided to harvest embryos from Abby so she could pass on her great genes, and in the process they have increased her breeding ability far beyond what she could have done on her own, which would have been one calf at a time.

Instead, they use the expertise of Turlock, Calif., veterinary specialist Jimmy Webb to help with the embryo transplant process which involves giving her hormones to stimulate the production of eggs, and then breeding her artificially.

Later, the veterinarian comes and flushes the eggs out of Abby’s ovaries, and these (hopefully) fertilized eggs are then implanted in other heifers.

So, instead of one calf, in this last “flush,” Abby produced 13 babies. Three were bull calves and 10 were heifers (females).

n Number three in the U.S. And this year, almost five years after her injury, Abby was rated as the No. 3 Holstein on the PTAT list, which stands for “predicting transmitting ability for type.”

Basically, this means she looks good according to industry standards, she has good calves and she’s a quality and quantity milker.

This makes her among the top Holsteins in the United States. In fact, on this year’s PTAT list, she is one of only two Nevada cows, the other one being her mother or “dam,” Abra. Most of the other cows on the list come from dairy states such as Wisconsin, Iowa and Pennsylvania.

In a full page ad in the January 1999 issue of Holstein World, it says “Abby has been an exceptional individual, she was hurt after freshening in as a 4-year-old and we narrowly saved her. However, it did end her milking and classification future. We have been fortunate that Abby has produces some embryos, ensuring her legacy will continue.”

Because of her elevated position on the PTAT list and also due to her reputation in the Holstein world, Abby’s offspring is worth more than an ordinary calf

“The average price of a young Holstein is around $300 to $400, but a good pedigreed animal can go for much more than that,” Valree said. “Like pedigreed dogs, cows are worth more, depending on their parents.”

As an embryo donor, Abby now serves as a nice supplement to a dairy family who is just trying to do what everyone else is trying to do – make a decent living.

Abby will be 9 on Tuesday. Chris said the oldest cow he’s had on the farm – an ancestor of Abby’s – lived to 17 and produced more than 250,000 pounds of milk in her lifetime.

He hopes Abby lives that long, or longer.