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Category Archives: Alta News

What is a four-event cow?

Meet cow 8968.

She lives on an 1500-cow dairy farm in Wisconsin, where she’s milked three times per day through a double-20 parallel parlor. She’s fed a well-balanced ration, and spends her time resting in sand-bedded freestalls. She is a second lactation cow, sired by 11HO11499 AltaMEGLO, and she’s what we call a 4-event cow.

A 4-event cow?

If you look at any cow card in DairyComp or your herd management program, a 4-event cow has only four major events listed throughout her lactation:

  1. Fresh
  2. Bred
  3. Confirmed pregnant
  4. Dry

In the case of 8968, this means she had a live calf with no troubles. She had no milk fever, ketosis, or retained placenta. No other metabolic issues slowed her down after calving, and by avoiding those issues, she did not incur treatment costs.

After a 60-day voluntary wait period, 8698 was bred. Since BRED is only listed once on her cow card, we know it took only one unit of semen – just one insemination for her to conceive.

She was later confirmed pregnant, noted as PREG on her cow card. This is only possible because she did not have early embryonic death loss or an abortion, and no other reproductive troubles.

The fourth, and final event of 8968’s lactation shows as DRY on her cow card. This means there were no other lingering issues throughout her lactation. She went about her business as usual, until it was time to be dried off in preparation for her next lactation.

What’s missing?

You might wonder what is missing from 8968’s cow card. Of course, maintenance events like pen moves, foot trims, vaccinations, and pregnancy rechecks also occur during a cow’s lactation.

But what’s really missing in a 4-event cow’s lactation are the setbacks – the costly, time-consuming issues that hinder overall herd profitability. A 4-event cow like 8968 does not get mastitis. She doesn’t become lame, and she does not abort her calf midway through the pregnancy. She avoids the sickness, infections and troubles that cause major headaches for every dairy producer.

Can genetics help create a herd of four-event cows?

One of the best ways to create more four-event cows is to select for Productive Life (PL) within your customized genetic plan. Genetic selection for PL doesn’t just mean more old cows. It predicts which cows are toughest, healthiest and easiest to manage.

Including Productive Life in your genetic plan will increase your odds of having a herd full of four-event cows. The actual measure of PL is not calculated until after a cow leaves the herd. However, we can use other ways to see if higher PL bulls actually create healthier and more trouble-free cows.

Table 1 breaks down the events within the herd where cow 8968 lives. It includes all animals with known Holstein sire ID’s. Based only on each animal’s parent average for Productive Life, this shows the real difference in the health events between high PL pedigreed cows and low PL pedigrees.

These are real numbers, recorded on this farm’s herd management software program. Keep in mind, management is consistent throughout the herd, and no preferential treatment is provided for any given cow.

# of cowsAvg. Sire PLAborts‘Do Not Breed’SoldDiedMastitisRPDAKetosisPneuMetritisLame
Cow 896816.30---0000000
Top 50% - High PL Cows4785.5151211363311558
Bottom 50% - Low PL Cows5022.57090241523096121537630

The table clearly shows the high PL cows had fewer issues after calving and throughout their lactation. High PL cows had fewer aborts, were coded as ‘do not breeds’ (DNB) less often, and had fewer cases of DA’s, lameness, mastitis, and RPs. This led to fewer of the high PL cows leaving the herd involuntarily.

Compare those results to 8968. Her sire, AltaMEGLO is a 6.3 for sire PL, which is a big part in her status as a 4-event cow with no issues.

Make more 4-event cows like 8968

Cow 8968 is not only a 4-event cow. She’s a profitable cow. Consider the time and money you save, and peace of mind you gain, with 4-event cows. A herd full of cows like 8968 don’t require costly treatments, and don’t drop in milk production due to those health concerns.

Keep these costs – or savings – in mind as you customize your genetic plan. If healthy, trouble-free cows are your goal, genetic selection for Productive Life will help you create more of those desirable 4-event cows – just like cow 8968.

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Jersey generation counts and breed purity

Breed purity is a hot topic for Jerseys.

Many elite Jersey sires have Holstein heritage somewhere in their pedigree. The Jersey Genetic Recovery and Jersey Expansion programs have allowed those bulls to upgrade to registered status.

These programs allow breeders to enroll animals that appear as Jerseys, or are sired by a Jersey bull, into the herd registry. While the programs are beneficial in growing the registered Jersey population, many producers are now confused as to just what qualifies an AI bull as a Jersey.

The American Jersey Cattle Association (AJCA) board of directors developed some visual cues within an animal’s registered name to eliminate confusion on Jersey breed purity.

Generation Count and a JX prefix have been added to full names to signify a hole in the pedigree or unknown dairy ancestry. Breed Base Representation (BBR) is now displayed on all animals recorded with the ACJA to represent the amount of Jersey blood within the pedigree.

Generation Count (GC)

Generation Count shows breed purity by telling how many generations an animal is removed from other breed ancestry. An animal’s name will include a suffix enclosed in brackets {  }. The number within the brackets tells us the number of AJCA-recoded ancestry, from 1-6.

A GC of 1 means the animal is one generation removed from an unknown or non-Jersey in the pedigree. A GC of 6 means the animal is six generations removed from an unknown or non-Jersey animal. The brackets telling the generation count are dropped when seven or more generations of ancestors are recorded by the AJCA.

Offspring of a mating will be one generation count higher than the lowest parent.

JX Prefix

In addition to the number within the brackets, a JX prefix is also found on the majority of the pedigrees that contain a generation count. The JX prefix indicates that there is unknown dairy (most commonly Holstein) parentage in the pedigree. The GC then tells us how far back in the pedigree the unknown dairy breed can be found.

If you see a bull with a GC but no JX prefix, that means that the missing part in the pedigree is an unidentified Jersey.

Breed Base Representation (BBR)

BBR is a genomic trait that compares the DNA of a genotyped animal to a Jersey reference group and all other breeds. The Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding (CDCB) policy is to report BBR values of 94 or greater as 100 due to standard deviations. Bulls below BBR 94 will be noted on their pedigree. The AJCA will publish a BBR value for all recorded animals.

Males will be published on one of two reports.

Males on the main list include those who:

  • are Herd Registered
    • more than 6 generations of identified Jersey parentage
  • have a Generation Count of 4-6 and a BBR of 100

Males on the secondary list include those with a:

  • Generation Count of 3 (regardless of BBR)
  • Generation Count of 4-6, if their BBR is less than 94

The examples below show the bull pages for three bulls with different breed purity. It explains where to find generation count, the JX prefix and breed base representation.

AltaBAYNES {3}

A. The 3 in brackets shows that AltaBAYNES is 3 generations removed from non-Jersey ancestry.
B. The JX prefix in his full, registered name, means that the missing link in his pedigree, 3 generations back, is not a Jersey.
C. Shows AltaBAYNES’ BBR to be 98, meaning he has 98% of his genes in common with the reference Jersey population.

Offspring of AltaBAYNES will be Generation Count 4 and Non-HR.

AltaMONTRA {6}

A. The 6 in brackets shows that AltaMONTRA is 6 generations removed from non-Jersey ancestry.
B. The JX prefix in his full, registered name, means that the missing link in his pedigree, 6 generations back, is not a Jersey.
C. Shows AltaMONTRA’s BBR to be 100, meaning his genes are all in common with the reference Jersey population.

Offspring will be Generation Count 6 if he is mated to a GC 5 female. Offspring will be HR (herd registered) if he is mated to a GC 6 or HR female

AltaCHIVE

A. Because there is not a bracketed number with AltaCHIVE’s name, that means he is herd registered, with either with no ancestry that is non-Jersey, or any non-Jersey ancestry is further back than 6 generations.
B. Because there is no non-Jersey ancestry within the first 6 generations of AltaCHIVE’s pedigree, he also does not have a JX prefix in his full, registered name.
C. Shows AltaCHIVE’s BBR to be 100. As expected, that means his genes are all in common with the reference Jersey population.

Offspring will be HR with no generation count if he is mated to a GC 6 or HR female.

At Alta, we are committed to providing you with the most reliable genetics available. In order to fulfill this promise, we offer a diversified Jersey product lineup focusing on the traits that are most profitable to your bottom line.

We have the highest level of confidence in the genetic and genomic predictions of BBR 100 bulls. We recognize that clients have choices, so we will always market with full transparency.

To learn more about the Rules for the Registration and Transfer of Jersey Cattle, click HERE.

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Producers gain applicable reproductive knowledge

Sixteen producers from several provinces gained applicable knowledge on reproductive strategies at the Alta Dairy Manager School held in Ottawa, ON December 5-7, 2018.

In this intense, 2.5-day course, participants learned through a mix of classroom sessions and on-farm training. They studied the newest, research-based ideas in reproduction in a small class setting. This set-up allowed everyone to ask the real questions that relate to their own farm’s current situations and future goals. Participants left the training with real ideas they could implement on their farms to improve their herd reproduction and profitability.

Dairy Manager School presenters included Dr. Luís Mendonça, Dr. Glaucio Lopes and Chris Rember.

Dr. Luís Mendonça presents to participants during the Canadian Dairy Manager School on reproduction
Dr. Luís Mendonça presents to participants during the Canadian Dairy Manager School on reproduction.
Dairy Manager School participants learn herd reproductive strategies during the on-farm portion of the school.
Dairy Manager School participants learn herd reproductive strategies during the on-farm portion of the school.
Chris Rember, Alta Genetics Elite Account Manager, shares advice on heifer reproduction during the December 2018 Alta Dairy Manager School.
Chris Rember, Alta Genetics Elite Account Manager, shares advice on heifer reproduction during the December 2018 Alta Dairy Manager School.
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A sire’s progression from new to daughter-proven

Genomic proofs give us the confidence to use exciting sires sooner! You can rest assured these bulls will deliver on their genetic promises because genomic testing provides an immediate reliability of around 70% for production, health and conformation traits.

You might be wondering, what are the different genomic sire options? And how do they progress from their first release to daughter-proven status? Let’s break it down…

Alta ADVANTAGE logo

Alta ADVANTAGE

Our newest sires are available only to our loyal Alta ADVANTAGE partner herds. These Alta ADVANTAGE only sires offer diverse trait specialties and elite rankings on many different customized genetic plans.

When a bull is first old enough to be collected, he simply won’t produce enough semen to be readily available to all farms around the globe. So while we work to build semen inventory, we give our loyal Alta ADVANTAGE partner herds priority access to these elite, new sires that best fit their customized genetic plans.

Alta G-STAR logo - fast forward genetic progress

G-STARS

Once a bull starts producing enough semen, he is added to the G-STAR sire list. Many new G-STAR bulls are readily available this proof round. Among these sires are a wide array of trait outliers, and high ranks to fit your genetic plan.

Alta FUTURE STAR logo - calving ease and fertility assured

FUTURE STARS

About a year after a bull is first released, we know results for both sire fertility and calving ease. We gather this data and analyze the results. We then award the FUTURE STAR designation to only the bulls that prove themselves above average for sire fertility and have real observations that say he’s less than 8% for sire calving ease.

FUTURE STARS are the way to go if you want the benefits of elite genomics, but prefer the added peace of mind of proven sire fertility and calving ease. You may give up some production and health as compared to the available G-STAR or ADVANTAGE only sires. But you gain peace of mind knowing that you’re upping your chances for a pregnancy and a live calf resulting from an easier calving. Because of the known calving ability, FUTURE STARS are ideal options to use on heifers.

That explains the progression a bull makes as a genomic-proven sire. So you now know the difference between each genomic sire option. With that in mind, compare the average genetic level of each group in the table below.

You’ll see the newest, Alta ADVANTAGE bulls have the highest genetic averages. That’s followed by the G-STAR sires, and then by the more highly reliable FUTURE STARS. You’ll also see the comparison to daughter-proven sire averages, just for reference.

December 2018 program averagesTPIMilkProtFatPTATUDCFLCPLDPRSCS
Alta ADVANTAGE2794175068911.651.710.766.52.52.71
G-STAR2708157362841.921.891.125.52.12.80
FUTURE STAR2573161360721.521.490.874.71.92.85
DAUGHTER-PROVEN2391113142561.371.560.793.91.72.82

Despite the big difference in genetic averages between the genomic lists and daughter-proven averages, it’s important to note that every single bull atop our current daughter-proven list was once a part of the G-STAR and/or FUTURE STAR lists.

The track record is significant for our current genomic favorites. Each proof round, we see these genomic bulls deliver on their initial predictions, and eventually graduate to daughter-proven success.

 Put your genetics into action

With that in mind, have confidence to use a team of sires from the Alta ADVANTAGE, G-STAR or FUTURE STAR lists. Alternatively, if you prefer the peace of mind from higher-reliability proven sires, you’ll certainly find the right bulls to fit your needs among that list.

Select a group of bulls that meet your customized goals for production, health and conformation so you drive your progress to match your current situation and future goals.

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Top takeaways from December sire proofs

1. Sire proofs are now more accurate

The Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding (CDCB) is now using a new reference genome and additional SNPs to calculate genomic proofs. While this alone may not mean anything to you, it does affect some genetic ranks.

In addition to a different, updated reference genome they are also basing calculations off 80,000 SNPs, up from the previous 60,000.

To better explain, PEAK Geneticist, Doug Bjelland compares this to finding a house on a map. The previous reference genome and number of SNPs would help us locate on which street a house is located. The new update means we can find exactly where on that street the house is at. In short, these updates give us greater genomic proof accuracy.

Because of these updates, on average, industry sires changed as follows. However, individual bulls may have went up or down more than these averages.

  • HO daughter-proven sires: ↓8 NM$ | HO genomic-proven sires: ↓ 14 NM$
  • JE daughter-proven sires: ↓6 NM$ | JE genomic-proven sire: ↓18 NM$

Want more details on these changes, check out this CDCB article HERE.

2. You’ll find high ranking sires to fit your genetic plan

Because genomics gives us continual access to ever-increasing genetic levels, we have some exciting new bulls atop each of our marketing lists:

  • 13 brand new Alta ADVANTAGE only sires
  • 12 new G-STAR bulls
  • 11 new FUTURE STARS
  • 15 new daughter-proven favorites, including 4 of the top 10 sires on the industry LPI list!

Whether you’re looking for Holsteins or Jersey sires, you’ll find the right ones to match your current situation and future goals, regardless of the customized genetic plan you’ve set for your farm.

3. Sire fertility matters

We want to help you create more pregnancies. So we keep you as informed as possible on updated sire fertility ratings on conventional and sexed semen. Look for the orange CONCEPT PLUS logo for conventional semen or the purple 511 CONCEPT PLUS logo to know which are the highest fertility sexed sires.

To implement a true precision approach to fertility management, work with your trusted advisor.

4. Sexed semen awareness

We know sexed semen demand continues to increase on progressive dairies around the world. And we’re working hard to accommodate that demand. With this proof round, we’re bringing greater access to more available sexed sires.

Whether you choose the newest Alta 511 SexedULTRA bulls or prefer known sexed fertility through 511 CONCEPT PLUS ratings, we have the right bulls to fit your genetic plan.

5. Beef x dairy is part of a genetic strategy

Have you kicked your genetic strategies into high gear by using beef on your lower end genetic animals? If so, we have the beef sires you need. We can help you create that pregnancy to reap the benefits of an immediate premium for the beef x dairy calves.

Work with your trusted advisor to see what type of herd inventory planning and female ranking tools we can help you with as part of your herd’s genetic strategy.

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December sire lists

No matter what genetic plan you’ve put in place on your farm, we have daughter-proven and genomic-proven bulls to meet your goals.

We have access to information on the specialty sires you need, all in one place. In printer-friendly formats, you’ll find A2A2, polled, outcross, robot-suited and kappa casein sires. There is also a listing of our milking speed ratings, 100% registry status listings and a list of DWP$ and WT$ on all Alta sires.

Whether these criteria or other traits match your current situation and future goals, work with your trusted Alta advisor to customize your genetic plan. You can do that by using our Advanced Bull Search or Alta GPS.

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What’s a fertility leader?

Have you ever really thought about what’s involved to get highly fertile semen from the bull to your tank, and then into your cows or heifers? Fertility leadership is backed by the Alta people, processes and programs involved in every step.

PEOPLE

Fertility excellence is what drives our team! We hire and extensively train only those who share a commitment and passion to your herd’s reproductive success. From semen collection and evaluation to distribution and delivery, our barn and lab staff, veterinarians, distribution crew, technicians, and sales force are all committed to help you get cows pregnant.

PROCESSES

We deliver the highest quality semen through continual innovation. Our scientists on staff are always looking for the best ways to enhance semen quality through extender research, potency trials, and more. We implement the same, strict semen handling processes and quality control checks at each of our AI centers located in six different countries around the world.

PROGRAMS

We choose the industry’s leading sire fertility evaluation, CONCEPT PLUS, as the only way to measure Alta sire fertility. CONCEPT PLUS is based on pregnancy check results from DairyComp data in our large, progressive partner dairies. We update results every other month for the most reliable sire fertility information – and we’re transparent about which bulls offer superior or inferior fertility.

You can trust CONCEPT PLUS.

Twenty years ago, we challenged traditional fertility evaluations to align with the real needs of progressive herds: creating efficient pregnancies. CONCEPT PLUS goes above and beyond today’s industry evaluations to bring you the most trusted, accurate, and proven designation in sire fertility.

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Western Canada Colostrum Tour

Alta teamed up with Dr. Mike Nagorske from SCCL, to share news, updates and knowledge on calf rearing and colostrum management with dairy producers throughout western Canada November 26-30.

During three separate one-day sessions in British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba, dairy producers were able to learn first hand from Dr. Nagorske about the following topics related to managing calves and colostrum.

  • Managing colostrum on day one
  • The role of transition milk for calves
  • Mimicking transition milk with colostrum replacer
  • Mitigating calf diarrhea
  • News on the importance of on-farm sanitation
  • Milk replacer feeding strategies
  • Weaning considerations based on feeding programs
  • Metrics to optimize genetic potential
  • Utilizing of average daily gain, health metrics and culling to influence future milk production
Dairy producers in Manitoba learn best practices on managing calves and colostrum. Similar sessions were held for dairy farmers in British Columbia and Alberta.
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Haplotype & genomic reliability updates

Based on new findings from the Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding (CDCB), one new haplotype will be added, and two others removed, starting with December 2018 proofs. Alta Bull Search and Alta GPS will be programmed according to this new information.

A new Holstein haplotype, HH6, was recently identified in France, and is currently found in about 0.5% of animals in the US Holstein population. Mating two HH6 carriers is expected to yield a 7%-11% drop in conception rate.

Further research into the JH2 haplotype in Jerseys and the BH1 haplotype in Brown Swiss showed no significant fertility losses on matings between carriers. This, paired with the fact that researchers could find no causative mutation on these two haplotypes, means they will no longer be reported.

Gene test advancements

In addition to new and discontinued haplotypes, the reported haplotypes are also gaining accuracy. PEAK Geneticist, Doug Bjelland, compares the improved accuracy of haplotypes to locating a house on a map. The previous way of recognizing haplotypes essentially showed us which street a house is located on. Now, because of gene test advancements for causative mutations to determine haplotypes, we know exactly where on that street a house is located.

Upgraded genomic reliability

Improved genomic accuracy also extends beyond the gene test. Researchers are now using an 80k SNP chip. This means they are using nearly 80,000 markers on the genome, up from the previous 60,000 used since 2014.

The additional markers, combined with a new reference genome, give genomic predictions about a 1% – 2% improvement in reliability.

What does this mean for you?

We want to keep you up-to-date on the newest genetic findings. Updates on haplotypes and genomic accuracy are one part of that. Because the haplotype updates will be accounted for within the AltaGPS program, you can have confidence that potential carriers of two bulls will not be mated together. That means your clients are protected from any potential fertility losses that could result in mating two carriers of any given haplotype.

Improved genomic accuracy should give you, and your clients, even more confidence that genomics and genetics continue to advance at more rapid rate. It’s as important now as it ever has been, to ensure your clients select genetics according to their customized genetic plan so the progress they make aligns with their current situation and future goals.

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A2: genetic fad or future?

Since its 2015 US debut, A2 milk has been a hot topic among dairy producers. Now, the latest A2 buzz comes from consumers. This follows the launch of the A2 Milk Company’s national television advertising campaign, and increased local availability of A2 milk in many grocery stores.

While the curiosity around A2 milk grows, it’s important to evaluate whether this is just another fad in genetic selection, or a real future of the industry.

What is A2 milk?

A2 milk comes from cows with two copies of the A2 gene for beta casein.

Cows’ milk is about 87 percent water and 13 percent solids. Those solids include lactose, fat, protein, and minerals.

To find the A2 gene, we look to the protein in milk. Casein is what makes up the majority of milk protein, and about 30% of that casein is called beta casein. The two most common variants of the beta casein gene are A1 and A2, so any given bovine will be either A1A1, A1A2 or A2A2 for beta casein.

Milk from US cows has traditionally contained a combination of both A1 and A2 beta casein.

Isn’t A2 milk for people with lactose intolerance?

Not necessarily. A2 milk contains the same amount of lactose as non-A2 milk. So a person who has been clinically diagnosed with lactose intolerance will see no benefits from drinking A2 milk.

Some studies have shown the A2 beta casein in milk to be more easily digestible than the A1 beta casein. This means that the discomfort some people experience after drinking milk could actually be linked to an A1 aversion rather than to lactose intolerance.

Since the majority of lactose intolerance cases are self-diagnosed, for those people, A2 milk could be the answer.

How do you get cows that produce A2 milk?

The only way to have a herd that produces A2 milk is through genetic selection.

For a cow to produce true A2 milk, she must have two copies of the A2 gene in her DNA. Each animal receives one copy of the beta casein gene from its sire and one copy from its dam. So for a 100% chance at an A2A2 animal, you must breed an A2A2 bull to an A2A2 cow.

How do you know if your animals are A2?

The only way to know for sure, is a genomic test. Some companies offer A2 genetic testing as an add-on to a full genomic test. Others offer testing for A2 on its own, for as little as $15.

How long will it take to convert your herd to only A2?

This entirely depends on how aggressive your approach is. If your goal is to immediately become 100% A2A2, you can make that happen. To do that, you’d need to genomic test each of your animals, keep only those verified as A2A2, and sell the rest.

A less extreme option for large, multi-site dairies is to genomic test all females, and sort any animals verified as A2A2 all to one site.

But since those aren’t realistic options for most farms, another approach is to limit your sire selection to only bulls confirmed as A2A2. Most AI companies publish this information on their proof sheets and/or websites.

A rough approximation of active AI sires shows about 13% are A1A1, 46% are A1A2 and 41% are A2A2. If you figure that same proportion within your own herd, it would take seven generations of breeding your untested females strictly to A2A2 bulls before you’d reach 99% of A2A2 females.

Pie graph showing that about 41% of bulls in active AI are A2A2. 46% of bulls are A1A2 and 13% of bulls are A1A1.
More than 40% of active AI sires are A2A2.

What do you have to lose by selecting A2A2 sires?

With 40%, or more, of active AI sires verified as A2A2, you have a good number of sire options to use in your breeding program. This also means that less than half of the bulls out there are A2A2, so you will miss out on some sire choices by implementing this as part of your breeding program.

Every time you add a filter to your genetic selection criteria, you limit the amount of genetic progress you can make in your herd.

Should you select for A2 in your breeding program?

If you are offered milk premiums for producing A2 milk, or see that option in your future, then selection for A2A2 sires is a wise decision. However, chasing that bonus, if it isn’t guaranteed will mean you limit your genetic options.

No one can predict the future. So it’s hard to tell yet, whether A2 is just a fad, or the future of the industry.

Regardless of your selection decision around A2 sires, make sure it aligns with your dairy’s customized genetic plan. Emphasize the production, health and conformation traits that match your farm’s current situation and future goals. This will help maximize future profitability and genetic progress in the direction of your goals.

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