Measuring the Effectiveness of Reproduction on the Dairy Farm
Sarah Thorson, Beef Marketing & Education Manager, Genex
One of the main driver's of profitability on any dairy farm is reproduction. A great deal of time, energy and money is spent daily to ensure cows are getting and staying pregnant. But how can a dairy producer be sure his or her efforts are paying off? Careful recordkeeping and planning can help ensure the farm's reproduction program is working adequately. There are also a few numbers that can be used on a dairy to help measure the effectiveness of a reproduction program.
Service Rate/Heat Detection Rate
Service rate is defined as the percent of eligible females that are inseminated during a 21-day period. Heat detection rate is the percent of eligible females that are actually seen or detected in heat. In both cases, eligible females are defined as females that are open and past their voluntary waiting period. The service rate is closely associated with a herd's heat detection rate, and in cases where a herd uses 100 percent timed artificial insemination (A.I.) they will be equal.
Service rate and heat detection rates are important numbers to monitor to ensure a heat detection program is effective and that you are breeding enough cows. Effective heat detection and proper enrollment of eligible females into a timed A.I. program are the first steps in improving reproductive efficiency on the farm.
Genex Cooperative, Inc. uses a program called the Reproductive Profit ManagerTM (RPMTM) to help dairies monitor their reproductive performance. The current RPM database consists of over 576,000 females in over 500 herds. The average service rate of the herds in the RPM database is about 56 percent.
Conception rate is the percent of females that are confirmed pregnant when presented for pregnancy diagnosis. Pregnancy diagnosis can be effectively conducted by ultrasound, palpation or blood test.
Conception rate is often the number people feel the most comfortable talking about and one that tends to get a lot of focus. While it is important for a dairy producer to be aware of his or her farm's current conception rate, it is dangerous to place too much focus on this one single number. Conception rate can easily be influenced by "cherry picking" or being very selective when choosing which females should be bred. This selective choosing of females to inseminate can easily result in a higher conception rate, because only the females that are most likely to conceive are chosen; however, note that this practice usually results in a much lower overall service rate. The end result is that fewer females are inseminated, and fewer overall pregnancies are recorded, meaning it may be difficult to keep the barn and bulk tank full.
The current RPM database average for conception rate is 35 percent for cows and 52 percent for heifers.
Pregnancy rate is the percent of eligible females in a herd that conceive every 21 days. The formula for pregnancy rate combines both the herd's service rate and conception rate. This single number is probably the most important to look at and will give a dairy producer the most accurate overall picture of the effectiveness of his or her dairy's reproduction program.
Most experts agree herds should aim for a pregnancy rate of 20 percent or higher to have the most effective repro program possible.
The current RPM database average for pregnancy rate is 19.4 percent for cows and 21.3 percent for heifers.
Tips and Tricks
In evaluating the effectiveness of a herd's reproduction program it is important to keep in mind the individual herd goals. It is also important to understand how a certain reproduction approach fits the individual dairy. Here are a few key points to consider:
First, it is important to consider the labor and monetary requirements of implementing a reproduction program. It doesn't matter how well a synchronization or heat detection system should work, if it is too labor intensive or costs more money than a dairy producer is willing to spend, the results will not be favorable for the farm.
Second, compliance to synchronization programs and accurate and thorough heat detection can impact whether a farm's reproduction program succeeds or fails. The farm's A.I. success rate will be very low if the right cows are not getting the right shots on the right days or if females in heat are being missed or misidentified.
Finally, individual animal identification of all females and excellent recordkeeping procedures are extremely important to the success of any reproduction program.
A herd's reproduction program is one of the main drivers of profitability on a dairy. Careful consideration, implementation and monitoring of a herd's reproduction program will ensure a herd achieves its goals.