Setting & Achieving Reproductive Goals
Phillip Lunn, Dairy Account Manager, Genex
Setting goals for reproductive performance is a key aspect in the development and advancement of the reproductive program on most dairies. It is important these goals be realistically obtainable and relevant to the future of the operation, and they should be divided into short-term and long-term goals. There are a number of reproductive parameters that can be benchmarked to monitor reproductive efficiency. Pregnancy rate is certainly one of these parameters and one that is recognized by most dairy producers as an indicator of the overall viability of their reproductive program.
As stated earlier, goals for reproduction should be realistic. According to Dairy Performance NavigatorSM (DPN), herds in the top 10% for reproduction average around a 30% pregnancy rate, with some herds exceeding this by several percentage points. The herds recently nominated for the 2013 Genex Excellence in Reproduction Awards had an average cow preg rate of 28%, with top herds as high as 36%. This data shows preg rates in excess of 30% are reality for quite a few dairies we work with every day. For most dairies, however, a 30% preg rate is far from reality, but could be considered a reasonable long-term goal.
The most important aspect of goal setting is developing a strategy to achieve that goal. So what sets these top 10% herds apart from their neighbors? In other words, "What do I need to do to be like them?" Generally speaking, there is no one silver bullet that will allow one to achieve this goal but rather a combination of factors. These factors could possibly be combined under one heading: Attention to Detail.
Here are a few areas where top reproduction herds tend to excel:
- Genetic Selection. Paying attention to health traits, such as Daughter Pregnancy Rate and Productive Life, help to breed fertility into a herd and set the dairy up for future success. (Genex has an excellent tool for showing the effects of genetics when other management factors are basically constant.) Managers who have looked at health traits for multiple generations are now seeing Holstein conception rates in the high 40s and even consistently into the 50s.
- Environment, Health and Nutrition. Cows that are overcrowded, overheated and uncomfortable will not exhibit estrous, conceive and maintain a pregnancy as well as comfortable cows. Maintenance items such as routine foot care add to a cow’s comfort level and help the cow exhibit heat. A comprehensive transition program is vital to reproductive success too. Nutritional deficiencies or inconsistencies will play havoc on reproductive efficiency - watch for warning signs such as high percentages of off-cycle heats and sudden drops in service and\or conception rates. Also, observe body condition as cows that are too thin or too fat tend to have reproductive problems.
- Employee Education and Buy-in. Breeders and veterinary staff need to be informed of their importance and their impact on the bottom line of an operation. Shot compliance is absolutely essential for the success of a timed A.I. program. The employees responsible for administering timed A.I. shots need to know the role hormones play in reproduction and why it is so important they perform these tasks correctly.
- Shot Program. Timed A.I. programs are geared toward getting cows inseminated in a timely manner. While it might be possible to attain a 30% preg rate without a shot program, it would be difficult. However, the degree of dependence on these programs varies between operations.
Timed A.I. programs do not necessarily mean trying to breed cows as early as possible. According to DPN, the top 10% of herds for reproduction have an average voluntary wait period of 60.4 days in milk (DIM). A good rule of thumb is to get cows jump-started with a Presynch program followed by Ovsynch® or a combination of heat detection and Ovsynch. Either way, a good goal is to have 100% of first services occur before 90 DIM. An open diagnosis at vet check usually means these cows will enroll in a Resynch protocol.
- Vet Checks. Pregnancy checks should be performed ASAP, on average around 35 days since bred. Remember the purpose of a vet check is to identify open cows and get them back in the reproductive program.
Achieving a goal is certainly something to be proud of, but an increase in preg rate yields more than just bragging rights. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin determined increasing a preg rate from 20% to 30% resulted in a revenue increase of $132 per cow per year. Such an increase, while attainable, should be looked at as a considerably long-term goal. The same research concluded a move from 20% to 25% resulted in an average gain of $76 per cow. A change from 25% to 30% yielded $56 per cow. As stated earlier, goals should be realistically obtainable. Don’t aim too high too soon; changes such as genetic selection don’t happen overnight.
Remember, when setting goals you must take into account management decisions that may have an effect on those goals, such as heavy use of GenChoice™ sexed semen. Goals should be specific to the operation and reflect where management wants the operation to be in the future. Don’t obsess over a number, and don’t worry about what a neighbor is doing. It’s your management strategy, and theirs is likely not identical.
Genex Account Specialists are available to benchmark your individual herd. This provides you with an idea of where you stand right now, helps in setting goals that reflect where you want to be in the future, and can be used to monitor your progress as you work toward these goals. Contact your Genex representative for more information.