People, Protocols & Teamwork
Kristi Fiedler, Associate Vice President of U.S. Technical Services, Genex
When I was a dairy herd consultant in the mid-2000s, I worked with many dairy managers that were very excited to reach a 20% pregnancy rate. At the time, these herds were top performers. Today, that performance level is considered average. According to the Dairy Performance Navigator℠ database - a benchmark performance tool by Genex Cooperative, Inc. and Cargill - a 19.6% pregnancy rate is average (n=659). The top 10% of herds (n=66) achieve a 29.3% pregnancy rate.
Each year Genex recognizes members and customers who achieve those top-notch reproduction results. The 2014 Genex Excellence in Reproduction Award winners (shown in Table 1) achieved an average pregnancy rate of 32.3% (n=9), ranging from 28-35%. So, how do these farms perform at this outstanding level?
When I asked these repro award winners what factors contribute to their success, the most common answers were people, protocols and teamwork. People was their number one answer.
As Don Jensen of Lawnhurst Dairy stated, their success is attributed to "having the right people do the right job every day." Whether it is a professional breeder or the herd inseminator doing the daily heat detection and artificial insemination (A.I.), the people breeding the cows every day are the most important part of the reproduction program. Each person needs to be thoroughly trained, retrained and passionate about what they do.
The second most common answer was protocols and protocol compliance. Chris Szydel, herd manager at Pagel's Ponderosa Dairy LLC, says their motto is "no cow left behind." This means every cow or heifer gets her synchronization shot on time every time.
It's important to recognize each award recipient utilizes a different protocol on their farm. They range from 100% Double Ovsynch® on first service to all heat detection with some prostaglandin shots, if necessary. The commonality is each dairy has defined a standard operating procedure or protocol (SOP) that fits that individual operation. They then follow those SOPs every day.
Each dairy has established a voluntary waiting period (VWP) for first service. Following the VWP, they all do an excellent job breeding cows within a set time period. For example, Schilling Farms has a VWP of 68 days in milk (DIM). At 68 DIM cows can be cherry picked (heat detected) for breeding. Any cow that is not cherry picked continues through a 12-day Presynch/Ovsynch program to be bred at 80-86 DIM. Getting cows bred within a stated time period for first service is one component to achieving high pregnancy rates.
Another key component is identifying which cows are open and rebreeding them as quickly as possible. The quickest and most efficient way to identify open cows or heifers is accurate heat detection. Assuming optimal cow comfort and health, animals should cycle into heat 18-24 days after breeding (if they did not conceive). The winners of the Genex Excellence in Reproduction award average 70.2% heat detection on milking cows with a range of 65-72%. These numbers are astounding considering it means they find 70% of the cows eligible to be bred each 21-day cycle. This can only be done with accurate daily heat detection, healthy and comfortable cows, passionate people who care and timely herd pregnancy checks to identify open cows.
Dan Sywers of Gardeau Crest Dairy believes in tail painting heifers daily. In his opinion, it is the simplest and most cost effective tool for heat detection. Gardeau Crest Dairy averages 70% conception and heat detection rates and holds a 50% pregnancy rate to conventional semen following a 360-day VWP on virgin heifers. The protocols are simple: 1) move heifers into the breeding pen prior to the VWP; 2) tail paint and breed daily; 3) prostaglandin shots are given every other week to heifers that are not bred; 4) if a heifer doesn't show heat after two prostaglandin shots, she is checked by the veterinarian. If something is wrong internally, the heifer is sold. If she seems normal, she gets a CIDR. According to Dan, approximately one heifer a month receives a CIDR. If the heifer is not confirmed pregnant at 15 months of age, she is sold.
At Pagel's Ponderosa, protocols are diligently followed because they use a crossbreeding scheme in addition to a synchronization program. Limousin semen is also used after multiple services. To successfully fulfill the breeding program, reproduction protocols need to be clearly stated and understood. This leads to the last factor of a successful reproduction program: teamwork.
Teams encompass many different areas on the farm and need support from allied industry. A high performance dairy needs a solid nutrition program, veterinarian support, expert breeders and quality farm management to put it all together. Duane Kodesh of Kodesh Dairy agrees it takes a team. He states, "We've all clicked together to get the job done" in reference to his employees, family members, nutritionist and Genex breeder.
Gardeau Crest Dairy uses Genex professional A.I. service to paint and breed heifers every day. They monitor the overall program through weekly pregnancy check results. The goal is to have no more than one heifer open at pregnancy check. If more than one is open, Swyers assumes heats are being missed and works with the breeders and nutritionist to determine the cause; he believes heifers need a balanced ration so they have enough energy to show good heats, yet are not too fat. It takes communication to ensure that balance is met for optimal heifer performance.
In summary, these herds have reached outstanding reproductive performance on their operations, and they attribute that to excellent people, compliance to protocols and teamwork. After 10 years of working with dairies, I know repro programs can be complicated and frustrating at times, but by setting realistic goals and focusing on people, protocols and teamwork, reproductive success can be achieved. Work together with your employees, veterinarian, nutritionist, A.I. company and other trusted resources to develop a protocol that works in your system. Then, follow it every day. Communicate regularly and continually strive to encourage passion for reproduction success.