February 4, 2019

Compliance Key To High Preg Rates

 |  By: Mike Opperman

Getting cows pregnant in a timely manner is one of the more important aspects of managing an efficient dairy. Cows that calve in a timely manner spend more time in peak production, rather than languishing in the low production days of late lactation. 

The key to successful reproduction, simply put, is breeding cows when they are ready to be bred. That is sometimes easier to do on a smaller dairy, where more personal attention can be given to catch cows when they are in standing heat. The larger the dairy, the tougher it is to assign labor to visual heat detection, and that’s where compliance to fertility protocols is so important.

One large dairy pays close attention to reproductive compliance, and it shows through outstanding reproduction results. Dairy Fountain, a dairy that includes around 5,700 cows near Plainview, Texas, boasts a pregnancy rate on youngstock is 45%. All lactating cows averaged 32% in 2018. 

Their key to success is following protocols, says Bart Van Sommeren, herd manager and assistant operations manager at Dairy Fountain, which is part of United Ag, LLC and owned by Leo and Christina Rujne. 

“I always have the same group of guys doing the same thing,” says Van Sommeren. "But, success is a team effort with Peter Coenen, the onsite team and outside support from Matt Sattler." While Van Sommeren credits his entire team of 60 employees for the herd's success, there are four in the breeding group who focus solely on getting cows pregnant.

The team pays close attention to close up and fresh cows, which pays huge dividends, Van Sommeren says. Having clear, written protocols is also key. Below is a diagram of the synchronization schedule used at Dairy Fountain.

repro protocol



The reproduction protocols in place at Dairy Fountain are becoming more popular with dairies that achieve high pregnancy rates: combining timed AI with visual heat detection.

“There’s two main ways that I see today that farms are using to achieve good reproduction,” says Paul Fricke, a professor and dairy reproduction specialist at the University of Wisconsin. “It’s blending together these two technologies using heat detection and timed insemination.” 

Pregnancy rates today are not what the industry saw 10 years ago, Fricke says, thanks to this type of management. “We’ve gotten to a place now that if cows are healthy and you’re using aggressive management programs like this we can see very high pregnancy rates.”

The dairy’s pregnancy rates are impressive in their own right, but even more so given the extensive use of sexed semen.
Heifers and first-lactation cows will receive up to three services of sexed semen, then switch to one service of conventional and a service to a beef bull, if needed. The top 80% of second, top half of third and top quarter of cows older than three lactations also receive sexed semen. 

Using all that sexed semen creates an oversupply of heifers, which Van Sommeren says they use to populate new dairies, including a dairy that’s just operational in Hollis, Oklahoma. 

Normally, conception rates are lower with the use of sexed semen compared to the use of conventional. 

“On first lactation animals using sexed semen we’re getting over 46% conception rate,” Van Sommeren says. 

One thing that helps achieve higher pregnancy rates is the fertility benefit Van Sommeren gets from breeding crossbred animals. The cross breeding program has bred Holstein cows to Jerseys, and those heifers are bred to Norwegian Red. Those animals are bred back to Jersey, and the dairy is just starting to breed those crosses back to Holsteins. 

“We wanted healthy and efficient animals,” says Van Sommeren, which led them to the crossbreeding program. “So we have Holsteins for milk, Jerseys for components and Norwegians for health and fertility.”