Friday, May 19, 2017

Five Rules of Working in a Breeding Barn

By: Sarah Thorson, Beef Marketing and Education Manager

 I spent most of last week on a breeding project in western Nebraska, where over the course of four days we bred just over 1,000 heifers and cows. I always enjoy when I get invited to lend an extra hand on a breeding project. I may be biased, but I truly believe that I get to work with the most talented group of people in the A.I. industry, and last week the team we assembled was no exception. Joining me in the breeding barn were GENEX Independent Contractors, Matt Dolezal and Troy Carruthers, and Large Herd Beef Development Manager, Justin Hergenreder. Since we had a lot of time in the breeding barn together I asked them what their top five rules for working in a breeding a barn would be. Here’s what we came up with:

  1. What happens in the breeding barn, stays in the breeding barn. Just like in Vegas, when you get four people in a relatively small space for extended periods of time, you never know what’s going to happen or what the topic of conversation may be, but whatever it is, it stays in the barn.
  2. Sometimes things get messy… this one probably goes without too much explanation. I blame it on the fact that I am significantly shorter, with shorter arms, than most everyone else in the breeding barn, but it always seems that no matter how hard I try to stay clean, I always end up dirtier than everyone else.
  3. Just because you are dirty, doesn’t mean I should be too. This one goes with #2. The people that have managed the art of staying clean in the breeding barn, steer clear of those that have not.
  4. Be nice to the person thawing semen. I added this one myself, because I did most of the semen thawing last week! Whatever the reason though, you should be nice to the semen thawer, they can help set the pace in the barn and make everyone’s life much easier.
  5. Work hard, but have fun doing it. Because if you can’t have a little fun in the breeding barn, where can you?
What would you add to the rules? Let us know in the comments section below!



Monday, May 15, 2017

Lessons From Our Rural Moms Part 4

I'm not sure what it is about a mom that makes her so extraordinary. Maybe it is her ability to seemingly effortlessly pull off amazing feats of organization or that look she can give you from clear across a crowded room that lets you know you should knock.  it.  off.  right.  now. Or, perhaps it is the magic her kisses possess to make all of the ouchies go away. Whatever it is, I can tell you there is something special about the women we are lucky enough to call mom. For the next couple of days, in honor of Mother's Day, we will share a few stories about rural moms, because I'm sure you will all agree, rural moms have a completely different set of challenges to conquer!


I didn’t grow up on a farm; I married a farmer.  My first experience driving tractor was during a time when the whole family had to pick stones. I was told to keep the tractor straight but never where the brakes were (You can probably see where this one is going!).  Someone was in front of the tractor picking stones, and I had to frantically yell out, ‘Move!’ Everyone laughed, and they then told me where the brakes were. The odd thing is, my mother had the same experience when she was younger. We now share the same type of story.

Being married to a farmer, I have repeated told my kids how to be safe on the farm. They get tired of hearing it over and over. We recently brought home a new puppy, and I am reviewing it all over again. Now it’s their chance to train the puppy with what they have learned about safety!

Thank you to all moms, but especially those who have the added pressure of raising rural kids. The job is not easy, but you certainly make it look that way!
Image credit: Pork Network

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Lessons From Our Rural Moms Part 3

I'm not sure what it is about a mom that makes her so extraordinary. Maybe it is her ability to seemingly effortlessly pull off amazing feats of organization or that look she can give you from clear across a crowded room that lets you know you should knock.  it.  off.  right.  now. Or, perhaps it is the magic her kisses possess to make all of the ouchies go away. Whatever it is, I can tell you there is something special about the women we are lucky enough to call mom. For the next couple of days, in honor of Mother's Day, we will share a few stories about rural moms, because I'm sure you will all agree, rural moms have a completely different set of challenges to conquer!


I didn’t grow up on a farm. Neither good nor bad – that’s simply fact. My mother, however, had rural roots. (I think that’s fairly inevitable since she hailed from east central Iowa. Olin, Iowa, to be exact.) That rural background impacted her personality and lifestyle, and then, in turn, impacted me.

While growing up, many of the lessons my mom taught my brothers and I stemmed from that background:

She taught us how to win and lose with class. After all, she’d been there. Sure, she’d earned blue ribbons, but she’d earned white ribbons and participation ribbons as well. She knew what it meant to win with grace and lose with dignity. She passed that lesson on to us.
She taught us how to care for and respect animals. Back in her childhood, my mom raised and showed beef cattle. Since we grew up in town, we didn’t have cows of our own. Instead she let us raise and show rabbits (lots of rabbits … probably more than city ordinance would have allowed). Still, it taught us responsibility in caring for animals. As we got older, one brother showed cattle and the rest of us showed sheep (all were housed at friends’ farms). Every step of the way, she was there beside us, supporting us and serving as an example of how to care for and respect the animals.
She taught us to do everything to the fullest, even the dreaded 4-H record books. She would never do it for us, but she’d sit next to us as we pounded away on the typewriter filling out the forms and writing stories about our projects. I’m certain it was much in the same way her father did for her.

This Mother’s Day, I thank my mom for the lessons she has taught me – the lessons that stemmed from her rural upbringing. Happy Mother’s Day!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Lessons From Our Rural Moms Part 2

I'm not sure what it is about a mom that makes her so extraordinary. Maybe it is her ability to seemingly effortlessly pull off amazing feats of organization or that look she can give you from clear across a crowded room that lets you know you should knock.  it.  off.  right.  now. Or, perhaps it is the magic her kisses possess to make all of the ouchies go away. Whatever it is, I can tell you there is something special about the women we are lucky enough to call mom. For the next couple of days, in honor of Mother's Day, we will share a few stories about rural moms, because I'm sure you will all agree, rural moms have a completely different set of challenges to conquer!


My mom wasn’t raised on a ranch, so after my parents got married, not only did she have to learn what it meant to be a rancher’s wife, but also what it meant to be a rancher.  She worked side by side with my dad at almost every odd job in the book, including milk testing cows – in eastern Montana, so they could realize their dream of supporting their family on the ranch.  She threw everything into learning the ins and outs of every aspect of ranching, and it is safe to say that we all know that things wouldn’t run nearly as smoothly without her, especially when it comes to the ranch record keeping. 

One of my favorite memories of growing up was when my mom, and couple other moms (who I over 20 year’s later still consider my “second moms”) took on the task of coaching my 4-H livestock judging team, which was made up of myself and 3 other 12-13 year old girls.  Frustrated with our inability to give reasons on a set of yearling bulls without blushing and dissolving into fits of nervous giggles, the moms had us standing in the middle of the yard yelling, “Testicle! Testicle! Testicle!” at the top our lungs!  Needless to say, I got over the fear of giving that set of reasons fairly quickly and still share a laugh about it nearly every time I happen to run into another member of my former judging team.

Thirty-seven years later, my mom is still my dad’s number 1 ranch-hand.  A couple of months ago I was being interviewed for a newspaper article that was going to be written about our family operation.  The gal that was writing the article was asking me whose job it was to do various tasks on the ranch, and I found myself repeating my mom’s name over and over.  From submitting data to the American Simmental Association, to paying the bills, to pulling the records together for the bull sale catalog and coordinating all of the advertising - my mom is truly the one who keeps the ranch running behind the scenes.  On the rare occasion that my sister, brother and I are all back at the ranch at the same time she usually takes on, what I consider, the toughest job of them all, wrangling five grandchildren ranging in ages from nine years to 18 months.  She does it with grace and patience, eager to teach them the ways of the ranch.  My 9 year old, Grace, is always eager to help, but still intimidated by the cows, but my mom is always there to guide her, keeping a watchful eye as Grace records weaning weights or mixes vaccines.  And when my 5 year old, Harper, is caught inscribing the number of her favorite calf, 661, on the door of the brand-new sale barn with permanent marker, she takes it all in stride.




Happy Mother’s Day to my mom, and all the other farm and ranch moms out there!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Lessons From Our Rural Moms Part 1

I'm not sure what it is about a mom that makes her so extraordinary. Maybe it is her ability to seemingly effortlessly pull off amazing feats of organization or that look she can give you from clear across a crowded room that lets you know you should knock.  it.  off.  right.  now. Or, perhaps it is the magic her kisses possess to make all of the ouchies go away. Whatever it is, I can tell you there is something special about the women we are lucky enough to call mom. For the next couple of days, in honor of Mother's Day, we will share a few stories about rural moms, because I'm sure you will all agree, rural moms have a completely different set of challenges to conquer!


Farm Mom (noun): jack-of-all-trades, keeper of all things, multi-tasker, marathon runner

While growing up, my mom was a stay-at-home mom. Remember those forms you’d have to fill out for school that asked for your parents’ occupations? She wrote Farm Mom in that field and would comment, “I wonder if anyone reads these things.”

At the time I never appreciated all the things she did. Somehow she managed to keep the home fires burning while my dad traveled quite a bit for his job. In addition to keeping things running on our beef farm, she was a member of community groups, church committees and helped with school activities. Like a marathon runner, she could dash outside, do chores and be done just in time to change her clothes, pause momentarily to ask ‘Does my hair smell like the barn?’ before running a kid to town for some evening extracurricular activity. She could fly around her kitchen and whip together a well-rounded meal better than any mom I knew. And if you were that kid she ran to town earlier, she’d most likely remember to come pick you up!

She taught me many life lessons but here’s a few I wanted to share:

  › You can do anything you set your mind to
  › Quitting isn’t an option
  › Wearing nail polish in the show ring isn’t appropriate (I’m not sure where she came up with this one?)

  › Be respectful, kind and courteous to everyone because you never know where you might run across them later in life
  › She [attempted] to teach me how to cook one meal each summer, although I’m still not a good cook.

Today, as a mom myself, I aspire to be just like her. To keep the home fires burning while my husband travels, be respectful to everyone I meet and make sure my hair doesn’t smell too much like the barn!

Here's my mom participating in Mom Showmanship (circa 1993) and it doesn't appear she was wearing nail polish. Practicing what she preached!








Friday, May 5, 2017

Selecting Recipients for Embryo Transfer

For commercial dairies looking to increase herd progress and improve their overall bottom line or purebred operations striving to produce the next great cow or bull, embryo transfer (ET) and in-vitro fertilization (IVF) programs are becoming increasingly common. Technologies, such as donor aspiration and IVF lab techniques, are contributing to the popularity of ET and IVF programs among many types of operations.


To establish an effective and efficient ET or IVF program, a dairy’s management team must consider both the donors and the embryo recipients. Selection and care of elite genetic merit donor animals is critical for obvious reasons, but the selection and maintenance of recipients has significant implications too. Selecting recipient animals based on health, genetics and fertility – and maintaining
optimal conditions throughout the pregnancy – results in more high genetic merit calves on the ground.

Consider these factors when selecting and caring for embryo recipients:

Health. The basics of a healthy recipient are like that of the donor; she must be reproductively and
nutritionally sound. Heifers serving as recipients should have reached puberty, have a sound reproductive tract and have exhibited a first heat. Ideally, cows should have calved without any problems and be free of ovarian cysts, metritis or other issues. As a general rule, recipient candidates should be on a good nutritional plane and have proper body condition to support a healthy pregnancy.

Genetics. The genetics of the recipient animal have often been disregarded since she is “only carrying the embryo.” Donors are selected based on their high genetic merit, but those same traits are not applicable to recipients. Instead, it is important to consider traits which might contribute to getting the most calves on the ground.

When looking at a group of lower genetic merit animals as potential recipients, the dairy management team should sort those animals by traits that can contribute to conception and calving rate. A reliable Daughter Stillbirth (DSB) and Daughter Pregnancy Rate (DPR) evaluation can more accurately determine which animals should be used to carry embryos of high genetic value with the most success.

Fertility. Numerous studies show conception rates in dairy cattle are typically higher when heifers
are used as recipients versus cows. This is true for several reasons. First, heifers do not have the lactational stress cows do, particularly first lactation cows which are transitioning for the first time and still growing to reach their mature size. Also, heifers typically have less reproductive issues such
as cysts or infections from a hard calving. However, using only heifers as recipients is usually not practical or viable either, and cows can make perfectly acceptable recipients.

Consider this scenario. Many dairies are genomic testing their females, and often cull older, low genetic merit cows in favor of younger, high genomic animals. Still, these older cows typically produce quite a bit more milk than their 2-year-old counterparts. In this scenario, it can make sense to use older, lower genetic merit cows as recipients. By serving as an embryo recipient, the cow gives birth to a valuable calf and remains in the herd contributing significant pounds of milk. When selecting which older cows should serve as recipients, DPR and DSB are again the traits on which to sort them.

In conclusion, as ET and IVF continues to become more common in strategic breeding programs, strive to use healthy heifers or lower-ranking cows with desirable DPR and DSB values to carry high value pregnancies. Higher genetic merit females can then be used as donors or bred with more valuable semen. Ultimately, the genetic progress made through ET and IVF can lead to profitable future generations and dollars in the producer’s pocket.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Excellence in Genetics & Reproduction Award Winners

This year's GENEX Excellence in Genetics & Reproduction Award Winners represent six states; several are repeat winners, and for some, this is their first time on the list. However, they all know about the commitment it takes to maintain an efficient reproduction program. Here are the winners and a few of the things they have in common.

For more on each individual platinum-winning farm, check out our Horizons Dairy Edition, pages 27 through 31.