Monday, July 9, 2018

5 Bad Habits of A.I. it is Time You Break

Let's face it, we all do our jobs in a certain way, often without even thinking about it. Sometimes we develop habits that allow us to get the job done faster, but not really effectively. Recently, I had the opportunity to ask two members of our A.I. training team for bad habits they commonly see on farms.

Javier Cheang, A.I. Training Instructor
Carlos Marin, A.I. Training Instructor Manager

Here are their top five.
1) Over confidence. Once you have a lot of experience breeding cows, it is easy to try to skip steps. Don't! Every step is important to achieving good results.

2) Pulling the gun out instead of pushing the plunger when depositing semen. This is very common, and we see it a lot. To properly deposit semen, plunge the gun half way, then double check the tip of the gun for proper placement. If it is in the right place, deposit the second half of the semen.

3) Depositing frozen semen. Pocket thawing is easy to do, but sometimes not enough time is given to allow the semen to thaw properly. If the cow is really close to where the gun is being loaded, better to opt for the water thaw method.

4) Dirt, grime and slime. This is a combination of several instances where a little extra time and effort can yield big results.

  • Not wrapping the loaded A.I. gun in a clean breeding sleeve. We see guns go into the technician's shirt, and whatever we put in the cow's tract is going to stay there. If the gun wasn't wrapped, it could mean way more than just semen: sweat, lint, dust, manure, deodorant.
  • Dirty water in thawing vessels or incorrect temperatures. It is not rare to find slimy water thaw vessels. This is a good source of contamination for semen straws and A.I. guns. Also check to see that your thermometers are working properly. Water must be at 95 to 98° F.
  • Gunky pockets of A.I. gun warmers. If using a warmer, make sure to clean and wash the inside pocket often.
  • Contaminated A.I. guns. Clean your guns at least once a week with warm water, but never add detergent. Let them dry standing upright. Spray them with alcohol to help with disinfection.
  • Manure on the vulva. Clean the vulva with a paper towel prior to A.I. gun insertion to prevent contamination.
5) Raising the canister above the semen tank frost line. Lifting the canister above the frost line exposes remaining semen straws to room temperatures and starts the thawing process, thus the possibility for sperm damage.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Serving You First

Back in May, I had the opportunity to tag along on a GENEX Beef chute-side service project near the small town of Summersville, Missouri. The Kirkman brothers (kind gentlemen that they are) and the local GENEX representatives allowed me to document the day. Through the experience, I witnessed the producers’ passion for the beef industry and the GENEX reps’ sincere desire to assist cattle producers through personalized genetic and reproductive programs – all while surrounded by beautiful scenery. Check it out!
                                                                          ~ Jenny Hanson, GENEX Communications Manager

If you are interested in putting GENEX chute-side service to work on your ranch, contact GENEX at 888.333.1783 or

Friday, June 22, 2018

Top Repro Tips

Have you hit a ceiling when it comes to your cattle reproduction numbers? Perhaps these quick tips from three of our GENEX staff members can take your numbers to the next level!

Friday, June 15, 2018

Five Myths on Sun Safety

Skin cancer affects more than one million people every year. It is a big deal, especially to farmers who have no choice, but to spend a majority of their time outside. I have a husband with red hair and incredibly fair, freckly skin, so sun safety is something I think about often. I just wish I could get him to think about it half as much as I do! Here are five of the most common myths I have heard him try to get past me.

Myth #1 - Skin cancer comes from the big burns.
Research has shown that skin cancer, in fact, comes from cumulative sun exposure. Sun safety measures should be practiced each and every time you are exposed to the sun.

Myth #2 - Applying sunscreen will protect me all day.
While a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 is recommended, it only means you are protected from a reaction to the sun's effects 15 times longer than without the sunscreen. Make sure you are reapplying as directed on the bottle, and if you are sweating, check to see if the type you have is water-proof.

Myth #3 - My baseball cap is all the sun protection I need.
Unfortunately a baseball cap doesn't do a good job of shading vulnerable areas on the ears, temples, face and neck. Wide-brimmed hats are a better option when talking about sun safety.

Myth #4 - All sunglasses are created equal.
When you buy your glasses look for the tiny peel off label on one of the lenses. It should tell you the UV rating of the glasses. Look for a rating of 100.

Myth #5 - I only have to worry about sun protection on sunny days.
I live in Wisconsin. I can tell you some of my worst sun burns came on days I wasn't thinking about sun at all, like on a cloudy, snowy January day. Granted I usually only ended up with sunburn on my face, and maybe the backs of my hands depending on if the outside temperature allowed me to take off my gloves. Sun protection should be a consideration each and every day, cloudy or sunny.

What tips or tricks do you have for protecting yourself or those you love from the harmful effects of the sun? I would love to add them to my constant nagging reminders for my husband!

Source: Iowa State Extension, Remember Sun Safety in the Field

Friday, June 8, 2018

No Secrets to Excellence in Genetics and Reproduction

GENEX recently named their 2017 Excellence in Genetics & Reproduction award winners. In interviews with the award recipients, we learned there really are no secrets to this type of success. The two reasons behind this? The first is a huge combination of factors are at play when it comes to reproductive excellence. The second is because farmers are so willing to share what they are doing to help others. Read on to learn more about this year's winners!
Soon after the parlor was built in 2000, owners Tim and Penny Holmes were struggling with a 15‑20% pregnancy rate. Knowing they could do better, they brought in experts to improve their game, and they hit it out of the park!

Today, Tim and Penny, along with their son Travis, milk 400 cows in a double-8 parallel parlor. Their herd provides a daily average of 94 pounds of milk per cow with 4.0% Fat and 3.1% Protein, milking three times per day. If those numbers and a 107,000 somatic cell count don’t get your attention, then their impressive 40% cow pregnancy rate and 60% first service cow conception rate should.

The Holmesville Dairy team, consisting of the owners, herdsman, milking crew, veterinarian, nutritionist, A.I. company and business consultant have been together for over 10 years. Tim attributes most of their reproductive success to team longevity. “It is a team effort that makes the difference,” explains Tim. Each player on the team plays an important part in the farm’s reproductive success. “It is the
consistency that is key.”

When asked what makes the reproduction program at Maple Ridge Dairy successful, herdsman
Michael Martin jokes, “We don’t want to give away all our secrets!”

All kidding aside, Dan Preuss, a GENEX Reproductive Program Senior Technician (also known as Breeder Man Dan) who has bred cows at the dairy for 11 years, explains that it comes down to good cow management. “The people, the compliance … it all leads to a really strong repro program here.”

“We stick to the protocols,” adds herdsperson Jami Schultze. “Compliance is very important to us. We try to get as close to 100% compliance as possible.”

For 2017, the dairy averaged a 39% pregnancy rate on cows with 87% pregnant by 150 days in milk. This was achieved while the top 25% of first lactation cows received a first service to GenChoice™ sexed semen and the bottom 40% of cows were bred with beef semen.

Plymouth Dairy, owned by the Feuerhelm family, was founded in 1999 with the first cows milked in August 2000. Over the years, the dairy has expanded to about 3,500 head. The growth, expansion and strong reproduction program are all the result of teamwork.

There are a lot of moving parts to make a dairy operation function well. Plymouth Dairy promotes a constructive culture of teamwork, creating one of the best teams of owners, managers, herdsmen, veterinarians, nutritionists, technicians and consultants. Each member of the team has a role and responsibility and is encouraged to share new ideas for the betterment of the dairy. GENEX has
played a part on the team for nearly 18 years, bringing value in the form of genetics, service and expertise.

The dairy recorded a 12-month average 36% pregnancy rate for 2017 and boasted a 78% heat detection rate as well. They also recently increased sexed semen use in lactating cows and have seen tremendous results. On average, 87% of cows were pregnant by 150 Days in Milk which was aided by a first service conception of 52%, all while averaging 87 pounds of milk per day.

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If asked how the team at Mar-Bec Dairy has made the operation better for cows, he’ll say they learned from others. They learned about and implemented tunnel ventilation, added more fans, switched mattresses, made stalls wider and longer, and applied preventive measures like liming/bedding every other day.

If asked how the team planned the calf care facility built in 2013, he’ll say they gained ideas from visiting other dairies. Those ideas, coupled with excellent calf care, have contributed to a low calf death loss rate; annually, they lose less than one‑third of 1% of calves.

In short, education is valued. Both Marty and his son Jonathon, a partner in the LLC, received their
educations at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. Now, Marty is in his sixth year serving on the board of directors for the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin, whose mission is “to share ideas, solutions, resources and experiences that help dairy producers succeed.”

With generations of focus on female fertility and longevity, the dairy achieved a 42% average pregnancy rate on heifers for the year along with a 61% first service conception rate and 62% sexed
semen conception rate.

A-OK Farms owner, Mark Breunig and Herdsman David Muder continuously look for ways to improve their 450-cow dairy. A change was recently made in the type of sand used for bedding, and last year a separator was installed to reclaim that sand. The near future calls for tunnel ventilation to be added to the barns.

The team’s constant search for improvement areas have led to a 46% heifer pregnancy rate and 57%
first service conception rate. All heifers are genomically tested which allows the team to cull the ones
with the lowest genetic merit. They then sort the remaining top 75% to be bred to sexed semen for two services before conventional semen is used. The bottom 25% receive conventional semen.

In addition to a great crew of 13 on-farm employees, quarterly team meetings are held with the nutritionist, veterinarian and GENEX Account Manager to focus on ways the farm can improve. Each team member plays a valuable role in the farm’s success. “If we are missing a link, it just won’t work,” explains Mark. One of the ideas that recently came from a team meeting was just-in-time calving and the A-OK team likes the results. “Things here are always evolving, and that is how we like it,” Mark adds.

To learn more about what these farms are doing to increase their reproductive rates, turn to page 22 of our Horizons.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Getting the Boys Ready for the Camera

A few weeks ago I revisited a post I had written on picturing cows. Having assisted with the process many times got me to thinking about picturing our bulls. I use their photos all of the time on social media, flyers and advertisements, but I have never been present to see if it is any different. So I did a little checking, and as luck would have it, we were due to picture nine bulls in the middle of May. So I was off to our Ford barn for a morning of learning and observation.

The first thing I discovered actually occurred even before I made it to the barn. The genomic era has us picturing bulls at a younger age than in the past. This makes for a much easier and safer day. In the past, waiting to take photos of daughter-proven bulls meant their attitudes (and hormones) were in full swing. In fact, in order to provide an element of safety for the handler, a cage was built and mounted to the back of a tractor. The sire handler would ride inside of the cage and the bull would be walked to the area outside of the barn where the photos would be taken.

Which brings me to difference number one between picturing cows and our bulls.

1.  Bull photos are taken in the collection arena. Since we have the technology to add a scenic background to the photos, there is no need to take the bulls out of the environment they are used to. This adds to the safety element for everyone (bulls included) involved.

Since we export semen across the world, strict biosecurity protocols are in place. This brings me to differences two and three.

2.  In order to enter the Ford barn, individuals must shower, change clothes, suit up or a combination of the three. I was lucky enough to get a white disposable coverall suit to wear. Sorry, no pictures were available.😉 Those who work with the animals have clothes they keep in the locker room, and they change every day when they come to work.

3.  All of the supplies, from the boards that are used under the animal's feet, to the clippers and fitting sprays were bought specifically for the Ford barn and never leave the facility.

My last difference between bull and cow picturing became evident after I watched a couple of bulls go through the process. 

4.  With cow photos, we always have the same individual hold the animals. With our bull photos, a specific sire handler holds the bull. Since each bull has a handler, this also adds to the
safety and efficiency factors.

The process of picturing bulls went much more smoothly than I thought was possible. The animals were extremely calm and responded well to those setting their feet. I actually found the bulls I watched that day were better behaved than most of the cows I have assisted with. I attribute that to the fact the bulls are worked daily and are used to being led, whereas the cows we take photos of are commercial cows who aren't usually used to a halter. 
Here is a little time-lapse video to give you an idea of what takes place the day of bull picturing.

Thanks to Nate, Kenny, Luke, Andy, Jesse, Morgan and especially our talented photographer, Sarah Damrow, for allowing me to spend time observing.

Friday, May 18, 2018

The Future is Agriculture

As part of our commitment to the future of agriculture, each year GENEX awards scholarships to college students pursuing degrees in agriculture. GENEX, a part of Cooperative Resources International (CRI), awards college students who are actively involved on a member’s farm or ranch and exhibit a passion of leading the way for the agriculture industry.

The six recipients of this year’s CRI Collegiate Scholarship exemplify the drive, dedication and devotion that agriculture requires. Their response to what agriculture means to them is proof:

Students earning the $750 scholarship include: Jessica Schmitt of Fort Atkinson, Iowa; Lantz Adams of Laton, California; Matthew Grossman of Pittsville, Wisconsin; Donovan Buss of York, Nebraska; Bridger Gordon of Whitewood, South Dakota; and Erica Helmer of Plymouth, Wisconsin.

These applicants are a promise to a bright future in agriculture.

“We are proud to support youth who are interested in furthering their education and commitment to agriculture,” states Terri Dallas, Vice President of Communications. “Not only do these students understand the importance of agriculture; they are tremendous advocates for it as well.”

The hard work, passion and leadership skills needed for the agriculture industry is not lost on these students. In their applications they described opportunities that helped them grow, such as interning for a congressman in Washington D.C., volunteering on mission trips, leading FFA chapters and 4-H clubs, taking advanced placement classes to push themselves academically, spearheading educational events to spread agriculture awareness, and managing critical roles on the operations they work.

“These applicants are a promise to a bright future in agriculture,” states Terri. “Along with their exceptional leadership, the heart and determination they demonstrate sends a strong message that tomorrow’s agriculture is in good hands.”