Monday, March 27, 2017

Creating More Pregnancies

By: Patsy Houghton, President and General Manager, Heartland Cattle Company

Heartland Cattle Company is a 5000-head Professional Heifer Development and Research Center in southwest Nebraska. Over the past 26 years, we have developed and artificially inseminated (A.I.) over 105,000 beef heifers. We believe in 35 or 45-day breeding programs using visual heat detection and total A.I. There are no excuses for open heifers. We have consistently met our fertility goals: 70% first service conception rate (FSCR), 85% seasonal pregnancy rate (PR) for 35-day heifers and 90% PR for 45-day heifers.

Over the past few years, we’ve noticed more variation in the fertility of A.I. sires. Typically, the fertility of A.I. sires ranges from 50 to 90% for FSCR, with outlier bulls ranging all the way from 0 to 100%. We’ve also learned that, by itself, evaluating semen under a microscope for morphology, motility and morbidity is not always a good predictor of fertility.

Variations in FSCR means reduced seasonal PR, fewer calves born and less pounds weaned. This is why fertility is so important to a rancher’s bottom line. Any measure that predicts and/or improves sire fertility will help keep cow/calf producers in business, especially during tough market times!

The ability to identify A.I. sires that will consistently deliver a 70% and higher first service conception rate is a big step in the right direction. That’s why we pay close attention to the PregCheck™ fertility rankings GENEX provides. Using 100 as the base, PregCheck™ fertility rankings are calculated as an index and are designed to predict an individual sire’s frozen semen conception rate.

So, let’s compare two bulls with PregCheck™ fertility rankings. Bull A has a 104 PregCheck™ fertility ranking with 93% reliability versus Bull B with a 99 PregCheck™ fertility ranking and 75% reliability. At 93% reliability, we are confident Bull A will perform at 4% above the average of his peers for conception rate, and he will likely perform 5% higher than Bull B for conception rate. At only 75% reliable, there is still some uncertainty as to how Bull B will actually perform over time until he is bred to more females, but at this point Bull B is trending below the average of his peers.

We’ve had a number of opportunities to compare GENEX PregCheck™ fertility rankings to actual service sire fertility and are happy to report a nice correlation between the two. As the database expands, we believe PregCheck™ fertility rankings will only get better with time.

At Heartland Cattle Company, we appreciate the value of measuring economically important traits. Fertility tops this list! If we are weighing the pros and cons of two or more service sires, the bull with the higher PregCheck™ fertility ranking wins! We are also confident any sire that doesn’t meet reasonable conception rate goals will be removed from the GENEX lineup. In our eyes, this reflects integrity and customer commitment. All of us at Heartland Cattle Company want to thank GENEX for their proactive approach to solving what has become one of our industry’s biggest challenges!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Using A.I. on Your Ranch

95 cents compared to $2.28 per gallon – that’s the difference 30 years have made in the price of a gallon of gas. Just as gas prices have changed drastically, so have the wants and demands of cattle producers.

Producers considering artificial insemination (A.I.) have many of the same concerns and wants for their program. I’m here to lay those concerns to rest and show how A.I. and GENEX chute-side service will make you money and propel you into the future. So slap some bacon on a biscuit and let’s go! We’re burning daylight.

Cost is always the first question. First of all, you need to sit down with your GENEX representative and determine the best plan for your operation. Costs will vary depending on herd size, location and labor needs. In most cases A.I. is cheaper than buying, maintaining and utilizing a bull for two to five years.

Remember these costs will vary:
·         Eazi-Breed™ CIDR® – $11
·         GnRH – $5 ($2.5x2)
·         PG – $3
·         ESTROTECT™ – $1.30
·         Semen – $20
·         Breeding Service Fee – $10

The process
Working with your GENEX representative, you will make a detailed plan for your A.I. project, including choosing a synchronization protocol that fits your operation. In order for synchronization to be successful on your ranch, you must commit to learning the protocol and executing it exactly, this means making sure the right cows, get the right shots, on the right days. On breeding day, you get the cattle to the alley way and GENEX takes care of the rest.

Ask the professionals: GENEX strives to bring you the best of the best for bull power. Visit with your local representative to determine the sires best suited for your goals.

Calving season
Just because you bred your cows in a 4-hour period does not mean they will calve in a 4-hour period! After a successful A.I. program, expect females to calve in a 10- to 14-day period. University studies have shown no more than 20% of your herd will calve on any one day.

How many clean-up bulls will I need after A.I.?
This question is highly variable. The answer has a lot to do with the age of your bulls, size of pastures, environment and number of females. and environment. GENEX staff can provide the correct recommendation to ensure you turn out enough bull power to cover the non-A.I. females.

A.I. is one of the most beneficial and easiest ways to make your cow herd more profitable. With beef prices where they are, every pregnancy counts and every early calf means more pounds. More pounds = more DOLLARS! Utilizing A.I. will tighten your calving interval, add performance to your calf crop and allow you to actively control the type of cattle you raise.

When you are ready to set up an A.I. program, contact your GENEX representative. GENEX is here to help add dollars to your program.

Friday, March 10, 2017

GENEX Distribution Center

Have you ever wondered what distribution looks like at a major cattle genetics company? Well, wonder no longer! Brian Brickle, Distribution Specialist, takes us on a quick tour of the GENEX Distribution Center in Shawano, Wisconsin. If you ever get the chance, be sure to ask Brian to show you his liquid nitrogen demonstrations. They are pretty amazing!

Friday, March 3, 2017

Reducing Your New Employee Cull Rate

There goes another one down the road. It seems to be more and more difficult to keep them with your herd. No, I'm not talking about your cows. I'm talking about your new employees.

As farms have grown from small dairies to large businesses, they have increasingly had to rely on employees with no previous agricultural experience. In some cases, farm workers never had a desire to be a part of the rural environment, but it was the job available when they needed work. These entry-level positions are often in the milking parlor where the work is seen as hard, dirty and unglamorous with low pay. For those reasons, it can be difficult to find good help and often even harder to keep those you do find. But after the individual is hired, it’s your turn. It’s your responsibility to make employees believe they made the right job choice and to help yourself by reducing the turnover rate among newly hired staff.

So, how do you make a new employee feel they made the right choice? A new employee requires five fundamental things in a new job:

1. Explanation: What is my role? Why is it important?
At the interview give the applicant a clear job description (including working conditions) and help them understand the importance their job is to the operation of the dairy farm.  It is critical to let people know the schedule has to be filled every day of the year.

2. Education: What knowledge or skills do I need?
Prospective milkers often do not arrive with a great deal of formal education, but that does not mean we should not take initiative to educate them. If you start the new employee with the idea this is a place where you learn and expand yourself, they are more likely to stay.

One common fear is educated employees will take their new skills and move on to another job. The reality is, if you don’t teach people they will quickly get bored, and you will lose them anyway. It is important to encourage the new employee in the education process to help them feel part of the team.

3. Training: How do I carry out my role?
I have seen dairies take someone with no cow experience and throw them into the parlor to see what happens. That is not training! The situation leaves people feeling lost, intimidated and frustrated. Now, more than ever, our dairies are under scrutiny. You have an obligation to the industry to make sure employees are properly trained and know how to handle a cow. There are good training resources available. Be sure to use them.

4. Evaluating: How will my performance be measured?
Everyone wants to be seen as doing a good job. Therefore, everyone needs to know how their performance is measured and what performance level is acceptable. It has to be a simple evaluation method conducted on a very regular basis. Performance milestones are also critical to ensure employees are on track for success and should be celebrated when reached.

5. Reporting: What feedback will I receive?
Keep lines of communication open. Employees can feel in the dark about their job performance because they do not receive feedback about their quality of work. Or if they do, it may not be constructive feedback. This creates unease in the workplace. Feedback needs to be informational and instructional for the employee to improve. If someone is not reaching their defined objectives, it needs to be brought to their attention immediately with a clear direction of how they can improve and how long that improvement should take. Employees also need to know what the ramifications are if they do not start reaching their objectives.

Company policy should be for each person to introduce themselves to new employees, so everyone is aware when a new person starts. Plan a welcome for the new employee. Assign one person to greet the new employee, show them around the farm and give them insight into how the team functions.

Assign someone to answer the new employee’s questions and listen to his or her concerns and suggestions. Entry level does not translate into unimportant. Take time to really acknowledge how much you value this new employee. Work with them and mentor them. You can quickly become an important part of the person’s life – giving them more than a job, giving them a place to belong.

Provide the new employee with the tools needed to succeed. Then give them time to succeed. Dairies frequently look at cull rate in the first 30 days after calving and adjust management to keep that number as low as possible. In the same way, measure turnover rate in staff in the first 30 days. Consider the training and other resource cost to the dairy. Be willing to adjust management
to keep the employee cull rate low as well.

Friday, February 17, 2017

It’s Calving Season

All the hard work and dedication you have put in throughout the last nine months is about to pay off – it’s calving season!

Let’s turn back the calendar to late spring 2016 when you started going through calving records and bloodlines to find the perfect mating for your heifers and cows. You started virgin heifers on a nutritional program to prepare them to conceive, calve and catch up with the rest of the group. Next, you focused on the second calvers so they were prepared to breed back and get established into the program (which we all know is a challenge in itself). All this preparation eventually led to A.I. day, and since then you have patiently waited for calving season.

The moments leading up to calving season mean you must brave the cold, windy and possibly damp conditions. More importantly, the cattle need to be properly cared for in these conditions to ensure a successful survival rate throughout winter. The nights get long and sleep becomes few and far between. Checking the cattle every second or third hour on the clock can take a toll on your body. Although your mind and body grows weary during this time of year, seeing the results of hard work and dedication hit the ground is more rewarding than one can explain.

Seeing first calf heifers become mothers for the first time, and watching second calvers begin to establish themselves within the herd, is remarkable. Seeing that calf hit the ground wet, full of life and vigor, makes you appreciate the beauty of Mother Nature. It is that moment you remember why you love what you do and wouldn't change it for the world.

Do you have any #calvingseason17 stories? What are you seeing in GENEX progeny? We would love to hear about it.

Author Colten Muir is an Independent Contractor for GENEX. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

This Farm Has No Love for Valentine's Day

It was a typical cold winter day in Wisconsin, but the events that took place on our farm the afternoon of February 14, 2002, were anything but ordinary. Our farm’s main operator, my Mother-in-law, Juli, was in the process of letting cows in for the night milking. A first-calf heifer wasn’t as eager as the rest to come in, so Juli was going out to fetch her. When Juli was several steps out of the barn, she caught a glimpse of the herd bull coming at her. In that split second, Juli was able to make it to the gate, but not before the bull had hit her several times. Adrenaline and sheer muscle allowed Juli to pull herself over the gate, but her broken body now lie on the snow and ice. Thankfully, my Father-in-law came home from work about 15 to 30 minutes after the attack and found her. Juli was rushed to the hospital where she underwent several surgeries. She still has scars and aches and pains as a result of the incident, but we can rejoice that she is still with us as we approach the 15-year anniversary of that day. We now look at Valentine’s Day a whole new way. It is a day we remember how precious life is, and how quickly everything can change.  

I grew up on a farm that exclusively bred artificially, so when I met my husband, and heard this story, I tried to understand the reasons behind a herd bull. Now, working for GENEX, I understand it even less. I am thrilled to be working in the agriculture industry and passionate about A.I. and how it allows farmers:

› Safety. (Refer to the above story, enough said.)

› Maximized Reproductive Performance. By utilizing bulls with known high fertility levels, you can improve conception rates and those of future generations as well

› Improved Herd Genetics. Lifetime Net Merit $, calculated by the USDA, measures the net profit over the lifetime of a bull’s average daughter. USDA comparisons show daughter-proven active A.I. bulls average a $254 LNM advantage over non-A.I. bulls averaging -51. Genomic-tested active A.I. bulls average a $496 LNM advantage over non-A.I. bulls.*

› Improved Production. The USDA calculates milk production in pounds, reflecting the expected milk production of each bull’s future mature daughters. USDA comparisons show daughter-proven active A.I. bulls average a 709 lb advantage over non-A.I. bulls. Genomic-proven active A.I. bulls average a 1,049 lb advantage over non- A.I. bulls.*

I know, I know, you are saying, but it is more work without a bull; they can detect heat better. With today’s synchronization protocols and/or cow monitoring systems, heat detection is relatively easy.
There is a cost advantage to having a bull, you say. Is there really? Plug your numbers into this worksheet to determine some of the hidden costs of bull breeding.

So this Valentine’s Day, do your herd, your checkbook and your family a huge favor and switch to artificial insemination.

 *According to the USDA AIPL Summary of April 2015 Evaluations (

Monday, February 6, 2017

Top 10 Reasons to be a GENEX delegate

The third week of January is often characterized by blowing snow and frigid temps, but in most cases, that doesn’t stop GENEX delegates from convening in Minneapolis, Minnesota, for the cooperative’s annual meeting. This year, delegates from 26 states made the trek. For repeat visitors, the annual meeting is a time to catch up with fellow producers and GENEX management. For new delegates, it’s an opportunity to really learn more about the inner workings of the co-op.

Much more than a meeting. While “annual meeting” may sound like a bore, the GENEX meeting is so much more! In addition to the business meeting and evening entertainment, the event includes educational opportunities. This year the co-op held five breakout sessions featuring 11 topics for delegates to gain cooperative or farm management insight. Topics ranged from cybersecurity to beef in Brazil and from research updates to the beef lineup and the Ideal Commercial Cow (ICC$) index. Time and time again, these breakout sessions are a fan favorite. This year was no different. Here’s what a few delegates had to say:

Delegates attend breakout sessions at the annual meeting
Your reasons. How does a GENEX member get the opportunity to attend the annual meeting? First, you must self-nominate to be a delegate. Then the members in your local membership district cast their vote on who should be a delegate. If you are elected, you are invited (and expected) to attend the annual meeting in January and an input meeting in the fall.

Why would you want to become a delegate and attend the annual meeting? Here’s the Top 10 reasons, as shared by delegates at this year’s GENEX annual meeting

   10. Gets you away from the farm or ranch and that daily routine!
    9. A chance to meet producers from across the country.
    8. It’s a matter of give and take (contribute to the co-op and learn).
    7. It’s a family affair – My family’s been members of co-ops since the 1920s.
    6. GENEX is the best show in town, and we want to keep it that way!
    5. Delegate input keeps the organization healthy.
    4. Reuniting with fellow delegates that I only see once a year.
    3. Cooperatives educate their delegates and members. 
    2. Find out the inside-scoop on the new happenings at GENEX.
    1. We got voted in!

If becoming a delegate and attending the annual meeting interests you, watch for your next opportunity to self-nominate. In the meantime, here's some additional highlights from this year's annual meeting: