Setting goals is key in the development and advancement of a dairy’s repro program. To help ensure success, these goals need to be realistic, obtainable and relevant to the future of the operation, and they should include both short-term and long-term goals.
There are a number of repro parameters that can be benchmarked to monitor reproductive efficiency. Pregnancy rate is one you may recognize as an indicator of overall repro program viability. According to the Genex Dairy Performance NavigatorSM (DPNSM) program, herds in the top 10% for reproduction average around a 30% pregnancy rate with some herds exceeding this by several percentage points. This means preg rates in excess of 30% are reality for quite a few dairies. For most, however, a 30% preg rate is far from reality. Instead, it could be considered a realistic and obtainable long-term goal.
Once you’ve determined the goals for your dairy repro program, the next step is to develop a strategy to achieve those goals. What is the strategy that sets the top 10% of herds apart from their neighbors? In other words, “What do I need to do to be like them?” Generally speaking, there is no one silver bullet that will help you achieve this goal but rather a combination of factors.
These factors could be combined under one heading:
Here are a few areas where managers of top repro herds tend to apply that attention to detail:
- Genetic Selection. Paying attention to health traits, such as Daughter Pregnancy Rate and Productive Life, helps to breed fertility into a herd and sets the dairy up for future success. (Genex has an excellent tool for showing the effects of genetics.) Managers who have looked at health traits for multiple generations are now seeing Holstein conception rates in the high 40s and even consistently into the 50s.
- Environment, Health and Nutrition. Cows that are overcrowded, overheated and uncomfortable will not exhibit estrous, conceive or maintain a pregnancy as well as comfortable cows. In addition, maintenance items, such as routine foot care, add to a cow’s comfort level and help the cow exhibit heat. A comprehensive transition program is vital to reproductive success too. Nutritional deficiencies or inconsistencies will play havoc on repro efficiency - watch for warning signs such as high percentages of off-cycle heats and sudden drops in service and\or conception rates. Also, observe body condition as cows that are too thin or too fat tend to have repro problems.
- Employee Education and Buy-in. Members of the repro team need to understand their role and impact on an operation’s bottom line. For instance, shot compliance is absolutely essential for timed A.I. success. The employees responsible for administering shots need to know the role hormones play in reproduction and why it is so important they perform these tasks correctly. This will help create their buy-in.
- Synch Programs. Timed A.I. programs are geared at getting cows inseminated in a timely manner. However, timed A.I. programs do not necessarily mean trying to breed cows as early as possible. According to DPN, the top 10% of herds for reproduction have an average voluntary wait period of 60.4 DIM. A good rule of thumb is to get cows jump-started with a Presynch program followed by Ovsynch® or a combination of heat detection and Ovsynch. Either way, a good goal is to have 100% of first services occur before 90 DIM. An open diagnosis at vet check usually means these cows will enroll in a Resynch protocol.
- Vet Checks. Pregnancy checks should be performed ASAP, on average around 35 days since bred. Remember the purpose of a vet check is to identify open cows and get those cows back into the repro program.
Remember, management decisions may have an effect on your goals (like heavy use of GenChoice™ sexed semen), so set goals accordingly. Goals should be specific to the operation and reflect where management wants the operation to be in the future. Don’t obsess over a number. Don’t worry about what a neighbor is doing. It’s your management strategy, and theirs is likely not identical.
What to do first? Genex Consultants are available to benchmark your herd. This provides you with an idea of where you stand now, helps in setting goals that reflect where you want to be, and can be used to monitor progress as you work toward your goals. For more information, contact your Genex representative or call 888-333-1783.
Article by: Phillip Lunn, Dairy National Account Manager & Consultant, Genex