Friday, February 23, 2018

Strategic Breeding: A Purpose for Every Pregnancy

By: Gwen Powers, Director of Strategic Accounts-Western U.S., GENEX

As the U.S. dairy industry continues to grow in total cow numbers (with fewer farms), the push for dairies to be more efficient is greater than ever. This is especially true in today’s constantly changing market. Therefore, many producers are applying strategic breeding protocols to better streamline their operations; this includes how they produce replacements and manage excess non-replacement calves.

The number of replacements a farm needs is determined by the cull rate or turnover rate and the average age at freshening. With adequate conception rates and some use of gendered semen a dairy likely produces excess replacements annually. This raises the question, “Does a farm need every pregnancy to be a dairy-sired calf?” Depending on the local market, beef-sired calves could generate a premium. Beef semen can be used on the herd in a strategic manner. For instance, beef semen can be used on lower genetic merit animals (as determined by parent average or a genomic test) so these later lactation cows are kept in production without generating replacement females.

Identifying which animals to breed with different semen types is one of the first steps in a strategic breeding program. What is the best way to sort females? Parent averages can be used but accuracy varies based on the herd’s record keeping. Custom indexes or performance data can also be factored in alongside parent averages. The more accurate tool, however, is genomic testing. When applying genomic test results to strategic breeding programs, producers can increase the genetic merit of their herds which in turn should increase production and create an all-round better cow base. Genomic testing confirms parentage. It also includes a number of traits that enable a producer to develop a baseline for the herd’s genetics and decide where to improve. Health traits have been a focus in recent years, as research has shown they heavily correlate with a healthier and more efficient cow. Genomic values are available for health traits – such as subclinical ketosis, metritis, and lameness – as well as indexes that combine all health traits.

Genomic testing can help identify which animals should be bred to different semen types based on genetic merit. It can also be used to identify potential donor females for embryo transfer programs and recipients as well. Targeted use of gendered, conventional, and beef semen ensures replacements only come from animals whose genetics the producer wishes to keep in the herd. Lower genetic animals, and usually later lactation cows, are bred with beef semen to keep them in production and maximize the value of their calves sold for beef.

One option for producers with multi-site operations who are looking to capitalize on efficient replacement distribution is to dedicate one site solely to crossbreds or F1s. This would mean replacements are generated from purebred females bred to an A.I. sire from a different dairy breed - either Holstein or Jersey semen (typically sexed) - to generate replacements for the crossbred site. These F1 animals have been known to be the best of both worlds in terms of milk production, components, and efficiency. The F1s could then be bred with beef semen to generate terminal beef cross calves that, in many cases, can be sold for a premium.

Embryos are another tool producers are adding to their breeding protocols in a variety of ways. With improved technologies, embryo transfer (ET) and in-vitro fertilization are becoming more accessible to commercial dairy operations. Additional management and precise recordkeeping is critical when adding ET technologies, but the benefits can be significant. Improved genetic merit can be achieved quicker by selecting high genetic merit donor females and transferring embryos into lower genetic merit recipients. F1 embryos are another option for sites that are interested in generating replacements without entering an elaborate crossbreeding scheme.

The implementation of a strategic breeding program is a hurdle that producers must overcome. Once the herd inventory is sorted based on parent averages, a custom index, genomic testing or specific criteria within lactations that a producer wishes to focus on, then animals are coded through a mating program to be bred to a certain type of semen. If the animals’ pedigrees are known, the mating program can also choose individual mating sires that limit inbreeding.

When making the change to a strategic breeding approach, it is important to consider the dairy’s individual goals and current marketplace. Once a strategy is created, it should be followed through long enough to see the results. In return, dairies can more efficiently utilize available technologies to maximize herd genetics and ultimately profitability.

If you need help developing your strategic breeding program, GENEX can help. Talk to your representative about our ProspectiveSM programa semen profit comparison tool, to get started.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Proprietary Traits-Genetic Improvement Through Data-Driven Innovation

You have hopefully heard that GENEX released an Ideal Commercial Cow (ICC$) index for Jerseys with the December 2017 sire summaries, and you may have noticed mention of two proprietary traits included in the index. So what are they and what do they measure? Read on as our U.S. Dairy Marketing Manager and Jersey farmer herself, Leah James, helps us explain.

GENEX has released Calf Survivability (CSRV) and Age at First Calving (AAFC) evaluations to
address critical areas of concern within the Jersey breed.

“CSRV brings awareness to genetics that instill hardiness and survivability in newborn calves,” explains Leah.

“AgSource Dairy data for a five-and-a-half-year period from January 2012 through July 2017 shows that 6.5% of Jersey calves died between 2 and 120 days of age,” adds Leah. “The new CSRV breeding value, included in the Sustainability subindex of the Ideal Commercial Cow index for Jerseys, aims to provide genetic selection to improve the survivability of Jersey calves.”

The CSRV breeding value, available on all GENEX sires, reflects the percent of female calves that survived past 120 days of age. The breeding value is set to a base of 100, meaning 100 is average. Expect about a 5.5% difference in calf survivability between daughters of a 105 CSRV bull and daughters of a 95 CSRV bull. CSRV has an 8.1% heritability.

The second trait, AAFC, highlights the importance of daughter fertility among Jersey cattle.

“In surveying some of our Jersey customers, it was clear that getting heifers calved in early is a point of focus, especially considering the negative trend for daughter fertility over the past 50+ years,” notes Leah. “AAFC aims to get heifers calved in early because that equals bottom‑line profit for the dairy.”

The AAFC breeding value is indicative of the heifer growing and maturing faster and being reproductively viable at a younger age. It is included within the Fertility sub-index of the Ideal Commercial Cow (ICC$) index for Jerseys.

The breeding value is set to a base of 100. Expect about a 44-day difference in age at first calving
between daughters of a 105 AAFC bull and daughters of a 95 AAFC bull. Heritability is at 18.7%.

All GENEX proprietary health traits are calculated by the CRI ICB using the CRI dairy research database, which includes:
› Genomic profiles
› On-farm records
› Real-time production values

The database continues to grow and currently includes over 54 million health records on nearly
GENEX proprietary traits are set to a base of 100, meaning a breeding value of 100 is average. 12 million cows.

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Answers to Your Most Asked Beef Synchronization Questions

While breeding season may be a bit away yet, it is the perfect time to evaluate your procedures and make decisions on protocols. Our Beef Marketing and Education Manager, Sarah Thorson, took a few minutes to answer some of the most frequently asking questions concerning synchronization protocols.

What is the best synchronization protocol for cows and heifers?
There isn’t an easy answer to this question. Yes, research suggests some protocols perform better than others, but just because research says it’s the best protocol, doesn’t necessarily make it the best protocol for your operation. I always advise people to ask themselves three questions before choosing a synchronization protocol:
› How many times am I willing to put the female through the chute?
› How much am I willing to spend on synchronization drugs?
› What are my expectations for results?
Once you know the answers to these questions you can objectively analyze which synchronization program is the best fit for your operation. No matter what the research or experts tell you, the best protocol for your operation is one that aligns with your goals and you are 100% confident you can perform perfectly from start to finish.

What criteria should I use to ensure females are good candidates for A.I.?
The answer depends if you are synchronizing heifers or cows.
Criteria for synchronizing heifers:
› Should have achieved at least 65% of mature body weight
› Minimum of 50% should have reproductive tract score of ≥ 4 at six weeks before breeding
If you don’t have a veterinarian in your area that offers reproductive tract scoring, don’t panic! You can achieve the same thing by visually observing your heifers for heat in the weeks and months leading up to breeding. You want to observe at least 50% are cycling six weeks prior to breeding.

Criteria for synchronizing cows:
› Body Condition Score of ≥ 5 at calving
› Cows to be synchronized should have a mean postpartum interval of ≥ 40 days at the beginning of the protocol
› Each cow should be a minimum of 21 days postpartum at the time of Eazi-Breed™ CIDR® insertion
› Low incidence of calving difficulty

Where is the best place to give synchronization injections? What needle size should I use?
Synchronization drugs should be given in the muscle (IM), with the exception of LUTALYSE® Hi-Con which can be administered IM or subcutaneously. When administering synchronization drugs, I recommend using a 1-½ inch, 18-gauge needle. And people don’t often ask, but I always mention you should wear gloves when handling any synchronization drugs to avoid contact with skin.

Can I reuse CIDR® inserts?
CIDR® inserts are labeled as a one-time use item by the manufacturer, and I recommend following this guideline.
I know CIDR® inserts are one of the most expensive parts of a synchronization protocol, retailing at $10 to $12. It is tempting to cut that cost in half by using a CIDR® for a second time. The next time you are tempted to do this, ask yourself what another A.I. calf is worth to you. My guess is that it’s a lot more than $5 to $6.

Can I give vaccines/dewormer while I’ve got the cow in the chute and am inserting the CIDR®?
A pre-breeding vaccination program is an important part of an overall successful A.I. program. However, several studies have shown injection of naïve heifers with a modified live vaccine (MLV) around the time of breeding resulted in ovarian lesions and decreased pregnancy rates. Therefore, I recommend that all pre-breeding vaccinations be given at least 30 days prior to breeding.

While there isn’t any research that suggests administering dewormer at breeding will have a negative impact on fertility, I recommend doing that at least 30 days prior to breeding as well. The less stress you put on females around breeding time, the better your success. To achieve optimal results, it’s best to do as little as possible to the females during the synchronization and breeding process.

How long should I wait to move the cows after insemination?
The most critical time periods for embryonic development occur between day five, when the embryo begins its migration from the oviduct to the uterus, and day 42, when the embryo has made definitive attachment to the uterus. Research indicates shipping cows during this critical time in embryo development can cause a 10% decrease in pregnancy rates. The best time to move cattle is prior to insemination or days one to four post breeding. If you can’t move them within this time period, it’s best to wait until after day 45. To learn more about shipping cows during this critical time period, click here.

Despite what research might say, no single synchronization protocol fits every operation. Know your operation, follow the suggestions above and trust your gut. And if you ever have any other questions, remember I’m only a phone call away!

Friday, February 2, 2018

Give Calves a Push!

By: Suzanne Lois, Resale Product Advisor

A newborn calf’s first few hours on earth and how quickly it suckles down Mother Nature’s energy and protein drink, the dam’s colostrum, will likely determine how healthy it will be for the next few months. Colostrum provides the calf with two key components: antibodies and ENERGY, ENERGY, ENERGY!

Often not highlighted when talking about the first feeding of colostrum is the energy source it provides the calf. A newborn calf has limited storage of fat reserves; in fact, it doesn’t even have enough reserves to survive 24 hours in a stressful environment. In order for the immune system to work properly, energy is crucial.

Colostrum provides a jolt of energy similar to that of an energy drink. The colostral milkfat provides the required source of energy to help jumpstart a calf’s immune system. Calves should consume colostrum as soon as possible; however, we do encounter circumstances where the calf doesn’t have enough energy to get up and nurse. It could be for a number of reasons, including the calf being born in muddy, cold conditions, suffering from a hard calving or being born a twin. And, of course, there are always those circumstances where you wonder if the calf did or didn’t get up and suckle yet. So, what can you do to get the calf up and suckling? At GENEX, we suggest giving the calf a little “push.” Push™ calf nutritional paste, that is.

Push™ paste is made from high quality, pasteurized bovine colostrum and contains both globulin proteins and colostral fats found in colostrum. While it does not replace colostrum, it does provide plenty of energy and can help with immune stimulation at the cellular level. A tube of Push™ paste will provide a calf with enough nutrients to support energy needs for up to a 12-hour period, depending on the condition the calf is in. Those who have tried Push™ paste are amazed how
the product can increase a calf’s energy to help combat challenges it may experience in the first few hours of life.

A dam’s colostrum is nature’s perfect first meal, providing the necessary antibodies and energy to get
the calf off to the best possible start. Yet, sometimes calves need a little nudge to get started, so why not give a tube of Push™ calf nutritional paste?