Back to basics: Heat detection is still the best tool for getting cows pregnant!

As we all face a new year in the dairy business, we pray for better milk prices. But in surviving in these challenging times, we must never let down in our management! Now is a good time to decide how you are going to improve on the successes of the past year. Get your management team together and set some new goals. I suggest starting off this New Year with some specific resolutions.

Let me help out by sharing some things I recently learned. During this past November, about 350 people experienced two very successful regional Dairy Cattle Reproduction Council meetings in St. Paul, Minn., and Boise, Idaho. This fledgling organization is now beginning its fifth year. It is dedicated to bringing together dairy cattle reproduction experts including academicians, veterinarians, dairy producers, and allied industries - semen, pharmaceutical, and nutrition companies to help dairy producers improve reproductive outcomes of their dairy cows.

We also recently recognized some outstanding dairy farms that excel in reproduction. These dairy farms were featured in the November 2009 issue of Hoard's Dairyman on page 702. You can read more about the DCRC by going to You may become a member of this organization and receive the bimonthly newsletter and have access to the presentations made at the first four annual DCRC meetings.

This past meeting had some worthwhile presentations. I will summarize some of the information in upcoming columns. In this column I will identify some of the characteristics of successful reproductive programs. Much of what I will share is based on a very informative presentation by Steve Stewart, D.V.M. Members of the DCRC can read it in its entirety by going to the DCRC website.

Successful repro programs.

  • Are based on sound principles of reproductive physiology, economics, and management.
  • Are designed to be simple without unnecessary duplication.
  • Are implemented with few errors; compliant to the designed protocols.
  • Incorporate new ideas and technologies after considering the pros and cons.
  • Focus on processes (day-to-day chores) as well as results to identify problems.

Indirect factors affecting fertility.

  • Good visual cow ID; may include RFID (radio frequency ID).
  • Accurate pen assignments (can you find every cow?).
  • Easy cow restraints that neither excite (stress) the cow nor the person working with the cow. Feedline lockups are the gold standard.
  • Knowledgeable about the calving process (such as cleanliness and when to assist).
  • Understand the negative consequences of poor nutrition and poor cow comfort on reproductive outcomes.

Direct factors related to personnel.

  • Attention to ALL details of the A.I. breeding process (semen handling, semen placement, preventing "cold" shock, cleanliness, and patience).
  • When heat detection is employed, everyone is trained on each method used (such as chalk rubs, heat mount patches, cow behaviors, and so forth).
  • When timed A.I. programs are employed, everyone places highest priority on finding all cows on the list, injecting the proper product, in the correct location, at the correct dose, and using the appropriately sized needle and syringe.
  • All tasks as well as outcomes are reviewed frequently by the management team (owner, herdsman, veterinarian, nutritionist, and all workers) to reinforce correct behaviors and retrain as needed.

Direct factors related to processes.

  • Voluntary waiting period varies from 50 to 70 days; nearly all cows are inseminated shortly after the end of the VWP.
  • Use only well-researched timed A.I. programs (Presynch, Ovsynch, and Resynch). You are unlikely to have the time or resources to do your own experimentation.
  • When using heat detection, all nonpregnant cows are reinseminated in a timely fashion.
  • When using timed A.I., all nonpregnant cows are reinseminated by 42 days post A.I.
  • Pregnancy diagnosis is viewed as an "open test" because some embryos die early in gestation after early diagnosis. Therefore, one or more positive confirmations of pregnancy should occur.
  • An early "open test" is good heat detection 20 to 22 days after the last A.I. breeding.
  • Convert as many open cows to pregnant cows as efficiently as possible.
  • Do not dwell on past performances - but focus on monitoring daily chores (processes) that affect present repro-performance.
  • Evaluate present and future value of each open cow before designating her as a "do not breed" cow.
  • Maintain an adequate supply of quality replacements - raised or purchased.

Stewart summarized best: "Dairies that excel in reproductive programs have competent, conscientious personnel implementing sound programs consistently. They pay attention to details, monitor processes as well as outcomes, and adopt new ideas quickly if proven" to be successful. Good words to live and work by.

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