Kevin Peck, Clear Echo Farm

“You need to keep swinging to make the high ones. In that way, high-end genetics is like baseball,” said Kevin Peck. “For every 2600-plus and 2700-plus TPI (Total Performance Index) home run, I can also show you a bunch of 2300- to 2400-TPI heifers,” said the eastern New York Holstein breeder, who has a number of elite genetic animals.

Peck has embraced genomics on his Clear Echo Farm since the technology came on the scene in 2008. However, how Peck has combined genomics with embryo transfer (ET) and in vitro fertilization (IVF) has evolved greatly at his 600-cow dairy.

Knowing that heifers represent the best genetic potential, this is the group that Peck works with most often. When it comes to making the next generation, IVF is now the starting point.

“We begin IVF as early as 9 months of age and generally continue until a heifer is 12 months old,” said the Schuylerville, N.Y., dairyman. “We continue to IVF during that four-month window if we are having success. We define success as four implantable embryos per IVF session.”

“Over the years, we have not had much success performing IVF and trying to get heifers pregnant,” said Peck. “We now stop IVF work to breed, pregnancy check, and sex that pregnancy. It just hasn’t worked for us to continue IVF and try to get heifers pregnant,” he confirmed.

Peck prefers IVF to traditional ET work as it takes six to eight weeks to turn heifers over on one conventional ET flush. The window is half that or less with IVF.

Once confirmed pregnant, Peck will go back to IVF on high-end genetic heifers.

“We start back with IVF at 60 days pregnant and continue up to 120 days pregnant,” said Peck whose Holstein herd averages 27,500 pounds of milk. “On our farm, we have found pregnant heifers IVF the best.”

At Clear Echo Farms, 5 percent of the herd is enrolled in the IVF and ET programs. This creates 60 percent of the farm’s calves. Low genetic merit heifers and cows carry the embryos of the higher genetic quality animals in Peck’s herd.

“Overall, 50 percent of our cows carry embryos. If identified as a recipient, each cow gets implanted with an embryo on two occasions. If she doesn’t become pregnant, the cow is returned to an A.I. breeding program.”

As for changes in recent years, new barns have entered the picture.

“We built two new barns for IVF heifers,” said Peck. “At one time we housed our most valuable heifers in an old post-and-beam barn,” said Peck, whose family has been farming at the same location since 1867. “Concerned about the aging facilities and snow loads, we built two new barns two years ago.”

Peck believes in the genomics game. Nonetheless, he offered this advice to keep things in perspective, “I truly believe in genomics. However, 90 percent of my income still comes from milk sales.”

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2016
October 10, 2016

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