Dec. 31 2013 06:00 AM

By improving heat detection efficiency, reducing heat detection errors and honing our inseminating skills, we can get more heifers bred.

When it comes to heifer fertility, reproductive experts say to focus your efforts on factors that you can control. Katie Ballard on behalf of the Farm Report for the William H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute suggests looking at the following heifer fertility factors that we can control:
  • Heat detection efficiency
  • Heat detection errors
  • Skill of the inseminator
Heat detection efficiency is defined as the percentage of cows displaying estrus that are identified as being in heat. Unfortunately, in many cases, heifers are housed away from the main farm operations which results in less time spent observing for heat activity.

Location isn't the only obstacle to success. Since heifers require less attention than the milking herd, we often only make one or two passes a day for feeding and cleaning. This further limits opportunities to see heifers showing signs of heat. With these two obstacles in mind, if we could improve heat detection efficiency, the overall reproductive performance would be improved.

Heat detection errors are defined as the percentage of cows that are bred that are not really in heat. Several studies have shown that 5 to 30 percent of all inseminations take place in cows and heifers that are not in heat. Poor heifer heat detection can occur because of overcapacity, low lighting and simple general rowdiness among more aggressive heifers.

The skill of the inseminator breeding your heifers is also an important skill to consider. While we like to assume that everyone trained to breed our cattle is good at their job, they may lack experience. Even trained A.I. technicians have varying degrees of accuracy when it comes to semen placement in the reproductive tract. Breeding heifers is an even more difficult job as they have much narrower cervixes.

Additionally, farmers often leave A.I. technicians on their own to navigate crowded pens and just expect their heifers to run into a stall to be bred. That isn't reality if there isn't a well-designed system to restrain animals. On top of that, A.I. inseminators don't achieve optimal results if they are more concerned about getting injured when breeding heifers without proper restraints.

There are other factors that converge to boost or limit A.I. efficiency in heifers. However, by working on these three above items, we have the greatest potential to improve the heifer fertility rates in our herd.

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The author grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm and is a student at Iowa State University studying agriculture journalism and mass communication.