A Successful Reproduction Program is More Than a Good Synch Program
Published in Dairy Star February 19, 2010
Most dairy farmers find it a challenge to consistently get cows pregnant. For some producers it is the major frustration that they deal with every day. Reproduction is a very multi-faceted complicated process. Not only does the cow's physiology need to cooperate, dairy managers must inseminate the cow with fertile, high quality semen at the correct time.
Many producers have implemented synchronization programs that have helped eliminate some of the challenges of catching cows in heat. However, even among dairy producers on the same synchronization programs there is a wide range in success. With an excellent reproduction program, most producers should be able to achieve a 20% pregnancy rate. If your pregnancy rate is not at this level, here are some areas that you should examine:
Farm management factors:
- Are all cows accurately identified? Cattle often lose ear tags that are never replaced. It is difficult to identify cows in heat without visible identification.
- Do you have a good record keeping system in place? If natural heat detection is used, a record keeping system to identify potential cows in heat should be used every day. For synchronization programs, it is very important that cows be tracked properly.
- Develop a monitoring program to measure performance and intervene if goals are not being met. At a minimum, every dairy should be monitoring pregnancy rate and percent of cows inseminated within 21 days of the start of the voluntary waiting period monthly.
- Review your transition program. Cows with metabolic diseases around calving will have poorer reproductive performance.
- Evaluate your calving area. Cows with metritis will have decreased reproductive performance.
- Review fresh cow mastitis infections. Research shows that cows with clinical mastitis average about 30 days longer before first breeding than cows without clinical mastitis.
- Review cow comfort and nutrition. Cows on inadequate nutrition programs and/or lame or injured cows are more likely to be thin and have lower conception rates.
- Does the barn(s) have adequate cooling to minimize heat stress in the summer? It takes several weeks for cows to recover from heat stress and reach optimal fertility.
Reproductive program factors:
- Has your breeding technician been properly trained? How long has it been since their semen handling and insemination skills been evaluated? Many of the breeding services have refresher courses to evaluate an inseminator's techniques.
- Have thermometers or thaw units been checked? Have your breeding service check your thaw unit annually.
- Is the insemination equipment kept clean?
- If natural heat detection is used, are personnel trained to identify specific signs of heat and is there a method of communication set up to get the cow bred when she is identified in heat?
- If you are on a synchronization program, is it based on good scientific principles? We are learning more all the time on what programs give us the best chance of getting a cow pregnant. Regularly review your program to make sure it is the best for your situation.
- Do the right cows get the right injections at the right time? For most synchronization programs, at least 5 injections are used. Even if 90% of the shots are given correctly, compliance on any individual will only be 59% (.9 x .9 x .9 x .9 x .9). Develop a systematic approach to your synchronization program so that all cows receive the correct shots at the correct time.
- Are personnel trained on how to give the injections? This includes using the correct size needles with the correct technique.
- Are you on a regular herd health program? Open cows must be identified and action taken to get them re-inseminated in a timely manner. Most large herds are on weekly herd health checks. This is not practical for small herds. Work with your veterinarian to develop a plan that works for you.
There is nothing magic about successful reproductive programs. Success is based on attention to detail. Table 1 comes from the 2009 Minnesota DHI Yardstick, which shows a summary of Reproduction data based on Rolling Herd Averages for Holstein herds as of December 2008.
Use the table to compare your herd and to help set some reproduction goals for the year ahead. Farms that have successful reproductive programs have developed systems and processes that allow cows to transition well into lactation and quickly ramp up on dry matter intake to minimize weight loss. They have developed a system to get all cows inseminated within 21 days of the start of the voluntary waiting period. They focus on identifying open cows and getting them re-inseminated in a timely manner. These dairies regularly monitor the herd's performance and work with their management team to make adjustments as needed.
|Table 1. DHI Yardstick for 2009 (based on Holstein herds as of Dec. 2008).|
|Rolling Herd Average, milk lb||<15,000||15,000 - 16,999||17,000 - 18,999||19,000 - 20,999||21,000 - 22,999||23,000 - 24,999||25,000+|
|Number of Herds||127
|Minimum Calving Interval||16||15.5||14.9||14.6||14.3||14.1||14|
|Avg Days to 1st Breeding||116||115||98||99||91||87||83|
|Avg Days Open||208||192||172||165||156||148||147|
|Heat Detection Index||19||23||28||31||36||41||43|
|% Cows in Heat by VWP*||6||7||9||10||10||12||14|
|Annual Turnover Rate||34||37||36||35||36||36||37|
|Services per Conception||2||2||2.1||2.1||2.2||2.2||2.3|
|* VWP = Voluntary Waiting Period.|