In times when the cost of production is greater than milk income, each input cost is closely inspected for the value it provides to the dairy. While there’s no easy way to determine what must be cut first, it’s often easy to put reproduction on the back burner since results won’t be realized for a few months.

But when milk prices cycle back again and surpass cost of production, unbred animals in late-lactation and fewer replacement heifers can cause real problems. That makes reproduction absolutely critical. Below is a list of five areas you just can’t forget, regardless of economic conditions.

  • Absolute compliance. Keeping protocols in place is especially important to ensure the right cows are bred at the right time. Reduced reproductive performance is rarely due to the physiological responses of individual cows, but almost always can be attributed to compliance issues on the farm.
  • Transition management. Continue to focus on the transition period, as it will have a direct impact on future lactation performance. If cows are not managed or fed properly during the transition, multiple reproductive problems can result.
  • Quality Artificial Insemination (AI) sires. The use of AI has cumulative benefits, including the opportunity to choose sires that are proven to transmit superior genetics. Research shows that cows sired by proven AI sires produced 3,080 lb. more herd lifetime milk and were $148 more profitable when compared to daughters of non-AI sires. And while using a herd bull may seem like a cheaper alternative to purchasing semen, the indirect and direct costs of a natural service program can be costlier than an AI program.
  • Trained employees. The training and experience of your workforce will ultimately impact how well your cows perform at breeding because they are the ones implementing the AI protocols; watching for heats; catching and breeding cows; or reporting uterine health problems. Depending on your situation, you may have considered having fewer people do the same work to cut costs.
  • Knowledgeable veterinary services. Continue to work with a herd veterinarian who has experience in reproduction and is working on your team to optimize herd reproduction goals. While their services can be costly, their visits are absolutely necessary to keep your reproductive program on track. Veterinarians are especially important for evaluating pregnancy status; checking for uterine health disorders; and adjusting reproductive protocols.

As you make economic decisions about the management of your dairy, avoid the initial knee-jerk reaction to pull back your herd reproduction program. Having a crop of genetically superior heifers and maintaining a highly efficient reproductive program can help keep your herd running optimally through all economic environments.

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