Getting cows pregnant has multiple financial benefits, including another lactation and additional replacement heifers. These benefits don’t even begin to address reduced A.I., dry cow feed and other additional costs associated with poor reproductive performance.
According to Dr. John Fetrow, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Minnesota, improving pregnancy rates on the dairy results in superior herd financials. These additional profits result from a multitude of areas, including:
- Decreased average days in milk in the lactating herd, resulting in additional milk
- Less culling of good cows solely because of reproductive failure
- More calves per year as replacements and to sell as replacements
- Improved genetic advancement
- More reliable management and less variation in lengths of lactation and dry period
- Heifers calving at the appropriate age and condition
Every animal fills a “slot”
Dr. Fetrow discusses a concept of “slots”, where cows make profit throughout their lifetime based on a certain role they fill in the herd. The “slots” are filled for variable periods of time and will eventually be occupied by a younger, more profitable heifer on the dairy. How long a cow remains in a slot depends on multiple factors, including:
- Production level and milk price. Cows with higher levels of production typically stay in their “slot” longer than a cow with poor production. In most instances, if a replacement heifer could perform better over the long term than an older cow, the older cow is removed from her “slot”. In times of high milk prices, the heifer doesn’t have to perform much better than the existing cow to make the exchange financially sound.
- Feed costs. Profit margins are narrowing as feed prices go up, which makes culling less desirable. The replacement heifer must be better than the older cow for the “slot” to be passed from the current cow to her successor.
- Cost of replacements. Higher replacement heifer costs mean older cows fill their “slots” for a longer period of time. Reasonably priced heifers mean younger animals don’t have to be much better than the older generation to take their “slot”.
The concept of slots is important to understand as you begin to make decisions about your herd’s reproductive performance. Cows with poor reproductive performance may be forced to leave their slots sooner than desirable. By improving reproductive hang-ups, you can make herd decisions based on profitability, rather than culling cows solely based on reproductive status.