Achieving good pregnancy rates on a consistent basis is a crucial component of a profitable dairy enterprise. However, reproduction is affected by many factors, and consequently evaluating a herd to identify the bottlenecks limiting reproductive performance is a challenge.
The Penn State Reproduction Drill-Down Tool provides a systematic approach to critically analyze the major factors affecting heat detection rate and conception rate so that problem areas can be highlighted and discussed. The tool was rigorously tested by Penn State Extension educators and consultants across more than 15 herds, and then revised before being released.
“Several dairymen made comments to the effect that they had never been asked questions related to reproductive management in such an organized manner,” notes Mike O’Connor, Penn State professor emeritus of dairy science, one of the original developers of the tool.
“The Penn State Reproduction Drill-Down Tool provides a standardized operating procedure for comprehensively evaluating a farm’s reproductive program,” explains James Delahoy, a nutritionist who has used the tool on some of the herds he works with. “Using the Reproduction Drill-Down Tool is an effective and efficient way to identify and to work to resolve bottlenecks in a reproductive program,” He says. The tool incorporates easy-to-access DHIA information and uses common terminology, he says, adding, “It provides a standard platform for communication between farmers, consultants and university experts.”
The drill-down tool asks a series of “trigger questions” that indicate whether conception rate, heat detection rate or both are the greatest contributors to low pregnancy rates. Answers to the drill-down questions highlight areas requiring attention to improve performance.
Drill-down questions are divided into two general categories — factors affecting heat detection rate and factors related to conception rate — and then are broken down into more specific categories: ineffective heat detection, anestrous cows, confinement and footing, heat stress, estrous synchronization program, inaccurate heat detection, artificial insemination technique, ration or feeding management issues, reproductive health, and environmental issues.
Each area of reproduction management is assigned a “risk level” based on the answers chosen. Categories that are assigned a higher risk level indicate an area to focus on when making changes to improve reproductive performance.