Breeding: Save Now, Pay Later

Reproduction technologies, such as marking cows that need attention, should be a focus even in a down economy. ( Wyatt Bechtel )

When milk prices are low it’s common to look at the expense side of the ledger to make cost cuts. Some of this is warranted, as any business can usually find areas to create less waste and more efficiency.

Reproduction is not one of those areas, and the reason is pretty simple. Cows have to have a calf to start another lactation, and they can’t have a calf if they don’t get pregnant. A multitude of studies has shown that getting cows bred back in a timely manner after calving boosts long term profitability.

Shortcutting reproductive management may save money now, but the negative impacts will stock pile quickly over time.

PREG RATE IS CRITICAL

Steve Bodart, a senior agribusiness consultant with Compeer Financial, analyzed financial records from dairies in Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. In the analysis he came up with six benchmarks that drove financial success. Pregnancy rate was the only factor of the six related to reproduction.

Top herds in the analysis had a pregnancy rate of 26%, and the least profitable herds were less than 19%. When rBST was available, a lower pregnancy rate and longer days in milk was possible. “That is no longer acceptable,” Bodart says.

KEEP IN PEAK MILK

A lower pregnancy rate means fewer cows will be calving each month. “Fewer monthly calvings reduce the percent of the herd in peak milk,” says J. Richard Pursley, animal science professor at Michigan State University. “It’s crucial for producers to always have the largest possible percentage of cows in peak milk and even more so when milk prices rebound.”

Fewer cows in peak milk decreases the herd’s average daily milk output, which has a direct relation to cash flow, something that can’t be sacrificed when milk prices are low.

Pursley offers five key management goals to help ensure optimal reproduction:

1. Ensure all cows receive first AI no later than 90 days in milk.

2. The herd veterinarian should diagnose cows for pregnancy 32 to 38 days after AI.

3. All non-pregnant cows at vet check should receive AI within three weeks of diagnosis

4. Cows diagnosed pregnant should be re-examined by a veterinarian approximately one month later to detect any pregnancy loss.

5. Producers should utilize high-ranking sire conception rate bulls to maximize the chances for pregnancy “Don’t think about using herd bulls as a cheaper way to manage reproduction,” Pursley says. “Herd bulls can stall genetic progress and can oftenexperience high rates of infertility.”

SAVE ON GNRH

Many producers use a timed AI program to manage reproduction, which carries with it costs for hormones and other treatments. One University of Idaho study identified an opportunity to save on GnRH costs when using controlled internal drug release (CIDR) devices.

The study, published in the September issue of the Journal of Dairy Science, looked at the effect of the initial GnRH administration on pregnancy after second AI. Cows designated as open at around 37 days after the first AI were enrolled in a five-day CIDR protocol. After the CIDR was removed on day five, all cows received one prostaglandin injection. Cows detected in visual estrus on day six or seven were bred and did not receive the final GnRH shot. The cows not detected in estrus by day eight received GnRH and timed AI.

After pregnancy diagnosis for all cows, it was determined that eliminating the initial GnRH injection had no effect on the number of pregnancies.

Cutting costs on reproduction technologies may also affect herd genetics as well. It’s easy to use cheaper sires, or discontinue genomic testing, to save short-term money. All of the time and effort put into building the genetics of your herd could suffer a serious setback if you make the decision to use cheaper and inferior sires. While you could accomplish your goal of just getting cows pregnant, you will regret that decision in three years when the resulting heifers join the lactating herd. What you save now could cost you later, especially if milk prices rebound.

 

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