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Breeding the 50,000-pound cow

PD Editor Peggy Coffeen Published on 17 January 2014

Holstein cows eating a feed bunk

Jarrod Kollwelter has exceeded a rolling herd average of 40,000 pounds – one of the highest in the nation. Yet, the young and ambitious dairyman is striving for more milk, and he strongly believes that genetics is the golden ticket to taking his herd to the next level.

“I really believe by the year 2020 we should be able to push 50,000 pounds of milk,” Kollwelter stated at the 2013 Alltech Dairy School. “And genetics is what will get me there.”

Kollwelter milks 210 cows at his JC-Kow Farms near Whitewater, Wisconsin. The third-generation farmer with a passion for genetics and impeccable cow sense has expanded the herd from within since returning home from college in 2002.

At the same time, his herd average has been on a steady climb. Presently, it is right around 40,280 pounds of milk with no signs of slowing down.

Balancing production and reproduction
Achieving this level of production does not happen by luck or accident. Every detail of Kollwelter’s dairy is deliberate, from putting up his own high-quality forages to designing stalls for maximum cow comfort, and he avoids overcrowding at all costs.

An all-encompassing approach to controlling environment and nutrition not only drives milk production but also keeps his herd’s reproduction on track.

“Getting cows bred is the name of the game to make more pounds of milk,” stated Kollwelter. His approach to reproduction is both aggressive and methodical, and it works. His highest producing cow, a Planet that made 56,040 pounds of milk in her third lactation, “bred back on one shot every time.”

Breeding protocols
In Kollwelter’s mind, the most telling metric for measuring reproductive efficiency is the calving interval. Over the last year, he has dropped nearly one month off of his calving interval to its current status of 13.2 months by tweaking his shot protocol. During the same period, conception rates took a leap from a solid 42 percent to nearly 60 percent.

A cherry-picking OvSynch protocol has been the foundation for Kollwelter’s reproductive success, combined with the expertise of his long-time herd veterinarian Dr. Rick Halvorson of the Whitewater Veterinary Hospital.

One week before herd check, all eligible cows receive a shot of GnRH. Those ultrasounded with a good corpus luteum (CL) receive one shot of Estrumate followed by a second shot 16 hours later.

Dairyman Jarrod Kollwelter was a featured speaker at the 2013 Alltech Wisconsin Dairy School “When we changed that, we gained about 15 percent conception rate with the second shot of Estrumate on the higher-producer cows,” Kollwelter noted, further adding that he has observed more cows getting pregnant and maintaining pregnancy as a result of the GnRH.

Ultrasounding for pregnancy is done at 25 days, which he feels minimizes the lag time between servicing open cows.

With sound reproductive performance, Kollwelter makes very few culls based on failure to breed back. Instead, he can focus on weeding out his bottom-end milkers by culling for low production.

In the heifer pens, Kollwelter relies on a combination of observation and prostaglandin. Heifers caught in heat are bred, and those not caught are ultrasounded during the herd check before receiving a shot. Heifers that are problem breeders become embryo recipients.

An activity monitoring system was installed a few months ago, but at this point, Kollwelter does not feel he has enough data to judge how well the system is working for him. He maintains that no one – or device – knows his cows better.

“Nothing replaces walking the pens, looking at cows and being observant,” he added.

What’s in his tank?
If you peeked into Kollwelter’s semen tank, what would you find? Depending on the timing of proofs, you may not find much at all. Staying on the cutting edge means keeping a lean supply of semen on hand.

“I don’t want to be sitting on something when the numbers change,” he noted.

Just before the most recent proofs were published in December 2013, he was down to his last two shots: Coyne-Farms Jacey CRI-ET and Cookiecutter Petron Halogen.

“I breed everything to high-milk, high-fat, high-protein bulls,” he said. “When proofs come out with the highest bulls for genomics and TPI, I pick the top three or four and that is all I breed to … the best cows, the worst cows and straight across the board.”

Sexed semen is another thing you won’t find in Kollwelter’s tank. To him, a lower conception rate just isn’t worth it.

“It’s not worth the cost of taking a hit to get heifer calves,” he added.

To avoid inbreeding, he mates cows and heifers according to their pedigrees. A tool he has found particularly helpful is the Holstein Association USA’s online inbreeding calculator, which he uses for making breeding decisions on animals that he plans to flush.

Raising replacements
Setting up heifers for first calving between 22 and 23 months old requires Kollwelter to maximize growth and gains in his young calves.

“I believe it starts with the calves,” he stated. “If you don’t have a good, healthy calf, what are you going to have in the future?”

He feeds calves 3 gallons of colostrum, split among three daily feedings. At 45 days, calves are started on TMR. The high-energy diet may not be what the industry recommends, but Kollwelter is convinced that it makes for healthy, hefty calves.

“I like to see my calves look like little butterballs,” he explained. “My goal is to maximize the growth phase, then cut back on the energy as heifers.”

Jarrod Kollwelter’s cows are milk machines, cranking out a herd average more than 40,000 pounds

The heifer ration includes a large portion of homegrown oatlage and other less-expensive feed ingredients, which helps him to keep his costs down. As far as results, Kollwelter’s heifers nearly all came in the top 95 percentile for growth in a recent study of 6,000 heifers.

While the focus is on growing his female population, Kollwelter has inadvertently found a market for some of his genetically superior bull calves. A few have caught the eye of bull studs, and others have been sold as calves to fellow dairymen looking for breeding bulls.

Genetics for the next generation
Making more of the kind of females that Kollwelter believes will take him to the next level involves a fast-paced program that combines genomic testing and flushing.

Every heifer calf that hits the ground is genomically tested, and Kollwelter begins flushing his very best as early as 9 months old. While that is younger than what some may recommend, he has found this to be successful, averaging 10 eggs on each flush.

“Most people say that you should flush at 12 months, but by then, I have already flushed two or three times,” he added, “and I can still have that heifer calving in herself at 22 months old.”

In some cases, this means that a heifer has 20 daughters on the ground before she has had her own calf. This fits into Kollwelter’s plan to continue to grow his herd from within by capitalizing on only his top-tier genetics.

“I want all elite; I don’t want marginal,” he said.

He hopes to eventually have twice the amount of heifers that he needs to fill his 300-stall barn to capacity, which will allow him to further cull out those that don’t make the cut.

“If we can take our bottom quarter of animals out and replace them with our top 5 percent, I think that should easily be able to give us another 10 percent production from that alone,” he predicted.

“That is the way I truly believe I can improve genetic progress,” Kollwelter added. “Through genomics and genetic selection.” PD

PHOTOS
MIDDLE: Dairyman Jarrod Kollwelter was a featured speaker at the 2013 Alltech Wisconsin Dairy School. What is the secret of his herd’s high production? “There is no secret,” he said. “Cow comfort, feeding a balanced ration, good genetics … all the information is out there.”

BOTTOM: Jarrod Kollwelter’s cows are milk machines, cranking out a herd average more than 40,000 pounds. With good feed and a comfortable environment, he believes it is genetics that will jump him to 50,000 pounds. Photos courtesy of Alltech .

Peggy Coffeen


Peggy Coffeen

Editor
Progressive Dairyman

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