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0809 PD: Lack of ‘management energy’ for pregnancies is costly

Tom Fuhrmann for Progressive Dairyman Published on 18 May 2009

It takes “management energy” to get cows pregnant.

Regardless of what program you use, management energy is the effort to implement that breeding program precisely and consistently. It is the attitude to want to do all the details correctly. Management energy is the force that drives management principles to implementation. Management energy does not show up on the balance sheet, but lack of it is costly, and lots of it is priceless. Management energy can be the difference between a pregnancy rate of 15 percent and one of 20 percent.



As margins shrink, you should consider options to get more pregnancies at less cost for the short-term future. So let’s examine three different fertility programs to compare their costs and consider the management energy to execute each.

Our first assumption is that if your current pregnancy rate is at the national average of 15 percent, then a 1 percent improvement is worth about $20 per cow. If you have a pregnancy rate of 22 percent, then the 1 percent improvement is worth less, about $8 per cow.

Now let’s examine three different programs to improve that pregnancy rate.

The first comparison is between a timed A.I. (Ovsynch) program and one that depends upon no hormone injections but requires tail stripe heat detection and insemination. Both programs are fairly labor-intensive, so I submit that there are no differences in labor costs to implement the two programs. If we assume a first-service pregnancy rate of 35 percent for the Ovsynch program and a 70 percent heat detection rate and 35 percent conception rate in the tail stripe program, then Table 1 on page 30 captures general performance results for 100 cows through 65 days into each program.

While pregnancy results are similar, the risks and the management energy to get these results might be very different. To maximize the Ovsynch program, all hormone injections must be given to all animals all the time. Then the heavy breeding day must be staffed by sufficient, competent technicians to breed all cows correctly. Management energy: high. Risk against success: moderate because TAI programs have been proven to work. Compliance to the program is the main concern.


Tail stripe heat detection requires a thoroughly trained technician(s), all cows locked and evaluated consistently every day and excellent evaluation for both primary and secondary signs of heat. Attaining 70 percent heat detection through crayon tail stripe is very difficult. Management energy: very high. Risk against success: high because worker performance and competency are required every day, not just on shot days and breeding days. While a savings of $2,545 betwen the timed A.I. (TAI) program and the tail stripe program is very appealing, the management energy required to implement each program along with the risk assessment should be included in your evaluation of which program is appropriate for your dairy.

Should you consider natural service breeding as a temporary cost-savings program during difficult economic times? In a paper presented at the recent Western Dairy Management Conference in Reno, Nevada, Dr. Carlos Risco described the results of a study comparing natural service to a timed-A.I. breeding program. His results indicated two things. First, results measured as survival curves for proportion of non-pregnant cows by days postpartum were very similar between natural service cows and TAI cows. Second, partial budget analysis including explicit costs (actual cash payments) and implicit costs (opportunity costs) identified that the natural service program was more expensive. (Net cost of the natural service program was $92.29, the net cost of the TAI program was $59.83. Net merit estimates of bulls used for A.I. and feed costs for natural service bulls had the greatest impact on cost differences between the two programs.)

Risco outlined the management requirements to attain similar new pregnancy results by natural service programs with A.I. Some of these included having sufficient bulls to allow adequate sexual rest periods, routine fertility examination of bulls and significant attention to all aspects of bull health and soundness.

While natural service is more expensive than timed A.I., management energy and risk assessment should be included in any decision to consider your breeding program options. Management energy: moderate, but depends upon your assessment of bringing bulls on to your operation and the efforts to readjust your workers’ attitudes to managing bulls. Risk against success: low, but you have to follow all the steps defined for good breeding bull management.

During times of low margins, we must think out of the box. Considerations to modify breeding management programs to cut costs cannot be evaluated only by bottom- line dollars. Management programs have an intangible component, management energy, which should be factored into every management decision. While intangible, “management energy” can be either very costly if misrepresented, or very profitable if implemented with vigor and intensity. These are the times to recognize and elevate your “management energy.” PD

*Tables omitted but are available upon request to


Tom Fuhrmann