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Customizing to meet your needs

Tim Fargo Published on 31 October 2013

When you set out on a trip, it’s usually a good idea to know where you are going. When it comes to breeding cows, the same theory applies.

Without knowing where you are going, how you are going to get there, or being afraid to ask for help can end up having you breeding in circles.



With unstable milk prices, rising commodity costs and a vast range of genetics to choose from, it can be hard to pinpoint one specific path. Producers are becoming more focused on breeding profitable cows and not just through pounds of milk.

Whether it’s feed efficiency, increased component production or improved health and fertility, the lifetime efficiency of a cow – how well she does over several lactations – is rapidly becoming the focus of producers.

When I begin working with a new customer or am asked to help an existing customer, I follow a process that has proven itself to me and my producers countless times over.

First, the producer and I walk through the herd to identify the strong and weak areas for each age group: calves, heifers, springers, primiparous cows, dry cows and multiparous cows.

After the areas needing improvement are identified, I then sit down with producers to create a breeding plan for their herd, as it is important to establish breeding goals to drive the herd forward.


Not just goals for this month or year, but goals for strategic periods of time. That way everyone understands where the herd is headed for the next one, two, five and 10+ years.

Producers should not be afraid to follow their breeding ambitions. Any trait can be selected and bred for. Whether it’s something as simple as breeding for improved dairy character, or as complicated as improved reproductive performance, once the heifer or cow is bred, every other stage of management is the same.

Calves bred to have improved feet and legs, for example, won’t cost any more to raise than the calves you were raising before.

Once the problem traits have been identified and the process to correct them has been established, I work with producers to select a group of bulls to reach these goals. I often have a difficult time getting my producers to understand that bulls should be selected as a whole group versus selecting bulls individually.

Using a specific bull for a specific reason is great for short-term improvement, one or two generations of selected cow families, but selecting bull groups based on the average of the package will raise the average breeding values of your entire herd as a whole.

It usually isn’t until they can see the entire offspring groups from the bull groups that they really agree with me, but they are always glad they trusted me.


Choosing the right bull group is always tricky. Bulls need to be selected to make improvements where the herd needs them but shouldn’t sacrifice on other traits. For example, selecting for extreme production can result in a loss of fertility.

Technologies such as mating programs can offer more insight to aid in selecting bulls that fit producers’ breeding goals. The producer’s herd information is put into the system along with their breeding goals, and bulls that best fit those goals without making sacrifices in other areas are selected and mated to the cows.

Mating programs also have the option to rank animals in the herd based on desired qualities and can provide producers a guide for using sexed semen, flushing, breeding to a beef bull or potentially culling if the offspring from a particular animal are not desired in the herd.

Once bulls are selected and matings have been recommended, the actual breeding begins. For producers still breeding cows themselves, I highly recommend using a professional breeder.

Not only are breeders highly trained individuals, often with several years’ experience, but breeding cows is their sole responsibility.

They don’t have to worry about milking, feeding, getting the hay made and milking again; getting your cows settled is the only thing on their mind. For only a couple dollars per breeding, a producer’s time is much better spent elsewhere.

Not only does it save time, but pregnancy rates almost always increase. One farm I work with started using a professional breeder, and following the customized service program we created, saw his pregnancy rate increase over 7 percent.

Creating a customized breeding plan for producers can be challenging. Each farm is different and has different goals, but the process is generally the same.

First, work with your consultant to set the goals you wish to achieve based on where your herd is now and where you want it to be in the future.

Be patient for the results – generation interval for dairy cattle is several years – but set times to re-evaluate those goals and make changes. Choose a group of bulls that will raise your herd as a group, and don’t just select one or two bulls based on how flashy they may seem.

Adjust the group of bulls you use as the information changes; larger dairies should adjust more often as semen is used at a higher frequency. Finally, put your trust in breeding professionals to help you reach your genetic goals.

Milking a herd of high-quality cows can have a profound effect on a producer’s life. Cows that produce milk with a higher component percentage and that live longer can increase income, while improved cow health and fertility can save on expenses, offering a double boost to producer profits.

Less stress, more money and more free time can greatly improve the producer’s quality of life, and that is the real goal. PD


Tim Fargo
Area Sales Manager