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Editorial advisers: A.I. and breeding strategies

Progressive Dairyman Editor Dave Natzke Published on 18 April 2018

With a large dose of genetics and breeding strategy articles in this issue of Progressive Dairyman, we turned to our editorial advisory panel to get their insights on those topics.

We left the questions fairly open-ended, allowing our panel to frame their answers in the context most applicable to their individual operations.



We asked each of our editorial advisers to identify what areas of their A.I. or breeding program strategies they wouldn’t change, which they’d like to change and why.

Foster Dairy
Fort Scott, Kansas
Herd: 180 commercial Holstein cows milked in three robotic units 

Change genetics to boost robot efficiency

Won’t change: I wouldn’t change using milk samples to detect pregnancy, regardless how one goes about getting cows bred. This quick turnaround of finding the open cow fast and getting her bred back makes money, helps shorten our calving interval and results in more calves per year.

Change: With our switch to robots, we are starting to look for bulls that show faster milk-out speeds – and also looking for bulls that throw udders where the front teats aren’t longer than the rear teats, so the robot can attach faster.


The laser has more trouble seeing the rear teats if the front teats are in the way. I would also like to have a better understanding of genomics, figuring out a way of picking out quality bulls – without spending a ton of money to do it.

Jauquet’s Hillview Dairy
Luxemburg, Wisconsin
Herd: 650 registered Holsteins milked in a double-16 parallel parlor

Find a way to lower twinning rate

Won’t change: That is easy for me to answer: I wouldn’t change my team in charge of administering injections and doing the insemination. They are very dedicated to doing it right every time. They are aware minutes matter and timing is everything. They are a huge part of why we are so successful in creating pregnancies.

Change: I am throwing around the idea of using more sexed semen and beef semen to create fewer Holstein bull calves, but I am hesitant to pull that trigger. I need to do some more math.

One thing I would really like to change – but do not know how – is to lower my twinning rate. Twins are very hard on the cows, and some never snap out of it and produce like their previous lactation.


Wickstrom Dairies
Hilmar, California
Herd: 2,400 Jersey cows milked in 50-cow rotary

Transition consistency pays; a switch to sexed, beef semen

Won’t change: The one thing I wouldn’t change is the consistency we have in our program when it comes to conception and pregnancy rates. Over the years, we’ve put a lot of effort into our transition program, and that has a big impact on the consistent results in our breeding program.

Change: The one thing we will be changing in our breeding program will be to start using sexed semen and beef semen in our milking herd. This will allow us to maintain the number of heifer replacements we need, while gaining value from beef calves instead of having a large number of Jersey bull calves, which in our area have no value.

Cow Comfort Inn Dairy
Union Bridge, Maryland
Herd: 350-cow Holstein and Jersey herd milked in double-12 herringbone parlor

Activity monitoring is critical

Won’t change: (This is my husband David’s department, so I’ll let him answer.) I wouldn’t change the activity system we have in place. Eighty percent of our breeding is based on the activity (natural heats) of the cows. We put this system in when we bought the farm four-and-a-half years ago, and it was one of the best investments we made.

Change: I wouldn’t really “change” anything. I would like to have the mobile app, GEA Cow Scout, because it gives real-time data.

Brey Cycle Farm
Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin
Herd: 450 registered Holstein cows milked in swing-nine parlor

Use genetic information

Won’t change: Genomics, sexed semen and embryo transfer have given us the opportunity to rapidly improve our herd. We select the very best bulls for the economic traits most valuable to us. We have seen firsthand the performance advantage in our best genetics, so we are constantly trying to improve the bottom portion of our herd.

Change: Ovsynch and Presynch have greatly improved reproduction within the dairy industry. The various protocols have been very well researched and are a valuable tool to our farm. However, I think we need to consider how this would change if consumers push away from these advanced protocols in the future.

We have already experienced this reality with other management practices. If that happens, improved cattle genetics and management will be increasingly important to achieve our current reproduction efficiency.

Green Mountain Dairy
Sheldon, Vermont
Herd: 900 commercial Holstein cows milked in double-15 parallel parlor

Focus on health traits

Won’t change: A couple of things come to mind, but I’ll share something from our former herd manager, Randy Collins (Collins passed away on July 31, 2017). Before coming to Green Mountain Dairy, Randy had worked as an A.I. technician for many years and then managed a sizable herd in central Vermont.

His focus was on breeding for health traits. During that time, he worked to reduce the incidence of mastitis, ketosis, hypocalcemia, metritis, displaced abomasums and retained placentas. He was honored in 2011-13 by the Dairy Cattle Reproduction Council for his reproductive success.

Change: We’ve effectively used tail chalking to detect heats for years, but it pales by comparison to the technology used today. Programs monitoring rumination, heat detection and providing health alerts offer efficiency and cost savings through improved animal health, increased conception and pregnancy rates, and reduced labor. There is little doubt incorporating such a program would pay for itself and prove to be a real asset, but then there is the reality of $14-per- hundredweight milk.

Select Milk Producers
Canyon, Texas
Consults with 100-plus dairies

Time to look at hormone use

Won’t change: I’m not a dairyman, but I work with some excellent dairymen and women who achieve outstanding reproductive results on their dairies. Across those dairies, the fact which remains constant is: The dairies that can get cows pregnant easily have very good transition cow health. I do not think there is a replacement for that.

While synchronization programs can help mask issues, healthy cows with proper body condition and free of transition cow diseases will always be the foundation for what happens later in lactation.

Change: If I could give up one thing, it would be the intensity with which the industry has shifted to, in many cases, complete reliance on reproductive hormones for synchronized breeding. Nobody can argue with the results that synchronization achieves, but the physical number of hormone injections a cow receives will be a consumer issue for us down the road.

Nobody is eager to give it up but, if we could be less reliant on it, I think our ability to use reproductive hormones long-term looks brighter. These drugs were never meant for use on every cow in the herd but rather for the cows that are exceptions within a herd. If we overuse them, I’m afraid we run the risk of losing them.  end mark

Dave Natzke
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The future is not so black and white at Cycle Farm

The future isn’t so black and white for Cycle Farm in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, as a few new faces are popping up in the 450-cow registered Holstein herd.

Progressive Dairyman advisory board member Tony Brey has his first dairy-beef crosses on the ground, with more on the way. He expects 80 black calves by the end of the year. In fact, the very first one is pictured on the cover of this issue (held by the farm’s calf and heifer manager, Izana Watruba.)

Brey’s beef-on-dairy breeding strategy is actually part of his plan to progressively and aggressively move their Holstein genetics forward. He is propagating only the very best of his genetically elite herd. The top 2 percent are identified through genomics and flushed.

Virgin heifers receive either an embryo or sexed semen, and 2-year-olds get sexed semen on first service; second- and greater-lactation cows are bred to conventional Holstein or beef semen based on genetic merit. He is using 40 percent beef, 30 percent conventional and 30 percent sexed semen.

crossbred calt at Cycle Farm

Beef bulls are selected based on criteria like calving ease, average daily gain and fertility. He uses purebred Angus and Limousin sires, as well as Lim-Flex, which is a hybrid of the two breeds.

So far, Brey has been impressed by the resilience of the crossbred calves. Fed the same milk and starter ration alongside his purebred Holstein calves, they seem to be growing very well and quickly make up for a smaller birth size. They also show fewer signs of sickness compared to their counterparts.

Brey plans to keep the calves, finishing out the males as steers and possibly using the females for embryo recipients. However, he believes the marketability of these cattle provides options to move a desirable animal at various stages of the game should he decide to change his mind. “It seems to be a more liquid market; you can sell them at any point,” Brey says. end mark

PHOTO: The first crossbred calf at Cycle Farm was born in December. The heifer is a Holstein-Angus cross. Photo by Peggy Coffeen.