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Farm finds reproduction issues can’t be solved overnight

PD Editor Karen Lee Published on 30 August 2013
Editor’s note: This is the third and final article in a series following a Wisconsin dairy farm through the Repro Money program, administered by University of Wisconsin Extension. As a reminder, names have been omitted to not disclose the identity of the farm.

The farm team held its final meeting with Connie Cordoba, UW-Extension reproductive management and outreach specialist, who moderates this program for farms across the state.

The purpose of this meeting was to check on the progress of assignments made at previous meetings and to get a sense of where the farm now stands with its reproduction program.

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Subclinical ketosis
The farm purchased a meter and began checking for subclinical ketosis. The process was working well – until the test strips went on back order.

“We finally got a system down and have been doing it weekly,” the father said. “When we had strips, we found more than we did before.”

While the number did vary, at times they were finding 60 to 70 percent of cows tested with subclinical ketosis. There was no change in the amount of clinical cases observed.

For treatment, the farm would drench subclinical cases. It also tried adding a precision-release choline product to the first feeding and began to see a difference in the amount of subclinical cases.

The nutritionist said the BHBA information is good to have, but the farm still needs to play around to find a good solution in terms of prevention.

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Feed
Rations have been tested for toxins. Overall, aflatoxin levels are low. The heifer ration was high in vomitoxin at 776 ppb; an additive was placed in that ration. Dry-cow feed registered at a lower vomitoxin level of 346 ppb; a supplement in use there was removed.

The nutritionist also reported the energy levels in the heifer rations are pretty good.

Heifer conception rate
The heifers have a 23 percent pregnancy rate for the year. Conception is up since January, with the difference being in the number of heats that have been detected.

At one heifer farm, they are seeing a 39.8 percent true pregnancy rate. It was suggested a breeding code be added to DairyComp, which would allow them to sort their heifer data by the custom heifer-raiser.

No changes were made to the heifer-breeding protocol.

Heat detection
“I’m still unhappy with the pregnancy rate in heifers and in the cows. I don’t know what we’re missing here,” the father said. “Would a heat-monitoring system pay for itself?”

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Cordoba noted with the heifers, the service rate dropped but conception increased.

The number of animals picked up from first service to second service dropped from 39 percent to 27 percent. “Cows are not being found in heat,” she said.

She suggested either a heat-detection system or adding a pre-treatment dose of GnRH.

The son asked if it would help to have the breeder come out twice a day instead of once a day.

According to the reproduction specialist, the farm won’t gain in heat detection. “That’s what the chalk is there for,” he said, but more frequent breeder visits could help them gain 2 to 4 percent in conception with better timing of breeding.

Going back to the subject of a heat-detection system, the father asked, “Are we using too much labor finding cows and checking lists? A heat-detection program is a big chunk of change to bite off; it’s an up-front cost. If we use it, are we going to eliminate some shots and labor?”

The reproduction specialist replied, “You’ll be in a much better spot if you do that. We’ve chased heat detection here for quite some time. We used more chalk, foot trimming, a breeder – and we haven’t seen much out of all of it.”

Cordoba pointed out the days between breeding for this farm is long.

The veterinarian was not in attendance at this meeting, but they estimated they are re-synching 20 to 25 percent of the cows.

The farm also recently bumped up the use of CIDRs.

“The tricky part to any reproduction in any herd is the cows that don’t listen,” the reproduction specialist said.

Cordoba said she wondered if the cows were not showing heat or if the farm wasn’t catching it. Based on the numbers, the conception rate on standing heat is good – 35 percent for first lactation and 33 percent on second lactation and greater.

The reproduction specialist provided an example from another herd he serviced. The 100 percent first-service timed A.I. herd began using a heat-detection program.

With the program, the days in milk at first service spread out, but the farm went from 700 to only 75 cows getting synched. “The system finds more cows at first service, even the subtle and silent heats,” he said.

On that same farm, conception rates increased from 31 percent to 35 percent. “That usually comes from ideal timing in semen placement,” he said.

Hoof trimming
By implementing strategies from the lameness assessment the farm had done, it was noted a lot more cows are getting trimmed. About 40 to 60 are going through the chute each time, which is twice as many as before.

There aren’t as many repeat visits, and the nutritionist noted the trimmer should be able to get through them quicker because they are maintenance trims and not major treatments.

Fresh-cow SOP
The veterinarian set up a standard operating procedure for handling fresh cows, but the farm hasn’t followed up on it yet.

The reproduction specialist said other farms are using a very simple system with their fresh cows. When the cow calves, using a different color chalk than the breeder, write the fresh date on her back.

Check the cow on day five; if everything is good, make a half-mark with the color of chalk used by the breeder. Check the cow again on day 10. If she’s good, make it a full mark, and she’s done.

The herdsman said he felt five to 10 days is too long to wait to check the fresh cows. The reproduction specialist responded that the dates can be changed for whatever works for the farm – such as day three and day six.

He also noted if a treatment is given, write the first letter of the treatment and the date on the other side of the cow.

Acknowledging this could work well, the herdsman said he thinks they are covered with their current system.

Future plans
The farm has been considering a facility expansion to replace and update housing. The father said financially, it’s not that good. Even though it will make more room for 100 dry cows, it will only allow them to grow the milking herd by 100.

“It doesn’t pencil out because we’re adding stalls, and only half of them will be milked,” he said.

The nutritionist noted that if this farm can gain an extra pound of milk per cow per day, it equates to $51,000 a year.

The son pointed out the farm is getting more milk out of the cows than it was a year ago.

While the farm’s goal to increase its pregnancy rate wasn’t met through this process, it did gain in other areas. It is starting to reap benefits from implementing a new hoof-trimming process, and the BHBA testing might yield results if the strips become available again.

The reproduction specialist acknowledged, “Benchmarking and looking at numbers is good, but you can’t get caught up on any one number.”

“You can adjust one number, but it might hurt another,” he added.

The nutritionist noted the pregnancy rate the farm is looking at now is a problem from months ago.

“Everything we do, we see it six months later,” Cordoba pointed out.

In critiquing the Repro Money program, the reproduction specialist said holding meetings every four to six weeks is too often when looking at reproduction.

Cordoba said it can be difficult to spread the meetings out farther because some farms tend to forget about what they are supposed to be working on.

“The purpose (of the program) is to train farms on how to look at things,” she said.

Even though this farm’s participation in the program has ceased, it does plan to continue to hold its regular team meetings just as it did before. PD

00_lee_karen

Karen Lee
Editor
Progressive Dairyman

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