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Four Midwest dairies share secrets to repro success

Kelli Boylen for Progressive Dairyman Published on 13 March 2018
Stempfle family

At the recent Midwest Dairy Day, held Dec. 1, 2017, in Calmar, Iowa, four dairy operations shared strategies, tips and protocols for meeting reproduction goals. Three herds have a pregnancy rate of 33 to 34 percent, while one herd has achieved an outstanding 46 percent.

Heintz Badger Valley Farm, Houston, Minnesota
Doug Heintz
33 percent pregnancy rate
‘Taking good care of fresh cows means better reproduction’

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“Less fresh cow problems leads to better reproduction,” says Doug Heintz of Houston, Minnesota. Heintz farms with his family, managing a milking herd of 180 cows milked with three robotic milkers. They have a herd average of about 30,000 pounds.

Their DHIA records show a pregnancy rate of 33 percent as of the end of February 2018. Heintz credits their good pregnancy rate to a number of little things, but he says using the robot’s activity and rumination system has been bulletproof. “When it says a cow is in heat, she is in heat,” he says.

Insemination is done every weekday by their part-time herdsman, Matt Feldmeier, and on weekends, his son-in-law Paul McCormick does the breeding. McCormick and Feldmeier had both previously worked for A.I. companies. Doug Heintz and his son Dayne also do the breeding when Feldmeier and McCormick cannot.

Heifer heat detection is done with tail chalk. The heifers are kept on a bedded pack in the winter; in the summer, they are on pasture, and a feeder wagon with headlocks is used for A.I. work.

About two years ago, they started using Imrestor, a product that boosts the cow’s immune system. Heintz says they have had even better results than the anticipated 40 percent reduction in E. coli mastitis. They also feed an energy supplement through the robots the first 21 days of lactation to prevent negative energy balance.

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The dry cows are kept in one pen and all milking cows in another. Heintz says this reduces the stress associated with moving cows and realigning the social order.

The Heintzes have been milking with robots in a three-row, sand-bedded freestall barn since December 2008. At that time, they practiced seasonal calving but have since concentrated on spreading calving out over the year. Two years ago, they started using sexed semen in first-calf heifers due to calve in March to June. If a cow that will calve in the fall is still open after three breeding attempts, she is bred to Red Angus.

Stempfle Holsteins, Maynard, Iowa
Paul, Jody, Scott and Jessica Stempfle
Approximately 33 percent pregnancy rate
‘Cow comfort, easy transition and rumination/activity monitoring make things work’

“Really paying attention to cow comfort, making the transition after calving easy for cows and our SCR Dairy rumination and activity monitoring system are the things that have really helped us overcome our reproduction obstacles,” says Paul Stempfle of Maynard, Iowa.

Paul, his wife, Jody, and their adult children Scott and Jessica milk 600 registered Holsteins.

In the last five years, they built a new 110-pen, two-row calf barn – a monoslope three-sided barn with outdoor eating for calves from weaning to 10 months – and have expanded their bunkers.

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Starting in November 2015, they constructed a new dry cow barn with sand stalls and calving area, built a new double-16 parallel parlor, added on to their existing milking barn and converted everything over to sand-bedded stalls. They also built a new barn to house heifers from breeding age to springing in sand stalls. They moved into the milking facility in October 2016, and started milking three times a day in March of last year.

“During construction, we struggled to get cows pregnant and thought there was room for improvement on catching cows returning to heats,” Stempfle says.

“To help overcome these problems, we purchased the collar system in March 2017 and implemented a Double Ovsynch program. We also improved cow comfort with the sand bedding, reduced time spent standing in the holding pen, added space to avoid overcrowding during transition, added new LED lighting, added fans and insulated the ceiling, end walls and doors of the barn to help keep the barn cooler in the summer and above freezing in the winter,” he explains.

Conception rates run about 46 percent. Cows have a voluntary waiting period of 65 days and are bred between 79 to 86 days. “We also have collars on our heifers and start breeding them at 13 months to sexed semen,” Stempfle says. “We are running 47 percent on the cows bred with conventional semen and 66 percent on heifers with sexed semen.”

Paul and Jody have been farming together for 35 years. Jody is in charge of the calves; Scott is the herdsman; and Jessica mixes feed. Their daily average is 97 to 100 pounds of milk, with 3.9 to 3.8 percent fat, 3.1 percent protein and a 135,000 somatic cell count.

Schilling Farms, Darlington, Wisconsin
Brian, Bill and Andy Schilling
46 percent pregnancy rate
‘Individualized, simple protocols and cow comfort are important’

“I feel making protocols for each dairy is very important,” Brian Schilling of Darlington, Wisconsin, says. “Every dairy is different, so making protocols that work for your farm are essential in reproduction success.”

Brian has been farming with his dad, Bill, and brother Andy since 2003, milking 650 cows. They have three six-row, sand-bedded freestall barns and a double-12 milking parlor. Their pregnancy rate is 46 percent, with a conception rate of 66 percent. Schilling credits having easy-to-follow protocols and cow comfort as the keys to their success.

Their voluntary waiting period is 90 days. The first service is timed A.I. using an Ovsynch 48 protocol with double prostaglandin shots. Cows are pregnancy checked at 30 days since last heat.

Open cows during this check are re-synchronized if corpus luteum (CL) is formed. If no CL has formed, cows receive GnRH and are rechecked the following week for CL development. Pregnant cows are rechecked at 60 days and are checked for fetal sex at this time.

Schilling commends his employees for achieving this high level of success. “We would not be as successful as we are without the help from our team. Having a good working relationship with your veterinarian, nutritionist and breeder are all key players,” he says. They have an additional 12 employees.

Sitting down face-to-face with the team helps with protocol adherence and addressing concerns before they become problems.

“I feel employee meetings are important as they help address any issues that arise,” Schilling says. “Employee meetings also help provide time for education when instituting new protocols, and allow time to bring everyone together as a team.”

The Schilling farm has tackled heat stress to improve cow comfort. “For dealing with heat stress, we have had heat abatement studies done. We used the data from the study and installed more fans and installed more sprinklers to help combat heat stress. We also installed new, larger freestalls with more lunge space and converted everything to sand bedding,” he says. “I feel cow comfort should always be a priority.”

Their rolling herd average is 32,000 pounds of milk with 3.9 percent fat and 3.22 percent protein. Somatic cell count runs around 52,000.

Leix Farms, Montfort, Wisconsin
Ross, Don, Tim, Brian and Matthew Leix
34 percent pregnancy rate
‘Compliance is key’

“Work with your veterinarian, repro consultant and nutritionist to first make sure that your cows’ environment, diet and current reproductive program are adequate to meet your expectations,” Ross Leix says. “After that, compliance is key in any of the synch programs, so choose one that works best with your schedule.”

Ross farms with his dad, Don, uncle Tim, brother Brian and cousin Matthew. Ross, Brian and Matthew are the fourth generation on their family farm.

Leix Farms Inc. is located near Montfort, Wisconsin. They milk 650 Holsteins three times a day, raise all replacement heifers and feed about 150 steers. Their pregnancy rate the last few years has been about 34 percent.

The Leix family worked on a lot of little things, mostly cow comfort and nutrition, to get their production levels up to the current level of 30,500 pounds of milk with 3.95 percent fat and 3.06 percent protein.

As production increased, Ross Leix noticed some cows weren’t cycling by the time they were to go on the Ovsynch protocol. “Because of this, our first-service conception was lower,” he says.

“I’ve had to back off the voluntary waiting period twice now. When I started overseeing the A.I. program, the voluntary waiting period [VWP] was at 45 days. Since then, we’ve went up 25 to 30 pounds of milk per cow per day and moved the VWP back to 60 days,” Leix says.

“We are using the Presynch-Ovsynch protocol in the cows, and it has worked really well for us,” he says. “Cows are cherry-picked off the second Lutalyse if they show a good heat. We also use the SCR rumination and activity collars to pick up as many natural heats as possible.”

For the past four-plus years, Leix Farms genomic tests every heifer at birth. They use a combination of that information along with DHIA tests and visual confirmation to breed the lowest third of the cow herd to beef semen. “I put sexed heifer semen in the top 50 percent of our heifers and the bottom half gets embryos or beef. We flush our own top females and typically put in 15 to 20 embryos a month,” Leix says.  end mark

Kelli Boylen is a freelance writer based in Waterville, Iowa.

PHOTO: Stempfle family photo. Photo courtesy of the Stempfle family.

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