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Is it time to reset your reproduction goal?

Martha Baker Published on 18 July 2014

When it comes to your herd’s reproduction program, you might be satisfied with a 20 percent pregnancy rate, considering the national 21-day rate average is between 13 and 15 percent.

But even 20 percent no longer sets the bar – that’s yesterday’s number. Today’s top herds are pushing that figure higher and higher into the upper 20s and even past 30 percent.



A pregnancy rate in the upper teens to low 20s can be achieved. All it takes is a solid synchronization program with an aptitude for injecting the right cow on the right day. Thus, many dairies have become complacent with this number.

But if you’re looking for more than mediocre results and want to take advantage of any marginal economical opportunities that being ahead of the curve provides, you need to increase your pregnancy rate goal to at least 25 percent. How can you make this leap?

It requires three key factors: people management, cow management and nutrition – and all three must work in unison. A strong reproduction program involves more than diligently giving shots.

In dairies where the owner of the operation is not the person executing the reproduction program, a key employee must take ownership of it and buy into the importance of achieving a higher goal. When someone owns the results and does everything possible to support each cow, you see the needle inch upwards. The proper attitude is essential.

From the cow management standpoint, the first step is to actively manage your dry cow program. It begins with drying off a cow that has a high level of opportunity to succeed as a fresh animal – decent feet and legs, an appropriate body condition score, etc.


Proper handling of the dry cow and smooth transition into the herd after freshening are prime requirements. Maintaining a positive energy balance will help maximize the amount of milk she can produce once fresh.

Tend to the transition cow

Herds with high pregnancy rates have quality transition programs in place. Detecting problems early through selective testing of beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHBA) levels, for example, allows you to promptly intervene when cows are mobilizing too much body condition as a result of inadequate intakes or a diet that is lacking in energy density.

Do everything you can at this stage to support strong intakes and high milk production, as both indicate a healthy cow. The healthier she is, the better her chances of conceiving and maintaining pregnancy. High milk production signifies cows are being properly cared for during transition and will have the ability to conceive earlier in lactation.

Even high-producing herds are striving for pregnancy rates above 30 percent. Herds with excellent reproduction programs are presenting animals to your nutritionist that can make a lot of milk.

A fresh herd propels profitability and puts herd members under the 150 days in milk (DIM) mark for a greater percentage of their lifetime. The lower the pregnancy rate, the higher the percent of cows a dairy will have past 250 DIM.

Rather than making money, cows that stay open for a long time deplete you of profits. Greater reproduction success also allows you to make choices about which cows you want in your herd. You can focus on genetic improvements, eliminating cows with questionable udders and other issues.


Nutrition: the building blocks for a strong reproduction program

A robust diet filled with energy, protein, amino acids and micro-nutrients supports conception and helps sustain pregnancy. Introduce the cow to technologies that promote sound liver function, glucose production and energy demands to drive intake and give her every opportunity to succeed once she calves.

A great deal of evidence supports that biologically active fatty acids can also have a profound impact on reproductive success. Omega 3 fatty acids are related to prostaglandin production, which is what cows are injected with to achieve pregnancy. By feeding specific fatty acids, you can help her produce prostaglandin naturally and support stronger reproductive success.

Master the basics: heat detection

Recognizing when cows are in heat is a significant step in obtaining your reproduction goal. What is your heat detection rate? Closely examine your records and determine how many days it’s taking to catch open cows.

If cows are caught on the next 21-day heat cycle, you have already achieved an advantage over your neighbors who are not actively managing this portion of the program and are relying on the veterinarian to call them open before taking action.

Once your pregnancy rate is above 20 percent, your focus must shift to conception, as this is what defines the difference between herds at this number and herds at 25 percent or higher. Forty percent is a good place to set your first-conception-rate goal. Many of the “best” are close to 50 percent or better, but make your first goal achievable.

When discussing pregnancy rates, you have to compare apples to apples. What is your voluntary waiting period? For example, if a herd with a 50-day voluntary wait has the same pregnancy rate as a herd with a 70-day wait period, the 50-day herd can actually contain more pregnant cows if the conception rate is similar.

Once you get beyond 50 days, your conception rate needs to be even higher to achieve the same number of pregnancies. The key is still achieving the most number of pregnancies.

How much effort and labor will it take to move from 23 to 28 or 28 to 32 percent? Can you dedicate more time to reproduction without pulling attention from another area? Only you can answer if that effort would be better spent elsewhere for greater economic impact on the dairy.

To grow your pregnancy rate by 5 or even 10 percent, you must be vigilant and think big. If your reproduction program is tuned in, you’ll most likely see the pregnancy rate land in the upper 20 percent range, if not right at 30 percent. PD

For more information, send an email , go to the Purina Dairy Nutrition website , or contact Martha Baker at (716) 863-0755.

References omitted due to space but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor.

MArtha Baker
  • Martha Baker

  • Technical Consultant, Dairy Sales
  • Purina Animal Nutrition
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