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Synch protocol’s results are not mere magic

PD Editor Walt Cooley Published on 25 August 2011

Utah dairywoman Maria Nye jokingly uses a line from one of the main characters from J.K. Rowling’s famous Harry Potter book series to describe what makes her A.I. and breeding program work – constant vigilance.

The frequently repeated phrase from Potter’s bodyguard “Mad-Eye” Moody, she says, explains the main ingredient in her PreSynch/OvSynch breeding program at Mountain View Dairy in Delta, Utah.

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“We spend a lot of management energy making sure the cows on the list get what they are supposed to get when they are supposed to get it,” Nye says. “That doesn’t sound like it should take a lot of energy, but sometimes the cows from Pen 1 end up in Pen 2 and you have to go find those cows that are off visiting their friends in another pen.”

Click here to download a pdf of the vaccination protocol at Mountain View Dairy.

The most important day of the week

Every Monday at the 3,000-cow dairy is what Nye calls “shot day.” It’s the most important day to ensure the dairy stays above its target breeding goals.

First thing each week, Nye and her team download electronic action lists from DairyCOMP onto handheld computers so they can head out and track down each cow and give her the appropriate synchronization shots. Using RFID readers and electronic checklists, Nye says, is the biggest difference in how the dairy’s breeding protocol is now implemented compared to when it first began using the protocol eight years ago. Then she was using paper lists.

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Digital records have removed the “human errors,” which Nye says can hold back some synchronization protocols.

“Those things make sure the animal you are looking at is on the list and actually getting the shot she is supposed to get,” Nye says. “With paper records, after looking at lists of numbers for a while, 1234 can look like 2143 without too much trouble.”

Over time, Nye has tweaked the program around the edges to ensure her DairyCOMP’s “BREDSUM” report show a number greater than 25 percent consistently.

“It used to be that I thought it would be awesome to get to 25 percent,” Nye says. “Now if preg rate gets below 25 percent, it bugs me.”

Changes over time

In 2009, the dairy left off its PreSynch shots to save money. Nye says the move helped the dairy cash flow but that the overall program suffered. When milk prices improved, she went back to the full PreSynch/OvSynch protocol.

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“We like to keep things simple,” she says. “A program that works for all the animals is what we’ve ended up with. Everybody gets treated the same.”

Nye is always looking for “a little room for improvement” in her dairy’s breeding program. While she says she believes the accuracy in delivering the protocol to her milking herd is mostly under control, she wouldn’t mind adding in ultrasound preg checks to confirm pregnancy earlier.

“If we could catch open cows sooner and roll them around again into the program, that would be neat,” Nye says. “Then we wouldn’t have to wait an extra 20 days. With lots of cows, those days start to add up quickly.”

Ultrasounds would probably be cost-neutral in the end, Nye says, but would help shave off time in one of the dairy’s key breeding metrics – breedings per conception.

Recently the dairy added an OvSynch protocol for its heifers to try to even out the flow of first-calf heifers calving at one time on the dairy.

“Sometimes we’ve run out of space in our fresh pen. We’re trying to get them off to a good start, and overcrowding is a struggle,” Nye says. “It would be great to say this pen is going to be 80 to 85 percent full all the time and not worry it’s going to be 110 percent stocked and 65 percent stocked three weeks later.”

Prior to the OvSynch protocol addition, the dairy was breeding heifers off of standing heats on an a.m.-p.m. cycle, which was similar to the breeding protocol the entire herd used before using a synchronization protocol.

Nye hopes the new program will produce a steady stream of heifers calving and will also help to even out the entire herd’s calving cycle, making those Monday mornings a bit more manageable from week to week.

The lure of something else

Nye says she’s been recently tempted by the allure of activity monitoring systems as a replacement to her proven synchronization protocol.

“It would be fun to check it out and see if it really does what they say it will do,” Nye says. “The selling point is you don’t need all of the synch protocols. You can just use the cow’s ‘natural’ cycle. I’d be interested to see if it really, truly pays the way it has been presented to us.”

But Nye says the upfront cost of activity monitoring systems is “steep.” The cost has discouraged her from making the drastic switch.

“I’d have to convince Warren Buffet that he wants to invest in my business before we could really see if that would work here,” she says.

Nye is confident in her program and says she sticks by it because it’s backed by real science and ongoing technical support.

“The thing that makes me the most happy about the program is that it works,” Nye says. “Everything clicks.”

The wish list

Nye still wishes she had fewer difficult calvings and didn’t have to share an A.I. technician in order to give her cows priority breeding in the morning. She also would prefer to add a p.m. breeding to see if it would improve conception rates at all.

But having only two things on her breeding wish list, she says, must be an indication that “things are pretty good” for her dairy.

“When people try to sell me some whiz-bang reproductive product or service, I say, ‘We’re not broken.’ ” Nye explains. “They have all these great numbers about the money I could save, but when they plug in our numbers into their models, the savings or the added benefits are minimal.” PD

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