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The art and science of breeding

Tom Fuhrmann Published on 18 October 2010

The science surrounding A.I. programs has advanced tremendously over the past five years. Despite all this advancement in science, getting cows pregnant is still primarily in the hands of your breeders. I wrote an article in El Lechero describing the effort and attitude required for breeders to “get one more additional cow pregnant each day that they breed.”

I called it the “art” of getting cows pregnant. Individual breeder attitude, focus, attention to detail and cowside confidence are intangibles that I see make the difference between breeders that get average results compared to the best performers.

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Your influence is necessary to focus your breeders. They may not need to understand all the details of your Ovsynch program, but they need to know enough to work to the detail necessary to ensure theirs and your success. I suggest you channel your management energy in two areas to maximize fertility results on your dairy through your breeders.

Clarify program protocols
As I work on dairies across the country, I see confusion between herdsmen, owners, breeders and even veterinarians about the exact timed A.I. breeding program used on each dairy.

Options provide the opportunity to customize the program that best fits your dairy. Simple things like: which cows are eligible to breed, do you breed cows identified in heat between injections, do you rebreed cows on timed programs if seen in heat one day after the timed insemination, what should your breeder do if he can’t locate a cow on the shot list... These are issues that confuse breeders, throw programs into turmoil and foil results when well-intentioned persons work hard but are uninformed.

A written protocol can not only minimize errors, it anticipates questions and creates uniformity among all breeders, especially those who substitute for regular workers on their days off.

With clarity of your program, determine the level of detail to explain it to your breeders. After the “what” (the written protocol), explaining the “why” helps clarify details and instill the focus to do each step with accuracy for results. Breeders vary with regard to their experience, intellect and attitude to want to know more. The leader in you must determine these variations in your personnel and direct you to share more or less of the “whys” to those who will benefit from knowing them.

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Monitor and feedback
Focused and motivated breeders need to know the results they are producing. Sounds simple, but I see many owners or managers who miss the opportunity to add fuel to the motivational fire in the bellies of their breeders. I suggest three quick monthly or periodic evaluations to show your breeders the results they produce.

1. Pregnancy rate: While this is a good, general evaluation of heat detection and conception rate, its use is limited to comparing herds rather than breeders. Start with this evaluation monthly and ask your veterinarian to comment to you and your breeders how you and they stack up against other herds.

Very good results boost confidence and stimulate your breeders to continue to implement your program correctly. Average or poor results could stimulate you and them to investigate whether your program is the right one for your herd and if everyone understands and implements each step perfectly.

2. Conception rates: Most health and reproductive software programs are capable of computing conception rates by technician and by service number. Use these to compare individuals breeding in your herd.

Eliminate variation, if necessary, by comparing just first-service conception rate by technician. Monthly variation will occur, so look at these results over time and compare to the same time of the year for the previous year (eliminate seasonal variation).

While conception rate data evaluates only semen handling and deposition, these are the two greatest variables that explain technician variation. The evaluation is not valid unless your breeders both thaw and breed with the semen they’ve thawed.

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3. Compliance to breeding protocols: Evaluating if cows are bred at the voluntary waiting period and at scheduled intervals is done through reports generated from on-farm software (e.g. DairyComp 305, PC Dart and DHI Plus) or with specialized software available from pharmaceutical companies or other service providers.

Special commands are used to generate these reports and you may have to rely on specialists or your veterinarian to assist you. Ask their input to interpret results. These evaluations need be done periodically to ensure your breeders understand your program and do what you intend.

These numbers, key indicators for your breeders, motivate them as well as keep you current with the results they produce. Artists are motivated by the satisfaction of having others see what they accomplish. Your breeders will apply their art to your breeding program when you provide the feedback to keep them interested and focused. PD

Dr. Tom Fuhrmann MVZ

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