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Two producers share their secrets to a 30 percent pregnancy rate

Progressive Dairyman Editor Karen Lee Published on 14 January 2016
veterinarians and cows

As the dairy industry continues to make strides in efficiency, producers across the country are showing it is possible to achieve a 30 percent pregnancy rate with a 30,000-pound herd average.

Two dairy producers shared how they are accomplishing such a feat at the Vita Plus Dairy Summit, Dec. 9-10, in Baraboo, Wisconsin.

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Jeff Shriver


Jeff Shriver

J-Max Dairy
Fremont, Michigan


Jeff Shriver farms with Max and Kris Carlson. They have a 1,500-cow dairy where cows are milked three times a day. They do not use BST and are averaging 95 pounds of milk per cow with 3.5 percent fat, 3 percent protein and a 120,00 somatic cell count.

As the farm grew from 70 cows in 1987 to a new facility built in 2013 to hold the current herd size, they rented and milked at several different facilities.

“I bred cows and milked cows in a lot of run-down facilities,” Shriver said. “We had tight stalls and were short on feed space. I really tried hard to get a high preg rate, and it’s hard to do in those kinds of facilities. It was fun to get into some new stalls. I see how important cow comfort is. I read a lot about cow comfort, but you don’t really believe it until you see it.”

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The farm has a 29 to 30 percent annual pregnancy rate using a double-Ovsynch protocol with a 68-day voluntary waiting period. On day 25, they give GnRH for the following week’s pregnancy check. If she’s open, she’ll get a shot of prostaglandin then traditional Ovsynch. At the last stage of the double-Ovsynch program, cows are palpated to check for a corpus luteum (CL).

“We find a lot of cystic and a lot of anestrus cows that we would have just continued on with the protocol, and they would have never been in heat. I think that’s been kind of a huge deal for us,” Shriver said.

If the cow does not have a CL, they follow up with a CIDR, or if it is just a follicle, they’ll follow up with another GnRH shot and recheck again in a week.

Shriver said he has only two employees who give all of the injections on the farm from nose to tail. He talks with them regularly and wants to be sure they are honing in on the hours of GnRH to breeding time. He also placed a big emphasis on the scrapers and cow chasers for their help in heat detection.

The keys to reproductive success are good transition management, veterinarian relationships, high-quality employees and high-quality forage.

At the new facility, they are able to provide 36 inches of bunk space for close-up cows and give dry cows lunge-through stalls. For a long time, they battled pH in the close-up group. After learning it was from the homegrown straw in the ration, they purchased low potassium straw, which helped transition cows “get out of the starting gates a little better,” he said.

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Having great people who are particular about following fresh cow protocols is also important. He sets up competitions with the employees to keep it fun.

The farm uses sexed semen on heifers at first service and has now grown enough that Shriver is putting some cows on the do-not-breed list at 230 days in milk.

He is looking at activity monitors and plans to start tail chalking in the near future.

Brian Schilling


Brian Schilling

Schilling Dairy
Darlington, Wisconsin


Brian Schilling farms with his parents and brother. Together they milk 688 cows three times a day with no BST. The herd average is 31,114 pounds with 4.03 percent fat, 3.13 percent protein and a 55,000 somatic cell count.

For reproduction, the farm uses Ovsynch 48 with a few tweaks. The voluntary waiting period is 80 days, and they do cherry pick a few cows in standing heat prior to that. The 48-hour window from prostaglandin to A.I. is what works best for this farm. Schilling and one other employee give all of the injections and keep in close communication on the protocol.

They started giving a second prostaglandin injection after 24 hours. “As we’ve done more crowding, we felt we were suffering a little bit in reproduction. We’re trying to counteract it with a double prostaglandin injection. It seems to have helped,” said Dr. BJ Jones, the farm’s veterinarian from Center Hill Veterinary Clinic in Darlington, Wisconsin.

Jones said one of the farm’s goals is to get the breeding program into a routine. “You can make these things work. You just have to make sure you get the shots in at the right time, the right amounts and the right cows, along with a good team,” he said.

The farm’s annual pregnancy rate is 38 percent with a 52 percent overall conception rate, which they maintain through the summer with cooling fans, sprinklers and dry cow cooling.

Its service rate is 74 percent with tail chalking done through a breeding service. About 60 percent of the cows are bred on synchronization, with the other 40 percent bred on heat detection.

The farm does not give GnRH prior to the pregnancy check at day 30. When things are going well, they usually find a lot of pregnant cows. Cows with a CL will be started on Ovsynch with a double dose of GnRH at the onset of the program. If they don’t have a CL, they’ll get a shot of GnRH and are checked seven days later. Everything is rechecked at day 60 by ultrasound.

The keys to reproductive success at Schilling Dairy are genetics, transition management, high-quality forages, great family and employee involvement, and lots and lots of sand for cow comfort.

The dairy utilizes genomic testing and prioritizes daughter pregnancy rate in breeding selections. It also indirectly selects for good breeding by placing cows not bred by 180 days in milk on the do-not-breed list.

Schilling said he tracks feed intakes among all cow groups, but especially in the pre-fresh group. He feeds high-quality straw sourced from Canada, high-quality corn silage and balances for amino acids.

They have very aggressive protocols for fresh cows. Every fresh cow is pumped on the day of calving and temped for the first 20 days. Ketosis checks are done on day five and day 11.

Schilling’s goals are to get to a 40 percent pregnancy rate or higher and maintain 100 pounds of milk production without BST. “I think that’s very doable,” he said.

However, he is concerned about overcrowded milking and dry cow facilities, as well as the future ability to use programs like Ovsynch. For now, the farm is trying to address overcrowding by culling the bottom 10 to 15 percent of heifers based upon genomic proofs.

By focusing on reproduction, both J-Max Dairy and Schilling Dairy are able to achieve a 30 percent pregnancy rate with 30,000-pound herd averages.  PD

PHOTO: By focusing on reproduction, both J-Max Dairy and Schilling Dairy are able to achieve a 30 percent pregnancy rate with 30,000-pound herd averages. Photo by Peggy Coffeen.

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