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5 Things I can't do without: John Rudgers, Synergy Dairy LLC

Progressive Dairyman Editor Peggy Coffeen Published on 24 August 2015

John, Kitty and Charlotte Rudgers

Excellent reproduction at Synergy Dairy LLC is a high priority for manager John Rudgers, and he has the numbers to prove it.

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The 2,000-cow dairy located in Wyoming, New York, boasts a 21-day pregnancy rate of 28 percent and runs a 43 percent conception rate. Maintaining an average of 2.3 services per conception is a critical factor in keeping calving intervals tight at 12.5 months.

“We feel getting cows pregnant and having more cows at their peak is key to a profitable herd,” Rudgers says.

He relies on a group of dedicated herdsmen and his breeding company to make this happen, many of whom have been part of the team since the dairy’s inception in 2004.

“This dairy has always taken pride in reproduction, and it has been strong for us for a very long time,” Rudgers adds. “The crew gets upset if things are going in the wrong direction.”

The strong reproduction record led to a heifer surplus, which the operation has capitalized on by launching Synergy Genetics, an embryo transfer recipient herd that puts calves on the ground for other people. Managed by his wife, Kitty, around 75 embryos are transferred weekly between their recipients and partnering herds.

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Rudgers shared with Progressive Dairyman the five things to which he attributes Synergy Dairy’s reproductive excellence.

1. Good nutrition

We feed a balanced diet with all the vitamins and minerals a cow needs to get through the transition period. That seems to be the biggest key to getting cows through calving with minimal issues and cycling again to breed back. We purchase 100 percent of our feed and work very closely with vendors to get dry matters where we want them.

As forages are harvested, we really put a focus on bunk densities and making sure we are doing a good job packing, which coincides with getting forages through a good fermentation. We use a double layer of plastic for covering the piles and utilize inoculants where necessary. Also, we sample the feed and include toxin binders (for mycotoxins) to prevent abortions.

2. Strict complianceto reproduction protocols

We have a set system in place for synching animals not showing heats. We utilize a Presynch/Ovsynch program, which helps us get animals in heat at the right time. We really focus on herdsmen giving injections at the proper time of the day, which helps with program breedings.

Also, we try to get this task done as quickly as possible so animals are not locked up for more than an hour per pen. We throw a lot of people at that project to get it done quickly and get cows back to their normal environment.

When giving injections, we really focus on following the labels for ideal hormone temperature. In western New York, we have both extremes, so we are careful not to allow products to freeze in the winter or get too warm in summer.

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To keep our team on track, we do monthly benchmarks and hold meetings quarterly with our breeding company, Genex, which really helps us focus specifically on reproduction.

3. Accurate heat detection

We detect heat once a day with tail paint. It’s kind of an art that the guys develop in order to read tail paint and determine whether they should breed the animal that day or wait until the next day. They must determine if it is an actual heat event, not just a cow scratching her tail head on the wall.

The tail paint is the first tip; it draws attention to the cow, then we look for other signs to determine if she should be serviced or not. We provide hand-held tablets for the herdsmen and technicians to use out in the barn to look at the status of the cow when they are standing next to her without having to make trips back and forth to the office.

4. Healthy cows

Good overall health of the cows helps reproduction. In particular, hoof health allows cows to express good heats. We generally trim all cows twice per year and some cows three times per year.

In a broader sense of cow health, we focus on proper vaccinations throughout the lactation to create and maintain a pregnancy, covering the basics like BVD, respiratory and salmonella and E. coli, etc.

It’s one thing to get a cow pregnant, but if you lose the pregnancy, that is an expensive loss. In summer, we focus on cow cooling by running sprinklers and fans in barns and parlor holding areas to minimize heat stress. Also, we always breed first thing in the morning year-round, which seems to be the time when cows are most comfortable.

5. Quality semen selection

I work with our breeding company on bull selection. They bring to me what they think is the ideal fit for our criteria. The main factors for us are to use the top 10 percent of bulls’ based on pounds of fat and protein produced and positive daughter pregnancy rate, which I think in the long term has really helped us get where we are at and stay there.

We use sexed semen on first-service virgin heifers and some first- and second-lactation cows in order to meet the calf needs for our genetics business. Some of the lower-end cows receive Angus semen. About 50 percent of the breedings are to genomic young sires. PD

PHOTO:John Rudgers and his wife, Kitty Noble Rudgers, along with their daughter Charlotte. Photo courtesy of Kitty Noble Rudgers.

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