Management of the transition period, strategies to improve reproductive efficiency based on estrous detection programs, and management of dairy personnel were among the hot topics discussed at the 2014 Dairy Cattle Reproduction Council (DCRC) annual meeting held last November in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Here are a few highlights from the meeting:
Monitor to measure
Dr. Michael Overton, Elanco Animal Health, addressed the assessment of transition cow management and performance. He stressed the importance of monitoring programs, noting that they are critical to achieve optimal performance.
It’s well-known that during the transition period dairy cows are exposed to a series of biological and physiological changes that are usually accompanied by large fluctuations in feed intake, dramatic shifts in hormonal profiles, and instability in hepatic demands and function. The resulting negative energy and negative protein balance, as well as immune suppression, often leads to a multitude of metabolic and infectious problems, he said.
By regularly observing and recording activities, events and yields that occur during that period, dairy producers can identify significant change in the system as early as possible. This enables them to tackle the problem right away and avoid even larger losses.
Overton outlined some key points for monitoring cows during the dry period and early lactation, stressing the importance of monitoring the distribution of the events and not just looking at the averages. He suggests:
- Monitor total days dry, nutrient specifications, dry matter intake, housing and comfort, and stocking density during the dry period.
- Fresh cows should be monitored for feed intake, stocking density and incidence of clinical diseases and health – including milk fever, retained placenta, ketosis, metritis, clinical mastitis, displaced abomasum, pneumonia, lameness, ovarian dysfunction and culling incidence during the first 30 and 60 days in lactation.
- Cow comfort, milk production and changes in body condition score should be added for a complete assessment.
He concluded, “High‐quality records and their appropriate use are vital to the evaluation of how well cows are transitioning into lactation, but one must always remember there is no substitute for direct observation of the cows and their environment. When proper preventive management is combined with real‐time monitoring, the result should be an improved transition program and increased lactation and reproductive success.”
Economics of estrus monitoring
Dr. Julio Giordano, Cornell University, spoke about estrous detection programs and economics of monitoring systems. This is considered one of the hottest topics in the dairy industry right now.
Based on the increased interest and adoption by dairy farmers of the new generation of automated activity monitoring (AAM) systems, Giordano believed that this trend for adoption of technologies would continue as better, more cost‐effective and user‐friendly technologies become available for dairy farms.
The objective of his presentation was to evaluate the economic implications of incorporating an AAM system for detection of estrus using different reproductive management scenarios and economic aspects.
The majority of recent studies seems to indicate that AAM systems can be successfully used by dairy farmers to inseminate cows based on activity, but due to technical and physiological limitations (for example, incidence of anovular or acyclic cows), a combination of an AAM system and a synchronization program should be considered.
Giordano’s economic simulation evaluated several scenarios.
The first scenario compared farms with poor estrous detection efficiency, with 30 percent of cows receiving artificial insemination (A.I.) after estrus detection (ED). In this case, it was assumed that an incorporation of an AAM would increase ED efficiency. The simulation showed that an increment of 20 percent for a system with a life expectancy of five years and a cost of $120 per tag was enough to break even. Therefore, if life expectancy or a high number of cows receiving A.I. beyond 20 percent occurred, the adoption of the AAM system would be more profitable than the system in place before.
The second scenario compared farms with an average ED efficiency, with 60 percent of cows being inseminated after ED, and it was assumed that the incorporation of an AAM would slightly increase the ED efficiency.
In this instance, the performance of the AAM system should increase the number of cows to be inseminated after ED by at least 10 percent and the system should remain with the herd for at least five years to break even. As well as the other scenario, better results in estrus detection and higher life expectancy bring more profitability to the farm.
Juan S. Velez, general manager of Aurora Organic Farms, Platteville, Colorado, addressed the importance of management of dairy personnel, emphasizing training and performance.
He stated that competent workers often fail to perform when conflict or lack of satisfaction, motivation or communication occur. This results in poorer work performance that affects overall herd productivity. Frequent assessment of performance, educational needs and training of dairy personnel should be a top priority for dairy operations to achieve a consistent and efficient herd performance.
He pointed out four important requirements to build an effective team:
- Top-level commitment and specific, clear and agreed-upon goals
- Trust and involvement between manager and employee
- Willingness to take risks and share information
- Time, resources and commitment to training
Assigning the right tasks to the right workers is critical for success. Plus, it is essential that the manager follow an approach that tolerates a wide range of personality styles, accepts and manages errors, is calm but firm in decisions, and always rewards and acknowledges success, Velez said. This way a worker is more likely to implement and follow the established standard operating procedures and less likely to leave the farm.
This description represents a herd manager that focuses on active listening, interacts with workers on a daily basis, and anticipates and solves personnel issues. Velez concluded that frequent assessment of performance and training of dairy personnel is helpful for decision-makers to focus on.
More information about the Dairy Cattle Reproduction Council can be found on their website. PD
Large Herd Manager and Reproduction Specialist