Starting with this column and continuing each month, this space will include benchmarking data on a number of key performance indicators (KPI) for U.S. dairy producers. The data has been compiled from 175 herds and about 182,500 cows located across the United States that are participating in Alta’s AltaAdvantage® program. These herds average approximately 850 cows, with a minimum of about 200 cows, and a maximum of 4,000 cows. All herds are managed under commercial conditions, where income is mainly generated from the production of milk.

This program started in 2000, and a majority of herds included have been in the program since its inception. Herds participating in the program record and report management statistics such as herd somatic cell counts (SCC), calf mortality, age at first calving, service rate, average days open and more.

We take pride in the dairies that meet the program’s management protocols. These dairies and their participation in the program make it possible to share this benchmarking data for you to compare to your dairy.

As easy as 1, 2, 3…

This data should provide the information to successfully carry out steps 1-3 of a proper benchmarking program. These steps are


1) compare your performance

2) identify best practices in management

3) implement those practices on your dairy

You can compare your performance to the numbers below. We will share with you some of the practices behind the performance of these herds, and you can start to think about how to implement ideas. We report the average for the herds we track, plus the average of the top 25 percent of dairies.

Reproduction benchmarking

This month we will focus on reproductive parameters. The overall reproductive performance of a dairy can be evaluated by looking at three things – service rate, conception rate and pregnancy rate. In Figures1 and 2*, we show the reproductive performance of the average and top 25 percent of AltaAdvantage herds. We break out the performance for first and second or greater lactation groups for comparison to your dairy.

“Pregnancy rate” has become the gold standard for measuring overall reproductive success (or failure) on today’s commercial dairies. Pregnancy rate is a measure of the proportion of cows that become pregnant within a 21-day interval, following the conclusion of the voluntary waiting period. It can be estimated by multiplying the service rate by the conception rate.

It is easy to say, “we are at a 15 percent pregnancy rate, and we want to be at 20 percent or higher.” Those statements will do little to uncover the root of the problem, so we must break down the reproductive measures much further to see where we can improve. Looking at conception rates and service rates individually can be the first step.

Practices of the top 25 percent

The most important part of benchmarking is to identify and implement potential processes and procedural changes that are feasible for your dairy. There are a number of success factors that are shared by the top reproductive performers compared. These can help guide what to focus on implementing on your dairy.

1) Compliance: Synchronization protocols are all about compliance.

If we miss 10 percent of the shots that are to be given each time, we end up with only 65 percent of cows that are actually properly synchronized. This has a huge effect on conception rates for synchronized heats. If your conception rate is substantially lower for synchronized heats than natural heats, this is the first place to look – and act.

2) Employee/technician commitment: There is a relationship between retaining good employees and reproductive success.

The herds with the best reproduction have very alert and aware employees, plus high employee retention. Commitment to training, development, and some form of reward system can help drive that.

3) Proper transition and calving: Well-grown heifers that have nutritionally sound diets, enter the pre-fresh group on time and have good body condition at calving lead to an easier calving process.

Easier, shorter calving contributes to healthier appetites, which leads to less metabolic problems. This leads to more fertile cows when it comes to breeding time.

4) Good mastitis control: There is certainly a relationship between SCC and reproduction.

The 10 dairies with the highest pregnancy rates, also averaged somatic cell counts of 184! Clean dairy environments and consistent milking routines can contribute to mastitis control.

5) Proper nutrition: Cows with sub-clinical acidosis show less signs of estrus, and therefore the heat detection rate is generally lower in these herds.

The lag time between the onset of sub-clinical acidosis and reproductive problems makes this hidden problem difficult to measure, but it is one of the most frustrating issues because it has no quick fix. However, preventative measures include avoiding an abrupt switch to a ration highly concentrated in grain for fresh cows, overmixing the total mixed ration (TMR) which breaks down feed particle size and sorting in the feedbunk.

In the next issue, we will look at benchmarking for calving performance, plus share some of the best practices we see on these herds. PD

*Figures ommited but are available upon request to