Achieving a heat detection rate between 68 and 75 percent, conception rate as high as 40 to 48 percent and a pregnancy rate range between 30 and 37 percent is attainable, and top dairy herds out there are doing it.

Ballarotti anibal
Consultant / ABS Global Inc.

Through a benchmarking tool, we are able to evaluate fertility performance within our customers’ herds, and combined with our daily observation and recording of practices, we’ve identified which steps yield optimum results and where opportunities exist to improve a dairy’s fertility program.

Systematic observation of some of the best dairies’ performances around the U.S. reveals that giving careful attention to basics is essential for successful breeding. The following are five seemingly simple practices that are actually keys to success:

1) Dry, prefresh and postfresh cows need special attention

The main point here is to avoid being overstocked or, actually, to be understocked in all of these groups. Close-up cows are best maintained in soft and clean beds. Avoid moving them to a separate calving area to keep them calm and comfortable and promote calving without complications. Choose a good protocol to drench prefresh cows as soon as possible, preferably within 24 hours after calving. A good preventive drench will include vitamin B12, calcium, alfalfa meal and propylene glycol. Monitor fresh cows in the lockups every morning for the first 20 days after calving. Check their temperature, attitude and appetite to be alert for signs of illness. Early detection of illness will allow prompt treatment and prevent serious fresh cow diseases and uterine infections.

2) Increase voluntary waiting period (VWP) to give more time for a cow’s recovery

Research indicates that the reproductive tract requires around 30 to 40 days for involution after a normal calving. Many successful dairies have been increasing their VWP from around 50 to 60 days in milk (DIM) to around 70 to 80 DIM or even more, according to which reproductive protocol they are using. Increasing the VWP may improve conception rate and reduce days open, possibly due to an improved uterine environment and less negative energy balance. The results are higher pregnancy rates and higher peak milk.


3) Consistent management of heat detection and synchronization to breed cows efficiently, and resynchronization programs to rebreed the open cows as soon as possible

Currently, there are many different reproductive approaches in use. These include pre-synchronization programs, giving two prostaglandins before the Ovsynch protocol, double Ovsynch, aggressive heat detection with tail chalk or using electronic tools to help detect cows in estrus, and combinations of thereof. Whatever reproductive protocol the dairy chooses, they all should be consistently followed by reliable workers, relying on accurate lists of cows receiving correct hormone injections on proper days. Timely and precise pregnancy diagnosis to identify open cows is also key. Identification of structures present on the ovaries should be used to make the best decisions on the resynchronization program.

4) Cow comfort and heat abatement

In addition to consistency of individuals that work on reproductive management, the use of headlocks in all the freestall pens and open lots has shown to be important for easier and more dependable reproductive management. Adding shade cloth over the bunks in the open lots is also beneficial. The more successful dairies also make improvements in heat abatement in categories that may have been neglected in the past, such as heifers and dry cows. Cow cooling systems are critical to maintain conception rates during the hot months. Adding rows of fans over each row of freestalls, as well as sprinklers over the feedline and in the holding area, has helped to produce healthier follicles, which has led to higher general conception rates.

5) Investing in excellent nutrition and high-quality feed

Nutrition is crucial for reproductive performance. Providing high-quality, digestible forages and high-quality ingredients are the main factors needed to sustain adequate energy in the lactating diet. Assuring the same person feeds the cows is an important aspect of providing a consistent ration as well. Another key factor observed is feed quality. Top producers strive to provide the best quality and freshest feed available to maintain the highest dry matter intakes possible. Some dairies have added computerized feed management systems to better monitor dry matter intakes in the prefresh and postfresh groups.

At the end of the day, the key to superior breeding programs is paying close attention to the details of steps many dairies presently take. Going the extra mile to assure consistent use of proven best practices will result in a better breeding program for your dairy.  end mark

Anibal Ballarotti

PHOTO: Illustration by Corey Lewis.