How do the top herds in reproductive performance get to be the 1%ers?
How do the top 1% of herds in reproductive performance get to be the 1%ers? What do they do that sets them apart? A survey conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania compiled data from 16 herds that were nominated by their consultants based on excellence in reproductive performance. These producers ranged from 262 to over 6,000 lactating and dry cows.
Cow fertility has a biological component (the cow) and a management component. Fertility has decreased with increasing milk production over the years. Days open has increased from 110 days in 1965 to 150 days in 2005. There’s no question that fertility is influenced by high production. So, reproductive management has become ever more important and according to this survey, it’s what sets the 1%ers apart.
Pregnancy rate (PR) averaged 32% in the 1%ers compared to about 16% for all herds in the Raleigh Dairy Records Management System (DRMS). This put these herds in the top 1% for PR. These herds averaged 71 days to first service compared to 92 days for all herds in DRMS. Surprisingly, the 1%ers had only average conception rates compared to all herds in DRMS (44 % first service conception rate and 39% across all services vs. 43% for all DRMS herds).
Excellent heat detection and insemination rates resulted in the superior reproductive performance in the 1%ers. High insemination rates in these herds were due to controlled first insemination programs as well as consistent repeat insemination programs. They employed weekly or biweekly pregnancy checks combined with a resynchronization program. The 1%ers used a combination of timed AI and heat detection by visual and heat detection aids (paint, markers and activity monitors). In a nutshell, the 1%ers were aggressive and applied their reproductive programs consistently.
The herds in this survey were in the Midwest, Northeast and on the West Coast. There were no herds from the Southern states, where heat and humidity challenge reproductive performance. But the same intense reproductive management still applies if herds in the South want to improve reproductive performance.
Since this is primarily a nutrition column, I should mention that nutrition was not considered as a variable in this survey. I would assume that nutrition programs were also well managed in these 1%ers. No magic pill or nutritional supplement can substitute for hard work and superior management of a reproductive program.
Reference: Ferguson, J.D. and A. Skidmore. 2013. Reproductive performance in a select sample of dairy herds. J.Dairy Sci. 96:1269-1289.
Rick Lundquist is an independent nutrition and management consultant based in Duluth, Minn. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.