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April 2008


Attention to Details Gets Cows Pregnant at Ladine Farms

J. Richard Pursley
Dept. of Animal Science

Phil Taylor
Extension Dairy Educator
Barry, Calhoun, Eaton , and Ionia Counties

Dave and Sally Bivens, co-owners of Ladine Farms, get a lot of milk out of their cows. Their herd ranked fifth in Michigan in 2007 for DHI rolling herd average for milk (31,796 lbs) and most of that time they milked 2X. But, look out, the herd is back on 3X milking and the herd average continues to climb. One would think that their cows would have a hard time getting pregnant giving that much milk. It seems there is a common belief that the more milk cows give the less likely they are to conceive. But amazingly enough, Bivens’ November 2007 DHI summary showed that conception rate (the measure of fertility of the herd) was running 53 % for the previous 12 months. Yes, 53%! How do they do it? On a cold snowy winter morning Dave took time from his busy schedule to discuss with us all the things he thought contributed to such a high level of herd fertility. According to Dave it is all about attention to details from cow comfort to depositing the semen. Here is how Ladine Farms accomplishes such a feat.

Intensive Heat Detection Program

Dave and his crew check for heats eight times per day. Since Dave keeps impeccable records and he knows his 100 milking cows about as well as his kids, he knows which cows are due in heat. Checking that often allows Dave to detect cows in heat that are most likely at the very start of their period of estrus behavior. This is the critical time to find cows in heat because the clock towards ovulation starts ticking at the onset of heat. In fact, Dave knows that ovulation will occur about 28 hours following the start of estrus behavior. He also knows the ideal time to inseminate cows is about 12 hours before ovulation. So what does Dave do? Regardless of when he first detects cows in heat, he makes sure he breeds those cows 16 hours after that first sign of standing estrus. Yes, through rain, sleet, snow and dark of night, Dave is out there making sure the semen is deposited at the most ideal time to maximize chances of a pregnancy. In the fall of 2007, the Michigan State University Advanced Dairy Management Class taught by Drs. Miriam Weber-Nielsen and Herb Bucholtz visited Ladine Farms focusing on reproductive management. After Dave described his standard operating procedure (SOP) for timing of insemination, one student asked the question “If a cow is first detected at 10 a.m., does this mean that you are out here at 2 a.m. to breed this cow?” Dave’s answer, “yes I am!” underscored his tenacity when it comes to complying with his SOP. He also emphatically used this example to point out the myriad of “details” that he has to focus on daily to stay competitive as a small operation in the dairy business.

Deep Horn Deposition of Semen

Besides paying close attention to detail when thawing, loading and handling the AI gun so that semen remains thermal-neutral until deposition, Dave carefully deposits one-half of the straw as far into each horn as possible without encountering any obstruction and without any manipulation of the horns. Dave believes that part of his success with fertility is due to his careful and deliberate deep uterine horn deposition. Previous research results from our laboratory and from Dr. Michael Diskin’s laboratory in Ireland demonstrate that deep uterine horn deposition may enhance conception rate. In these two studies, it was apparent that some technicians can use the deep uterine horn technique to improve fertility and some cannot. We are not sure why there are such differences in inseminators, but some of our results would argue that too much manipulation of the horns is detrimental to the success of this technique.

Healthier Cows = Greater Fertility

In our opinion, Dave and his crew do a fantastic job of managing cows. One of the aspects of management that stands out is how clean and comfortable his cows are no matter when you show up at the farm. The sand bedded free stalls are always immaculate. They are always clean and free of manure and are raked so that they slope perfectly from front to back. Free stalls are cleaned and raked after every milking. It is no wonder his cows always look like they have just been washed and ready to lead into the show ring. You might say that every day is a day at the beach for these cows. Well, almost!

Another important aspect of management as it relates to reproduction that is quite noticeable at Ladine is that there are very few - if any - lame cows. Dave keeps a hoof trimming chute in the return alley from the parlor to the free-stall barn and uses it frequently. There is no question that feet and leg health are critical to the estrus detection program at Ladine Farms.

In 2002, we published a paper that evaluated the impact of level of individual cow milk production on fertility. Results from that study, like a number of our studies, were collected at Nobis Dairy, St. Johns, MI. One of the interesting aspects of this study was that the greater the milk production the greater the fertility. This was quite contrary to a number of previous studies. Since that time, two other large studies found very similar results when looking at cow fertility within herds. A simple explanation of this phenomenon would be that the healthier the cows, the more milk they produce and the more fertile the cows will be. This certainly would fit the profile of the cows at Ladine Farms.

Final Thoughts

We’ve touched on a few key aspects of management at Ladine Farms that likely make a big difference in the fertility level of their cows. Dave also credits a voluntary waiting period of 80 days, his high quality forage, and the use of some high fertility bulls for some of his success (more attention to the details!). He said it is very important for him to work very closely with his veterinarian to know exactly what is going on reproductively with each of his cows. Congratulations to Dave and Sally and their crew for a job well done! We look forward to watching the progress of reproduction at Ladine Farms as their milk production continues to climb!





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