On this #MemberMonday, discover what drives genetic and reproduction success at Plymouth Dairy Farms, Inc., near LeMars, Iowa. The operation recently earned the Platinum award for the Heifer category of the GENEX Excellence in Genetics & Reproduction Awards.
Plymouth Dairy is not a newcomer to the Excellence in Genetics & Reproduction Awards. In fact, the dairy earned the Platinum award for the >2,000 cows category last year (and a gold rating the year before). That’s some all-round good management!
The dairy, owned by the Feuerholm family, was founded in 1999 with the first cows milked in August 2000. Over the years, it has expanded to about 3,500 head. The growth, expansion and strong reproduction program are the result of teamwork, with Plymouth Dairy and GENEX committed to a strong and lasting relationship.
Key members of the team at the Plymouth Dairy heifer facility include (L to R) Paige Browning, Andy Nelsen and Chris McGuire.
The dairy's breeding-age heifers are raised offsite, at a nearby facility in Nebraska. A main component of the reproduction success for the heifers is the technician team. They perform professional, high-level heat detection and breeding service day after day.
Another driver of success is the nutrition and health of the animals. Heifers that are in a positive energy balance are the engine that run the show. Paired with quality genetics from GENEX sires that emphasize health and fertility, it is no wonder the dairy earned the award!
“It’s that simple,” explains Chris McGuire of Plymouth Dairy. “Success is due to quality heifers, good nutrition and technicians with a drive to do well.”
What does the award-winning reproduction program look like? Heifers are eligible to breed at 385 days or 12.5 months of age. If a heifer has strong heat expression, then GenChoice™ sexed semen is used on the first two heats. With this strategy, close to 75% of services are to sexed semen. The other 25% is to conventional dairy semen.
If a heifer does not show a heat by 405 days or 13.25 months of age, she is checked by a vet and either receives progesterone or an Eazi-Breed™ CIDR®. A heifer gets four services before a culling decision is made. Combine the excellent genetic and reproduction results along with a knowledgeable and motivated team and an overall focus on employee safety and satisfaction, and you have Plymouth Dairy.
The team at Omro Dairy, near Omro, Wisconsin, is always striving to improve. That determined go-getter attitude helped the team earn platinum recognition in the GENEX Excellence in Genetics & Reproduction Awards contest.
GENEX representatives Carlos Marin (far left) and Kim Egan (far right) presented the Omro Dairy team of Victor Montoya, Carlos Zelada, Jorge Montoya and John Vosters with their platinum recognition plaque in the 2,000+ cow category.
Omro Dairy joined the Milk Source family of farms in 1999. In recent years, changes and transformations have taken place on the farm. First, it was transformed from a Holstein herd to a complete Jersey herd.
In early 2017, they also transitioned from a Pre-Synch program with a 50 day voluntary waiting period and “cherry picking” to a Double Ovsynch program with a 60-day voluntary waiting period for first service.
The team at Omro has made the transition from conventional semen to entirely sexed or beef semen as well.
Altogether, the team is achieving over 83% of the herd pregnant by 150 days in milk, keeping the Jersey herd under 165 days in milk on average. There are very few fresh cow illnesses or culls, which is also an important factor in outstanding reproduction. Once confirmed pregnant, only 6% have an abort event. Heat detection is a key component of the reproductive program after first service, with about half of the cows becoming pregnant to standing heat breedings after first service.
Calm and quiet cattle handling is important to this team, and it is evident in the demeanor of the Jerseys as they play with their tongues and lounge in their sand beds. There is not a seasonal difference in conception either. With curtain sidewalls, fans and sprinklers, cows are kept comfortable year-round.
The breeding team at Omro Dairy certainly takes pride in their work. Every six to eight weeks, GENEX staff utilize the A.I. AccuCheck program to ensure no protocol drift in heat detection, semen handling or insemination technique. Proper functioning and cleanliness of equipment is also inspected.
While other things on the dairy may change, the breeding team remains consistent (with only one new team member), and every member of the team helps provide encouragement and training for the ultimate success of the program.
Congratulations to Omro Dairy and thank you for being a GENEX member!
The dairy world is one of continuous improvement. Tight margins, expense of heifer rearing and the drive to improve herd genetic potential have made excellent reproduction even more important to you. Over the last several years, much has been learned and implemented to improve cow comfort, nutrition and health. Genetics, fertility-enhancing synchronization programs and market pressures have all had an impact as well.
Today’s economics and the swift speed at which advancements have occurred mean yesterday’s reproductive goals are already out of date. Here are the top five statistics tracked on dairies today and updated performance goals for each.
1. Percent pregnant by 150 Days in Milk (DIM).
Many herds GENEX works with have exceeded the goal of 75% of cows pregnant by 150 DIM, a goal that was sought after just a few short years ago. The GENEX Dairy Performance NavigatorSM (DPNSM) program shows the top 10% of herds by milk production (out of 180 Holstein herds over 500 cows) now average 83% of the herd pregnant by 150 DIM.
› A new goal of >80% of cows pregnant by 150 DIM is appropriate and achievable.
2. 3-week pregnancy rate.
Depending on which software program you use, the calculation of cows that are eligible to be bred may vary. Ultimately, the pregnancy rate is driven by conception rates and service rates. Factors that diminish estrus expression or detection or reduce conception will reduce the pregnancy rate. Many factors that affect reproductive success are shown in the image below.
Holstein herds in the DPN program with 500 cows or more average 25% annual pregnancy rates; however, the top 10% by cow pregnancy rate have achieved a 35.9% average.
› A good goal for 3-week pregnancy rate is now ≥ 30%.
3. Conception by breeding code, service number, semen type.
Many herds are using sex-sorted semen in the lactating herd as well as in heifers; this product generally has lower conception than conventional semen. There are also differences in synchronization programs for first service and later services. It is best to track conception of differing breeding codes (example: resynchronization versus heat detection) and semen types, so if change in reproductive performance is desired, the areas can be monitored in relation to the goal and to historical performance. Good goals match the following:
› The top 10% of Holstein herds by cow preg rate in the DPNSM program are achieving first service conception >50% in their lactating herds.
› For heifers, the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association Gold Standard for first service conception rate with sexed semen is 60%.
4. Percent of heifers pregnant at 15-17 months old.
This is still a favorite measure of the overall efficiency of the virgin heifer reproductive program. The range can be adjusted based on your voluntary waiting period but should allow time for breeding and pregnancy diagnosis. Delays in moving heifers into the breeding pen or inadequate heat detection will reduce this percentage. Skipping the pregnancy examinations or missing data will also skew the measure. Increased percentages reflect efficient use of days (or months) heifers are fed before freshening and returning income to your dairy.
› Currently, the top 10% of Holstein herds by heifer pregnancy rate in the DPNSM program are achieving 75% of heifers pregnant at 15-17 months. That is an excellent goal for any dairy.
5. Number of eligible animals beyond first service deadline not inseminated.
Many farms are achieving 100% of animals (both cows and heifers) inseminated within 28 days of their voluntary waiting period. It is important to have a fixed goal by which all animals should be inseminated (note: your goal may be different than 28 days or may include weight for heifers). Animals removed from breeding pens and/or missed on synchronization programs may not be inseminated, reducing the service rate and the dairy’s efficiency.
› The goal for number of animals beyond the first service deadline that are not inseminated is zero.
Connect with us to learn how our world-class cattle genetics, progressive reproductive solutions, and value-added services can advance your operation. Click here to contact us today!