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The 30 percent pregnancy rate is possible

Mark Carson Published on 01 December 2014

Five years ago, it felt like there was a ceiling on reproductive performance in the lactating herd. Once top-performing herds got to the 24 to 26 percent annual pregnancy rate level, there was no room to grow. Higher annual pregnancy rates were not sustainable or economical for long periods of time.

But more and more, we’re commonly seeing herds achieving levels of performance not often seen just half a decade ago.

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What’s changed in the last five years? Why are we now commonly seeing herds reaching annual pregnancy rates of 28 to 30 percent? Pregnancy rate is the measurement of the speed that your cows are getting pregnant.

So what’s changed that is causing cows to get pregnant faster? Here are three changes in herd management that are likely behind the reasons why a 30 percent annual pregnancy rate has become achievable.

1. Better heifer raising is playing a role in the increased reproductive performance. In the last decade, dairymen have invested more in calf and heifer management. The nutrition, rations, environment and facilities have improved.

The result: First-lactation cows are more productive and fertile than before. In herds with pregnancy rates in the high 20s, first-lactation conception rates need to be near the 50 percent mark.

This is much higher than the industry average for all cows of 37 percent. By maximizing the fertility performance of first-lactation cows through better heifer raising, the overall herd pregnancy rate increases, and that benefits the whole herd.

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2. Growth of activity monitoring equipment in freestall barns. Activity monitoring systems have gotten more precise and accurate over the past decade. The majority of herds sustaining pregnancy rates north of 27 percent have an activity monitoring system as a part of their program.

Why is activity monitoring a critical part of getting top-level reproductive performance? Activity monitoring helps boost pregnancy rates a couple of different ways. First and most obvious, it helps to find more cows in heat with 24-hour observation. Even in the tightest visual heat detection program, there will always be a cow or two a month that displays heat but slips through unseen.

Where top-performing herds are seeing their biggest benefit with activity monitoring is accurately identifying cows in heat 21 days after a previous breeding. This reduces the number of cows making it to pregnancy check found open.

The systems are helping to lower the percentage of open cows getting past 42 days without being bred again. These subtle changes can help add a point or two in pregnancy rate to an already well-performing reproductive program.

3. Producer knowledge and availability of their herd performance numbers. In the last five years, more information has been available to dairy producers than ever before. On-farm management software packages are putting real-time information at your fingertips to help make better health and fertility decisions.

With the ability to break down reproductive performance by such items as lactation, service number, technician, heat detection tools, days in milk, age at first calving and days dry, the power to make more informed decisions has never been greater.

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Herds that are achieving top-end reproductive performance monitor these numbers – either themselves or have the advisers working with their herd do it for them.

Knowing where the weak spots are within a herd’s reproductive program helps to focus resources to achieve the best results. Utilizing the data helps find where the opportunity lays and where the best place is to invest for the benefit of your herd.

With industry average for pregnancy rate at 14 percent, why talk about herds with rates in the high 20 percents? The take-home message is simple: Whether you’re at 11 percent, 18 percent, 20 percent or 30 percent, there is always room to improve.

The steps taken to get from 24 percent to 28 percent are no different than going from 14 percent to 18 percent. Look at where the opportunity lays within your herd, and percentage point by percentage point, improve your herd performance.  PD

Mark Carson
  • Mark Carson
  • Herd Reproductive Analyst
  • EastGen

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