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Boernview Farm Ltd. uses team approach to achieve 36 percent pregnancy rate

Alice Guthrie for Progressive Dairyman Published on 09 August 2017
Roger Boersen and Luis Velazquez milking cows

Anyone who can more than double the average score in any field of endeavour must be doing something right. Some might attribute such success to luck, but in the field of breeding dairy cows, luck rarely enters the equation. Hard work, high standards and dedication to the task combine to produce a track record many can envy.

Roger Boersen and his farm team work as a cohesive unit to produce excellent results, achieving a pregnancy rate in their herd of 35 to 38 percent, more than twice the average pregnancy rate in Ontario of 14 percent. His services per conception rate is an impressive average of 2. These results earned his herd a Gold Reproduction Award from the Dairy Cattle Reproduction Council last year.

Boersen’s grandparents came from Holland in 1950. His grandfather Ysbrand milked about 12 cows on the same farm that Boersen farms today, near Gad’s Hill in Perth County, Ontario. His father, Henk, took over in 1960 and increased the herd to 60 cows during his time at the helm. By the time Boersen and his wife, Dawne, took over in 1995, the herd was up to 120 head of milking cows. The total herd now numbers 1,000 head, with 420 milking.

All animals are registered Holsteins, DHI tested and type classified, and kept in a total confinement system. Milking is done in a double-18 parallel parlour. They have very recently changed to milking three times daily, a task that takes about three and a half hours each time. Daughter Krista, who has come home recently to farm with Dad, is responsible for scheduling milking and other chores. They farm 2,000 acres, growing corn, wheat, soybeans and alfalfa; about half of this is cash crop.

Boersen, who holds a college diploma from Fanshawe College in farm business management, is quick to attribute his success to a good team of employees. His right-hand man is herdsman Luis Velazquez. Velazquez came to Canada from Mexico in 2004 with his wife, Yaneth, the first of their three children, a degree in animal husbandry from Autonomus University Chapingo in Mexico and a dream. He says he was, “Looking for a good farm to give me the opportunity to achieve my dreams.” Velazquez has worked for Boersen for seven years now, and the two men work together well. They have a standing “milking date” once a week, during which they work and talk, discussing the business of the operation. Both are committed to keeping communication open, between each other and with the entire team of 10 full-time employees.

Boersen grins as he says he had “no magic bullet” when it comes to reproduction on the farm. He explains that he works closely with nutritionists Larry Merner and Laura Martin to provide good feed. They keep the soluble protein under 40 percent to keep the blood level of urea low. His veterinarian, Jeff Sommers, visits every two weeks and keeps everything on track. Boersen has a weekly meeting with all employees to check up on things and exchange information. He gets good input from them and values his team for their dedication. Every year a meeting is held with all full-time employees, a DHI representative, their veterinarian and nutritionists to review herd statistics, identify problems and set goals for the next year.

Boernview Farm Ltd.

Every eight months, Boersen and Velazquez choose six to eight sires from those available through Genex, EastGen or Select Sires to be used in the next few months. A computer mating program selects two bulls for each cow to be bred, based on conformation and production data. Every two weeks they consult with their Genex representative, Peter Frijters, concerning breeding decisions and to physically eyeball the cows, choosing whether to use one of the computer suggestions, breed to Angus (the bottom 20 percent of the milking herd are bred to Angus sires) or cull. Culling decisions are made concerning feet and legs, udder health, milk production and age. Boersen watches the daughter pregnancy rate and avoids bulls whose daughters are deficient in that regard. His calving interval averages 389 days, and his cull rate due to fertility problems is about 14 percent.

All breeding is by A.I., performed by Velazquez and Boersen (mostly Velazquez), and they have a friendly competition to see who is most successful in getting cows settled in calf, but both are highly proficient. They use pedometers to help measure heat activity. These help to pinpoint optimal time for breeding, with 87 percent of the cows bred using this data. They also help to identify cows that are not cycling. Cows are sorted in the morning, and most are bred then, although if still showing activity, some will be bred later in the day.

Boersen says he feels that good pregnancy rates come about by ensuring that cows are ready at the time of breeding. He uses a voluntary waiting period of 70 days following calving. “We make sure cows are clean before the 70th day,” he explains. If not cycling by that time, an ultrasound is performed, which would reveal if the ovaries are working or if a cow is cystic. In this case, Ovsynch would be used, or a CIDR inserted to release progesterone. One conformation feature that Boersen considers important is that a cow should not have a high rump. Lower pin bones allow gravity to assist a cow in cleaning completely following calving, and help avoid uterine infection. He chooses bulls that will not produce high rumps for this reason.

Calf raising practices also contribute to future breeding success. With the number of cows in this herd, calves arrive almost every day. Maternity pens are checked hourly to ensure someone monitors each birth. Calves are kept in individual pens at first, then in small groups and later in larger groups. They are fed pasteurized milk for eight weeks from pails. Once each week, the last calf born is weighed. The same calf is weighed eight weeks later, and calves are expected to double their weight in that time. If the other calves are keeping up to that one, all is well. Calves are fed pellets and hay to 4 months old, then a TMR consisting of a straw and grain mix with a bit of haylage.

At 13 to 14 months old, depending on their size, heifers are bred. Boersen uses sexed semen on his heifers to produce all female calves. If a dam isn’t producing well, both she and her calf are culled. Low mortality of calves and youngstock – about 1 percent – means there are more heifers coming into milk than are needed, so about a quarter of them are sold into other herds.

Cows are tracked via computer, with decisions made using the data generated. Boersen admits that handling this number of animals would be problematic without computer technology. “Technology has helped us control the numbers. ... Without that data, we couldn’t control it,” he states.

Future plans are still incomplete. The parlour was built 25 years ago, so they are considering either a larger parlour or moving to robotics. Further expansion is likely. Another barn is needed, as they are already somewhat overstocked. Boersen considers this to be the “weak link in the chain.” He adds that his only “limit on cows is our ability to continue finding good people.” It is also possible that one of his sons will join Boersen and his daughter Krista in business.

In the meantime, Boersen enjoys horseback riding with Krista and skiing in the winter. He is a director with Gay Lea Foods and a board member of Progressive Dairy Operators (PDO), an organization that educates dairy farmers in Ontario.  end mark

Alice Guthrie is a freelance writer from Hagersville, Ontario.

PHOTO 1: Once a week, Roger Boersen, left, and his herdsman Luis Velazquez, right, spend a milking shift together to work and talk about what is happening on the farm.

PHOTO 2: An excellent reproductive program has allowed Boernview Farm Ltd. near Gad’s Hill in Perth County, Ontario, to grow to house 1,000 head of registered Holsteins, including the farm's 420 milk cows. Photos by Alice Guthrie.

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