Doug Moyer, Integrated Dairy Solutions
The progress made during the past 10 years in reproductive performance on dairies is truly impressive. Today, it’s more commonplace to find herds with pregnancy rates over 30%. While this is the outcome of multiple factors, high performing dairies simply prioritize, execute, and repeat.
Identified as one of the top contributors to profitability, reproduction as measured by a 21-day pregnancy rate has been on the rise, and you don’t need to look further than the winners of CentralStar’s ReproStar Award for proof. Congratulations to these herds! Clearly, they have dialed in many aspects of their operation, and pregnancy rate has benefited.
I am always pleased to see a herd find reproductive success. I know its impact on the dairy is pervasive, and everything from production to attitudes improve when hard work pays off. While it’s exciting to watch pregnancy rates climb higher and higher, it’s also important to remember the law of diminishing returns starts to take a toll.
Figure 1 demonstrates how the return for pregnancy-rate improvement declines as pregnancy rates increase. Beginning with a steep ascent when pregnancy rates are low, the curve starts to flatten out as farms push past 30%.
Unlike today, pregnancy rates approaching 40% were rare 20 years ago. Due to the nature of declining-financial returns on pregnancy rate, from a business perspective there must be a point at which additional investment of time and money makes poor economic sense. If you have achieved the kind of reproductive success I’m talking about, I congratulate you and your team. I also challenge you to consider if the next pursuit for you and your management team has anything to do with pregnancy rate at all? Rather, is it more appropriate to apply the same intensity, effort, and investment to other key areas of your operation.
If shipping at least 7.5 pounds of solids per cow is your goal, and it should be, you aren’t going to do it without dialing in your forages. The growing, harvesting, and storage of forages paints the backdrop for much of what will transpire as you navigate the year. If you do this right, you’ve gone a long way to making life easier for yourself, your cows, and your employees.
Our harvest capacity is huge, allowing for amazing speed when chopping, hauling, and storing forages. The proverbial double-edged sword exists here when you consider the speed that allows us to cover hundreds of acres a day can mean small details are missed. Details like proper chop length or kernel processing (KP), which can result in a giant pile of headaches. Speed and volume should be secondary to quality. It is unfortunate, but true that properly processing forages in the field generally means slowing down. What does hitting a “40% pregnancy rate” in forages look like … well, processed, highly-digestible feed, happy cows, less purchased feed, and more solids shipped.
If your annual SCC average isn’t under 100,000, it should be. Like reproduction, SCC is one of those areas in which every operation wants improvement, but rarely gets there without being prioritized.
The benefits of running under 100,000 SCC are manifold, but it’s not my purpose to argue those here. Rather, I wish to pose the question: If you’re knocking on the door of a high pregnancy rate, can you apply the same effort and energy to something as important as SCC? Consider if it’s more valuable to continue to improve pregnancy rate, or to reduce SCC and minimize the cases of clinical mastitis — which by the way, has a positive impact on reproduction all on its own.
You must think ahead if you want to get ahead. Healthy, trouble-free cows are their own reward from a management perspective, but also have the added benefit of contributing to a story our industry can be proud to tell. Reducing lameness or eradicating known diseases is within our grasp due to new monitoring and surveillance technology. Things that weren’t possible to do in decades past are now only needing focus and investment.
Today, it might be hard to pencil the return when considering the benefits of eliminating something like leukosis from your herd, but forward thinkers make decisions using information that is less than clear. By definition, being at the front of the pack means there is no trail to follow which brings an element of risk. Consider what is the general trajectory of the industry? What are growing buyer attitudes and trends? If you are there first, will the reward be sufficient?
If you’ve prioritized reproductive improvement and found success, you’ve also built confidence in what your management team is capable of executing. If further improvement cost nothing, I wouldn’t argue the point, but it does have a cost. At a minimum, there is opportunity cost involved in everything we do. If you’ve achieved a high pregnancy rate, it’s time to ask, what’s next? Is the level you are at enough, or should you look to repeat the process in another aspect of the dairy? Am I talking nonsense? I’d love to buy you a cup of coffee and debate that; I love nothing more than good coffee and good conversation.
About the Author: Doug Moyer, and wife Auburn, own and operate Integrated Dairy Solutions, an independent consulting service, specializing in dairy nutrition, that works with progressive dairies across Michigan. Doug has dedicated his entire career working in advanced-reproduction and dairy-records consulting. Previously, he was a member of the CentralStar team as an A.I. Specialist and later as Director of DHI Services.