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'No magic bullet' to boosting dairy herd reproduction

Jeff Caldwell 05/29/2012 @ 1:43pm Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

A lot of beef cattle producers have used artificial insemination to bring about more predictable, higher-yielding pregnancy rates in their herds. Though it's less common in the dairy sector, it can have a big impact on dairy cow pregnancy rates and herd growth, one specialist says.

Nationwide, Ohio State University (OSU) Extension information shows the pregnancy rate for dairy cows is around 16%. That leaves a lot of "room for improvement," says Gustavo Schuenemann, OSU Extension dairy veterinarian. Tools like heat synchronization and artificial insemination (AI) can close that gap.

"There's no magic bullet," Schuenemann says. "There are many tools out there -- from synchronization protocols to heat detection to measuring cow activity -- but regardless of the tool a farmer may use, proactive management practices at the farm level matter when it comes to reproduction."

And, boosting dairy herd fertility doesn't end with fertilization; there are a lot of ways to manage pregnant dairy cows to ensure they're getting what they need to perform.

"Some of the issues that dairy farmers need to address during this crucial period include avoiding overstocking of animals and commingling of mature cows with heifers; making sure cows get balanced food rations; and having a reliable and well-trained group of workers who can properly handle calving and identify and assist cows that experience difficult births as well as sick cows after calving," according to an OSU report.

Whatever steps you take to improve your dairy herd's reproductivity, don't overlook the management of those techniques. What works on one farm may not work on another.

"The choice of reproduction protocol needs to match the particular conditions of each farm, its resources, its objectives and the skill of its workers," Schuenemann says. "All dairy farmers are unique, even if they are only a mile apart from each other. So it's very important to assess human resources on the farm. Some may adopt techniques that are more time-sensitive and cost more in synchronization hormones, but which have the potential for higher pregnancy rates. Others may do better with heat detection and trying to take advantage of normal estrus.

"You don't want a farmer to fail because he picked a technique that doesn't work for his conditions," he adds. "Every farm is an integrated system; decisions made on one area of the farm will have an impact on other areas of the farm."

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