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So, what is your pregnant cow worth?

By Staff | Feb 4, 2016



ORANGE CITY – Dr. Ryan Breuer, a dairy specialist with Iowa State University Extension in Northwest Iowa, urges dairy farmers to take advantage of their young cows’ earliest period of fertility rather than to keep feeding them with no economic return.

After all, he said, each cow will go dry at a certain age. That leaves the farmer with less milk than what could have been the cow’s lifetime production, which is as much as 70,000 pounds of milk in total.

And he said about 14,000 pounds of production is gained through today’s genetic-focused breeding.

He urged dairy farmers to breed their female calves at the earliest suitable time, so as not to forfeit any part of the cow’s milk-producing years.

That would be paying for feed without any return, he said. Breuer spoke to 40 people attending a “Moo University” workshop on Jan. 14 titled “What is your pregnant cow worth?”

It depends on genetics, breeding, feed and care.

The event was held in the Sioux County ISU Extension office.

Paul Fricke, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, advised dairy farmers to ensure most of their heifers are bred.

“That will give you the opportunity to always fill the tank,” he said.

Seminar attendees included dairy owners/managers, bovine veterinarians, others in the industry and some ag/dairy majors from Dordt College, in Sioux Center, along with several industry vendors who sponsored the workshop.

The dairymen in attendance were looking to learn the best practices, which in turn, would lead to the most milk production.

Speakers covered breeding for genetics, the economic parameters of the industry, managing and educating dairy staff to include them systematically in educational and training.

Breuer said since a cow’s optimal fertile period is the most stressful time for her, he advocates artificial insemination. Inseminating a cow with a “straw” of bull semen is the safest and most effective way for her to become pregnant, he said.

“I put cow fertility at the top,” Breuer said. He advocated for inseminating cows at the proper time within their estrus cycle, and identifying those that don’t get pregnant and “aggressively” re-inseminate them as soon as possible.

Genetics, top criterion

Desirable genes constitute the means by which 21st century dairy cows produce the most milk, adding roughly 14,000 pounds of milk to the sum of their productive years, according to Jim Paulson, an associate dairy professor at the University of Minnesota.

Paulson advised attendees that inbreeding costs money. The cows that are inbred within their own herd generally give less milk.

He also touched on when and how to cull cows. Those animals would include lame cows, a cow with chronic mastitis and unprofitable cows.

“They are bred to reduce the reasons for culling,” he said. “We all want nice cows.

“We have come a long way in genetics involved in udders, feet and legs,” Paulson added. “There aren’t ‘bad ones’ anymore.”

Dairy farmers should keep computer spreadsheet data on each cow and bull in order to prevent any genetic in-breeding, which lowers milk production.

“You must pick the best bulls, have a plan, and follow it,” Paulson said.

University of Minnesota Professor Tony Seykora noted that profitable cows are those with good udders, “deep” legs, are not prone to mastitis, and readily get pregnant.

Seykora noted that AI success is at 60 percent, but added that genomics will make faster improvements in cows’ production.

“Breed the best, cull the rest and you’ll be profitable,” Seykora told his audience.

Keeping employees

“Well, it’s a great start, anyway,” said Dr. J.W. Schroeder, to Seykora, smiling at his colleague’s closing remark. Schroeder is a retired professor from North Dakota State University.

“Ninety percent of dairy farms are still family owned,” Schroeder said. “Most of (the owners) have no training in how to develop and maintain employees, which can number in the hundreds.

“To get value, you need to add value (to employees).”

He noted that employees of large dairies, who man shifts around the clock, must be perpetually trained and included in decision-making.

But the most effective managers work directly with the staff, he said. They don’t just tell, but show each one how to do their prescribed duties.

And, he said, it’s important that the management works alongside the workers daily, too.

Schroeder also said managers should be looking out for employees that excel and may be material for advancement and leadership.

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