I see a great deal of opportunity in our heifer breeding programs and this time it’s not the AI Technician’s fault. In order to get a heifer bred you need to get her exposed to the technician or bull. I see a large variance in age of heifers coming into the close up pen and it’s largely due to when she was exposed to the AI/Bull program. The following steps are just a few practical reminders in order to make sure we are minimizing the stragglers out past 26 months of age coming fresh.
We tend to perform most cow protocols on a weekly basis, let’s take that to the heifer program. Move eligible heifers minimum every other week but preferably weekly to the breeding pen or pens.
Set standards on when a heifer is eligible to get bred: once she moves to pen x, once she’s x inches tall, x pounds, whatever the standard are make sure they are communicated to everyone involved in the heifer repo program.
Move heifers confirmed pregnant out of the AI pen bi-weekly or preferably weekly. At the least if you are only vet checking 1X per month on heifers move heifers out of the AI corral that are over ~42 days since last heat into another pen and fill that place with an open heifer. You can vet check the heifer in another pen, do not compromise the next heifer’s eligibility to get pregnant due to pen space.
If you are behind or short on space here are a few protocols that can help speed up the process in moving the heifers through the AI string.
Utilize a simple prostaglandin program to get more heifers in heat. Bring heifers into pen, chalk for a day or two then administer the approved dose of prostaglandin (PgF) to the heifer, breed any coming into heat. Continue to heat detect daily, those heifers not showing signs of estrous can be given another PgF shot 10-14 days later, continue with heat detection and breed those coming into heat. After the 2nd PgF shot you may want to arm those heifers not bred to find any heifers that may need to be culled due to inadequate structures or lack of a reproductive structure.
You may want to utilize the 5 Day CIDR-synch protocol on all heifers entering the AI corral for 1st service insemination. Or utilize this protocol after you’ve previously attempted to bring the heifer into heat with previous PgF protocol.
Vet check heifers in a timely manner. If you are checking 1x per month @40 days since last heat (DSLH) you will be checking heifers that are 40-70 days since last heat. This can be ok if you are not preventing other heifers from entering the heifer corral and have good heat detection but this is an area of opportunity which can be addressed by more frequent vet checks, lowering the DSLH you preg check, or both.
Re-enroll open heifers. Open heifers that have come up open at vet check are sure to become our stragglers entering the milking herd past 26-27 months of age. This is the main reason you may want to lower DSLH you preg check. If you are in a positive situation on heifer numbers this may be a good place to cull or get the animal pregnant then sell her, but if you are short on heifers you need to get her bred back quickly. I suggest looking at the 5 Day CIDR-sync protocol in order to do so.
These are just a few proactive steps to take to insure that we are not slowing the flow of the dairy due to our heifer breeding program.
~ Tony Timmons, dairy nutritionist