Dairy Heifer Breeding: Strategies


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Getting her pregnant!

In the past 10 yrs. the dairy industry has made significant strides in efforts to get cows pregnant, we’ve seen reproduction improve from various factors whether it has come from improved cow transition, nutrition approach, management practices, or environment it certainly has been a focus in our herds.  I am all too aware of the focus of pregnancy rate of the lactating herd with my former career in the AI Industry, until the advent and commercial acceptance of sexed semen there was little pressure put on heifer breeding. The metric that I saw used the most was, “What % was pregnant at vet check?” If this number was quite high ~90%+ then little was done to look into how we were doing in terms of heifer reproduction.

Now this is not to say that there were not producers, consultants, etc. paying attention in more detail to heifer reproduction but I’d say the focus changed almost instantly when sexed semen was commercially adopted by a couple major studs in 2005.  Heifer conception rate became a metric in the cross-hairs as the costs of the heifer breeding program increased with the cost of sexed semen and the fertility drag resulting in more services and days-on-feed to get heifers pregnant. The graph below shows how a small increase in conception rate can impact a population of heifers/cows getting pregnant efficiently.

Group A                                                         Group B

Starting Head Count: 1000                           Starting Head Count:1000

Conception Rate: 55%                                 Conception Rate: 65%

# Preg/Service   Animals still open  # Preg/Service      Animals still open

Service #

  1.      550.0                450.0                     650.0                     350.0
  2.      247.5                202.5                     192.5                     157.5
  3.      111.4                91.1                        86.6                        70.9
  4.       50.1                 41.0                       39.0                        31.9

While conception rate is a very good metric in looking at reproductive results in both heifers and cows we need to focus on more metrics in our heifer breeding program.  Heat detection cannot be overlooked in our heifer program, we also need to have properly trained AI Technicians, quality facilities to be able to heat detect, highly fertile service sires and proper immunization. (Chebel et al. 2010)  With the above being mentioned, I’d like to focus on the “how to” in having a successful heifer AI program.  Once determining the age or weight that you want your heifers to be bred at we need to focus on how we can get the heifer bred in a timely matter.

At this time I believe there are three solid options to begin with (these protocols can also be used in conjunction with one another):

  1. Chalking/Observation protocol
  2. PGF-2a induced protocol
  3. 100% Timed AI protocol.

The chalking/observation protocol is a common practice in the western US and involves locking the breeding age heifers daily and placing a strip of chalk on the tailhead to utilize for estrous detection. Advantages: Easy to implement if have facilities to lock heifers & low cost. Disadvantages: Does not submit heifers to insemination that do not show heat.

The PGF-2a protocol is simply determining the heifers you want bred and administering a dose of PGF-2a and observing for heat utilizing observation, chalk, or some other heat detection device such as a Kamar® patch. The animals not showing heat and thus not being inseminated can be given another shot 1 or 2 weeks (to be determined with your veterinarian) later to induce a heat on those remaining animals. Advantages: Easy to set up, get inseminations in tight window which can allow for quicker flow through breeding pen if short on space. Outcome can yield tight distribution of average age at 1st calving. Disadvantages: Requires giving shots, additional record keeping, and some additional cost.

The final protocol mentioned is a 100% Timed-AI program.  In the past ovsynch protocols have not performed well on virgin heifers because heifers have 3 follicular waves vs. lactating dairy cows having 2 and the program not being set up to work with 3 follicular waves.  The 5 day program with the CIDR has addressed the follicular wave pattern of heifers and is the program of choice if you want to time AI your heifers.Advantages: Heifers get bred in a tight window, faster flow through breeding pens, great option if you do not have facilities to lock heifers daily or have heifers on pasture.  Disadvantages: Shot compliance is mandatory; need accurate record keeping, and additional cost.

The chart below shows a comparison of conception rate between two groups and the outcome on age fresh just due to conception rate differences. Keep in mind this is assuming 100% heat detection, if we factored in heat detection rate and open heifers at vet check this distribution would be even wider.

Group A Starting Age: 13.00

Starting Head Count: 1000

Conception Rate: 50%

Serv#  #Preg/serv   #Anim open  % open   % calv at age    Age @ 1st calf

  1.        500.0          500.0           50%          50%           22.0
  2.        150.0          350.0           35%          15%           22.7
  3.        105.0          245.0           25%          11%           23.4
  4.         73.5           171.5           17%           7%            24.1
  5.         51.5           120.1           12%           5%            24.8
  6.         36.0            84.0             8%            4%            25.5
  7.         25.2            58.8             6%            3%            26.2
  8.         17.6            41.2             4%            2%            26.9

Group B Starting Age: 13.00

Starting Head Count: 1000

Conception Rate: 60%

Serv#  #Preg/serv   #Anim open  % open   % calv at age    Age @ 1st calf

  1.         600.0           400.0         40%           60%           22.0
  2.         120.0           280.0         28%           12%           22.7
  3.          84.0            196.0         20%            8%            23.4
  4.          58.8            137.2         14%            6%            24.1
  5.          41.2              96.0         10%            4%            24.8
  6.          28.8              67.2          7%             3%            25.5
  7.          20.2              47.1          5%             2%            26.2
  8.          14.1              32.9          3%             1%            26.9

All these programs need the following to maximize their efficiency:

  • Heifers moved in a timely manner, preferably once a week or every other week move in heifers qualified by age/weight for breeding and move out pregnant animals.
  • Consistent pregnancy checks, if checking cow herd weekly check heifers as well. Don’t go more than two weeks without pregnancy check.
  • High level of accurate heat detection.
  • High fertility service sires.

Heifer breeding protocol suggestions (s):Please visit with your veterinarian on which alternative or variation of protocol would work best for your herd.

  1. Chalk heifers and heat detect. Vet check weekly or every other week. Administer PGF-2a to open heifers and missed heats/heifers not showing heat since last vet check.
  2. Chalk heifers and heat detect. After 2-3 days (allow technician adequate time to get chalk on heifers) in breeding pen administer PGF-2a to all heifers not bred.  Continue daily chalking and insemination of heifers showing heat. 2 weeks after 1st PGF-2a shot give another shot to all heifers not bred. Vet checks same as above and PGF-2a open heifers.
  3. Follow protocol of Option#2 except on open heifers utilize 5d CIDR Cosynch to insure open heifers are being bred.
  4. Set up all heifers qualified to be bred on 5d CIDR Cosynch protocol, chalk & heat detect daily and inseminate those heifers coming into heat. Re-enroll open heifers at vet check onto 5d CIDR program.

The group at Progressive Dairy Solutions wants you to use whatever program you find best for your operation that results in getting your virgin heifers pregnant is a very efficient manner allowing you to keep rearing costs low and produce a constant flow of fresh 1st lactation animals into your milking herd.

Literature Cited

Ricardo Chebel 2010. New Strategies for Synchronization of Dairy Heifers and Economic Considerations.

by Tony Timmons


World Dairy Expo Recap



Perfect Weather At World Dairy Expo

Wout and I want to give everybody that we came in contact last week at the World Dairy Expo a big Thank You for coming by our booth and what a great week it was! We met more people than we even expected!  Everything seemed to go perfect from the mid 70 degree weather to our booth being busy to having our first board meeting! 😉  We already know we will not miss next year – booth and all!

First Sierra Desert Breeders World Dairy Expo Booth

We got most of our to-do list done. Having a booth got us lots of leads on both future customers and bull prospects.  We appreciate all the people who came to the expo looking for us.  They came prepared with pedigrees in hand and all!  We also want to give a big thank you to our representatives and a few customers who helped us work our booth including our Sersia France relationship with having a dedicated representative helping us out a lot – it is very much appreciated!

Looking at great cattle!

Wout and I just got done talking and we definitely felt much more noticed by the other A.I. studs this year than last year!  Many more dirty looks than ever before – not all though, Genex and CRV both were very nice to us giving them both credit for the mutual respect.  I think more people know who we are now because of a combination of Social Media outlets and also the awesome job Progressive Dairyman does in their advertising reach in letting people know we are around and mean business! 🙂

Mystic Valley Dairy in Sauk City, WI

One of our biggest highlights of the week was sealing a deal with Mitch Breunig of Mystic Valley Dairy with the purchase of a Goldwyn half brother to Toystory and another great bull we won’t mention quite yet!  We are hoping to have semen available by early February just in time for the World Ag Expo in Tulare!

OvSynch Programs: Who’s the Boss

Timing is everything

Here in New Zealand we have begun a new season of milking cows.  We are most of the way through calving and are beginning to turn our attention towards breeding season.  The seasonal nature of the business here requires we get cows pregnant within a short timeframe whether they are ready or not.  Synchronization programs utilizing CiDRs are our primary weapon to combat nature and are used extensively here as well as many places throughout the world.  I often get questions and comments regarding the failure of these programs to achieve the desired goals of the farmer.  With that in mind, I often wonder, “Has the program failed to perform or have we failed to perform the program?”

I remember listening to Bill Thatcher give a presentation to a group of dairymen about utilizing OvSynch on dairy farms in CA.  Following the presentation, many questions were asked about ways to manipulate the program to fit the dairy without regard to the biology of the cow.  Essentially, the dairymen wanted to know how we can make the program fit their schedule.  Most of the current synchronization programs are all heavily researched and based on sound scientific evidence.  In most cases, the timing of injections and procedures are based on the physiology of how the cow will respond and deviation from these guidelines does not fit into how the cow works.

As many can relate, cows are relentless bosses with no concern for holidays, weekends, soccer games, dance recitals, etc.  With this in mind, as we approach this year’s breeding season or next week’s preg check, understand the programs were designed for the cow and will provide an opportunity for improvement only if we adhere to the foundations they are based on.  When it comes to reproductive success, failure is not an option for us or the cow.

Charlie Chase

Bull Dreams


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As I’m driving up to JLG today to get another truck load of semen I have been looking back at what has happened in the past five years where this whole idea of starting a semen company was just an idea. We knew that opportunities were right in front of us, but I want to list a few things today that I never really thought would happen in my wildest dreams!

1. Meeting so many new people
2. Exporting semen consistently
3. Booth at World Dairy Expo
4. Breeders excited to work with us
5. Very very dedicated customers
6. Having so many bulls in multi breeds
7. Comp wondering what we are up too
8. Lots of dedicated reps working hard
9. Supporting so many families!
10. Having so much fun

My advise to anyone: Even in a tough economy don’t let anything stop you from living your dream!

World Dairy Expo: Great Cows, Great People

World Dairy Expo 2011

World Dairy Expo 2011 Around The World of Dairy in 5 days

World Dairy Expo is next week!  We are very excited this year because it is going to be our first year with a booth at the World Dairy Expo!!!  We also are looking forward to meeting many of you who we only have been emailing, calling, tweeting and facebooking this entire year.  We enjoyed that too, but we really want to meet you in person.  The cows are always great, but the people behind the cows are even better!

We personally invite all of you to stop by our booth at AL 136.  It is facing the International Registration across from the restrooms.  If you see Trans Ova Genetics your very close….keep looking!  Wout will be there the entire week and I plan on being in the booth all day Thursday and Friday.  We will also have some reps from around the States and possibly from other parts of the world that are going to want to talk to somebody so please stop by!

Also, we are planning on having our first ever official “board meeting” Thursday after the show at AJ Bombers which I believe is located at:  201 W Gorham St. Madison, WI 53703 (608) 305-4474  If you are around Thursday night you are more than welcome to come if you want to see how a real “board meeting” is put on!  Drinks are on us, but food is NOT provided!  We only request that you come to have fun!!!


Nutritionist View: Heifer Breeding


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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

Dairy Genomics: WARNING!!!


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Rocky's Dam

For those who have not looked at our new bull book yet, I wrote an article about dairy genomics.  This might get some criticism in the dairy genetic world, but it is something that we want to warn our dairymen about.  We do sell lots of dairy genomic semen from bulls that we feel comfortable with even if we would rather take the safe side on using proven bulls we know make great cattle.  The advertising of the big Artificial Insemination companies creates a huge demand for genomics that we can not ignore.  Anyways, this is what I wrote…..


Warning about Genomics!

 We are now seeing young sires with reliabilities up to 85%!  WOW!  That is a lot of trust for bulls that are only a year old and are years away from having milking daughters!  How can young sires go from 35% to 85% in just a few years?

SDB realizes that genomics are here and are here to stay, it is a tool to find better genetics.  But we want to warn our customers that even though a government scientist at the USDA puts a reliability number on these “proofs” that they consider being true that it might NOT be as reliable as they say.  We recommend using genomic bulls with caution and use proven bulls that you know make good daughters with trust no matter where you buy your semen from.  It is good to remember that genomic bulls are still young sires and even if genomics works it is not good to expect them to be more reliable than 50%.

We are still going to be picking out our young bulls the same as we always have – from the BEST cows in the World!  We are NOT going to be chasing after that number 1 bull especially if it comes from a random high genetic cow that has no pedigree behind her.  We will still be looking at progeny from great cows like Markwell Bstar Raven, the Roxy family, the Blackstar line, because they have proven themselves to transmit her good genetics down to many generations.

We plan on having a few daughter tours this year.  That is one thing you can NOT do with genomic bulls!  We invite you to see these daughters so that you will see for yourselves why there is no need to trust in genomics!

Happy Breeding!!!

Let me know what you think…

Embryo Transfer School: Transferring Embryos into Recipient Cattle


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Students Learning from the Best

Have you ever wanted to learn the basics of Embryo Transfer?  Well, you get your chance October 18, 19 and 20th of 2011 at Red Knob Farm in Peach Bottom, PA!  It is put on by our NE distributor Precision Diagnositics LLC by
Doug Speicher and Nate Cossaboom.  These highly trained individuals are the best to learn from!

Last year Progressive Dairyman did an excellent article on this Embryo Transfer School that you can read here.

This is for anyone interested!  “We always get a mix of people at our course”, commented Nate Cossaboom in the Progressive Dairyman article. “We have veterinarians, veterinarian students, experienced dairy and beef farmers, and A.I technicians taking the course.”  This year we even have somebody flying out from Washington State!

Learn something new or use it as a refresher course.  Space is limited and the time is near.  Give Doug or Nate a call for more details!

Doug: 717-443-4662

Nate: 207-931-8600

Suggestion: Daughter Proven Proofs


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I have a suggestion for the daughter proven proofs that they should implement right away to make everything more transparent.

My suggestion

They need to have a genomic % influence number on the proof.  This should be easy to do and it will give us a better understanding how much genomics are influencing the daughter proven proofs of individual bulls.  For example if a bull has 40 daughters in the milk proof it should show a 90% genomic influence number (or whatever it is) or if another bull has 10,000 daughters it should show that the genomic influence is only 3% (or whatever it is).  As of today we have no clue how much genomics influence the daughter proven proofs.  I keep hearing that the numbers are coming out very close to the genomic numbers…..ok, but if the genomic numbers are influencing those numbers by 75% of course they are going to be similar!  They should have a genomic influence number for both the milk and type proofs.  This would give genomics more credibility for many people and give everybody a better understanding on how much genomics influence all the numbers.  I hope somebody takes a look at my suggestion!

Competition Analysis: Fall 2011


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I am going to rank our top 5 competitors from my point of view from time to time.  I will also have a honorable mention list in alphabetical order.  This will give my readers what I see in the semen market business on the ground.  It also gives me a record of what I was thinking at certain periods of time.  I really don’t have any numbers to back up my thoughts just my perspective in the market.

Alta Genetics:

Coming in on number 1 is Alta Genetics! I’m still trying to diagnose exactly why I see them as our biggest competitor. I think it is a combination of a good technician force and salesmen with great personalities. They have a decent lineup and are over coming the low fertility stigma that they had 5-10 years ago with lots of advertising about fertility.

Select Sires:

Number 2 competitor is Select Sires!  Unlike Alta Genetics I think I know why they are at the top of the list.  I believe they do have the best line up in the business and their salesmen are more knowledgeable about genetics than any other company.  I think Select is much more open in telling their reps what is really going on in the business and they don’t hide any real information from their employees.  I think as time goes on they will always be in the top 3 competitors for many years to come.  All around solid company with line up and employees.

ABS Global

Third place winner is ABS!  I wouldn’t exactly call it winning… They dropped like a rock!  18-24 months ago they were number 1 and unbeatable with their solid technician force….until they all left!  It was amazing to see big groups of technicians leaving at different times and at different locations.  I think it all started to change when they took the company public a couple years ago?  They have a pretty good lineup and will continue to have good bulls for a long time.  It is going to take a lot of dedication and hard work to build up what they had.  I am already seeing very bad mistakes and taking the wrong roads….

Bull Power

Number 4 goes to non other than the Bull!  He is still a tough guy to beat no matter what!  He is still in nearly half of all the pens in the West Coast!  He actually should be number 1 if you are looking at pure number of pregnancies bred by the bull.  He is slowly dying off, but it is a slow death!  The milk and feed price is sure helping him disappear!  It is costing lots of money to feed that bull to breed some cows who are longer in milk!  Lots of those pregnancies are not desired like they used to be…..so the battle continues!

Creative Genetics

Creative Genetics made the list!  The reason they made the list is because we started marketing bulls in their niche market.  They have created a great market for themselves.  We are getting into this market because of long term goals and what we see to be the future in the market place in the next 20+ years.  I think Creative Genetics will only grow to be a stronger competitor as time goes on.

Honorable Mentions

Accelerated – Do they only sell semen over seas?

CRI – They keep trying, but don’t see much action or semen in tanks.

CRV – Huge pocket book is stimulating our economy!

El Toro – Because Bill is a great guy and a hard worker!

Joe Berry – Solid customer base, and he made the honorable mention list!

Semex – Continued growth around here….We don’t sell in Canada

Sexing Technologies – Almost #5  They let every one have sex semen besides us!

TAG – See in advertising, great bulls, but not many results…hope they grow.