At Dairy Dreams Farm, partner and veterinarian Don Niles, has gone all in, using the additional shot of prostaglandin to ensure the cows in his herd are getting every opportunity to become pregnant.
But breeding optimization comes before any reproductive hormone is administered at the 2,800-cow facility located near Casco, Wis.
In fact, it starts three years earlier, when Niles selects the sires he uses to produce his next generation. He, along with his farm’s genetics specialists from Alta Genetics, has developed the “Dairy Dreams Index,” which places 40% of the index weight on daughter pregnancy rate. (Another 40% is devoted to protein pounds and 10% each to fat pounds and productive life.)
While the heritability of daughter pregnancy rate (DPR) is very low (less than 5%), Niles believes DPR is critical to ensuring reproductive fitness. Once on the ground, calves are sorted by parent average (sire and grandsire), with the top 50% bred to top Dairy Dreams Index bulls using sexed semen. The bottom 50% are implanted with surrogate embryos up to two times.
Once they calve, first lactation animals of high genetic score are also bred once with sexed semen. This intense selection pressure is all designed to produce the most reproductively fit females as possible, Niles says.
To remain in the herd, Dairy Dreams has a stringent “Do Not Breed” protocol as well. First lactation animals must average 80 lb. of fat correct milk (FCM), second lactation animals must average 90 lb. FCM, and third and later lactation animals must average 100 lb. FCM.
Transition cow fresh pen management is also intense. All fresh cows are tested twice a week for ketosis, and no animals graduate from the fresh pen until they have two normal tests (BHBA levels less than 1.2).
“We feel ketosis is critical for us, and we simply do the tests. Virtually all positive heifers have metritis,” he says.
It’s critical cows regain body condition quickly after calving, and Niles routinely uses a variety of energy-boosting products to ensure they do so.
Dairy Dreams has a 74-day VWP before first insemination, and its Double-Ovsynch program (with the additional prostaglandin shot) is driven off DairyComp 305 records. “We have a strict ‘no cow left behind’ strategy, where we cannot leave a cow unattended on the day she is scheduled for a synchronization treatment,” he says. “There can be no thinking at cow side—if a cow needs treatment, she is found and treated.”
The results of this strategy are impressive. Dairy Dreams has a 60% conception rate and a 30% pregnancy rate using these protocols.
A sister farm, Ponderosa Dairy, is even more impressive with a 70% conception rate and a 33% to 35% pregnancy rate. The only difference in the two dairies is Ponderosa has crossbred animals in the herd.