Newsletter – 2014 – October

President's message

It has been a great honor to serve DCRC as your president and work with dairy producers, industry colleagues, veterinarians, nutritionists and academic partners on the common goals of understanding and improving reproductive efficiency.

In a way DCRC uniquely brings together the all that I have learned during the past 25 years as a veterinarian, technical service specialist, nutritionist and business manager. The more we work together as a group, the further we expand what is possible in the animal industry.

We’ve worked diligently to expand our outreach to help find new and interesting ways to communicate with members and industry. These efforts include new materials in the “members-only” section of our website, new departments in our revamped bi-monthly e-newsletter and expanded information partnerships with industry publications.

We’ve also hosted four great webinars during the year, wrapping our last session in September. Look for information about the 2015 webinar series in upcoming issues of the newsletter.

In addition, we were awarded 501(c)3 status this year, which is significant financial achievement and will have a lasting impact on sponsorship investment.

Last, but certainly not least, the organization has developed an exciting and insightful program for this year’s Annual Meeting November 13 – 14.

I strongly urge you to get involved in the committees that drive this organization and keep it strong and vibrant. This is a chance to help determine the future of the organization while serving your industry at the same time. Ask me or a fellow board member for more details or to volunteer.

Thanks for the opportunity to serve as your president this year. I look forward to our future collaborations.

See you soon in Salt Lake City!

Research Summaries

Subclinical Mastitis Affects Follicle Development
Researchers in Israel recently examined the effects of subclinical mastitis induced by gram-positive Staphylococcus aureus or gram-negative Escherichia coli on follicular growth in Holstein dairy cows. The research was published in the November issue of Theriogenology.

During the trial, somatic cell count was higher in the treated groups than in controls, and higher in the gram-negative versus gram-positive group. Results also showed that most cows in the gram-negative group (83%) and 40% of cows in the gram-positive group were defined as affected by induced mastitis.

An immediate decrease in the number of medium-size follicles was recorded on day four of the induced cycle in the affected gram-positive group of cows compared with the uninfected control group.

The researchers conclude that subclinical mastitis induced by gram negative and gram positive toxin disrupts follicular functions. Furthermore, it also seems that the ovarian pool of early antral follicles is susceptible to subclinical mastitis.

Access the abstract.

BVD Vaccinations Improve Reproductive Performance
A recent meta-analysis by researchers at Auburn University explored the impact of bovine viral diarrhea virus (BVDV) vaccination on reproductive performance.

The results were published in the October 1 online issue of Theriogenology. Data showed that abortion in cattle vaccinated against BVDV decreased nearly 45% compared to unvaccinated controls and fetal infection decreased by almost 85%. Additionally, pregnancy rate is increased by approximately 5% in field trials of BVDV-vaccinated animals.

In addition, the researchers conclude that the decision to vaccinate is the most important consideration when a decrease in BVDV associated reproductive disease is desired. They noted that vaccination, in combination with a sound biosecurity program, can greatly limit the negative reproductive impact of BVDV infection.

Access the abstract.

Improving the Performance of Sex-Sorted Semen
New Zealand researches recently examined the effectiveness of using liquid semen technology to improve the performance of sex-sorted semen. The research was published in the November Journal of Dairy Science.

Results showed that liquid sex-sorted semen only required half the dose rate of frozen sex-sorted semen to achieve a reproductive performance of over 94% of conventional semen in lactating dairy cows.

However, the researchers note that the implementation of liquid sex-sorted semen has challenges. Due to its short lifespan, implementation of liquid sex-sorted semen on a large scale requires careful planning and an efficient distribution network to avoid waste of sex-sorted semen.

Access the abstract.

Management Tip from Our Sponsors

Sponsored by Zoetis:

Preparing heifers for breeding minimizes costs and maximizes profitability

Heifers represent the best genetics in the herd, so ensuring they calve on time is crucial—especially when considering the price tag each heifer has until freshening. According to industry estimates, it costs between $1,595 and $2,935 to raise a heifer from birth until freshening.1

Focus on heifer breeding with these tips:

  • Minimize raising costs and maximize profitability. Breed heifers to calve at 22 months of age. Every month first calving is delayed can cost producers more than $100 per heifer in lost milk production and additional raising costs.2
  • Set goals for growth and monitor progress. Preparing heifers for successful calving at 22 months of age needs to begin before they are ready for breeding. Track growth to ensure replacement heifers reach breeding size targets by 12 months of age.
  • Raise better heifers through better genetics. The use of genomics can help identify the animals in a herd with the greatest genetic potential and make better heifer breeding or culling decisions when they are young to improve the profitability of the farm. Genomic tests can also help make management decisions regarding which animals should be prioritized and get sexed semen.
  • Prep heifers for breeding. When heifers meet size targets, move heifers to the breeding pen. Use a prostaglandin F2α like dinoprost tromethamine alone, or in combination with an intravaginal progesterone insert, to help synchronize estrus and decrease the number of days to first breeding.
  • Continue to evaluate success. Monitor and track if all heifers are meeting goals for age at first insemination. Measure and evaluate progress after each pregnancy check and immediately make plans for how to reinseminate open heifers.

In heifer breeding, key decisions and simple steps can help accelerate performance, which is important for the bottom-line of the dairy and your Calf Wellness program. Visit to learn more.

1 Stuttgen S, Kohlman T, Hoffman P, Zwald A. There’s nothing equal when raising heifers. Hoard’s Dairyman. Available at: Accessed August 20, 2014.
2 Lormore MJ. The case for a quality dairy replacement program. Proceedings. NRAES Dairy Calves and Heifers: Integrating Biology and Management Conference 2005.

Featured Column

Efficiently Raising Dairy Heifers
By Darin Mann, Three Rivers Calf Ranch, M/M Feedlot

Note: This featured column offers highlights and advice that was shared by Darin Mann during the September DCRC Webinar hosted by DCRC. Mann, his family and valued employees raise 20,000 replacement heifers at their facilities near Parma, Idaho for area dairy producers.

Begin with the end in mind—good advice for nearly every task, but especially pertinent for raising quality dairy replacements.

Our strategy is to efficiently develop the best heifer possible for our dairy producer clients. To do that we emphasize good nutrition, good vaccination protocols, good management and doing everything we can to help animals get off to a good start.

This is accomplished by the development of protocols and animal tracking to assess heifer and management success. Following are the steps and procedures that work for us.

Nutrition Focus — Preweaned Calves
All calves are weighed individually upon arrival so that we have a starting mark for every single calf. Calves from birth to weaning are housed in individual hutches and receive pasteurized milk blended with milk replacer (26% protein, 18% fat) and a 21% protein starter grain.

Calves are weaned at 63 days of age, with stepping down of milk fed beginning about day 42. Heifers remain in the hutches for about two weeks after weaning to help them adjust to their new diets prior to being moved to group pens.

Calves are weighed again when they exit the hutches to assess gain. We maintain medical history and average daily gain (ADG) records for each animal. We consistently achieve 1.5 pounds of ADG; for animals with ADG of 1 pound or less, we look back at their health records and use this information to make herd removal decisions at an early age.

This allows us to remove lowest performing animals—those that are also not going to perform well once they get back to the dairy.

Pen Moves
The weights taken when calves exit hutches are also used to sort animals for their group pen destinations to ensure that animals are uniformly sized when they arrive at group housing. Heifers are grouped in pens of 12 animals per pen so as to not overwhelm the animals during their initial exposure to a group setting.

After three weeks they are moved to a pen of 24, after another three weeks they move to a pen of 48 and so on until the pens contain groups of 192 heifers. Heifer achieve an ADG of 2.25 pounds during this stage.

Feeding facilities in the weaning pens are similar to that of the hutches so the change isn’t too abrupt and heifers have access to lots of clean, fresh water. Water availability is often overlooked and we wanted to make sure there was plenty of water available.

Heifers are weighed at each pen change as they rotate through the facility. This data helps us identify our strong and weak points throughout the facilities. We can isolate each part of the facility and find out where we need to improve and what things are going well.

Growing Up
Once heifers reach 400 pounds, or about six months of age, they leave the calf facilities and move to the feedlot, or growing, facility.

Heifers are weighed and sorted into pens according to 50-pound weight increments. Again, the goal is to create uniform pens since animals grow better when they are with others of a similar size.

We put the nutrition in front of the animals from day one with the end goal in mind—so that we meet the target of about 860 pounds by 12 months of age. Heifers attain an ADG of about 2 pounds from the time they enter the feedlot facility until they reach the breeding pens.

Each weight measurement throughout the facility is an opportunity to compare heifers against their cohorts and make herd removal decisions.

Breeding Decisions
We have strict criteria for heifers to enter the breeding pens. In the prebreeding pens, heifers are screened weekly to ensure they fit the profile to enter the breeding program. A heifer enters the breeding pen only if she:

  • Weighs 860 pounds
  • Is 51-inches tall at the withers
  • Is at least 12.5 months of age

We want well-grown heifers as replacements and these criteria help us achieve that goal. If a heifer falls short of any of these three criteria in a timely fashion, she is evaluated and appropriately removed from the herd. By constantly removing the lowest performers, the heifers that make it back to the dairy herd of origin are superstars.

We’ve also developed an effective protocol to confirm that heifers are bred in a timely fashion. First service conception rate is 70% and our operation’s 21-day pregnancy rate ranges from 34% to 47% with an average of 41%. Heifers are inseminated up to four times and are removed from the herd if not pregnant after that fourth service. We only use artificial insemination in our program; no natural service sires are used for animals in our facilities.

Upon pregnancy diagnosis, heifers are grouped according to days carried calf; pregnancies are reconfirmed at day 115 postbreeding. Most heifers leave our facilities about six weeks prior to calving. During the breeding and gestation phases, our ADG is between 1.8 and 1.85 pounds. This avoids overconditioning which can lead to calving problems, but offers a good growth rate to develop quality replacements.

Philosophical Direction
We never cut corners on nutrition. As soon as you start cutting corners, animal gains decrease, reproduction falls off and, eventually, my clients feel the effects when milk production also drops off. At the end of the day, what you have is your reputation and your integrity and customer service. That’s what sets you apart.

To access the full webinar on efficiently raising dairy heifers, visit the webinar resource page in the member’s section above.

Featured Member

Dr. Kevin Nigon, DVM
Northern Valley Dairy Production Medicine Center
Plainview, MN
Member since 2006

I grew up in Southeast Minnesota on a small dairy and beef farm. I graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1981 and have been a practicing veterinarian for 33 years.

Northern Valley Dairy Production Medicine Center is a bovine exclusive veterinary practice—95% or more of our business is with dairy clients with the remainder being beef clients. We are regularly involved with our producers and consult daily on reproduction, milk quality, young stock, health issues and many other things that happen on a dairy.

My responsibilities include dealing with all of the things mentioned above. We believe that we are a valuable and trusted advisor for our clients. We work with clients and their employees as well as interacting with other members of their team including nutritionists, milk plant personnel and lenders.

I am interested in dairy reproduction because it is such a pivotal cog in the profitability and success of our dairy clients. It drives their replacement strategy as well as has a tremendous effect on milk production.

DCRC Learnings
I have been a member of the Dairy Cattle Reproduction Council for several years, during which time I have attended two annual meetings. Interacting with other professionals from the veterinary community as well as members of A.I. organizations and other university and industry professionals has been very rewarding.

In addition, the different protocol tools and other information on improving reproduction have been very valuable to me. Talks at these meetings on problems such as abortion diagnostics and nutrition have been useful.

Reproductive concerns are a challenge on dairy farms today. However, we have found that using sound nutrition, cow comfort and reproductive protocols will lead to good reproductive results on almost all the dairies we work with.

It takes dedication and resources on the dairyman’s part, but working together we have usually been able to achieve satisfactory results.

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