Newsletter – 2015 – June

President's message

We blinked and the first six months of 2015 flew by in a flurry of activities. But there’s still plenty of time and opportunity for you and your organization to be involved with DCRC. For instance, take a few minutes to review all of the sponsorship options—from webinars to Annual Meeting sponsorship opportunities to newsletter sponsorship and more—and don’t miss out on the chance to connect your team with industry leaders.

If you have any questions about these opportunities or how you can participate, be sure to visit with our sponsorship committee members: Dr. Neil Michael, Dr. David Greene, Dr. Barry Kleppe and Dr. Scott Poock.

In addition, membership renewal communications are being distributed now. Take a few minutes to renew your membership and then help get the word out to colleagues and students regarding the value of DCRC membership.

As the ad goes, “Membership has its privileges.” DCRC members-only benefits include exclusive access to “Ask the Expert” archives, proceeding archives, webinar presentation archives, member newsletter (six times yearly) and much more.

We are also getting closer to the Annual Meeting in Buffalo, November 12 – 13. The program is set and includes the latest information from industry experts including:

  • Sexed semen: 10 years of gender selection. Dr. George Seidel
  • New developments in synchronization of ovulation. Dr. Paul Fricke
  • Activity monitoring systems: What’s new and what’s improved? Dr. Ray Nebel
  • Managing inflammation during the transition period. Dr. Barry Bradford
  • Managing ketosis in the transition cow for health and reproduction. Dr. Stephen LeBlanc
  • Keys to success in reproduction: A practitioner’s perspective. Dr. Mark Thomas
  • Genomic selection and reproductive efficiency in dairy cattle. Dr. Jose Santos and Dr. Joseph Dalton
  • Progesterone supplementation during timed-AI programs in dairy cows. Dr. Rafael Bisinotto
  • Tools for making economic reproductive decisions. Dr. Victor Cabrera
  • Monitoring your Negative DCAD program. Dr. Neil Michael
  • IVF embryos: Where do they fit in the modern dairy? Mr. Jeremy Howard
  • Metrics to assess reproductive efficiency in dairy herds. Dr. Luis Mendonca
  • Application of genomic technology in dairy herds. Mr. Jonathan Lamb

Meeting registration is now open, so don’t delay in making your plans to attend. See you in Buffalo!

Research Summaries

Uterine Size Impacts Dairy Fertility
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, recently evaluated whether uterine size had an impact on lactating cow fertility. The results were published online June 3, 2015, in the Journal of Theriogenology.

The researchers found that multiparous cows had a larger uterus and lower fertility than first-calf heifers. And they learned that, within a parity, pregnant cows generally had a smaller uterus than non-pregnant cows. Analyses showed that as uterine size increased, fertility decreased for either first lactation or multiparous cows.

Therefore, the researchers conclude that there is a negative association between size of the uterus and fertility in dairy cows.

Access the abstract.

Reduce Culling Through Selection Decisions
Researchers at the University of Georgia investigated the relationship between the genetic makeup of an animal with environment interactions for culling rates and milk production in large and small dairy herds in three areas of the United States. Results were published online in the Journal of Dairy Science May 28, 2015.

The study evaluated genotypes, phenotypes and pedigree information, as well as single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) marker variances in different environments for the first three lactations for cows located in the Southeast, Southwest and Northeast.

Results indicate high correlations of top SNP marker effects on culling reasons between the U.S. regions and between large and small herds. This suggests that major markers can be useful for selection in different environments. In other words, it pays to pay attention to markers when choosing sires if you want to impact culling in your herd.

Access the Abstract.

Inbreeding to Blame for Embryonic Losses?
Recent evidence has suggested that some of the decline in reproductive ability in dairy cattle has been caused by embryonic death. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin compared expected genomic inbreeding from sire — dam mating pairs to genomic inbreeding from live progeny in an attempt to determine how embryonic inbreeding may affect fertility.

They examined data for 11,484 Holstein cattle with 43,485 single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) markers and pedigree information. Results of the analysis suggest increases in expected genomic inbreeding do not explain a large effect on embryo viability at average levels of expected inbreeding.

Overall, expected genomic inbreeding measures were calculated, but results did not suggest a large effect of expected inbreeding on embryo viability. So while it’s still important to avoid inbreeding as much as possible when making mating decisions, it doesn’t appear, that inbreeding is responsible for increased embryonic death.

Access the abstract.

Featured Column

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Heifers
By Dr. Dale Moore, Washington State University

Heifer rearing is a major expense and accounts for 15% to 20% of the total cost of producing milk for U.S. producers. Therefore, consider maximizing the return on your heifer development investment. To do that, you first need to set and meet evidence–based goals for heifer performance.

Although most discussions of heifer rearing begin with the newborn, instead, start with goals for heifers in their first or even second lactation. This allows you to step back and examine each stage of heifer development to find the critical control points or the bottlenecks that might be holding them back.

Of course, specific goals for heifers will vary from farm to farm, based on breed and the current status of the herd. But in general, you need the right number of heifers calving at the right age with the optimum investment in their development, producing the right amount of milk and components, with few getting sick and few being culled early in lactation.

Consider the following seven points as you evaluate your heifer-rearing program to maximize its impact on your dairy.

  1. High First-Lactation Milk
    The value gained from raising heifers is in the milk and components they produce once they have their first calf. The prevailing theory is that you do not see a return on the heifer investment until the middle of the second lactation, meaning first-lactation performance is critical for success.

    Three measures to examine are:

    • Mature equivalent (ME–305) milk production in first lactation. Most recommendations are that ME–305 milk should be more than that of mature cow production.
    • First lactation total yield should be more than 80% of that for mature cows.
    • Peak milk may occur about 13 to 14 weeks in lactation and should be more than 80% of that for mature cows.
  2. High First-Lactation Fertility
    Cows in their first lactation are still growing and both milk production and reproduction may be affected. First–lactation cows tend to have more days to first service than their older herd mates but greater pregnancy rates, which can be up to a third greater than second- or greater lactation cows.

    Although much information exists about the economics of getting cows bred back early, there is little evidence on how heifer rearing can influence the establishment of pregnancy.

    In one study, conception rate at the first A.I. was greatest (about 37%) in the medium age at first-calf (AFC) group (701 to 750 days of age) compared with low or high AFC heifers (28% and 31%, respectively) and more of the middle AFC group were pregnant at 310 days. More research is needed to determine the influences of age at first calving or average daily gain (ADG) on the fertility of cows in their first lactation.

  3. Reduced First-Lactation Disease and Culling
    An indicator of fresh cow (and heifer) problems is the proportion of culls of the total number freshening in the same cohort within the first 60 days in milk. The same transition issues of cows can affect heifers (like ketosis, metritis and mastitis), but there is also an increased risk of culling first–lactation cows if they had respiratory disease some time before calving. One recommended goal is for less than 6% of first–lactation culls to occur during the first 60 days in milk.
  4. Reduced Age at First Calving (AFC)
    One way to reduce total rearing cost is to reduce the AFC. This is an easy number to find and monitor for most producers.

    The consensus is that the younger the AFC, the earlier the return on the investment is achieved. But questions remain. How early is too early and when is early enough? The specific goal should be farm–dependent because breed, management, feeds, employees and facilities all play a role.

    In addition, AFC must be considered as well as body weight, height (frame size) and body condition score (BCS). Unfortunately, monitoring weight and height—and even BCS at calving—are not routinely done on most farms. Recommendations for the optimum AFC are 21 to 23 months at a BCS of 3.5 and body weight (Holstein) of 1,450 to 1,550 pounds at calving, or 90% of mature body weight.

  5. Ready to Breed—Younger Age at Puberty
    Puberty is dictated by heifer growth, and growth is dictated by nutrition and management.

    If a goal is for heifers to calve at 22 months, then they must conceive by 13 months and become pubertal by nine to 11 months. First estrus may be at 55% of mature body weight and 48 to 50 inches at the withers. A BCS of 3.0 at breeding is recommended.

    Diet is the key influence on when heifers become pubertal. In a French study, grazing heifers reached puberty about one month later than those fed a corn-silage–based diet with a high level of concentrate, but productive life was longer in the grazing heifers. The study also indicated that the greatest growth rate before puberty was associated with lower milk production.

  6. High Average Daily Gain (ADG)
    Exactly how fast and when heifers should grow fast can be confusing. Because there is some debate about pre–pubertal growth rates and future heifer performance, pre–pubertal growth can be divided into early life (or preweaning) and postweaning growth. Although older heifers can experience compensatory gain, neonates lack the mechanisms to support compensatory gain.

    Feeding preweaned calves is expensive and time consuming, but doing it “right” can make a big difference for a heifer to be highly effective. There seems to be substantial evidence that supports accelerated preweaning growth for a variety of outcomes, as well as increasing heifer–rearing economic returns.

    For example, feeding an intensive, high solids, high feeding level milk replacer compared with a 20:20 milk replacer resulted in a reduction of AFC by about four weeks. Milk–fed calves reached puberty sooner (by 23 days) and had greater yields of 305–day fat–corrected milk during first lactation.

    In a recent report, a large group of Holstein heifers were followed for more than eight years.

    • The youngest AFC was achieved with the greatest ADG (2.07 pounds/day).
    • Those with a medium range ADG (about 2 pounds/day) from five to 14 months had the greatest first–lactation milk yield.
    • Those growing 2 pounds per day had the greatest lifetime performance, approximately 1,000 kg (305 days) more than the medium group.

    The conclusion from these studies is that pre-pubertal growth is important to first-lactation milk yield, but there may be a maximum beyond which diminishing returns occur. If a dairy operation has a specific goal for ADG, just as with adult cows’ milk production, anything that affects dry matter intake will affect ADG.

  7. Low Morbidity–Mortality as a Neonate.
    In recent years, more research has been devoted to the heifer’s very early nutrition and management, with more evidence coming to bear on the importance of the preweaning period. To have a healthy calf that survives through weaning and beyond is the primary goal.
    • Fetal Programming. Even before the heifer’s birth, nutrition and other dam factors can potentially affect calf health. In addition to nutrition, heat stress during late gestation can affect calf growth and survivability.
    • Calving Difficulties. Immediate effects of a dystocia on the calf include death, but also neonatal hypoxia, which can lead to an increased risk of death. Heavier birth weight calves were also more likely to die during the first 60 days of life compared with normal birth weight calves. Delivery score is associated with ME–305 milk yield. For each one–unit increase in delivery score, average milk production was reduced by approximately 430 pounds. A goal of dead–on–arrival rates less than 5% seems reasonable.
    • Colostrum Feeding and Management. Ample evidence exists concerning the importance of colostrum to calf survival. Colostrum intake seems to influence heifer performance later in life. In 1989, a prospective study detected a positive correlation between serum IgG concentration and ME–305 milk yield. For each unit of IgG above 12 mg/mL, there was an 18-pound increase in ME–305 milk yield.
    • Disease. For calves on dedicated calf-rearing facilities, approximately 18% and more than 16% were reported to be affected with digestive and pneumonia conditions, respectively.
      • Calves with pneumonia may have poorer preweaning ADG than calves without pneumonia. If calves had respiratory disease during 60 days after being moved into group housing (after about 56 days of age) they had poorer ADG from two to nine months (about 0.22 pounds/day), greater AFC and a tendency for reduced first-test milk production.
      • If calves had both diarrhea and respiratory disease in the preweaning period, their ADG was about 0.11 pounds/day lower.
      • The number of days that calves were ill negatively impacted ME-305 milk production during first lactation.

To get the heifers into the milking string when desired and how we want them requires regular monitoring. Monitor first-test–day milk, peak milk, ME–305 milk and AFC. These measures are reported by most dairy management software programs. Other items to consider monitoring include body weight at various stages, height and feed intakes—considered the minimum measurable items, as well as growth rates and BCS.

For each measurable item, maintain a summary of the number of heifers, the average values and the range of values to help in decision–making.

Featured Member

Dr. Alex Garnett, BVetMed MRCVS
Genus ABS, United Kingdom
Member Since 2013

As a granddaughter of dairy farmer and growing up on a small holding in Cheshire, England, I have always had a keen interest in agriculture and a passion for dairy farming. I graduated from the Royal Veterinary College, London, with a Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine.

Since graduating, I have worked as a veterinary surgeon in a number of large animal practices within the United Kingdom, mainly specialising in bovine veterinary work, predominately dairy cows. Throughout my career I have been involved in the full range of disciplines; herd health management, bovine veterinary medicine and surgery, routine fertility visits and emergency treatments, as well as mastitis control plans.

I am very enthusiastic about helping farmers deliver top performances in their herds in all aspects of what they do.

Deepening Dairy Knowledge
Joining Genus ABS more than two years ago gave me the opportunity to further my knowledge, gaining global experience and a much deeper understanding of the intricacies of dairy reproductive health and performance, which I can then use to help our customers improve their performance on a day-to-day basis.

Genus ABS is a pioneering biotechnology company focusing on animal breeding and genetic improvement. The company supplies dairy and beef and genetics and reproduction solutions in 75 countries around the world. The company is people-focused and results-driven, focusing on adding value to customers through innovation and performance

I’m a veterinary surgeon within the company’s bovine technical services team, responsible for field technical support for all Genus ABS bovine products and reproductive services across the UK and Europe. A large part of my job is involved in supporting Genus ABS dairy customers, whether that is data evaluation, herd health issues, reproductive solutions, transition programs or young stock management.

The aim is to maximize the opportunities created when using Genus ABS genetic products and provide practical solutions to the challenges encountered on-farm, keeping the health and welfare of cattle as the priority. I am also involved in training technicians in artificial insemination (A.I.), knowledge transfer and continued professional development of colleagues.

DCRC Connection
I joined the Dairy Cattle Reproduction Council (DCRC) after I started with Genus ABS in 2013. I have attended two excellent conferences.

DCRC has kept me up to date with the most recent research in cattle reproduction. Through DCRC webinars and the conferences, I have been able to relate with confidence the reproductive findings and implement them at a practical farm level. It has also enabled me to improve my knowledge and optimize the use of the synchronization protocols available to farmers in the UK.

In the UK, I believe the biggest reproductive challenges on dairies are:

  • Consistent management of the transition cow.
  • Targeted rearing and reproductive management of replacement heifers.
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