Newsletter – 2016 – April

President's message

By Dr. Stephen LeBlanc

My day job as a professor gives me the opportunity to work with great colleagues, students and producers to ask, and try to answer, questions about dairy cow health and reproductive performance.

One of my Ph.D. students has completed a large survey of dairy farmers to help us learn about their herd’s reproductive management, as well as tap into their opinions and attitudes on the subject. This information was then cross-referenced with herd reproductive performance. The results will be published in scientific papers in the next few months. 

To give a preview, we see that some herds are able to achieve excellent results with a variety of approaches. These range from strong use of timed artificial insemination programs, to implementation of activity monitoring systems, to visual detection of signs of estrus.

This mirrors what we see with DCRC Award winners: there is no one formula or combination of tools that is consistently effective and profitable for all herds.

I don’t expect that research will ever distill all the variables that affect reproduction down to a simple recipe, even if we might wish for that. 

DCRC is a great clearinghouse for the latest science that continues to offer progress in and fine-tuning of management. DCRC offers a forum to meet and exchange information with people who share a passion for advancing dairy cow health and fertility.

Our awards program recognizes and provides examples of producers who achieve great success through a variety of practices. 

My own observation is that managers of truly outstanding herds often will say that they don’t do anything special. They don’t have “secret” protocols that no one else has figured out. 

Rather, they have, and inspire others to have, the motivation to consistently do the little things well. As a result cows are healthy, comfortable and set up for success in their reproduction management system, which these managers also diligently implement. 

If you are an advisor for a herd with outstanding reproductive performance, there is still time to nominate them for a DCRC award. The deadline is April 30 and details are available at dcrcouncil.org.

Get every benefit from DCRC and let your colleagues know, too: follow us on Twitter @DCRCouncil and like us on Facebook.

Research Summaries

Disease Effects Carryover to Reproduction
U.S. researchers recently evaluated the carryover effects of several health challenges on reproductive performance. The results were published in the March 2016 Journal of Dairy Science.

Data from five studies were used to investigate health status before breeding and reproductive responses. Health information included incidence of retained fetal membranes and metritis, mastitis, lameness, and respiratory and digestive problems from calving until the day of breeding.

The studies demonstrated:

  • Inflammatory disease before breeding reduced fertilization of oocytes and embryonic development.
  • Diseases also increased risk of pregnancy loss and reduced pregnancy or calving per breeding.
  • The effects on reproduction were independent of cyclic status before synchronization of the estrous cycle and body condition score (BCS) at breeding.
  • Cyclic status and BCS had additive negative effects on fertility of dairy cows, as well.
  • The negative carryover effects of diseases might last longer than four months.

The researchers note that reduced oocyte competence was a likely reason for disease carryover effects, but impaired uterine environment was also involved.

Access the abstract.

Decreasing Mastitis Impact on Reproduction
A major cause of poor conception risk has been associated with delayed ovulation of a large subgroup of cows with subclinical mastitis (somatic cell count above 150,000 cells/mL of milk). Researchers in Israel recently examined two approaches to improve fertility in this subgroup. The results were published in the March 2016 Journal of Dairy Science.

The first approach compared the use of the Ovsynch® protocol vs. A.I. following detected estrus. Results indicate:

  • Ovsynch significantly elevated the probability of conception of cows with subclinical mastitis to a level similar to that of their uninfected counterparts.
  • Ovsynch did not improve probability of conception in cows diagnosed with uterine disease postpartum.

The second approach featured a second A.I. added 24 hours after the first (routine) A.I. following detection of natural estrus.  Results indicate:

  • Conception odds did not differ between cows with subclinical mastitis inseminated once or twice.

The researchers conclude that the Ovsynch protocol can improve fertility of cows with subclinical mastitis, probably due to “corrected” timing of ovulation in cows in which it would otherwise be delayed.

Access the abstract.

Uterine Size Affects Reproductive Performance
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin recently evaluated the variability in uterine size in dairy cows and analyzed whether there was an association between uterine size and fertility, particularly within a given parity. Results were published in the May 2016 Journal of Theriogenology.

In the study, lactating Holstein cows received timed artificial insemination (TAI) using the Double-Ovsynch® protocol. At the time of the last treatment with PGF, uterine diameter was determined using ultrasound, uterine length was determined by rectal palpation, and uterine volume was calculated from these two measurements. Blood samples were also taken to measure progesterone.

Results show that for cows of second lactation or greater, uterine diameter and volume were smaller in cows that became pregnant compared to cows that were not pregnant. A similar tendency was observed in first-lactation cows. Data also showed that as uterine volume increased, there was decreased pregnancy per A.I. for all cows.

Therefore, larger uterine size is associated with lower reproductive performance.

Access the abstract.

Featured Column

A Practitioners Perspective on Reproductive Optimization
By Dr. Mark J. Thomas, Dairy Health & Management Services, LLC, Lowville, NY

Many in our industry focus on maximizing reproductive performance, often at the expense of recommending programs that can be successfully implemented on a commercial dairy operation.

Optimizing reproductive performance—instead of seeking to maximize it—may be a more reasonable goal given on-farm constraints.

Of course, it’s critical to evaluate all aspects of health, nutrition and environment, as well as cow and personnel management, to select a reproductive management program that best fits a specific operation.

But within any dairy farm, the overall goal should be focused on maximizing profitability and not necessarily maximizing a metric such as pregnancy rate, conception rate or milk production.

Obviously, increased profitability is often realized with excellent performance, but the dairy may reach a level of diminished returns with significant input costs and small incremental improvements in performance and profitability.

It is critical that on-farm data are utilized for effective decision making for the dairy operation. With the use of routine data evaluation through a systematic process that includes bio-economic modeling, a dairy can achieve optimal performance and profitability.

Evaluating Reproductive Programs
Many reproductive and synchronization programs exist. However, it’s often confusing to dairy producers as to which program should be implemented. And, risk exists for change between protocols when the perceived performance is not met.

A reasonable approach is first to identify if protocol implementation will work given your current facilities and the labor available to complete tasks. Protocols that rely on additional treatment days or steps may yield a theoretically greater conception rate, but risk incomplete compliance because of dairy-specific constraints.

Real Life vs. Theory
When selecting a protocol it is also important to not infer potential performance from previous research that does not accurately characterize the protocol selected. The 11 vs. 14-day PreSynch interval recommendation is one example of this.

Research that led to this recommendation was based on a nontraditional synchronization program that utilized ECP in place of a breeding GnRH. More importantly, all cows enrolled received 100% timed-artificial insemination.

Recent work indicates that with protocols that allow for estrus detection and insemination, no difference was detected in performance between a 12- and 14-day interval for PreSynch. These results mean dairy managers have the flexibility to use one protocol or another based on labor efficiency and compliance.

Also, conduct an economic comparison of the existing and recommended methods to evaluate the potential gain in performance and profitability from any protocol change. Keep in mind that when performing sensitivity analyses, it is critical that the inputs are carefully considered in order to maximize the validity of the outputs.

Follow-up analysis of the ongoing performance and economic impact of a program change is also necessary to evaluate actual on-farm responses. Even very sensitive modeling may not predict biological outcomes on the dairy.

Health and Personnel Influences
Make sure you have systems in place on the dairy to efficiently identify sick cows and follow correct diagnosis and treatment. Monitoring programs must be in place to effectively measure disease incidence. The ultimate goal is to prevent disease rather than treat it.

On many dairies, the greatest return often results from improved human resource management and employee training and monitoring.

This is especially true regarding reproductive management. It’s been estimated that management or environment are responsible for more than 73% of pregnancy rate variation in progressive dairy herds.

Program compliance for protocol administration, heat detection, artificial insemination and pregnancy diagnosis is largely driven by clear protocols and standard operating procedures.

Data Analysis and Management
The ability to collect and analyze accurate data is another important aspect of the overall reproductive management program—and helps you achieve optimal results.

Use meaningful metrics and statistical tools to evaluate the program and make correct decisions. Far too often casual evaluations of on-farm data and the subsequent incorrect conclusions result in actions that cost the dairy in performance and profit.

Through this process, you’ll gain more confidence in the ability for a particular program or management strategy to result in the desired optimal performance. In addition, bio-economic models allow dairy consultants to conduct sensitivity analyses and provide input as to which management strategies and protocols will be biologically and economically successful.

These analyses are important because a protocol may be biologically sound or be optimal for performance metrics, but it may not translate into a logistically feasible program or provide an economic benefit.

Focus on Optimal
Therefore, always keep your focus on optimal results, not maximized results.

Seek out programs designed to work within your management and labor constraints. The potential for improved performance may exist with novel or more intensive programs, but these may actually lead to poorer performance due to a lack of compliance.

Given the reliance of these programs on protocol implementation, effective management of labor and creation of a work place culture that motivates employees to strive for excellence are important and are most frequently overlooked in the evaluation of a program. On-farm training and employee monitoring allow for optimizing performance outcomes.

Careful review of the many factors that can affect reproductive performance will allow dairy producers, veterinarians, and other consultants to effectively evaluate the program and find the bottlenecks to optimal performance.

This process helps you attain the overriding goal of getting cows pregnant in an efficient, cost-effective manner with attention to optimizing both cow well-being and dairy profitability.

Featured Member

Dr. Natalia Martinez-Patino, DVM, MPVM, PhD
Zoetis
Vancouver, Washington
DCRC Member since 2008

I am a dairy production specialist with Zoetis, a leading animal health company with a comprehensive portfolio of products and services that provide value to customers worldwide. My job is to identify and help resolve bottlenecks on dairies.

To do so I collaborate with dairy farmers, veterinarians and employees to design and implement tailored solutions that improve health, efficiency, production and profitability. My main areas of focus are transition cows, reproduction and genomics.

Educational and Professional Development
I obtained my degree in veterinary medicine and completed an internship in animal reproduction with emphasis in dairy cattle at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia.

After completing my internship, I gained five years of experience in Colombia. I first served as a reproductive dairy consultant for a biotechnology company and then as the manager and veterinarian of a commercial dairy. 

I moved to the U.S in 2007 to participate in the Food Animal Reproduction and Herd Health residency program at the University of California, Davis. While there I also obtained a Master’s Degree in Preventive Veterinary Medicine. After completing my residency, I enrolled in the Ph.D. in Animal Sciences program at the University of Florida, under the advisory of Dr. Jose E. P. Santos.

Dairy Passion
Since my early days in vet school, I’ve felt passionate about the biology, physiology and management of dairy reproduction. I enjoy studying and understanding complex systems and reproduction is certainly one of them.  

In addition, throughout my professional career I have been very fortunate to have excellent mentors, such as Dr. Jorge Zambrano at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Dr. Mike Lane at the University of California, and Dr. Jose E. P. Santos at the University of Florida. They nurtured my passion for dairy reproduction, and encouraged me to investigate and understand further the interactions between reproduction, immune function, nutrition and the environment.

DCRC Opportunities and Influences
Being a member of DCRC, whether you are in the United States or any country in the world, has enormous advantages—especially when it comes to education resources, such as access to webinars, meeting proceedings and available updates in synchronization protocols to improve reproductive performance. 

Through my interaction with DCRC I’ve learned:

  • With the current protocols available, it is now feasible to achieve consistent pregnancy rates above 30%.
  • Data analysis tools to measure and monitor reproductive performance.

Future Challenges
To me, an important challenge is modifying the culture of when we tackle reproductive problems.

Influenced by nutrition, management or environmental factors, a significant portion of the problems in immune function and metabolism begin as early as parturition or during the close-up period. These problems have huge repercussions on reproduction.

Taking preventive measures to ensure a smooth transition period would reduce the incidence of early postpartum diseases and positively influence the onset of cyclicity and fertility to first A.I.

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