Newsletter – 2017 – April

President's message

From the DCRC President’s Desk
By Todd Bilby

Lots of changes and opportunities developed over the past few months and I am pleased to announce that Gardner & Gardner Communications (G&G), an association management/marketing firm based in New Prague, Minn., has been selected to be the association manager for DCRC. G&G started last month assisting with DCRC administration, membership services, conference organization and marketing and communications. As DCRC continues to grow, G&G’s services will foster the efforts led by our board of directors and committee members, all of whom volunteer their time.

The DCRC leadership team felt it was time to fully engage one firm to manage all of the council’s duties to reach our members and help us grow the organization to the next level. We gratefully acknowledge our previous association management relationships with Federation of Animal Science Societies (FASS) and Charleston Orwig (CO), particularly CO’s generous support of DCRC in our early years. I truly appreciate all the efforts put forth by our committees and leadership team to make this a seamless transition. Rest assured that DCRC’s committees and leadership team, along with our new partnership with G&G, continue to work hard toward accomplishing our mission to raise awareness of issues critical to dairy cattle reproductive performance.

Webinar provides Ovsynch update

We are excited for this month’s webinar, scheduled for April 28, starting at 1 p.m. Central Time, which features ovulation synchronization (Ovsynch) programs. The basis for most U.S. timed artificial insemination (AI) programs in dairy cows, Richard Pursley, Michigan State University professor of animal science, will provide an update on these valuable pregnancy rate enhancement tools. Thank you to Zoetis for sponsoring this month’s webinar and, as always, we appreciate the generous sponsorships that make these webinars possible. Register online to secure your seat today.

To see what’s ahead on our webinar schedule, visit the top-notch webinar series page. Later this year, we will offer another webinar in Spanish, slated for Dec. 15. For the first time, DCRC will deliver a webinar in Portuguese, which is scheduled for Oct. 27. The webinars offer a great employee meeting opportunity, bringing topical expertise to your dairy without having to leave the farm.

Nominate dairies for repro awards

Last but not least, DCRC is accepting nominations for its 2017 Reproduction Awards program, which recognizes outstanding dairy operations for reproductive efficiency and well-implemented management procedures. This awards program recognizes U.S. dairy producers whose herds excel in getting cows safe in calf. The reproduction awards program continues to grow with more than 120 nominations this past year from across the US and other countries. Some key metrics include: voluntary waiting period, interbreeding intervals, heat detection, conception rate, pregnancy rate, value of reproduction and culling rate. Reproduction numbers are based on the 12-month period Jan. 1, 2016-Dec. 31, 2016.

Dairy operations must be nominated by professionals who serve the dairy industry, such as veterinarians, extension agents, AI and pharmaceutical company representatives, dairy processor field staff and consultants. Nomination forms are due April 30 and may be completed online or mailed to:

605 Columbus Ave South
New Prague, MN 56071

For more information about the Reproduction Awards program or to nominate a herd online, visit This year’s Reproduction Award sponsors include Hoard’s Dairyman and Dairy Cattle Reproduction Council.

Also, be sure to check out DCRC on social media − follow us on Twitter (@DCRCouncil) and Facebook.

Research Summaries

Vaginal Microbiota in transition cows

Researchers investigated the microbiota present in the vaginas of Holstein cows during the transition period and described how bacterial composition and total bacterial load (TBL) was associated with disease and fertility. The results were published in the April 2017 issue of the Journal of Dairy Science.

  • Phyla associated with uterine disease and related risk factors were Proteobacteria, Fusobacteria, and Bacteroidetes.
  • Cows with retained placenta and healthy cows had similar TBL at the day of parturition, but at day 7 postpartum, cows with retained placenta showed a significantly higher TBL (mainly Fusobacteria and Bacteroidetes).
  • Cows diagnosed with metritis had a significantly higher presence of Proteobacteria at day −7 and at calving and higher Fusobacteria at postpartum.
  • Estimated load of Bacteroidetes at day 7 postpartum was higher for cows diagnosed with endometritis at 35 days in milk.
  • Higher estimated loads of Fusobacteria and Bacteroidetes were determined in cows with postpartum fever, in primiparous cows, in cows with assisted parturition, and in cows that gave birth to twins.

In conclusion, microbiota composition and TBL differed between healthy cows and cows affected by uterine disease. In addition, microbiota composition and TBL were associated with known periparturient risk factors for uterine diseases.

Access the abstract.

Effect of temporary reduction of progesterone after TAI on embryo size, percent of cows pregnant, and pregnancy loss

Supplementation with progesterone (P4) after timed artificial insemination (TAI) has been thought to be a practical strategy to improve fertility. However, several field studies have shown contrasting responses to P4 supplementation after TAI. In this field trial, researchers took an alternative approach by temporarily decreasing P4 to evaluate the effects on embryonic growth and pregnancy. Results were published in the April 2017 issue of the Journal of Dairy Science.

Primiparous and multiparous cows were randomly allocated to receive or not receive a half dose of prostaglandin 5 days after TAI. Progesterone, Interferon-tau simulated gene 15 (ISG15), and pregnancy-specific protein B (PSPB) concentrations were measured.

  • Pregnant cows with lower P4 from 6 to 11 days after TAI had lower subsequent ISG15 expression and lower PSPB.
  • Embryo size did not differ between treatments 32 and 39 days after TAI, but cows with temporary decrease in P4 had smaller embryos 46 days after TAI.
  • Pregnancies per AI (P/AI) diagnosed at 32 days after TAI and pregnancy loss from 32 to 67 days after TAI were not affected by the temporary decrease in P4.

In conclusion, temporarily decreasing P4 after TAI decreased embryonic growth during early pregnancy in lactating Holstein cows but did not affect pregnancies per artificial insemination or pregnancy loss.

Access the abstract.

Herd-level postpartum diseases and reproductive performance and culling

Researchers recently quantified the herd-level prevalence of postpartum diseases on several dairy farms in Canada, identifying prevalence alarm levels of these diseases. The alarm levels are based on associations with a low prevalence of success at first service (<40%), with a high prevalence of pregnancy loss (≥6.3%) following pregnancy diagnosis at first service, and with a high prevalence of postpartum culling (≥13.3%). This study was published in the April 2017 issue of the Journal of Dairy Science.

  • Risk factors for herds having a low prevalence of success at first service were ≥11.8% hyperketonemia, ≥5.0% purulent vaginal discharge, ≥18.8% cytological endometritis, ≥35.3% leukocyte esterase endometritis, ≥21.0% prolonged anovulation, and ≥4.0% displaced abomasum.
  • Risk factors for herds having a high prevalence of pregnancy loss were ≥5.0% purulent vaginal discharge and ≥4.9% retained placenta.
  • Risk factors for herds having a high prevalence of postpartum culling were ≥23.1% hyperketonemia, ≥4.9% retained placenta, and ≥4.0% displaced abomasum.

The authors concluded that alarm levels for postpartum diseases were identified as risk factors for poor reproductive performance and increased culling.

Access the abstract.

Featured Column

Transition Cow Nutrition Management Strategies Continue to Evolve

Healthy cows typically combine outstanding milk production and excellent reproductive performance, along with delivering calves that are ready to “hit the ground running.” To realize these lofty goals, cows need a strong defense system to prevent metabolic and immune function-related diseases. Getting cows through the critical transition period goes a long way in achieving optimal performance − including milk production and reproduction.

With clinical milk fever a non-issue for most dairies, one of today’s important concerns is subclinical hypocalcemia (SCH). This challenge predisposes cows to infectious and metabolic diseases, ultimately reducing their productive and reproductive potential (Reinhardt et al., 2011; Chapinal et al., 2012; Martinez et al., 2012). Boosting a cow’s immune system via nutrition helps prevent health challenges, such as SCH.

Reduce DCAD

Research dating back to the 1980s supports reducing the prepartum ration’s dietary cation anion difference (DCAD; Na + K – Cl – S = mEq/100 g DM) to decrease rates of clinical milk fever (Block, 1984, Gaynor et al., 1989). This can be done by minimizing dietary potassium (aiming for a low but still positive DCAD) or varying inclusion rates of anion supplements to reach a negative DCAD.

Thomas Overton, Cornell University dairy management professor, Ithaca, N.Y., and his Cornell teammates studied if benefits in calcium status and production traits increased when the anion inclusion rate was incrementally increased (DCAD decreased) in a low potassium prepartum ration (Sweeney et al., 2015a,b). They evaluated three groups − low potassium control ration (+18.3 mEq/100 g DM), partial anion supplementation (+5.9 mEq/100 g DM), and full anion supplementation (-7.4 mEq/100 g DM). Diets were managed to maintain urine pH (target of 5.5 to 6.0) in the full anion supplemented group.

According to Overton, measuring urine pH is an essential component of monitoring prepartum DCAD and may provide valuable information about feeding management (Jardon, 1995; Charbonneau et al., 2006). (Go to page 63 of the 2016 DCRC proceedings to learn more about urine pH sampling.)

“As prepartum DCAD ultimately was decreased in this trial, average postpartum plasma calcium was increased, indicating that the greatest benefit in calcium status postpartum was detected in cows fed the lowest DCAD,” Overton reported. Older cows (third or greater lactation) benefited the most when fed the lowest DCAD (Sweeney et al., 2015a).

Lower DCAD translated to higher postpartum dry matter intake (DMI) and milk yield. “Cows fed the lowest DCAD ration prepartum produced more than 7 pounds (3.18 kilograms) more milk per day in the first 21 days in milk, compared with cows fed the low potassium, control ration (Sweeney et al., 2015b),” Overton reported.

Control energy in diet

While DCAD plays an important role in transition cow diets, so does energy. Based on research done at the University of Illinois in the mid-2000s (Drackley and Janovick Guretzky, 2007), dairy nutritionists recommend a controlled energy diet for dry cows. Researchers observed lower postpartum concentrations of non-esterified fatty acids (NEFA) and ketone bodies (e.g., ßhydroxybutyric acid [BHBA]) in cows fed the controlled energy diets. Additionally, the metabolic disease incidence decreased (Dann et al., 2006; Janovick et al., 2011).

To further investigate energy’s impact on transition cow health, Cornell researchers (Mann et al., 2015) studied the effects of three dietary energy strategies during the dry period. They evaluated a bulky, high fiber, controlled energy diet (approximately 100 percent of energy requirement), high energy diet (approximately 150 percent of energy requirement), and step-up approach (controlled energy diet for the first 28 days after dry off, followed by an intermediate diet [approximately 125% of energy requirement] for the remainder of the dry period [28 days before expected calving]). All diets were fed ad libitum and predicted metabolizable protein (MP) supply was formulated for approximately 1,300 grams per day.

“Our observations confirmed that feeding a controlled prepartum energy diet was associated with lower postpartum concentrations of markers of negative energy balance, such as NEFA and BHBA, whereas milk production was not different among the groups,” Overton said.

As expected, postpartum glucose and insulin concentrations were greater in the controlled energy group (Mann et al., 2016b). “This is of great importance for the fresh cow because glucose is necessary for normal immune cell function and insulin prevents excessive breakdown of adipose and muscle tissue, due to its direct inhibitory effects on these processes,” Overton added.

Furthermore, elevated concentrations of BHBA and NEFA, as well as lower circulating concentrations of glucose and insulin (observed in prepartum cows overfed energy), have been associated with decreased reproductive success in several studies (Lucy, 2008; Cardoso et al., 2013; Ospina et al., 2013).

Do not overfeed protein

When it comes to adequate protein during the close-up period, Overton recommends 1,200 to 1,400 grams per day of predicted MP. “Particularly with controlled energy diets, adequate sources of rumen-undegradable protein (RUP) should be included in the diets to achieve this goal,” Overton stated. “No beneficial effects on postpartum performance or health have been observed when more than recommended amounts of MP were fed.”

Overfeeding protein (nitrogen) is costly. Cows do not utilize excess nitrogen and thus excrete it via urine and manure. This excreted nitrogen negatively influences the environment (e.g., increases pollution, speeds up algae growth, reduces water quality, hinders fish and other aquatic life). “Feeding protein in great excess of requirements is unwarranted.”

 When it comes to ideal rations, more than the precise amounts of all the correct ingredients is needed. For example, if cows can sort the total mixed ration, they will eat the “candy” and leave the “vegetables.” Thus, Overton recommends chopping straw and hay, ahead of mixing, so the long particles are no more than 1.5 inches long (33 percent on each of the three sections of the Penn State Particle Separator). Also, you may need to add water or another wet ingredient to decrease ration DM to the 46 to 48 percent range (for optimal ration effectiveness). “Accuracy and consistency in feed delivery and composition are paramount to a successful transition feeding program,” Overton noted.

Innovative approach addresses negative MP

It’s well understood that fresh cows experience negative energy balance. Additionally, they’re challenged by negative protein balance during this period. Cows compensate for negative protein balance by mobilizing body protein after calving. To address this concern, Larsen et al. (2014) estimated the negative MP balance in cows during the postpartum period and then infused casein into the abomasum to eliminate the MP deficit. Controls received a water infusion; treatment cows received casein planned to supply 360 grams at one day postpartum and 720 grams at two days postpartum, followed by daily reductions of 19.5 grams per day, ending at 194 grams per day at 29 days postpartum.

The casein infusion yielded a high and nearly constant supply of MP from two to 29 days postpartum. Even though the study was small (four cows per treatment), cows infused with casein produced an impressive 16 pounds per day (7.2 kilograms) more milk than controls during the experimental period. Further research is needed to evaluate cow responses to supplies of both total MP and individual amino acid during the postpartum period.

Nutrient recommendations for dry and lactating Holstein cows are illustrated in Table 1, which is available on pages 68 and 69 in the proceedings. DCRC members can access Overton’s full paper at This research was presented at the 2016 DCRC Annual Meeting. Additionally, Overton presented this information via a webinar, which is accessible to DCRC members.



Featured Member

Kevin McSweeney
Bovine Reproduction Specialists LLC
International Bovine Training Solutions LLC
Summit Dairy Learning Center
Galeton, Colorado, USA
DCRC Member since 2006

Bovine Reproduction Specialists LLC is a combination clinical reproductive veterinary practice (Bovine Reproduction Specialists), research and training facility (International Bovine Training Solutions), and functioning dairy farm (Summit Dairy Learning Center). Dairy reproduction is our specialty, incorporating ultrasound and other advanced reproductive techniques (OPU/IVF/ET) into the reproductive management of large commercial dairies.

I am the chief executive officer, so running the companies, one of which is a commercial dairy farm, consumes considerable time. However, I am still very active clinically and in training. The time I spend with contract research can vary, depending on the project, but research can be a big part of my day.

Deep cattle roots

I grew up with cattle. My dad managed a small Angus, cow-calf herd in Virginia and I raised and showed Holstein heifers, too. I majored in dairy science at the University of Georgia and managed a few dairies in Virginia and Colorado between my undergraduate degree and going to veterinary school at Colorado State University (CSU).

When I was younger, I worked for a veterinarian, Nick Elam, who was performing surgical embryo flushing and transfers. (This was before George Seidel and Peter Elsden developed the non-surgical technique.) He had a large recipient herd that I helped manage, so I guess it was this experience where I became interested in cattle reproduction.

Before veterinary school, I worked for George Seidel at CSU. We worked on developing the technology that Sexing Technologies uses today to sex semen. Working for Seidel furthered my love of cattle reproduction and also taught me many skills that I use today within my practice and research business.

Charter DCRC member

I joined DCRC in 2006 and was on the board of directors from 2006-2009. I think DCRC is a big reason dairy reproductive performance has improved so much in the United States since 2006. The organization has provided a focused space, with both the website and conferences, for people to acquire accurate and up-to-date information and protocols they can immediately recommend to their clients or apply on their own farms.

 DCRC memorable moments

The thing that sticks out the most from the last conference was a pre-conference morning lecture given by Paul Fricke about managing twins. He presented some data on reducing twinning that I had not seen and it made me think about revisiting this issue within my practice.

The second thing I have learned through DCRC is information about the various activity monitors. I do not have a client who uses activity meters in his herd, so I like keeping up with current information and research about them. DCRC has been a great outlet for that information.

Looking forward

I think the use of ovum pickup/in vitro fertilization/embryo transfer in commercial dairies is something that in the future we might struggle with to meet the increasing demand for these services. There are also challenges that will result from the use of these advanced reproductive techniques, such as increased narrowing of the genetic base in our industry.

I also think public opinion, not founded by science, could affect our future use of reproductive hormones in managing cows reproductively. Reducing the availability of reproductive hormones in dairy management would be quite a challenge to overcome.

Dairy cow numbers are staying consistent in the United States and reproduction will always be a major determinant in a dairy’s profitability and survival. Thus, there will continue to be a need for a group like DCRC. As long as we stay true to our core mission, I think the future is bright for DCRC.

Webinar Series

Mark your calendars for the Dairy Cattle Reproduction Council’s 2017 webinar series. These highly regarded sessions offer attendees from across the United States and around the world access to high-quality information and interaction with industry experts from the comfort of their farm or office.

The 2017 series will feature six presentations, giving you numerous opportunities to learn more about important dairy reproduction topics. The informational series begins with its first webinar Friday, Feb. 24, and continues every other month throughout 2017.

The webinars feature top-rated topics from previous DCRC Annual Meetings, as well as other areas of reproductive importance. Again this year, DCRC will offer a webinar in Spanish—slated for Dec. 15. And for the first time, DCRC will offer a webinar in Portuguese, which is scheduled for Oct. 27.

Each webinar begins at1 p.m. Central time. We look forward to you joining us!

Save these dates:

  • Ovulation Synchronization Programs: An Update with Dr. Richard Pursley
    • April 28, 2017
    • Register here
  • Heifer Rearing Programs: Making Decisions About Replacements with Dr. John Lee
    • June 23, 2017
    • Register here
  • 10 Years of DCRC: Where We’ve Been and Challenges for the Next 10 Years with Dr. Jeff Stevenson
    • August 25, 2017
    • Register here
  • Identificação e tratamento de doenças uterinas em vacas leiteiras (Identification and Treatment of Uterine Diseases in Dairy Cows) with Dr.Klibs Galvao in Portuguese
    • October 27, 2017
    • Register here
  • Aplicación de tecnologías genómicas para la selección en rebaños lecheros comerciales (Application of Genomic Technologies for Selection in Commercial Dairy Farms) with Dr. Francisco Peñagaricano in Spanish
    • December 15, 2017
    • Register here

To register for a webinar, please visit Webinars and follow all prompts. As the webinar approaches, you will receive an email with information on how to log in for attendance. Can’t make it live?  DCRC members may access all past webinars at

Special thanks to our sponsors who make these webinars possible.

For more information, email Dr. Pablo Pinedo, DCRC Education Committee Chair, at or email DCRC at

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