Newsletter – 2017 – August

President's message

From the DCRC President’s Desk
By Todd Bilby

I’m pleased to share some exciting initiatives that were discussed during our semi-annual, face-to-face DCRC board of directors meeting. We met June 26 in Pittsburgh, in conjunction with the American Dairy Science Association annual meeting.

First, DCRC is financially strong. The board of directors approved moving $75,000 from savings to a conservative investment account. This will allow DCRC to continue to grow its reserves, while maintaining a positive cash flow.

Second, we will launch some new DCRC membership incentive programs in 2018. Stay tuned for details and think about how you might help DCRC grow through membership referrals and/or budgeting for more DCRC memberships within your organization.

Third, a new webinar has been added to the 2017 schedule. Stephen LeBlanc, University of Guelph, will present “Activity Monitors for Reproductive Management” on Nov. 3, 1 p.m. Central Time.

Speaking of webinars, our next webinar is “Where We’ve Been and Challenges for the Next 10 Years.” It will be conducted on Aug. 25, at 1 p.m. Central Time. Jeffrey Stevenson, Kansas State University, will talk about progress made in improving dairy cattle fertility and research underway in cell biology, nutraceuticals, genomics and computer technology applications to further this progress. To learn more about DCRC webinars and to register, go to the webinar page on the website.

And fourth, we’re just a few months out from this year’s DCRC Annual Meeting in Reno, Nev., set for Nov 8-9. The information-packed conference kicks off with a pre-conference symposium at 9 a.m. on Nov. 8. Merck and Elanco have stepped up to sponsor two of the three preconference symposium sessions. One sponsorship opportunity remains. If you’re interested in grabbing this sponsorship, contact Den Gardner at (952) 758-5811 or The preconference symposium provides additional instructional time for meeting attendees at no extra charge.

Annual meeting presentations feature new technologies, dairy data management, reproductive management strategies, herd health and employee management. Click here to check out the program. Registration opens soon, so watch your e-mail inbox for registration details. As a friendly reminder, the 2017 DCRC Annual Meeting falls on a Wednesday and Thursday, rather than the traditional Thursday and Friday. I look forward to seeing you in Reno!


Research Summaries

Genomic evaluation of age the first calving

The authors investigated the age of the first calving (AFC) for three dairy cattle breeds (Holstein, Jersey, and Brown Swiss) that maximizes production. They used more than 14 million phenotypic records from the U.S. national dairy database of cows calving between 1997 and 2015.

The results were published in the August 2017 issue of Journal of Dairy Science.

  • Authors reported that the mean AFC for Holsteins and Jerseys decreased 2.4 and 2.7 months, respectively, since 2006.
  • When they compared the association of AFC with production and fertility traits, they found that decreased AFC was correlated with greater fertility and higher milk yield, for all but the earliest group (18 to 20 months of age).
  • Additionally, they identified an unfavorable correlation of lower AFC with increasing stillbirth rates in Holsteins and Brown Swiss.
  • Authors found favorable genetic correlations of lower AFC with lifetime net merit, heifer conception rate, cow conception rate, and daughter pregnancy rate in Holstein and Jersey cattle.
  • They also found favorable correlations for net merit and heifer conception rate in Brown Swiss.
  • To maximize lifetime production and reduce the effects of AFC on stillbirth, the AFC that maximizes production for Holstein and Brown Swiss is 21 to 22 months, and for Jersey it is 20 to 21 months.
  • However, the effect of AFC on stillbirth reduces the benefits of calving at very young ages.
  • Calculated genomic predicted transmitting ability for AFC showed an improvement in reliability of 20 percentage points in genomic young bulls compared with parent averages in Holsteins.

In conclusion, the ideal AFC that maximizes production is more than two months lower than the current breed average for Holstein and Brown Swiss, suggesting that selection for an earlier AFC may improve profitability in Holstein and Brown Swiss. Earlier AFC is positively correlated with net merit, production, and fertility traits, suggesting that selection for the trait may improve herd performance over time. However, the earliest AFC groups had higher incidence of stillbirth in Holstein and Brown Swiss cattle. This suggests that there should be a selection index for the breeds, which includes AFC, maximizes lifetime production and fertility, and minimizes stillbirth incidence.

Access the abstract

Relationships between uterine health and metabolism in dairy cows with different dry period lengths

The authors evaluated effects of dry period (DP) length and dietary energy source on ovarian activity, uterine health status, pregnancy rate, and days open in dairy cows in the second subsequent lactation. In addition, the relationships of uterine health status with ovarian activity, milk yield, energy balance (EB), and metabolic status in dairy cows was investigated.

The results were published in the October 2017 issue of Theriogenology.

Holstein cows (n = 167) were assigned randomly to 1 of 3 DP lengths (0-, 30-, or 60-d) and 1 of 2 early lactation diets (glucogenic or lipogenic diet) for 2 subsequent lactations. Milk samples were collected three times a week.

  • At least two succeeding milk samples with concentration of progesterone ≥2 ng/mL were used to indicate the occurrence of luteal activity.
  • Vaginal discharge was scored in wk 2 and 3 after calving to evaluate uterine health status and cows were classified as having a healthy uterine environment [HU, vaginal discharge score (VDS) = 0 or 1 in both wk 2 and 3], a recovering uterine environment (RU, VDS = 2 or 3 in wk 2, and VDS = 0 or 1 in wk 3), or a non-recovering uterine environment (NRU, VDS = 2 or 3 in wk 3).
  • Cows were monitored for milk yield and dry matter intake (DMI), and blood was sampled weekly to determine metabolic status from calving to wk 3 postcalving.

The results indicated the that:

  • DP length was not related with uterine health status in early lactation, pregnancy rate, or days open in dairy cows.
  • Feeding a glucogenic diet shortened the interval from calving to onset of luteal activity (25.3 vs. 31.0 d) but decreased pregnancy rate compared with a more lipogenic diet (68.2 vs. 78.1 d).
  • In the first 3 wk after calving, cows with NRU had lower milk yield (36.8 vs. 36.8 vs. 32.4 kg for cows with HU, RU, or NRU, respectively) and lower DMI than cows with HU or RU.
  • Cows with RU had lower plasma glucose and insulin concentrations than cows with NRU or HU.

In conclusion, DP length did not influence fertility measures and uterine health status in the second subsequent lactation after implementation of DP length treatments. In addition, feeding a glucogenic diet led to earlier ovulation postcalving but decreased pregnancy rate compared with a more lipogenic diet.

Access the abstract

Relationships among early postpartum luteal activity, parity, and insemination outcomes based on in-line progesterone profiles in Canadian Holstein cows

Milk progesterone (mP4) measured with an in-line system (Herd Navigator, DeLaval International) was used to evaluate the commencement of luteal activity (CLA), along with the frequency and pattern of luteal phases preceding first AI. Cattle (n = 748) from two dairies were enrolled at 21±1 DIM and mP4 was measured by protocol thereafter. An mP4 threshold of 5 ng/mL was used to determine CLA and characterize each luteal phase as normal or abnormal. Cattle were inseminated in estrus, as determined by the in-line system, after 40 DIM. Any cow subjected to induced-luteolysis or induced-ovulation was disqualified from the study. Pregnancy per AI (P/AI) and pregnancy loss was determined by mP4. Results were published in the September 2017 issue of Theriogenology.

  • Primiparous cows were less likely (OR = 0.58, P=0.002) to undergo CLA ≤28 DIM and more likely (OR = 0.73, P=0.04) to experience an abnormal luteal phase preceding first AI than multiparous cows.
  • For multiparous cows, CLA ≤28 DIM decreased the odds of pregnancy loss (OR = 0.48, P=0.05) and CLA ≤56 DIM increased the odds of P/AI (OR = 4.69, P=0.01) vs. cattle with increased CLA.
  • Cattle with one or more normal luteal phase prior to first AI experienced increased P/AI (P<0.001) and reduced pregnancy loss (P<0.01).

In summary, the timing of CLA appeared to have greater impact on multiparous cows than primiparous cows. Regardless of parity, undergoing at least one normal luteal phase prior to first AI improved the outcome.

Access the abstract

Featured Column

Editor’s note: This column is based on Ryan Sirolli’s presentation given at the 2016 DCRC Annual Meeting.

The Next Decade: Production Technologies, Product Differentiation

Not so long ago, technologies like genomics and robotic milkers were viewed as science fiction. Today, that’s not the case. These tools have been woven into the dairy industry’s tapestry, just like artificial insemination and total mixed rations – tools implemented in earlier decades.

Ryan Sirolli, an economist with Cargill, claims that these innovations are just the start of a dairy industry “revolution.” “Precision dairy” allows dairy producers to find smarter, more efficient ways to accomplish tasks and foster animal health.

But it’s not all about efficient milk production. The dairy industry needs to consider trends and disruptions up and down the dairy value chain. Sirolli said four key areas – differentiation, transparency, sustainability and technology – will shape the dairy industry during the next decade.

Adding value

Just like the commodity “Number 2 yellow corn” has evolved, so has fluid milk. Increased consumption of cheese and yogurt products have helped ensure a market for milk (Bentley and Kantor, 2016).

“As the dairy industry evolves from producing primarily commodity products to developing and offering more value-added products, it’s the smaller, more nimble brands that drive growth,” said Sirolli. According to the June 2016 Nielsen Breakthrough Innovation Report, nearly half of the growth in consumer packaged goods ($17 billion) was driven by 20,000 smaller brands, like Chobani.

The Greek yogurt craze started by Chobani spurred an explosion of differentiation. Others jumped on the cultural bandwagon by introducing “Aussie” (Noose) and “Icelandic” (Siggi’s) yogurts. In the fluid milk case, Fairlife, the high-protein, low-sugar premium milk introduced by Coke and Select Milk Producers, is another innovation example.

Differentiation starts on farm

During the next 10 years, there will be equally great opportunities for cow-side differentiation. As more producers specialize their milk components through genetics, nutrition and environment to meet evolving consumer needs, more innovative dairy products will emerge.

One example of nutrition differentiation comes from Europe. In early 2015, a new selenium-enriched milk was introduced by Naturally Enriched Milk innovations (NEMi). By feeding cows a selenium supplement, NEMi claims its milk has 30% greater (on average) selenium than conventional milk – a significant product differentiation. The NEMi story took roughly a decade to come to life, after founder Andrew Henderson, a dairy nutritionist, first learned about the benefits of selenium-enriched milk (NEMi, 2016). This innovation example illustrates the benefits of alignment among processors, producers and feed suppliers.

“New consumers” (millennials) are the force behind differentiated dairy products. And, they want to know the story behind the food they purchase. Food companies are meeting this trend through engagement. For example, Freedom Farms in Pennsylvania and Sunflower Farm Creamery in Maine offer live video feeds for consumers to login and see the high-quality care they provide their animals.

Defining sustainability

While its “definition” varies, sustainability is generally considered valuable. The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future commissioned a survey to determine public support for food sustainability. Seventy percent of the respondents said it was the agriculture industry’s responsibility to produce food in a sustainable way (Smith and Health, 2016). The challenge is to clarify the term sustainability by creating measures that show how dairy farms produce more with less – allowing sustainability to come to life.

A significant first step is to set a baseline of where the industry is today, just as a dairy producer would do before changing something in a feed ration, for example. Sustainability is highly dependent on determining what the key metrics are, in addition to carbon emissions, and having actual sound data to measure them.

The next 10 years are ripe with opportunity for the dairy industry. With dairy products chock-full of valuable protein, fats, vitamins and nutrients, mainstream media is now broadcasting dairy’s nutrition benefits – overturning years of negative misrepresentation.

“The dairy industry will likely capitalize on this momentum, create cleaner labels and offer more functional products, all while doing more with less from the environment,” said Sirolli. “To do this, the dairy industry will need to be open to new ideas and be willing to differentiate production practices and products.”

Featured Member

Editor’s Note: Each issue, DCRC interviews a member to learn more about his/her career, involvement with DCRC and thoughts about dairy cattle and reproduction. We encourage you to recommend someone for this feature by contacting JoDee Sattler at:

Brandon Sweet
Copperhill Farm
Fairfax, Vermont, USA
DCRC Member since 2015

At Copperhill Farm, I am responsible for managing dairy cattle reproduction, including protocols, heat detection, insemination and analyzing repro data. My other farm responsibilities include feeding cows, adjusting total mixed rations, treating sick cows and caring for maternity animals.

My dairy farming career started when I was 16 years old. I worked on a 300-cow dairy; milking cows was my main responsibility. I realized that I really enjoyed working with cows and working in a farm environment. With this interest, I pursued an associate degree in agriculture. From there, I worked for an AI stud. This job taught me how to accurately detect heat and breed cows efficiently. After that, I took a herdsman position at Copperhill Farm, where we milk 550 Holsteins.

Despite the herd’s size, I like getting to know each cow individually. This is a huge benefit for me because it aids in heat detection, which is a never-ending task. I enjoy the challenge of getting cows bred, diagnosing farm issues and monitoring and evaluating changes made, which hopefully improve overall reproduction. 

Two years ago, our Merck representative nominated the dairy for DCRC’s Herd Reproduction Award. That was my introduction to DCRC.

I find DCRC valuable because it does a great job teaching people about dairy cattle reproduction. With DCRC’s endless amount of information, members teach other reproduction enthusiasts about the best ways to succeed. There are many reproduction experts affiliated with DCRC who are willing to assist you – one on one – with reproductive challenges. Additionally, DCRC provides many protocols that help dairy producers improve reproduction success on their dairies.

I have acquired valuable information by attending the DCRC annual meetings. Two areas I have focused on are genetic selection/genomics and the importance of well-managed transition cows. Having good genetics in a herd and knowing how to rapidly improve cattle genetics will help overall animal health, reproduction and production efficiency.

DCRC annual meeting speakers have shared valuable insight – from feeding appropriate dry cow rations to battling ketosis after calving. I learned that before getting semen into a cow and even before a pregnant cow calves, she needs a well-managed transition period. Many factors during the dry period come into play with future fertility.

When pondering dairy cattle reproductive challenges, I consider what we do on the farm to what the public views us doing on the farm. In the Northeast, many producers milk cows in barns that were designed 20-plus years ago or retrofitted from tie-stall to freestall housing. Cow comfort is stressed so heavily these days and some producers do not have the land base or funding to “build a barn around the cow.” Some dairy producers just do the best with what they have available.

Another challenge that some farms face is the ability to see an issue and accept change when necessary. We need to be open to new reproductive management strategies. DCRC can help support and explain the benefits of new technologies and protocols.

DCRC started with a group of individuals who understood the importance and profitability of dairy cattle reproduction. Like most dairy cow enthusiasts, I love to learn and teach ways to succeed in this industry. The DCRC “forefathers” came together and made it their mission to get industry experts to brainstorm, collaborate, research and share their findings, with the goal of improving reproduction.

Looking to the future, I believe the public will put a stop (or at least a reduction) to hormone use to enhance dairy cattle reproduction. DCRC will meet this challenge by developing ways to get cows pregnant efficiently and with fewer injections. DCRC will be viable for as long as dairy farms exist.

Webinar Series

Mark your calendars for the Dairy Cattle Reproduction Council’s (DCRC) 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 features seven presentations, giving you numerous opportunities to learn more about important dairy reproduction topics. 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 at 1 p.m. Central time. We look forward to you joining us!

Save these dates:

  • 10 Years of DCRC: Where We’ve Been and Challenges for the Next 10 Years with Dr. Jeff Stevenson
  • 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
    • Registration opens soon
  • Activity Monitors for Reproductive Management with Dr. Stephen LeBlanc
    • November 3, 2017
    • Registration opens soon
  • 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 opens soon

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.

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