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Complacency usually gets you in trouble Minimize

A good dairy year in 2001 and perhaps a few new plans for 2002 got me thinking abut other things besides getting the herd bred this past spring. We’d been having pretty good success the past few years because we spent plenty of time working on conception. This spring I was developing a new farm and planning a new parlor and the breeding season just slipped up on us. I should have known I was headed for trouble when my late order got the heat watch patches here the day we planned to attach them.

 

We had our herd exam on May 14th to be sure all cows were ready to breed. First breed day was May 18th. The herd exam showed that 25 of the 143 cows we planned to breed hadn’t cycled yet. I didn’t feel too bad about that as we usually had about 20% not cycling when we begin breeding. A follow up exam would usually find them all cycling within two weeks. The Purdue vet suggested a system of 2 injections of GRNH seven days apart followed by an injection of Lutelyse and timed breeding for those cows. It sounded like a good experiment so we tried it.

 

We began breeding the herd on the 18th and bred for 14 days and then gave all cows not yet serviced an injection of Lutelyse.  That amounted to 48 cows which was about 1/3 of the herd. Our goal was to shorten our calving window to five weeks instead of the normal six weeks we had been following. We serviced all but 2 of those on visual heats. In 21 days we had serviced 135 of the 143 cows we intended to service.  We felt pretty good at that time and perhaps overconfidence caused me to loose sight of our goal.

 

First service conception on those services was only 52%.  I realize that’s considered good for a conventional herd but we have consistently done better in the past.  Some things which hurt were that only 9 of the 25 non cycling cows conceived on that first service, and 12 are still open. Only 17 of the 46 lutelyse cows settled on first service and 17 of those are still open. That’s an alarming number since they were cycling and we only short cycled them.  The good note was that 44 of the 63 serviced on natural heats conceived on first service.

 

Some comparisons of conception by lactation:

Lactation

First service

Second service

Third service

Still open

First

18 or 41%

3 or 7%

6 or 14%

16 or 37%

Second

15 or 45%

3 or 9%

7 or 21%

8   or 24%

Third

16 or 61%

3 or 11%

0

7  or 27%

Fourth

6   or 40%

2 or 13%

4 or 27%

3  or 20%

Fifth & above

15 or 58%

0

0

11or 42%

Conceived

70

11

17

Total 98

Open       45

 

I’m not sure this proves anything except that our older cows are still breeding well on first service after our selection process and most of those are our old Holstein genetics. There are several 8 lactations and one ninth lactation cow in that list of fifth and above. This is the first time our first lactation group has dropped in conception over our older cows, and I have no explanation for that. As it turns out we will be calving for 8 weeks next spring instead of the 5 weeks which was our new goal.

 

Our conception rate for the 8 week season was just under 70% .

 

It is apparent to me that the heat stress which occurred in early June affected conception since we usually settle ½ of the yet open cows on second service and only 11 of 73 conceived.  In past years we have used a clean-up bull after second service. Conception of still open cows in the past was around 20% with the bull and I was hoping for a better success this year using AI on third service.  We did settle 27% of the still open cows but that’s not much improvement.

 

In the past we have continued to breed late settling cows and either sold them as short bred in the fall or dried them off and sold them as springers later the next spring.  In 2001 we changed our strategy.  We stopped breeding at six weeks and on our herd exam we had 20 open cows.  We continued to milk the open cows to dry-off.  We then took them to corn stalk grazing with the rest of the dry herd.  As spring calving approached we sorted them off and kept them on dry cow hay instead of steaming them to freshen and used them as our scrub herd following the yearling heifers as grass became available. That means they were the third group to graze or they got all the leftovers.   Maintenance costs stayed pretty low.  Out of pocket costs run $0.25 per head per day on corn stalks. Dry cow hay costs us $80 a ton and with consumption at 25# or less it cost $1 a day on hay. Figuring costs when we hit pasture is a little rougher but we value grass at $60 at ton dry matter and they are really eating refusal from the milking herd as well as the yearling heifers so daily costs are $0.75 or less a day. We used natural service to breed those animals in late May and all but 3 conceived in three weeks and those three on second service. After breeding season we combined them with the yearling herd and they continue to eat refusal or second graze pasture. Our out of pocket cost will likely be under $400 to carry them a year open and that will be on good sound cows that should freshen early and get off to a good spring start. I realize that this concept will make most folks think I’m nuts, but in my estimation that’s no more expensive than raising a yearling and we already know her potential. I will evaluate those cows differently should they not breed back again in 2003 but for now the economics looks good based on the fact we’re not selling off equity and pay a high rate of tax on the return.

 

If you graziers see flaws in my thinking I hope you share your thought since it looks like we’ll be doing it again to at least 35 of those open cows. I’m not sure the cows with over 6 lactations are worth the risk.

 

All is not lost in our breeding season as we will have the 98 pregnant cows 64 yearling heifers and the 20 dry cows to freshen next spring. Allowing for a couple of losses we’ll still milk 180 next season and that’s up 20% over this year.

 

Our New Development

 

Despite our errors in breeding some other aspects have gone well this season.  We developed 160 acres of new pasture which adjoins our home farm so the cows can move freely without crossing roads. This will allow 400 acres of graze able land in our operation. Spring seeding was late due to excessive wet weather early, but like much of the country when it stopped raining it didn’t start again.  Weed management had been poor on the farm before we took over and using a grass legume mix in spring seeding didn’t allow for any herbicide control.  Grazing was our only option and with dry soils we did little damage to the establishing grass legume mixs we grazed early.

 

There was plenty of foxtail and crabgrass to graze and the lamb’s quarters and cockleburs got clipped after each grazing. It did cause us to hurry our fence building, lane and water development as we had intended to harvest the first season and graze next year.

 

We made our last grazing pass early in September and clipped the remaining weeds to avoid seeding and it will all rest till freeze down or spring whichever looks best.  The legumes and grasses are there, and with any fall moisture they will winter well and we always have next year to look forward too.

 

Unless we see considerable rainfall in the next week we’ll be winter feeding soon and that won’t be enjoyable, but with some sacrifice areas to use at least we won’t be hauling the manure. We feel blessed to still be grazing as many of our friends have been out of grass for over 60 days.

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