September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
Relief at better rates
From late fall through mid-winter, our conception rate had been frustratingly low. We had 20 cows freshen from late August to early November. When it came time to breed them back, we were still trying to settle cows that had freshened back in the spring. Suddenly it seemed like every cow in our herd was open. We kept breeding and I kept applying fresh heat tags, but those heat tags kept turning orange.
Each month, the herd check revealed few positives and a disappointing number of negatives. Even worse was that between herd checks, more than once, one of those positives showed signs of heat. The next check confirmed that the cow had reabsorbed her pregnancy and was open again.
Looking over our due date list, we were only expecting two, three, maybe four (if we were really lucky) calves from each bull we'd purchased. We purchased semen in canes of ten straws, and I cringed to think how much each unsuccessful breeding cost us.
We tried to identify the culprit. We examined our breeding practices, looking for poor breeding techniques or semen handling. We couldn't find any problems - we were doing everything the same as when we've had successful conception rates. Besides, as I often reminded myself, it only takes one swimmer to create a calf.
Our vet was concerned about the cows that had reabsorbed their pregnancies. He claimed it might happen occasionally, but that we shouldn't have as many instances as we did. In fact, in the last year, we didn't catch two lost pregnancies in cows until their due date came and went with no sign of a calf.
We had no ready answer for why the reabsorptions were happening. Our vet had a few diseases in mind that could be the cause, but we ruled them all out. We weren't feeding moldy hay or grain, so that didn't seem to be the problem either.
Our MUN (milk urea nitrogen) numbers were very low, so we turned to our nutritionist. He thought that our cows might not be getting enough energy from our ration, although we were happy with their milk output. The rough spring from a year ago had resulted in low quality first-crop hay. He suggested an energy supplement to add to our grain mix.
Knowing that our cows were picky eaters, the first time Kurt mixed a batch of grain with the new energy supplement, he only added a quarter of the recommended amount. When some of the cows came into the barn, sniffed at their modified feed, and walked out of their stalls, we knew we needed to abandon that approach.
Kurt started feeding more of our good quality third-crop hay with our poorer quality first-crop. This raised and stabilized our MUN numbers.
Another possible factor contributing to our poor conception rate could have been the super-cold weather that we experienced this winter. I'm sure the cows were using their calories for internal heat rather than conceiving a calf.
Whatever the cause, our problem seems to have eased. At our herd check in March, of the nine cows we checked, eight were pregnant. In April, of the ten cows we checked, five were pregnant, and two cows that were very early in their pregnancy in March were still pregnant, a good sign that our reabsorption issues were over.
Most of the cows that freshened last spring are finally pregnant, as are many of the cows that freshened last fall. Our conception rate was at a trickle over the winter, and it finally made a splash in the last two months.
It is a huge weight lifted from our shoulders to have most of our herd pregnant again. One good thing resulted from our pregnancy problem, though. With no calves due in June, I've already booked our family vacation.[[In-content Ad]]
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