November 30, 2020 at 7:19 p.m.
Lake Norden, South Dakota
5,100 cows, 4,633 currently in milk
What was your average pregnancy rate last year? Our pregnancy rate was 34% last year, and it’s currently 35%. We haven’t had a bull on the farm for three years.
What is your voluntary waiting period for cows? For heifers? The voluntary waiting period for cows is 76 days. We breed our heifers when they are 385 days old.
What is your first service conception rate? Our first service conception rate is 52%. Our second service conception rate is also 52%.
What is your reproduction program? Do you use a synchronization program? We use sexed semen on all of our heifers and the top 10% of our cows. The rest of our cows are bred to Angus sires. We use ovsynch on cows that haven’t shown signs of heat by 103 days in milk.
How do you observe for heat? We use GEA CowScout collars to monitor cow activity and detect heats.
How do you confirm pregnant or open cows? We confirm pregnancies ourselves with an ultrasound scanner. We check for pregnancies at 29-36 days after the last service.
What is your breeding philosophy? How do you select bulls? What traits do you focus on? Does fertility play a role in bull selection? Our breeding philosophy is to create a moderate-sized crossbred cow that has great composition, good milk production and lasts a long time. We select about five to six sires that we use for a few months. If a bull isn’t performing, we will switch to another sire. We look for higher genomic metric bulls that are minus in stature and have a low DPR. When we select Angus sires, we look for traits that the meatpacker will want.
How are cows and heifers bred? Do you have a different philosophy for breeding both? We breed our cows and our heifers the same. We are currently using a crossbreeding rotation that involves Holstein and Jersey sires. We like the hybrid vigor of the F1 crossbreds.
What do you do to settle hard breeders? We don’t do anything different for hard breeders. We have a sufficient number of replacement animals, so we don’t have to fuss with hard breeders.
How many times do you try to breed a cow before you sell her? We give her four chances to get pregnant. If she doesn’t settle by then, we will put her on the do not breed list and milk her until she isn’t profitable anymore.
Is there anything you have done or changed that brought about a significant improvement in your reproductive program? In 2015, we decided to expand by purchasing 1,000 heifers. We knew this would stretch our work crew to the limit, so we looked for a way to take something off their plates. We decided to hire Alta Genetics to do our breeding for us on a six-month trial basis. This worked so well for us that we decided to continue with them. Hiring Andy Weber to be our herd manager brought another level of professionalism into our operation. Andy went through our records and found and eliminated all of the ghost cows in our system. Andy’s skills have proven to be a great asset for us.
Tell us about your farm. Rodney and Dorothy Elliott and their son, David, along with three others, make up the management team at Drumgoon Dairy. We are milking on two sites but are running the dairy like it’s one herd. We have 50 employees and try to milk 3X per day. We raise about 20% of our forages on the 1,000 acres of land that we farm. We buy the rest of our forages from local farmers. All of our youngstock are raised on a heifer farm that we have partnered with in southwest Kansas. The heifers leave here at 3 to 7 days old and come back when they are 6 to 7 months pregnant. About 18 months ago, we decided to stop using antibiotics on our milking herd. This eliminated the chance of antibiotics getting into the food chain, has resulted in reduced herd heath costs and has improved our reproduction. We are building a new facility that will feature 20 robotic milkers. We hope the robotic barn will up and running by next spring.
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