April 12, 2021 at 2:02 p.m.
Sun Prairie, Wisconsin
Describe your facilities and list your breeding management team. Cows are housed in sand-bedded free stalls in 6-row barns. We have a lactating barn with separate pens for 2-year-olds and mature cows with access to outdoor feeding. In 2016, we built a transition barn for dry and post-fresh cows. We shoot for a dry period of 45 days. Both barns have sprinklers, which we started using in 2012. Sprinklers help with conception. We used to see a huge dropoff from July through September, but when we put sprinklers in, it made a big difference immediately. Cows are milked twice a day in a double-12 parallel parlor. Heifers are housed on bedded packs from weaning to 1 year of age. They are then transferred to sand-bedded free stalls from 1 year old to fresh. The breeding management team includes the four owners, our veterinarian, nutritionist and A.I. technician.
What is your reproduction program? Do you use a synchronization program? How do you get animals pregnant? We have a 63-day voluntary waiting period for cows and use a regular ovcynch program with a double Lutalyse. Heifers are mostly bred to natural heat. If a natural heat is not detected, we give Lutalyse shots. We also do daily tail chalking of cows and heifers.
Describe your breeding philosophy. We breed for solid, functional cows that last.
What guidelines do you follow to reach the goals for your breeding program? We believe in overall management of cows – paying attention to cow comfort and close attention to nutritional needs and watching for irregularities in the lactating group. If something is wrong nutritionally, it usually rears its head with lactating cows. Also, a regular hoof trimming program helps. All heifers are trimmed at 60-90 days in milk, and everyone is trimmed at dryoff. We have a trimmer here monthly and have snubbed lameness on the farm. We don’t even have a need to run a footbath anymore.
What are the top traits you look for in breeding your dairy herd and how has this changed since you started farming? Health traits, feet and legs, and udder composition. Fertility figures in as well, but if other things fall in line, fertility tends to follow suit. We push for the best animal we can get and raise them the best way, and we find that milk production also falls in line. The traits we breed for have not changed a whole lot over the years except perhaps we focus more on health traits now than we did in the past. Whereas before, stature and capacity may have ranked higher than longevity.
What are certain traits you try to avoid? Large, typey cows. We don’t want inefficient animals.
Describe the ideal cow for your herd. She is middle of the road mature weight and size and is the kind of cow that will give you 5 to 6 years or three-plus lactations. Our ideal cow is a well put together animal that holds up. She is not one that is extreme on any one thing. I don’t need a record-breaking cow. I’d rather get four to five lactations out of a good cow than two lactations out of a gangbuster cow.
What role does genetics have in reaching the goals of your farm? Genetics plays a big role in helping us reach our goals. You’re not going to get there if cows are not capable of doing it. Genetics dictate what you’re going to get, and you have to do everything you can to maximize the potential of the genetics you have. As we get daughters out of better bulls, we can be more selective with our culling.
What percentage of your herd is bred to sexed, conventional and beef semen? For heifers, 80% are bred to sexed and/or conventional semen. The first service is sexed semen, and the second and third services are conventional. We usually don’t go past a third breeding. We sort heifers by net merit, and the bottom 20% are bred to beef semen. Cows in their first and second lactations are bred to conventional semen, while animals in their third lactation and above are bred to beef. If cows get past 145 days in milk, we start to evaluate whether or not to put any more effort into them. We’ll give heavy producers another round of ovsynch and start a CIDR. We stop working with poor producers who are not pregnant after two services and have reached 145-160 days in milk. About 43% of the herd are first-calf heifers, 30% are second lactation, and 27% are third lactation and higher.
What is your conception rate? How does this differ with different types of semen? We have maintained a 35% pregnancy rate for the last 12 months. Our services per conception rate is 1.6. Pregnancy rates are broken down as follows: 65% for conventional, 25% for beef and 10% for sexed.
What is the greatest lesson you have learned through your breeding program? From the day a calf hits the ground until she leaves the farm, everything you do makes a difference – it all adds up. If you neglect something, cows tell you where you are lacking. The same is true for milk production.
What is the age of your heifers at first service? Thirteen months.
How does your heifer inventory affect your breeding program? We make adjustments to maintain a certain level of inventory. If our pregnancy rates are high and we’re going to be flooded with heifers, we’ll ramp up the percentage of animals bred to beef. If pregnancy rates are low and inventory is going down, we’ll back off breeding to beef and ramp up conventional and/or sorted semen in both cows and heifers. It’s easier to fluctuate our breeding program with heifers than it is with cows. We’ve been impressed with the Angus calves. They are aggressive eaters. They take off and never stop. They handle the weaning/transition phase much better than our Holsteins, and they’re always healthy. They’re just a good, solid animal.
Tell us about your farm. Alan’s parents bought this farm in 1956. Heidi started in partnership with her parents, Alan and Fran, in 2006. In 2011, Stuart also joined the partnership. We milk 250 cows and finish our beef calves. We farm 900 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa, and some sorghum sudangrass, and do the majority of the field work ourselves.