July 12, 2021 at 12:54 p.m.
Breeding Focus

Team effort propels Greden herd to 39% pregnancy rate

Ross Greden and his daughters – Lydia (center) and Megan – stand in one of the freestall barns where they house their 550-cow herd on their dairy, Greden’s Ponderosa Dairy, near Altura, Minnesota. The Gredens’ herd as a pregnancy rate of 39%.  PHOTO BY KRISTA KUZMA
Ross Greden and his daughters – Lydia (center) and Megan – stand in one of the freestall barns where they house their 550-cow herd on their dairy, Greden’s Ponderosa Dairy, near Altura, Minnesota. The Gredens’ herd as a pregnancy rate of 39%. PHOTO BY KRISTA KUZMA

Larry and Nancy Greden; and Ross and Victoria Greden, along with their children, Ethan, 22, Josie, 21, Lydia, 19, and Megan, 17
Greden’s Ponderosa Dairy
Altura, Minnesota
Winona County
550 cows

Describe your facilities and list your breeding management team. Cows are housed in two four-row freestall barns bedded with sand and milked in a double-12 parallel parlor we built in 1995 (and have made updates when needed). Fresh and sick cows are milked on one side of our old double-6 herringbone parlor that was built in 1959. Our team includes our veterinarians, Dr. Tom England from Winona Vet Hospital and Dr. Megan Weisenbeck from Northern Valley Livestock Services; Paul Tveten, Jordan Pahl, Makayla Hickman, Kim DeFrang and the entire southeast Minnesota Select Sires team; Global Genetics Resources, especially Rick Blaser; and our kids, Ethan, Josie, Lydia and Megan Greden, who perform data entry/data management and software duties. Our talented breeding team cooperates and communicates well with one another. Each person on our team deserves the credit for our farm’s reproductive success.

What is your current pregnancy rate? 39%

What is your reproduction program? Do you use a synchronization program? How do you get animals pregnant? In November 2019, we started using a double ovsynch program, which involves looking at a lot of herd reports and tail paint. Before that, we were using a presynch/ovsynch approach with a voluntary waiting period of 50 days. We were getting 15%-20% twins with this way of breeding and the conception rates were poor and inconsistent. But now with double ovsynch and a later voluntary waiting period of 73 days, it requires a lot more records, and there is no room for error. There is no way we could do this ourselves. We need a team of people who work together to achieve this. With this approach, we have been more consistent with conception at first breeding. We might be spending more for the first breeding, but we are reducing the number of animals who need a repeat breed.

Describe your breeding philosophy. We want to get cows pregnant as soon as possible after the voluntary waiting period of 73 days while also being mindful of inbreeding.

What guidelines do you follow to reach the goals for your breeding program? We put an emphasis on a clean pre-fresh pen, which is loose housing with sawdust as bedding. We try not to overcrowd this pen to give the cows space. To help with this, we have far-off animals housed on another site. Good uterine health is also important to us. We try to do things that would prevent sickness rather than treat it. One way we do this is using an iodine-based uterine infusion product made by Dr. Tom England. We use this product to treat metritis.

What are the top traits you look for in breeding your dairy herd and how has this changed since you started farming? Using the aAa Breeding Analysis, we select traits for aAa No. 6. We place an emphasis on feet and legs, uniform size and animal longevity. Also, we now have two people helping us mate our cows. DeFrang looks more at the pedigree and how the cow looks on the computer while Blaser walks the cows monthly to determine what type traits would benefit each cow. The two then mesh their matings together to create the best one possible. Less emphasis is placed on Net Merit Dollars than in the past. Polled genetics were used in the past, but we felt we were giving up too much milk so we abandoned that.

What are certain traits you try to avoid? We avoid traits for extremely tall and high pins.

Describe the ideal cow for your herd. A cow that can compete in our commercial herd with high milk production, good feet and legs, and longevity. We also want cows to calve easily and settle fast. With our double ovsynch program, settling fast is less of an issue, but it is important to us.
What role does genetics have in reaching the goals of your farm? Our investment in genetics helps us look to the future where we constantly increase expectations.

What percentage of your herd is bred to sexed, conventional and beef semen? We breed 60% of the herd to Angus and 5% of the herd receives an Angus embryo. The rest of the cows are mated. They are bred four times using conventional semen and then Angus. All heifers are bred twice to sexed semen, once to conventional and then Angus.

What is your conception rate? How does this differ with different types of semen? Conception rate is 46%. Beef semen is 58%, sexed semen is 32% and conventional semen is about 47%.

What is the greatest lesson you have learned through your breeding program? Always keep accurate records and an open mind. Most recently with our double ovsynch program, we have learned that details and record keeping matter.

What is the age of your heifers at first service? 400 days.

How does your heifer inventory affect your breeding program? Healthy heifers are critical to our farm’s future. Percentage of Angus breedings is frequently adjusted based on the number of healthy heifer calves born. The goal is to maintain herd size.

Tell us about your farm. Our family dairy farm has been in business since 1866. The dairy is owned and operated by Larry and Nancy Greden, and their son and daughter-in-law, Ross and Victoria Greden. As part of the sixth generation, Ethan, Josie, Lydia and Megan Greden contribute to work on the farm on a daily basis. The farm has 900 acres of owned and rented land to grow all the alfalfa and corn silage needed to feed the herd. Our family farm is committed to soil conservation. We use cover crops, contour strips, grassed waterways, erosion control structures, riparian buffers, tree plantings and native prairie grass to benefit the soil and wildlife. We have made many changes to our dairy in the last three years. In addition to changing our reproduction program, we rewired barns to install fans, created a more intense vaccination protocol and became more detail oriented. We also do weekly herd checks instead of every other week. All cow groups are milked three times a day rather than only milking our late lactation group twice each day. Cows are sampled more frequently to detect potential mastitis cases and to try to prevent it before it even happens. Over a year ago, we added a calf feedings, going from two feeding each day to three. We feed the same amount of milk but over more feedings. Calves now reach weaning weight 10 days sooner.  In February 2020, we retrofitted the milking parlor by adding a Turner vertical lift system. Parlor throughput and cow comfort improved immediately.


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