April 11, 2022 at 3:41 p.m.
Describe your facilities and list your breeding management team. We milk 500 registered Holsteins which are housed in a 4-row freestall barn with sand bedding. They are milked in a newly installed double-12 parallel parlor, updating our original parlor from 1997. The breeding management team consists of myself (Martine), Genex technician Jamie Weisenberger and Jill Colloton, our reproductive veterinarian, who provides us with ultrasound pregnancy detection biweekly.
What is your current pregnancy rate? Our pregnancy rate is 32%.
What is your reproduction program? Do you use a synchronization program? How do you get animals pregnant? All cows enroll in a presynch program at 36 days in milk. We ultrasound before breeding to ensure proper stage of cycle at which time they are enrolled in an Ovsynch program (day 1 GnRH; day 7 Lutalyse; day 8 Lutalyse; day 9 GnRH; day 10 breed). Heat detection is done with timed artificial insemination or pedometers. Any cows that show heat after first breeding are bred; all others will be presynchronized with GnRH as we do pregnancy checks every other week. Ultrasound is utilized for pregnancy detection, calf sexing, identifying twins or other abnormalities. The voluntary waiting period is 75 DIM. All cows are bred first service with sexed semen, first lactation will be bred with sexed semen on second service and all other cows second service are bred using conventional or beef semen at my discretion.
Describe your breeding philosophy. Our breeding goals are to breed well-balanced cows with well-attached udders and correct feet and legs that will produce milk without any healthy issues.
What guidelines do you follow to reach the goals for your breeding program? It is an interesting time in bull selection. The genetic level available in all young bulls is so extreme that you can select any bull in a company’s line up and still make genetic gains in your own herd. I try to select bulls that meet my criteria and are within a reasonable price range.
What are the top traits you look for in breeding your dairy herd, and how has this changed since you started farming? The goals have remained the same throughout time. The goal has always been to breed a well-balanced cow that can produce milk efficiently. The major difference has happened with the onset of genomics and the information this has provided us. I like to focus on several key areas to create my ideal cow: GPTI and Net Merit both as high as I can find within a reasonable price range, PTAT greater than 1.5, Pounds of Fat and Protein, DPR and Legs Side View (as an industry, legs have become extremely posty, and I am hoping to correct this). Sire stack is also important as many bulls are related. I am trying hard to minimize inbreeding as much as possible. Of all bulls we use, 90% are genomic youngsires with a small handful being proven bulls or beef.
What are certain traits you try to avoid? No specific traits are avoided; all traits are evaluated at the time of bull selection and bulls are eliminated from the list based on the above criteria.
Describe the ideal cow for your herd. My cows must be functional, productive, healthy and eye appealing. I prefer a cow who is angular, silky-hided, with correct feet and legs, high and wide rear udder, snug fore udder, correct teat placement, wide rump, sweeping ribs and moderate stature. I enjoy watching the 2-year-olds calve and mature to see the results of our bull selection in milking form.
What role does genetics have in reaching the goals of your farm? Part of our farms business plan has always been to sell high-quality dairy replacements. We have always been able to generate a surplus of females. The genetics side of the business is important because we can utilize all the tools to breed high-quality cattle with great genetic potentional.
What percentage of your herd is bred to sexed, conventional and beef semen? Most of the milking herd is bred to sexed semen on the first service, first lactation will be bred with sexed semen on second service, and all other cows will be bred with either conventional or beef semen. All mating decisions are done by myself. I utilize a sire mating program which aligns specific bulls to specific cows based on a few parameters (i.e. herd genetic goals and percent inbreeding). We do dabble with embryo transfer work if we have an animal that merits the expense. Our heifers have been utilized as recipients for other dairies who do a lot of in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer work which has been a nice addition to our program.
What is the greatest lesson you have learned through your breeding program? To decide what is important to you, set goals, follow a plan, be patient, and have skilled and knowledgeable people on your team to help you make the best decisions for your farm.
What is the age of your heifers at first service? Heifers enter the breeding group at 13 months of age with a target breeding by 14 months and calving at 22.5-23 months of age.
How does your heifer inventory affect your breeding program? We try to generate a consistent heifer inventory throughout the year, but by nature we have ebbs and flows in the inventory. Theoretically, the heifer population is genetically superior to the mature cow population, so we have always bred the best bulls to the heifers. We also try to generate the largest percentage of heifer calves from the heifer population. The greatest herd inventory controls happen with the mature cows not the heifers.
Tell us about your farm. Harmony-Ho Holsteins was established near Stratford Wisconsin, the heart of Marathon County, in 1989 by fourth-generation dairy producers Ralph and Sharon Bredl and daughter Martine Bredl-Lueck. Today, Harmony-Ho Holsteins is home to 600 high genetic merit registered Holsteins whose milk is processed into cheese at the family-owned Harmony Specialty Dairy Foods located in Athens, Wisconsin. Duties on the farm have shifted as Ralph and Sharon approached the retirement years allowing Martine to move into a roll of more ownership along with daily responsibilities to keep the farm plugging along. The farm employs 10 key full-time employees with four part-time employees, two of which are local high school students.
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