April 24, 2023 at 2:54 p.m.

Breeding Profile

Steven and Julie Middendorf, and their son, Ben Sauk Centre, Minnesota | Stearns County | 200 cows

Describe your facilities and list your breeding management team. We have a cross-ventilated, 6-row robotic freestall barn with headlocks and a loose housing pole shed for the breeding age heifers. We have a small pen with a chute next to the heifer sheds. Ben and I decide on the group of bulls we’re going to use with Ben doing most of the individual day-to-day breeding decisions. We use bulls from multiple studs.

What is your current pregnancy rate? It is usually around 35%.

What is your reproduction program? All the cows wear activity monitors and show up on the computer as a percentage of possible heat based on activity. Our voluntary waiting period is 70 days in milk. We use ovsynch on the cows that haven’t shown a heat by 90 DIM and cows that are confirmed open. All the heifers are caught in heat visually.

Describe your breeding philosophy. We’re trying to breed balanced cattle with good feet and legs and especially health traits and components. In more detail, we breed our virgin heifers to sexed semen and about 25% of the top milking cows to sexed semen and the rest of the herd to beef bulls. We use mostly Angus and SimAngus.

What guidelines do you follow to reach the goals for your breeding program? Ben and I usually sit down and select a group of bulls that match our criteria and price. We usually do this after each proof run.

What are the top traits you look for in breeding your dairy herd and how has this changed since you started farming? Priorities certainly have changed over the years. We’ve been selecting for high component bulls for the last 10 to 15 years, but since we went to the freestall barn, we’re watching feet and legs closer. With the robots, a few new traits are being bred for like teat length, teat placement and milking speed.

What are certain traits you try to avoid? The traits we are avoiding are really short teats, close rear teat placement and slow milking speed. We also don’t like small cows, so we try to select bulls that are average size.

Describe the ideal cow for your herd. A 1,400-pound cow with a decent udder and feet and legs to handle the concrete. It’s a plus if they have a high IQ.

What role does genetics have in reaching the goals of your farm? We think genetics is very important, and we try to be diligent about the bulls we use. Everytime you breed a cow or heifer, there’s a good chance you’re getting a better cow than you have.

What percentage of your herd is bred to sexed, conventional and beef semen? We use sexed semen on all the heifers and the top 25% of the milking herd, and we use beef semen on the remaining of the milking herd.

What is your conception rate? How does this differ with different types of semen? Our conception rate is about 50%. In our experience, sexed semen settles as well as conventional Holstein semen, and beef semen lags behind just a little. That being said, we’re also breeding the harder settlers to beef semen.

What is the greatest lesson you have learned through your breeding program? My biggest lesson might be that as much as I’ve tried to learn about breeding and genetics, my expertise is only scratching the surface of the vast array of information.

What is the age of your heifers at first service? We aim for 15 months.

How does your heifer inventory affect your breeding program? Very little. We always seem to have enough heifers in the pens. We try not to raise extras because it’s too expensive.

Tell us about your farm. We have a 170-stall freestall barn with three robotic milking systems. Our son, Ben, is the herdsman and takes care of fetch cows, treating sick cows and most of the breeding. My wife, Julie, is the calf raiser, and I do most of the feeding and bedding and manure management. We have 500 acres of corn, alfalfa and soybeans. 


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