Breeding Profile

Hyde Park Holsteins breeds for sustainable cows

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Kerwin, Sandy, Kevin and Kay Siewert

Employee management team: Eric Hanson, Dan Hanson, Nick Hanson and Cam Laqua
Hyde Park Holsteins
Zumbro Falls, Minnesota
670 cows

Describe your facilities and list your breeding management team. We milk in a double-8 parallel parlor. Our cows are housed in sand-bedded, natural-ventilated freestall barns with fans and sprinklers. Eric does all the shots and breeding for the milking herd. Cam follows the activity monitors on both the cows and heifers. Kerwin breeds most of the heifers.

What is your current pregnancy rate? 30% for the milking herd.

What is your reproduction program? Do you use a synchronization program? How do you get animals pregnant? All cows get two shots of Estrumate or Lutalyse before they go into an OvSynch program. The first shot is between 41 and 47 days, and the second shot is between 55 and 61 days. If they show up on the activity monitors, or physically show a heat, we’ll breed them then. Two weeks after that, they get a GnRH shot on a Monday, and then the following Monday, they get cycle checked by our veterinarian and resume our double Lutalyse OvSynch program if they have a corpus luteum. With our double Lutalyse OvSynch program, they get GnRH one week, and then the following week is Lutalyse on Monday, Lutalyse on Tuesday, GnRH on Wednesday and bred on Thursday. Cows are pregnancy checked at 30 to 36 days, and if one is open, she’ll get a GnRH shot and get checked again in the next week. If she has a corpus luteum, she’ll resume our OvSych protocol. The heifers are all bred natural and get caught with the activity monitors. Very seldom, we’ll give a Lutalyse shot to bring one in heat.

Describe your breeding philosophy. We look for sustainability. We want them to keep going in our herd, and in order to do that, they have to be on a good set of feet and legs and have a decent udder. We did run into the problem of getting the legs too straight. We found out they just don’t make it in a freestall facility on concrete. Now we watch for posty legs and try to stay away from them. Bull selection is based off of net merit, and then we work down from there. We want them to be a plus on udder, a plus on milk and a plus on feet and legs. Then, we watch to make sure their legs are not too posty.

What guidelines do you follow to reach the goals for your breeding program? Staying diligent with our shots, making sure the shots are given on time and on the right day, and being among the cows helps. With our OvSynch cows, we get a fair number of them who will show heat on Wednesday, the day before they are due to be bred, and then we’ll go ahead and breed them that afternoon.

What are the top traits you look for in breeding your dairy herd, and how has this changed since you started farming? We still go by net merit. It used to be a lot toward type, but now we are breeding more for health traits and net merit. We also watch combined fat and protein, which is different because before we weren’t concerned about that. We’d look for cows that milked.  

What are certain traits you try to avoid? Posty legs. The cows get up on their toes, and those feet go bad in a hurry.

Describe the ideal cow for your herd. An ideal cow for us gets around on a really good set of feet and legs and has an above average udder, because those are the cows that last in our herd. We also want her aggressive at the feed bunk, because if she’s aggressive there, odds are she’s going to milk. We are not concerned about size because we have had all sizes of cows milk well for us.

What role does genetics have in reaching the goals of your farm? They are huge, because we are always trying to jump that genetic bar. We have used embryos. We don’t any more, because we wanted to try and bring up the bottom end of the genetics in our herd. We’ve also used pre-release semen in the past to try and get a jump on genetics. Right now, our biggest change is the environment. We are on sand, which has helped keep the cows healthier and has boosted our reproduction and milk production. So, the cows’ environment is good, and now genetically, we just keep climbing because that is what’s going to drive our herd.

What percentage of your herd is bred to sexed, conventional and beef semen? We are all conventional in the tank right now. The only sexed semen we use is if a bull stud only carries sexed semen on that particular bull that we want. There’s no beef semen. We are calving out the last of the embryo transfers that we had. We went away from that because we were having issues getting them pregnant.
 
What is your conception rate? How does this differ with different types of semen? The cows are at 48%. The heifers are at 54%, and they still had some of the ETs factored in. The ETs were at 33% for conception and the standings at 63%.

What is the greatest lesson you have learned through your breeding program? The biggest lesson in the past few years has been posty legs. Net merit is a great number, and the feet and legs score is a good number, but for a while, a posty leg was helping her feet and leg score. So, we were taking these really high feet and leg scores and thinking we were fixing the problem and we actually weren’t. As far as the breeding program, it helped the older cows when we put that second Lutalyse shot in our OvSynch program. We went up about 5% or 6% on conception rate. The heifers, we found, are virtually the same whether you do two Lutalyse shots or one. Our activity monitors, however, helped with the heifers, because not everybody is going by there all the time. Five years ago, some were getting missed, and now the activity monitors can pick them up. And, same with the cows. During the day, we would catch cows, but over the weekend, we’d miss a lot.

What is the age of your heifers at first service? 14 months, so they calve at 23 months.  

How does your heifer inventory affect your breeding program? It doesn’t. For the foreseeable future, we plan to stay with conventional semen. We haven’t seen the reason for adding any sexed or beef semen to our operation as we have been slowly expanding for the last five years. We’ll take the extra heifers because we are building from within. We haven’t bought any cows since 2004.

Tell us about your farm. We milk a fair number of cows, but it’s still got a family farm feel to it because Kevin and Kerwin are very involved, and all of the management team is related; Eric, Dan and Nick are brothers and Cam is a cousin. Everything is bedded with sand, so we have a settling land and reclaim all of our sand. Most years we can also get by without buying any new sand; however, this year we did because we put a new building in and are using more sand. We also run around 1,380 acres of corn and 845 acres of hay, with 15 acres of new seeding. Next year, we will plant more new seeding, and then, we’ll have 650 acres of hay and 200 acres of new seeding. Then, we’ll probably cover it with winter rye which we chop and feed back to the heifers. All the crops go back to feed the cows, and the harvesting is done by us. We don’t hire anybody.

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