CentralStar A.I. technician Dave Holzinger prepares to breed cows at Latham Dairy on June 17 in Boscobel, Wis.
CentralStar A.I. technician Dave Holzinger prepares to breed cows at Latham Dairy on June 17 in Boscobel, Wis. PHOTO BY DANIELLE NAUMAN

Latham Dairy
Boscobel, Wis.
Grant County
700 cows

What was your average pregnancy rate last year? At the end of 2018, Latham Dairy was averaging a pregnancy rate of 37% for the year. We are averaging 40% for the last 12 months running average.

What is your voluntary waiting period for cows? For heifers? The VWP for the milk cow herd is 80 days. We have had to further delay the VWP as we have achieved better reproduction success. We were being forced to dry up cows too early in their lactation. Heifers are not bred until they reach 13 months of age.

What is your first service conception rate? We are achieving 56% conception rate in the cow herd for first services and two services per conception for the entire cow herd. For the purpose of calving ease, all virgin heifers are bred to sexed semen on their first insemination. We achieve a 63% conception rate on these first services. Any repeat services on heifers are using conventional semen. The average is 1.6 services per conception with our heifers.

What is your reproduction program? Do you use a synchronization program? Our reproductive program starts with cow wellness: dry cow nutrition, lactating nutrition, cow comfort, fresh cow management, heat abatement and foot heath are all critical aspects of cow wellness that affect reproductive performance. Accurate record keeping and accurate data entry are critical to the success of any breeding program. Significant effort is also made to maintain easy visible identification on all animals. A team of people contribute to the total effort. Nutritional consulting and diets are formulated by Vicky Meinholz with Ag Consulting Team. Cows have to be able to transition well from the dry period into lactation. Vicky’s efforts make our jobs easier on the dairy. Weekly hoof trimming is provided by professional trimmer Roland Nelson from Viroqua, Wis., and cows routinely pass through a footbath to help ensure foot health. Lameness cannot be tolerated if you want a productive cow that is going to breed back timely. Herd manager Mark Winters relies heavily on assistant herdsperson Ashley Myers and herdsperson trainee Jennifer Boak to execute the synchronization programs. Cows are started on a weekly basis on the various protocols and pregnancy detection work is performed bi-weekly. We run a double pre-synch program during the VWP followed by the ovsynch-56 protocol. We also resynch cows prior to pregnancy determination.

How do you observe for heat? All employees are encouraged to watch for natural heats. Tail chalking and breeding services are contracted with CentralStar Breeding Cooperative. Dave Holzinger, the primary A.I. technician, is conscientious and is constantly communicating about individual cows or concerns to staff members of Latham Dairy. Approximately three years ago, we also began using the GEA heat detection pedometer. This has also helped with heat detection and insemination rate. Our heifer reproductive success is the result of dedication and diligence by our heifer manager, Ron Fossom. Over 90% of the virgin heifers are bred based on natural heats and sound heat detection. Only a limited amount of prostaglandin (Lutylase) is used on heifers that may not be showing heats well.

How do you confirm pregnant or open cows? A close working relationship exists with herd veterinarian Clay Dean, of the Riverdale Veterinary Clinic. He determines a cow’s pregnancy status through the use of ultrasound. Most cows are checked at either 32 or 39 days after insemination. The shorter bred cows are rechecked two weeks later, and all cows are reconfirmed pregnant after 100 days.

What is your breeding philosophy? How do you select bulls? What traits do you focus on? Does fertility play a role in bull selection? We have a breeding philosophy of trying to breed the most functional and trouble free cow as possible. We like moderately sized cows that convert feed efficiently and that are trouble free. Use of genomic testing on females and intense scrutiny of the genomic predictions of bulls has contributed greatly to the genetic merits of the herd. Sires are selected first for improved milk components followed by positive fertility traits, and finally by health and wellness traits. Close attention is also paid to sire conception rates, and calving ease for the heifer matings is of primary importance.

How are cows and heifers bred? Do you have a different philosophy for breeding both? Replacement heifers should be superior to their dams and other older cows in herd because of improvement in genetic selection. I am willing to invest more in breeding virgin heifers because of this. A straw of semen is a relatively small part of the total cost of raising a replacement heifer. Spending a few more dollars to utilize superior genetics only makes sense. Only using proven sires with calving ease data traditionally was how heifers were mated. With more time and experience with genomic prediction, a combination of proven and young sires are now being utilized in heifer matings. First lactation cows may be bred back to conventional or sexed semen depending on their performance. Most cows that are second lactation and greater are bred back to beef. It is important not to generate too many herd replacements thus having to force good productive cows out the back door to make room for new heifers. Mature cows out milk young heifers so heifer inventory has to be managed.

What do you do to settle hard breeders? I do not reward infertility. Cows need to work hard and be able to breed back timely. Cystic cows are typically enrolled into a CIDR-synch program, and normally most cows are not inseminated more than four times

How many times do you try to breed a cow before you sell her? Most open cows over 200 DIM move to the DNB list. Exceptions are made for high production cows that are still milking over 100 pounds. Cows that become pregnant too late in lactation often end up dry for far too many days, and this is economically not feasible.

Is there anything you have done or changed that brought about a significant improvement in your reproductive program? I firmly believe that using the genomic predictors for fertility and selecting bulls that transmit superior fertility traits to their offspring has been key to our reproductive success. Working with staff members to execute 100% compliance to the synchronization protocols is important also. Synch programs work well if you correctly administer the correct hormone to the correct cow in the correct amount on the correct day.
Tell us about your farm. Latham Dairy is a second-generation family run 700-cow commercial dairy herd. The farm is owned by John and Lori Latham. John serves as the general farm manager. Lori serves as the book keeper and secretary. They have two sons: Ryan, a recent graduate of University of Wisconsin-Madison and Jack, a sophomore at UW-Eau Claire. The rolling herd average is approximately 33,000 pounds and the somatic cell count is consistently under 200,000. The dairy employs approximately 20 people and operates approximately 1,200 acres with the goal of making the highest quality forages as they can to support high milk production.