Two cows at Johnson Rolling Acres wear activity monitor collars. Repeat and tough breeders are bred through the monitors rather than timed A.I.
Two cows at Johnson Rolling Acres wear activity monitor collars. Repeat and tough breeders are bred through the monitors rather than timed A.I. PHOTO BY KRISTA KUZMA
Johnson Rolling Acres
Peterson, Minn.
Fillmore County
1,200 cows

What was your pregnancy rate average last year? Last year, our DHIA records showed 30% and our own records from Dairy Comp showed 34%.

What is your voluntary waiting period for cows? For heifers? For cows, the voluntary waiting period is 67 days. Heifers are bred at 13 months.
What is your first service conception rate? First service conception rate is 53%.
What is your reproduction program? Do you use a synchronization program? No cows are bred before 67 days, and all cows are bred the first time on a timed breeding. In a presynch program, cows are given two rounds of Lutalyse. When cows are between 60-65 days, they are ultrasounded for a viable corpus luteum. If there is a viable CL, we give the cow lutalyse, and then she is bred three days later. If there is not a viable CL, the cow is given GnRH and checked for a viable CL in seven days. Then they are started on the ovsynch program. Then 32 days after breeding, the cow is given GnRH and pregnancy checked at 39 days. If she is open, she is resynched and bred again at 42 days. We think staying on a cow’s normal cycle is beneficial. The extra GnRH improves conception immensely and was suggested by our veterinarian. It helps us make sure the cows are cycling correctly.

How do you observe for heat? Most cows are bred from timed A.I.; however, we also have an activity monitor to help us breed repeat and tough breeders. Being able to catch more cows with the activity monitors helps us get more cows pregnant and not have to resynch them again.

How do you confirm pregnant or open cows? We use ultrasound to confirm pregnancy. Our vet, Dr. John Rein, from the Harmony and Cresco Vet Clinic comes out weekly. Cows are checked 39 days after breeding and rechecked at 65 days. We also check for twins at this time. If a cow is going to have twins, she is dried off a week earlier and put in the prefresh pen one week earlier. That’s been huge for their transition and getting them going.

What is your breeding philosophy? How do you select bulls? What traits do you focus on? Does fertility play a role in bull selection? All our cows are GMS mated through ABS Global. Our breeding philosophy has changed a lot in the last 10 years. We used to breed for feet and legs, and high production. Now we focus on components and health traits. After breeding this way for a few years, we are now starting to see if pay off. Our per-day production per cow is 88 pounds of milk with 4% butterfat and 3.2% protein. Fertility is also a big factor in our mating decisions. We only use bulls with a positive score for daughter pregnancy rate and high sire conception rate. In January, we started a new breeding protocol that will help us try to manage our heifer inventory. The top 30% of our herd is bred using sexed semen. The bottom 35% is bred using beef semen. The remainder of the herd is bred with conventional semen. We have more heifers than we need. Adding beef into our breeding helps us achieve only the number of heifers we need. It also helps us genetically improve our herd at a faster rate and breed the tough breeders out of our herd.  

How are cows and heifers bred? Do you have a different philosophy for breeding both? For the past five years, we have worked with De Su Holsteins to breed our heifers. They have a business that works together with an A.I. company to develop and produce heifers with high genetic quality. All our heifers are eligible to receive an embryo from highly genetic animals from De Su Holsteins. They are given two chances to carry an embryo before they are bred based off their GMS mating. The top 25% is bred with sexed semen.

What do you do to settle hard breeders? If a cow is open after the first two services, she is bred the third and fourth time to a high fertility bull. Beef semen is used on the fifth service. If the cow is still not bred, she is put on a do not breed list and sold. If a heifer reaches about 18 months old and is still not bred, she is put on the DNB list and sold.

How many times do you try to breed a cow before you sell her? Five to six times. We have a hard cutoff at 250 days in milk. If she is not pregnant by then, she is sold.

Is there anything you have done or changed that brought about a significant improvement in your reproductive program? The first is our cross-ventilation barn we built in 2012. It has the calving pens, and is where the prefresh and transition cows are housed. Taking good care of cows during this time is a big part of getting them bred back in a timely manner. Cows are ready to rebreed if they take off in transition after calving, are kept healthy and don’t lose body condition. Last year, we also brought our dry cows home. Now we don’t have to transport them to another farm which was another stressor. The second thing was adding a second shot of lutalyze 24 hours after the first in our ovsynch program. That’s been huge for us. The third aspect is being able to rely on employees to give shots. The same three employees give shots at the same time each day. Three other people focus on the breeding. This consistency helps our breeding program.

Tell us about your farm. There are six partners who own Johnson Rolling Acres. Three senior partners – Mark, Richard and Bradley Johnson – are the older generation. Three junior partners – Trinity, Zac and Lee Johnson – are the younger generation. One senior partner recently retired; however, he still comes to mix feed during the week. In addition to our milking herd, we finish 10,000 pigs each year. Our 2,900 acres are used to raise our own crops for the animals along with a small portion of cash crop. We harvest our own crops and haul our manure. The farm has 27 full-time and part-time employees, which includes all the partners. Our herdsman, Walter Laumb, has been with us for over 15 years.