A.I. technician Brian Dick puts chalk on a cow’s tailhead during a daily walkthrough in the freestall barn.
PHOTO BY KRISTA KUZMA
A.I. technician Brian Dick puts chalk on a cow’s tailhead during a daily walkthrough in the freestall barn. PHOTO BY KRISTA KUZMA
Emerald Spring Dairy
Maurie, Rita and Darrin Young
Plainview, Minn.
Winona County
1,300 cows

What was your pregnancy rate average last year? Last year, the herd’s pregnancy rate was 35 percent.

What is your voluntary waiting period for cows? For heifers? Our VWP for cows is 70 days in milk. Heifers are usually bred around 13 months. They are custom-raised and taken care of by another farmer.

What is your first service conception rate? First service conception rate is 55 percent.

What is your reproduction program? Do you use a synchronization program? We use Double Ovsynch for all first services. After that, we visually heat detect with tail paint. Our regular technician, Brian Dick, from Select Sires, comes every day to detect heat. On the day we have to give shots for our synch program, I (Darrin) help breed the cows so it gets done faster.

How do you observe for heat? After first service we visually detect heat with tail paint.

How do you confirm pregnant or open cows? Cows are pregnancy checked via ultrasound at 32-38 days after breeding. They are rechecked again around 60 days and once again before dry off.

What is your breeding philosophy? How do you select bulls? What traits do you focus on? Does fertility play a role in bull selection? I usually focus on the following traits: combined fat and protein (CFP), productive life (PL), daughter pregnancy rate (DPR) and somatic cell score (SCS). I also select for certain type traits, such as smaller stature and wider rear teat placement. We usually use a mix of proven and genomic bulls. First calf heifers are scored on linear traits and are then mated to selected bulls.

How are cows and heifers bred? Do you have a different philosophy for breeding both? Less than one year ago, I started breeding 25 percent of the cows with beef semen. The cows are usually older and low producers. Since our reproduction has gotten better over the years, we have had an increase in the number of replacement heifers we have on hand. Breeding the bottom 25 percent of our herd to beef means we can limit our calves. We have also stopped crossbreeding our cows.

What do you do to settle hard breeders? Cows found to be non-cycling are given a CIDR implant when they are pregnancy checked.

How many times do you try to breed a cow before you sell her? Cows are not bred over 200 days in milk. After that time, she will stay in the herd until her production drops below 50 pounds per day or has any health issues.

Is there anything you have done or changed that brought about a significant improvement in your reproductive program? We built a cross-ventilated freestall barn with sand bedding at the end of 2015 and moved cows in during April 2016. This enabled us to give our cows more bunk space and a better overall environment year-round. We also implemented a Double Ovsynch program for first services around the same time, which has drastically improved our first service conception rate. The Double Ovsynch program seems like a lot of shots, but cows are also getting pregnant the first time around, which means less time for shots and rebreeding later.  

Tell us about your farm. I farm with my parents, Maurie and Rita. Most of our milking animals are on one site with the transition cows housed on another site just down the road. I manage the dairy side of the operation. My brother, Brandon, helps with the cropping enterprise. My brother, Ed, runs a trucking company and hauls our milk. We raise 2,000 acres of corn, alfalfa and soybeans, and harvest all of the dairy’s forages and grain.