Dairy Herd Turnover Programming
While others have been quarantined, I have been bombarded with educational webinars. A good one was by John Fetrow, DVM, MBA titled “Dairy Herd Turnover in a High-Technology, High-Information World”. This webinar provided a step by step process to use data from Dairy Comp to derive information from spreadsheets to plan and match your replacement program with your culling program. It used to be that your culling might be limited by your ability to raise replacements. But things have changed: Reduced Youngstock mortality, Improved reproduction management, Sexed Semen, Advanced record and herd analysis systems, and Genomic testing. According to
Fetrow, the result is a need for proactive (not reactive) herd turnover management. Things have gone from never having enough heifers to always having too many. Replacements are typically 20% of the cost of dairying and so worthy of intense attention.
The process involves Monitoring and analysis of herd turnover, identifying best strategies for managing the phases of herd life, Developing, implementing, and monitoring the criteria/systems for individual animal decisions, and Forward planning for turnover/replacement rearing. Start with the basic demographics of your current replacement program, Replacements in the pipeline and what happens to them along the way, mortality by stage of life, conception rates, reproductive failures, aborts, and average age at first calving. All of this is readily available from DairyComp and other programs. I will be organizing the DairyComp commands that Fetrow uses to populate his spreadsheets. The spreadsheets will first predict how many heifers you will have. Recognize that when a cow or heifer is inseminated, it will be at least 3 years until the possible resulting calf will enter the herd as a replacement. The spreadsheets will use the historical data along the way to the point of replacement and predict how many replacements you will have available. The purpose of this part of the program is to monitor the data and strive for improvement, thereby increasing the number of replacements that should be available and allowing decisions to be made as early as possible, at semen selection, regarding how many heifers will be needed at each point. Eventually you can start fewer as the success of your replacement program improves. Remember, as Fetrow states, “The purpose of an economic model is to inform the decision maker, not to make the decision. All models are wrong. Some are useful.”
Next, which animals should provide the needed replacement pregnancies. Rank the potential dams, including heifers based on ME305, Relative Value (RELV), Cow Value (CWVAL), Net Merit Dollars (GNM$), Wellness Trait (GWT$), and consider Productive Life, Daughter Preg Rate, Calving Ease, Udder, Feet and Legs, etc. Some of these traits will require detailed record keeping along the way. You should be able to determine conception rate for each insemination depending on sire, conventional, sexed semen, and age of the dam. Use another Fetrow spreadsheet to partition inseminations across heifers and cows of various lactations. Not every heifer is worthy of replacing every cow currently in the herd. Breed only the best to produce the best replacements.
Next set to work on reducing the need for replacements. Start with concise definitions and record keeping abbreviations for significant problems such as LAME, MAST, PNEU, METR, MF, METR, and KETO. Establish detailed record keeping and treatment protocols. Stick to the protocols. If the outcomes do not support a protocol, discuss the protocol with all involved and change the protocol. Monitor the outcomes, including future performance after each specific condition. Cull the broken cows first. Talking about a universal ideal herd turnover rate is wrong. It depends on economic conditions, the herd’s current production and health status, genetic programs, and replacement rearing. You should start the cull list each week or month with the cows that must leave the herd. Avoiding the need to cull cows (“breaking cows”) remains valuable. But knowing why the cows were broken is essential to preventing broken cows. Higher culling makes for faster genetic gain, but also a younger herd. The result may be less milk per cow and less cash flow. Cull to the available replacements. Gradually reduce the replacements started to reduce the replacement inventory and expense.
With a new veterinarian on staff, Rachel Dahlske, we will be helping implement the above ideas. First a typical herd check will start with evaluation of broken cows, cows that must leave the herd due to previous problems. Next, we will review outcomes of the treatment protocol and determine if it is time to replace the protocols. We will evaluate the prevention programs and make seasonal recommendations for clinical as well as sub-clincal testing programs. A change in our programs, but a change for the better.