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Improving Reproductive Efficiency adds value to bottomline

Improving 21-day pregnancy rates from 13 percent to 22 percent could result in a value of $188 per cow per year, or $37,600 for a 200-cow dairy herd, according to Dr. Victor Cabrera, UW-Madison dairy scientist, who spoke on the value of improving reproductive efficiency during last week’s Repro Money workshop in Gillette. Cabrera shared his research on the economic gains of improving a herd’s reproductive performance and the tools he has developed to empower dairy producers to estimate their own potential for increased profitability.

“You know that improving reproductive efficiency will help make you more money, but I would like to share with you the quantification of how much more money you could expect by making some changes to your productive program,” Cabrera said. Over the past few years of conducting research, he has identified what he considers to be the most important factors in reproductive efficiency.

Increased milk production, according to Cabrera is the first reason to look at improving reproductive performance. “More efficient reproductive programs translate to higher milk production and productivity,” he stated, pointing out that the focus should not simply be on getting cows pregnant, but rather getting them pregnant at the optimal time. In his example, a cow completing three lactations and pregnant by 60 days post-fresh produced 18,412 pounds of milk per year. A cow completing the same number of lactations but not pregnant until 200 days after calving produced 17,940 pounds of milk per year, a 472 pounds per cow difference. What that means, Cabrera said, is that quantified over her lifetime, the second cow may be producing more milk, but did so less efficiently. “Usually, the earlier the cow gets pregnant, the better,” he stated.

Along with increased milk production, cows breeding back more quickly will add value to the herd by producing more offspring over their lifetime. Cabrera compared a 5-year-old cow having had four calves with one having had only three, which demonstrated an increase of 0.2 more calves per cow per year. To put a value on that figure, he assumed that each offspring was worth $100. In a 200-cow herd, that added up to an increased value of $4,000 over the course of a year.

Culling rates also correlate with reproductive efficiency. Over time, Cabrera said, increasing the level of selective culling can improve herd genetics. As reproduction becomes better, a larger group of replacements are available to take the place of adult cows leaving the herd. When the replacement herd level exceeds that of the naturally occurring cull rate, producers have the opportunity to cull more aggressively from the adult cow herd. Herds with greater reproductive efficiency also tend to have lower rates of involuntary culling and culling related to reproductive failure.

Cabrera also pointed out that producers can save money on their overall reproductive program by maximizing the time and resources being used to perform programs such as timed AI. “As we are doing more events in the repro program, we will spend more money. The point is not how much money we have spent, the point is how efficiently it is being spent,” he said. “It’s not a matter of how much money we are using, but how many cows we are getting pregnant throughout each one of these events.

Not only did Cabrera identify the key factors to reproductive efficiency, he shared them as practical concepts for dairy producers by developing computer-based tools to calculate the monetary benefits of achieving higher pregnancy rates. His example represented a 200-cow herd with a benchmark of improving the 21-day pregnancy rate (PR) from 13 percent to 22 percent. According to his results, a 9 percent improvement generated $113 per cow per year in gained additional income from more milk produced and less feed consumed. Even a modest gain, such as increasing the 21-day PR from 10 percent to 11 percent can be the difference of $19 per cow, or $3,800 for the herd over a year’s time, he pointed out. The increase in calves produced at a 22 percent 21-day PR added an additional value of $28 per cow. He also estimated that reaching this mark would reduce the rate of culling due to reproductive failure, adding an additional value of $12 per cow, while also reducing the overall cost of the reproductive program to the tune of $33 per cow per year. All factors combined, Cabrera concluded that this level of improvement could result in an increased per cow value of $188, or $37,600 across the herd in one year. Overall, Cabrera said, “There is a value gained by improving reproductive efficiency.”

Dairy producers interested in calculating their own estimated values contingent with better reproductive efficiency can access tools through the UW-Madison Dairy Management website, Cabrera specifically noted the Dairy Reproductive Economic Analysis tool, which allows producers to use data from their own farms and current milk pricing to estimate their own per cow gain associated with a higher 21-day PR. Also, the UW-DairyRepro$ tool allows producers to compare their costs associated with their current reproduction program with an alternative, such as converting from a traditional OvSynch protocol to PreSynch. “It is the only tool that allows you do an economic analysis on specific reproduction programs,” he said. Cabrera also encouraged producers to take advantage of ReproMoney, a free resource for herds looking to make reproductive improvements.