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Virginia Cooperative Extension - Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Make An Extra Effort To Get Cows Bred

Dairy Pipeline: July 2008

Bennet Cassell, Extension Dairy Scientist, Genetics & Management
(540) 231-4762;

“We live in interesting times” appears from time to time in graduation speeches, properly attributed to an author whose name I have forgotten. It certainly applies to the Virginia dairy industry in Summer of 2008. Costs of feed and fuel and changes in consumer preferences for milk supplies are shaking some very basic assumptions about how to manage dairy cows.

I have been watching subtle trends in the state rolling herd average for milk for a number of months. Each month’s “test period milk lbs. added” is just a bit less than the month dropped from the previous year. Cows are giving slightly less milk this year than last. Why such trends exist is always complex, but high costs of concentrates is involved. Producers feel that they must rely more on home grown forages or locally produced grain supplements than in the past, and those inputs won’t always support previous yields. BST is not the option it once was to sustain milk yield in prolonged lactations. In the past, low concentrate costs and BST reduced the costs of extended days open, but the rules of that game have changed. Record keeping programs like PCDART can help avoid those 150 day intervals to first breeding. Track all cows after calving and have a protocol to breed most of them at 70-80 days in milk. There are still many systems and options available to rebreed cows in the lactating herd. One key component is a frequent and consistent vet check program. Monthly vet checks are probably the minimum for Virginia sized herds (about 160 cows today). Even more frequent vet checks lead to more timely intervention on problem cows.

Most dairy farms have or can acquire the resources to shorten interval to first breeding. The benefits of reduced days open remain the same - fresher, more productive cows and additional heifer calves. The costs of days open are higher than ever.

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