Penn State dairy reproduction tool now available online

Achieving good pregnancy rates on a consistent basis is a crucial component of a profitable dairy enterprise. However, reproduction is affected by many factors, and consequently evaluating a herd to identify the bottlenecks limiting reproductive performance is a challenge.

The Penn State Reproduction Drill Down Tool provides a systematic approach to critically analyze the major factors affecting heat detection rate and conception rate so that problem areas can be highlighted and discussed. The tool was rigorously tested by Penn State Extension educators and consultants across more than 15 herds, and then revised before being released. “Several dairymen made comments to the effect that they had never been asked questions related to reproductive management in such an organized manner,” noted Dr. Mike O’Connor, Penn State professor emeritus of dairy science, one of the original developers of the tool.

“The Penn State Reproduction Drill Down Tool provides a standardized operating procedure for comprehensively evaluating a farm’s reproductive program,” explains Dr. James Delahoy, a nutritionist who has used the tool on some of the herds he works with. “Using the Reproduction Drill-Down Tool is an effective and efficient way to identify and to work to resolve bottlenecks in a reproductive program,” notes Delahoy. The tool incorporates easy- to- access DHIA information and uses common terminology, he says, adding: “It provides a standard platform for communication between farmers, consultants, and university experts.”

The drill down tool asks a series of “trigger questions” that indicate whether conception rate, heat detection rate or both are the greatest contributors to low pregnancy rates. Answers to the drill down questions highlight areas requiring attention to improve performance. Drill down questions are divided into two general categories – factors affecting heat detection rate and factors related to conception rate – and then are broken down into more specific categories: ineffective heat detection, anestrous cows, confinement and footing, heat stress, estrous synchronization program, inaccurate heat detection, artificial insemination technique, ration or feeding management issues, reproductive health, and environmental issues.

Each area of reproduction management is assigned a “risk level” based on the answers chosen. Categories that are assigned a higher risk level indicate an area to focus on when making changes to improve reproductive performance.

Farm data from 2009 and 2010 is being collected through the Penn State Profitability Assessment Dairy Tool from Pennsylvania dairy operations by Rebecca White of the Penn State Extension Dairy Team. According to White, preliminary data reveals that two-thirds of the farms had an economic loss due to low pregnancy rates and high average days in milk (DIM) had a greater economic loss per cow.

Higher average DIM for a herd can signal a reproductive problem and can lead to lower lifetime production per cow further reducing herd profitability. For example, a dairy herd with an average of 192 DIM and a gross milk price of $20.50, the estimated loss from the increased DIM (192 vs. 185) $89.04 per cow per year. For a 250 cow herd, the total loss would be $22,260 per year.

The Reproductive Drill Down tool is a component of the Profitability Assessment Dairy Tool (PA Dairy Tool) and can be accessed online at no cost. For more information, contact the Penn State Extension Dairy Team toll-free at 1-888-373-7232.

From Penn State Extension Dairy Team press release