CANANDAIGUA, NY — Herd management vastly affects herd pregnancy rates, said the experts at a local Cornell-led event, “Successful Reproductive Management” held recently. Moderated by Dave Keller, representing Cornell’s Northwest Dairy, Livestock and Field Crops Team, the forum featured Wesley Smith, herd manager at Fairvue Farms in Woodstock, CT and Scott Yetter, reproduction manager with Cornell University Dairy Research Center in Harford, NY.
Yetter, a manager at the Dairy Research Center, said the herd’s conception rate is 47 percent.
“We’re holding our own, considering what happens with the cows,” Yetter said.
Home to a herd of 600, the facility experiences a 25 to 26 percent cull rate. Yetter thinks by keeping only the highest quality animals, the research facility receives greater longevity from the animals.
A newcomer to the farm, Smith said his past year at Fairvue has focused on improving pregnancy rates.
“They had good pregnancy rates, but I’m never satisfied,” he said, grinning. “I thought that I could do better.”
Last summer’s drought stressed the animals, as did a few environmental factors Smith hopes to change in the years ahead. He believes greater improved cow comfort can improve the farm’s pregnancy rates. Though the animals can “functionally get through it, it’s not the best thing for the cows,” Smith said.
For example, the farm’s open stalls have concrete flooring but no mats. The bedding is separated solids which Smith believes doesn’t provide the depth and cow comfort level he would prefer for the animals.
Smith also thinks that decreasing the cows’ time away from the pen — currently 90 minutes — would improve their lameness scores.
“I need to convince the help to bring only half the herd to milking at a time,” he said.
It bothers Smith that the cows must walk 1,200 feet to get milked because of the time they must spend on their hooves. More resting time means more milk and less lameness. Since he can’t change the location of the buildings, he considered putting in mats in the aisles to reduce lameness, but scrapped the idea because of the cost and because he didn’t want cows lying in the aisles.
He hopes to someday put rubber mats in the holding area and increase the size of the stalls to increase comfort.
Smith also wants to reduce overcrowding during feeding to ensure all the cows receive the feed they need. He wants to feed the herd more often, but “everything I want to do creates a human resources challenge,” he said.
The feed storage is five miles away from the cows, so increasing feeding frequency means pulling crew off of field work to retrieve more feed. At present, changing the location of feed or cows isn’t feasible, as the barn was built only three years ago.
Though Smith’s ambition drives him to want to further improve Fairvue Farms, he said he’s enjoyed the opportunity to be part of a successful operation and that the farm entrusted him with the responsibility over a much larger herd that his originating family farm of 200 head.
Correction: Scott Yetter, reproduction manager with Cornell University Dairy Research Center in Harford, NY, was reported to have said the pregnancy rate among the herd has risen from 30 percent to 47 percent. The quote should have said that the herd’s conception rate is 47 percent, not the herd’s pregnancy rate.
We apologize for the error.