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A genetic approach to improved fertility

Alta 4-EVENT COWS don’t happen by accident. It takes a clear focus on the best day-to-day management, and a long-term plan toward breeding and developing a healthy, fertile, and productive herd.

Here, we focus in on how the decisions you make on breeding and genetics can help you create more 4-EVENT COWS in your herd. We share two ways – plus some proof – that genetics are a key piece of the puzzle in main­taining a trouble-free, profitable herd – now and down the road.

1. CREATE MORE PREGNANCIES NOW

If you’re looking for a fertility advantage on inseminations today, sire fertility rankings are where you’ll want to focus. The Alta CONCEPT PLUS sire fertility evaluation ranks each sire on his ability to get cows pregnant. In fact, regardless which semen type you use in your breeding strategy, you’ll find high fertility CONCEPT PLUS options to fit.

Why should you trust Alta’s CONCEPT PLUS ratings? They are based on real pregnancy check results from progressive dairy herds throughout North America. The evaluation also maintains accuracy by accounting for factors like number of times bred, month/season, technician and breeding code effects.

 

  • CONCEPT PLUS DxD – high fertility sires will give you a 2%-5% greater chance at creating a pregnancy with conventional semen.
  • 511 CONCEPT PLUS – high fertility SexedULTRA sires offer a 4%-9% conception rate advantage over the average sexed bull
  • CONCEPT PLUS BxD – high fertility beef x dairy sires give you a 2%-5% greater chance at creating a conventional pregnancy than the average beef bull used on dairy cows.

If you’re more familiar with sire conception rate (SCR), keep in mind that Alta’s CONCEPT PLUS evaluation is more complete, current, and consistent – and actually served as a basis for SCR. The table below compares what’s included and accounted for in each evaluation.

4-EVENT COW Circle Logo
Comparing sire fertility evaluationsSCRCONCEPT PLUS
Based on real pregnancy check dataXX
Accounts for various factors affecting fertility, including age, month, herd, service number and lactationXX
COMPLETE
Separate ratings available per semen type: conventional, sexed, and beef x dairy breedingsX
Accounts for additional factors affecting fertility, like technician and breeding code effectsX
Data is collected from progressive dairies in North America, and not restricted to US farms on official testX
CURRENT
Ongoing data is collected and evaluated directly from DairyComp and other herd management programsX
Updates are available every other monthX
CONSISTENT
Data is gathered only from large-herd environments with progressive management and reproduction programsX

2. CREATE MORE FERTILE COWS FOR THE FUTURE

While sire fertility selection can get you more pregnancies, and more Alta 4-EVENT COWS now, it takes a long-term plan and genetic selection for female fertility to ensure your herd’s reproduction continues to improve.

Daughter pregnancy rate (DPR), heifer conception rate (HCR) and cow conception rate (CCR) all provide a genetic basis for creating more fertile females. Emphasizing one, or any combination, of these traits in your customized genetic plan means you are breeding a next generation of cows with a greater ability to conceive.

Daughter pregnancy rate is defined as the number of non-pregnant cows that become pregnant within each 21-day period. When a sire has a DPR of 1.0, it means that his daughters are 1% more likely than the average herdmate to become pregnant in a given 21-day window. And each added point of DPR equates to 4 fewer days open.

When referring to HCR and CCR, these traits are defined respectively as a virgin heifer or lactating cow’s ability to conceive. For each of these traits, when a sire has a value of 1.0, it means that his daughters are 1% more likely to conceive than daughters of a sire with an HCR or CCR of 0.0. While DPR is a slightly different calculation than HCR or CCR, all three are a way to measure the fertility of the female herself.

It’s clear to see that the high DPR sires, do indeed, create daughters that become pregnant more quickly than the daughters of low DPR sires.

Lactation 1 cows# of cowsAverage Sire DPRActual Preg rate
Top 25% for highest Sire DPR1742.327%
Bottom 25% for lowest Sire DPR137-1.120%
Difference3.47%

IMPROVE FERTILITY RESULTS – NOW AND INTO THE FUTURE

If your goal is to create more Alta 4-EVENT COWS through improved fertility and reproduction, don’t miss out on the impact that genetics can make in taking you to that next level. Despite the low heritability of fertility traits like DPR, these two tips will help improve your herd’s reproductive results now and into the future:

  1. Improve conception rates now by using sires with the high fertility CONCEPT PLUS rating to boost your herd’s current conception rates.
  2. Improve fertility for the future of your herd by including DPR and/or HCR and CCR in your customized genetic plan to create a next generation of more fertile females.
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Help your calves become future Alta 4-EVENT COWS

The journey to 4-EVENT COW status starts long before an animal enters the fresh pen. In fact, that journey starts in the hours immediately after she is born.

The most important meal a calf will consume is her first one – colostrum. That’s partly because a calf is most vulnerable in those moments right after birth. A newborn calf needs the immunity and energy that only high-quality colostrum can give her.

To make sure the first meal for each of your calves is as effective as possible, keep these 3 Qs of colostrum in mind.

THE 3 Q’S OF COLOSTRUM

1. QUICKLY

A calf’s ability to absorb the immunity from colostrum declines at a rapid rate after birth. You can see from the graph, that the ideal time to feed colostrum to a newborn calf is within the first 1-2 hours after birth. After six hours, the percent IgGs she can absorb and utilize is already significantly lower.

Recommendations say you should also offer a second feeding of colostrum within the next eight hours to ensure that each calf receives the energy she needs to get the best start in life.

White DG. Colostral supplementation in ruminants. The Compendium on continuing education for the practicing veterinarian 1993; 15:335-345.

2. QUALITY

In an ideal world, every dam will produce the amount and quality of colostrum that her calf needs. Unfortunately, ideal isn’t the norm. When colostrum quality is too low, a calf will not receive enough IgGs. That means she’s likely to experience Failure of Passive Transfer (FPT). FPT has a life-long impact on the growth and future production of affected calves.

Since we know that maternal colostrum can vary greatly from one cow to the next, that’s why it’s important to test maternal colostrum from every fresh cow. Use an optical or digital % brix refractometer to estimate the colostrum quality.

To interpret the % brix results and know what to do with the colostrum that mother nature has provided, follow these colostrum feeding recommendations:

% Brix readingQuality levelAction
> 25%EXCELLENTNo need to supplement maternal colostrum
22%-25%GOODSupplement maternal colostrum if excellent results are desired
18%-22%ADEQUATESupplement maternal colostrum with Calf’s Choice Total colostrum
<18%POORReplace maternal colostrum with Calf’s Choice Total colostrum

3. QUANTITY

In order for a calf to receive the total immunity and energy she needs, it’s critical to feed her enough colostrum. That generally means feeding 10% of the calf’s body weight in the first feeding. When you know the quality is good, you can also follow these guidelines:

  • OPTIMAL: 3L – 4L colostrum, which equals 150-200 grams IgG
  • SUFFICIENT: 2L – 3L colostrum, which equals 100-150 grams IgG

A healthy, newborn calf is the future of your herd. Help her become a healthy, profitable Alta 4-EVENT COW by following the 3 Q’s of colostrum management. When maternal colostrum does not pass the test for quality or quantity, be sure to have Calf’s Choice Total colostrum ready to fill the void.

 

Adapted, in part, from the May 2015 Colostrum Counsel Newsletter from SCCL, titled “Contribution of good colostrum feeding practices to the welfare of the newborn calf.”

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Two Alta 4-EVENT COWS in your maternity pen

Everyone knows that the journey to 4-EVENT COW status starts at freshening.

Or does it?

Think about your maternity pen. In there, you have the new dam and her female calf. The cow just started her journey to 4-EVENT COW status by recording FRESH as her first mark in the 4-EVENT COW circle.

The one we often forget about when thinking of Alta 4-EVENT COWS is her female calf. If this newborn is not given the best possible start, right from birth, she may not even get the chance to record that first mark in the 4-EVENT COW cycle.

So how do we help both of them become future Alta 4-EVENT COWS?

Getting THE COW off to the right start after calving

When your farm’s transition, maternity, fresh cow and nutrition programs are in good order, you up your chances of creating more of those healthy, trouble-free Alta 4-EVENT COWS – both from the calves born and cows that freshen.

Future reproductive troubles and health challenges often stem back to the transition period. So to help you get more of your cows on track to 4-EVENT status, we’ve got two things you can implement in your management strategy.

1. Activity and rumination monitoring systems like Alta COW WATCH will keep you ahead of any illness – usually before a major problem even occurs. With the repro, health and welfare of the cow in mind, Alta COW WATCH alerts you of potential health troubles throughout a cow’s lactation. This is especially critical in the fresh pen, because it allows you to use preventive measures instead of reactionary treatment. That will save you time and labor, and treatment costs, and give you peace of mind.

Alta COW WATCH logo for Facebook

2. A nutritional calcium supplement, like RumiLife® CAL24™ given at calving, will get your cows off to the right start. CAL24 is the simplest way to promote proper calcium levels so you can also avoid the fresh cow problems that often accompany subclinical milk fever. Plus, you can give a full dose of two CAL24 boluses at once, right after calving, so you don’t need to catch each cow again 12 hours later. That saves time, labor, and stress on you and the cow.

Image of RumiLife CAL24 boluses and boxes

Getting THE CALF off to the right start at birth

She’s still a couple years away, but this newborn calf can be a future Alta 4-EVENT COW if you give her the best care, right from the start. That includes keeping a clean environment, offering a low-stress entrance into the world, and remembering the 3 Q’s of colostrum after she’s born.

  1. Quickly – feed colostrum as soon as possible, and ideally within two hours after birth for optimal transfer of immunity
  2. Quantity – ensure that you feed colostrum with enough fat and enough IgGs
    • 100 grams of IgG is the minimum amount a calf needs
    • 150-200 grams of IgG is the gold standard to give that calf the best possible start
  1. Quality – if you use maternal colostrum, test it first with the Brix refractometer. Use the following guidelines to know whether a colostrum replacement or supplement, like Calf’s Choice Total® (CCT) Colostrum is needed.
    • Brix < 18%: Replace maternal colostrum with CCT.
    • Brix = 18%-22%: Supplement maternal colostrum with CCT.
    • Brix = 22%-25%: Supplementation is optional for excellent passive transfer of immunity.
    • Brix > 25%: No supplement is required.

The first meal is the most important one that a calf will ever have. It’s a known fact that calves have fewer health problems when they’re given the best immunity and energy in their first meal – colostrum. Studies show that proper colostrum management lends way to higher average daily gains (ADG), which in turn yields higher production levels once that calf freshens in for the first time.

So in that calf’s first hours, keep these 3 Q’s of colostrum in mind, to help set her up for a successful future as an Alta 4-EVENT COW.

Image of CCT Colostrum bags and pail options

Help them both become Alta 4-EVENT COWS

The calf and cow in your maternity pen can both be future 4-EVENT COWS in your herd. Start them on their way by getting them off to the right start after calving and the right start at birth.

Work with your trusted Alta advisor to see how you can incorporate Alta COW WATCH, RumiLife CAL24, and CCT Colostrum in your herd, or learn more about each, at the links below:

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Top 5 reasons to include CAL24 in your fresh cow protocol

Are you giving your cows the best possible chance to become an Alta 4-EVENT COW? A proper fresh cow protocol is part of that equation.

Giving cows RumiLife CAL24 calcium supplement after calving to promote proper calcium levels is one way to get your cows off to the best possible start in their lactation. Even when anionic salts are part of your program, subclinical milk fever is likely still an issue that you’re dealing with – even when you don’t see any symptoms.

So here are the top five reasons to include a calcium supplement like RumiLife CAL24 as part of your fresh cow SOP.

50%
Subclinical milk fever is a real problem on dairy farms. Studies show that half of your mature cows are likely to have subclinical hypocalcemia, even if anionic salts are part of your nutrition program. ¹

That means that half, or more, of your cows will show no outward signs of milk fever, but will still experience the impaired muscle function and GI problems that result from improper calcium levels at calving.

$125
A conservative cost of $125 per case of subclinical milk fever is calculated from lost production and a wide array of other health challenges the cow may experience because of the calcium imbalance.

4x
Subclinical hypocalcemia can cost you four times more than clinical cases in your herd.¹

That may seem like a crazy statistic. But it makes sense when you consider the much higher prevalence of subclinical hypocalcemia, and the fact that these cows will experience the challenges related to low calcium levels, but are not treated since they show no outward signs.

ROI
It’s not hard to reap the benefits of including a nutritional calcium supplement like RumiLife CAL24 in your fresh cow protocols. And it’s even more important to pay close attention to specific groups of higher-risk cows.

A University of Minnesota Extension article tells us that you can yield a 180% return on investment by giving calcium boluses after calving to high producers or lame cows.²

Other issues
Studies prove that cows with subclinical hypocalcemia around freshening are much more likely to have other fresh cow problems and resulting reproductive challenges throughout their lactation. In fact, cows with hypocalcemia are 3.2 times more likely to have a retained placenta than cows with normal calcium levels at calving. Hypocalcemic cows also have more average days open, due to the uterine health challenges they go through after calving.¹

A calcium bolus does not replace an IV in clinical milk fever cases where the cow is down. But you’ll reap big benefits, and create more Alta 4-EVENT COWS, by using a nutritional calcium supplement like RumiLife CAL24 to address the cases of subclinical hypocalcemia that likely exists in your herd.

Healthy cow resting with text: Help her become an Alta 4-EVENT COW. It starts at calving
  1. Oetzel, G. R. (2014) Treatment and Prevention of Subclinical Hypocalcemia [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from https://www.slideshare.net/DAIReXNET/treatment-and-prevention-of-subclinical-hypocalcemia.
  2. Caixeta, L. (2019). Prevention and treatment of milk fever. Retrieved from University of Minnesota Extension website: https://extension.umn.edu/dairy-animal-health-and-comfort/hypocalcemia
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The making of an Alta 4-EVENT COW

Meet cow 5677.

She lives on a 1500-cow dairy farm that partners with Alta Genetics and uses an Alta AI technician to handle all of the herd’s reproduction. On the dairy, she’s milked three times per day through a double-20 parallel parlor.

She’s fed a well-balanced ration, and when she’s not eating, spends her time comfortably resting in sand-bedded freestalls. 5677 is currently in her second lactation. And at Alta, she’s what we call a 4-event cow.

What is an Alta 4-EVENT COW?

If you look at any cow card in DairyComp or your herd management program, a 4-event cow has only four major events listed throughout her lactation:

  1. FRESH
  2. BRED
  3. CONFIRMED PREGNANT
  4. DRY
4-EVENT COW Circle Logo

In the case of 5677, this means she had a live calf with no troubles. She had no milk fever, ketosis, or retained placenta. No other metabolic issues slowed her down after calving, and by avoiding those issues, she did not incur treatment costs.

After the dairy’s 60-day voluntary wait period, 5677 was bred. Since BRED is only listed once on her cow card, we know it took only one unit of semen – meaning just one insemination for her to conceive.

She was later confirmed pregnant, noted as PREG on her cow card. This is only possible because she did not have early embryonic death loss or an abortion, and no other reproductive troubles.

The fourth, and final event of 5677’s lactation shows as DRY on her cow card. This means there were no other lingering issues throughout her lactation. She went about her business as usual, until time to be dried off in preparation for her next lactation.

What’s missing?

You might wonder what is missing from 5677’s cow card. Of course, maintenance events like pen moves, foot trims, vaccinations, and pregnancy re-checks also occur during a cow’s lactation.

But what’s really missing in a 4-event cow’s lactation are the setbacks – the costly, time-consuming issues that hinder overall herd profitability. A 4-event cow like 5677 does not get mastitis. She doesn’t become lame, and she does not abort her calf midway through the pregnancy. She avoids the sickness, infections and troubles that can cause major headaches for even the best dairy producers.

Make more like 5677

Cow 5677 is not only a 4-event cow. She’s a profitable cow. Consider the time and money you save, and peace of mind you gain, with 4-event cows. A herd full of cows like 5677 don’t require costly treatments, and don’t drop in milk production due to those health concerns.

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CONCEPT PLUS in the making of an Alta 4-EVENT COW

Remember cow 5677? At Alta, she’s what we call a 4-event cow. That means the management records on her individual cow card tell us she only experienced four events in her most recent lactation:

  1. FRESH – with a healthy calf and no metabolic issues
  2. BRED – serviced just one time, which means she got off to a health start after calving
  3. PREG – confirmed pregnant from a single service, and with no subsequent abortions
  4. DRY – dried off while healthy, and with no health problems throughout her lactation
Polaroid style image of Alta 4-EVENT COW #5677

How does Alta CONCEPT PLUS help make more 4-EVENT COWS?

Events 2 and 3, as listed above, both rely on several factors related to genetics and reproduction. One sure way to create more cows that will be confirmed pregnant after just one insemination is to use sires with the highly coveted, high fertility Alta CONCEPT PLUS rating.

Alta CONCEPT PLUS is the industry’s most accurate sire fertility evaluation, and it’s exclusive to Alta.

That means it’s the most reliable way for you to know the individual sire fertility for every Alta bull. It’s based on real pregnancy check results and accounts for all factors that can affect how well a bull creates pregnancies. And since the data only comes from the most progressive, large dairies like yours, you can have full confidence that Alta’s CONCEPT PLUS rated sires will help you create more pregnancies on your dairy.

Fewer services for more pregnancies!

If you’re using conventional semen in your breeding program, then the Alta bulls rated as CONCEPT PLUS high fertility sires will give you a 2%-5% conception rate advantage over an average conventional sire.

Concept Plus Logo

When sexed semen is part of your breeding strategy, then Alta’s 511 CONCEPT PLUS high fertility sexed bulls are the ones you’ll want to use, because they will help you achieve a 4%-9% conception rate advantage over any average sexed bull.

High Fertility SexedULTRA sires

Sire fertility = profit

Cow 5677 is not only an Alta 4-event cow. She’s a profitable cow. Whenever it takes just one service to create a pregnancy, you know your reproductive program is saving time and money and giving you peace of mind.

Using Alta’s high fertility CONCEPT PLUS sires improves your odds at creating a pregnancy on every service, on every cow. Regardless if you choose conventional and/or sexed semen as part of your breeding strategy, you can make the most of your genetic investment and create pregnancies with confidence.

When you use a group of Alta’s highest fertility CONCEPT PLUS conventional high fertility sires, or the highest fertility sexed Alta bulls, designated as 511 CONCEPT PLUS, you will create more Alta 4-event cows in your herd – just like 5677.

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Genetics in the making of an Alta 4-EVENT COW

One of the best ways to create more four-event cows for your future herd is to focus your genetic selection on health traits like Productive Life (PL).

When you work with your trusted Alta advisor to put enough emphasis on PL in your customized genetic plan and strategy, it doesn’t only mean that you’ll create more old cows. PL predicts which cows will be toughest, healthiest and easiest to manage.

How does a genetic plan relate to our Alta 4-event cow, 5677?

If you remember cow 5677, she is a second lactation cow living on a 1500-cow dairy – and she’s an Alta 4-event cow.

We also know that her sire is 11HO11499 AltaMEGLO. As of April 2019, AltaMEGLO’s PL value was +5.6. That means cow 5677 is expected to be productive in the herd for 5.6 months longer than her herdmates sired by a bull with a 0.0 PL value.

Polaroid style image of Alta 4-EVENT 5677 along with the 4-EVENT COW and Alta Genetic Plan and strategy logos

This actual measure of PL is not calculated until after a cow leaves the herd. However, we can look at other events in a herd’s management records to see if higher PL bulls like AltaMEGLO actually create healthier and more trouble-free cows.

Table 1 below breaks down the events within the herd where cow 5677 lives. It includes all animals with known Holstein sire ID’s. Based only on each animal’s parent average for Productive Life, this shows the real difference in the health events between cows with a pedigree for high PL, and cows with a pedigree for low PL.

This graph illustrates the real number of events, recorded on this farm’s herd management software program. Keep in mind, management is consistent throughout the herd, and no preferential treatment is provided for any given cow.

Graph comparing health events of high productive life cows versus low productive life cows

The table clearly shows the high PL cows had fewer issues after calving and throughout their entire lactation. High PL cows had fewer abortions, and fewer of them were coded as ‘do not breeds’ (DNB). The high PL cows also had fewer cases of mastitis, metritis, and other illness – all of the costly issues that cause headaches for dairy owners and managers. Because the high PL cows had fewer health problems, that also meant fewer of those cows were culled involuntarily.

Compare those results to cow 5677. We know that, because she’s an Alta 4-EVENT COW, she had none of those events. Her sire, AltaMEGLO is at +5.6 for sire PL – even higher than the average of the high PL group. It’s evident that aspect of her genetic makeup contributes to her status as an Alta 4-event cow with no health issues.

Customize your genetic plan & strategy to create more Alta 4-event cows

Consider how much smoother your days would go if you didn’t have any mastitis or metritis to deal with, and no IVs to give. A herd full of Alta 4-event cows like 5677 don’t require costly treatments, and they don’t drop in milk production due to those health concerns.

Any cow that has only the following four events in a lactation, is saving you time, money and headaches.

  1. FRESH – with a healthy calf and no metabolic issues
  2. BRED – serviced just one time, which means one unit of semen
  3. PREG – confirmed pregnant from a single service, and with no subsequent abortions
  4. DRY – dried off while healthy, and with no residual issues from throughout her lactation

 

Work with your trusted Alta advisor and select for Productive Life within your customized genetic plan. That way, you’ll be sure to create more 4-EVENT COWS like 5677 as future replacements for your herd.

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