Much of the discussion in the dairy industry revolves around getting cows pregnant in a “timely manner.” The consensus is focused on time to first service and, hopefully, conception early in the lactation (or in other words, attaining a high pregnancy rate).
But does a high pregnancy rate go hand in hand with profitability?
Let’s take a closer look.
We’ll start with stating the pregnancies are important for the long-term survival of the farm. If cows don’t get pregnant, they will not have another lactation (in this post we will ignore the economic value of replacement heifers).
Profitability is defined as “… a financial gain, especially the difference between the amounts earned and the amounts spent in buying, operating or producing something.”
On an individual cow basis, profit is the difference between revenue earned from milk sales less the expenses (fixed, interest, labor, feed and individual care). As long as the blue (milk revenue) line is above the red (expenses) line, this cow is contributing to the profit of the herd.
The predominant operating procedure in a dairy calls for drying the cow seven months into her pregnancy to allow her a two-month preparation period prior to calving. Hence, to maximize the profitability of an individual cow she must conceive exactly seven months prior to her economic breakeven point, or the point that milk revenue equals the total expenses of keeping her in the herd.
Maximizing profitability of a lactation is dependent on the timing of conception.
Since cows differ in their production levels, the optimal timing of a successful insemination within a lactation will be different based on the individual cow’s production level.
Conceptual illustration of optimization of lactation profitability of cows with different levels of milk production.
A low production cow that was also bred too late would not only operate at an economic loss at the tail end of the lactation, but would probably gain weight and her performance would suffer in the next lactation.
A high production cow that conceives too early in the lactation would go dry at high production levels, not only losing potential profit at the tail end of the lactation but also be subjected to stress that could negatively impact her transition and next lactation.
Conventional reproductive management philosophy assumes that every cow is the same because the conventional manager does not have enough reliable data about individual cows. Having more information about individual cows in the herd with electronic monitoring grants management the flexibility to work with cows rather than working against them, improving results both for the short and long term.
In NO WAY are we recommending attempting to inseminate cows at exactly seven months prior to their economic breakeven point- we do believe, though, that there is considerable flexibility in the timing of first service. It depends on the cow!
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