DARLINGTON, Wis. – What do Michael Jackson, the Eagles and Schilling Farms have in common? Platinum. The first two have sold the most platinum albums of all time. And since 2009 Schilling Farms has earned seven platinum awards and two silver awards from the Dairy Cattle Reproduction Council. The organization annually recognizes dairy operations that excel at reproductive efficiency, fertility and herd management.

“The Schillings strive every day to do their best job in every area of their operation,” said Tim Heiring, who nominated the Darlington-area dairy farmers for the award. “They pay attention to detail.”

Heiring is an artificial-insemination technician for Genex; he has worked with the Schillings for the past seven years. He’s part of a farm team that includes a veterinarian, a nutritionist and nine employees. Bill, Andy and Brian Schilling work with the team to manage their herd.

Brian Schilling said he attributes a lot of the dairy operation’s success to the team. He focuses on the dairy operation while his brother, Andy Schilling, manages the cropping operation.

The family farms 1,700 acres, planting corn, soybeans, alfalfa and some winter wheat. In 2019 they also aerial-seeded cover crops on more than 500 acres. In addition to managing the cropping operation, Andy Schilling serves on the Lafayette County Board and on the Lafayette County Land Conservation Committee.

The Schillings milk 590 cows three times daily. Their rolling-herd average is 32,800 pounds with 3.9 percent fat and 3.29 percent protein. Their somatic-cell count averages 54,000.

The herd’s pregnancy rate is 41 percent; the conception rate is 58 percent. The Schillings currently use a tail-painting system for heat detection in cows. But they have discussed the possibility of switching to a collar system for detecting heat, as well as rumination and any animal-health concerns, Brian Schilling said.

The farm uses Ovsynch, a technology developed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It involves injecting cows with gonadotropin-releasing hormone – GnRH – a week before administering prostaglandin. A second injection of the hormone is administered 48 to 56 hours after prostaglandin. Cows are then artificially inseminated 12 to 18 hours later. Ovsynch enables an artificial-insemination technician to breed many cows in one visit to a dairy farm. The protocol also helps to increase the service rate.

Reproductive data are entered into the DairyComp 305 software program, which also can keep track of other production and health data.

Genomic testing conducted

To improve their productivity and profitability the Schillings have since 2011 conducted genomic testing on calves. They also have focused on evaluating daughter pregnancy rate which, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is defined as the percentage of non-pregnant cows that become pregnant during each 21-day period. A daughter pregnancy rate of “1” implies that daughters from a bull are 1 percent more likely to become pregnant during the estrus cycle than from a bull with an evaluation of “0.” Each increase of 1 percent in predicted transmitting ability – PTA – daughter pregnancy rate equals a decrease of four days in predicted transmitting ability days open.

Post-calving health monitored

At day five and day 11 post-calving, cows are tested for blood beta-hydroxybutyrate acid-levels – BHBA – to determine if they’re at risk for ketosis or metritis.

“If we suspect any cows might have ketosis we’ll do another test,” Schilling said.

At day 21 cows are vaccinated for protection against staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli. The voluntary waiting period from calving to breeding is 87 days at the Schilling farm.

Schilling Farms was one of three Wisconsin dairy farms among six farms earning platinum recognition in 2019 by the Dairy Cattle Reproduction Council. Three Wisconsin dairy farms were among six earning the council’s gold recognition. Five Wisconsin dairy farms were among six earning silver recognition. And two of the state’s farms were among six dairy farms earning bronze recognition.

“Wisconsin has a rich history and a strong foundation in the artificial insemination of dairy cattle,” said Corey Geiger, chairman of the Dairy Cattle Reproduction Council’s awards program.

It has been estimated that more than 75 percent of the bull semen for dairy cattle in the United States originates from Wisconsin artificial-insemination centers, he said.

“Because of that there’s a deep bench of qualified artificial-insemination personnel throughout Wisconsin,” he said. “That has helped bring expertise to Wisconsin dairy farms to get cows safe in calf. The artificial-insemination industry has talented people across the United States, but Wisconsin is definitely the epicenter. And Wisconsin has the most dairy farms in the nation – one out of four dairy farms call the Badger State home. By that sheer number, Wisconsin will have more entries than any other state.”

Visit www.dcrcouncil.org for more information. 

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Lynn Grooms writes about the diversity of agriculture, including the industry’s newest ideas, research and technologies as a staff reporter for Agri-View based in Wisconsin.