AMBOY, Minn. – Before new heifer calves can come into the dairy feedlot, the older, bred heifers have to be shipped back to the dairy. Every few weeks, the Fox family ships out about 110 heifers, all confirmed pregnant by their veterinarian.
“Typically we've got a group to preg check about every three weeks,” said Karen Fox. “We get them ready to transition to the dairy farm and keep that dairy cycle going.”
Each group of heifers is heat synchronized and then artificially inseminated per the synchronization protocol. After that, a bull is turned out with the group to clean up any heifers that did not settle with the A.I. breeding.
“For this specific dairy, it used to be Holstein bulls, but the calves were getting so big that they switched to Jersey bulls for calving ease,” Karen said. “It takes away a little bit of that 100 percent Holstein genetics, but they were just getting too big.”
The Foxes will keep 20-30 bulls on site.
At the dairy farm, the heifer calves from the Jersey/Holstein crosses are treated the same as a purebred Holstein heifer calf. They are kept at the dairy for a short while and then sent off to a calf ranch.
“Then, at 350 pounds, they come right back our way,” she said.
A growing trend in the dairy industry is to use more sexed semen. It can ensure more heifer calves are born and fewer bulls.
The downside of sexed semen is that it can cut down on conception rates, therefore the Foxes have stayed with traditional semen for A.I.
“Our conception rate is very high,” she said. “We were typically breeding in that 110 range; we'd pick up a couple heifers that were behind from the last group and we would ship the same amount of bred heifers.”
Recently, the dairy has requested the Foxes cut their breeding groups in half, breeding around 55 head at a time versus 110.
Because the heifers do in fact settle well during the first round of A.I., the dairy was having more first-calf heifers calving during the same time then they could handle. They just do not have the manpower to deal with 100 heifers calving within a few days, all while staying on top of the other responsibilities at the farm.
Pregnancy checking at the feedlot is a fairly simple procedure. The vet comes out and palpates all the animals that are about to be shipped. The vet confirms pregnant or not, as well as estimates the number of days the female has been bred for.
Each animal’s RFID is scanned during the pregnancy check. The information the vet comes up with is then entered as a reproduction event into the computer system.
“As soon as the vet is done, we have that data ready to go to the dairy so they know the status of each animal and they can sort them accordingly,” Karen concluded.