FOUNTAIN, Minn. – Every week starts about the same at Trailside Holsteins, with a visit from the veterinarian. These regular visits are important to keeping overall herd health high. The vet may see something the rest of the farm crew has missed.
“We have the vet here every Monday morning for herd health check,” said Michael Johnson. “It's always a busy morning, but it's good to touch base with the vet, go through the cows, do vaccinations and pregnancy checking.”
Michael and the veterinarian will walk through each group of cattle. With the cattle monitoring software that Trailside uses, Michael has a list of which cows need to be pregnancy checked, which need vaccinations and which ones need a closer look by the vet.
Since implementing the monitoring system, the list of sick cows to check has gotten very short.
“Instead of a cow being caught when she is obviously showing physical signs, which is like the third or fourth thing that the cow is going to feel, we catch them as soon as they start to feel off – they don't even know what's wrong yet,” Michael said.
The first thing a cow will do when she starts to feel sick will be to stop eating. The computer system alerts the farms daily of any cattle that have stopped eating. They can then treat that animal immediately before her illness impacts her life significantly.
Trailside’s death loss is below one percent and their illness rate is very low.
In addition to the monitoring system, Trailside has a full vaccination program to prevent as much disease as possible.
“We do a lot of vaccinating in calves and some vaccinating in cows, but we really do not have sick cows anymore,” he said. “My job has really transitioned into just being a manager of healthy cows, being proactive, vaccinating and just providing a good environment for them to thrive in.”
With herd health being high, conception rates are also very good. The pregnancy check on Monday was very good, as well. The herd is running over 50 percent conception rates for the year.
The majority of the herd is bred based off the monitoring system, about 68-70 percent. When the computer says those animals are in good heat, Michael goes out and breeds them.
Not all cows will show good signs of heat, so the remaining 30 percent are bred via a synchronization protocol.
“We can pinpoint when the cow starts estrus and when she finishes estrus with the monitoring system, so I know if a cow is early in their heat cycle,” he said.
If he sees a cow is showing signs of heat, Michael can look her up in the system, determine that she is just starting and doesn’t need to be bred quite yet.
The system also tracks how that cow will be bred. At Trailside, they use a combination of sexed Holstein semen, regular Holstein semen and Angus semen in their cows, depending on cow quality.
“We genomic test all our cows, anything above a certain threshold that is our top 15 percent of cows, they get bred sexed semen,” he said. “Then the next 20 percent get bred conventional Holstein semen.”
The remaining cattle are bred to a beef bull.
The Angus/Holstein cross cattle are sold to a cattle feeder down the road. Each week, he will pick up a load of calves that are over five days old.
All the Holstein heifer calves remain at Trailside to be raised and added to the herd.
With Trailside’s estrus monitoring and breeding program, they have been having excellent results with the sexed semen. Conception rates are only three percent less for sexed semen versus conventional semen.
“There are some exceptions on a few cows. The genomic test may say she's really good, but if my real-world experience tells me that I don't think that cow should be bred to have another Holstein calf, we’ll just keep the cow and not have any more offspring from her,” Michael concluded.