Check your reproductive program for profit

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Dairy calf

One measure of farm profitability is net farm income per cow, with the most competitive farms being above $1,300 per cow.

Many factors contribute to changes in net farm income — one of these is reproductive efficiency on your farm.

Check calving interval

One reproductive benchmark is the calving interval, with a goal of 13 months. As this interval increases to 14 months, net farm income decreases by $144 per cow. When it increases from 14 to 15 months, it decreases another $125. The cost of a cow being open longer than the optimal day to breed is about $4.74 per day.

The optimal economic day for conception varies by lactation, milk production, and calving date, but on average is 105 days for first lactation and 63 days for second lactation.

Improving production by 5 pounds per day over average herds moves the optimal day for conception 3 weeks later.

The first step of keeping your calving interval at 13 months or less is to look at the voluntary waiting period on your farm. The average days to first service in the Midwest is 92 days, with the top herds at 73 days to first service.

These are much longer than the most economical time for first service, which a study from Florida finds to be 63 days for first lactation and 42 days for second lactation cows, assuming that the average services per pregnancy is at the average of 2.3 services per pregnant animal.

On average, first lactation cows peaked at 123 days of milk and had longer persistence than second and later lactation cows, who peaked at 74 days in milk but produced 2,000 more pounds in 305 days.

The study found cows with below-average production should receive first service at least a week sooner, and higher-producing cows could be delayed by one to two weeks.

When to stop

It is also very important to know when to stop breeding cows. Too often, when we make a “do not breed” list, the cut off is when production levels fall below our cost of production, but at this point, we are losing money on these cows for the next nine months.

Cost of production is also not the only factor to consider. What is your replacement cost for that cow, and what is her value for beef?

The time to stop breeding cows varies greatly by production level, parity, and persistency of lactation.

When cows get pregnant late in lactation, they usually have longer dry periods. This often leads to an increased risk of mastitis, decreased milk yield, decreased reproductive performance, and increased culling in the subsequent lactation.

The most profitable farms stop breeding so that a cow will still be covering her marginal cost of production at dry up, about 211 to 240 days after conception.

In order to know when this is for your herd, you have to determine lactation persistence on your farm, which can often be found from your herd’s record keeping system if you use DHI or another computer system.

To determine when you should stop breeding, calculate your break-even milk yield. Then, using your herd’s persistence numbers, calculate what the milk production would be seven months prior to that production level. This will determine when you should stop breeding because production will be below break-even milk yield at dry off.

dairy excel chart

The adjacent chart shows reference points based on a break-even milk yield of 40 or 50 pounds with a production persistence of 90 or 95 percent.

Break-even production cost is similar for each lactation but does change over time, mostly due to varying milk price, value of cull cows, and cost of replacements.

Persistency varies by lactation, with first lactation having the lowest peak milk but the highest persistency at 95 percent, followed by second lactation averaging 91 percent and third lactation at 90 percent.

Improving your reproductive program and your management of it can go a long way to supporting your farm’s net income.

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