The Future of Cow Reproduction? These Six Breeding Technologies

Wyatt Bechtel ( Some dairy companies are urging farmers to finds ways to keep newborn calves with their dams for more than 24 hours. )

Last fall I had the privilege of speaking at the annual Dairy Cattle Reproduction Coun-cil conference in Indianapolis. If you have never been, I highly recommend going in the future. I was asked to talk about the “Future of Reproduction Management in Dairy Cows”, and I have identified six technologies that will have the greatest impact on reproduction on dairy farms going forward.

I think our reproductive future within the dairy industry looks bright and exciting!

Activity monitoring. These innovative management tools have already made an impact on the industry. They provide a wealth of timely information that allow us to maximize employee efficiency and accuracy. I only see their use increasing across the national herd, and this technology will continue to improve and add features we have not even thought of yet.

Genomics. The genomic testing we have access to today will also be used on more animals in more herds going forward, and the effectiveness of this tool for maximizing reproductive performance will only get better. Historically, the reproductive information used by these tests has been limited. More and better reproductive data will be incorpo-rated into these genomic tests, which will further improve our genetic gains related to reproduction.

Pregnancy tests. The use of ultrasound or blood/milk pregnancy tests has gone up in recent years, with more dairies using these methods as compared to just palpation. However, the timing of this diagnosis has not changed all that much, occurring reliably no earlier than just under 30 days after breeding. The problem mainly comes from the low levels of the true pregnancy marker, inter-feron tau, which is produced by the fetus. Because of these low levels, there is no commercial test that can measure interferon-tau outside of the uterus. But, as technology improves, we should be able to detect these lower levels in the blood/milk, and be able to identify open cows about 10 days sooner than we do currently.

Better reproductive hormones. I also foresee further innovation in our reproductive hormones, such as the development of recombinant leutiniz-ing hormone (LH) and recombinant follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). The recombinant LH would cause ovulation and replace GnRH in some situations where it is superior. Currently, the FSH we use to superovu-late is harvested from brains of slaughtered animals, which is not ideal. By using a pure recombinant FSH, we eliminate safety issues, and can also see improved response to FSH by the cow.

Embryo transfer for large dairies. Embryo transfer has always played a role in our industry, but mainly for small registered herds. As the technology improves for making embryos, the cost will drop, and the fertility will increase to make their use on large commercial dairies a viable option. Coupled with our genomic tests, we can greatly improve the genetic gains within a herd and potentially improve overall fertility. Embryos can also provide a means to increase the value of calves not intended for replacements in the herd, by transferring high value beef embryos. This would all but eliminate our problem with unwanted day old calves.

Milk monitoring systems. In-line monitoring systems are already in use on a small scale and they can help to manage cows more precisely. These systems allow us to automatically test milk from individual cows for such things as progesterone, which we can use to make better reproductive deci-sions. In the future, these systems will add more and better reproductive markers to test, and like all tech-nologies, their price will drop to a point where they will be utilized by dairies of all sizes.

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