Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a silver bullet that could magically improve fertility in your dairy herd? Unfortunately, that wonderful product hasn’t come down the pipeline yet.

What Rates are we Talking About?

When you look at today’s progressive herds you have approximately 60 days to 120 days to get them in calf after calving.  Rates vary from herd to herd from a low of 10% to a high of 30%.  This sounds low.  However you must consider that any dairy cow that has calved is now milking and getting pregnant is not high on her body’s energy use agenda.  First she must maintain her own nervous system, then feed her young (produce milk), build up her own body reserves, and then, and only then, does reproduction get taken care of.

Improved Pregnancy Rates are Up to You

According to recent research there are three primary factors affecting pregnancy rates:  nutrition, environment and management.  This means that you have the opportunity to affect your own success in this area.  First let’s take a look at the big picture.

What Traits Pay the Bills?

The primary incentive in the dairy breeding business is to be successful and there are many variables that go into that success. When using any management tool, you seek repeatable results.  Reliability rates of male and, even more so, female fertility ratings are low.  What this tells you is that you must work first and foremost with the traits that pay the bills, like milk, fat, udders, feet and legs, somatic cell scores and productive life.  It is counterproductive to place an overriding emphasis on only one area.  Remember Grandma’s old saying, “Everything works together for good.” Looking at fertility measures is best considered only after you have reached the point where primary selection traits between bulls you are considering are equal. Then you might consider raising fertility a point or two. So where do you start? With fertility?  With  conception? With pregnancy rates?

QUESTION OF THE DAY:  Why does it matter?

Once you have posed that question, ask yourself what you could do with five or six more healthy calves out of the next hundred breedings? That represents a 10% gain!  Here’s the potential.

  • More calves = More interest in females to sell from your herd = $$$$
  • More calves = More A.I. companies contracting bulls = $$$
  • More calves = More likely to have the next generation of great genetics in your barn. $$
  • Less semen used = More money stays in your pocket $$
  • Less vet expense = More money stays in your pocket $$

ANSWER of the DAY:       

  • More calves = More Profit

The difference between a low and a high pregnancy rate can be significant: anything from 5% to 30%.  Work the numbers and you will certainly find the incentive to improve in this area.


Remember it starts with nutrition, environment and management.  

  • Make sure that the heifers from 4-6 weeks of age are fed high quality roughage.
  • Secondly, we put too much focus on reaching energy goals when feeding heifers, without putting enough focus on protein needs.
  • Don`t forget the importance of quality water for heifers from weaning until they`re safe in calf.  It is the most essential nutrient for the development we want to achieve.
  • Check body condition frequently so you can adjust the ration, because too fat or too skinny means she will be less fertile. The ideal body condition score to feed for is recommended as 3.

YOU SHOULD TARGET MINERALS:  They’re central to success

Mineral intake is very important. This is an area to get your best possible nutrition advice and put it into practice.  Ensure that the animal gets the macro and MICRO minerals that she needs. This is where mineral form can pay off.  Chelated trace minerals may cost more but are more accessible to meet the animal`s needs. Consult with your veterinarian. An extra injection of vitamin E and selenium may be crucial at this period as these two are key elements for fertility. By starting to manage the minerals at a young age, you make sure the heifers over a few months develop a good, constant diet, ensuring they are healthy and fertile up to the moment of breeding or implanting.

Health Status

Having a healthy cow or heifer is the starting point for good pregnancy rates. Although health traits are multi-faceted, lameness management is crucial to fertility improvement.  Herds with rigid hoof care management have increased heat detection rates, increased conception rates, and therefore increased numbers of pregnant cows.

Proactive Advice

The impact of proactive veterinary and nutrition advice cannot be overemphasized. When the purse strings are tight, consultant costs are often targeted for reduction or elimination but the right veterinary and nutrition intervention will produce results that will pay for the cost inputs.

Records of Success

Each farm will have different fertility issues and it is important to identify these.  The starting point has to be recording.  Many computerised systems are available, but are often underutilized. Recording and analysis will pinpoint the weakness in fertility management and then you can take action steps.

Heat Detection

Improving pregnancy rates starts with animal health, nutrition and, then, heat detection. You must have all three of these in sequence. Nothing operates in isolation.    In Canada the average heat detection rate is low. We don’t have a good number. Of course, those heats that are missed are not recorded.  We must use technology to improve this area. The message is clear: heat detection either by manual observation, technology such as pedometers, or by hormonal manipulation.  Get it done.


Improving pregnancy rates comes down to one thing: Constant attention to detail.

*The Bullvine is not a nutritionist or veterinarian, nor do we play one on TV.  Consult your nutritionist and veterinarian to meet the specific needs of your dairy herd.