A pregnancy is a pregnancy, right? Or is it? Where do you place your dairy pregnancy focus? On cows that are already pregnant? On early lactation animals? Is your biggest concern that of matching energy requirements to maximize milk production? Is your nutrition program defeating your reproduction rate? We need to go back to the beginning of the dairy profitability story and consider what happens between the breeding and a successful pregnancy.
The Incredible Conundrum
When we talk about breeding dairy cattle, the standard benchmark is two breedings to achieve one pregnancy. For me, baseball is the only place where achieving 50% makes you an All Star. The dairy industry needs to step up to the plate. Let’s take every opportunity to change the breeding rate to a 1to1 ratio. If that were possible, it could save both time and money while increasing the number of pregnancies in dairy herds.
What factors – that are in your control – could raise your herd pregnancy success rate? We all nod in agreement that catching heats and preventing exposure to pathogens are ways to increase our success rate. Are we nodding in agreement and taking action? Or are we nodding off? And what about nutrition?
The Proposition: Nutrition has a significant role in maintaining pregnancy immediately following conception.
Causes of Early Embryonic Loss
Researchers in Minnesota, South Dakota, and Wyoming saw rises in early embryonic loss if either of the next two situations occurred:
- A significant decline in energy intake.
- Moving from stored feed to pasture.
Nutrition Indicators that Signal Problems Getting Cows Pregnant
Limitations. Every dairy farm has to deal with them. Here are four that affect pregnancy rates.
- There are cows not showing heats and anestrus in early lactation
- Energy deficiency is the first limiting nutrient in your herd if your cows are not cycling.
- You or your adviser have identified a deficiency of minerals and vitamins in your ration
- You or your adviser have identified an excess of protein in your ration
It’s time to do something about eliminating these limiting factors.
The Sperm in the Uterus. Take Care of It!
In cattle, the fetus does not immediately become attached to the uterus endometrium. This means that it spends several days in the lumen of the uterus. During this time, uterine secretions nourish and provide the enzymes, hormones and other metabolic factors that the fetus needs for development. These nutrients are comprised of glucose, fructose, some triglycerides and amino acids. Glucose is the primary source of energy for the developing fetus, and similar to pre-breeding, energy is probably the first limiting nutrient for fetus growth and development.
Supplement with Methionine to Prevent Pregnancy Loss
One way to improve both milk production and reproduction is to supplement rations with methionine for a lysine to methionine ratio (% of MP) of 2.8 to 1.
Researchers fed a methionine-supplemented diet to early lactation cows with 2,500 grams of metabolizable protein (MP)—6.9% of MP as lysine and 2.3% of MP as methionine. The methionine-supplemented cows had slightly less pregnancy loss following breeding than cows fed the same diet with no supplemental methionine (1.9% of MP).
How to Optimize Pregnancy Maintenance
Certain amino acids give rise to glucose as well as glycerol levels. Optimizing the amounts of and the digestion of starch is the best way to increase the glucose supply to the dairy cow.
Methionine, lysine, and histidine are considered the first three limiting amino acids in milk production and milk component levels. They also increase in uterine secretion as the embryo elongates and prepares for implantation in the uterus endometrium.
Wisconsin researchers report an increase of 14.4% for lysine, 12.4% for methionine and 11.5% for histidine in the pregnant uterus near the time of implantation compared to a non-pregnant uterus. Methionine is of particular interest in the early fetus stage because of its role in lipid metabolism and gene expression.
Current studies using DHA in lactating cows are aimed at enhancing the quality of the uterine epithelium, modifying and attenuating the release of prostaglandin F-2a and thus ensuring a higher pregnancy rate resulting from better maternal recognition of pregnancy and subsequent maintenance of pregnancy (Read more: 8 Things You MUST Know About The BLV Virus)
Get Ready to Formulate a Preconception Diet
We are well-prepared to monitor the nutrition of the pregnant animal, and to meet the needs of the milking cow, but too often we are overlooking the importance of the preconception diet!
Long before that heifer/cow is safely in calf, what she eats matters. In fact, the right preconception diet can not only fuel fertility, but can also ensure that you get a healthier calf on board.
Not sure how to turn your dairy diet into one that’s beneficial for preconception and pregnancy? Follow these five easy steps:
- Commit to change. The first step to overhauling your preconception nutrition is to know exactly what you’re committing to and why. The why? Well, that’s pretty clear. You want to make the healthiest calf possible, as quickly as possible. Your goal is to improve your current pregnancy success rate.
- Identify WHO needs to Change? So you’re willing to make changes. It is important to know what change will produce the targeted result. Depending on what you have learned from an analysis of your records, you may also need to reconsider “who” is best suited to take responsibility. A veterinarian, nutritionist or feed consultant – or all three may have valuable input in overcoming pregnancy maintenance challenges.
- Identify WHAT needs to Change? Even the most conscientious dairy manager may find themselves second guessing when it comes to formulating a preconception diet. Trying to scale down weight? (Extra pounds can decrease fertility.) Trying to gain weight (too thin may be having an adverse impact). Then you’ll probably have to work on quantity and quality.
- Get Ready to Pop a Prenatal Vitamin. No human preconception diet is complete without a prenatal supplement that’s packed with folic acid and other essential baby-making nutrients. What parallel are you using in enhancing the conditions in the uterus. Think of it as health insurance for your future calf.
- More feed. More often. This isn’t the time for a hit or miss access to the feed bunk. You may want to consider trading up to the six meal solution that human pre-natal consultants advise when a woman is trying to conceive. Dairy cows should consume frequent, small meals spread out over the day. To achieve this, we need to ensure they have good access to their ration throughout the day. This can be accomplished through the frequent delivery of feed, frequent feed push-up, and by providing sufficient space at the feed bunk. Extensive sorting of feed should be avoided.
It’s a balancing act. Any one of these five variables could be affecting your success. And this isn’t the entire list by any means.
The Bullvine Bottom Line – “Better Endings Start Even Before the Beginning!”
Successful dairy operations depend on conception. It makes sense to look at nutrition that impacts that status. Despite many advances in dairy cattle breeding, there are still challenges associated with starting a successful pregnancy. Take action now! The preconception diet can have a surprisingly significant impact. Success has to mean better than 50%.