Minimizing reproductive losses

In this week’s podcast episode, UW-Extension specialists and industry discuss ways you can minimize reproductive losses this summer. While you can’t completely get rid of heat stress, there are several things you can do to help minimize reproductive losses caused by heat stress effects in your herd.


Liz Binversie, UW-Extension Brown County Agriculture Educator


Paul Fricke, PhD, Dairy Cattle Reproductive Specialist, UW-Madison/UW-Extension

Heather Schlesser, UW-Extension Marathon County Dairy Agent

Dr. Vicky Lauer, Professional Services Veterinarian, ANIMART



Time: 4:36 minutes


Liz Binversie: Greetings, I’m Liz Binversie, Agriculture Educator for UW-Extension in Brown County, Wisconsin. We are going to continue our discussion and talk about what producers can do to help minimize reproductive losses during the summer. On the panel today is Paul Fricke, Dairy Cattle Reproductive Specialist for UW-Madison and UW-Extension; Heather Schlesser, Dairy Agent for UW-Extension in Marathon County; and Dr. Vicky Lauer, Professional Services Veterinarian for ANIMART.

Heather, what do you recommend to help minimize reproductive losses during times of heat stress?

Heather Schlesser: Well I think it’s important for producers to remember that there isn’t one specific thing that they can do. There isn’t the gold thing that they can do. There’s multiple things they can do to help but nothing will abate all of the heat stress effects 100%. One thing that they can do is if they don’t already have cooling systems installed, trying to install soakers, fans, or maybe even evaporative coolers. If they’re more on a grazing platform: trying to increase the shades that’s available to the cattle—just giving them places to get out of direct sunlight and trying to minimize that heat that they’re having. Also, since we know that cattle that are under heat stress don’t move around as much—they don’t show signs of estrus—using a timed AI program is something that could also be beneficial to their system so they don’t have to heat detect. Paul, would you have anything you could add to that?

Paul Fricke: Yes, so those were excellent points. We talked about last time this elevation in body temperature—anything we can do to get the body temperature of the cows down. The cooling strategies are good. The timed AI, of course, to try to overcome the decrease estrus expression is an excellent recommendation. The other recommendation that I would have that has been shown to be quite effective in a number of different research trials is embryo transfer. It’s probably not something that everybody can think about using but recently transfer of IVF-derived embryos has been increasing dramatically in the dairy industry. It’s not hard to get IVF embryos. What has been shown through research is that, for example, in Florida conception rates to estrus breeding can get as low as 10 or 15%. You breed 100 cows and maybe only get 10 or 15 of those cows pregnant. In contrast, if you were to take those same cows and you were to transfer an embryo on day 7 after an estrus, you can effectively double the conception rates. Conception rates went almost from about 13.5% for the estrus-bred cows to 29.2% for these embryo transfers. The reason that works is because, as we discussed last time, this early embryo is susceptible for the first few days after fertilization. You basically bypass that heat stress of the maternal environment by transferring an IVF embryo. The downside to these IVF embryos is that there’s typically a lot of pregnancy loss associated with them. You’ll get a 29.2% conception rate but the losses that we see with these IVF embryos is quite high compared to the losses for breeding the cows to estrus. Dr. Vicky, anything you want to add to that?

Dr. Vicky Lauer: Just one quick thing on the heat detection side. For those farms where you are just doing strictly visual heat detection, one thing that could help is switch to doing more tail patches, tail painting, even using a pedometer heat detection system, that might help increase your heat detection rate and breed more cows.

Liz Binversie: Well, thank you to our panel today. Tune in next time when we talk about what not do to when it comes to reproductive management and trying to save a buck.