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Genetics key to herd improvement

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 08/15/2013 12:41 PM

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OWATONNA, Minn. — The Schmidt brothers use genomic testing and flushing to improve their herd.

The brothers, Jon and Matt, are partners in Schmity Holsteins LLC. They hosted a University of Minnesota Extension dairy field day on July 25 that was attended by close to 20 people.

Jon and Matt formed the limited liability corporation in 2009 and built a tunnel ventilated free-stall barn to house their 175-cow herd. The barn is 152 feet long and 116 feet wide. The east end of the barn has 18 four-foot fans. The north and south sides have curtains. The west side has three drive-through doors.

The barn was built to accommodate robots, should the brothers eventually decide to add them. The areas where the robotic milkers would be installed are used for close up cows and cows recovering from calving. These areas don't have stalls and are straw-bedded. The rest of the barn has stalls that are bedded with sand.

Jon and Matt are fifth-generation farmers. Their farm has been in the family for 130 years. They own the dairy operation and rent 250 acres from their parents, Myron and Sandy. They raise corn, small grains and hay for feed. They buy dry hay and corn.

Jon takes care of the cows and the breeding, while Matt focuses on crops and feeding the cows.

Their father, Myron, helps with the milking and feeds calves. Both brothers milk and they hire two high school students to help. It usually takes two people in the parlor milking. Another person scrapes and brings up the cows.

The flat parlor is located in the old dairy barn. There are five units with automatic take-offs on each side; each unit is used to milk two cows. While one cow is being milked, the other is chased out and another brought in. It takes about three hours to milk. They use cloth towels, which are laundered after every milking.

The Schmidts milk twice daily and have a rolling herd average of 28,600 pounds.

"We breed for production," Jon said.

Their breeding program starts when calves are less than a month old. A sample of hair is taken from calves' tails. The sample is mailed to Holstein USA for DNA analysis and a report arrives back a month later.

Jon uses the report to find higher-genetic animals. Higher genetic heifers are flushed at 10 to 12 months old. Embryos are placed into lower genomic heifers and cows.

The analysis is continually improving and providing more data, he said. Up until now, they've done testing on about 70 percent of their calves. Jon said that will increase to 90 percent within the year. Each test costs $45.

They test higher genomic bulls too. The hair is sent through one of the AI studs for testing. If the bull tests high enough, it will be sold to the stud.

They sell all bull calves, Jon said. Plain calves are sold within 10 days. Fancy calves are kept until results are back, which is usually two to three months.

The Schmidts make money selling milk, so Jon selects high producing genetics. A lot of the animals he works with can be traced back to Schmity BoJangles Nappy, a homebred Holstein.

He has flushed daughters of Nappy and Shamrock, Demin and Goldchip sires.

Forty percent of th cows carry embryos flushed from heifers. From January through December, 70 embryo calves are due, Jon said. The other 60 percent of cows are bred using artificial insemination.

Sires used include Mack, Jabir and Jacy. All cows are bred to top genomic bulls, Jon said. The heifers are flushed and embryos implanted on the farm.

Their average cost for an embryo is $115 and it's $230 a pregnancy.

Timing is critical when it comes to flushing and implanting embryos. They installed a Select Detect heat detection system in April 2012 to aid in heat detection. They chose the Select Detect system because it was the only wireless system on the market at the time. Jon said their pregnancy rate has increased from 11 percent to 17 percent. The amount of embryo work they do screws with the pregnancy rate, he said.

They make sure they see a heat on Select Detect or a cow shows heat before implanting an embryo.

Since installation of the Select Detect, their heifer first calving agr has decreased by a month and a half to 24 months.