Virtual Farm Tour: Wittenberg Embryo Transfer
As you might guess from the name, Wittenberg Embryo Transfer in Wausau, Wisconsin is not your average dairy farm. Owner Dr. John Prososki purchased the farm about 10 years ago with about 25 cows. The old red barn remains, but everything else has been built new as the herd has grown to about 160 milking cows.
Prososki is a veterinarian and started his career at a large animal practice before he began working exclusively in embryo transfer (ET) a number of years ago. He made the decision to purchase his farm based on a couple factors. He had an ET client that needed recipient heifers and he was also a partner in a large dairy at the time and they needed a place to send their heifers.
“Everything blossomed from there,” he said.
Prososki is no longer a partner in the other farm and focuses exclusively on his own dairy in addition to his full-time ET work. He has used genomics testing for about eight years and that technology has fueled almost all of the farm’s growth. He said the market for registered cattle is now being driven by animals’ genomic value. He estimated that registered Holsteins make up about 95 percent of his herd.
Prososki said production traits, including milk protein, daughter pregnancy rate (DPR) and calving ease, are his biggest priorities when evaluating an animal’s genomic value. He said DPR and calving ease are becoming increasingly important on today’s commercial dairies.
Mating decisions are a bit like a marriage, Prososki joked, you’ll never find a perfect bull. Thus, you look at an animals’ genomics and try to balance the sire and dam for the best combination of traits. The advantage of genomics is the ability to make those decisions much more quickly than you could with traditional breeding programs.
Dave Smith, the farm’s herdsman, oversees many of the day-to-day operations on the farm. Calves are raised on the farm until they are between six and eight months of age. Heifers that will become donors (about one-fourth of the calves) stay onsite while the others go to a grower and return as springers.
In the fall of 2015, the farm added a new calf barn. Calves were previously raised in hutches, but Prososki felt like he was always buying hutches as the farm grew. Additionally, employees struggled with winter weather as they cared for the young animals. Building a barn was a no-brainer. Prososki said he had the advantage of seeing and learning about many different calf barns as he did clients’ ET work. The barn he selected is a smaller version of a client’s barn with a milk room in the center and tube ventilation based on Dairyland Initiative designs.
At birth, calves receive 3 to 4 quarts of a colostrum replacer plus 2 quarts more at the second feeding. They receive 4 quarts of pasteurized whole milk for 14 days. Then they are ramped up to 3 quarts twice a day until weaning begins at about 50 days. They are fed an 18-percent BSF calf starter daily and have free-choice water.
The calves are housed in individual pens with straw bedding year round. Smith and the team remove panels between two calves to let them commingle for a few days before they are moved to the grower barn, which was built at the same time as the calf barn. The pens are completely sanitized between animals and left empty for about a week between calves.
Prososki said he is a big believer in preventative care. The team follows a standard vaccination protocol and cleans and sanitizes all feeding equipment, pens and other calf care tools as frequently as possible. Thus, treatments are minimal at this farm.
Smith agreed that excellent care is a worthy investment. Animals can only reach their genetic potential when they have the best care and management.
“We do everything we can,” Prososki said. “The productivity of donors is completely dependent on how they were raised as calves.”
Starting Strong - Calf Care