They Can’t Tell You Why They Are Open, AntelBio Can

Published on Wed, 07/22/2015 - 2:23pm

In the dairy industry, animal health is paramount and consistent reproductive success is the base of a profitable dairy business. Unfortunately, one of the most common issues for producers is why cows are open. Nothing is more frustrating in a herd than poor pregnancy rates and no idea where to start to identify the problems.

AntelBio (, a division of NorthStar Cooperative located in Lansing, Michigan, has the technology and expertise to offer solutions for reproductive success through various diagnostic testing strategies. As Todd Byrem, Ph.D., and Director says, “Even at its best, guessing gets you the right answer only 50 percent of the time. Improving on these odds requires information to help make more right decisions and fewer wrong ones. NorthStar DHI and AntelBio Systems offer diagnostic testing strategies that help take the guesswork out of many important dairy management decisions. We can tell you what THEY (the open cows) can’t.”

AntelBio offers the ability to easily check for a variety of health conditions that directly and indirectly impact reproduction. Many diagnostics can be performed on milk samples that are either collected by the producer or via routine Dairy Herd Information (DHI) testing. Testing can be conducted both in response to ongoing health issues, or proactively to predict or prevent issues before they begin to impact the herd’s bottom line.

One popular diagnostic strategy that can help identify the source of significant reproductive issues targets Bovine Viral Diarrhea Virus (BVDV). BVD analysis utilizes samples already collected through DHI testing.  Samples from milking cows can be efficiently pooled and tested to rule out BVD due to relatively rare Persistently Infected (PI) cows in the milking string.

The process uses two diagnostic techniques to largely eliminate individual animal testing. First, AntelBio’s Bulk Milk PCR is used to screen the milking herd and quickly eliminates suspicion of BVD infection for the majority of cows. With a positive group result, individual DHI samples are targeted and analyzed with antigen detection ELISA to efficiently identify the milk samples from any PI cow(s).

AntelBio’s diagnostic services, including BVD screening, aided Adam Hahlen, Reproductive Specialist for COBA/Select Sires, in several of the herds he works in that were experiencing reproductive challenges. “In herds experiencing poor reproduction or unable to meet performance goals, diagnostic testing can be used to either detect or rule out problems that affect fertility and the maintenance of pregnancies.

“In some of my clients’ herds, ruling out BVD, neospora or leptospirosis was just as important as finding it, and can be done efficiently and at little cost with properly designed testing programs. In other herds, however, these screening programs, can hit on a significant problem. In a group of herds in Mexico, AntelBio helped us identify neospora infection in over 40 percent of the cows tested. Clearly this needed to be prioritized to reduce their incidence of abortion.”

In addition to commonly considered issues, which directly affect reproduction, AntelBio also offers diagnostic and surveillance options that can bring to light other health conditions whose impact on reproduction is less direct, but in significantly infected herds, may be no less of an issue. For example, Bovine Leukosis Virus (BLV).

Once thought to be insignificant in terms of health impact, recent research is indicating BLV’s impact on the immune system can spill over, negatively impacting a cow’s milk production, longevity, and overall value.  In the age of genomics and advanced reproductive technologies, replacements will be of greater value and risking exposure of these replacements to BLV in infected herds will have greater consequences.

AntelBio helped researchers from Michigan State University identify an efficient means of BLV assessment by establishing a BLV herd profile. The profile helps evaluate disease impact on milk production and cow longevity while testing only a portion of the herd, reducing overall testing costs. Byrem says, “Considering the high prevalence of disease in the U. S. (on average, 40-45 percent of cows in a herd), the BLV herd profile can be an effective tool to monitor BLV prevalence and have a positive impact on dairies.”

Johne’s disease has been a longstanding challenge for the dairy industry, and remains difficult to manage because of its slow progression and pervasive transmission. AntelBio’s convenient testing options allow ongoing, cost-effective screening to identify the disease and facilitate management and control procedures.

Even mastitis, the most economically significant health issue in the dairy industry, is being addressed by AntelBio’s incorporation of new technology. Existing literature demonstrates that mastitis is no friend to cow fertility. There has been compelling evidence that clinical mastitis is associated with prolonged intervals to first postpartum A.I., increased services per conception and prolonged intervals from calving to conception.

The Contagious 3 and Complete 16 Mastitis Panels utilize polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to find mastitis pathogens by detecting specific genetic material (DNA). When fully evaluated, the advantages of PCR technology in mastitis prevention and control programs are numerous and, in many cases, more sensitive and rapid than traditional culture; a technology with origins roughly 200 years ago.

AntelBio was one of the first in the country to offer disease diagnostics on milk samples, and continues to look for new and unique ways to improve options for dairy producers. In the fall of 2013, AntelBio was instrumental in introducing milk pregnancy testing to the dairy industry. Now, according to Byrem, “With a goal of providing fast and flexible diagnostic testing options, we recently added blood pregnancy testing to our offerings. A time-tested technology, the highly accurate blood pregnancy test is effective from 28 days post-breeding and throughout gestation.

“Blood pregnancy testing improves producer’s productivity through convenient and rapid results. Beef and dairy producers with limited access to alternative reproductive services can benefit from cost-effective results within 24 hours of sample receipt. By addressing producer’s needs for early or additional late pregnancy detection, use of the test enables cows to be bred back quicker, effectively reducing days open and improving their bottom line.”

No matter where a dairy producer is located, AntelBio is only a phone call away. According to Kailey Sweers, Customer Service and Project Coordinator, “We work with producers across the country. Here in our local region of Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio, we have a field staff network of close to 250 people ranging from AI technicians and reproduction experts to DHI specialists that work with dairy producers. At the same time, we are only a call away from being able to help producers anywhere in the country.” Sweers adds, “We are customer service driven, always willing to talk through what their goals are and what service we can provide for them.”

Byrem says, “We are solutions-based at AntelBio, working directly with the producer and their veterinarian. By utilizing a herd’s history, and matching it with AntelBio diagnostic testing options, we are able to help devise a proactive plan for each specific operation. In a sense, we become partners with them.”

AntelBio, Inc., is an agricultural biotechnology company owned by NorthStar Cooperative, Inc. AntelBio’s mission is to be a global leader in the development and implementation of innovative diagnostic solutions for the animal industry. Utilizing its research and cutting edge technology, AntelBio provides integrated services, which can enhance the profitability of dairy and beef producers.

Byrem believes that AntelBio can make a significant difference for producers. “Whether being proactive and preventative, or reacting after herds experience issues, AntelBio’s awareness of the dairy industry and focus on solutions that work in producers daily reality can provide the edge producers need to implement management strategies that allow them to stay profitable and successful. Our goal is to become partners with producers and help them devise a plan that meets their specific needs.”  

Case Study: Troubleshooting Breeding Problems With Progesterone Testing

Progesterone testing can be a valuable resource for dairy producers that wish to evaluate their timed A.I. synchronization and breeding programs. Screening cows for progesterone levels during synchronization can be used to diagnose causes of poor reproductive performance, as well as optimizing a breeding program. For ease and flexibility, progesterone profiling on either blood or milk samples can be incorporated in any synchronization program. Breeding cows when the progesterone profile indicates they are most receptive is key to reproductive success.

Julie Ainsworth, a NorthStar Dairy Production Analyst, enlisted progesterone testing to troubleshoot a breeding problem. With a pregnancy rate of 15 percent and a first service conception rate of only 22 percent, there were definitely problems.

To aid in program evaluation, milk was sampled from 13 cows at three points during the synchronization program. The milk samples taken at the time of the second prostaglandin shot of PreSynch turned out to be the most informative. Testing on these samples indicated that most of the cows had not begun cycling during the 60-day voluntary waiting period; when really greater than 70 percent of the cows should be synchronized by this time. Clearly the cows just weren’t ready to begin a synchronization program. As a result, Ainsworth recommended the voluntary waiting period be extended to 80 days to give cows additional time to reach a more permissive energy balance.

Follow-up evaluation, after an 80-day voluntary waiting period was in place, compared results from cows enrolled in a 60-day voluntary waiting period. Additional testing indicated more cows were cycling during PreSynch, and these cycles were more significant as evidenced by much higher progesterone levels and greater percentage of heats observed. Specifically, progesterone profiles of each of the ten cows indicated that all were experiencing normal cycles during the OvSynch program compared to only 13 percent of the cows when a 60-day voluntary waiting period was in place. As expected, progesterone profiles and breeding performance move in the same direction, a fact that underscores the critical role of progesterone in reproductive success.

Testing was instrumental to identification of key areas of improvement to benefit reproductive rates. As a result of information illustrated by diagnostic results, the ability to focus on the adequacy of the close-up ration, cow comfort and the voluntary waiting period lead to improved reproductive performance.