by Hilary Rossow
Photos courtesy Hilary Rossow
Conference equips cattlewomen with information to enhance their operations.
Since the first plow dug into the earth, farmers and ranchers have survived through a combination of passion for growing things, grit, and camaraderie with others in their fields – literally and figuratively. Lending a hand, sharing experiences and knowledge, and offering sympathetic or congratulatory support in turn have always been the maker’s mark of custodians of land and animals.
Learning from each other has allowed for exponential advances in genetics, disease, and pest control. Collaboration has also created the ability to produce more with fewer resources, as well as spurred the development of processes and technology to decrease labor and increase efficiency. A recent conference hosted by the Minnesota CattleWomen’s Association (MNCW), showcased the benefits ranchers and farmers glean from spending time together, sharing information, and listening to experts.
During the MNCW’s A Taste of WIRED conference held in Rochester, Minn., cattlewomen from across the state gathered to learn about reproduction management, including information on how to set up females for ideal breeding seasons.
Nearly 60 women from six states and all types of operations, from cow/calf to feedlots, participated in events led by: Dr. Kristina Porter, DVM, Huron, S.D.; Andrew Swanson, regional manager for Select Sires, Ivanhoe, Minn.; Rhianna Frost, professional services technician from Trans Ova Genetics, Sioux Center, Iowa; Jill Peine, ruminant nutritionist with Hubbard Feeds, Mankato, Minn.; and Matthew Dacy, director of Mayo Clinic Heritage Hall, Rochester, Minn.
A Taste of WIRED found its roots in the WIRED (Women In Ranching, Education, and Development) conferences the American National CattleWomen’s (ANCW) association hosted across the country beginning in 2018. ANCW’s goal was to host four WIRED events each year, and in 2021, Michelle Mouser, president of the Minnesota CattleWomen’s Association (MNCW), hosted one of the events at Mouser Herefords near Tenstrike, Minn.
The event generated so much excitement among the attendees that Mouser and the MNCW decided to start plans on a mini version of WIRED focusing on cows from calving to rebreeding. “Cattlewomen desire knowledge and skills to take back to their operations, and the number of attendees is proof that we are meeting their needs. We want to continue that into the future, and we are already working on future events like A Taste of WIRED,” Michelle Mouser, president of the MNCW, explained.
Mouser and her crew organized the event to be engaging, hands-on, and informative. As it was timely, expansive, and relevant to most operations, the MNCW decided to narrow the focus of its Taste of WIRED event to preparing cows and heifers for breeding. Sire selection, synchronization protocols, nutrition, and in vitro fertilization and artificial insemination techniques were among the topics discussed. “The mission of the MNCW is to promote the beef industry, support, and encourage women in the cattle industry, and we want to reach women all throughout the state,” Mouser shared.
Cooperation Creates Success
After registration and breakfast, Mouser welcomed the attendees at Aune Hall on the Olmsted Fairgrounds, gave a brief explanation of the agenda, and turned the microphone over to Matthew Dacy from the Mayo Clinic. Dacy presented the history of the Mayo Clinic from its origins by a pair of innovative surgeon brothers whose passion for healing coupled with a willingness to share their experience and knowledge made them pioneers in cooperative medicine.
Until the middle of the 20th century, most medical practitioners held their findings close to the chest, but the Mayo brothers invited surgeons from across the globe to Rochester to observe their practice and share their findings. Additionally, through stringent financial planning, cooperation with local charities and organizations, and delegation of responsibilities the Mayo Clinic was set up to thrive through the decades when other hospitals failed. The Mayo brothers are excellent examples of cooperation across an industry and exceptional succession planning to ensure the longevity of their legacy.
Finding the “Why”
Dr. Kristina Porter, DVM, from Huron, S.D., walked attendees through a presentation about finding their “why” to maintain motivation and find purpose in each operation. Dr. Porter’s “why” centers on her love of her family, especially her parents, grandparents, children, and husband, and continuing her family’s legacy through passionate stewardship of the land and animals in which she has been entrusted.
Addressing Genetic Progress
Andrew Swanson, regional manager with Select Sires, took the podium next speaking about estrus synchronization protocols and the financial advantages of tightening calving periods while introducing elite genetics to fit an operation’s goals.
Trans Ova’s, Rhianna Frost, then gave a short, question-and-answer lecture about reproductive endocrinology. Then attendees at each table were tasked with sculpting and labeling the parts of a cow’s reproductive tract with Play-Doh. Pipe cleaners were used to map the progress of hormones from originating gland to the organ on which it acts.
Smash burgers made from Mouser Herefords and prepared by the Three Rivers Cattlemen were served for lunch with all the fixings, and the women had another chance to chat with each other about their favorite topic: cows. A short walk across the fairgrounds brought participants to Frost’s ovum pick up demonstration.
Frost and her assistant, Mariah Hart, explained the process, the differences in embryo transfer and in vitro fertilization, and showed the equipment used. They explained the value in using the ovum pick up process, as dairy heifers specifically can be collected as young as six months of age, meaning the generation interval is 15 months instead of two years.
The ovum can be fertilized (using heifer-sexed semen in many cases) and transferred to a recipient cow to be born before the heifer herself is bred for the first time. Frost then efficiently retrieved over 20 ovum from a live cow while attendees watched on an ultrasound image enlarged on a screen.
EPDs and Reproduction Tips
After returning to Aune Hall, the group was split into three small groups to cycle through presentations and hands-on stations presented by Andrew Swanson, Rhianna Frost, and Mariah Hart. Swanson walked through how each EPD on a bull’s page is calculated, the unit of measurement used, the importance of accuracy numbers, and the meaning of each number.
At Frost’s rotation, the group was further broken down into factions of three or four. Each group was given a production scenario and asked to choose an appropriate synchronization protocol, drugs and equipment used, and the dates of drug administration and artificial insemination.
The last rotation included several cow reproductive tracts with AI equipment, a short demonstration on AI technique, and with each attendee attempting to inseminate the tracts. Several sizes were present and even included a box with a tract suspended in a pelvis. Additionally, a “fetus” in Jell-O was available to ultrasound and view the “calf” on the screen.
The final presentations of the day included Jill Peine of Hubbard Feeds and Dr. Porter speaking about fetal programming, a newer concept which states a cow’s development and production ability starts at her conception and her dam’s nutrition during gestation. As a ruminant nutritionist, Peine explained that while the cow’s energy requirements for maintaining gestation are lowest mid-gestation, ensuring proper mineral supplements are available is important to the health of the calf for its entire life.
Dr. Kristina Porter then took the stage with her findings on the importance of nutrition during gestation and before rebreeding. She explained that thin cows are less likely to cycle quickly after calving, while stress can decrease vaccine efficacy. Sufficient protein consumption plus adequate and appropriate mineral supplementation is important for health of cows in production.
Asked and Answered
The afternoon wrapped up with a question-and-answer panel session featuring Dr. Porter, Frost, Peine, and Swanson. Many questions about specific production situations, medication protocols, and bull selection were asked and answered. Experts reminded participants that the answers they were presenting were broad recommendations. They reminded attendees of the importance of working with a trusted veterinarian, nutritionist, and semen salesperson. Finding experts familiar with the operation, the limitations, the animals, and the personnel is integral to the success of any beef production situation.
That’s a Wrap
The conference was concluded with a three-course meal, live jazz music, and lots of cow-talk. Many stayed an additional day for the ANCW regional meetings complete with officer elections, messages from national Collegiate Beef Advocates, and an address from ANCW President-elect Pam Griffin of Globe, Ariz.
These events are time-consuming to plan, but they are invaluable to attend. Being in the presence of like-minded people, taking a break from the cattle, and consuming the information presented to use it to add value to each operation benefits producers.
Making friends, seeing how the latest technology and production practices can help each operation is important to the longevity of the beef industry. Events like A Taste of WIRED do just that.
learn more at www.mncattlewomen.org or www.ancw.org