Family Dairy Focuses on the Future with Heifer Repro Program

VanderWoude Group

Vander Woude Dairy of Merced, California, claims a platinum award in the heifer category of the GENEX Excellence in Genetics & Reproduction awards. Discover how this family farm utilizes a strategic approach and progressive mindset to achieve their vision of productive and profitable, low maintenance cows.

The ultimate goal at Vander Woude Dairy near Merced, California, is to keep profitable cows in the herd as long as possible. Owner Simon Vander Woude achieves that goal by maintaining a progressive mindset. The 3,500-cow Holstein dairy has a long history of using data and careful planning to achieve success. Their strategic reproductive and genetic protocols are continuously evaluated and have appropriately evolved over time; their heifer program is a shining representation of that.

Discover their strategy

To maximize genetic progress, the farm utilizes an IVF embryo program in addition to an A.I. program featuring a combination of Holstein GenChoice™ sexed semen and Angus semen.

Vander Woude Dairy has been genomic testing for the past eight years, so virtually all animals have genomic information available for use in the decision-making process.

Once they receive the genomic test results, elite females are designated as IVF donors and all heifers are enrolled in a strategic breeding program. The top 85% of heifers, based on genomic index criteria, receive two services of GenChoice™ semen with the rest bred to Angus sires after one embryo placement.

Additionally, the cow herd is sorted monthly using a number of criteria, including Net Merit, Daughter Pregnancy Rate and health events. Top cows qualify for GenChoice™ semen, while the majority of the milking herd is used as embryo recipients or bred to Angus semen.

Herdsman Israel Varela is trained to transfer embryos and maintains the logistics of the ET program.

Any program changes are monitored twice a year using the GENEX Calf Math program, which consultant Gwen Powers reviews with the farm team.


Israel Varela is the dairy’s go-to guy for managing the ET program.

Genetic focus proving powerful

Years of stringent sire criteria focused on a mix of health traits, fertility, and components have proven worthwhile in creating productive yet trouble-free and healthy cows that stay in the herd for multiple lactations.

Health issues such as mastitis and milk fever are minimal, and the farm has an annual cull rate of only 29%.

With a 305 ME just shy of 30,000 lbs. of milk, the herd also excels in production. Components stand at 3.85% fat and 3.15% protein while milking 3x daily and maintaining a 50-60,000 SCC.

Achieving award-winning reproduction results

Marco Valencia has achieved conception rates greater than 50% on the first two services to GenChoice™ sexed semen.

The foundation of the milking herd starts with a successful heifer program where females enter the breeding pen around 13 months of age.

Heifers are walked and chalked daily by the farm’s in-house breeder, Marco Valencia, and conception rates greater than 50% have been maintained on the first two services with sexed semen over the past year.

Angus semen is achieving a 58% conception rate on lower genetic merit heifers and on remaining services following sexed semen.

About 80% become pregnant to the first two A.I. services, and essentially all heifers freshen less than 25 months of age.

Pregnancies with a purpose

Vander Woude Dairy has been using Angus semen in the herd for many years and raises the calves to approximately 550 lbs. before selling them. This process captures additional premiums for the crossbred calves and provides a nice revenue stream apart from the dairy.

By increasing Angus semen usage and offsetting it with sexed semen and embryos, each pregnancy on the farm truly has a purpose and only a specific number of replacements are produced each month to save on heifer rearing expenses. 

Always focused on the future

Simon attributes the genetic and reproductive success to the top-notch team who works hard to carry out the protocols on a daily basis.

“We have been blessed to be able to assemble a group of individuals who see our vision and are deeply invested in accomplishing those goals. They are driven by data and the results we have been able to accomplish,” states Simon.

The on-farm team consists of general manager Jason Dores, as well as herdsman Israel Varela and breeder Marco Valencia, both past GENEX employees. GENEX consultant Gwen Powers assists with sire selection as well as monthly female sorting and mating programs, and A.I. trainer Jorge Milan of GENEX conducts periodic A.I. refreshers with the team.

Recently, Simon expanded his scope to Grand View Dairy, a newly purchased dairy also located in Merced County. There, Levi Gassaway, general manager and owner of Maverick Genetics, is implementing similar reproductive and genetic programs. Simon is eager to continue the genetic vision of productive, low maintenance cows with a strategic approach and progressive mindset.

He states, “Being a part of the dairy industry has been a huge blessing for our family. We are a family farm that utilizes the data available to us to try to be progressive and strategic in our business plan. This is a great lifestyle, but still needs to be run as a business. As our children may seek to be part of this industry, we are creating opportunities for them if they want to be invested in our operations.”

The team of (left to right) Nicolas Deniz, Marco Valencia, Israel Varela, Armando Gomez, Jaime Moren, Jason Dores and Simon Vander Woude use IVF, A.I., genomic testing and sexed semen to maximize genetic progress.

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