Published 1 September 08


Dairy producers could save over £100/cow by improving the fertility of their herd through simple monitoring techniques, according to DairyCo.

Better heat detection, body condition scoring and overall herd health play a massive part in improving herd fertility, says south-west extension officer Chris Coxon. "The longer it takes to get a cow back in calf, the lower her overall lactation will be," he says. "Longer lactations or dry periods result in lower peak milk yields throughout the life of the cow, reducing overall yields for a similar feed and management cost."

Producers should compare the amount of milk sold per cow per year against lactation yields, says Mr Coxon. "The higher the difference the more infertility is likely to be costing you."

In many cases poor fertility costs producers over £100/cow - but that can be slashed in half purely through better heat detection rates. "Improving your heat detection rate by just 10 percentage points can provide a financial boost of £50/head - a huge saving for an inexpensive task."

The best way to improve heat detection is to spend more time observing cows, ensure staff know what signs to look for, and keep a clear record of bulling activity. "Many farms have reduced labour, so combining periods spent observing cows with heat detection aids should help to ensure the improvements you require," says Mr Coxon.

"It is also important to have good freeze branding to aid cow identification, for all staff to carry a pen and paper to note bulling activity, and to keep clear records that staff can understand."  

Involving all farm staff in heat detection can bring about a marked increase in identification of bulling cows. "A tractor driver feeding the cows for several hours in the morning is in an ideal position to note bulling activity, but may not have been trained to identify the signs of early heat."

DairyCo's fertility manual, pd+, and a short DVD, Managing heat detection, are available free to levy payers to help staff instantly recognise the signs of heat, as well providing a target list for them to refer back to. "A 10% improvement in heat detection rate will give you more cows to serve, more chances to get them back in calf, and may significantly reduce losses from your herd," says Mr Coxon.

pd+ also provides information and practical tips on herd nutrition and health, to help farmers build a herd that is easier to get in calf at the first service. "The first key is calving a healthy cow that has a smooth introduction into the herd."

Ensuring the cows are internally 'clean' and getting enough good quality feed throughout pregnancy and early lactation is essential, says Mr Coxon. "Weight loss in early lactation must be accepted, but losing more than 1.0 in body condition score (over 60kg) in the five weeks post calving can reduce first service pregnancy rates to just 17%. Compare that to a condition loss of 0.5-1.0 (30-60kg), which can result in a first service rate of 53%."  

Herd nutrition is obviously vital, as cows losing a lot of weight after calving will suffer from delayed ovulation, by up to 10 days. "Checking body condition score change, especially during the run up to drying off and through to eight weeks after calving is recommended, to highlight such problems."

The resumption of oestrus for a healthy cow will generally increase up to eight weeks after calving, and pregnancy rates rapidly increase from 45 days to that 60 day period, says Mr Coxon. "It is therefore well worth beginning serving at 45 days for a healthy cow."

Working with your vet and nutritionist together is recommended, as is having routine meetings with farm staff to produce a thorough plan to ensure all aspects of fertility are covered.  "Using impartial reference material like pd+, which vets rate very highly, will help to prioritise a way forward," concludes Chris.     

To order your copy of the pd+ Farm Improvement Programme or the Managing heat detection DVD call DairyCo on 02476 478695 or Chris Coxon on 07989 959517.

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