Key Recording Tools

A huge range of different techniques and systems are in use across the country for recording fertility information and analysing performance.

Foremost amongst these are:


Individual cow record cards

Breeding lists

Breeding charts

CuSum graphs

Computer programs

Selecting the toolkit



Diaries are essential components in almost every recording system, no matter how sophisticated.


Daily Diaries

The daily diary has been the fundamental building block of farm and fertility recording for many years. A robust, pocket-sized notebook carried around constantly, it is invaluable in recording all key fertility information as it arises, together with exceptional events such as difficult calvings, retained foetal membranes and lameness that may help complete the fertility picture.

A daily dairy is an essential record-keeping tool in its own right and equally valuable as the 'front-end' to a more comprehensive recording system, with information transferred daily to the main records.

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Three-Week Breeding Diaries

The Three-Week Breeding Diary is a well established tool, providing a structured way of recording service and heat dates and allowing future heats or returns-to-service to be flagged up from the three-weekly oestrus cycle.            

Three-week breeding diaries enable calving dates to be predicted from successful service dates; their arrangement in 21-day blocks and presentation in a concertina-like folding format maximises usability.


Diaries are valuable because they:

  • Are simple and easy to use, therefore more likely to be used
  • Allow fertility performance to be related to other events, such as changes in feeding
  • Are portable. Events are recorded accurately as they happen

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Important limitations of diaries include:

  • Inability to show the overall herd fertility picture
  • Difficulty of tracking individual cows
  • Need to extract data for veterinary use and analysis
  • General lack of permanence as historic records.


Evaluating Individual Cow Record Cards

Individual cow record cards with spaces to record all the key data and events are central to most modern record-keeping systems. Indeed, computerised systems effectively all revolve around electronic versions of individual cow record cards.

Individual cow record cards are valuable because they:

  • Are simple and ease to use
  • Are portable
  • Act as permanent records
  • Provide a comprehensive veterinary record

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Important limitations of individual cow record cards include:

  • Lack of daily diary-level portability or flexibility
  • Ineffectiveness in predicting heats or returns to service
  • Inability to show the overall herd fertility picture or trends


Evaluating Breeding Lists

Breeding lists allow cow identity, calving date, service dates, bull information, PD information and next calving date for all cows in the herd to be recorded and presented in a variety of different formats.

The lists are most commonly presented in order of cow identity, calving date or service date.

Cow identity order is most useful in seasonally-calving herds. Calving date order lists present an opportunity to pick out delayed services and begin to show patterns. Service date order lists do not allow for pre-service heat dates to be recorded.

Both calving date and service date order lists indicate trends in service success which may be useful in analysing problems and causes.

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Breeding lists are valuable because they:

  • Are easy to understand
  • Present individual cow details in a whole-herd context
  • Provide a permanent record
  • Allow first-stage analyses of herd performance


Important limitations of breeding lists include:

  • Need for further inputs to conduct useful analyses
  • Inability to provide action lists without extra work

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Evaluating Breeding Charts

As either rectangular or circular boards, breeding charts are a highly flexible and visual way of presenting key breeding information for day-to-day management use.


Rectangular Charts

Cows listed in identity or calving date order commonly have calving, bulling-not-served, service, drying-off and future calving dates represented by different coloured pins or markers. Cursors moved along the board to highlight 'today's date' and 'three weeks ago' may also be included for additional clarity. Permanent records can be made of Calving to First Service and Calving to Conception Intervals.


Rectangular breeding charts are valuable because they:

  • Display herd performance pictorially
  • Allow key indices to be calculated with relative ease
  • Provide clear information to vets and other advisers

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Important limitations of rectangular breeding charts include:

  • Difficulties with large herds and large amounts of data
  • Inability to present data as pictorially as circular charts


Circular Charts

Circular breeding charts have become a familiar and much-valued feature of fertility recording and management information systems. Each cow is represented by a single symbol, either a pin or a magnetic cube with up to six different coloured faces representing its current fertility status. Cursors highlighting key events move around a centre spindle, while key sectors allow first, second and third repeat services to be identified to point out individual cow, calving group or herd problems.


Circular breeding charts are valuable because they:

  • Are simple to use
  • Give excellent visual impact
  • Allow veterinary action lists to be easily extracted
  • Are understood by farm staff, vets and advisers

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Important limitations of circular breeding boards include:

  • Lack of an in-built permanent record
  • Need for further records for herd analyses
  • Difficulty of locating individual cows in large (150+ cow) herds
  • Susceptibility of pins or markers to loss or disturbance

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Evaluating CuSum Graphs

CuSum graphs can be used to plot the progress of various events within a fertility recording system. The simple principle of plotting either success or failure for each service event has been found to be of particular value in monitoring Submission and Pregnancy Rates.


CuSum graphs are valuable because they:

  • Provide an excellent visual picture of herd performance
  • Give a continuous performance assessment and early warning of problems
  • Highlight variations in groups of cows otherwise hidden by averages
  • Allow any disturbance in trends to be related to feeding and management changes
  • Are flexible enough to accommodate any herd size

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Important limitations of CuSum graphs include:

  • Inability to provide a comprehensive record on their own
  • Need for back-up with additional recording tool


Evaluating Computer Programs

Computer programs open up a whole range of additional benefits and opportunities for fertility recording, monitoring and analysis. They can provide the total package of material required in any fertility-recording and management programme, including:

  • Individual cow detail
  • Herd or calving-group analysis
  • Retrospective reviews
  • Predictions and action lists
  • CuSums and breeding charts
  • Performance trends
  • Linkage with all other performance and financial details.

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Coming in many difference shapes and sizes, computerised recording programs:

  • Suit any size of herd
  • Reduce manual work and duplication
  • Allow the whole range of recording tools to be used
  • Enable individual cow, management group or whole herd analyses
  • Generate action lists appropriate to individual circumstances
  • Enable easier and time-saving data entry through direct milking parlour links
  • Facilitate communication to, and feedback from, advisers
  • Integrate with other herd management records, such as feeding, breeding, production, healthcare and farm assurance.

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Because computer programs can be too comprehensive and complicated to be easily usable, simpler manual systems can be far more effective in achieving fertility improvements in many circumstances.


In particular, computer programs may:

  • Present a bewildering display of data rather than usable management information
  • Be off-putting for people less familiar with computer technology
  • Make it easy to miss simple, logical interpretations
  • Simply not get used.


Many herds find clear advantages in linking-in with a bureau service so they have back-up, support and guidance in using and interpreting computerised fertility records from an experienced vet or other adviser.

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Key considerations in evaluating computer systems for herd recording are:

Who will be responsible for data entry and support?
How easy is it to enter back data for each animal?
Can data be entered in any order for any cow?
Can milk records be entered by day of recording?
Can data such as PD information be entered in batches?
Can data be corrected quickly?
Does the system validate the records?
Does it accommodate all records currently required?
Is it flexible and robust enough to accommodate potential future requirements?

Training courses are a very good investment for anyone wishing to take computerisation further; especially as there are many other aspects of the farm business that can benefit from a computer.


Selecting the Toolkit

Just like fertility measures, the most suitable recording tools for a particular herd depend upon the type of record-keeping system employed.

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Basic Record Herds

Essential recording tools for herds with ad hoc manual systems and no milk recording are:

A daily diary

Individual cow record cards

Some form of breeding chart

For herds of fewer than 80 cows looking to capture Calving to First Service and Calving Interval information, rectangular breeding charts are perfectly sufficient. Herds of 80 - 150 cows are likely to find circular breeding charts more practical. For the largest herds, two circular breeding charts, split by calving date or cow age, may be required.


For greatest value, these essential records should be complemented by the use of:

Hand-prepared CuSum graphs of Pregnancy Rates

A three-week breeding diary

Some form of pregnancy diagnosis

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Standard Record Herds

Essential recording tools for milk-recorded herds without access to computerised recording are:

For herds of fewer than 80 cows looking to capture Calving to First Service and Calving Interval information, rectangular breeding charts are perfectly sufficient. Herds of 80 - 150 cows are likely to find circular breeding charts more practical. For the largest herds, two circular breeding charts, split by calving date or cow age, may be required.

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For greatest value, these essential records should be complemented with:

  • CuSum facilities provided by the milk recording service
  • Hand-prepared CuSum graphs of Pregnancy Rates (if not using the milk records facilities)
  • Pregnancy diagnoses
  • Manual records of cows culled barren against those intended to be culled.


Comprehensive Record Herds

Herds using computerised recording systems have all the required tools available to them within the computer package. Especially when starting to use a computerised system, it is essential to be selective in the information recorded and analyses undertaken to maximise its practical value.

CuSum graphs for Submission and Pregnancy Rates are particularly valuable.

A daily diary is essential too, allowing events to be noted down as they occur and used to up-date the electronic records every day.


Further information about key recording tools can be found in the DairyCo pd+ folder

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