Dairylink: Fertility management and using the right genetics are key to better fertility

4th February 2016

Dairylink: Fertility management and using the right genetics are key to better fertility

Making fertility more of a focus is important for compact calving autumn herds too, writes Conail Keown. 

Making improvements in fertility performance in any dairy herd has to be a two-pronged approach.

Firstly, using genetics to improve cow fertility by selecting bulls with high fertility is undoubtedly a long-term approach, with four or five years needed to reap the benefits.

In the short term, fertility management can make fertility gains.

Poor conception rates, extended calving intervals, and low in-calf rates are all common fertility problems for dairy farmers. Many of the Dairylink Ireland project farms are no different.

Cost to business

However, the one common problem for all farmers is the cost of infertility to the business, with costs ranging from £3-£8 (€4-€11) per cow per day not in calf, depending on the milk price and cull cow price used in the calculation.

With four project farmers in the process of breeding cows for next autumn, this week we look at what fertility measures project farmers need to be focused on, and some scanning results for the first three weeks of breeding.

Measurement can be misleading

Some fertility measures used on dairy farms can be misleading if you are not fully aware of all information used in the measurement. Figures such as conception rate, calving interval and service/submission rates can be deceptive.

For example, if you have 100 cows, but only one is served, assuming she holds in calf and the other 99 are not served because they didn’t show signs of heat, your conception rate would show as 100%.

This is an extreme example, but it proves the point: you need to know what is happening in the whole herd, rather than just the animals served.

Dairylink farmers are adopting more progressive measurements, such as looking at three-, six- and 12-week in-calf rates.

Using these measures gives project farmers a target to work towards and allows farmers to calculate how many cows need to be inseminated daily or weekly to achieve this target.

Most of the Dairylink group are trying to achieve more compact calving, so focusing on shorter-term in-calf rates will be more beneficial for them.

The key aim for project farmers is getting cows pregnant, as pregnant cows are much more valuable than empty cows.

Heat detection key on Dairylink farms

Shifting farmer attention onto the issues surrounding breeding and fertility is critical and can only be achieved with good records and measurement.

Using this information then allows you to focus on the correct areas to make significant improvements in herd reproductive performance.

Both Co Cavan project farmers use the handy ICBF 21-day dairies to record heat and inseminations. In Tyrone, Robin Clements uses the automated technology “Heat time” to detect cows in heat and has a good recording system in place for recording inseminations.

Bill Brown in Co Down has used tail paint and tail crayons this year, which are considered two of the most effective and cost-effective products for heat detection. Bill also uses the simple CAFRE recording sheets, which allow not only the recording of individual cow heats and inseminations, but also scanning results and predicted calving dates.

Improvements in heat detection are required on all project farms, with farmers advised to watch cows closely on three planned 20-minute blocks, with at least one of these blocks between 6pm and 6am, when visual signs of heat are most likely to occur.

Initial scan reports

Scanning has started on the autumn calving project farms, with some initial three-week scan results suggesting breeding is behind target.

Robin Clements had 75 cows scanned two weeks ago, with 58% scanned in calf. This is lower than we would like in the first scan, but considering the situation regarding forage quality and the negative energy balance these cows experienced in December, the results are good.

Cows are still showing good signs of heat on the farm and breeding continues. Bill Brown also scanned. From the 45 heifers scanned, 30 have held to the first service, which is 66%.

Results from cows scanned are not as good, with only 51% of cows in-calf from the first three weeks of breeding.

Bill has since improved the heat detection, with longer periods spent on heat detection. One 20-minute period is better than four shorter periods of only five minutes long when it comes to heat detection.

This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of the Irish Farmers Journal. Please click on the below Irish Farmers Journal logo to be brought to additional dairy articles

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