Close watch paying off
Better use of records and
spending more time
watching cows is paying
dividends on one Welsh dairy
unit. Emma Penny reports
INFERTILITY cost one Welsh family partnership 2.6p/litre last year, but better management is helping to reduce that figure and so bolster profits.
Rick Taylor farms in partnership with his wife and brother-in-law on 58ha (144 acres) at Maesgwyn, Llandenny, Usk, Monmouthshire.
While the 74 Holstein Friesians at Maesgwyn produce an average of 6100 litres, the familys ADAS consultant, Dave Burton, reckons infertility cost the business over £12,000 a year (see table).
The loss comes from a combination of a high number of services a conception and a calving interval of 413 days, which was deemed to be unacceptably long. To tackle these concerns and improve profits, Mr Taylor started using the Datamate II program, as ADAS national dairy fertility consultant Cate Barrow explains.
"The £12,000 cost of infertility does not include vets fees or drugs, and so could be much higher. We needed to find out why calving interval was so long, and where the problem lay, whether it was with heat detection or something else.
"Most producers have an idea of how good herd fertility is, but generally there is not enough record keeping and monitoring to identify concerns. The Datamate II program print-out – which gives much more detailed fertility information – helps," says Miss Barrow.
The program monitors herd performance using information from normal recording – no additional data is needed – and then breaks it down so that problem areas can be more easily identified.
Previously, average interval to first service was 61-75 days, but better management has reduced that to between 1 and 60 days, with most cows served at 42 days, she explains. "This drop makes a big contribution to dragging calving interval down."
Number of days between services can also highlight fertility concerns, says Miss Barrow. "Most cows should bull at 18 to 24-day intervals. Where this differs it may be a sign of mineral deficiency, cystic ovaries, foetus reabsorption or inaccurate heat detection."
The program also gives figures for submission and conception rates. When she first came to the farm, submission rate was only 53%, although conception rate was much better, at 74%. "When the cows were caught they stood to service well, so heat detection is a key area for improvement."
She advised Mr Taylor to set aside three periods of 20min a day to observe cows, particularly last thing at night. "Also, make sure you dedicate the time to watch cows, do not attempt to do it while you are doing something else."
Mr Taylor says that if he misses a heat now, it is because he does not observe the cows regularly enough. "It is tempting not to go up to see the cows last thing at night, but it can often be the most valuable time. We have also found that some cows exhibit full bulling behaviour if they are in-calf or have cystic ovaries."
Kamar heat detectors have been used on the farm in the past but have not been a success, he says. "We found we had to be close to the cows to see them and could not see them at night. Now we use tail paint."
More detailed heat detection records would also improve fertility performance, says Miss Barrow. Heats in the cows at Maesgwyn are now recorded on a three-week calendar, which has helped considerably, says Mr Taylor. "It is simple, easy to see and use, and has meant that we can be more vigilant – the calendar prompts us to look for particular cows."
As part of the move to improve fertility, cows are also being bulled earlier – at 42 days where possible rather than 60. Although some cows may cycle earlier, Mr Taylor does not inseminate them, as they appear to take longer to come back into heat where they do not hold to first service. Miss Barrow points out that as only 50-60% of cows will hold to first service, catching them at 42 days is a crucial part of reducing calving interval.
Service management is also important, and Mr Taylor makes a conscious effort to keep bulling animals calm while penned waiting for the AI man. "If a cow has to wait for some time before the inseminator arrives we will give her some company, and she is also allowed into the collecting yard, where she can have some silage."
Better heat observation also means cows are more likely to be served when they are at their most fertile, says Miss Barrow. "Inseminations will be better timed and should be more successful."
Dry cow management has also been changed to help boost fertility. In the past, they have suddenly swapped after calving from a forage diet with no concentrate to a full milking ration. Cows came into heat 15-16 days after calving.
Now, dry cows are moved in with the milkers about a week before calving to become accustomed to eating cake again. "We also step up the ration so that there is less of a shock to the system after calving and cows come into a more natural oestrus."
This combined approach to improving fertility is starting to pay off. Already, calving interval has fallen to 373 days, with a conception rate of 74%, submission rate of 63% and the number of services a conception falling to 1.63 over the past three months.
According to Miss Barrow, the ideal would be to achieve a submission rate of 80% and 1.6 services a conception. "Obviously performance is improving. Meeting targets will reduce losses by 2.6p/litre, significantly boosting profitability and with the bonus of making quota management much easier." *
Calving interval in the 74-cow herd is down from 413 days to 373 days.
• Watch cows more often.
• Record heat detection.
• Bull cows earlier.
ADASspecialist Cate Barrow says Rick Taylor should aim for a submission rate of 80% and 1.6 services a conception. That should save 2.6p/litre.
Past performance at Maesgwyn
Services a conception 2.05
Calving interval (days) 413
Semen price (£ a straw) 20
Insemination charge (£) 7.85
Cows culled for infertility 6
Total cost of infertility (£) 12,156
Cost of infertility (p/litre) 2.60
Targets of 1.6 services a conception, 365-day calving interval and less than 8% of the herd culled for infertility should reduce losses by 2.6p/litre.