28 March 1997

How to improve without incurring big drug bills

Dairy cow fertility can be improved by reducing reliance on drugs and getting back to basics, according to a Dutch vet. Sue Rider reports

GOOD cow fertility can be achieved through careful feeding, housing and stockmanship and without the use of expensive drugs.

That is the view of Dutch fertility consultant Dirk Zaaijer. He believes there is huge potential for producers with high yielding cows to reduce reliance on fertility drugs, use of which is increasing as the gap between cow genetic potential and management ability widens.

"Farm management is not keeping pace with genetic potential. The consequence is infertility and over-reliance on drugs." Breeding success, he says, is in the hands of the herdsman. "Fertility is not just about the ovaries and uterus, it is a total approach which involves studying the cows and their feed and environment."

He maintains that poor fertility is mainly due to inadequate nutrition. "It is all about the balance between energy and protein – and the make-up of each – then matching that feed to the genetic potential of the cow and the desired milk performance."

Dr Zaaijers back-to-basics, holistic approach is one that has attracted clients not just in his native Holland but also in Germany, and now in the UK, where he visits several dairy farmers each month, working if possible with the local vet. At each visit he checks the cows, their environment and the feed.

"You can achieve miracles in terms of improved fertility just by getting the feeding right and providing adequate drinking water."

Improve nutrition and stockmanship and you can have high yielding cows with good fertility without having to resort to prostaglandins such as Estrumate, he says. "Use of these drugs is a sign of bad management, and will not solve a fertility problem."

Dirk Zaaijer checks the ovaries of a cow between 14 days post-calving to first service – her poor rumen fill is likely to mean a poor reproductive tract and low fertility.


&#8226 Excellent stockmanship.

&#8226 Good feeding management.

&#8226 Adequate environment.