18 September 1998

HOW TO KEEP THE VET BILLS TO A MINIMUM

LAST year one Berks farm saved almost £2000 on its vet bill for getting 110 autumn calvers pregnant and confirmed in-calf, and the herd will still calve in an eight week block.

In the autumn of 1996 the vet bill at Jealotts Hill Farm, Bracknell, was £2300 – mostly for routine cow fertility visits for July and August calved cows, and pregnancy diagnosis, says herd manager Mark Osman. The herd, which is being expanded to 150 cows this year, also has 40 spring calvers.

When reviewing the herds bills, Mr Osman realised the vet bill was mainly for a few cows in the herd. Generally the vet advice was that cows were cycling and had not been seen bulling, or would be on heat soon. There had only been one anoestrus cow in the herd that year.

Last year they decided it would be better to calve the group eight weeks later, because of the increasing costs of summer milk production. That gave an extra eight weeks before starting to AI cows, and the chance to spend more time on heat detection, helping to build up a picture of bulling dates.

Free from the pressure of calving, herdsman Peter Butter began recording bulling cows at the end of September. He watched cows three-times-a-day for 20 minutes, before morning milking, before afternoon milking and late in the evening.

Bulling cows were recorded in the diary and on a circular BRAY breeding calendar, so Mr Butter could track which cows should be bulling and those not yet seen cycling. Once the service period began cows were also observed for 20 minutes mid-morning.

"In the first three weeks 86% of cows were spotted on heat. This is when we would have served cows in previous years. More cows were recorded bulling in the following three week cycle, and during the first three weeks of the service period 98% of cows were AId," says Mr Osman.

Normal year

"In a normal year those 12% of cows not seen in the first three weeks of the service period, but seen in the second period, would have been seen by the vet. However, if we had left them they would have come bulling within the eight week service period in their own time."

Because conception rates were higher to these natural heats than after cows were induced to cycle, Mr Osman now believes interfering with them was costly and probably not worthwhile.

He adds that it is easy to spend £300 on vet costs and semen to get a cow in calf when it would cost a similar amount to breed an extra replacement and cull a cow if she doesnt get in calf. When cows that take many services and need vet intervention to get pregnant, they are often difficult to get in calf in subsequent years. This makes them unprofitable to keep, and it would be better to replace them, he adds. However culling for infertility was still kept low at 5% of the group.

Better heat observation meant that there were no routine vet fertility clinics last autumn. In previous years, these had cost a minimum of £100 a time for the vet, while drugs cost about £5 a shot. Instead, two cows were checked by the vet who was visiting another animal.

Costs were further reduced when Mr Osman decided that the vet was too expensive to PD cows and used a scanning contractor, costing about £1 a cow.

Vet costs for getting autumn calvers pregnant were under £300, and with scanning costing just over £100, this meant a saving of almost £2000 on previous years bills.

When calving begins in September, 80 cows and 15 heifers will calve in the first three weeks of the eight week calving block.

This year, heat spotting will start while cows are still calving, says Mr Butter. But he knows that his efforts will be worthwhile, and because the herd is block calving he will not have to check cows all winter.

Mr Butter will give cows time to come bulling even once the service period has begun, and doesnt plan having any routine vet visits.

However, Mr Osman warns that it is crucial that heat observation is done properly and that a high proportion of cows are actually seen cycling before cutting back on vet visits. Observing heats before cows are due for service is essential to build up a record of cows heat cycles. &#42

LOWERING VET COSTS

&#8226 A high proprotion of cows must be seen bulling.

&#8226 Observe cows at least three-times-a-day.

&#8226 Record heat cycles before the service period begins.

&#8226 Scanning may be cheaper that vet PDs.