Stemming from the success of its application in the USA, where high yields and labour issues have been similar to the UK, the Genus/ABS Reproductive Management System (RMS) has enabled one farm to reduce calving interval by 19 days in just four months.
For North Yorkshire dairy producers Frank and Richard Pattison, this systems approach to the management of on-farm fertility has increased productivity and freed up valuable time.
“We have a fully trained technician on farm every day, dedicated to heat detection and AI, enabling some of the responsibility for fertility to be taken away for our schedules,” explains Mr Pattison.
Running a 200-cow herd of black-and-whites alongside son-in-law Stuart Rhodes, using a total mixed ration feeding system with in-parlour feeding, the team provides all labour with the occasional relief milking.
“We wanted to tighten calving interval without losing productivity by getting to second and third heat before catching cows,” says Mr Pattison. With son, Richard, taking on off-farm contracting responsibilities, the lack of available labour dedicated to heat detection, particularly with limited winter light hours, was having a considerable effect on detection rates.
“When calving intervals got as high as 440 days, we realised we needed a change in breeding policy and RMS provided a viable option, considering the figures,” he adds.
Advice was sought from Strutt & Parker dairy consultant Paul Dennison, who believed RMS would increase both productivity and fertility indices at Northfield House. “Bringing the average down by at least 20 days equates to adding £10,000 a year to an average 200-cow herd. Potentially, this could add another 40 cows to the herd, or a 300,000-litre yield increase. There is a lot of milk to be had in getting it right,” says Mr Dennison.
And because it is based on sound, traditional principles, the issue of trust between farmer and technician is not so difficult to overcome, says Mr Dennison. “The principles behind the system are sound and with many farmers taking responsibility for their own AI and breeding, taking a step back can seem hard and trust can be difficult to establish. But, with such a simple system, they can have as active a role as they wish, or have time for.”
RMS focuses on improving pregnancy rates, ensuring a consistent supply of pregnancies within the system, according to Genus/ABS national account manager, Paul Jandrell. “Farmers use RMS for two main reasons – to provide quality, highly trained labour for breeding and to improve fertility performance on-farm and at an on-farm cost of £25 a cow a year, which translates to having a trained technician on farm, every day, for £13.50/hour.”
The initial detection method uses a chalk-based marker to ensure everything is either empty or in-calf, marking empty cows with red and pregnant with another colour, which prevents confusion when morning comes and marks have been rubbed off.
“It is amazing how, after time, technicians get to know particular cows, which cubicles they favour and any bulling behaviours that those dealing with everyday tasks may not have time to spot,” explains Mr Jandrell. “RMS services more than 50,000 cows nationally, which has grown tenfold in 12 months relying on a team of more than 44 full-time technicians, trained at centres in the USA.”
Any cows not serviced in a period of 70 days are put on a farm hotlist, which also acts as a vet watch list, highlighting any health problems. This has led to lower vet bills for the Pattisons and a better overall picture of herd fertility.
“We work closely with the technician and although they could take all responsibility, we still play an active role observing and pulling out bulling animals where we can,” says Mr Pattison.
Results so far have been impressive, according to Mr Dennison. “The rolling 12-month average early interval has reduced from 130 in August to 111 in November and the percentage of the herd in-calf before 90 days was up from 25% in August to 41% in November.”