Semex conference: Health and welfare for dairy profit

The drive for greater dairy profitability will be through health and welfare, according to nutritionist Bryn Jones.

“When we want improved genetic selection to truly have an effect then management of these high yielding cows must improve.”

And with the national calving index at 430 days compared to a target interval of 390 days, Mr Davies shocked the audience by detailing the potential profit that could be gained by tightening the calving interval.

“The potential lost during this 40-day period equates to 880 litres. At a milk price of 24p/litre the potential improvement in profitability by meeting the target interval of 390 days could be £149.60 a cow, that’s the equivalent to 2p/litre or an average of £17,952 a herd,” he said.

Other benefits from improving calving interval would give an extra 8.6 calves for every 100 cows a year which could give greater flexibility to cull lower value cows rather than for infertility, he added.

And one of the chief causes of infertility was nutrition, said Mr Davies. “Nutritional causes of infertility can be broken down in to three areas, firstly feeding inadequate nutrients, high feed intake and lastly excess nutrients or other dietary components.”

He said a deficiency of nutrients and particularly energy would lead to anovulation, with a good relationship between body condition score and percentage of cows not bulling.

“Thinner cows and particularly those less than body condition score two cycle about a third less. This means anovular cows have lower fertility even when induced to cycle with hormones. Therefore, it’s vital body condition is maintained between 2.75 and 3.25.”

And a major determinant of whether a cow becomes seriously energy efficient is her dry matter intake and not milk yield, explained Mr Davies.

“This is why it’s important every time a cow is dried off, calved and served its body condition score is taken. This will allow you to see where the movement of weight is occurring and pinpoint where it could be going wrong.”

David Black of Paragon Vet Group, Carlisle, also suggested metabolic monitoring as a way of assessing what was happening on farm.

“Taking samples little and often can give a good picture of what is happening on farm. Pre-calving measuring non esterified fatty acid (NEFAs) levels and urea will give a good indication of the metabolic status of an animal and post calving measuring NEFAs and calcium are also useful,” he said.

But Mr Black stressed the importance of collecting and using data. “For example, it is possible to stop cell counts increasing early on by looking at data. When you see counts rising then action can be taken before it becomes a problem.”

Other areas Mr Davies urged producers to look at when monitoring cows post-calving included group dry matter intakes, rumen fill scores, body weight loss, low milk protein and dung consistency.

But it was important not to forget that heat detection was a vital component of fertility, Mr Davies pointed out. “Research has shown as yield increases detection of oestrus becomes harder. Cows averaging 25 litres will cycle for almost 15 hours compared to a cow giving 50 litres which will cycle for just under three hours.”


Howell Richards, South Wales

A producer who has experienced the costs of poor fertility is south Wales dairy farmer Howell Richards.

In a period of a couple of years his milk yield dropped by 1000 litres, replacement rates increased by 10% and profit shrunk and in his own word “the wheels fell off”.

“It’s amazing how quickly the inefficiencies creep up on you. We dropped from 7000l to 6000l and 20% ended up dry. All in all it probably cost us £270,000 because of poor fertility.”

Mr Howell said the reason fertility was affected was because more attention was being paid to expanding the business, relying on bulls, not focusing on cow records and in general bad management. “Nutrition was also a problem, particularly with the dry cows. But now we pay more attention to dry cows diet, we offer adequate feed space and we have also made the diet more consistent.”

“I now realise when I look after and provide for the cow correctly the cow will look after me. If there’s one thing that will break you then it’s poor fertility.”

Now Mr Howell has 1200 cows in the herd has brought the calving index back to 390 days from 440 days in 2007, has the milk yield up to 10,600 litres and has now only 14% of the herd dry.