Using a transition index helps cut days open on dairy unit

Two years of selecting genomic bulls on a five-star transition index has shown each star rating on the Genus ABS Transition Right index is saving 4.8 days open for a Cheshire dairy unit.

This means a five-star bull (five star equals best, one star equals worst) will have daughters in-calf almost 20 days sooner than a one-star bull at Cotton Abbotts, Chester, with the herd using a 4.4-star sire across heifers on average.

See also: Care of transition cows brings herd health ‘excellence’

“That’s worth a whole cycle,” explains herd manager Warren Thomasson, who is pleased by the results shown by the Transition Right bulls used on the 600-head Cotton Abbotts Holstein herd he manages for Andrew Walley.

Furthermore, herd records show 3% of daughters bred from four and five five-star stock have metritis, compared with 11% from one-star daughters.

However, Mr Thomasson explains successfully transitioning cows comes down to a combination of good management, teamwork and breeding.

“I am pleasantly surprised at how good the Transition Right figures are,” says Mr Thomasson. “Getting your cows transitioning well isn’t 100% down to genetics, but I think it has an impact. We’ve made several management changes that should have helped the herd transition during the time the Transition Right index has existed. I see transition right as another tool to select the bulls we want.”



Breeding policy

The top 50% of cows are bred to Holstein bulls with the bottom half served with British Blue semen. Bull selection prioritises health traits such as fertility, feet and legs and longevity.

Five of the six bulls used on cows have been five star, with one being a four star. Sexed-semen straws used on heifers come from nine bulls, of which one is a three star and three are four star.

Rotary at Cotton Abbotts farm

Transition right

  • Since 2008, Genus ABS geneticists have built a database on how daughters of bulls have transitioned, as measured by resilience to mastitis, ketosis and metritis.
  • The correlation between existing industry traits that impact or are impacted by the incidence of metritis, mastitis and ketosis are also included in the evaluation, as some have also been proven to aid transition health. 

  • Transition right was launched in August 2015.
  • The Genus transition right index is calculated from real-world metritis, ketosis and mastitis data across 30 million cows. The majority of commercial genomic bulls available to UK dairies are four or five-star bulls.

Herd management changes


Installing rubber mats

Key areas, such as the collecting yard and parlour, have been done first. Around drinking troughs and tight corners are next.

Fan installation

Twenty fans keep air moving in the parlour, cubicle sheds and dry cow building and remove extremes of temperature for ventilation and heat stress prevention.

Automated foot-bath


Consistent foot-bathing three times daily is being achieved after installing an automatic foot-bath six months ago. The previous design had ridges to splay the hooves and get solution between the claws but this led to upset cows, reduced cow flow and dunging in the foot-bath. A 2% formalin solution is used and has almost eradicated digital dermatitis.

Closer focus on fresh group stocking rates

Cows are now counted daily to monitor stocking rates. There are 81 cow places in the fresh group and no more than 78 cows are in there at one time to allow more than adequate feed and trough space. Cows are in the fresh group for 10-50 days, dependent on condition. Five rations are made on the farm: heifers, high yielders, fresh cows, far-off dry cows and close-up dry cows.

No longer carry out fresh checks

With so few fresh cow issues, cows are no longer presented for veterinary fresh health checks. They are seen at 70 days in milk if no heat is recorded.

Foot-bath dry cows

Cows have a 60-day dry period in which they are foot-bathed once a week. A stronger 5% formalin solution is used due to the bathing being less frequent.

Ketosis drink


Fresh cows get a post-calving revival drink and the milking herd receives 100ml twice a day (morning and afternoon milking) of a propylene glycol solution in the parlour as a ketosis aid.

Loafing areas

Yards are opened between milking to increase loafing area helping heat expression.

Fertility results

Conception rate is at 39% and calving interval has fallen from 418 days to 394 (saving 24 days) in the past 12 months, but Mr Thomasson attributes the improvements to genetics and management.

Working closely with vets Rob George and Michael Wilkinson of Nantwich Farm and Lloyd Williams from Genus’ Reproductive Management Systems, Mr Thomasson has noted success in the double-estrumate approach and working closely as a team.

Cows are first served after a 42-day voluntary waiting period, with any “none seen bullers” put on an ovsynch protocol at about day 70.

Day one sees gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH) given and on day seven the cow is scanned and prostaglandin is administered, with a second prostaglandin issued on day eight. On day 10 another GnRH is given during the morning milking and AI’d late in the afternoon.

The double-estrumate approach has been done for more than 12 months and conception rates to synch are 6% higher, explains Mr Thomasson.

Dry cows

All cows are dried off at 220 days, regardless of yield, explains Mr Thomasson. “As part of the [Tesco Sustainable Dairy Group] antibiotics reduction is very important which is one of the reasons why we only using antibiotics on about 10-15% of cows at drying off. With 83.7% of the herd below 100,000 cell count on last milk recording, it shows selective dry cow therapy is working.”

For a cow to receive selective dry cow therapy (teat sealant, no antibiotics) the last three cell counts have to be under 120,000, her teat ends cannot be damaged and have no history of chronic mastitis.

When cows are dried off they spend five weeks at Meadow Lea – a part-owned farm nearby – where they are housed in a cubicle shed with sawdust alongside the youngstock.

“One person dries off cows, which is normally me,” explains Mr Thomasson. “I do this with a copious amount of surgical spirits, cotton wool, clean gloves with cleanliness absolutely paramount.”

Cows then return home, are foot-bathed and loose-housed on straw. Foot-bathing continues in a stronger (5%) formalin solution but once or twice a week.

The dry cow diets are dietary cation-anion balance and include chopped straw.

A close-up diet is fed around three-to-four weeks pre-calving, which has mycotoxin binders, calcium and magnesium chloride and limestone added in.

All cows are offered a 15-20 litre revival drink post-calving. Cows are then monitored in the fresh cow group with controlled stocking rates (95% or below) and less competition for feed and space for about two to six weeks.

Cotton Abbotts

  • 275ha overall 48ha rented 
  • 540 Holstein Friesians yielding 10,000-11,000 litres
  • 3.84% Butterfat 3.36% protein
  • Yielding 36.5 litres/day
  • Aligned Tesco liquid contract
  • Bull calves reared for Meadow Quality or Buitelaar
  • Maize 93ha, grass 230ha, wheat 12ha
  • Three-times-a-day milking on 32-point rotary set on water
  • British Blue Beef semen used on bottom 50% of herd
  • Average somatic cell count has fallen from 129,000 to 83,000
  • Tesco Sustainable Dairy Group means selective antibiotics on 10-15% of cows or less
  • Ongoing mastitis cases fallen from 25 cows a quarter in 2016 to 5 cows a quarter this year