Vetwatch: Dairy vet issues around the UK

There is a bewildering array of figures we use to measure the performance of dairy herds. KPIs are a useful starting point as to where attention may need to be focused to improve future performance, but which ones are most useful?

KPIs are readily available online through your milk recording organisation, and both NMR and CIS have benchmarking systems available so you can compare your herd’s performance with that of similar dairies.

There are so many different production/breeding systems it could be difficult to find a true benchmark production group for your herd. Perhaps setting targets specific to your farm with the help of your vet is more appropriate.

Death and culling

The best figures to initially take a look at would be the death and culling percentages.

A death rate of 2% should be achievable, but a more realistic UK target might be under 5%. When your death rates are above 5%, have a look at the age of cows dying and when this is happening during lactation. A high percentage of deaths in early lactation are often linked to type 2 ketosis, nutritional management and energy supply during that critical transition/fresh period.

Deaths spread throughout lactation may be related to Sub-acute rumenal acidosis (SARA. Higher yielding herds are on a tightrope between ketosis and SARA, and to keep an eye on this you need to look into your herds fat:protein ratios.

Culling should be about 15% but under 20% would seem a realisitic UK target. When this figure is high, then ask yourself why these cows are going and what can be done to reduce the flow?

Fertility KPIs

Calving interval is bound to be the vets favourite. National average is about 425 days but a target of 400 days or less should be set.

An extended calving interval could be caused by many things including difficult calvings, metritis, mastitis and lameness – all of which can be improved. It can be useful to graph calving interval against milk yield a cow a year to demonstrate clearly that decreasing an extended calving interval increases farm output. It’s important to remember the cost for every day a cow is not in calf when she should be is between £ 3 and £5 depending on individual farm figures.

It is equally important to keep an eye on age at first calving. Target has to be two years (730 days). Heifer rearing with all year round calving is a tricky business.

It would be easier if those who buy milk would allow farmers to choose a calving period and match them up for level production. Surely the higher yielding herds would do well calving in the autumn with another lower input group calving in the springhuge welfare benefits and easier management of youngstock.

Additional useful KPIs

• What percentage of first-lactation cows are in your herd? When this is rising ask yourself whether it is through choice?
• Milk per cow per year
• Milk per year of life
• Fat and protein percentage
• Somatic cell counts.

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