5 July 2002


MILK progesterone monitoring is a powerful tool for helping with cow fertility management, allowing heat detection rates of more than 90% and early identification of problems.

Herefordshire-based producer Hugh Black has been using milk progesterone monitoring to help manage fertility in his 170-cow herd at Wharton Bank Farm, Leominster, for more than nine years. The herd block calves in summer.

"While pedometers are ideal for about two-thirds of cows which are cycling normally, they are unsuitable for the remaining 20-30% of animals with abnormal oestrus cycles."

For these cows, progesterone profiling will tell you whether it is a silent heat or the cows is in anoestrus. This allows the vet to select the appropriate treatment, either a progesterone releasing device, prostaglandin injection or other hormone treatment.

He believes using progesterone monitoring requires a good knowledge of cow biology to understand what is going on. "It is also quite difficult, unlike activity monitoring using parlour computer software, there is no easy way to collate information. Data is kept on a calendar and in a diary."

"While the cost of milk testing is only about £700/year, equivalent to 30p/cow, it does require a large labour input. However, it only takes two less cows becoming barren to make it pay," says Mr Black.

To reduce costs, cows will undergo two cycles using standard heat observation methods and then any cows not observed in heat will be monitored using milk progesterone testing.

Heat detection rates with progesterone monitoring are more than 90%, with only 10% of cows presented to the vet for pregnancy diagnosis found not to be pregnant. Before using progesterone sampling, it was higher with one-quarter of cows tested being not pregnant.

"In addition, we are picking-up non-pregnant animals at three weeks post-insemination instead of six weeks. It also tells you when they are next on heat.

"We would like to monitor all cows using progesterone testing, but this would prove too costly on labour inputs." As a solution, Mr Black is seriously considering installing cow activity monitors to compliment progesterone monitoring.

But the labour requirement may reduce with current research developing on-line progesterone sensors at the Silsoe Research Institute, says its researcher Toby Mottram. "The technology has been developed for robotic milkers and funding is needed to develop this for commercial use.

He believes on-line parlour progesterone sensors will be commercially available within the next 2-3 years. &#42

Milk progesterone testing is an ideal tool for cows with abnormal oestrus cycles, says Hugh Black.

&#8226 Time consuming and fiddly.

&#8226 Provides more information than pedometers.

&#8226 Suitable for abnormal cycles.

See more