Welcome to the interest group
2015 saw dairy farming incomes reduced to below costs. While markets are starting to recover, for many, the long term answer to making their dairy enterprise sustainable, is to increase yields and herd size at the same time as reducing labour costs. Reducing labour on family farms just leads to a longer working day. So what is the impact on fertility? Higher yields create more nutritional challenges in early lactation and can lead to lower conception rates. It is also well established that higher yielding cows have shorter, and less intense heats that are harder to spot by traditional methods. Inconveniently these also mainly occur at night. The traditional way of detecting heat involves observations of at least 3 sessions of 20 minutes. This is often shortened when a farm has less than the ideal amount of labour, and is less likely to happen at the optimum time – at night.
Key performance indicators
Traditionally herd fertility has been measured by calving interval. However, this is a historical figure which does not give real time information about what is happening today. Therefore, the preferred indicator is Pregnancy Rate (PR) and is defined as the percentage of cows eligible to become pregnant that actually do become pregnant in a given period. Eligible cows would consist of non-pregnant cows that have passed the farm’s voluntary waiting period, and are not on the cull list. PR is the product of Submission Rate (SR) and Conception Rate (CR).
Table 1. 2015 UK Holstein/Friesian Average KPIs
Source: NMR interherd data
Table 2. Trends in KPI 2010-2015
Dairy cow fertility has started to improve since 2010. This can be attributed to higher submission rates. There are four reasons for this improvement:
- Increased use of technology
- Increased use of chalking
- Genetic improvement in fertility
- Increased use of fertility drugs
Worldwide there are good examples of large (1.000+) herds with high yields (12.000 kg+) using technology to achieve pregnancy rates consistently above 20%. It is difficult to precisely evaluate the value of fertility to the dairy farmer, various studies have put the benefit at between 2-6 euros per day of reduced calving interval. The benefits of using heat detection technology to increase submission can be:
- Increased milk income, calf income & herd life
- Lower involuntary culling rate
- Reduced labour requirement & veterinary costs
- More accurate veterinary diagnosis
- Reduced use of fertility drugs
- More accurate timing of insemination, and therefore increased conception rates
- Decreased semen usage and improved performance with sexed semen
- Automatic sorting of cows
- Better quality of life for the farmer
Which technology should I use?
The latest technology does more than just heat detection. Be it with rumination, cow behaviour, temperature or cow positioning it can be an invaluable tool in the early diagnosis of health issues, help to design more cow friendly systems, an aid to optimising rations or even just locating individual cows in the barn.
The question is not should I use technology to increase submission rate. On most farms payback will be under 2 years. The question is which technology should I use to increase submission rates, and what else can that technology provide that will improve my ability to make management decisions, improve the comfort of my cows, and make my farm more profitable.