Setting up SOPs : the Swedish experience

​Author: Annica Hanson (Växa Sverige) - Date: June 19, 2018

​This article deals with setting up new Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) after purchasing DeLaval's Herd Navigator, an advanced milk analysis system.

Pictured: Annica Hansson, dairy expert at Växa, explaining the use of SOPs.

When buying a Herd Navigator (HN) in Sweden, a course with a HN expert is included in the deal. This course is divided in two parts, the first session is conducted about one month after installation and start-up of HN. The second session is recommended 6-9 months after installation, adapted after the farmer’s request. These courses are half day long at the farm.

It is usually recommended that the first session is held no earlier than one cycle after introduction of a stable Herd Navigator function, in other words at a minimum of 3 weeks of HN running. Focus is on understanding all HN functions, such as heat, pregnancy and reproduction disorders from the progesterone analysis, ketosis from beta hydroxybutyrate (BHB) analysis and mastitis from lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) analysis. Then, discussion fllows on how to react on this new type of alarm. The farmer and his team present their current objectives. Then we will go through how the HN reports and current settings can be applied. The SOP function, the HN tool to present an action or just give an information given certain conditions in a report, is presented. Most farms introduce at least one adopted SOP in a report.

The aim at the second exercise is to introduce further adoption and implementation of SOPs and settings in relation to the standard of the farm and their objectives. The workflow is to first follow up current routines and results and compare with status before Herd Navigator was introduced. In the analysis we use data from the official milk recording database. Objectives for management and production is set by the farmer and his team in an, often quite lively discussion.


Report on the process: 2 examples

Niclas Gustafsson (Daltäppa Mjölk) was in late December 2017 about to plan his second HN education session. Daltäppa Mjölk installed their HN in September 2016. Niclas most important objective with HN was to improve heat detection during the summer, when cows suffer from heat stress and farmers from stress with their harvest. Under any circumstances there are significantly less animals inseminated during the summer at Daltäppa Mjölk, which result in inefficient use of the two VMS and the barn due to the decrease in number of calvings following this less intensive period. The schedule of the second HN- course was delayed due to the fact that Niclas at first was uninterested in a follow up HN course.

However, Niclas participated in the 4D4F Workshop with focus DeLaval BCS and HN the 4th of December 2017. So did another farmer, Patrik Bonér (Ängeby) who had installed HN in 2012. Inspired from -amongst other- SOP discussions and the potential in using data from the cow database to improve the herd management, they both announced an interest in participating in a common Workshop with focus on herd management improvement. The workshop was arranged the 12th of February 2018. Patrik Bonér (Ängeby) and Niclas Gustafsson both participated, plus Jenny and Sofie from Daltäppa Mjölk. Patrick’s veterinarian Elisabet Frisendahl could not participate due to parental leave.


Daltäppa Mjölk

Daltäppa Mjölk has about 140 dairy cows: 119 Swedish red and white (SRB) the rest are Swedish Holstein and cross breeds. Today the average production is 9000 kg milk/cow/year. In 2008, the year before they installed VMS, they produced 9700 kg milk. Their number one goal is to return to 9700 kg/cow/year. However, the farm has two major challenges. Today they keep 123 cows in the milking barn and they have two VMS. They produce slightly below 2000 L/VMS, and the 2 milking robots are fully occupied milking 123 cows. Secondly, they do have an ambition to start to inseminate 50 days after calving (DIM 50). This goal was set already at the first Herd Navigator session in January 2017, but they have not reached this goal yet.

A brief analysis in DelPro (farm management program by DeLaval) shows a significant number of cows with long milking duration. The coming 20 months, they have 35 % replacement available, counted as inseminated heifers and heifers available to be inseminated. This limits the number of cows that can be culled due to low milk yield. Instead, the 10 % cows with the lowest milk yield will be inseminated with bulls for beef production. These cows will continuously be communicated to Rikard Furusjö, responsible for breeding program at Daltäppa Mjölk.

When further analyzing data regarding days between calving and first insemination (CFI), it is obvious that a vast number of cows are inseminated for the first time far beyond the objective, i.e. 50 days after calving (Table 1). While looking into the production figures for the cows that were inseminated later than 100 days in milk (DIM) it is clear that, with one exception, they produce less than herd average during their latest 305 days of lactation as well as daily milk yield in their ongoing lactation. This pattern is interpreted as a behavior of “hesitation” or lack of decision whether the cow should be kept or not. This contributes to the fact that the goal "first insemination at DIM 50" is not reached. A new SOP is needed (Figure 1) and as a result, the new objective was also discussed.       

Figure 1. The SOP introduced in both herds. The restrictions in milk production for service is adopted to the herd milk production capacity. The level of milk production and days in milk is recommended to be used as indicators to regulate the number of inseminations, and should be looked over every one to three months and adapted to the number of cows and heifers in line to be open for service. The choice between semen from dairy sires or beef cattle is influencing the upcoming replacement and genetic progress regarding milk production in the herd. (Click on the picture to enlarge.)

Today, the number of calves born is almost equal or slightly less than the number of cows in the herd. With 140 cows, the number of calves born should be around 154-168 calves per 12 months period. An increase with about 10% compared to the current level should be aimed for. These additional inseminations could be used for beef semen and/or an increased replacement rate in the years to come. To reach this number of calves, the number of cows with a long calving interval needs to be reduced. Cows with a lower capacity to produce milk should benefit from a calving interval less than 12 months, and therefore they should be inseminated early. The SRB breed also has a less persistent lactation curve than Holstein cows. So in this case, the CI should be lowered, to help raise the average milk production.

Table 1. Interval for days between Calving to first insemination (KFI) for first lactation cows and older cows, respectively in December 2017 at Daltäppa Mjölk. (Click on the table to enlarge.)

Everyone understands the cause and effect of the present routines. It is high acceptance and big trust that the new routine has great potential to lift yearly milk production. The following management goal and SOP for the 140 cows at Daltäppa Mjölk were set at the meeting in February 12:

  • Aim for 10 cows for first insemination every month. 10 % of cows are culled due to poor fertility today, which is slightly too high and must be addressed 
  • Inseminate all cows in repeated service as long as the cow is beneficial to keep. 
  • Cows producing less than average should be given service between DIM 40-100, in practice it is provided 3-4 times. If not pregnant cull the cow. 305 day average within each lactation is presented and updated in a list.
  • Culling decision for fresh cows should be taken at latest at DIM 40.

This strategy should lead to the following results: 

  • 154-165 calvings per year, about 105 from cows and 50 from heifers (35 % replacement).
  • When this number of calvings is attained (for instance in prognoses over pregnant animals), a new specific SOP regarding semen use can be introduced. 
  • The herd has great potential to reach 10.000 kg of milk within one and a half to two years’ time if this strategy is carried out.


Ängeby farm

Ängeby has two VMS milking robots and HN since 2012. The production is 10.700 kg milk from 78 SRB and 37 Holstein cows. The bulk milk somatic cell count (SCC) is a bit high - 250.000-300.000 cells/mL - and the trend is rising. Ängeby has a great opportunity to increase their milk production.

The voluntary waiting period for heifers is 74 days and for older cows 61 days. On average, heifers are inseminated at DIM 91 and older cows at DIM 80. This has resulted in a longer calving interval (Figure 2) as well as a slight shortage in new heifers. Also, the 305 days lactation within the herd shows big variation, which might also indicate genetic variation. The cows are dry for on average 70 days.

Figure 2. Calving interval at Ängeby. Yellow representing the calving interval the last 12 months and the blue is predicted calving interval for the coming 7.5 months. (Click to enlarge.)

The bulk milk somatic cell count is about 300.000 cells/mL, and is slightly rising. When analyzing udder health and the number of new infections, it shows that over 40 % of cows dried off in good udder health condition but start their new lactation with an elevated cell count. The new infection rate over the last three months are four times as high as what is considered as good dry period standard. About 25 % of the cows are considered as chronic cows in the herd. Keeping healthy cows separated from infected cows during their dry period is crucial in preventing new infections to occur in this period. Both solutions in existing houses as well as new barn solutions was discussed. A SOP for determining udder health status at the time for dry off as well as where to house the cows during the dry period are needed. But this will be handled later and different solutions will be discussed.

The following management goals for the 140 cows at Ängeby were set in February 12:

  • Aim for 9-10 cows for first insemination every month. 7 % of cows are culled due to poor fertility today.
  • Voluntary waiting period 50 days for cows producing less than 10500 kg 305 days lactation.
  • Dry period of 60 days.
  • Improved dry cow management will have to wait until an acceptable solution is found.

This strategy will lead to the following result:

  • 150-160 calvings per year
  • When this is attained (e.g. in prognoses over pregnant animals), a new SOP regarding semen use can be introduced. 
  • This has a potential to increase milk production 200 kg if dry period is shortened and 500 kg more milk per cow per year with improved fertility routines and shortened calving interval.