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Getting your cows onto the fertility fast track.

Pete Orpin was involved in a project focusing on improving fertility in dairy herds in 2013. The program and its conclusions are still as relevant today! Pete in conjunction with a colleague from Myhealthyherd, Dick Sibley gathered  data from a number of farms and then delivering a fertility training program facilitated by Kite consulting. The following blog gives you an insight into their work.

The key to getting health and fertility performance out of dairy herds is to get the basics right. The right cows, the right management and optimal cow comfort - without this you can’t get past first base!

There are 3 areas to consider when optimising fertility performance. The preparation for service, the service period and successfully maintaining pregnancy. To often too much time is spent on the service period and not enough time on the other areas. The fertility destiny of the cow is set up typically in the period around calving.

If we want our cows to take the fast track to fertility then we must focus on key areas such as cow comfort, feed space and dry matter intakes. The solution to fertility is very much down to getting the cow right and keeping her healthy. You need a comprehensive health plan to deliver these elements.

The key is to maximise the cows fertility potential.

All the areas have to be met to get the cow into a fertile position.

Let's look at an example herd. A 620 cow, 11000 litre high producing Holstein herd.

The cows are housed in freestalls ( sand cubicles) for the milking and dry period. They are then grouped into pens of 10 in the run up to calving. Stable social groups are set up 3 weeks prior to calving and then the cows are housed on woodchip yards.

The aim is to maximise dry matter intake prior to calving by providing an appetising diet and plenty of feed.

The cows are served by AI and sire selection and correct cow size provides for an easy calving.

The cows are separated off for calving in dedicated calving boxes. 4 boxes are provided for the 10 cows due to calve in the last week. Good hygiene and colostrum management reduces the risks of Johne’s disease spread.

The cows are then moved to the fresh cow yards. These are sand cubicle areas which are stocked at 80%. The real focus here is on providing trough space for the cows and plenty of fresh food.

Cows stay here typically for a month of so before they move into the main area for service.

If the cubicles are well designed and the beds are comfortable then the cows will either by standing to feed ( or breed) or they will lie down. All cows are fitted with pedometers and the cows are served largely based on activity. The cow comfort improves the sensitivity of the pedometers as there are highly mobile cows which lie down when they are not “bulling”.

Despite the high yields the cows express heat and are fit and able to be served at 50-70 days calved. The average calving to first service period is 60 days.

The farm has a weekly fertility visit to attend to any problem cows and to scan cows for pregnancy.

The results speak for themselves.  A highly fertile herd.

A 44% 100 day in calf rate is impressive and by 200 days calved there are only 19% of the cows not confirmed in calf. The % of cows culled barren is below target at 5%.

In summary. To improve fertility we have to improve the “cow’s fertility potential” or ability to get into calf by meeting her needs. We then over lay this with a comprehensive heat detection and veterinary led fertility program and the results follow!