13 February 2023
Good artificial insemination (AI) protocols are helping a Carmarthenshire dairy farm achieve a six week in-calf rate of more than 80%.
Iwan Francis runs a split block calving herd of 200 Friesian-cross cows at Nantglas, Talog, where he does his own AI.
Through the farm’s work as a Farming Connect demonstration site, Mr Francis has been working with vet Kate Burnby to improve herd fertility.
He has achieved this - reducing the 12-week empty rate from 14% to 5% within two and a half years and increasing six week in-calf rates from 71% to more than 80%.
During a recent Farming Connect open day at Nantglas, Ms Burnby said that while there are many factors that contribute to good herd fertility – with Mr Francis focusing on calving records, disease status, AI protocols and heat detection, other factors taken into consideration are nutrition, cow comfort and handling systems.
Ms Burnby gave advice to farmers attending the event on best AI practice, including preparing the straw, flask management and good stock handling facilities.
Careful storage, handling and thawing of bull semen is an important consideration. Mr Francis has a specific area for AI preparations and management, which is kept clean and tidy at all times. The site includes the flask, a whiteboard with bull placements map within the flask and plenty of area to handle the semen.
Further recommendations on semen handling include:
- Checking the semen tank is full of liquid nitrogen when delivered and checking levels twice weekly
- Check the tank for frosting on the outside neck of the tank twice a week as this indicates a breakdown of insulation
- Identify straws using coloured marker rods place in the goblets, or a similar system
- Know the location of each bull’s semen before retrieving the straw as the contents will start to thaw within two seconds of being taken out of the flask
- Only thaw the number of straws that can be used within 10 minutes
- Monitor water temperature continuously
- Water should cover all but the top 1cm of the straw
Heat detection collars have been a great asset to Iwan, being reliable and effective, which has helped maintain high submission rates with less effort than previously.
Mr Francis records all calving data, whether there are issues or not. Date includes cow condition when calving, calf detail, calving difficulty, cleansing, milk fever case and late calvers. Reviewing these records have helped halved the amount and severity of metabolic disorders in the herd.
A handling system that doesn’t increase stress on the cow around AI is important. “The best way to maximise conception is to have a calm environment and good handling facilities,’’ Ms Burnby advised.
Mr Francis has created a drafting system that provides a low stress environment as the cow drafted for insemination has access to silage and water and can see the rest of the herd when she is being held back for AI.
“‘Iwan does not normally need to yoke the cows as they usually stand quietly in the race,’’ Ms Burnby explained.
What constitutes a good handling system is different for every farm, said Ms Burnby. “It might be head yokes, a race, a crush, each will work well as long as they are set up well and the cows are familiar with them.’’
For heifers, she recommends running them through the handling system ahead of AI to get them familiar with it.
Ms Burnby recommends regularly review breeding data – comparing results and taking into account factors like the AI technician and bulls used on specific days, to see if there is scope for improvement.
“Consider a refresher course for technicians every two years or whenever there are concerns about results,’’ she said.
Farming Connect is delivered by Menter a Busnes and Lantra Wales and funded by the Welsh Government and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.