22 June 2020


Every missed heat in a block calving herd is a financial loss so hitting submission, conception and pregnancy rate targets increases profitability and allows farmers to select the right cows for breeding or culling. 

Vet Kate Burnby, who is working with Farming Connect demonstration farmer Iwan Francis to improve fertility in his split block calving herd, says high submission rates are key to achieving a tight calving pattern. 

High submission rates rely on cows cycling and expressing heat well and there must be a good heat detection policy in place, she told farmers listening in to a Farming Connect webinar facilitated by Farming Connect dairy technical officer for south Wales, Gwenan Evans.

Mr Francis has been calving his 200-cow crossbred herd in two 12-week blocks in the spring and autumn at Nantglas, Talog, but is working to reduce each block to 10 weeks without increasing the existing 10% empty rate.

“Iwan is starting from a very good point, his fertility is very good but we are trying to get it to an excellent level,’’ said Ms Burnby.

To achieve this, eight cows calving at the end of the spring block - 7% of the spring calvers - were sold; calving 81% of this block in the first six weeks enabled this decision. 

The culling of late calvers increased the six-week calving figure to 90%, Ms Burnby pointed out. “Iwan was able to do this because he had 21 heifers calving and all but one calved in the first three weeks.’’

Heat detection collars are aiding the current breeding period – Mr Francis is hiring these but has applied for a Welsh Government grant to buy 100.

A synchronisation programme was used in conjunction with AI for mating the heifers and cows were fitted with collars on 12 April. Tail paints are used alongside collars.

Ms Burnby favours this ‘belt and braces’ approach.

“Paints are a good indicator of how things are going, how many cows have been missed. Also, if you have a breakout and cow activity level on the collars goes up you can still catch them if you have tail paints,’’ she says.

Sixty-seven cows were served in the first 15 days, Mr Francis reports.

If a farm has a DIY AI system, Ms Burnby advises an annual refresher course. “Occasionally things can slip, it is surprising what a fresh pair of eyes can see,’’ she says.

She believes there is little benefit in twice-a-day AI.

“If you are unable to detect the onset of when a cow starts to stand heat there is very little benefit in serving twice a day, if you serve her at the next available serving after observation you will get similar results,’’ she reckons.

“There is only a 1-2% advantage of using the AM/PM rule, although it can suit some herds to divide the workload into morning and afternoon sessions.’’

To improve fertility in Mr Francis’ autumn block, issues around housing will be investigated.

“It may be beneficial to give cows more of an opportunity to loaf, to have a bigger area where they can display heat,’’ said Ms Burnby.

“Cows don’t express heat as well if they don’t have enough space.’’

DIY AI is a Farming Connect training course, available to eligible farmers registered with Farming Connect. Funded by 80%, registered farmers, who will need to have a Personal Development Plan (PDP), can apply during Farming Connect’s current skills application window, which is open NOW until 17:00 on Friday, 26 June 2020.

Farming Connect, which is delivered by Menter a Busnes and Lantra, has received funding through the Welsh Government Rural Communities - Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.

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