A solution to herd infertility problems

Team work, which brings together the unit’s herd manager with its nutritionist and vet, has over the last four years turned around the 200 cow unit’s Calving Index from a 434 day average to a commendable average 387 days.

With an accompanying 107 days from calving to conception, going forward, this achievement brings a saving of £4.50 per Calving Index day per cow which equates to a £42,000 extra income for the herd.

At the same time average yield has increased by 1,500 litres to a current 10,500 litres, while concentrate use has fallen from 0.6kg to 0.4kg per litre.

“We have reached a place where we want to be, however there’s always room for improvement, and I think there is a further potential to reduce the amount of concentrate by feeding higher quality forages," explains Calum McGinley.

“I firmly believe it’s a case of getting the simple things right, and by bringing together a team with the key skills which can implement a full farm approach, then we have found we are able to make things happen.”

Calum manages Kirkland and Ingleston Farms each carrying 200 cow pedigree Holstein herds on Jock Rome’s 1,000 acre unit based near Dumfries. At Kirkland, Calum acts as the ‘fulcrum’ to the enterprise, he attributes herd manager, Robin McCormack as being the ‘main influence’ while Advanced Nutrition’s Bryn Davies and Nithsdale Veterinary Surgeons’ Ross Muir are ‘indispensible aids to the farm’s total farm management’, he says. Notwithstanding, the unit’s five tractor drivers are part of the team.

“Robin and myself both realised that the cows were not achieving their genetic potential from twice a day milking, and the then 434 day average Calving Index had potential for improvement. We needed to tighten up all round and introduce a herd protocol,” Calum explained.

“Our success has been down to people paying the utmost attention to detail.”

The herd manager, Robin McCormack

“My job doesn’t stop at milking twice a day. I make sure I know every cow and understand her behaviour, this makes it easier for me to spot when she is in season. I’m with the cows daily between 4am and 1pm, from 3pm to 6pm and then I make a final check at 9pm. We use Heatime head collars as a useful back up tool. I start serving at 42 days post calving, and try to have all the cows served for the first time by 85 days. I have had AI training with Semex. I allow 12 hours between standing heat and service. Record keeping is extremely important. I have a record of every cow on paper, one on the Bray board up in the farm office, and another in my head.”

Lameness has a major influence on infertility and I’m a great believer in foot trimming. Consequently lameness incidence runs at 3%. I trim the milking cows routinely and at drying off – six weeks before calving. I also run them through a copper sulphate foot bath twice a week.”

The vet, Ross Muir

“I make fertility visits to the herd every two weeks. I feel very much part of the team and the regular contact is essential to assess cow condition, dung consistency, lameness and so on. I’m also in touch with Bryn on a frequent basis. I need to know what the cows are being fed because nutrition is interrelated with fertility.

“At my routine visits I do post-partum checks on all cows more than two weeks calved, which have had difficult calvings, twins, milk fevers or retained placentae. I examine all cows which are calved 40 days and have not been seen bulling. If a cow has a corpus luteum (CL) then she is treated with prostaglandins. If there is no CL and otherwise normal, she is given no treatment and re-examined in two weeks if not served. If there is a follicular cyst she is treated with gonadotrophin releasing hormone (GnRH) and re-examined in two weeks.

I rectally examine cows every two weeks until they are served – they are all served at an observed oestrus. All cows are pregnancy tested five weeks after service and non-pregnant ones treated.

Following vaccination against BVD and Leptospirosis, I synchronise the heifers for AI in groups of 20 using CIDRs and prostaglandins. We schedule them to calve at two years and have achieved 65% conception to first service over the last year."

The nutritionist, Bryn Davies

“Dry cow nutrition over the six week transition period is the main influence on herd performance. Our objective is to keep her in stable condition over the six weeks, and avoid weight loss, so that we remove any risk of her suffering an energy deficit at calving. If we can get her coming through postnatally without any problems, then she should be bomb proof for the next nine months.

I formulate a very simple diet for Calum and Robin and they make sure the dry cows have fresh feed in front of them every day. The far offs are fed a forage diet – see Table 1, and those in the last three weeks, exactly the same far off dry cow diet plus 2.5kg dry cow replenisher nuts per head per day and 160g of anionic salts”

Table 1: The far off dry cow diet

Forage Kg freshweight DM% ME Protein% Starch
Grass silage 8 28 11.5 12
Maize silage 8 20 11.0 10 27
WCW 4 70 11.0 9.5 28
Chopped straw 5 86 6 4
Vitagold 2 34 14 34
Availa Dry Cow Minerals 0.2

“One of the main reasons for the success of the dry cow and milking diet is that I am able to formulate such high quality forage ration thanks to Calum’s incredible attention to detail in the field. He has focused on harvesting high dry matter crops with excellent yields, he spreads the risk across three crops, and he harvests both maize and grass at different levels of maturity and harvest dates."

“For example, both Kirkland and Ingleston Farms grows four different maize varieties, each of a different maturity and subsequent sowing dates – from early April under plastic, mid April, late April and a fourth variety is drilled in to a ripped up grass ley after first cut silage. Similarly, Calum makes three stages of first cut silage beginning in early May commencing with very early Italian Ryegrass hybrids, then a mid cut of more traditional perennial grasses and another at the end of the month, followed by three more cuts through to August."

“Feeding diets from a mixer wagon fitted with a data management tool also ensures that the cows are consistently fed diets that are cost efficient and cost effective."


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