Improvement in reproductive performance in dairy herds is almost never achieved with a “silver bullet” strategy. Instead it requires a risk management strategy which aims to achieve incremental gains over a number of seasons in several key areas. These include:
Transitional period management
Ensuring that cows transition smoothly from late pregnancy into early lactation with minimal loss of body condition and minimal health issues will allow them to start cycling as soon as possible after calving. Dairy Australia has an excellent transition cow management checklist.
Nutrition and body condition scoring
With appropriate nutritional management throughout lactation and the dry period, cows can maintain a moderate body condition and are not having to “catch up” in early lactation when their energy demands are high. Therefore they are early to cycle and get in calf. Dairy Australia has excellent resources to help you assess the condition of your herd.
Well grown heifers get in calf quickly, and then once they enter the herd are also more fertile as 1st calvers. For seasonal herds, if they enter the herd calving early in the calving period, then they are more likely to remain as early calvers in later lactations.
A contributing factor to the general decline in fertility seen in the Australian dairy herd in recent decades has been the selection for production traits at the expense of fertility. Fortunately, in recent years industry efforts have focussed on reversing this trend with more balanced genetic selection. By including sires with above average daughter fertility ABVs in your AI bull team you can improve the genetic potential of your herd’s fertility. Now you can also select females with high genomic ABVs for daughter fertility using Clarifide.
Good heat detection and AI technique
ou can spend a lot of time and money to get everything else right: transition management, nutrition, heifers, genetics etc. but if you don’t identify cows when they’re on heat, or you reduce AI conception rates through poor semen handling and AI technique, then you may have risked wasting all your efforts. Dairy Australia has some excellent resources to help with improving heat detection and optimising AI technique and results.
For herds using mop-up bulls after the AI period, these bulls are often overlooked as important parts of the reproductive picture. These mop-up bulls have an important job to do, and therefore it is important to make sure that they are well managed, capable of doing the job, and free from infectious diseases.
Tight calving patterns (seasonal/split calving herds)
The longer the period is between a cow calving and when she is joined again, the more likely she is to get in calf. By obtaining and maintaining a tight calving pattern you can maximise the number of early calving cows in your herd, giving them time to recover before the next joining.
Preventing reproductive diseases
With dairy farming there are so many variables which are out of your control which may impact on the fertility of your herd. The ability to protect your herd from preventable reproductive diseases is something that is in your control. Vaccination against these diseases is like purchasing an insurance policy.