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Management methods that work to maximise
your cattles productive performance

Assessing performance
Improving performance

Assessing Performance

Lord Kelvin is often quoted as saying that “if you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it”. This holds true for reproductive performance in a dairy herd: any attempt to assess and improve the reproductive performance of a dairy herd must first begin by gathering, analysing, and interpreting reproductive data from that herd. This is important not only for assessing the overall herd performance, but for identifying key areas for improvement and identifying risk factors for reduced performance.

Dairy Australia’s InCalf program has developed indices to aid in assessing reproductive performance in year-round and seasonal/split calving systems. They are summarised in the tables below. These indices can also be calculated for certain classes of animals within the herd to isolate problem groups. Examples of this might be different age groups, carry over cows, non-cyclers, different calving groups, natural versus AI calving.

Year-round calving system

Measure What this tells you Keep in mind… Performance
Seek help Top farmers achieve around
Overall herd reproductive performance
100-day in-calf rate % of cows pregnant by 100 days after calving Best measure of overall herd reproductive performance <45% 58%
200-day not-in-calf rate % of cows not-pregnant by 200 days after calving Not available until many months after calving >19% 13%
Drivers of in-calf rates
80-day submission rate % cows inseminated or served by 80 days after calving Must be high if 100-day in-calf rate is to be good. <61% 73%
Conception rate % inseminations that resulted in a positive pregnancy test Difficult to achieve a good 100-day in-calf rate unless contraception rate is good. Regular pregnancy testing required to calculate <43% 51%

Seasonal/Split calving systems

Measure What this tells you Keep in mind… Performance
Seek help Top farmers achieve around
Overall herd reproductive performance
6-week in-calf rate % cows pregnant in the first 6 weeks of mating 6-week in-calf rate and not-in-calf rate are needed to assess overall herd reproductive performance. <60% 71%
Not-in-calf rate (seasonal calving herds only) % cows not pregnant after the end of mating Depends on length of mating
Not-in-calf rate after two mating periods (split-calving herds only) % cows not pregnant after two successive mating periods Indicates a large problem if many cows are still not pregnant after two mating periods and a long break between. Depends on length of mating
Drivers of 6-week In-calf rate
10-day submission rate % cows inseminated or served in the first 10 days of the mating period A poor 10-day submission rate provides an early warning that 3-week submission rate may be poor. <36% 41%*
3-week submission rate % cows inseminated or served in the first 3 weeks of the mating period This must be good if 6-week in-calf rates are to be good. <75% 86%
Conception rate % inseminations that were successful, i.e. resulted in a positive pregnancy test It will be difficult to achieve a good 6-week in-calf rate unless conception rate is at least moderately good. <49% 53%
*Assumes no heat synchronisation or treatment of non-cycling cows before day 10 of mating.

Improving Performance

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

    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

    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.

  • Heifer rearing

    Heifer rearing

    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.

  • Genetic selection

    Genetic selection

    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

    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.

  • Bull management

    Bull management

    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)

    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

    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.

Further Reading

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