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Early intervention key with problem cows

Early intervention key with problem cows

Submitting cows for service is an important aspect of the breeding season, with a target of 90% submitted in the first three weeks. In this article, Teagasc Dairy Specialist Stuart Childs explains why now is the time for managing problem cows on your farm to maximise this target.

Cows that have not been seen cycling to date should be scanned by a vet as soon as possible to identify any potential problems. Time is a great healer is a comment that is often made in relation to these problem cows and while that is correct, they don’t have time on their side.

The breeding season should only be 12 weeks if you want to be finished calving cows when you start breeding in 2024, consequently, you need to kick start the cycle of these problem cows. Why? They have only limited time to go in calf and treating them late in the breeding season will reduce their chances of going in calf.

Early intervention will ensure a higher success rate overall, even though they may not go in calf to the initial treatment. While the argument is often made about these cows being infertile animals, the truth is that many of them are not cycling due to management issues around minerals, calving difficulty due to bull choice etc. rather than their own fertility per se.

With the cost of rearing replacements rising along with everything else, it is important to retain as many cows as possible from the 2023 season for 2024 to minimise the required replacement rate, thus maximising the milk production and earning potential of the cow herd next year.

A new feature available on the HerdPlus app

Herd owners can now run a weekly fertility report on the ICBF HerdPlus app. This report will also generate an action list of all cows that are calved >30 days that have not yet been submitted for service. This will be useful to farmers to identify cows not served, particularly at the end of the first three weeks of breeding.

To access this fertility report, log into the HerdPlus app and click:

  1. Menu;
  2. Reports;
  3. All reports;
  4. Fertility;
  5. Weekly Fertility Report;
  6. Enter Calving Start Date and Mating Start Date;
  7. Download Report.

A screenshot of the ICBF fertility report

Managing late-calving cows to shorten the calving interval

The management of late calvers is something that needs to be given some thought in order to avoid them calving late again or not at all. The bulk of herds will commence breeding in late April / early May, there will be a number of herds that will commence breeding earlier.

Cows need recovery time post calving. Ideally, this voluntary waiting period as it is known would be 42 days or six weeks. That means that a cow that calves just before the breeding season commences will not be bred until there are six weeks of the breeding season passed. This gives her potentially two chances of getting in calf again before the breeding season ends in the typical 12-week breeding season. Consider the May or June calving cow of which there are quite a few. 10-15% of the national herd calve six weeks into the breeding season.

There are two ways to deal with late calvers to get them back in calf quicker than would otherwise happen;

1. Once a day milking (OAD)

Milking late calvers once a day from calving until they are bred or until they are deemed to be in calf (three weeks post first service) works on the principle of reducing the demands of milking twice a day. Cows continue to run with the main herd, are fed as normal with the main herd but are only milked once each day. The reduced energy demand of OAD allows these cows to begin their natural reproductive cycle quicker and will see them present for breeding in a shorter time period than if milking twice daily. OAD increases their chances of conception to first service also, again due to the reduced energy demand. While there is a loss of potential income in terms of reduced milk yield from these cows, it is less than 5% of the cost of replacing them should they fail to go in calf.

 2. Hormonal intervention

Resumption of the cow’s cycle can be induced using the programme shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Fixed time AI synchronization protocol for non-cycling and late-calving cows

Fixed time AI synchronization protocol for non-cycling and late-calving cows

Cows still need to be calved a minimum 30 days before commencing this programme, but it does give excellent control over the breeding of these late calvers. Submission rate will be 100% and the timed AI element eliminates the requirement to detect these cows in heat, which can prove difficult as the breeding season progresses. It is vital that the programme is followed exactly as it is shown above otherwise it will not work as the timings of these injections are very important.

Whichever method you choose is up to you or you may decide to use both, but it is important to give consideration to later-calving cows if you want to retain them in your herd.

Also read: Improved pregnancy rates from sexed semen

Also read: Managing the dairy herd for a successful breeding season

Also read: Accelerating genetic gain in the dairy herd