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Managing the dairy herd for a successful breeding season

21 May 2020
Type Media Article

Kevin O Hara, Education Officer, Teagasc Ballinrobe

With the dairy breeding season currently in full swing on most Irish dairy farms we will look at some of the key targets farmers need to try and achieve over the coming weeks and look at how these targets will be achieved.

Breeding Management

As previous stated most dairy herds in Ireland typically start breeding on May 1st so at this stage most farmers have completed 2-3 weeks of Artificial Insemination (AI). The aim here is that 90% of all cows to be served would have been inseminated by the end of week 3. This is a key figure for farmers to aim for if a compact calving spread is to be achieved next spring. The 6 week calving rate figure is key for all milk producers but especially spring milk herds where cows are typically dried off in late December.

In order to achieve this, farmers should be using heat detection aids such as tail painting, scratch cards, electronic heat detection collars and or a vasectomised / teaser bull where needed. Time spent physically monitoring cows will be the key element to ensuring the 90% submission rate is achieved. It has been proven that the more time spent monitoring cows the higher the submission rate so this will be the key driving factor for the entire breeding season.

Non Cyclers

Many farmers would complete a pre breeding scan in April to check for cows who may have underlying issues which are stopping them from cycling. Issues such as uterine infections, retained cleanings, or even poor body condition scores are the most common. If this scan has not been completed any cows which have not been seen cycling at the end of week 3 should be assessed by either the farmers vet or in some cases the scanning technician. These cows may require some additional aid to get them to start cycling; this can be in the form of wash out or a hormonal treatment such as the use of a CIDR or PRID. These are all typically prescription only so consultation with your vet is essential.

In cases where BCS is below optimum cows should be given additional feed supplement in the parlour or in certain cases put on once a day milking to help build up condition and hopefully allow the cow to cycle naturally. This is extremely beneficial to 1st time calvers as they are under the most pressure in the herd.  

Lameness can be a major issue to cow fertility and is a major issue where cows are walking long distances to and from the milking parlour. Cows which become lame in the breeding season should be assessed immediately as they will lose condition rapidly and may become non-estrus (not cycling) shortly afterwards.

Finally where farmers are using stock bulls to clean up after AI, time should be spent ensuring the bull is fit for purpose, i.e. in good Body Condition, no signs of lameness with good mobility and most importantly fertile. Research suggests that up to 5% of bulls are completely infertile and a further 15-20% will be partially or periodically infertile. To address this bulls should be fertility tested or if this is not an option good data recording should take place with regards to when cows were served and monitored subsequently to see if any repeats are occurring.  Bull infertility can be very costly and can further drag out the breeding season and have a negative impact on the 2021 calving season.