Breeding programmes for spring calving in 2015 have now begun on most farms. However, some farmers are delaying their start date as they see a significant potential of a super levy in this final year of the quota regime.
Milk supplies are up 20% over this time last year. However, we had a fodder crisis this time last year. It is hard to credit that many farmers were queuing for bales of hay imported from the UK and France.
Current grazing conditions have been excellent with farmers now setting pastures aside for silage to maintain pasture quality in the rotation. The same pertains in the North of Ireland where farmers are succeeding to get cows out to grass four weeks earlier.
Farmers are keen to use sexed semen at the onset of their breeding programme. Some have even started earlier to allow for fact that pregnancy rates will be lower. We have been busy using our ScanMan technology to select both maiden heifers and cows for use of sexed semen. These farmers plan to synchronise heats in these animals, thereby maximizing breeding opportunities in a fixed 14-week breeding period. Studies in the North of Ireland have revealed that selection of cows and heifers using ScanMan for use of sexed semen has resulted in average pregnancy rates of 45 and 50% respectively for cows and heifers.
Heat detection has to be your primary concern, be it either suckler or dairy herd using AI. There has been a significant uptake in technologies aimed at increasing heat detection rates. However, many of these aids have resulted in less time being spent watching the herd for various subtle signs of heat. Social interactions among cows in a herd are fascinating. The signs of heats exhibited will vary tremendously.
With the emphasis on low cost grass-based milk production, there has been a focus on removing concentrates from the diet. We have to be careful that body condition score of cows does not suffer in the process. Unfortunately, we are currently encountering too many farms where the passage rate of faeces is too great. With inclement weather, grass dry matters are low and grazed grass on its own does not form a balanced diet.
Pay close attention to BCS and Locomotion score. Scan cows which are at risk of not showing fertile heats, including previous events such as mastitis, lameness, poor BCS, twin births, milk fever and calving difficulty. This information will assist reducing the cost of getting cows in calf and optimise the calving to pregnancy interval.
Dr. Dan Ryan is a cow fertility expert and can be contacted at www.cowsdna.com