Whilst the Kiwi style of farming is often referred to as “rough and ready” or “low input- low output”, I was really struck by the level of investment farmers were prepared to make when the cost benefit or “payback” of an investment was apparent. With tough targets to meet in order to keep tight calving blocks, farmers identified key areas to focus their attention (and dollars) in order to drive future performance and fertility. Over the next few months I’ll be discussing the following key topics, highlighting the Kiwi methods, discussing how we compare and reviewing the financial drivers for taking a proactive approach:
- Calf health
- Monitoring cows at grass
With a block calving system there are some well known targets needed in order to keep a calving pattern spread over a 10- 12 week block. The key figures we use are:
- 3 week submission rate: 90% of the herd should be served within the first 3 weeks
- 6 week in calf rate: NZ Industry targets sit at 78% of the herd in calf in the first 6 weeks. Current herd average is 65%.
- Empty rate: less than 10% of the herd will be empty at the end of the block (a figure of 5% over a 100 day window is also quoted but most herds don’t calve over such a long time frame).
So how are these targets met?
The key to a good 3-week submission rate is ensuring that cows are clean and cycling prior to the start of mating. The whole herd is metrichecked at least 2- 3 times before mating, which involves using a metrichecker (a metal tool with a rubber scoop on the end) to look for evidence of endometritis or “whites” as soon as 10 days post calving. Cows with endometritis (whites) take longer to conceive and have 10– 20% higher empty rates than the rest of the herd and New Zealand studies have demonstrated that:
- cows treated earlier got in calf 8 days earlier
- cows treated earlier had 9.6% higher 6 week in calf rates
- the return on investment was 3.4-.4.4
As well as ensuring cows are clean, all cows are marked up with tail paint 3- 4 weeks prior to the start of mating to watch for bulling activity. Any cows that do not show a good heat are then seen seven days prior to the start of mating (a PSM-7 visit) so that they can enter a fertility programme, allowing for service in the first week of mating. This means that, even before the start of mating, good reference heat information can be collected to see how well cows are cycling.
So what are the key lessons here?
- Ensuring cows are clean prior to the start of mating is essential, whether block or all year round calving. Prompt treatment can result in improved conception rates, with cows getting in calf sooner.
- Watching for bulling activity prior to planned mating can give a good indicator of how well cows are cycling and allow for prompt action to ensure cows a served at an appropriate time.
- Although a cost initially, the benefit of tailored fertility programmes comes from reduced time from calving to conception and a tighter block in seasonal calving herds.