How to reduce your herd calving interval

Ardboe milk producer Gerard Quinn (left)  with veterinarian Eamon Donnelly
Ardboe milk producer Gerard Quinn (left) with veterinarian Eamon Donnelly

Dairy farmers are entering a period now of reduced farm gate prices for an unknown period and the only definite is volatility so in these leaner times farmers need to be getting more efficient which basically means more milk production for the same inputs.

Reducing the herd calving interval is a massive step towards becoming more efficient.

For every day we reduce the interval we will profit the farm by £4 per cow. Therefore if we reduce the calving interval by 10 days, which is very achievable in a 100 cow herd this equates to £4000 per year. Time between calving is critical for maximising litres of milk sold. This is because, for every day we add to a cow’s calving interval, we are effectively postponing her next lactation in exchange for an extra day on tail end of the current lactation when she is stale. Feed conversion efficiency is better in early lactation and also don’t forget the value of your calf.

In a 200 cow herd achieving 9200 litres per lactation owned by Seamus and Gerard Quinn, Ardboe, Dungannon we recently achieved shortening calving interval from 423 to 405 days in 12 months, by basically working smarter, which would have made the farm more profitable by £14,400.

Previously the unit was getting a man in to scan the cows every couple of months but critically there wasn’t a systematic approach being taken and he wasn’t reducing the calving interval as this takes a more holistic approach.

So we decided to start doing fortnightly visits using Interherd software which integrates well with his six weekly milk recordings and feeding this information into our software packages we can generate fortnightly reports which we send to the farmer the day before scanning, these reports inform the farmer which cows to draft for scanning. The list includes:

• Cows that have recently calved so we can check for whites, get these treated properly and therefore get cow cycling earlier and pregnant earlier.(whites are not always obvious we need to scan or do a vaginal examination)

l Problem cows like ones not showing heat i.e. silent heat cows .If we identify these cows earlier we can treat earlier which is likely to be more successful.

l Routine pregnancy scans i.e. 30 days post AI.

l Cows thought to be in calf but showing heat.

l Cystic cows.

l Follow up scans on cows previously treated.

When the vet is doing the scan he can tailor the treatments to the problems immediately and as the vet is recording the information on treatments he can recheck progress in a fortnight’s time, which often is a weak point in doing irregular scans and not recording data. The treatments for problem cows are evolving and improving and we can apply these new techniques. Most importantly as we are recording everything we do, we can see what is working well for our farms and tailor it.

Bench marking is also another added advantage with using Interherd as it compares your fertility parameters with everybody else in NMR so can pin point weaknesses in your system for example

l What is your heat detection rate and how does it compare with NMR average?

l What is your services per conception rate?

l What is pregnancy rate at 100 DIM?

We produce a monthly report with all this information to tweak your system to make it more efficient. As herds get bigger the calving interval tends to get longer but by taking a systematic approach to this problem it can be reduced.

Modern technology if harnessed properly can create a more profitable dairy farm. On the farm in this example the farmer was milk recording, but if the farmer isn’t milk recording we have another software package available called “vet impress” which can also generate similar lists and bench marking reports.

So for basically doing the same amount work and costs we produce more milk which has to be good.