A keen deal on feed prices, increased yields from forage, and an increased milk price will all help to improve profit margins in the dairy herd, but the aspect with the biggest impact on profit margins is increased pregnancy production.
Failure to conceive is still the biggest single reason for culling dairy cows and each time a cow is replaced the net average cost is over £800.
What impact will increased pregnancy production have in the herd?
James Woods, RMS Manager with Genus ABS outlines the advantages.
“Better pregnancy rates lead to shorter calving intervals and so there are simply more fresh cows milking during any 12 month period. Early lactation cows convert feed into milk more efficiently so this is the period when they will make most profit. The more calvings per year the more calves are available to sell or rear,” he said.
James points out that in Northern Ireland the pregnancy rate on many farms is around 14%. If this falls below 13% a farm will fail to be able to retain herd size. On average, a third of all culls are due to infertility, but more importantly are not through choice, meaning that herd owners may be forced to milk cows that given the choice, would otherwise be culled.
Yet increased pregnancy, once achieved, is something that the farmer can continue to maintain and improve, whereas both milk and feed prices can be very volatile markets.
21 day Pregnancy Rate is calculated by multiplying conception rate by submission rate over a 21 day period. While some herds achieve good success rates and have better overall fertility management, other farms struggle.
James points out that experience with the farms on Genus’ RMS program shows that it is possible to achieve pregnancy rates of over 25% with high levels of overall management and an aggressive approach to heat detection.
He added: “We do know that the modern dairy cow is working at very high physiological levels and this affects many aspects of behavior. Take bulling as an example. We know high yielders are only in oestrus for around six hours, stand for fewer, shorter mounts and as many as 25% of cycling cows will fail to show heat - so called silent heats. This means that a lot of time has to be spent on heat detection often backed up by heat detection aids.”
Improved heat detection and increased pregnancy rates are the first aspects that farmers on Genus ABS’ Reproductive Management System (RMS) notice. This service involves a highly trained technician walking the cows every day, chalking and inseminating them but also using the comprehensive herd information to make more informed decisions whilst standing behind a cow. The skill of the technicians coupled with the detailed management figures the service provides and the involvement of the farmers vet, nutritionist, financial adviser etc. can make a significant difference to the profit margin in the herd.
Farmers can be sceptical about this service but James Woods points out that “the proof is in the figures”.
Currently 34k cows in 115 herds are enrolled on RMS in Northern Ireland and the average 21 day pregnancy rate is 20% which is 5 % above the top 25% of benchmarked herds in the province. These herds on average have 50% of cows pregnant by 100 days in milk, which is an excellent figure. The aim is to have an average pregnancy rate of 21% for all herds by next year.
James added: “We would like to get data for RMS farms published and used as a benchmark for other producers.”