Friday, 1 April 2011

Better Communication = Better InCalf Rates

I've just seen a simple idea to improve communication between staff on a pasture based spring calving dairyfarm in Dorset, UK. This came to light at the "Realfarmer" discussion group.....a group for Herdsmen & Herd Managers/farm staff on pasture based dairy farms. "Tail Tape Id".... yes that's right "Tail Tape Id!" "Tail Tape Id" is hardly a new idea....often used to identify cows with mastitis or different calving batches pre drying off in many pasture based herds.

However Gary & Will in Dorset are now using it to identify non cycling cows in the herd in the pre-mating month before AI starts.

Every cow has an orange tape wrapped around it's tail(this week one month pre AI). If there have already been Vet treatments a different colour is applied too.

If any staff member thinks the cow should be rechecked (for whatever reason) she gets another tail tape.

Once the cow has been seen in heat the Tail Tapes are removed.

Gary & Will have a very good track record with a very compact calving block.

It's a team effort & it's important every one in the team is up to speed.....with every cow, every day.....even though there are more than 300 cows in the herd. It can be done but you have to be smart!

It also concerns me that it's hard to observe the correct 'Cow Number' on many farms. The freeze branding on many cows & on many farms is very poor. How do you pick the right cow if the Cow Number is impossible to read?????

At the very least the numbers need to be clipped now. However I think alot of freeze branding needs to seriously improve!!

Below you will see three cows with the "Tail Tape Id".....the cow on the left has already been identified as requiring another vet check (what is her number??? not easy to read is it!). The 2 heifers have very clear easy to read numbers.

Identifying non cycling cows is seriously important in a block calving system & it needs to be done early. The evidence is that the earlier problem cows are identified the better & the more likely that they will remain in the 8-10 week calving block. "Cows with a history" are already known that is cows that had problems at or about calving....twins, milk fever, difficult calvings etc.
Heifer rearing is part of this story too. Dr John Moran (Victoria Australia) said increasing liveweight at first calving would improve milk production and fertility. It would also reduce the age at first calving and dystocia. Dystocia can increase the time to conception by 14 days and reduce the first lactation milk yield by 650 litres.

The quicker problem cows are identified & treated by a Vet the better.

Cow Body Condition Score (BCS)both at calving & pre mating are very important. You need to minimise the Condition Score loss post calving. Early work by Dr.Jock MacMillan in NZ (with Discussion Group farmers) in the early 1980s clearly linked BCS to fertility. So too did work shortly after at Ellinbank in Victoria, Australia.

It will take 8 days longer for a cow at a BCS of 4( NZ Scoring system) to cycle compared to a cow at a BCS of 5.

Pregnancy rate at 1st insemination for cows with a BCS of 5 will be 1-2% higher than those calving at a BCS of 4.

Empty rates are generally greater in cows that are thin in early lactation (2% for each BCS unit) data from DairyNZ .
However, as herds get bigger it's rapidly becoming a staff management issue as to whether cows get in calf or not, within the targetted block. Do staff fully understand the game plan & their role. Can everyone including relief staff pick cows in heat? Now that the peak calving period is over....the first issue is to offer tired & fatigued staff time off to fully be at their best pre-mating & AI.
Maybe using "Tail Tape Id" might help your pre-mating management & communication between staff.


Current Pasture Measurements from around the UK
Grazing conditions have been excellent during March but pasture regrowth rates are poor due to very dry conditions. Some areas have just had good rain & should expect rapid growth...but the country remains very dry overall.
Average Pasture Cover(kgsDM/ha) & Pasture Growth rates (kgsDM/ha/day)
Dumfries, 1850kgsDM/hectare & 30kgsDM/ha/day

Cumbria, 1600 & 18....(Top of wedge 2100 feeding like 2400)

Shropshire, 1650 & 30

Shropshire 1950 & 20 (demand 35)

Derbyshire, 1865 & 35

Nottingham, 1850 & rain all of March....very dry!

Gloucestershire, 1900 & 41

Gloucestershire, 2028 & 60 (Spring is here!!)

Somerset Organic, 2115 & 35

Sussex, 1750 & 25

Dorset, 1816 & 15

Devon, 2100 & 43

Cornwall, 2450 (1900), 58 growth ....have pulled out surplus to reduce cover to 1900. Just had another 30ml rain.

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