Friday, 8 July 2011

Dairy Cow Fertility..UK Pasture Dairy Farmers Thrash Kiwi Counterparts

Pasture based dairy farmers in the Pasture to Profit network of Discussion Groups in the UK can now proudly claim “World Best Practice” in herd fertility. Most of the credit must go to the very good herdsmen & farm staff who understand the goals, whose observations are spot on & their determination to succeed & do better each year.

 The block calving herds (both spring & autumn calving herds) in a survey of 2010-11 calving seasons indicate incredibly good herd fertility levels & extremely good on farm management. The data was collected & analysed using the Australian InCalf Analysis which NZ has finally adopted too.  
The data collected from 35 herds (10548 cows) shows that on average 81% of the herd calved in the first 6 weeks of calving. 56% of the herd successfully calved in the 1st 3 weeks so that the av. Number of days until half the herd had calved was 18 days (Days to mid point after PSD (Planned Start Date)). The empty rate across these 35 herds was 11% after 12 weeks of mating. The average farm herd size was 365 cows & the actual replacement rate (2yr old heifers entering the herd) was 24%. These farmers can rightfully claim “World Best practice” as this incredibly good herd fertility has been achieved with no induction & minimal veterinary treatment (30% of these herds are now organic).The vast majority of dairy cows in these herds are now NZ bred (LIC genetics) & all herds have a very high % of crossbred cows e.g. NZ Friesian, NZ Jersey, Kiwi Cross genetics.
The data I have collected suggests that the OAD herds have higher herd fertility as measured by the number of cows in calf in the first 6 weeks. The OAD herds are over 90% with a lower empty rate.
The Discussion Group target performance in the UK for herd fertility/Calving pattern analysis is 80% to calve in the 1st 6 weeks & the target for heifers calving at 22 months is for 75% to calve in the 1st 3 weeks of the calving.
Why are the Kiwis falling behind? New Zealand seasonal dairy herds are falling well short of the UK pasture based dairy farmers & are failing to meet their own dairy industry targets. How can this be when we are using the same semen & farming in a very similar way using a low input pasture based system. In the June edition of the NZ Dairy Exporter (Page 102) 1 highly respected NZ Vet Chris Burke wrote of the herd fertility in NZ & in particular at the well known Lincoln University Dairy Farm. His best estimate of the current NZ dairy herd fertility was that 64-65% of cows calve in the 1st 6 weeks (predominantly spring calving) which is below the industry’s target of 78%. LUDF had 67% calving in the 1st 6 weeks. In a survey of 16 herds the average empty rate was 13%.
You might well ask “what an earth is going on in NZ?” Why is the on farm performance so poor?

It pays to measure & monitor your progress! While NZ performance is now both below par & declining the UK farmers are rapidly improving. Pasture to Profit Discussion Group members (approx 300) will be rightly proud of the astonishing progress made over the past decade in the UK.

In 2002 I conducted a similar survey shortly after my arrival in the UK. At that time fertility in the pasture based dairy farms was not good. Many herds had a high percentage of Holsteins in the herds & farmers were in transition from spread calving patterns to tighter block calving. Discussion group members will now be horrified to realise that the analysis I conducted in 2002 was based on a 21 week calving block. The results of that 2002 survey were that on average 49% of the cows calved in the 1st 6 weeks. Days from PSD to Mid Point was 71 days (wow!). The NIC rate after 21 weeks was 13%. Only 31% of heifers calved in the 1st 3 weeks but interestingly the empty rate was 11.4% (but after 21 weeks of mating).

So how have the UK pasture based dairy farmers achieved such amazing results in an incredibly short period of time (considering the starting point was with poor fertility Holsteins)? Apart from the obvious care & attention to the basics of dairy cow fertility which must be the focus of every dairy farmer. I think the key issues have been, firstly, that herd fertility has been a focus of farm management & Discussion Group attention & analysis. This is one area of farm management that has benefitted hugely by the regular analysis & Discussion Group competitiveness. Secondly the cross breeding with highly fertile NZ bulls & LIC semen (although this doesn’t explain the NZ decline). The intense culling of infertile cows, that fall outside of the 12 week block. Another factor is the care & attention given to Cow Body Condition (CCS) pre & post calving. And lastly the front end loading of the calving pattern with the heifers. This last issue is a “could do much better” as we still are only achieving 67% calving in the 1st 3 weeks when our target is 75%. However the best herds now have over 90% of heifers calving in the 1st 3 weeks….very good calf & heifer rearing (weighing heifers regularly).

Although the 2002 study was sent to the MDC (read DairyCo) it appears to have been ignored as overall dairy cow fertility levels in the UK continue to decline.
Congratulations pasture based dairy farmers on achieving “World Best Practice” I’m very proud of what we have achieved together. As for the Kiwis….”catch up as you are being left behind your UK counterparts who are now much more efficient”.
Current UK Pasture Measurements
Pasture growth still very variable dependant on rain. If you've had rain you've got very good growth if not pasture growth is still slow. Organic farms struggling with poor clover growth due to colder soils than normal.
TheAverage Pasture Cover (kgsDM/ha) & Pasture Growth (kgsDM/ha/day)
Belfast, Northern Ireland, AFC 2150, pasture growth 75kgs/ha/day
Northern Ireland coastal, AFC 2300, Growth 74, demand 54 pregrazing 2800 cut & bale longer pasture
Dumfries, 2160, growth 90, dem 48 just right rain, quality improving
Cumbria, 2419, growth 88
North Wales, 2044, growth 47, demand 50

Cheshire organic 2050, gr 27, V Dry feeding 2.8kgs 35 day round
Shropshire organic, 1805, gr 29 no significant rain but when it comes clover will take off big time!
Staffordshire, 2488, gr62 now made more silage than last yr grazing stubble turnips
East Staffordshire, 2100, gr 30 raining now pre mowing some paddocks
Nottingham, gr 20, dem 60, feeding maize 30 day rotation V Dry
Somerset Organic, 2300, gr 35, 30 mm rain today
Oxford, 2085, gr 40, dem 40, had drop of rain
Dorset 2345, gr 35 but rain last 2 days grazing forage rape
Pembrokeshire organic, 2170, gr 58, demand 48, clover kicking in
Pembrokeshire, 2030, gr 63 had rain this week expect growth to increase
East Sussex, 2300, gr 70, grass getting out of control about to dry cows off
Cornwall, 2450, gr 65, cows on OAD feeding turnips more silage to cut
Cornwall, AFC 2200, growth 102 (this is not England surely!)
Limerick Ireland, AFC 2600, growth 90, taking out silage bales.


  1. This extraordinary progress has to be credited to the P2P Discussion Groups & Tom's leadership. This has added thousands of pounds to our annual profit year after year.

  2. Tom
    i noticed on a recent trip to NZ that they are also behind the curve when it comes to clover, however, with a milk price almost the equivalent to ours i suppose they can afford to be lazy!!
    Kevin Beaty

  3. HI Tom
    I think you misread the Dairy Exporter article. Dr Chris Burke was talking about the in-calf rate not the calving rate. Although the article talks about the importance of a tight calving spread in giving cows enough time to cycle well before the planned start of mating most of the figures in the story are related to the percentage of cows vetted in calf within those target ranges from planned start of mating.So you're comparing two very different metrics. In fact LUDF had 86 percent cows calved in the first six weeks according to the InCalf data and 93 percent of its first calvers.
    But your survey group has done well with an empty rate of 11% after 12 weeks mating compared with LUDF's 14% after 10 weeks mating and the NZ 16 farm survey group's figures of 13% from an average 13.8 weeks mating. Anne Lee, NZ Dairy Exporter

  4. Your blog is really great with a huge collection of real photograph and real experience with your life.

    No-till Farming