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Farmers taking action to improve early in-calf rates

13 September 2017

Pregnancy testing results during early 2017 showed early in-calf rates for this season were disappointing in many areas across New Zealand.  In many regions six week in-calf rates were two percent lower, and numerous herds have high numbers of late calvers this year. 

Late calving cows produce 6 or 8 weeks less milk than their herd-mates.  This leads to a big drop in profit because most cow costs are fixed for a given season.  DairyNZ have recognised this issue, and have been strongly encouraging shorter mating periods, ideally just 9 or 10 weeks.  However, empty rates at ten weeks are typically 15% or higher.  The subsequent ‘wastage’ of empty high producing cows, along with lost milk income from late calvers, can prove really costly. 

Consequently, this year there is a major focus on getting the vast majority of the herd calved within the first 4 to 6 weeks. 

There are few investments as extensively proven in NZ dairy herds to provide exceptional farmer returns as treating non-cycling cows early. 

Firstly, it is really important that tail paint is applied five weeks prior to Planned start of Mating (PSM).  This makes identifying cows that haven’t shown obvious heat over the subsequent 24 days a relatively simple exercise.

Secondly, drafting these non-cycling cows for treatment 9 – 10 days before PSM is crucial for the best net benefit to the farmer.  With suitable treatment these non cyclers will cows ovulate and become inseminated on the first day of the mating period.  Non cyclers treated prior to PSM calve much earlier the following season, and produce considerably more milk, compared with untreated non cycling herdmates.  The resultant calving pattern is also tightened, meaning less late calving cows and lower risk of them becoming non-cyclers again next season.

New Zealand research has shown treating cows with modern 9 or 10 day non-cycler treatment programs (such as DIB-Synch Plus eCG) results an extra 19 days of extra milk.  This additional 28kg milk solids production is worth $200 so pays for the investment in the treatment program several times over. 

It’s really costly sitting back and just hoping … non cycling cows treated early produce an amazing eight times more milk compared with delaying non cycler treatment until three weeks into mating!

Of course, it’s important to use the best non-cycler program (including eCG) as numerous large scale NZ research trials show that early in-calf rates are much higher and provide better farmer returns compared with inferior treatment programs, or alternatives such as milking cows once a day.

In addition to cows getting in calf earlier and producing more milk, other benefits of treating non-cycling cows early include a tighter calving spread which reduces non-cyclers the following year, and allowing more flexibility in culling (as this reduces culling top cows because they are empty or very late getting pregnant).   Additional AB heifer calves can be a bonus for farmers too.

Treating non cyclers with the most effective program is an incredibly effective way to farm productivity and profitability.  Ensuring tail paint is applied (five weeks before PSM), and booking non-cyclers for treatment a week or ten days pre mating start will increase  in-calf rates for next season. 

See the Introductory Video in the Ready to Mate video series here

Other resources for Ready to Mate: 

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