Fall calving: Top tips for dairy farmers

In this news article This farming, CAFRE Cattle and Sheep Adviser Dominic Mason takes a look at the autumn breeding of the dairy herd.

CAFRE beef and sheep adviser Dominic Mason writes that many autumn herds will now slow calving, with the next task being the breeding season.

Whether you are spring/summer or fall calving, calving is a critical period for any dairy.

So what determines the reproductive efficiency of a dairy cow?

  1. The interval between calving and return to normal temperatures;
  2. Heat detection efficiency, especially where Artificial Insemination (AI) is used;
  3. Total conception rate per service.

As seen above, many things must be right and in order for the breeding season to be successful this fall.

These parameters must be monitored to ensure that the suckled cow returns to normal heat and thus keep the calving interval for that cow and the overall herd at an acceptable level for your business.

Dairy cows average 50+ days from calving to first heat.

Many factors can affect this time for better or worse, but ultimately we aim to calve a cow every 365 days, which is possible for everyone.

Nutrition

Post-calving nutrition is particularly important in first-calving heifers, older cows or multiple-calving cows, as the requirements for maintenance, growth and milk production will be different for each.

Be sure to analyze the silo. Silage produced during 2022 is of varying quality and autumn calving cows need quality silage.

If possible, aim to feed these cows 70 D worth of silage.

If this silage quality is not available, discuss further with your nutritionist and supplement with concentrates behind your silage analysis results.

Depending on silage analysis, supplementation can range from 1 to 3 kg/head/day until the end of the breeding season to maximize conception rates.

Also, if silage supply is low, consider that feeding 1 kg of concentrate can potentially replace 3-5 silages depending on quality and total dry matter (DM%).

Failure to provide quality nutrition at this stage can adversely affect not only the percentage of cows in calves being scanned, but also calf performance and overall weaning weights.

BCS

Body Condition Score (BCS) at calving is one factor that can influence calving success and rapid return to heat.

At calving, cows should be healthy, not fat, as an excessively fat or very thin cow can cause calving difficulties in many ways and may respond to a late return to normal heat.

Assess cows regularly for BCS, aim for them to be 3-3.5 at optimum BCS, making sure to separate fat cows from lean cows as they will have different feed requirements.

Depending on the breed and adult weight, 1 BCS can be in the region of 75 kg live weight.

Mineral nutrition to calving cows should remain stable at the rate they received before calving and continue throughout the breeding season.

Depending on the mineral being fed, in most cases, 150g/head/day of a good quality powdered mineral is suggested, according to the supplier’s instructions.

This will not only have a positive effect on retained placentas and stronger calves, but will also lead to stronger heat symptoms in cows.

Heat detection

With reference to heat detection, the concept of limited suckling between dam and calf for a short period twice a day can accelerate the onset of heat and reduce days to service.

If you are experimenting, this goal is to start after the cows are about 30 days calving and continue for about three weeks.

This practice can also be beneficial for later calving cows, allowing you to make up for lost days and shorten the calving interval.

It is suggested that approximately 85% of these cows will show signs of heat within 2-3 weeks of first separation.

This is due to reduced contact between cow and calf by sight and smell and suction effect.

In many cases this will have a positive effect on BCS maintenance, while reducing silage intake without adversely affecting calf performance.

Pregnancy rates of 60-70% in the region are higher than what is possible for dairy cows in both natural service and AI.

However, this depends on the quality of the semen, the AI ​​technique and the fertility of the bull, so quality control is important.

Regularly refill the sperm tanks with liquid nitrogen and avoid overuse to prevent damage to the straws.

Be confident in your AI skills and if you feel you are up to the task at hand, call an expert technician to perform the procedure.

Finally, in the lead up to calving season, when preparing for breeding, it may be helpful to ask your local veterinarian to perform a health and semen check on your herd bull to assess her serviceability and pregnancy ability.

Scanning

Pregnancy can be effectively diagnosed as early as 40 days after the last service or insemination, so good record keeping is essential.

This should be something that everyone on the farm does, no matter what season you calve.

It is at this point that you can see if your efforts to get cows back into calf have been rewarded with pregnancy.

However, if a successful pregnancy has not occurred, then you can decide whether another intervention, such as heat synchronization, is required to allow the cow to become pregnant and remain within the current breeding window with an acceptable calving interval.

Best Farming Tips:
  • Body Condition Score (BCS) and nutrition are key to determining when a cow will begin to show signs of heat after calving, and in some cases the negative effects of both can be difficult to reverse.
  • Note that if you want to manage feeding correctly, you need to measure the quality of the silage, which allows you to target a certain quality of silage to different groups of cattle depending on their needs.
  • After breeding and after cows are diagnosed in calf, aim to keep cows on a sedentary diet with no major changes to maintain pregnancy.
  • Artificial Insemination (AI) offers a wide variety of progeny allowing you to inseminate your cow with the dam and breed you find most suitable. Conception rates are expected to be 60-70% depending on the heat detection efficiency you aim for >70%.
  • Herd bulls, in most cases, have a higher heat detection rate than the average breeder, and in turn, capture more heat (the target is close to 100%). However, compactness of both conception and subsequent calving will be determined by conception rates after cows cycle.

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