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Consider scanning cows 14-20 days after calving for breeding season boost

Mild weather, high grass growth rates and a positive outlook for the dairy industry all lead to an upbeat mood among dairy farmers.

Autumn breeding programmes are now at week seven, while spring-calving schedules are just about to begin. The contrast in the genetics used for both of these systems has become evident in the past two years. The primary breeding focus in grass-based milk production is the use of high EBI sires.

This has resulted in a dilemma for many breeders in the Holstein Friesian society. They fear that selection of sires based on EBI will undo many of the breeding objectives in terms of cow type and genetic potential for milk production.

The phrase "there are horses for courses" is apt in our current approach to milk production in Ireland. Grass-based milk production, with a cow genetically selected for a system requiring minimal inputs of concentrates, is potentially the most profitable worldwide milk production system.

The fear of change in breeding policy among Holstein Friesian breeders is palpable on farm visits. Many feel they are being branded with a cow which is not suited to grass-based milk production in Ireland. In my opinion, this is where the use of ultrasonography as a breeding management tool has not been explored.

Most farmers are familiar with the use of scanning to determine pregnancy status and due calving dates in cows.

Ultrasonography can also be used to sex pregnancies, to enable heat synchronisation programmes for breeding, for selection of recipients for embryo transfer, and to identify reproductive problems.

However, the major financial benefit to the use of ultrasonography in the dairy industry is in the area of preventative health management. Let me explain.

The use of ultrasonography between 14 and 20 days after calving can identify the rate of repair of the reproductive tract.

Events such as body condition loss pre-calving, poor locomotion, high potassium silages fed pre-calving, difficult calvings, retained afterbirths, clinical and sub-clinical milk fevers all result in poor uterine involution. You may see the effect of these events in some cows as dirty white discharges. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

Scanning cows early on after calving will help identify how your management system is coping with the proper welfare of your cows. You might suggest that the cow will recover in her own time.

Unfortunately, poor uterine involution has an adverse effect on subsequent reproductive performance. Heat detection and pregnancy rates will decrease. This ultimately results in calving to pregnancy intervals approaching 400 days, with replacement rates of 20-30pc needed to maintain a 14-week calving period for grass-based milk production systems.

Many farmers will frown at the term "dairy cow welfare". However, the financial gain, from the correct dairy cow welfare using ultrasonography of the reproductive tract between 14 and 20 days post-calving, is immense.

Scanning cows at this stage post-calving will enable the source of the problems to be identified and preventative action can be taken for subsequent cows calving in the production system.

Based on a national average 390-day calving interval, there have to be major dairy cow welfare problems. Many of these could be prevented using ultrasonography of the reproductive tract between 14 and 20 days post-calving as a marker of wellbeing in the dairy cow.

At present, Cows365 has preventative health management programmes in place on many dairy herds in Northern Ireland. Here, we scan cows at different stages of the production cycle. In my opinion, scanning cows pregnant gives peace of mind. Scanning cows between 14 and 20 days post-calving as a biomarker of wellbeing may increase profitability of your dairy production system.

Dr Dan Ryan is a breeding management consultant and can be contacted at

Indo Farming