Ensuring cows go in-calf should take priority over input costs
Breeding programmes for spring calving herds are now in full swing. But the weather has created difficult conditions for heat detection, and poor grass growth rates over the past number of weeks won't help the situation.
Many farmers have resorted to grazing silage ground where possible. Where land is fragmented or heavy, farmers have had to rehouse cows by night.
All this chopping and changing is hard on the cow. Dietary changes at this time of year can be particularly stressful.
Stress leads to lower submission rates and pregnancy rates. My belief is that farmers should have a very singular focus during this period -- to maximise heat detection and pregnancy rates -- even if it means spending more on feed than was originally planned. And it is not just a case of providing enough drymatter. The diet has to be balanced for all the essential nutrients and also be in constant supply to meet the requirements for optimal reproductive performance.
Grazing conditions simply have not met these requirements over the past month. We are seeing the proof of this in our scanning records. They reveal heat detection rates of just 65pc after 3.5 weeks of breeding for a sample of 1,500 cows calved greater than 40 days. This is a far cry from the Teagasc target of 85pc pregnancy rate for the first six weeks of the breeding season. They are simply unrealistic for the vast majority of farmers.
Where are we going wrong? I think we need a mindset shift from a simplistic focus on input costs to a point where the requirements of the cow to establish pregnancy are the priority. This begins with the body condition score achieved at drying off in the previous lactation and its subsequent management.
The egg quality required for pregnancy is determined by management of the cow in the six-week period prior to breeding. Any form of stress is detrimental to reproductive performance. If this means a temporary extra feed cost, so be it. It will take a lot of feeding before you outweigh the €250 that a missed heat is estimated to cost.