Farm Ireland

Thursday 22 March 2018

Improved conditions fail to boost fertility rate

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Fertility levels in the dairy herd did not improve this year, despite the improvement in the summer weather conditions.

Cow empty rates nationally are estimated to be around 15pc this autumn, showing little or no improvement on last year's fertility rates.

The 15pc empty rate was described by Teagasc dairy specialist George Ramsbottom as "no better or worse than usual", but he admitted that the lack of improvement on last year was surprising, given the improved weather conditions.

"Cows had a difficult enough spring and some would have come into the breeding season in poorer condition," he said. "All of the research shows that large losses in body condition score are reflected in lower submission rates and lower conception rates."

Fertility specialist Dr Dan Ryan described the empty rate as "unacceptably high, considering the perceived better grazing season in 2010."

However, he pointed out that the flush of grass growth in May resulted in low fibre grass, while the soya hulls component of concentrate feeds was also reduced.

"That meant that cows had a low fibre content in their diet," he said.

In addition, rapid grass growth after the drought resulted in high nitrogen uptake into the grass and resulted in excessive protein.

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"Some cows suffered from severe scouring, causing loss of body condition."

However, there were other factors at play too, according to scanners across the country.

One scanner, based in the northeast, who scanned in excess of 20,000 cows, claimed that cows were under more milking pressure this year.

"Cows seemed to milk better and held their peak longer so they had to work a bit harder," he said.

He estimated the average empty rate to be around 15pc, although this ranged from 5-7pc on farms with good management and compact calving to 25pc on farms with disease issues.

"There are disease problems on some farms, particularly with IBR," he added.

A Tipperary-based scanner said genetics was still playing a part in herd fertility.

"Some farms still have the real big Holstein-type cows that you'd need a step ladder to scan," he said. "A lot of these cows just aren't made to calve every year."

However, he added that farm management and feed rates were equally important on farms that he visited.

"I think the rate of supplementary feeding is linked with conception rate, and trying to milk cows off fresh air isn't a good idea anyway," he said.

Herd expansion was touted as another reason for lower fertility this year.

"Some people bought extra cows this year. That brings in extra pressure on management, disease prevention and increases the chances of inaccurate heat detection," said a Limerick-based scanner.

Irish Independent