To bull or not to bull? To pull or not to pull? To pull the bull is the question facing every dairy farmer this week, next week or maybe even next month. Taking the bull out from your herd of cows is a difficult task for every dairy farmer, including myself.
The day you set aside in your head to remove the bull is invariably the day that one or two of your best cows will be mad in heat.
I have set aside July 27 as the day breeding stops. That is 13 weeks of breeding - eight weeks of Friesian AI and five weeks of a Hereford bull.
To make this happen I have to be confident that I have a large percentage of my herd, both cows and heifers, in calf.
You gain this confidence by keeping accurate breeding records and scanning early over the 13 weeks to ensure that no cow or heifer is missed.
When does the breeding season start? For me officially it is April 20.
Unofficially, it is the day the cow calves. I must ensure that every cow calves down with as little stress as possible - making sure she is in the calving box, taking precautions against milk fever, stomach issues and making sure she cleans.
This year was my first to have a calving camera in operation and it helps greatly to observe cows calving.
Good breeding records are essential. I begin on March 1, writing down cow and heifer heats. As I approach April 20, I know if a cow hasn't shown a heat and I can get her examined.
The scanner will tell whether she has had a 'silent' heat or not. I use an AI Herdbook to write in every service and then transfer this to my farm package and then to ICBF.
As I use the AI technician, service details automatically go to ICBF. The ICBF end-of-three-weeks fertility report is valuable information.
This year on June 2, I sent off 20 milk samples for pregnancy testing through the milk recording. They came back as being all in calf. One cow did repeat again at six weeks.
I scanned all remaining cows on June 22 and this indicated any of the cows that had problems. They were treated immediately to give them every chance before July 27.
My records show that I had a submission rate for cows of 78pc by day 21 and 91pc by day 42. (I had two great 'teaser' bulls this year). My potential six-week in-calf rate for cows and heifers is 74pc.
This is an improvement of 20pc on 2019. Therefore, this gives me the confidence to pull the bull on July 27.
We know the benefits of compact calving. I know what it's like when you have more than one batch of calves and are trying to push all calves to reach target weights. I know what it's like calving a cow in the furthest corner of the field just as the first load of grass arrives in the pit.
I am working hard to tighten up the calving pattern. I hope that in 2021 I will have an adequate 'front load' of replacement calves born in January and February. I have to be prepared for this as regards labour, calving and calf facilities and reducing overall stress levels.
I remember when we compared ourselves by the number of calvings per month. Nowadays we must have huge numbers calving each day. This can cause huge stress.
To conclude, recently I have heard about a lot of good sales of late-calving dairy cows to Northern Irish dairy farmers as their systems of indoor and all-year-round calving suits these cows. So all is not lost for the late calvers as these sales are another option to tighten up our calving pattern.