Farm Ireland

Monday 19 March 2018

Remember that missed heats cost you €250 per cow

Dairying requires active input seven days a week.
Dairying requires active input seven days a week.
Dan Ryan

Dan Ryan

Breeding programmes are now well underway on many farms with grass-based milk production systems. The primary focus should be accurate heat detection with a 90pc minimum submission rate for the first three weeks of the breeding season.

But we need to have a common sense approach to targeted heat detection rates. Create a numerical list of cows greater than 40 days calved at the onset of your breeding programme.

Walk through your cows at grass and identify cows that are at risk of not cycling.

Cows that are lame or thin are prime examples.

Some farmers reduce the walking distance and introduce once a day milking for these 'at risk' cows. Prevention has to be the key when one considers that the opportunity cost of missed heats is €250/cow.

Cows which have had either twins, difficult calvings, milk fever, displaced abomasums, lameness before or after calving, ketosis, mastitis or retained afterbirth are likely candidates for problem breeders.

It is essential that your animal health vaccination programme is up to date with continuous monitoring for diseases such as IBR, Johnes', and both liver and stomach fluke.

The risk of BVD should be minimal if biosecurity measures are in place and BVD samples have all been clear for the past two years. Unfortunately, we do not have compulsory removal of BVD positive calves from farms.

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The sad reality is that this disease could be eradicated if this measure was enacted, but the real sticking point is suckler herds where the vast majority of turnover depends on the sale of the calf.

The next step after generating this numerical list of cows in your herd is to scan the cows that are 'at risk'.

This allows your vet to address reproductive issues now rather than waiting four to five weeks into the breeding season. The financial costs of missed heats far outweigh the cost of a prebreed scan.

With so much emphasis placed on heat detection to maximise profit, there has been an onslaught of heat detection aids. The danger is that farmers become over-dependent on these aids to get their cows bred. You still need to spend time with cows out in the field to identify those with signs of heat, along with those that are not showing any visual signs of heat.


Dairy herd expansion has also introduced new entrants without any previous experience in many instances.

Dairying requires active input seven days a week.

Technology such as robotic milkers will not remove this requirement. A client of mine was recently asked if he could go away for a holiday having installed a robotic milker.

"Yes, if I could get a return flight on the same day," he replied. You will get both false positives and missed heats with any of the automated heat detection systems available on the market.

Automated heat detection systems are certainly an aid to visual heat detection, by allowing you to spend time with the cows at opportune times on a daily basis.

Many new entrants to dairying expect a lifestyle which enables a five day week approach to herd management.

But simple mistakes like inseminating a cow that is not in heat runs the risk of either introducing infection or causing embryonic death.

That's why an excellent stockman is key to reaping the rewards from the potential of the sector. Dairying now moves into an area where the consumer will be demanding assurances that the health and welfare of cow is being properly catered for.

I find it surprising that it isn't standard practice for new entrants to undertake a formal training course in dairy herd management.

This would offer a key opportunity to open people's eyes up to the responsibilities and demands that they will be facing over the coming years.

It is ultimately in the best interest of the farmer to maintain optimal health of dairy stock at all stages of the production cycle.

Accurate heat detection and its associated fertility are primarily dependent on your management during the transition period from the dry cow period right through to the first two weeks after calving.

Dr Dan Ryan is a cow fertility expert and can be contacted at

Indo Farming