Could you earn more money with cows that live longer?

Longevity has been a popular word for some time, so long that perhaps the meaning is a little blurry now. Keeping cows longer is the easy part, we just don’t cull them; but keeping healthy, productive and most importantly profitable cows in the herd for as long as they can, well that’s a little different.

Over time, studies such as Ranasinghe et al (2010) have shown that a number of cows are anoestrus, or have “silent heats”. Whatever the reason for this, one fact remains, for a cow to stay in the herd she needs to become pregnant and too many cows today, leave the herd prematurely due to “fertility problems”.

Cows do not leave the herd because they have “fertility problems”; they leave because we have failed to manage reproduction properly. Successful reproduction is dependent on inseminating the right cows at the right time. Whether you are in the barn or away, being able to identify which cows should be pregnant, but are not is critical.

If we aim to reduce cows becoming involuntary culls due to “problems” then it makes sense to begin with answering the question: which cows do we focus on, and when?

Figure 1; DelPro Herd Reproduction Distribution showing the cows in different reproduction statuses 

Colouring cows according to the reproduction status helps this focus. Quickly unticking the boxes on the Herd Reproduction Distribution (Figure 1) graph lets you easily remove the cows not in focus. The cows that are dry, pregnant, bred, fresh and those that have actively been chosen not to breed (cull cows) can all be taken away leaving just the cows that are open (with red ).

Since we want to use pregnancy to exclude cows from focus it’s important to know the reproduction status. Either that a cow has now become pregnant or is confirmed open after a negative pregnancy check so that she is brought back in to focus. Through DelPro FarmManager and DelPro Companion you have access to default reproduction attention reports like “Insemination Due”, that aims to show those cows needed to become pregnant. DelPro can also automate the preparation of Vet Visits so that all cows due for pregnancy check or cows that have been open for too long are added to that visit at the right time; but we will cover this topic at a later date.

So what to do with open cows? It goes without saying that the objective is to inseminate them and that this should be done at the right time. Setting some targets, for example, to have the opportunity to inseminate every cow by 21 days after the voluntary waiting period helps. This means we have a very clear focus group of cows to heat detect either through manual observation or the analysis of behaviour Figure 2 or milk progesterone Figure 3 remembering that through observation alone finding the “silent heats” will be a challenge.

Figure 2; DelPro activity heat observation

Figure 3; DelPro with Herd Navigator measured progesterone values in the milk

Even after intensive heat detection and observation of cows that are not inseminated 21 days after the voluntary waiting period there will be cows that have still not been inseminated. They are possibly anoestrus or have another reproduction or health disorder. These are exactly the cows we want to identify. Those none-functional cows untimely become the ones leaving the herd due to “fertility problems”. Our opportunity is to get the cow cyclic again, and prevent her from leaving the herd due to this reason.

The way DelPro reports work allows you to see a list of all the cows that have remained open after your set breeding target. Adding to those reports your customisable Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), the report will not only inform you of the cows, but also the course of action you wish to take. The same filters behind the reports, can be used to automatically invite cows to the next Vet Visit so that automatically attention cows are presented to the vet when the time is right. The outcome of a Vet Visit could be that she is healthy and just needs a little more time, or that some other medical intervention is needed. The specific support modules for Health and Timed AI will keep track of any action advised and treatment prescribed by your vet so that you are able to keep these cows in focus; preventing them leaving the herd too soon with “fertility problems”.

Longevity isn’t only about keeping cows longer but about extending the productive lifetime of cows in your herd; having the right cows in focus and taking consistent action at the right time will hopefully lead to more opportunities to get cows inseminated, increase the number of pregnancies and resulting in fewer culls. If used well, DelPro will help to make this all a little be easier.

Ranasinghe, R. M., T. Nakao, K. Yamada, and K. Koike. 2010. Silent ovulation, based on walking activity and milk progesterone concentrations, in Holstein cows housed in a free-stall barn. Theriogenology 73:942–949

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