How to improve efficiencies in fertility, feeding and heifer rearing were some of the topics tackled by dairy experts from around the world at the recent TotalDairy Seminar at Keele University in Staffordshire.
Now in its twelfth year, the two day event - which is lead sponsored by Zinpro and Zoetis - attracted over 400 delegates keen to hear the latest practical, research lead thinking in dairy herd management.
Opening the seminar, veterinary nutrition consultant, James Husband, from event organisers, Evidence Group said fertility was the linchpin to overall herd efficiency.
He explained that getting cows in-calf promptly would avoid low production from extended lactations and prevent cows from getting over-fat. This would help avoid disease risk around calving and subsequent reductions in performance. For optimum efficiency he advised farmers targeted a herd average of 180 days in milk.
“On average, for every month longer than 180 days in milk, you lose 2-2.5 litres a cow a day,” he explained.
Dr Paul Fricke of The University of Wisconsin-Madison, said good udder health was essential in order to achieve high herd fertility.
“Mastitis events occurring during the breeding risk period have a profound negative effect on fertility,” he said.
A study on four Wisconsin dairy farms found that cows that had chronic mastitis before and during the breeding period had a significantly lower conception rate to first service of 28%, compared to 45% in healthy animals. This was a result of the inflammatory response to mastitis. Those animals that had high somatic cell counts during the breeding period also had significantly lower conception rates of 37%.
Vet Ginny Sherwin from Nottingham University presented new research, which highlighted the huge scope for UK farmers to improve heifer rearing efficiencies.
The 2016 Nottingham University study looked at data from 18,000 heifers across 437 farms in England and Wales and found that calving-in over the target age at first calving of 23 to 24 months had a significant detrimental effect on performance.
“We found that as soon as heifers are over 24 months at first calving, the chances of them surviving into their second lactation decreases. Another Irish study also showed that if you reduce age at first calving from 27 to 24 months, the chance of staying in the herd is 10% more,” she said.
With less than a quarter of UK herds found to be hitting an average age at first calving of 23 to 24 months, this underlined the need for farmers to focus their attention on ensuring heifers reached the right size to calve at this target age. In doing so, they would be rewarded with lower rearing costs, reduced first lactation culling rates and improved 100 day in-calf rates.
Ms Sherwin added: “We also looked at the effect of age at first calving on 100 day in-calf rates. We found there was no effect under 23 months age at first calving, but once over 25 months there was a negative effect on the number that got pregnant before 100 days in milk.”
Feed efficiency was one area tackled by Jud Heinrichs from Penn State University who spoke in a number of presentations and smaller group workshops. He said variability in forage quality had a huge impact.
“Maintaining high forage quality in all stages of forage management is the number one way to maximise feed efficiency,” he said.
Ensuring good digestibility of the total diet and providing good physically effective fibre to promote rumination and saliva production was vital to get the rumen working effectively and encourage efficient digestion.
Professor Heinrichs also advised farmers to maintain even body condition across the herd due to the energy cost of putting fat on and taking it off. He added: “A lot of feed efficient farms have a lot more even body weight through lactation.”