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How Better Dairy Farm Management Increases Your Conception Rates
October 7th, 2015
A herd's fertility is possibly the single most important factor in dairy farm herd management that needs to be constantly tracked and analyzed. Poor herd fertility is a complex issue, with several factors influencing it, including: milk production, health and body condition, and most importantly, heat detection rate. Environmental effects, such as the type of cowshed cooling in hot conditions and the cow's ability to express heat behavior, should be taken into consideration as well.
This post will explore the complexity in achieving good herd fertility and discuss the latest technologies which can improve dairy farm management efficiency, resulting in an increase in herd fertility parameters.
A Multifactorial Approach to Fertility
Let's dive a bit more deeply into each of these specific challenges and how fertility affects each of them.
1) The Milk Production Effect
Many in the dairy industry assert that maintaining both high fertility and high milk production is impossible.
The graph below from a study on the relationship between the two conducted on New York state dairy farms strengthen this argument:
As the graph illustrates, the milk production rate increased from 4000 kg per lactation in 1951 to almost 10,000 kg per lactation in 2001 while the conception rate dropped from over 60% to less than 40%.
Let's take data from another country -- Israel -- to see if the results are similar:
Israel, also known as "the land of milk and honey," is a much more challenging environment for dairy farming, with a hot and humid climate throughout the year similar to Florida. Nevertheless, as the graph above illustrates, its dairy farmers -- in contrast to those of New York -- have been able to increase both milk production and the conception rate at the same time.
How is this possible?
In short, Israeli dairy farms understand that high milk production itself, although influencing fertility, is not the only factor to be considered. Fertility is affected by cow nutrition and health, as well as effective dairy herd management. We'll return to this later when we discuss dairy herd management technologies.
2) Cow Diseases
Disease, both post-partum diseases but also other clinical conditions and lameness, is an additional factor affecting a herd's fertility.
To further illustrate this point, the graph below displays different health issues of cows and their effect on increasing days open:
(data from: Borsberry and Dobson 1989; Collick et al. 1989)
As you can see, each of the five diseases increased the days open in comparison with that of healthy cows (Normal). Proper herd management technology would provide dairy farmers the ability to receive constant data on their herd, alerting them to health concerns and enabling early treatment and cure well before they become a fertility issue.
The Importance of Accurate Heat Detection
Since conception rates are highest when insemination is performed 13-18 hours before ovulation, estrus is possibly the most important reproductive parameter to detect on a dairy farm. In many herds estrus is detected by farm teams through visual observation, including mounting behaviors.
Visual detection, however, captures only 50% of heat events on average. Due to the short time frame in which heat signs can be detected, estrus detection is especially difficult in a large herd.
Farming technologies that accurately detect estrus for individual cows within a herd at any given point would greatly increase the reproductive efficiency of large farms.
A Multifaceted Herd Management (and Fertility) Solution
As we've explained above, herd fertility is complex, and can be affected by a variety of factors. Leading dairy farm technology that addresses fertility must be sophisticated enough to address each of these factors.
Afimilk's AfiAct II technology does exactly this, providing the highest possible cow heat detection rate, updated on the hour, for herds of any size.
The technology brings key insights into cow health and performance, including reproduction performance analysis. By presenting a wealth of indications on each individual cow through AfiTag II's animal behavior monitoring devices attached to the cow's leg, the system is able to analyze fertility parameters such as pregnancy rates, conception rates, days open, cycle distribution, average days in milk and calving intervals, and more to follow up on fertility performance of the herd.
Early detection of changes in individual or group behavior allows timely treatment of cows or environmental problems, thus improving opportunities for conception. Improving cow welfare also leads to higher milk production and better milk quality. The AfiTag II systems can also be integrated with Afimilk's automated milking systems that track each lactating cow's milk production, along with parameters the herd manager seeks to analyze.
AfiAct II also detects heat very efficiently in various dairy environments such as grazing cows, heifer pens and even tied up cows. In addition, AfiAct II uses the behavior measurements to detect approaching calving in dry pens.
This holistic and multifactorial approach allows modern dairy farmers to implement more effective dairy herd management and achieve improved fertility.
Want to learn more about Afimilk's next-generation solution for heat detection that is part of a comprehensive herd management system?