FlashMate™ Lights Up Winter Matings
David Cole would be the first to admit farming in Northland is not an easy job at the best of times, and choosing to mate cows in winter for autumn calving doesn’t make things easier.
While autumn calving brings some real advantages for the Dargaville farmer, matching cow demand to the region’s seasonal grass growth patterns, there is an Achilles’ heel that comes with it.
“And for many people considering going to autumn calving, or doing it already, that is getting good submission rates at mating, and a good tight calving pattern,” says David.
The shorter colder days of winter with lower sunshine hours can compress a cow’s heat period, and make detecting whether she is even on heat or not a difficult job.
For David that means he has spent 20 years of autumn calving enjoying ideal ground and weather conditions at calving time, but struggling with a downside that means submission rates stall around 70-75% in the first three weeks, short of the desired 90% target.
Just how difficult it is to detect all those cows that actually are on heat is highlighted when it is considered against the combined experience of David and his manager Aaron.
“Between us two old guys we have got 50 years of experience in detecting cows on heat at this time of year, and even we can struggle to pick them all up.”
That difficulty is what puts many farmers off switching to autumn calving, despite how well suited it is to Northland weather conditions.
For David herd submission rates are lower than he would like and they flow through to a six week in calf rate that sits in the 60% range, short of the national target of 78% in calf within six weeks.
To try and improve his herd’s submission rate through better detection of heats in winter David decided to try the Gallagher FlashMate™ Electronic Heat Detectors this winter.
Flashmate is a standalone heat detection unit that attaches to cows to monitor their heat behaviour. It identifies positive heat behaviour which causes it to flash red for 26 hours, ample time to identify the cow, draft her off and ensure she is inseminated.
Once inseminated, if no further riding activity occurs within 25 days the unit flashes green indicating probable conception and continues to do so unless she has another heat, in which case it will flash red again.
Eight weeks down the mating track David is convinced he has picked a technology solution that has already paid for itself.
“I do my own AI and I know the Flashmates have detected eight cows that were definitely on heat that we would not have detected ourselves, given the tail paint was not indicating they were on heat. Out of 220 cows, that is significant.”
David is confident this will be the first season he comes close to achieving a 75% six week in-calf rate, and is hoping to achieve a reduced empty rate as well.
“Our aim over the past few years has been to try and push that empty rate down to near 10% but we have just not been getting there – I feel this season we will be.”
Flashmate’s ability to operate over multiple heat cycles meant its cost was easier to justify than “one heat” alternatives that require renewing after each heat event.
“We have had a handful of cows that the Flashmate flashed green 25 days after mating, only to have them come back on heat again and flash red, being easily detected a second time around.”
These “phantom cows” are often easily missed and considered in calf - until scanning reveals otherwise.
“We have got a few cows coming up to their third mating, and the Flashmate is still detecting and flashing red for them when they do.”
He says Flashmate retention rate has been excellent, with only 12 coming off his 220 cows over nine weeks of mating.
“We found most of them still flashing in the paddock, and it was not hard to match them back to the cows on heat.”
Applying the Flashmates was achieved easily during milking, with new glue re-applied to them as cows came in on heat.
For David the Flashmate has provided not only greater accuracy in detection, but even greater reassurance given he only uses AI without any bull follow up.
“Aaron has said he hopes we are going to use the Flashmate next year, this is the most relaxed mating period he has ever had. It can be hard to quantify, but it’s peace of mind when the flashing is so visual, they just draw your attention, you can’t miss it.
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