Technology helps complete heat detection puzzle
Technology helps complete heat detection puzzle
Better heat detection in dairy herds is recognised as an action that is one of the industry’s “low hanging fruit”, capable of delivering profits easily banked within a year of acting upon.
Dairy researchers have managed to quantify the value of those gains, and the costs that go with missing cows when they are on heat, or ultimately end up as empties.
When detecting heats the two mistakes most commonly made are either missed heats, or cows not actually even on heat. Missed heats will lower the herd’s submission rate, a key driver of six week in-calf rates.
For dairy farmers wanting to improve their herd’s six week in-calf rate from the national average of 66% to the national target of 78% the potential profit gain for a 300 cow herd is $14,000 extra. This represents $400 per 100 cows, for every percentage point improvement.
These calculations are based off a $5.50 payout, so the prospects are even better for the coming season with its anticipated $6.30-$6.50/kg milksolid payment.
Similarly, reducing the empty rate on a 300 cow herd from a typical rate of 10% to 8% delivers an additional $6000 profit, or about $1000 per 100 cows for each percentage reduction.
But six week in calf success also relies upon other components of management and nutrition throughout the year to be achieved.
The rate is also influenced by body condition score at calving, and should be at 5.0 to allow for inevitable condition loss post-calving.
Meantime energy balance, mineral inputs, pre-mating heat detection and bull management all run alongside good heat detection over spring time.
The potential for better returns from improved heat detection and the costs of missing cows on heat played heavily on the mind of Tirau farmer Bill Aubrey as he considered his options with his high producing, high BW Friesian herd.
Averaging 498kgMS a year across the 320 head, Bill and his wife Kay have continued a strong family tradition of breeding high quality Friesians using genetics intended to deliver on specific traits.
For Bill and Kay the benefits of better heat detection take on significance over and above the average gains to be had.
A missed heat also forfeits their ability to mate the cow to specific high-quality sire genetics, possibly losing the opportunity for a high genetic worth replacement calf.
Bill came to farming later in his working life, and had enjoyed having the experience of his wife and father in law for guidance.
This has left him feeling confident most of the pre-requisites of a good six week in calf rate, feed input, minerals and body condition score were all on track.
“We are a system 4 farm, with cows getting a good level of feed either in the shed or as maize or grass silage and have a minimum BCS of 5 at calving.”
However two seasons ago at mating time he felt heat detection was not as exacting as it needed to be in the high performing herd.
“I just had a sense that between myself and my staff we were not detecting all the cows we should have been. I wanted something to address that, given our focus on optimising the genetics we are using.”
He had tracked the development of Gallagher’s Flashmate™ heat detection device, and after discussion with staff at Mystery Creek he decided to go “cold turkey” at mating time.
The Flash Mate™ is an electronic heat detection device attached to the cow’s rump for a full mating season and capable of identifying multiple heats within that season. On detection of mating activity it will flash a red alert light for 26 hours to inform the farmer she is in oestrus and ready for mating.
If the cow attracts no further riding activity for 25 days Flash Mate™ will flash green confirming her status as likely to be in-calf. It will return to flash red if she shows heat activity again.
“I had considered we should continue using tail paint alongside them, but then decided the technology was sound and well proven, so we just jumped right in with it.”
A key revelation for Bill using FlashMate™ was discovering cows experiencing silent heats.
“While we may have identified one or two manually, FlashMate™ devices actually picked up a dozen. That opportunity to have two chances to get them in-calf to high quality AB genetics was just gold for us.”
He had also used CiDRS on 30 cows three weeks into mating. FlashMate™ proved invaluable in identifying not only those cows coming on heat from the CiDR treatment, but also those that returned up to 25 days after the treatment.
The region experienced one of the wettest, toughest springs ever in 2016 and Bill says his empty rate of just under 10% was extremely acceptable in a region that regularly reported 13-18%.
The herd also hit the 78% national target for six week in-calf rate.
“We have tried to manage the front end well, with good feeding, minerals and body condition score.
“FlashMate™ were worth it just on grounds of the extra silent heats they detected. But they fairly and squarely were about us getting the right cows inseminated at the right time to the right bull.”