The following article is published in Lakeland Dairies / Teagasc Joint Development Programme's innovative and informative 28-page booklet.
The booklet contains recommendations, tips and case studies, aimed at making farm life easier for Lakeland Dairies' milk suppliers.
Late-calving cows, which drag on the calving season, add a lot of work into a system along with the reduced profitability of that animal. Patrick O’Neill, Edgeworthstown, Co. Longford is one farmer who tightened up his calving season and is reaping production and labour-saving benefits.
Six years ago, we would have been milking 50 cows starting calving on 1st February and finishing sometime in June.
Now, we have expanded to 100 cows and I have only bred for 10 weeks this year.
Having a defined breeding and calving season, allows me to focus on the job in hand. I start calving on 1st February and I am now finished on 15th April. I use high-EBI Holstein Friesian AI for four weeks and then high DBI beef AI. I generally have 8% to 10% of cows empty outside this period. I sell my beef calves at two-weeks of age.
This compact breeding season means I have 90% of my calves reared and off milk, before I start breeding. I believe having a high six-week calving rate saves many hours work on my farm through improved organisation and more uniform batches of stock.
These late calves are more work than they are worth. I don’t want to be running with a bottle in one hand and An AI straw in another.
I am only looking for heats for 10 weeks instead of 16 weeks or 20 weeks. This saves a lot of time and runs to the field checking cows and avoids the need for expensive heat detection aids.
It is as quick to draft out four cows for AI as two cows, it’s only for 10 weeks.
I currently have an 85% six-week calving rate which is just over two calves per day on my farm. The only busy period is between weeks three and four of calving. I find once everything is organised, I am still done farming for the day at 6pm only to check the calving shed.
The calves are of similar ages and are easier to group for feeding, weaning or selling.
The two-week break before breeding season:
I have all the calving done two weeks before I start the breeding season. This allows me to refocus and do an excellent job on heat detection to achieve a high submission rate. The biggest thing that has changed on this farm is my understanding of the
importance of submission rate and the continual improvement of fertility.
How Patrick removed late-calving cows out of his system;
- Make sure heifers calve in at the right time (Feb);
- Have a breeding end date and stick to it (13th July);
- Removing late calving and empty cows out of the herd early;
- Focus on the cows already calving in February & March to avoid slippage;
- The use of tail paint to aid heat detection;
- Intervene early with any cow not cycling before breeding start date, O-A-D milking or vet examination;
- Presenting any animal who had any tail paint removed for AI, this achieves a high six-week submission rate;
- Select a team of bulls with a fertility sub-index of +€100.
Image credit: Lakeland Dairies / Teagasc Joint Development Programme