Concentrating on getting young stock up to target liveweights is paying off for Lincoln University Dairy Farm with six-week in-calf rates hitting 78 per cent, well ahead of the Canterbury and New Zealand average of 67 per cent.
"If you want to take a theme out of this session," LIC reproductive solutions advisor Amy Horrell told farmers at LUDF's focus day, "it really is, this farm is now growing their cows to their potential and it's very exciting."
"The 2- and 3-year-olds in any herd should have the best reproductive performance. They should have the highest in-calf rates, the lowest empty rates and that is exactly what Lincoln have got. Their young stock are performing beautifully."
Horrell said farmers who use LIC's Minda Weights programme are given an individual calculation for each animal of what should be their target weight as they grow.
"When heifers hit their target liveweights, it means everything is likely to go well for them, they've got the most potential ever and they get in calf well because they're healthy and happy and ovulating, that's the biggest thing. They've hit puberty in time.
"Lincoln's 2 and 3-year-olds have really benefited from the extra weighing, the extra monitoring and the extra feeding that's gone on."
Farm manager Peter Hancox credited splitting the farm's 630 cows into two herds, for the improved in-calf rate.
"When we first split the herds two years ago, the 2-year-olds were 22kg heavier than in previous years. Their condition was about the same but they had the potential to grow with a lot less competition in the herd."
The split is around 60-40 with 200 to 220 cows in the advantaged smaller herd, which comprises all first-calvers plus other animals that have lost too much condition at calving, had trouble calving or were judged too light.
In January, after the six-week in-calf rate is known, the herd is reconfigured and becomes all the light condition scored cows calving in the first three weeks of next spring. Only about 40 of the 119 first-calvers are left, with most going into the bigger herd.
"Where we think the advantages are, they get milked first so they spend only 45 minutes to an hour from the time they leave the paddock to the time they're back there again, so they're not standing around in the yard for two and half or three hours like they were when we used to run one herd," said Hancox.
"And they mostly get all the paddocks closest to the cowshed so they don't get as much walking. They get an easier life really."
The numbers show the split-herd policy is working, he said. "We've been able to grow - as well as do really good milk production - but actually grow the cows a bit better as younger cows too."
The farm's overall six week in-calf rate is 78 per cent, at nine weeks, 87 per cent and at the end of mating, 92 per cent. First calvers' six week in-calf rate is 81 per cent and second calvers 79 per cent.
"Looking after stock, that's the key to it. We've been doing it for three seasons now and we're starting to see rewards from it like we were hoping we going to."
Horrell said Lincoln's cows were reaching target weights right from when they were calves, as well as when they were sent to a grazier.
"In every line of calves, there's some, usually the later-born ones, and they're battling a wee bit and the whole point of Minda Weights is to identify them and separate them out, drench them more or whatever needs to be done to get them up to speed with the others."
"Fertility's one of those multi- factorial things . . . little tweaks here and there matter. Pete and his team have worked on all the pieces of the cake. Farmers need to keep their finger on the pulse..."
- The Southland Times