Technology helps complete cow heat detection puzzle

Bill Aubrey was looking to improve heat detection accuracy to maximise use of high quality genetics during mating.
GALLAGHER/SUPPLIED

Bill Aubrey was looking to improve heat detection accuracy to maximise use of high quality genetics during mating.

One of the dairy industry's "low hanging fruit" is improving heat detection performance on a farm. Results can be felt in the next season if action is taken.

Gains come from having cows in calf earlier, resulting in more days in milk, more high-genetic calves being born and more time for cows to return to normal cycling and able to get in calf again early. All of these can be quantified, demonstrating the value of good heat detection methods.

Conversely, missing a cow who is on heat and the risk associated with her ending up empty can also be quantified. There are two mistakes commonly made with heat detection; missing a cow who is on heat or putting her up too early or too late. Non-cyclers can also be an issue.

FlashMate flashes red
GALLAGHER/SUPPLIED

FlashMate flashes red

Missed heats will lower the herd's submission rate, a key driver of six week in-calf rates.

If a dairy farmer can improve their herd's six week in-calf rate from the national average of 66 per cent to the national target of 78 per cent the potential profit gain for a 300-cow herd is $14,000 extra. This represents a gain of over $45 per cow on average.

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 498 kgMS a year across the 320-cow herd 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.

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"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.

FlashMate 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 FlashMate will flash green confirming her status as likely to be in-calf. It will return to flash red if she shows heat activity again.

A key revelation for Bill using FlashMate was discovering cows experiencing silent heats.

"While we may have identified one or two manually, FlashMate 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 per cent was extremely acceptable in a region that regularly reported 13 to 18 per cent.

The herd also hit the 78 per cent 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 was 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."

Calculate the benefits of improving your herd's 6 week in-calf rate here www.gallagherflashmate.com.

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