Friday, 04 May 2012 15:57

Focus on In-Calf programme

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Around 40 farm managers and workers joined industry experts at Taratahi's Wairarapa Campus last week to learn more about improving dairy herd fertility through the Dairy NZ In-Calf programme.

Taratahi's farm business manager, Tony Dowman, and dairy manager, David Tanner, highlighted the success of the Wairarapa Campus Dairy Farm's involvement with the initiative and presented results spanning three years. Participants learnt more about the practicalities of applying In-Calf to their own farms and how improved fertility translates into increased milk production.

Many farmers across New Zealand have already been involved with the Dairy NZ In-Calf programme, a national initiative to raise herd reproductive levels.

"We are in a unique position to share this data and demonstrate how successful In-Calf can be. Farmers often work in isolation and are perhaps not keen to disclose results that are less than ideal," says Tanner, Taratahi's dairy manager.

"We really value the clear picture that In-Calf gives us. We now have three years of data to base herd management decisions on. We have seen a gradual improvement in the two key herd fertility measures, the '6 week in-calf rate' and the 'empty rate'*. We can quantify our gains with a dollar value – a result that any farmer would welcome."

South Wairarapa Vet Adrian Evans, along with Dairy NZ Consultant Leo Hendrikse has supported Taratahi through the In-Calf journey. This team of experts have helped gather and analyse data and given advice on changes to herd management practices. "Making changes to management systems and practices is sometimes daunting for farmers. Having the support of these In-Calf experts really helps us set clear goals and stay focussed on the outcomes," says Tanner.

Following the analysis of Year 1 data Taratahi made some huge changes to management of the Wairarapa Campus herd of 600 cross bred cows. "We decided to stop winter milking, one reason being that it would allow us target this issue. Two things that we saw as vital to focus on were cow condition, all season, and heat detection. The result of the extra effort was our three week submission rate rising from 65% to 81%. Submission rate for first calvers has seen the greatest improvement over this time – 68% to 94%. These gains translate to more milk in the vat."

A key change has been made to young stock management. "Using the Liveweight Breeding Value for the stock allows us to track the progress of the individual animals rather than just comparing their growth to an average figure. This has made it easy to identify and deal with those heifers that are not growing to their potential."

The results of changes to farm systems are often slow to appreciate. Taratahi has persevered with the project and has its sights firmly set on In-Calf target rates of 78% 'six week in-calf' and 6% 'empty'. This will equate to a potential gain of $200,000 since the initiation of the In-Calf programme at Taratahi.

"We are more than pleased with the results, and we are looking forward to further gains as our 2012 data is analysed. There has been no 'miracle cure' to date, but a steady improvement in all areas. Throughout this year we will continue to focus on implementing the plan that we have in place, making sure we are doing the right thing at the right time. With continued effort, and the support of the InCalf experts, we expect to see our empty rate take another drop.

"In-Calf has proved an excellent learning tool for Taratahi. Being able to demonstrate to students that herd management practices and changes are backed up by hard data is extremely valuable. Being part of the programme has offered our students the opportunity to develop a deeper level of understanding of herd management techniques and how technology can be applied to improve on-farm results," says Tanner.

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