Mating time is the most important few months of the year for farmers. Success here means sustainability and productivity for years to come.
The problem is that across the UK we see shrinking milk herds, fewer youngstock coming through, and a declining female dairy cattle population. What can farmers do now to maximise pregnancy rates and future proof their business?
The answer lies in the preparation, and we’re here to help. We’ve pulled together a list of tips and tools to help you get the most from your mating season.
Create your plan and stick to it
Use this time to make a plan that you and your team can follow. The more detailed, the better!
Here are some suggestions to include:
- A timeline – create a timeline which includes all the jobs that need to be completed pre-mating, when and by who. Detail when mating will begin and finish as well as what other activities need to be executed throughout the process and at what stages. If you can, include specific dates. You can create your own tailor-made plan with LIC’s reproduction calculator.
- Genetics – choose the genetics you will use this mating season ahead of time. Consider which are the right genetics to suit your herd and environment and ask yourself what kind of cows you would like to be milking in the future.
- Facilities check – list all the facilities, technologies and tools you will be using and check thoroughly they are clean, safe and ready to use.
- Pregnancy testing – before mating, it’s crucial you have a strategy in place for pregnancy testing. Speak with your vet for information on the best testing strategy for you and your herd.
- Cow management – unfortunately, every mating season will uncover at-risk and non-cycler cows. You need a contingency plan in place for your team on how you will manage these cows so as not to disrupt the rest of the mating process.
Set your goals
It is important for you and your staff to understand the goals you are working towards each season. This doesn’t just mean the number of successful pregnancies. Your objectives can include targets such as minimal intervention, accurate heat detection, identifying non-cycling cows early and up-to-date staff training.
Also consider how you measure success. What KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) do you have in place, how will they be compared with last year’s results, and how can you use that data to improve performances next season?
Know your cows
With mating fast approaching, this is your opportunity to identify which cows are cycling and ready for mating to ensure no cow gets left behind. Using a heat detection aid is an accurate and efficient way to select your cows for mating, and identify non-cycling cows for intervention. Record and monitor cycling activity thoroughly.
Now is not the time to leave it to chance. You need to know your herd and document which cows will be used to breed replacements and which will be bred to other AI options. Often it’s not the cows you might think. Using milk recording and keeping up-to-date herd records helps ensure you select the most profitable cows in the herd to breed replacement heifers from.
Act early with non-cyclers. Cows which aren’t submitted within the first three weeks of mating risk not producing an AI replacement, have fewer chances to get in calf, and will produce less early-season days in milk next season!
Be ready to pivot
Even with all the pre-planning, strategizing and check-listing, mating rarely goes off without a hitch. While you can reduce the likelihood of things going wrong, you may well face issues and challenges which will affect your plan, so you need to be ready to pivot and adapt.
Write contingency plans for roadblocks like stock-bull issues, staff fatigue, non-cycling cows or ill health, and make sure your entire team knows what to do should they face any of these challenges. If seemingly insurmountable issues arise, seek expert advice early on. Our Farm Solutions Managers are always available to offer help and guidance to ensure your mating plan stays on track.
For help getting your farm, cows and staff ready for mating success download this pre-mating checklist.