Dairy cow fertility is high on every progressive farmer’s agenda. Not only does poor fertility drag down your herd performance by taking extra time, resources and labour, disrupting calving patterns and pulling down production. It’s also a major reason for culling. Here's what you can do to boost the fertility in your herd.
In 2021, not being in calf was by far the most common reason for cows leaving herds in the UK*, and this trend exists around the world. But what if you could use genetics to breed more fertile cows and make the job of managing fertility less of a challenge at your farm?
"As a dairy farmer, you can stack the odds in favour of having good cow fertility. You can use modern breeding indexes and select bulls which transmit fertility to your daughters. This way, you can make the reproductive management of your cows far easier and cut out the cost of breeding interventions," says Peter Larson, Senior Breeding Manager for VikingJersey at VikingGenetics.
* Kingshay Dairy Costings Focus Annual Report 2021
However, there is much catching up to do as the trend towards poorer fertility began around the world many years ago. Historically, dairy producers selected largely for milk production. As a result of this, cows in most barns today are high-producing animals.
“But production is inversely related to fertility, so as production went up, the cow became more difficult to get in calf,” Peter Larson remarks.
The VikingGenetics countries have been addressing fertility for over 40 years, through extensive data recording throughout Danish, Swedish and Finnish farms. As a result, farmers, veterinarians and other industry experts have been able to include daughter fertility in the economic breeding index, the Nordic Total Merit (NTM), since 1980s.
“Fertility has a relatively heavy weighting in the NTM, so selecting bulls for this index will lead you towards better daughter fertility,” says Peter Larson.
As a dairy producer with particular concerns about fertility, you can:
- Pick bulls on NTM
- Drill down to those which sire transmits the best reproductive traits
- Also select young, genomic bulls which - in addition to daughter proven bulls - have been indexed for their fertility-improving genes.
All of this means that there is no reason why high production cows cannot be fertile. It supports the trend towards improving fertility which is evident today.
Peter Larson explains: “The Jersey breed has been less affected than the Holstein by the drive for high volume milk production. However, fertility is still one of the main reasons for culling so should also be a target for improvement in this breed.”
Progress in fertility is being made across the VikingJersey population, just as it is with the VikingHolstein. But as with the Holstein, breeding is about having a balance.
As a dairy farmer, you want a cow that’s easy to manage and produces plenty of milk over a long and healthy lifetime.
That’s why Peter Larson recommends that you put together a defined breeding strategy e.g. in collaboration with a breeding advisor. A strategy that brings together a range of traits to improve health, production and lifespan. A strategy where there will always be a value in keeping a focus on fertility in your dairy herd.