Good fertility starts at calving!

Herd management tool

While in the midst of a very busy calving period, thinking about breeding is generally not top of the list for farmers, however it is important to keep in mind that good fertility starts at calving. All cows that are at risk (i.e. hard calving, low in energy, skinny or obese animals, milk fever, ketosis, retained foetal membranes or other illness during the transition period) should be followed up closely by the farmer and scanned before breeding begins to see if their reproductive system is ready to conceive.

Health = fertility. All production diseases have an effect on the fertility and production status of the animal. A cow with retained foetal membranes could come in heat later and will therefore be inseminated at a later point in time, increasing calving interval.

Busiest time of the year…

While it’s unfortunate that two of the busiest times for farmers – calving and breeding come one on top of the other, technology advancements mean that there are tools available that can help reduce labour while still maintaining the best results.

Fiachra Liston farms in partnership with his father Aidan in Banogue, Co Limerick where they are currently milking 312 cows. One of Fiachra’s main interests on the farm is the breeding side of things. When Fiachra returned home from College (Harper Adams and Reaseheath College) and travelling (USA & NZ) to join the family farm in 2003/2004 they were milking 120 cows. As land became available they expanded the herd, the breeding side of things was Fiachra’s job and the initial system used for heat detection was tail paint. He had also completed the DIY AI course, so he did all the AI himself.

Their herd size increased to 220 cows “I was completely tied to the farm as my jobs were tail painting, checking cows at milking, manual drafting and AI’ing”. When they looked at this they realised this wasn’t sustainable at the current herd size not to mind in the future with their plans for scaling further. In Fiachra’s words “my workload was very intense and time consuming”.

Technology and herd management…

Three years ago, Fiachra took a step back and reviewed the current work practices, he quickly identified that some areas needed more attention than others and that some of the critical tasks on the farm could be automated to achieve even better results. He joined a growing number of progressive farmers and decided to install Dairymaster MooMonitor+ health and fertility monitoring system as “we had to do something about making life easier so that when relief milkers were in they could handle things, milk the cows and any cows in heat would be drafted automatically, then they just needed to call the AI man to do his job. It was great as the MooMonitor+ system allowed things to fall into place for us”.

As breeding was a passion of Fiachra’s, figures on the farm in relation to breeding were very good however Fiachra wanted to see if it was possible to improve those figures while taking the labour out of it. Since installing the MooMonitor+ health and fertility monitoring system three seasons ago they have relied on it completely. It is submitting more cows meaning more cows are served and ever better the system works automatically – it is not relying on any one person.

The farm system is 12-week calving to grass, 12 weeks breeding – the herd is completely AI with no bulls on the farm. Bulls are chosen for fat and protein – whatever is top of the EBI index. The MooMonitor+ has allowed them to selectively breed – any below average EBI cows are put in calf to Hereford. Fiachra and Aidan decided to install the Dairymaster drafting crate when they installed the MooMonitor+ and they find this “an invaluable piece of kit” in sorting out cows for inspection or insemination automatically.

Family life is what’s important…

Another factor in their buying decision was that if anything happened to Fiachra the breeding side of things would have gone pear shaped so they wanted something that they could fully rely on. Add to this a young family and a need to have a better work/life balance – the MooMonitor+ has improved farm efficiencies and family life while significantly reducing labour.

Many jobs on the farm like silage, slurry, AI, hoof paring and relief milkers are contracted out while Fiachra and Aidan oversee and manage it all. This means they now get to have a life and can enjoy the benefits of their labour and family time. The MooMonitor+ is one of the best management tools as it has dropped all the work of tail painting and manual drafting – “I can stand back and watch the system run itself”.

With this important task now running seamlessly Fiachra’s main focus is on grass, body condition score (BCS) and diet which is very important for the health of the herd.

Farming for the future…

Prior to installing the MooMonitor+ Fiachra wouldn’t have been very well up on the technology side of things but he finds the MooMonitor+ app really easy to use and very intuitive. Aidan also uses the app with heifers being his responsibility, he checks his iPad every morning and as a result the pre-breeding has become an easy task with the system.

When asked why he decided to go with MooMonitor+ Fiacha comments that “we don’t like being guinea pigs, we choose things based on recommendations from other farmers and the backup service available, the MooMonitor+ is the next level of farm management technology that allows you to provide the same care and attention without the labour”.

Spending more time with the family and fostering interest in the next generation is very important, “if your children see you working 24×7 you won’t have a farmer behind you”. Fiachra – like all of us wants to enjoy the fruits of his labour and have a good work/life balance, management tools like the MooMonitor+ is what allows him to achieve this. 

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