A lot of Irish farmers use bulls on their farms. A bull detects cows in heat and will get them pregnant, without the farmer’s interference. If the bull is fertile and in good condition, he can get a herd of approximately 40 cows in calf. If you have a larger herd size, you will need multiple bulls. However, there is a lot of work involved with keeping a bull. Think about the increased labour (vaccinating, dosing, TB-testing), health and safety aspects (bulls are very unpredictable) and biosecurity (sexually transmitted diseases such as Campylobacter, BVD and IBR).
The difficulties of the breeding season…
Also, most bulls used on farms are of lower genetic merit than the bulls used at AI-stations and they are not able to pick out sick or cystic cows for you. Pregnancy dates can get uncertain, because repeating cows can get caught again a few weeks later. Because of this the accuracy of the pregnancy check will decrease as you can only confirm a cow pregnant 30 days after bulling.
A cow needs to get pregnant and give birth to a calf every twelve months. A cow’s gestation lasts for 280 days. This leaves 85 days to get the cow pregnant again. After calving, a cow’s body must recover. To conceive again, her uterus needs to repair itself and restore to its original size. This process usually takes 45 days and is called the voluntary waiting period (VWP). Now the farmer is left with a forty-day interval in which he needs to breed the animal. A cow’s cycle takes about 21 days, this gives the breeder less than 3 heats to get his cows back in calf which is very challenging. However, this is the most profitable way of producing milk in any system anywhere in the world. The 2018 National average calving interval in Ireland was 387 days (source ICBF) which means there is plenty of room for improvement in Ireland.
Getting cows pregnant within the ideal timeframe of the 40 days breeding period depends on many factors. To realise a calving interval of 365 days you need to have a healthy cow and optimal heat detection. If using bulls to try to achieve this, it is a very labour-intensive option that presents high risk which comes at a time when farmers are very tired after a busy calving period.
A farmers story…
Peter Cagney farms in Ballingarry in Co. Limerick in partnership with his father John and uncle Pat, they are currently milking just over 350 cows. Peter has been involved on the farm with the last 10 years.
When he first joined the farm, they were milking approx. 120 cows, they also had beef at that time which they replaced with cows over time. They now have a contract rearer which had allowed them to expand even further as land has always been the limiting factor. Peter completed a three-year agriculture course in Northern Ireland in Greenmount and after that spent a year travelling and working in farms in NZ and Australia which allowed him to see dairying at scale.
In the past the breeding system used on the Cagney’s farm was 3 weeks of artificial insemination with tail paint and then bulls. However, they found this to be very labour intensive and were constantly worried about safety on the farm as many bulls had turned dangerous in the past and with staff on site this is always a major concern. Requiring someone in the parlour that was able to draft bulling cows everyday was also an issue. When they looked at how they could improve the working environment on the farm they decided that they wanted to automate the whole breeding side of things as it was the most labour intensive and safety was such a worry with the bulls.
What is the best technology on the market?
They looked at different heat detection systems on the market and talked to several people about the different system available during the evaluation period. When it came to decision time the two most important factors to them were the backup service and recommendations from other farmers in their discussion group meaning the Dairymaster MooMonitor+ was the obvious choice for them.
Peter’s favourite feature of the MooMonitor+ system is how simple the app is. “Everything is done for you, not having to be there in the morning gives me time to do other management things. In addition to this it has also reduced stress and fatigue at the busiest time of the year. It has completely simplified the breeding process in that it is now nearly hands off. We use the app for pre-breeding – it’s great! You have all the information very simply, it removes the labour from it.” While Peter would be well up on technology, John wouldn’t have been very familiar in how to use technology however John is also an avid user of the app. They both find that the simplicity of the app is key to the system.
Results on farm…
The Cagney’s also have Dairymaster drafting and he finds that “the drafting and MooMonitor+ takes care of the breeding side of things now”. This is their third season using MooMonitor+ and while their figures from when they were tail painting were very good the MooMonitor+ has reduced empty rates even further by 4%.
The reduction in labour is huge “2 – 3 times a week its saving one person per milking tail painting alone”. When John was asked for his view on MooMonitor+ his response was “I wouldn’t farm without them.”When John was asked to clarify this his comments were “I wouldn’t be milking cows without them – with tail painting you are only guessing and too many bulls around the place makes it chaotic and too dangerous especially when you have staff to look after. The MooMonitor+ means we can farm safely with great peace of mind. You could look at it and say it’s an unnecessary expense but, it’s a lot better value than putting something like a new tractor into the place. I wouldn’t farm without them!”
Submissions were always in the 90’s on the Cagney’s farm however with “MooMonitor+ we have increased submission by a few % without the hard labour and hassle”. They also find that they are saving a lot of straws as in the past when tail painting they used to breed the “doubtfuls”. When they looked at the return on investment – removing seven bulls and replacing them with cows will pay for the system in seven years, as far as they were concerned everything else is a bonus and it has given them a lot more than that already in season three.
One of the most important things to the Cagney’s when evaluating farm purchases is the backup service “With Dairymaster you have a brilliant back up service, there is always someone there to answer a question if needed. We relied on the MooMonitors 100% on year one when we installed the system and it worked!” On the breeding side of it – 97% or 98% of the herd are crossbred, small cows get Friesian straws and big cows get jerseys, straws are picked based on kilos of milk solids with high percentages, fertility and maintenance +15.
Would you recommend to a friend?
“All in all, we consider it money very well spent, we have great results, a lot safer work environment, a big reduction on the amount of work on the farm and it also makes it a lot easier to organise cover on the farm – I would recommend MooMonitor+ to any farmer!”