ONE OF the most unpredictable places to be in a dairy shed is arguably the back end of a cow.
That’s a place artificial breeding (AB) technicians simply can’t avoid. It’s the business end, and their success in this area can depend much on the environment and facilities they have to work in.
AB manager for LIC in New Zealand, Dave Hale, says both the farmer and the AB technician want the same thing — to get cows in-calf when first presented — but the role facilities play in this is often overlooked.
“It’s widely acknowledged that a number of factors can impact a cow’s ability to get in-calf — from body condition score to accurate heat detection,” Mr Hale said.
"But maybe not so well recognised is that poor facilities, unnecessary distractions and uncomfortable work environments can prevent even the most skilled AB technician from doing the best job possible.”
LIC bulls sire up to 80 per cent of New Zealand’s dairy cows, with most inseminations done by about 840 AB technicians.
Before the peak AB season starts in spring, staff visit farms to check AB facilities and discuss how these could be improved to achieve a better result at mating time.
Hale visited about 250 farms last year in his role, and says he saw a wide range of AB facilities.
“While it’s clear some farms have spent a lot on facilities, some of them leave a bit to be desired. This will be impacting their results.”
DairyNZ says poor AB facilities can reduce conception rate by up to 10 per cent.
“We want our farmers to have the best chance to get their cows in-calf when they’re first presented,” Hale said.
“AB facilities with an organised infrastructure allow the technician easy access to the cows and reduce tech and cow stress."
LIC is aiming to increase awareness about the importance of AB facilities and offer farmers simple ways to improve them.
“By improving on-farm facilities we will ensure a safe working environment for our staff and give our AB technicians the best opportunity to get cows in-calf,” he said.
Even the smallest change can make a big difference.
Mr Hale said one farmer installed a backing bar in his herringbone shed so the cows could be held more safely and securely for insemination.
“As soon as the backing bar was in you could see the cows were more secure, and that made the AB tech more comfortable so it must help with the mating result,” Northland farmer, Murray Jagger, said.
"It was a small but important change, and if it helps them get my cows in-calf the first time, it’s well worth it.”
Three-step check on AB facilities
1. The cows need to be walking in and rowing up happily without any significant human input.
2. The AB technician needs a large, solid, non-slip platform at the same height or slightly higher than the cow (it should never be lower than the cow) so he can concentrate on getting the cow in-calf without distraction.
3. The farmer: ask your AB tech if there is anything you should or could do to improve the farm's AB facilities and the way the cows are presented to help the tech do the job.