Taking a data-driven approach to fertility

By Dairy News Australia

Tackling a "messy" calving pattern and developing a reliance on data have been key to improving fertility on Bonnie Taylor's Heathmere farm.

After taking over the farm a number of years ago, Ms Taylor set out to fix a system which saw the herd calve over nine months of the year and introduce split calving.

“We've focused a lot on condensing our calving period and now in-calf rates have gone to approximately 70 per cent for a six-week in-calf rate,” she said.

“We probably get about a 98 per cent calf rate with our heifers.”

Ms Taylor milks predominately crossbred cows on her 400 ha farm just outside Portland, with a herd of about 5000.

“We decided to focus on fertility as an area that we could improve on the farm to become a more efficient and sustainable farm.

“Initially, we focused a lot on nutrition and nutrition management, including transition care management — it's important to feed the cow for her individual status, not just as a herd as a whole, but each individual cow.”

With an increased focus on fertility has also come an increased focus on data collection to continue to improve their model.

“Starting from stuff having to diarise cow numbers and dates and things like that, all the way up to the data that we get from using farm consultants, like nutritionists and vets that analyse our results in our information,” Ms Taylor said.

“We then sit down at least quarterly and go over our data and our information so that we can make decisions or change things in our management plan as we go.

“We are also very strict on heat detection. So we use manual heat detection methods and we train our staff in using those methods.

“By going to a three-way crossbreeding program, we were able to increase the health traits, which provided us with an overall healthier animal, and then in turn had a huge effect on fertility.

“A healthier animal is going to get in calf and stay in calf.”

Ms Taylor gets all replacements within the first two weeks of calving.

“That's allowed us to then diversify what we do with the calves that come after that.

“We were able to reduce the costs of raising replacement milking cows by having less of those coming through the calf shed.

“And then we can use the other calves to generate extra income for the farm through other avenues.

When it comes to examining your own calving system, Ms Taylor recommends being honest with yourself.

“You need to look at your data and then tell the real results.

“Don't be worried or scared that you're going to be judged by other people or people that help you.

“And unless you're being honest about the areas that you need help, you're not going to get the information that's going to take you further in your business and furthering your family.”