Drop in fertility to be researched
New Zealand dairy farmers are not alone in worrying about the declining reproductive performance of their herds – it’s happening all around the world – but an innovative new project aims to halt that decline, in this country at least.
Dairy farmer-owned cooperative, Livestock Improvement (LIC) said improving reproductive performance was the number one priority for the country’s dairy farmers – and as the pioneers of much of the country’s dairy innovations, it was appropriate that LIC take a lead. LIC general manager Peter Gatley said the reproductive performance of New Zealand dairy cows had been progressively dropping.
‘‘Over the last 10 years the six week incalf rate has decreased from 68 per cent to 62 per cent and the empty rate has increased from 10 per cent to 15 per cent. ‘‘On an industry basis that’s hundreds of millions of dollars in lost productivity – and at an individual farm level it’s costing farmers many thousands of dollars.
‘‘LIC breeds most of the country’s cows but our focus has largely been on the type of cow that results. Things that impact on pregnancy rates, like semen technology and technician performance are routinely measured but there’s a lot more we can do to help farmers improve performance.
‘‘The drop in New Zealand’s reproductive performance isn’t as marked as elsewhere in the world but that doesn’t negate its significance or cost to our farmers.
‘‘Farmers confirm, in our annual surveys, that improving the reproductive performance of their herds is their number one priority.’’
Mr Gatley said LIC had begun recruiting for a manager to lead the project. ‘‘The Reproductive Solutions Manager has a pivotal role. The job will be to establish and manage a team of reproductive specialists whose role is to assist farmers in using currently available knowledge and products but also to work with our R&D team to develop new tools.
‘‘If it was as simple as changing the genetic makeup of the national herd, we would have done it years ago. The fact is that genetics explains only a small proportion of the variation seen between herds and that variation is enormous. We know what can be achieved with current best practice and we’re confident a lot more can be done to develop tools to help solve the problem.
‘‘A lot of good work is already being done by DairyNZ, vets, consultants and others, and this initiative is about working with all interested parties to achieve the right outcome.
‘‘For example, we have already identified how we can improve information flow from our database to enable the farmer or adviser to pinpoint problems or opportunities and do something about it. As they say, if you can measure it, you can manage it. Until we started planning for this initiative, no one even knew what the six-week in-calf rate was or how it was trending.’’