Poor fertility is a huge cost to the dairy industry as a whole, with the average loss in the UK around £250 per cow, equivalent to approximately 3.5p/litre.
The impact of disease on fertility in dairy herds should not be underestimated, according to veterinary surgeon Oli Hodgkinson, of Trefaldwyn Vets, Montgomery.
The optimal calving index is 365 days. The main impact of going beyond this is on milk production, with the average cost being £2-2.30 per cow per day.
"Healthy cows are more fertile cows, so preventing disease and eradicating existing diseases will go a long way to improving fertility.
TB is a big problem for some of my clients as not being able to sell stock means they are overcrowded, which has the knock-on effect of increasing the disease challenge, which consequently impacts on fertility.”
Mr Hodgkinson stresses that the starting point for disease prevention is to not bring it onto the farm, preferably by keeping a closed herd and having robust biosecurity controls in place.
However, if stock is bought-in, it should be sourced from herds with a known disease and vaccination status and kept in quarantine on arrival.
Knowing what diseases you are dealing with is crucial before you start to tackle them and this does not need to be too difficult or expensive, he adds.”
Regular bulk milk sampling is a very cost-effective way of monitoring for a number of diseases.
Putting plans in place to eradicate existing disease, alongside implementing vaccination programmes, will improve overall herd health and fertility.
Fraser Jones, Calcourt Farms, Montgomery
Disease? Not On My Farm! ambassador Fraser Jones has first-hand experience of the cost of disease on fertility.
He says: “When we had problems with BVD, the scanning rate was 30-40%, but now we are on top of this, it is about 60-70%.
Although we had previously been vaccinating for BVD, it was a bit hit-and-miss, with some animals being vaccinated late and others being missed.
We put a new vaccination strategy in place with specific timings which ensures nothing gets missed. Calves are also snap tested for BVD.
It has taken a while to eradicate BVD, but doing so made a huge difference and proves the benefit of correct vaccination protocols.
With hindsight, we should have blood-tested everything at the start, which would have given us the same result, but been quicker. I would advise anyone who has a problem with BVD to do this.
It might seem a big expense, but it is worth it. You eradicate the disease so much quicker, resulting in improved profit by better fertility and herd health."
However, Mr Jones believes herd health and disease prevention starts with ensuring calves get sufficient good quality colostrum straight after birth.
“Colostrum management is key to having healthy animals with good fertility coming into the herd. If an animal is a poor-doer as a calf, because of a lack of colostrum, problems stay with it for life.
Even though we have good colostrum protocols in place, we still do random checks on calves for failure of passive transfer, just to make sure things have not slipped at busy times. It gives me peace of mind to know the system is working", he adds.
Cost of poor fertility
- The cost of poor fertility in lost milk production, fewer calves, excessive culling and additional veterinary treatments have been estimated at £25,000/year in the average-performing 100-cow herd, equivalent to more than 3.5 ppl.