BCVA 2013 snippets - Fertility

Published 21 January 14

The British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA) this year had two excellent fertility speakers from different hemispheres, Dr Steve LeBlanc from the University of Guelph in Canada and Dr Scott McDougall from Anexa Animal Health in New Zealand but with the same messages:

  • Fertility is a key driver of any dairy business
  • There is always room for improvement
  • Often the little changes can make a big difference

Progesterone is the key hormone that tells the cow’s biological system it is pregnant. Dr Steve LeBlanc talked about the effects of low progesterone on dairy cow fertility. When poor quality follicles develop in the ovary they result in a poor quality egg, as well as a poor quality corpus luteum (CL) which produces lower levels of progesterone.

All of these added together result in poor fertility performance. When levels are low, the developing embryos will be smaller and this results in a weaker signal to the cow telling her she is pregnant. If the cow does not know she is pregnant she will continue to cycle, resulting in early embryo loss and a regular return to service.

So what affects the quality of the follicle and CL? It all comes down to transition cow management as it takes up to 90 days for a follicle to develop to ovulation, negative energy balance during this period has a detrimental effect on the quality of the developing follicle.

Dr Steve LeBlanc also talked about research which showed that high-yielding cows were only standing to be mounted for, on average, 30 seconds during each heat; this does not give us much time to spot them in oestrus! He suggested that focusing on improving submission rates was the key to improving fertility, using a combination of tools such as heat detection aids and making time for observation were the best way to achieve this.

Also, heat detecting early, prior to the voluntary waiting period, was important to pick up problem cows such as those that are none bullers or dirty to get them dealt with before they lose too much time.

Dr Scott McDougall spoke about the In-Calf programme used in New Zealand. This programme is about working through the fertility issues on a farm with their own advisor to come up with an action plan. A big part is about talking through ideas with a group of other farmers on the programme, meeting at key times of the year to discuss topical issues and review performance since the last meeting.

Interestingly, many of the key messages from the New Zealand programme were very similar to those from Canada. Such as getting body condition score right and intervening early with problem cows through heat detection, prior to service. There was much discussion in the workshop session with Scott, on how vets can help farmers to make changes on farms.

Taking a mentoring approach and asking lots of questions to help find practical solutions, rather than writing a big report telling people what to do was a key message. The DairyCo Healthy Feet Programme was talked about as a good example of how this mentoring idea is working in the UK.