Project Description

INTRODUCTION

Farm Results

Kingshay was a partner in a project to assess the commercial impact of using IceRobotics CowAlert activity monitoring technology on 5 commercial farms. This required an initial “HowsMyHerd” farm assessment followed by an interim visit and monitoring of the fertility data over a 12-month period. We based the assessments on the farms on recording system but to provide a comparable analysis we used:

1. The same time period (1st April 2016 to 31st March 2017), which meant some farms had started the trial slightly earlier than others,
2. There was some ‘cleaning’ of data to make the analysis comparable (as each system uses slightly differing ways of measuring the same thing). This means that some of the figures may look slightly different (but not significantly so) to your farm programme.

A key part of this assessment is to compare the hidden costs of infertility. To achieve this, we use farm specific data wherever possible. For example, when calculating the effect of extended lactations, we will use the herd’s average peak milk yield compared to the average yield at drying off. The value of this milk is based on the farm’s actual average milk price over the study period. Values for average cull value has been provided by each farm. You would normally set farm specific targets in which to compare progress, but as these would be different for each farm we needed to provide an equal basis to compare the hidden value of infertility. Therefore, we have assumed that perfect performance is achievable, for example that no cows are culled for infertility and 365-day calving index is right for your herd.

The effect of this measure will be to give a high apparent cost of fertility. However, by using this measure at the start and the end of the process, any difference in value reflects what has been achieved in the 12-month period in question.

In the following pages, each farm’s results are reported individually and compared to the mean of the 5 participating farms.

Farm 1

Wiltshire

Herd size 612 hd of Holstein Frisians. All year calving, averaging 7,784 l/hd from a feed rate of 0.35 kg/l and 2x milking. Cows graze through summer months.

Fertility statistics

Submission Rates

Submission rates have increased substantially over the monitoring period from a rolling 12-month figure of 42% in April 2016 to 65% by April 2017. This compares favourably to a comparison with the mean of the 5 five farms in the study which rose from 48% to 55%.

Conception Rates

The rolling 12-month conception rates did fall for Farm 1’s herd over the period from 41% to 31%. All farms in the study saw some reduction in conception rates over the same period with the group falling from 38% to 35%. Despite conception rates falling the number of pregnancies remains the critical factor and this is illustrated in Figure 3.

Pregnancy Rates

The 12-month rolling pregnancy rate increased at Farm 1 from 16% in April 2016 to 20% by April 2017. This suggests the farm has made consistent progress when compared to the mean of the 5 comparator farms. The farm is monitoring body condition and lameness and planning alterations to housing to reduce mastitis. These changes will help to improve conception rates and pregnancy rates further. Latest research suggests that managing and feeding a fresh cow group can improve conception rates.

100 Day in calf Rate

The rolling 12-month 100 day in calf rate has risen from 44% in April 2016 to 53% by April 2017. The comparator group increased from 43% to 48%.

Calving to Conception Rate

In line with improving pregnancy rate the average days from calving to conception has fallen by 12 days from 127 to 115 days. This compares well with the group average. Over the same period.

Calving Index

Steady progress has been made in reducing the rolling calving index. Calving index is usually the slowest fertility measure to indicate short term trends but a clear reduction has been achieved.

Culling for infertility over the last 12 months

Culling represent a large part of the costs associated with herd fertility. The Farm 1 herd has seen a reduction over the 12-months to April 2017, but remains high when compared with comparator farms. Progress seen in other areas of fertility would suggest that culling for infertility is likely to fall over the next 12 months.

Fertility costs

Fertility costs have fallen by around 1.4ppl, but remains above the group average mainly due to higher culling rates.

Comment

The farm has achieved improvements in most parts of the fertility matrix in the last 12 months. Continued focus on the period around calving and 1st month of the new lactation is the most likely to provide the necessary improvements to cut costs further. The aim should be to: reduce the mastitis risk, maintain cow comfort and seek ways to increase lying times, provide specific fresh cow rations and continue to monitor metritis and energy balances in 1st 50 days’ lactation.

Farm 2
Somerset

Herd of 469 pedigree Holsteins averaging 8,927 l/hd from a feed rate of 0.42 kg/l and 2x milking. All year calving with limited grazing.
Fertility Statistics

Submission Rates

Submission rates started high and have risen further over the 12months to April 2017. Submission rates started above the average of the 5 comparator farms and the NMR top 25%. The farm maintained this advantage over the study period.

Conception Rates

Conception rates have fallen over the last 12 months similar to the other study farms. Farm 2 is currently at the bottom 25% percentile. The data suggests that a small number of cows (served many times) are having a disproportionate influence on herd average conception rates. The important factor is whether the rise in submission rates has been greater than the fall in conception rates, which is illustrated in Figure 3.

Pregnancy Rates

Pregnancy rates at Farm 2 have increased over the period, but remain at the lower level when compared to the 5 comparator farms. Having viewed the data in some detail it appears that an underlying issue with conception rates is the willingness of the farm to serve certain cows numerous times and this is reflected in the average number days between calving and conception. Whilst there may be good direct financial reasons to maintain certain cows and bloodlines these should be balanced against the hidden costs of fertility across the herd. It could well be that the financial return from the sale of youngstock outweighs the cost to herd fertility.

100 Day in calf Rate

Momentum is building within the herd with an increasing number of cows in calf by 100 days. Rapid progress over the last 3 months (on a rolling 12-month basis) suggest that the farm will see this these feeding through to the 12 month rolling figures in the near future.

Calving to Conception Rate

The comparison between Figure 4 and 5 reflect the issue of a relatively small number of cows being served many times is having a large impact on average herd figures with the average days from calving to conception remaining around 160 days.

Calving Index

As above, very long lactation cows are impacting on the calving interval of the herd.

Culling for infertility over the last 12 months

Culling for infertility is a large hidden cost for many farms. At Farm 2 the culling rate for infertility is very low. Low culling rate for infertility will offset some of the costs attached to other parts of the fertility cost matrix such as a higher calving index. The danger is that small increase in culling for fertility could quickly have a large financial impact on the business.

Fertility costs

The hidden cost of infertility fell by 0.5ppl to April 2017. This places the farm squarely in the centre of the 5 farms in this study. It is unlikely that culling can be reduced further, therefore further progress to reduce fertility costs is likely to come from improvements in submission, and conception rates.

Comment

The farm has made good progress with getting more cows in calf by 100 days. There are a relatively small number of cows that appear to be dragging the average conception rates and calving to conception figures. Measuring the hidden cost of infertility provides a benchmark cost to balance against the direct value of the selling or maintaining high value stock. It is possible that the sale of pedigree stock more than outweighs the costs of extended lactations.

Farm 3
Somerset

200 cow herd Holstein and Holstein cross cows averaging 6,691 l/hd from a feed rate around 0.4 kg/l and 2x milking. The herd calves all year round but with emphasis on two blocks in spring and early Autumn. The farm relies more heavily on grazing than other study farms.
Fertility Statistics

Submission Rates

The fertility measures for Farm 3 are conflicting. Submission rates are good but variable on a monthly basis. The 12 month figures smooths the variability but did fall over the 12 month to April 2017, but from a high level and remains above the top25% NMR reported farms.

Conception Rates

Conception rates are less variable and although they have fallen over the period they remain above the NMR top 25%. Conception rates also compare favourably with the comparator farms.

Pregnancy Rates

Pregnancy rates have fallen slightly over the 12 months but again from a very high level peaking at 26%. Removing some of the apparent variability would help to maintain the very high level of performance.

100 Day in calf Rate

Monthly variability is impacting on the number of cows in calf by 100 days. Overall figures remain comparable to the comparator farms and show a rise over the year from 44% to 47%.

Calving to Conception Rate

An important measure with average days between calving and conception falling from 118 days in the 12 months to April 2016 to 107 days in the 12 months to April 2017. This is 18 days better than the group mean.

Calving Index

The calving to conception figures are reflected in a fall in the calving index down from 403 days to 389 days which compares favourably with the other comparator farms.

Culling for infertility over the last 12 months

Culling for infertility is a large hidden cost. Between the rolling 12 months to April 16 and rolling 12 months to April 17 the culling for infertility fell from around 6% to less than 3%. This compares favourably with the other comparator farms and will be reflected in the cost of infertility.

Fertility costs

Farm 3 has performed very well over the last 12-months with the costs associated with infertility falling from 3.4ppl to 1.7 ppl. This has been achieved through improvements across many of the measures outlined above and through reduced culling for fertility and getting more cows in calf.

Comment

The noticeable difference between Farm 3 and the other comparator farms is the variability in monthly data. The farm appears to achieve excellent results one month, followed by below average results the following month. Overall on a 12-month rolling basis these variations are smoothed out and the results are not so clear cut. However, the farm could be achieving quite exceptional results if the good months are maintained throughout the year. Setting out fertility protocols, monitoring results on a formal and monthly basis is likely to enhance herd fertility further.

Farm 4
Scotland

A herd of 1300 Holstein Friesians averaging 11,194 l/hd from a feed rate of 0.37 kg/l on 3x milking. There is limited grazing for low yielding cows only.

Fertility Statistics

Submission Rates

The fertility at Farm 4 is starting from a high level and saw further improvements in submission rates from a rolling 55% to 59% by April 2017. This compares favourably with the group average.

Conception Rates

It was quite clear during my visits that consistency and ongoing monitoring was the foundation of the business. This is reflected in the conception rates which remained constant at around 34%.

Pregnancy Rates

Improving submission rates and minor falls in conception rates meant the farm maintained the pregnancy rates at a commendable 22% throughout the year and compared favourably with the comparator farms.

100 Day in calf Rate

The scales are different on the graphs in Figure 4 but again Farm 4 achieved above average and consistent performance throughout the period.

Calving to Conception Rate

Same story, above average and consistent performance.

Calving Index

The calving index although remaining at a very commendable level did rise over the 12 months to April 2017. In the calculation for the hidden costs of infertility a rising calving index (even using farm specific data) is likely to result in a higher cost over the study period.

Culling for infertility over the last 12 months

Comparison between the 12 months to April 2016 and April 2017 shows a stable position and a small reduction in the number of cows that were sold for fertility issues. Some of the comparator farms saw larger reductions over the period but a 5% culling for infertility balanced with the results of the combined fertility measures will result in low to moderate fertility costs Figure 8.

Fertility costs

As expected the slight rise in calving index did have a slight negative effect on the calculated cost of infertility in the herd. The hidden costs of infertility within the herd rose from 1.3ppl to 1.5 ppl. Fertility costs at this level would put the farm in the top 25% of Kingshay costed farms.

The consistency and ongoing monitoring of results means that Farm 4 is amongst the top 10% of herds for fertility performance. This is more impressive as this is being achieved in a period of expansion. My only recommendation is to monitor group lying times (cow comfort, milking and vet routines) in early lactation. Higher lying times for these cows (and heifers) will help all areas of the cow health and well-being and benefit herd fertility.

Farm 5
Scotland

Pedigree herd of 140 head averaging 8,375 l/hd, from a feed rate of 0.38 kg/l and 2 x milking. All year calving with cows grazing through summer months.

Fertility Statistics

Submission Rates

The farm has made large improvements in submission rates in recent months. The 12-month rolling figures smooth out these results (figure 1), but illustrates the beginning of sharp upward rise in submission rates from Dec 2016.

Conception Rates

Conception rates have fallen slightly from a rolling 12-month performance of 49% in April 2016 to 46% in April 2017. However, these are exceptionally high results and well above the average for the comparator farms. However, the important measure is how many pregnancies were achieved over the period and combines the results of both the submission and conception rates. Figure 3.

Pregnancy Rates

The farm has made good progress in improving the number of pregnancies over a given period and compares favourably with NMR reported herds, but remains below the average of the comparator farms. Given the excellent conception rates being achieved it is likely that by improving the submission rates further (and given that the conception rates might fall from their current high level) then pregnancy rate would still increase.

100 Day in calf Rate

From December 2016, the farm has seen a large increase in the number of cows that are in calf by 100 days and ending the period above the comparator farm average.

Calving to Conception Rate

Building on a theme, the farm has seen consistent improvement in the average days from calving to conception. This is likely to fall further as submission rates improve.

Calving Index

Calving index is always the last measure to improve. It currently stands higher than the comparator farm but appears to be on a downward trend.

Culling for infertility over the last 12 months

Culling for infertility is a large hidden cost of poor fertility. The farm has made a very large improvement in the number of cows that were culled for fertility issues in the year ending April 2016 compared to the year ending April 2017 and will have a direct impact of the calculated cost of infertility on the farm (figure 8).

Fertility costs

The fertility cost has been reduced by 0.6 ppl over the period and represents a reduction of 18.75%. Calving index is a large driver in determining the hidden costs of infertility. By maintaining the current culling rate for fertility issues and a reducing calving index, milk output is likely to increase over the next 12 months.

Comment

The farm has made good progress over the last 12 months and has momentum for further improvements over the next 12 months. The key areas to ensure that this momentum is maintained are likely to be from regular foot trimming and focus on cow comfort (cubicles and ventilation) in the main building, which will be reflected in lower culling and higher production.

Summarised Farm Results

Kingshay was a partner in a project to assess the commercial impact of using IceRobotics CowAlert activity monitoring technology on 5 commercial farms. This required an initial HowsMyHerd farm assessment followed by an interim visit and monitoring of the fertility data over a 12-month period. We based the assessments on the farms on recording system but to provide a comparable analysis we used:

1. The same time period (1st April 2016 to 31st March 2017), which meant some farms had started the trial slightly longer than others,
2. There was some ‘cleaning’ of data to make the analysis comparable. (as each system uses slightly differing ways of measuring the same thing). This means that some of the figures may look slightly different (but not significantly so) to your farm programme.

A key part of this assessment is to compare the hidden costs of infertility. To achieve this, we use farm specific data wherever possible. For example, when calculating the effect of extended lactations, we will use the herds average peak milk yield compared to the average yield at drying off. The value of this milk is based on the farms actual average milk price over the study period. Values for average cull value has been provided by each farm. You would normally set farm specific targets in which to compare progress, but as these would be different for each farm we needed to provide an equal basis to compare the hidden value of infertility. Therefore, we have assumed that perfect performance is achievable, for example that no cows are culled for infertility and 365-day calving index is right for your herd.

The effect of this measure will be to give a high apparent cost of fertility. However, by using this measure at the start and the end of the process, any difference in value reflects what has been achieved in the 12-month period in question.

The results below illustrate the combined figures from each farm for each of the measures recorded, including the standard deviation bars. The farms were variable in both size, their starting fertility point and their approach to fertility management. For example, Farm 2 sells high value pedigree stock and will happily serve a cow for 14 times to maintain the family and/or achieve a heifer to sell.

The summary of results presented below represents 5 very different farms and a total of 2750 cows. All figures are 12-month rolling performance. The effect of this will be to smooth any month to month variation.

Included within the data is the Top and Bottom 25% quartile line as reported by Hanks and Kossaibati 2015 (the latest full data set representing 500 Holstein Friesian herds across the UK). There is little scientifically reported data for top and bottom quartiles for calving to conception measures and this has not been included for this graph.

All Top and Bottom quartiles illustrated in the graphs below represent the report from Hanks and Kossaibati 2015 and not the top and bottom quartiles from the study group. The financial comparisons below compare the study group with the group averages from the 2016 and 2017 Kingshay Health Manager Service. Although there is an improving trend in these results, it is not possible to claim a statistical significance due to the large variation between farms and the relatively small number of farms.

Submission Rates

The combined results from all five farms illustrate a clear upward trend in submission rates from 48% in April 2016 to 55% by April 2017. This represents a 14.5% increase in submission rates over the period. The combined data illustrates the group was well above the top 25% quartile as reported by Hanks and Kossaibati (2015).

Conception Rates

Overall conception rates have fallen from a rolling 38% to 35% which represents an 8% fall. All farms showed a downward trend over the period. This would be expected as more marginal bulling cows will tend to be served rather than not. For example, if you score a heat in the following way.

A- Standing and visually seen, with dates that match with previous sightings/services
B- Not seen standing but having high activity that matches with previous sightings and/or services
C- Not seen standing but having high activity but does not match with previous activity or services
D- Not seen standing but having slightly higher activity but not sufficient to set an action, but ties in with previous service dates or veterinary activity.

The tendency when using activity monitoring is for more of the C and D’s to be served, which is quite correct providing the submission rates are increasing at a faster rate than the conception rates are falling.

Pregnancy Rates

Ignoring the last months’ data as this clearly suggests there is missing data and not all served cows had been PD by the time of analysis in early June, then there is a clear upward trend in combined pregnancies over the period. This suggests that focus on submission rates more than compensates for slightly lower conception rates. Overall the pregnancy rate increased from 17% in April 2016 to 19% at the beginning of March 2016. A 12% improvement.

100 Day in calf Rate

As pregnancy rates increased the number of cows in calf by 100 days also improved, increasing by around 17% from 41% of the combined herd to 48% by April 2017. By the end of the study the group was performing well inside the 25% top Quartile.

Calving to Conception Rate

The improvement in 100-day rate is reinforced by a fall in the average days from calving to conception reducing from 136 days to 125 days. An 8% improvement over the year. All farms saw a reduction in their average calving to conception figures.

Calving Index

Always the slowest measure to fall when recording fertility progress, but, the combined results do show a reduction in calving interval of 6 days from an average of 420 days to 414 days by April 2017.
There was a large variation in the calving interval between farms and incentives driving this figure.

Culling for infertility over the last 12 months

Culling is a large hidden cost of poor fertility. The fertility calculation measures the effect of forced culling due to cows not getting into calf and is based on the farms average cull value and replacement vales. The cost of culling for infertility varied considerably between the farms. Farms that culled quickly and early often achieved higher cull prices than those that culled less frequently but had a higher level of farm deaths and lower average cull prices. Despite variance in net replacement costs the largest factor in determining the financial effect of culling was the percentage of all culls that were for fertility reasons. These figures ranged from 1.8% to over 10% of all culls between farms. Over the study period all farms either maintained or reduced the number of culls from fertility issues. The combined results illustrated a mean reduction from 6.8% to 4.3% of cows culled for fertility issues, which represent a 36% fall. This compares to the Kingshay Health Manager data of 8.6% rising to 8.7% over similar periods.

Fertility costs

The initial variance in the financial cost of infertility between the herds was 3.4ppl (range 1.3ppl to 4.7ppl). The mean value across all 5 farms was 3.14 ppl. Following the improvement in many of the fertility measures seen over the study period the cost of infertility fell on 4 of the 5 farms, from 3.6ppl to 2.5ppl (a fall of 1.05 ppl). The farm which started the study with nationally top 10% fertility performance and maintained consistent results throughout the period did see a slight rise in fertility costs, but from a very low base, 1.3ppl to 1.5ppl. This was due to a slight rise in calving interval over the period, but again this was from a very low level (390 days to 395 days). Given that most of the other measures improved on this farm it is expected that the calving interval will fall back to its original position.
The combined results saw a fall in costs from 3.14 ppl to 2.35ppl, a reduction of 0.79 ppl (25%). This compares to a reduction of 0.43 ppl for the Kingshay Health Manager Farms (14%).

Fertility costs

Figure 9 illustrates the same data on a £/hd basis. The range of costs for infertility on the study farms ranged from £132 to £431/hd in April 2016, with a group average of £271/hd. When compared to the Kingshay Health Manager average of £247/hd the study group was £24/hd higher. By the end of the study the mean cost of infertility in the study group had fallen to £197/hd (-£74/hd) and compared favourably with the Kingshay mean of £227/hd in 2017 which had fallen by £20/hd).

Conclusions

The study farms represented a wide range of UK farm types. Their approach to fertility management also varied depending on farm circumstances. All the study farms achieved improvements in the key fertility measures. There was variance between farms in which measures improved and in the rate of improvement. One farm started the study within the top 10% of national herds for fertility management and consequently did not see the same improvements achieved by the other farms. The effect of involuntary culling of cows that have failed to get in calf has been shown to have a large financial impact on farm performance. All herds in the study saw a reduction in the number of cows culled for fertility issues and more cows getting in calf before 150 days into lactation. Largely because of this reduction in forced culling, the study farms out-performed the Kingshay Health Manager farms over the same period.