Preg test lifts dairy profit

27 Jan, 2014 01:00 AM
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Boyanup farmer Ray Kitchen
The system won the Dairy Herd Management's first ever People's Choice award
Boyanup farmer Ray Kitchen

TIMING is everything, especially in dairy farming.

Pregnancy is considered a key driver of performance in dairy and improved calving rates often equate to greater profitability.

As margins continue to tighten for many WA dairy farmers, the timing of pregnancy has become even more paramount.

For Boyanup dairy farmers Mal and Ray Kitchen, identifying empty cows at the earliest possible opportunity after breeding is allowing them to get cows back into calf more efficiently.

Since September 2013, the Kitchen brothers have used the IDEXX Milk Pregnancy Test, which allows dairy and beef farmers to test pregnancy status through milk or blood samples and confirms pregnancy status at 35 days post-breeding.

Ray Kitchen said herd testing had been an important part of their operation for decades but the new technology was a valuable add-on, and provided him with important information for improving reproductive efficiency within their 400-cow herd.

Farmwest introduced the test at its annual Discovery Day in September 2013, and according to Farmwest principal Rod Brasher it was becoming increasingly important for producers to know pregnancy status as early as possible because empty cows cost farmers money.

"The more farmers know about those empty cows and the more consulting they do with the vet the quicker they will get them in calf," Mr Brasher said.

The system won the Dairy Herd Management's first ever People's Choice award and an Innovation Award at the world's largest dairy trade show held in Wisconsin, United States, in October last year.

And it's success has seen it take off across North America and Europe.

Although the system is new on-farm, the Kitchens have already completed three lots of testing through milk sampling.

"Instead of the vet pregnancy testing at six weeks, this test can be done at 35 days which is a big advantage," Ray said.

"I think every year you have to be working as efficiently as you can and this is just another add-on to the benefit of herd recording."

The Kitchen's calving program begins in late January and ends in early October.

"We have quite an extended mating period where we are trying get cows back into calf as quick as possible," he said.

"We are starting to breed cows at about seven weeks after calving onwards.

"If you are trying to mate them too much earlier your chances of conception decline.

"Delaying the start of calving will provide a better pregnancy conception rate but obviously you are extending your calving interval as well.

"Most of the time we are working on a 50 per cent conception rate for each service we use, that includes heifers right through to the older cows."

Mr Kitchen said the pregnancy test meant fewer cows had to be yarded for pregnancy diagnosis.

"Cows identified as empty have tail paint or a breeding patch stuck to the their rump and we focus on these cows by watching for signs of heat and then re-breeding them," he said.

"We have been using our rotary for our pregnancy checking with a vet.

"Before we had the rotary dairy we used a cattle crush, but that is time consuming and handling the cows during the day isn't ideal.

"I'm sure they prefer to be out grazing and making milk."

Based on test results, Mr Kitchen said he then selected those individual cows he wanted to be diagnosed for pregnancy.

"We have had three lots of pregnancy sampling done and at the moment we are getting the information through text message," he said.

"Farmwest bring the meters around for milk sampling.

"They collect the samples take them to the laboratory and test for milk volume, fat and protein components, somatic cell count and from that you get a lactation history of the cow and an index of where that cow ranks within the herd.

"You know which are your better performing cows."

Mr Kitchen said the herd recording information allowed farmers to select those cows suitable to breed the next generation.

"You'll also know which ones you want to cull out of the herd sooner as they are less profitable because they have low production or high somatic cell counts," he said.

"You are also cost saving because you can use that information to adjust your feed rations and target the high production cows.

"That information also goes to a national central database where breeding values on bulls and calves are generated."

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