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Anna comments: ‘After the blood sampling

had taken place, we noticed several of the

cows had clinical copper deficiency:

‘spectacles’ around the eyes, through hair

loss. The soil in this area is high in

molybdenum and hence so is the forage.

This binds copper up so it’s not available to

the cow.‘

Six months later, in early June, it was time to

consider whether another bolus treatment was

needed. Wary of creating a problem of

copper toxicity, Anna arranged for one of her

colleagues to take liver biopsies. Copper

levels were found to be normal.

However, iodine levels were still low. ‘We

put this down to the late lactation cows not

having as much cake, and so not getting their

iodine requirements from that,‘ explains Anna.

‘So, for the dry cow group, I prescribed an

off-licence treatment of the water with

potassium iodide, to make up the deficiency

before they calved.‘

Better heat detection

Steve says: ‘We are now spending more time

observing for heats. Someone will now check

the cows after lunch which we never used to

do before. And there’s a whiteboard in the

dairy where people can record cows seen


Anna adds: ‘Although everyone is being more

vigilant, and Simon and Steve take turns

making night time checks on the herd, high

yielding cows are often only on heat for a

few hours, or may have silent heats.

‘So it’s not enough to just look for cows

standing or mounting. Other signs to watch

for are sniffing, a drop in milk yield because

the cow is holding milk back, or waiting to

see which cows go and stand down the end

of the shed where they can see the bull! In

fact, having a bull around is a good way of

getting cows to show when they’re on heat.‘

Scratch cards had been used in the past as

an aid to heat detection, and following the

joint meeting, it was decided that tailpaint

would now be used. It can be applied very

liberally and is easier to see! This has helped

identify animals on heat but not seen bulling.

AI technique improved

If using frozen semen then AI technique will

also have an influence on a herd’s fertility

statistics, as will how the semen is handled

before it goes into the cow.

At Manor Farm, inseminations are carried

out by Steve, except once a fortnight on his

weekend off, when cover is provided by a

specialist third party company.

Steve had learnt how to AI on a course

back in 1999, and had done one

refresher course since then, inseminating

live cows with straws of coloured dye,

and then looking at the results using an

ultrasound scanner.

Anna explains: ‘More cows were now

being served through better heat detection,

but this disappointingly wasn’t resulting in

that many more pregnancies. So I

tentatively suggested to Steve that he might

like to have a refresher AI session. And was

relieved he didn’t take offence, and agreed

to once!‘

In June this year, Anna gave Steve a one

hour one-to-one training session: she

watched his methodology using some

actual cows’ uteruses so he could ‘see’

what he was doing.

Anna says: ‘Over time, the recommended

techniques for AI have changed. Steve was

really careful not to put the gun in too far.

But he’d been taught to release the semen

as he withdrew the gun. This meant less

semen was deposited in the ideal place.

So I’ve shown Steve a better technique and

advised him take more time to warm

the gun.

‘Also, the temperature of warm water

can fall, even on a warm day. So I

recommended the purchase of a

thermostatic water bath to ensure semen

quality doesn’t suffer.

‘Another small improvement, still to be

made, is to improve the lighting above the

liquid nitrogen container, so that straws

don’t have to be lifted so far out of the

freezing zone.‘

Next steps

Anna would like to see the farm invest in

activity collars, as a next step in improving

the spotting of heats. But Steve says he

and Simon want to make sure everything

else is right before making that move.

It will take time for the full impact of all the

changes to be reflected in the herd’s fertility

statistics. However there have already

been improvements in heat expression and

target-setting has helped focus effort.

Measurable improvements that have been

seen so far include: the 3-month rolling

conception rate is currently 35%, up from

29% a year ago; the pregnancy rate (% of

cows eligible for service that conceived) is

currently 18%, up from 12% last year. At

the last milk recording, half of the herd

was recorded as in-calf, a figure that has

been running at around 40% for years.

Anna adds: ‘These are high yielding cows

and changes to their routine like TB testing

or dietary changes can upset them. I’m

now seeing around four pregnancies most

weeks, but I’d like to see this target being

met more consistently.‘


Thermostatic water bath

Steve keeping figures up to date