Automated heat detection performs just as well as synch programs and provides fertility intel

Automated heat detection performs just as well as synch programs and provides fertility intel

Authors: Dr. Ronaldo Cerri (University of British Columbia) and Meagan King, (Postdoc, University of Guelph)

Why are automated activity monitors (AAM) becoming more popular on Canadian dairy farms? DFC-funded research has shown that AAM can work just as well as synchronization programs while also predicting which cows will have better fertility.

Neck collars or leg pedometers are currently used on 10% of Canadian dairy farms as their main strategy for reproductive management (>50% of inseminations). Visual heat detection and timed AI are still used more than AAM, but this may change as hormone use is further scrutinized.

Two large field trials in Ontario and BC (funded by the Dairy Research Cluster 2, supervised by Dr. Ronaldo Cerri at the University of British Columbia and students Tracy Burnett, Augusto Madureira, and Liam Polsky) found that reproduction programs using AAM for heat detection are equally efficient as those relying heavily on synchronization protocols.

Breeding cows based on AAM data had similar pregnancy per AI and days open compared with a strict timed AI program (Presynch-Ovsynch). With goals to improve heat detection accuracy and the use of AAM data to make farm-level management decisions, Dr. Cerri’s research group studies how estrus events and intensity are related to ovulation, ovarian/uterine function, fertility, and performance in dairy reproduction programs.

The researchers also found that cows with high intensity heats and large changes in activity (during spontaneous and induced estrus) had greater pregnancy per AI and better fertility, compared to cows with low intensity heats who had more ovulation failure. Moreover, the top 25% highest-producing cows had heats with the lowest intensity and shortest duration. Older cows, those with low body condition, and those experiencing high temperature-humidity indices (above 65) showed less estrus behaviour as well.

In the BC field trial, each individual farm was a big source of variation in the performance of programs based on heat detection, likely because AAM are more prone to individual farm variations compared with established timed AI protocols. This means that the best reproductive program for each farm may differ based on their specific strengths, particularly whether they can better use AAM or injection-schedules properly and consistently. Anovular cows and those with poor leg health can also impair the performance of AAM reproductive programs.

Ultimately, differences in attitudes and preferences among Canadian dairy producers (highlighted in a nationwide survey by José Denis-Robichaud) should be considered when choosing the optimal reproduction management tools. For example, producers have differing views about reproduction hormones in terms of profitability and long-term effects on fertility. However, for farms already reaching 30 to 35% conception rates from breeding at estrus, doing that will still be more profitable than completing full synchronization protocols.

 

Cow comfort: Does making changes to the freestall area make a difference?

Cow comfort: Does making changes to the freestall area make a difference?

Authors: Dr. Karin Orsel, Emily Morabito (MSc.) and Caroline Corbett, (Ph.D), University of Calgary

Cow comfort and animal welfare are of great importance to the dairy industry. The Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattle contains recommended practices and requirements for Canadian dairy producers regarding welfare; however, it is unknown whether changes are actually made on farms, and what effects these changes have on cow comfort.

A research project led by MSc. student Emily Morabito and supervised by Dr. Karin Orsel at the University of Calgary investigated whether changes were made to the freestalls on farms that had previously participated in a cow comfort risk assessment, and then reassessed animal measures of cow comfort described on the Canadian Dairy Research portal. The team found that farms that made changes to the freestall area following the first assessment had a lower percentage of lame cows, and cows had increased average daily lying time compared to the farms that did not make changes, or farms that had never been assessed. Additionally, farmers that had made changes to the freestalls scored certain risk factors for lameness as more important when compared to the group that made no changes.

In the first part of the study, 60 cows were selected on each farm and assessed for lameness, leg injuries and lying time over four days. The 1st group (15 farms) had a risk assessment conducted 5 years earlier and had since made changes to the freestall area; the 2nd group (15 farms) had a risk assessment conducted 5 years earlier, but did not make changes. The 3rd group (14 farms) had never been evaluated previously. Based on the responses from the 1st group, the most frequent changes to the freestall area were increased bedding quantity, changing the stall base to geomatresses, and grooving crossover alleys; however, the specific changes and their effect on cow comfort could not be directly assessed due to the variability in the types of changes, or combination of changes that were made. The changes made are in line with current research, especially those indicating that deep bedded straw or sand, decreases leg injuries that may occur.

Secondly, a questionnaire was conducted on-farm with the producers that was similar to the one they had completed 5 years earlier, and their answers were compared to those that had been provided at the previous assessment. Farmers in the 1st group tended to score risk factors for lameness as more important than those in the 2nd group; however, these producers started with a higher measurement of lameness in the earlier assessment, which may have contributed to their decision to make changes. All farmers scored risk factors as more important during the most recent questionnaire, indicating the previous assessment may have had an impact on producer perceptions of lameness. Additionally, other resources of information resulting from increased industry awareness may have led to all farmers being more knowledgeable regarding lameness and risk factors as time progresses.

This study indicates that those who make changes had improved animal-based measures of cow comfort, and being exposed to cow comfort assessment impacts the perceived importance of risk factors associated with lameness.

Risk Factors for Lameness

  • Cow comfort

  • Facility design

  • Management/Environmental factors

2018 Dairy Research Symposium: Transferring Results for Action

2018 Dairy Research Symposium: Transferring Results for Action

The Dairy Research Cluster is pleased to present the 2018 Dairy Research Symposium: Transferring Results for Action next February 9th at the Château Laurier Hotel, Ottawa, Ontario.

Who should attend?

Canadian dairy farmers, dairy stakeholders and professionals working in the dairy farm sector that want to receive new and emerging knowledge on production and human nutrition and health research and tools have been developed drawing from these projects in the Dairy Research Cluster 2 (2013-2018).

Registration details and a preliminary agenda will be available later in the month of November.

We hope you can join us on February 9th!