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Fertility management programme will improve fertility and health of dairy herds

A new management programme to improve fertility and the health of dairy herds across Cornwall has started on four Cornish dairy farms thanks to the vision of local veterinary surgeon Tim Bebbington and investment from Objective One project Rural Progress.

The future fertility management project aims to transfer knowledge and ideas on improving welfare and fertility in dairy herds and ultimately improve farm incomes.

Dutch vet, Dirk Zaaijer, has developed the concept and the programme is being piloted on four local farms in conjunction with Launceston vet Tim Bebbington.

The programme has been developed to address three of the biggest health issues, mastitis, lameness and fertility that are consistently found to be the major reasons for culling dairy cows.

Tim Bebbington reports: "As the yield of cows increases, the difficulty in getting cows in calf grows – this is now the biggest problem on many large high yielding herds. NMR figures show an escalating decline in first service conception rates and a lengthening in calving intervals."

Many dairy farmers have come to accept this situation as inevitable. Some farms do not attempt to serve cows early because past experience teaches that the results are so disappointing. These cows will milk on but eventually may be culled out - often as they are potentially entering their most productive years.

There has been debate that this decline in fertility is genetic and that that breeding can offer a solution. However it is evident that maiden heifers generally hold as they always have done and there is a need to look further at herd management issues.

Tim says: "As vets we often examine cows and report that they are cycling however they have not been seen bulling. We may question efficiency of heat detection but as herds are growing many farmers have less time to devote to this. There are now studies that show the high yielding dairy cow does not show bulling behaviour for as long or as strongly as she used to do. On many farms it is not so much heat detection as heat expression that is the problem."

The future fertility management programme addresses the feeding of the modern dairy cow. Their genetic capacity to produce milk is such that they no longer fit the feeding systems commonly applied to them. In other words cows will produce milk when they are unable to maintain their body condition. The most sensitive part of their metabolism, their reproduction, is the first to be affected in this state of negative energy balance.

The future fertility program is based on implementing new health concepts and strict nutritional management. It works by analysing key cow characteristics such as their condition, the proportion with a normal fertility cycle, dung consistency and digestibility and their uterine contractility.

The herds are visited monthly to examine the cow and its diet. A report follows on exactly what the cow's health says about its diet. A diagnosis is made and the ration altered if required.

Tim Bebbington explains: "Dirk's programme is a joint venture between dairy farmers, vets and nutritional advisers to decide what is right for the herd. In just a couple of months of the program being implemented on the study farms one herd's milk protein increased by 0.2% and another's milk quantity increased by 500 litres Bulling expression on one seasonally calving herd has improved dramatically. The feedback we have received has been very positive it not only promises financial results but many farmers feel they are not getting independent nutritional advice and are not confident enough to question the advice they are given."

The winter housing period offers dairy farmers the most control over the nutrition of their cows. Now is a good time to monitor the effectiveness of the ration and the messages the cow sends out through her rumen, dung and reproductive function.

A series of demonstrations and study reports for dairy farmers, at the Duchy College Farm, and meetings for vets and nutritionists are planned for early 2005. The first of these meetings will be held on Tuesday 11th January at 7.30 pm at the Lanhydrock Golf Club, Bodmin. To register your interest please contact Tim Bebbington on 01566 772371 or email

For further information please contact Carolyn Daw Tel 01822 833488 or


Editor's notes:



Clare Morgan
Media Relations Manager
Objective One Partnership Office
Castle House
Pydar Street
Truro TR1 2UD
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Telephone: 01872 223439

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