A year-round calving dairy herd in Staffordshire is averaging 11,500 litres per lactation after switching to a new pregnancy test to optimise margins.
John Holdcroft runs a 200-cow pedigree Holstein herd in a family partnership near Burton on Trent. “We’ve adopted a relatively high input, high output strategy in order to fulfil our objective – to maximise its performance and in turn, achieve profit,” he explains.
Maintaining herd fertility is important, explains Mr Holdcroft, who switched to the new pregnancy test after too many cows were returning to service. “We’re aware that every open day costs money, however having said that we don’t like to push our cows too hard.”
Mr Holdcroft says he used to present about 25 cows to the vet each month – many of which were bit suspicious about not being in calf. But he was already milk recording – so three years ago he started to use the Pregnancy-Associated Glycoproteins milk pregnancy test.
“We use the milk test over the entire herd at 40 days after service or at the nearest milk recording. It’s straightforward and non-invasive. Around three days later, we receive a text message from NMR when the results are ready for log in.”
Results are returned as positive, negative or recheck. “Those results help us to identify cows that would have escaped our attention. Nowadays we are presenting to the vet each month just 10 to 12 animals, those that have PAG tested either negative or recheck.”
The vet investigates if there is an issue. If there is, the Holdcrofts are able to treat accordingly and then quickly rebreed. “Since then we’ve found it is proving to be over 95% accurate,” says Mr Holdcroft. “We rate it to be cost effective.”
The PAG test complements the unit’s heat detection system. Pedometers are checked twice a day. If they pick up any animal not showing by 100 days post calving, then she is presented to the vet at the next visit too.
Apart from helping to increase performance efficiency, Mr Holdcroft says the milk test is improving herd welfare and saving time and labour – particularly when there is less available help on the farm.
Mr Holdcroft says: “Fertility will remain a challenge in a high input high output herd, however I’m relatively relaxed towards tightening up the calving index which stands at 410 days. I’d be satisfied if PAG continues to help the trend and reduce to a targeted 400 days.”