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Cow comfort critical to reproduction

Mark Carson Published on 29 October 2012

Cow comfort plays a critical role in your herd’s reproductive management. Comfortable cows are less stressed, making them healthier, which drives up pregnancy rates. That’s why when you focus on cow comfort, your returns are more than just happier cows … Comfortable cows are profitable cows.

Your herd grouping strategy can have an influence on reproductive performance, with transition cow strategies rightfully getting the most attention. These cows are your herd’s most important group. A good transition cow grouping strategy should promote dry matter intake (DMI) and reduce stress as much as possible.

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Monitoring stocking densities of dry and fresh cow groups and making sure their environment is clean and comfortable will help increase pregnancy chances when these cows get bred for the first time 70 days later.

The first-lactation cow group often gets forgotten in the cow comfort discussion. Their comfort needs to be monitored daily and, ideally, they should be grouped separately from older, mature cows. Grouping separately will help lower stress and encourage increased dry matter intake because they’re not competing for space with older, larger cows.

To assess your first-lactation cows’ reproductive performance, separate their pregnancy, insemination and conception rates from the rest of the herd. First-lactation cows should have better overall pregnancy and conception rates than their second-lactation, third-lactation and greater contemporaries.

You can expect conception rates in your first-lactation heifers to be 5 to 10 percent higher than older, multiple-lactation cows. If their pregnancy and conception rates are the same or below the average of the older cows, you need to assess why these younger cows are underperforming.

In a freestall environment, the competition for feed and stall space could be a contributing factor to their underperformance. If they are not achieving their goals, an adjustment to your barns’ stocking density could be required to ensure you maximize your reproductive performance.

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All dairymen understand that temperature also plays a critical role in keeping cows comfortable, as well as directly impacting reproductive performance. When temperatures get above 68°F (20°C) for extended periods of time, a cow’s hormone levels change, altering her behavior and decreasing her ability to get pregnant.

Heat and its partner, humidity, coupled with other factors in the late summer months, such as new forages entering the rations, make summer the most difficult time of the year to get cows pregnant. With record-breaking temperatures this summer, the fall months will be a good time to assess the overall impact of heat stress levels.

To do this, review your herd pregnancy rates in the summer months and check to see how your conception and insemination rates held up. If insemination rates dropped during hot summer periods, you may want to consider getting a little more aggressive with timed A.I. to ensure your cows don’t go too long without being bred.If conception rates fall dramatically during this period, investing in more cooling options such as fans or sprinklers may be required.

Also, make sure to assess the reproductive performance of transition cows. Running a quick summary of conception rates by month fresh may provide some important insight into how comfortable your transition cows are during the summer months.

Remember, every day open past 100 days in milk costs you $5 per day. This figure alone provides a quick payback for any added expense in extra cooling.

There are many new technologies helping us understand how comfortable our cows are in different barn conditions. Identifying unhealthy cows is one of the first things that comes to mind in rumination monitoring, but there is potential to use this technology to also assess comfort. Rumination monitoring is one of the exciting technologies that provides producers with an understanding of how comfortable cows are in various situations.

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Research shows us that monitoring both the amount of time and when a cow ruminates can provide valuable insight into her overall comfort. Cows tend to ruminate more when they are comfortable. Peak timing for cows to ruminate is in the hours immediately after having a meal at the bunk.

Some work on dry cows at the University of British Columbia (UBC) shows that peak rumination occurred four hours after the cow leaves the bunk. The UBC work also showed that rumination correlates well with the amount of time a cow spends lying down. This means rumination minutes could possibility be used to assess comfort levels in your barn.

Cows have also shown the trend to ruminate less immediately after regrouping occurs. This is likely due to their interaction with their new penmates. Also, herds that have rumination monitoring systems report a drop in rumination after a visit from the hoof trimmer.

The simple disruption and stress of having a cow group’s hooves trimmed lowers the minutes a day they ruminate. These herds report that it can take as much as several days for rumination to fully rebound after hoof trimming.

Using information generated from herd management software and electronic monitoring equipment can provide you with insight on how to improve your herd’s reproductive performance through better cow comfort. PD

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Mark Carson
Reproductive Strategy Manager
EastGen

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