In January 2016, all dairy farmers would have received a letter from Dairy Australia explaining the revised policy by the Australian Dairy Industry Council (ADIC) on the practice of routine calving induction. The background for this decision is to ensure that the dairy industry is operating with the highest possible welfare standards and, in so doing, protecting its reputation and access to markets for Australian dairy products.
The practice has been in decline during the past 10 years. It was estimated that in 2015 less than 1.5 per cent of the national herd (about 24000 cows) were induced, though there is a lot of variation between farms and regions.
The new industry policy states:
``ADIC does not support routine calving induction and will work to phase it out through improved herd improvement practices, tools and technologies.”
In order to achieve this, annual targets will be set and decreased until the practice can be banned altogether as has happened in New Zealand during a period of six years. No time limit has been set for a total ban in Australia but this year’s target is that a maximum of 15 per cent of any herd can be induced. If a farmer wishes to induce more than 15 per cent of their herd, they will need to apply for a dispensation from a dispensation panel consisting of representatives from Australian Dairy Farmers, Australian Cattle Veterinarians and the Australian Dairy Processors with assistance from Dairy Australia. The application will need to be supported by:
· The reason for the application
· A brief case history
· What actions are being taken to reduce calving inductions (i.e. a Herd Fertility Management Plan)
· A plan for the routine induction of dairy cattle.
Alternatively a dispensation may be granted in cases of exceptional circumstances such as farmer ill-heath, severe disease outbreak, severe weather/natural events or failure of AI.
The induction target will be reviewed and reset annually to eventually get it down to zero.
So what can you do?
First, you should talk with your veterinarian/reproduction advisor, to look at areas where you can improve your herd’s reproductive performance. These could include (but are not limited to):
1. Key drivers of reproductive performance to minimise late calvers and empty cows:
· Increase six-week in-calf rates and decrease empty cows by looking at heat detection and submission rates, AI technique and semen, nutrition and health, bull management, calving pattern etc;
· Healthy, productive, well-grown and well-fed cows with good transition programs have higher subsequent fertility; and
· The earlier a cow conceives after start of mating the better the subsequent fertility.
2. Calve maiden heifers one to two weeks ahead of cows and ensure they are well grown – early calved heifers have more time to recover and a better chance of getting back in calf earlier.
3. Restrict mating time to 12 weeks. Any cow pregnant after that time will not be able to calve naturally within the desired seasonal calving window.
4. Restricting mating time will lead to higher culling rates, so there is a need to increase replacement rates by:
· Keeping heifer calves from heifers (use of carefully selected dairy bulls);
· Using sexed semen (carefully selected cows);
· Early treatment of metritis, calving period disease and anoestrus; and
· Synchrony programs.
5. Consider using short gestation bulls (if available) or low birth weight bulls.
6. Sell late-calving cows rather than induce (these induced cows are likely to have a 10 per cent reduction in yield over the lactation anyway) and limit the number of carryover cows.
7. Monitor performance by using a Fertility Focus Report annually to assess progress and identify areas for improvement.
The time to start thinking about what you are going to do is now — not at mating start time so talk your vet or reproduction advisor and make a plan.
For more information go to www.dairyaustralia.com.au/animal-management/fertility
By--Dr Keith Fletcher, Rochester Veterinary Practice