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23rd February, 2019

Great financial rewards from management of 2015 late calvers Published July 1 2014 in The Farming Independent

Improved weather conditions, excellent opportunities to make silage and hay, phenomenal growth rates in maize crops and a good milk price all lend themselves to a buoyant mood in the dairy industry.

Breeding programmes which are the primary dictator of future profitability of your business are now resulting in cows which will calve from mid-April next April. Fears of a superlevy in the current year have meant that many farmers are happy to let cows calve in April and May next year when the quota regimen will cease. Indeed, breeding programmes using AI have continued later this year, whereby cows and heifers will calve from mid-March onwards.

Pregnancy scanning has revealed six-week pregnancy rates for spring calving dairy herds ranging from 40 to 75pc with an average of 62pc. It is noteworthy that these figures include late calvers and cows which are not fit for breeding. The dairy industry needs a “key performance index” (KPI) which gives farmers a meaningful figure describing performance which is attainable. Performance descriptors need to be meaningful to farmers, whereby the financial gain by achieving specific reproductive performance targets are clearly delineated.

The KPI needs to provide farmers with clearly understood data showing how weakness in management can be identified at an earlier stage in the production cycle and the potential financial gain by addressing same. Figures describing submission rate and pregnancy rate are of little use to optimize the financial gain in the current production cycle.

There is too much talk of expansion in the dairy industry. We need to address the inefficiencies that currently pertain. There is good data to support greater financial returns from a 70 cow versus a 200 cow dairy herd achieving the desired reproductive performance targets as a biomarker of herd health. Farm fragmentation, skilled labour and capital investment are major limiting factors on expansion. Tremendous opportunities pertain on the majority of Irish dairy farms to improve efficiencies in their current business model prior to any expansion in cow numbers.

Opportunities still pertain in the current breeding season to start addressing same for next year. In reality, up to 20pc of your herd will be “late calvers” if replacement rates are maintained at 15pc. Cows bred from the 20th of June will calve after the first of April. These cows and heifers will have to “tick all the right boxes” if they are to survive next years’ breeding programme.

Avoid breeding your 2015 late calvers with sires that will increase a risk of either lower gestation or calving difficulty. These cows will tend to be your older cows with greater milk production potential and increased risk of twinning. A pregnancy scan in your herd now will identify your “2015 late calver” category.

Remember, that up to 10pc of cows can have embryonic mortality beyond maternal recognition of pregnancy. In practice, this means that the cow will not return to heat after breeding at her normal 18 to 24 day cycle. These cows can maintain a “pregnancy status” to eight weeks after embryonic death. Obviously, these cows will normally end up as reproductive culls in the herd. In my opinion, there is a minimum €600 financial gain by keeping this cow in the herd. Scanning your cows now will identify those cows with embryonic mortality, which enables veterinary intervention and rebreeding these cows within five days of scanning.

Your “2015 late calvers” need special attention if you are to recoup the potential financial gain from these cows. Late calvers in 2014 will have increased reproductive problems associated primarily with milk fever, fatty liver, twins and calving difficulty. These issues will increase the proportion of cows with uterine infections and those not cycling when you want to put them in calf.

Ensure that year “2015 late calvers” are prioritized in terms of body condition and locomotion score. Both of these factors will affect the ability of your cow to establish and maintain pregnancy. Finally, check the disease status of your herd. Give special attention to these reports which contain valuable herd health data. Liver and stomach fluke, worms, IBR and Johnes’ disease are currently the primary diseases impairing reproductive performance in dairy herds.

In conclusion, identify your 2015 late calvers now. Getting these cows in calf and keeping them “fit for purpose” will give you the greatest “post quota” financial return without increasing herd size.


Dr. Dan Ryan is a cow fertility expert and can be contacted at


Article written by Dr. Dan Ryan in The Farming Independent July 1st 2014.