How to Improve Your Calving Interval

How to improve your calving interval

Ensuring optimum profitability should be the goal for every farm, and that extends to improving the regular and timely production of calves that will meet market requirements. Improving the calving interval of your dairy herd can ensure milk production can achieve maximise production and attain rewarding seasonality payments. A good aim is for your cows to produce one calf every year which, with proper genetics, a good health system and nutrition protocols, should be manageable.

Shortened calving intervals will benefit both the productivity and profitability of the herd and can be beneficial from a labour point of view, with a shorter calving interval meaning less work for the farm. Because an average cow’s gestation length is 283 days, depending on an individual farm’s voluntary waiting period there is a small window when the animal needs to conceive again to maintain a 12-month calving interval. This requires fertility to be paramount to these objects with semen fertility, daughter fertility and gestation length all key to achieving your goals. The same aims are desirable for maiden heifers to ensure animals enter the production herd at the correct time and give the opportunity for a tight block calving pattern if required.

What is a calving interval?

A calving interval is the amount of time between the birth of one calf and the subsequent birth of the next calf from the same cow. An ideal calving interval for dairy cattle and beef cattle is one year. The 82 days that a cow is not in gestation is a key moment in the calving interval cycle of your herd. Making sure to reduce that time can minimise work for you, increase profitability, and ensure your cattle can each produce one calf a year.

Improving your calving interval

A calving interval for dairy cows of under 400 days is manageable for all herds. Using an industry-standard of one day open being worth £5 in lost revenue the difference between 365 and 400 days is worth £175 per cow per year. and if your herd’s calving interval is over 12 months long, you will want to consider improving it to ensure consistency across your herd. It is beneficial to make sure that each of your cows is producing one calf per year, as it is much easier to manage cows on a repeating annual cycle. A shorter calving interval will also ensure dairy cows can spend maximum production time in the milking parlour and less time in the dry pens.

A good nutrition programme

Your cattle will require the correct nutrients around breeding time as they need to look after their own body whilst producing milk or increasing their live weight. This is why it is extremely important to make sure they are getting the right nutrition in order for them to maintain health, come into heat sooner and show stronger heat. Transition cow management in the first 30 days post-calving has an impact on fertility. Dry cow nutrition also has an influence on fertility as the egg used to create the next pregnancy is developed during the cow’s dry period. Also, Nutrition in this period affects calving ease which subsequently affects fertility.

Environment and Housing.

  • Temperature and humidity
  • Adverse weather conditions.
  • Cow comfort
  • Stocking density.
  • Slippery and damaged floor surfaces

animals showing a strong heat. Slippery and damaged floor surfaces can deter the animal to show strong signs of heat. A missed heat will add 21 days to an individual animal’s calving interval the same as a failed conception. Happy and healthy cows

Artificial insemination 

By improving the genetics of your herd through AI, you can also ensure the next generation of your cattle will be more profitable, easier to manage and have preferable traits. Using superior sires that have high reliability for Daughter Fertility Index (F.I.) will dramatically improve overall convention rates, particularly when done over multiple generations of selection.

Semen Fertility

Semen fertility can vary between different bulls and with A.I. sires a correct protocol for storage and semen handling can make the difference between creating a pregnancy or not. Inseminators with the correct training and procedure will produce the most pregnancy.

Those turning their cattle out to breed naturally run the risk of a bull not being fertile (unless they have a breeding soundness exam). This leaves a lot of open cows and extends the calving interval until the cows come into heat again. 

Fixed time artificial insemination (FTAI) can improve your herd’s calving interval for beef cattle and dairy cows by an average of nine days. By using FTAI, you can minimise the calving window and get your cattle to come into heat sooner. Artificial insemination (AI) can also take out the guesswork when it comes to whether a bull is reproductively sound, and you can guarantee that more of your herd will become pregnant, increasing the pregnancy rate and decreasing the empty rate of your cattle. 

Reproductive Management Systems (RMS) can also improve your calving interval by using technical processes to ensure that more cows get pregnant. On average, RMS can work to lift heat detection rates by 20-30% in the first year. Confirming if a cow is going through heat will improve the chances of them getting pregnant and not having to wait until they go through heat again. Our specialist team is always available and will look at animal health and nutrition, among other things, to look out for issues which could affect successful pregnancy. 

Cull problem cows

Although it is never nice to have to cull cows, if you have certain cattle that consistently have issues with getting and remaining pregnant – it may be time to sell them and replace them with new animals, as keeping open cows will be a drain on your farm’s profitability. If you do have a cow with great genetics that is having problems with calving, you need to assess whether it is worth keeping this cow for another season in the hope it will be able to breed again.

How do you shorten the calving season?

By having a more regulated and well-timed calving interval, your calving season will naturally reduce, and your time spent rearing new calves will decrease. By culling cows that are frequently calving out of season, the rest of your herd will calve at the same time, as most cows naturally breed when nutrition is best. Artificial insemination will also shorten the calving season, with the ability to better time when a cow gets pregnant. Improved cow genetics can also ensure your next generation of cattle have preferable traits, making them easier to manage and shortening your calving season further.

Benefits of a shortened calving interval 

The benefits of a shortened calving interval may seem obvious, but as well as improvements to your time management, labour management and profitability, there are other positives. Because calves will be born around the same time, they are likely to be more uniform in size. This can help them receive a premium price from buyers who do not want to purchase multiple smaller groups from a variety of sellers. When the calves are all uniform in size there also isn’t a ‘pecking order’ amongst them, where smaller calves are pushed away from the food and their growth suffers.

Get in touch

Ensuring your farm’s profitability should be a priority for any cattle farmer, and improving your calving interval is one way to do this. We are experts in reproduction management and specialists in our team perform thousands of artificial inseminations each year, which could not only help your calving interval but also improve your herd’s genetics for future generations. Contact us and see how we can help.

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