Calving patterns in seasonal dairy herds

Calving patterns in seasonal dairy herds
Peer reviewed


Two field studies examined the calving patterns of cows in seasonal dairy herds in the Waikato (Field Study 1) and South Taranaki regions (Field Study 2). The first study examined patterns for cows commencing their second or subsequent lactation in herds which had used an inseminating service during the previous season. The second study included first lactation heifers only in 15 herds where animals had been naturally mated, and in 15 herds in which they had been synchronised and then artifically inseminated at the synchronised oestrus. The parameters describing calving patterns were based on the date for each herd`s planned start of calving (PSC), which was 282 days from the date on which breeding commenced in the preceding season. The average interval from PSC to mean calving date for the 35 herds in Field Study 1 was 22 days, with individual herds ranging from 15 to 30 days. In herds with heifers which had been naturally mated (Field Study 2), it was 17.6 days compared to 11.0 days for previously synchronised animals. Calculating the intervals from PSC to median calving date and separately for the last two quartiles more effectively described a herd’s calving pattern. The duration for the last quartile of the calving pattern was influenced by the extent and timing of induced calving. In Field Study 1, 88.6% of the 35 herd owners induced premature parturition in at least one cow. In these herds, 11.3% of cows were treated and calved prematurely. Only 61.7% of heifers which had previously been naturally mated calved by 3 weeks after PSC. Their calving dates were not evenly distributed over this 3-week period, with 9.8% in the first week and 25.6% in the third week. The calving pattern for heifers which had been previously synchronised showed several distinct peaks. Calvings to the synchronised mating were completed 15 days after PSC, by which time 64.7% of animals had calved. By 3 weeks after PSC, 72.9% of these heifers had calved. The results showed that there was considerable variation in calving patterns in seasonal dairy herds. This variation would have been due to differences in conception pattern, and the way induced calving had been applied. The calving pattern in heifers which had been naturally mated was less concentrated than had been expected. Synchronisation can significantly concentrate the calving pattern of these first lactation animals. The parameters used to describe calving patterns may be less applicable in herds in which a high proportion of animals is induced to calve prematurely, or where a whole herd is synchronised. Nonetheless, they do serve as an illustrative example of the variation in calving patterns among herds.

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