Dairy herds should target realistic goals
Producers should take a broader overview of their herd's performance and look for greater collaboration between different sources of technical advice according to James Hanks from PAN Livestock Services at the University of Reading.
Speaking at the British Cattle Breeders Conference, he encouraged producers to look at a wide range of key parameters simultaneously and not view them in isolation. "Too often we see the vet focussing on one goal and the nutritionist on another," he said. "Both might be setting sensible targets but it leaves the producer wondering what to prioritise when looking to make the best use of time and resources."
Dr Hanks used recent data from 500 NMR recorded herds to show the variation in performance for 25 key parameters covering fertility, production, cell counts and longevity.
The survey, carried out by the University of Reading, has been running for two years now and it is having a valuable impact on dairy herd management. For each parameter a target value is set at the level that 25% - or one in four herds - are actually achieving. Through NMR's InterHerd+ producers can compare the relative performance of their own herd and see which parameters they are strong in and where they are weaker and there is cause for concern.
"It would be rare for any herd to be ‘bad' for every parameter and at least by comparing a number of factors there's some encouraging news for the producer as well as some wake up calls," added Dr Hanks. "It really is a valuable discussion document for the whole team - vets, advisers as well as farm staff - in understanding the dynamics of the herd and explaining the different strengths and weaknesses as well as the priorities for improvement."
The herds from the NMR database are a representative large-scale sample of commercial dairy herds in the UK and therefore give a true picture of current performance and, in particular, the scale of difference in each parameter. "And as the data sources and calculations are identical for each herd, we are creating a level playing field so true differences show up."
Dr Hanks went on to explain the benefit of this data to the industry over time. "Although it's early days, some interesting trends are already emerging and this will become increasingly significant over time."
Dr Hanks and his team have already compiled data for other breeds as well as the Holsteins and these can be viewed on www.veeru.reading.ac.uk/section1/research.htm