6 reasons why cows do not get pregnant

Closed up of a young calf drinks milk from his mother

Whether you are a dairy or a suckler farmer, getting cows pregnant is essential to the future of your business. Without pregnancies, there will be no future milk or calves’ production. Here we cover 6 common reasons why cows may fail to conceive and information on how you can maximise fertility. By proactively working on the examples suggested in our blog, farmers can help ensure that fertility is not a limiting factor to the herd’s success.

Why is Fertility So Important?

Although it may seem obvious to most, it is worth repeating that fertility is the bedrock of production success for dairy and suckler farmers. A cow that doesn’t conceive means one calf less in the year. This translates to no output from that cow for a full 12 months for suckler farmers, and for dairy units, it means a reduction in milk production, no new peak milk, and fewer heifers coming through the system. But fertility is not as simple as a binary term – it is not either that cows get in-calf or don’t. Often it is more insidious – cows will get in-calf but maybe not as quick as you would like – delaying conception outside the optimum window costs businesses.

1. Heat Detection

The first stage to getting a cow in-calf is to ensure they get inseminated within an appropriate window. If you run the herd with a bull, that may sound simple, but be wary – bulls may not be apt or have sufficient libido for various reasons. Hence, testing your bulls before the service period is a worthwhile exercise.

If you are undertaking artificial insemination, heat detection is absolutely vital. Your advisor will be able to tell you what your 3-week submission rate is – if it is not acceptable, rectifying this will pay large dividends. There are many farms where over half the cows will miss an oestrus cycle simply because they have not been inseminated.

2. Insemination Timing and Technique

If you are using a capable bull with high libido, this is one reason you can cross off your list. However, if you are using artificial insemination, the timing of insemination is vital. Many different approaches work, but the critical thing is to base it on accurate heat detection. Studies have shown that inseminating once a day can work just as well as twice a day. Quality assurance of straw preparation and insemination technique will go a long way in ensuring fertility success – AI technicians should undertake refresher courses regularly as there can be some drift in skills.

3. Nutrition

Heat detection and insemination technique are the mainstays of the direct human impacts of fertility. If cows are not cycling well, they become irrelevant, and the keys to getting cows cycling regularly are health checks and suitable nutrition around and after calving. Easier said than done; these combine complex science, forage management and external factors. It is undoubtedly too much for me to go into here. However, if your cows are not demonstrating heat by day 50 post-calving, it is worth discussing transition nutrition with your advisor.

4. Disease Control

In the same way, nutritional failure will challenge getting cows in calf, so will disease. And for several reasons. The systemic disease will prevent cows from normally cycling, whereas specific venereal diseases such as campylobacter will prevent conception or implantation. Whilst there is no doubt investigating the effect disease has on poor fertility is worthwhile, in my opinion, we should be proactively controlling and monitoring diseases to prevent future issues.

5. Bull Fertility

The cow is only 50% of fertility. With 25% of bulls being sub- or infertile, we would recommend getting bulls fertility tested six weeks prior to use. For accurate, repeatable assessment of semen progressive motility, ask your vet to use a Dynescan.

6. Semen Quality

In the same way that bulls can be infertile, frozen semen can show a range of fertility. Assessing this dynamically on the arrival of a consignment of semen can assure that the semen is likely to achieve satisfactory conception rates. This is best carried out using a Dynescan – automated semen analysis on-farm giving objective, quantified, repeatable results quickly.

Achieving good fertility involves numerous factors, but the six areas above are the common, most impactful areas to check. If you are struggling to get cows in calf or want to ensure that you are doing all you can to avoid problems, look at the areas above and discuss them with your advisors. If you are interested in checking the quality of semen, either frozen or at a breeding soundness exam, please get in contact with Dyneval to find out more about the Dynescan, Award-Winning technology.

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