A suitable reproductive program is critical for success in dairy farms. There are currently different practices being used in different parts of the world. This is due to either cost reasons or legal status of certain practices. Visual heat inspection is one way to monitor heat detection, and automatic progesterone measurement is another. Automatic progesterone measurement is recently made available as a support for heat detection and reproduction efficiency.
In Europe it is still common practice to use activity systems for heat detection. In most of the countries, routine timed artificial insemination programs are not legally approved. In other countries with mega dairies like in the USA, timed artificial insemination still seems to be the preferred choice despite several downsides. The method is quite costly due to drug usage, requires labor and it is not always as efficient as expected. Also as consumers are getting more sensible about drug treatments in dairy production it becomes even a more sensitive practice.
In a field study conducted by the University of Guelph on three commercial herds in Ontario, Canada, researchers compared reproductive performance of either an automated activity monitoring system (AAM) or timed artificial insemination (TAI) during a year. Results of this research were published in the Journal of Dairy Science issued October 2012. Animals were assigned either to reproductive managements using “heat detection via activity monitoring” or “TAI protocol”. Time to pregnancy, time to first service and time to second service were analysed.
On an individual cow basis, time of pregnancy and time to first service did not differ between the AAM and TAI treatments. Between herds, though, differences in all three variables were detected. Time to pregnancy for both systems in the three herds can be seen in the table.
When looking at cows bred exclusively by their assigned method, without any readings due to visual heat detection, time to pregnancy was significantly shorter with AAM (right column). Time to pregnancy did not differ or was shorter with AAM relative to TAI if considering all breedings of which 19 to 32 % were additionally based on observed heats (left column).
The results indicate that Activity systems are as good or even better than TAI, but results will vary between herds. Herd managers who want to step back from the hormone treatment methods should allow themselves some adaptation to the activity system concept to get most benefit out of it. However this will not only comprise a reliable heat detection, but also indicating abortions, start of calving, and – using the low activity concept – displaying cows with potential health problems which need special care.
Source: Neves/Leslie/Walton/Leblanc: Reproductive performance with an automated activity monitoring system versus a synchronized breeding program, J Dairy Sci 2012 Oct; 95 (10); 5683-93