Skip to main content Accessibility help

Use of herd management programmes to improve the reproductive performance of dairy cattle

  • S. McDougall (a1), C. Heuer (a2), J. Morton (a3) and T. Brownlie (a1)


There has been a long history of herd health and production management programmes in many dairy industries around the world, but evidence for the efficacy of such programmes is limited. In response to a perceived decline in fertility of dairy cows, a herd reproductive management programme (InCalf) was introduced in New Zealand in 2007. This programme uses a management cycle approach that includes an assessment of the current herd status, identification of areas for improvement, development of a plan, implementation of this plan and finally a review process. The programme uses facilitators who work with farmers either in a one-to-one manner or in a formalised group setting that involves a series of meetings over a 12-month period (the farmer action group). The hypothesis that involvement in a reproductive management programme would improve herd reproductive performance was tested using a herd-level controlled randomised study (the National Herd Fertility Study) involving herds in four geographic regions of New Zealand over 2 years. Within each region, herds were ranked on the basis of the 6-week in-calf rate (i.e. the proportion of the herd pregnant in the first 6 weeks of the seasonal breeding programme) in the year preceding commencement of the study and then randomly assigned to be involved in a farmer action group or left as untreated controls. The key outcome variable of the study was the 6-week in-calf rate. Pregnancy diagnosis was undertaken at 12 weeks after the start of the seasonal breeding programme, which allowed determination of conception dates and hence calculation of the 6-week in-calf rate. Additional measurements including heifer live weight and body condition score (pre-calving and pre-mating) were undertaken to test whether treatment resulted in measurable changes in some of the key determinants of herd reproductive performance. Involvement in the farmer action group of InCalf resulted in a 2 percentage point increase in the 6-week in-calf rate (P=0.05). The following additional observations were made in herds involved in the farmer action group relative to control herds: heifers had live weight closer to target; the pre-mating body condition score of cows was higher; and oestrous detection rates were higher. It was concluded that involvement in this herd reproductive management programme improved reproductive outcomes in this New Zealand study. However, to achieve substantial improvements in herd reproductive performance at the regional or national level a greater response to the programme and a high uptake of such programmes is required, as well as use of other industry-level tools such as genetic management programmes.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Use of herd management programmes to improve the reproductive performance of dairy cattle
      Available formats

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Use of herd management programmes to improve the reproductive performance of dairy cattle
      Available formats

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Use of herd management programmes to improve the reproductive performance of dairy cattle
      Available formats


Corresponding author


Hide All
Ajzen, I 1991. The theory of planned behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 50, 179211.
Barfoot, LW, Cote, JF, Stone, JB and Wright, PA 1971. An economic appraisal of a preventive medicine program for a dairy herd health management. Canadian Veterinary Journal 12, 210.
Bell, NJ, Bell, MJ, Knowles, TG, Whay, HR, Main, DJ and Webster, AJF 2009. The development, implementation and testing of a lameness control programme based on HACCP principles and designed for heifers on dairy farms. The Veterinary Journal 180, 178188.
Bennett, C 1975. Up the hierarchy. Journal of Extension 13, 712.
Beukes, PC, Burke, CR, Levy, G and Tiddy, RM 2010. Using a whole farm model to determine the impacts of mating management on the profitability of pasture-based dairy farms. Animal Reproduction Science 121, 4654.
Beukes, PC, Tiddy, RM, Burke, CR, Levy, G and Lancaster, JAS 2007. Quantifying the importance of submission rate to artificial breeding on reproductive performance and profitability in dairy cattle herds. In 67th Proceedings of the New Zealand Society of Animal Production (ed. R Sumner), pp. 285292. New Zealand Society of Animal Production, Christchurch, New Zealand.
Bigras-Poulin, M, Meek, AH, Martin, SW and McMillan, I 1985. Attitudes, management practices, and herd performance – a study of Ontario dairy farm managers. II associations. Preventative Veterinary Medicine 3, 241250.
Blackwell, MB, Burke, CR and Verkerk, GA 2010. Reproductive management practices in New Zealand dairy farms: what will the future hold in a consumer-focused, export-driven marketplace? In Proceedings of the 4th Australasian Dairy Science Symposium (ed. GR Edwards and RH Bryant), pp. 406416. Caxton Press, Christchurch, New Zealand.
Brand, A and Guard, CL 1996. Principles of herd health and production management programmes. In Herd Health and Production Management in Dairy Practice (ed. A Brand, JPTM Noordhuizen and YH Schukken), pp. 314. Wageningen Press, Wageningen.
Brand, A and Varner, M 1996. Monitoring reproductive performance. In Herd Health and Production Management in Dairy Practice (ed. A Brand, JPTM Noordhuizen and YH Schukken), pp. 283292. Wageningen Press, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Britton, A, Nettle, R and Morton, JM 2003. Fertility for life – the InCalf extension project. In Proceedings of the Society of Dairy Cattle Veterinarians of the NZVA (ed. TJ Parkinson), pp. 445463. Vetlearn Foundation, Palmerston North, New Zealand.
Brownlie, TS 2012. Quantifying the effect of the In Calf Farmer Action Group on seasonal-calving pasture-based dairy farms in New Zealand. PhD, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand. Retrieved October 29, 2013, from
Brownlie, TS, Morton, JM, Heuer, C and McDougall, S 2011a. Measuring the economics of 6-week in-calf rates. In Proceedings of the Food Safety, Animal Welfare & Biosecurity, Epidemiology & Animal Health branch of the NZVA (ed. W Brown), pp. Vetlearn Foundation, Palmerston North, New Zealand.
Brownlie, TS, Weir, AM, Tarbotton, I, Morton, JM, Heuer, C and McDougall, S 2011b. Reproductive management of dairy herds in New Zealand: attitudes, priorities and constraints perceived by farmers managing seasonal-calving, pasture-based herds in four regions. New Zealand Veterinary Journal 59, 2839.
Brownlie, TS, Morton, JM, Heuer, C, Hunnam, J and McDougall, S 2013. Reproductive performance of seasonal-calving, pasture-based dairy herds in four regions of New Zealand. New Zealand Veterinary Journal 62, 7786.
Coudel, E, Tonneau, JP and Rey-Valette, H 2011. Diverse approaches to learning in rural and development studies: review of the literature from the perspective of action learning. Knowledge Management Research and Practice 9, 120135.
Cowen, P, Schwabe, CW, Rosenberg, HR, Bondurant, RH, Franti, CE and Goodger, WJ 1989. Reproductive management practices among Tulare, California, dairy herds. II. Analytical studies. Preventive Veterinary Medicine 7, 101111.
de Kruif, A and Brand, A 1978. Factors influencing the reproductive capacity of a dairy herd. New Zealand Veterinary Journal 26, 183189.
Derks, M, van de Ven, LMA, van Werven, T, Kremer, WDJ and Hogeveen, H 2012. The perception of veterinary herd health management by Dutch dairy farmers and its current status in the Netherlands: a survey. Preventive Veterinary Medicine 104, 207215.
Dohoo, I, Martin, W and Stryhn, H 2009. Veterinary epidemiological research, 2nd edition. VER Inc., Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada.
Doran, GT 1981. There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives. Management Review 70, 3536.
Dziopa, F and Ahern, K 2011. A systematic literature review of the applications of Q-technique and its methodology. European Journal of Research Methods for the Behavioral and Social Sciences 7, 3955.
Fetrow, J, McClary, D, Harman, R, Butcher, K, Weaver, L, Studer, E, Ehrlich, J, Etherington, W, Guterbock, W, Klingborg, D, Reneau, J and Williamson, N 1988. Calculating selected reproductive indices: recommendations of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners. Journal of Dairy Science 73, 7890.
Green, MJ, Leach, KA, Breen, JE, Green, LE and Bradley, AJ 2007. National intervention study of mastitis control in dairy herds in England and Wales. Veterinary Record 160, 287293.
Herschler, RC, Miracle, C, Crowl, B, Dunlap, T and Judy, JW 1964. The economic impact of a fertility control and herd management program on a dairy farm. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 145, 672676.
Higgins, HM, Huxley, JN, Wapenaar, W and Green, MJ 2013. Proactive dairy cattle disease control in the UK: veterinary surgeons’ involvement and associated characteristics. Veterinary Record 173, 246252.
Holden, JD 2001. Hawthorne effects and research into professional practice. Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice 7, 6570.
Jansen, J and Lam, TJGM 2012. The role of communication in improving udder health. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Food Animal Practice 28, 363379.
Jansen, J, Renes, RJ and Lam, TJGM 2010a. Evaluation of two communication strategies to improve udder health management. Journal of Dairy Science 93, 604612.
Jansen, J, Steuten, CDM, Renes, RJ, Aarts, N and Lam, TJGM 2010b. Debunking the myth of the hard-to-reach farmer: effective communication on udder health. Journal of Dairy Science 93, 12961306.
Jansen, J, van den Borne, HP, Renes, RJ, van Schaik, G, Lam, TJGM and Leeuwis, C 2009. Explaining mastitis incidence in Dutch dairy farming: the influence of farmers’ attitudes and behaviour. Preventive Veterinary Medicine 92, 210223.
Kristensen, E and Enevoldsen, C 2008. A mixed methods inquiry: how dairy farmers perceive the value(s) of their involvement in an intensive dairy herd health management program. Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica 50, 3038.
Lavori, PW and Kelsey, J 2002. Clinical trials – introduction and overview. Epidemiologic Reviews 24, 13.
LeBlanc, SJ, Lissemore, KD, Kelton, DF, Duffield, TF and Leslie, KE 2006. Major advances in disease prevention in dairy cattle. Journal of Dairy Science 89, 12671279.
Macmillan, KL 2002. Advances in bovine theriogenology in New Zealand 1. Pregnancy, parturition and the postpartum period. New Zealand Veterinary Journal 50, 6773.
Macmillan, KL 2012. The InCalf Project: improving reproductive performance of cows in Australian dairy herds. In Dairy cow fertility: reproductive performance for efficient pasture-based systems (ed. S Butler), pp. 6–18. Teagasc, Ireland.Retrieved October 29, 2013, from
McCown, RL, Hochman, Z and Carberry, PS 2002. Probing the enigma of the decision support system for farmers: learning from experience and from theory. Agricultural Systems 74, 110.
Mee, JF 2007. The role of the veterinarian in bovine fertility management on modern dairy farms. Theriogenology 68, S257S265.
Morris, RS, Williamson, NB, Blood, DC, Cannon, RM and Cannon, CM 1978a. A herd health programme for commercial dairy herds 3. Changes in reproductive performance. Australian Veterinary Journal 54, 231246.
Morris, RS, Blood, DC, Williamson, NB, Cannon, CM and Cannon, RM 1978b. A health program for commercial dairy herds. 4. Changes in mastitis prevalence. Australian Veterinary Journal 54, 247251.
Morrow, DA 1968. Programmed dairy herd health. Journal of Dairy Science 51, 11261133.
Morton, JM 2010. Interrelationships between herd-level reproductive performance measures based on intervals from initiation of the breeding program in year-round and seasonal calving dairy herds. Journal of Dairy Science 93, 901910.
Morton, JM 2011. InCalf fertility data project 2011. Harris Park Group, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
Nagel, UJ 1997. Improving agricultural extension: a reference manual, 3rd edition. FAO, Rome, Italy.
Noordhuizen, JPTM and Wentink, GH 2001. Developments in veterinary herd health programmes on dairy farms: a review. Veterinary Quarterly 23, 162169.
Radhakrishna, R and Rhemilyn, ZR 2009. A framework to link evaluation questions to program outcomes. Journal of Extension 47, 310.
Roche, JR, Dillon, PG, Stockdale, CR, Baumgard, LH and VanBaale, MJ 2004. Relationships among international body condition scoring systems. Journal of Dairy Science 87, 30763079.
StataCorp 2011. Stata statistical software: release 12. StataCorp LP, College Station, TX.
Stolberg, HO, Norman, G and Trop, I 2004. Randomized controlled trials. American Journal of Roentgenology 183, 15391544.
Vakratsas, D and Ambler, T 1999. How advertising works: what do we really know? Journal of Marketing 63, 2643.
Vickers, AJ 2001. The use of percentage change from baseline as an outcome in a controlled trial is statistically inefficient: a simulation study. BMC Medical Research Methodology 1, 6.


Use of herd management programmes to improve the reproductive performance of dairy cattle

  • S. McDougall (a1), C. Heuer (a2), J. Morton (a3) and T. Brownlie (a1)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed